Orwell Diaries 1938-1942


The German armistice terms are much as expected. . . . What is interesting about the whole thing is the extent to which the traditional pattern of loyalties and honour is breaking down. Pétain, ironically enough, is the originator (at Verdun) of the phrase “ils ne passeront pas”, so long an anti-Fascist slogan. Twenty years ago any Frenchman who would have signed such an armistice would have had to be either an extreme leftwinger or an extreme pacifist, and even then there would have been misgivings. Now the people who are virtually changing sides in the middle of the war are the professional patriots. To Pétain, Laval[1], Flandin[2] and Co. the whole war must have seemed like a lunatic internecine struggle at the moment when your real enemy is waiting to slosh you. . . . It is therefore practically certain that high-up influences in England are preparing for a similar sell-out, and while e.g. — is at — there is no certainty that they won’t succeed even without the invasion of England. The one good thing about the whole business is that the bottom is being knocked out of Hitler’s pretence of being the poor man’s friend. The people actually willing to do a deal with him are bankers, generals, bishops, kings, big industrialists, etc., etc. . . . . Hitler is a leader of tremendous counterattack of the capitalist class, which is forming itself into a vast corporation, losing its privileges to some extent in doing so, but still retaining its power over the working class. When it comes to resisting such an attack as this, anyone who is of the capitalist class must be treacherous or half-treacherous, and will swallow the most fearful indignities rather than put up a real fight. . . . whichever way one looks, whether it is at the wider strategic aspects or the most petty details of local defence, one sees that any real struggle means revolution. Churchill evidently can’t see or won’t accept this, so he will have to go. But whether he goes in time to save England from conquest depends on how quickly the people at large can grasp the essentials. What I fear is that they will never move until it is too late.

Strategically, all turns upon hanging on until the winter. . . . By that time, which huge armies of occupation everywhere, food almost certainly running short and the difficulty of forcing the conquered populations to work, Hitler must be in an awkward position. It will be interesting to see whether he rehabilitates the suppressed French Communist party and tries to use it against the working class in northern France as he used Pétain against the Blimp class.

If the invasion happens and fails, all is well, and we shall have a definitely leftwing government and a conscious movement against the governing class. I think, though, people are in error in imagining that Russia would be more friendly towards us if we had a revolutionary government. After Spain, I cannot help feeling that Russia, i.e. Stalin, must be hostile to any country that is genuinely undergoing revolution. They would be moving in opposite directions. A revolution starts off with wide diffusion of the ideas of liberty, equality, etc. Then comes the growth of an oligarchy which is as much interested in holding onto its privileges as any other governing class. Such an oligarchy must necessarily be hostile to revolutions elsewhere, which inevitably re-awaken the ideas of liberty and equality. This morning’s News-Chronicle announces that saluting of superior ranks has been re-instituted in the Red Army. A revolutionary army would start by abolishing saluting, and this tiny point is symptomatic of the whole situation. Not that saluting and such things are not probably necessary.

Orders to the L.D.V. that all revolvers are to be handed over to the police, as they are needed for the army. Clinging to useless weapons like revolvers, when the Germans have submachine guns, is typical of the British army, but I believe the real reason for the order is to prevent weapons from getting into “the wrong” hands.

Both E. and G.[3] insistent that I should go to Canada if the worst comes to the worst, in order to stay alive and keep up propaganda. I will go if I have some function, e.g., if the government were transferred to Canada and I had some kind of job, but not as a refugee, nor as an expatriate journalist squealing from a safe distance. There are too many of these exiled “anti-fascists” already. Better to die if necessary, and maybe even as propaganda one’s death might achieve more than going abroad and living more or less unwanted on other people’s charity. Not that I want to die; I have so much to live for, in spite of poor health and having no children.

Another government leaflet this morning, on treatment of air-raid casualties. The leaflets are getting much better in tone and language, and the broadcasts are also better, especially Duff-Cooper’s, which in fact are ideal for anyone down to the £5-a-week level. But there is still nothing in really demotic speech, nothing that will move the poorer working class or even be quite certainly intelligible. Most educated people simply don’t realise how little impression abstract words make on the average man. When Acland was sending round his asinine “Manifesto of Plain Men” (written by himself and signed on the dotted line by “plain men” whom he selected) he told me he had the first draft vetted by the Mass Observers, who tried it on working men, and found that the most fantastic misunderstandings arose. . . . The first sign that things are really happening in England will be the disappearance of that horrible plummy voice from the radio. Watching in public bars, I have noticed that working men only pay attention to the broadcasts when some bit of demotic speech creeps in[4]. E. however claims, with some truth I think, that uneducated people are often moved by a speech in solemn language which they don’t actually understand but feel to be impressive. E.g. Mrs A.[5] is impressed by Churchill’s speeches, though not understanding them word for word.

[1] Pierre Laval (1883-1945) served at various times as French Minister of Public Works, Justice, Labour, Colonies, and Foreign Affairs, and was Premier, 1931-32, 1935-36. He left the Socialist Party in 1920 and gradually moved to the extreme right. On 7 January 1935, as Foreign Minister, he signed an agreement with Mussolini that backed Italian claims to areas of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in return for Italian support against German intervention in Austria. Italy invaded Abyssinia on 3 October 1935, and on 18 December the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had entered into a pact with Laval appeasing Mussolini. After the fall of France, Laval came to represent treacherous collaboration. He even provided Frenchmen for work in German industry. Tried in 1945, he was executed after failing in a suicide attempt.

[2] Pierre-Etienne Flandin (1889-1958) held numerous offices in French governments. He was Premier, 1934-35, and Foreign Minister in Pétain’s government in 1940, but attempted to resist German demands and was replaced by Laval. He was forbidden to participate in public life after the war.

[3] Eileen Blair and Gwen O’Shaughnessy, her sister-in-law

[4] See 28.5.40 for lack of interest in news broadcasts

[5] Probably Mrs Anderson, who cleaned for the Orwells in Wallington. Although Orwell had, by the time this was written, been living in London for five or six weeks, he still visited Wallington. The Stores was not given up completely until 1947. Peter Davison