How George Orwell tried to mobilise support for Britain’s anti-Nazi war effort…

Fascinating piece by Prof Bruce Robbins of Columbia University:

In the dark winter of 1941-42, Orwell found himself working for the BBC Eastern Service, writing and supervising radio broadcasts to India. His job was to mobilise support for Britain’s anti-Nazi war effort, and to get that support from the victims of British colonialism. Some of his friends who fought for Indian independence were still languishing in British jails.

At the BBC, Orwell found a way forward. In front of a microphone, knowing he was speaking to the English as well as to exploited Indians, he talked about rationing: in particular, about the popularity of rationing among the English.

His first weekly news broadcast, ‘Money and Guns’ on 20 January 1942, notified his Indian audience that the English had restricted their consumption. ‘Once war has started, every nation has to choose between guns and butter … since England is an island and shipping is very precious, they [the working population] must make do with amusements that do not waste imported materials.’ Orwell continued, elaborating: ‘the luxuries which have to be discarded in wartime are the more elaborate kinds of food and drink, fashionable clothes, cosmetics and scents – all of which either demand a great deal of labour or use up rare imported materials …’

Three weeks later, Orwell was still at it, and insisting that his approval was widely shared. ‘No one complains of these restrictions,’ he wrote again on 14 March. ‘On the contrary, the general public are demanding that the restrictions shall be made even stricter, so that the selfish minority who behave as though Britain were not at war can be dealt with once and for all.’ Even the government, which had ordered the rationing, found his enthusiasm excessive. They warned him to lay off. The passage above was cut by the Ministry of Information.

Why did he persist? No one can know for sure, but it seems most likely that he did so because he knew it was something India needed to hear. There could be no anti-fascist solidarity unless the exploited Indians could believe that a more just distribution of the world’s resources was possible – that global inequality could be changed. The popularity of rationing proved that, with the right incentive, the citizens of the more prosperous countries were willing to live on less. If this had happened in wartime, it might also happen in peacetime. There were other ways to divide the pie. No law of nature or economics pegged British consumption and Indian consumption at a 12-to-one ratio forever.

In trying to force rationing into his BBC broadcasts, Orwell was being ruthlessly logical. Rationality, which dictated fairness for all, had seemed to him too cerebral, and therefore incapable of motivating any important political movement toward justice at a global scale. But the experience of rationing in the war against fascism had imbued rationality with a real popular passion – not the jingoistic or atavistic passion ascribed to today’s populisms, but emotion infused with reflection on fairness. From this perspective, greater justice on a global scale no longer looked, or looks, quite so utopian.

Did read somewhere that Orwell served in India.. Did not obviously know these details…



3 Responses to “How George Orwell tried to mobilise support for Britain’s anti-Nazi war effort…”

  1. How George Orwell tried to mobilise support for Britain's anti-Nazi war effort… | Me Stock Broker Says:

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  3. Daily SG: 19 Dec 2017 – The Singapore Daily Says:

    […] explains why couple could not be charged with murder or culpable homicide – Most Economics: How George Orwell tried to mobilise support for Britain’s anti-Nazi war effort… – Asian Correspondent: Which Asian country speaks the best English? – RSIS: CO17236 | […]

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