Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Big Brother's lackeys still at work

MI5 papers relating to the surveillance of George Orwell have been released and show that he was under more intense observation, and for longer, than anyone imagined.

What interested me was this article in The Independent because of the way it reveals a certain cast of mind, one that finds moral equivalence at will and entirely lacks proportion and perspective.

It's there from the headline to the last line:

Big Brother: How MI5 kept watch on Orwell

George Orwell's Big Brother was inspired by Stalin and the political system depicted in 1984 by the Soviet Union. Here, using the long-favoured school-yard rhetorical technique of "You too!", Big Brother is now MI5.

What Orwell, the Eton-educated author and passionate socialist, could not have known, however, was the uncanny parallel between his nightmarish vision of an all-seeing dictatorship and his own status for more than a decade as a target for the close scrutiny of the British security services.

Absent from the whole article, which lists 13 years of surveillance reports on Orwell, is any recognition at all that MI5, and the British state, had any right or legitimacy in keeping an eye on people who may well have been seeking to overthrow it. Or that it was a job worth doing. (Does this journalist consider it worth doing now?) He cannot get past the fact that Orwell, who portrayed the all-seeing state, should himself have been under observation, even if by a state whose legitimacy he (Orwell) defended to the last. Thus, according to this view, Britain was (is?) on the same level as Stalin's totalitarian dictatorship.

The article reports also that

Shortly before his death in 1950, Orwell handed a female friend working for an anti-communist propaganda unit in the Foreign Office a list of 35 names of people, including Charlie Chaplin and fellow author JB Priestley, who he considered "crypto-communists and fellow-travellers".

Thus preparing for the inevitable conclusion.

Whether he would have changed his mind had he known the Big Brother tendencies of the country he ultimately sought to defend is unclear.

The obvious answer to which is "No", because Orwell knew the difference between one and the other. Unlike this journalist.

These BBC and Guardian articles do not follow The Independent down the moral equivalence sidestreet, but spend more time on another favourite trope of the liberal press: the incompetence and /or silliness of the secret services. Yet MI5's final analysis of George Orwell in 1942, made by his case officer, one W Ogilvie, strikes me as bang-on.

He has been a bit of an anarchist in his day and in touch with extremist elements. But he has lately thrown in his lot with Victor Gollancz who, as you probably know, has severed all connection with the Communist Party. Blair undoubtedly [has] strong left wing views but he is a long way from orthodox communism...It is evident from [Orwell's] recent writings ... that he does not hold with the Communist Party, nor they with him."

Good work, MI5, I say.

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