As a young man, Orwell introduced me to a fiercely egalitarian, patriotic, undogmatic socialism. Today, his works are even more importantby Alan Johnson / December 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
George Orwell died four months before I was born, and yet his impact on my politics has been more profound than that of any other writer or, for that matter, politician. His self-declared intention was “to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.” He certainly succeeded so far as I was concerned. I suspect that few writers have shaped the views of their readers to the extent that Orwell has.
Orwell entered my life in 1964 when I was in the fourth form at Sloane Grammar School in West London. Our new English teacher, Mr Carlen, decided that the whole of Class 4Y should read Animal Farm together, aloud. I was a voracious reader of whatever I could get my hands on but hadn’t heard of Orwell.
We boys, tamed by the effortless authority of our teacher, took turns in reading out from the single copy passed between our lidded wooden desks. Animal Farm cast a spell on me that has never been lifted. Though engrossing as a simple story of animals taking control of the farm, I doubt we would have grasped the subtext if Mr Carlen hadn’t explained it.
When he did it not only revealed the ingenuity of the book, it gave the class a sense of the adult world we were growing into: a world in which one-third of the population lived under Communism.
Another young teacher at Sloane, Mr Pallai, had escaped from Hungary as the Russian tanks rolled in. He taught us history and economics, branching off occasionally to talk about the iniquity of the one-party state. Two years before we read Animal Farm, the Cuban Missile Crisis had threatened our existence as the US and the Soviets had contemplated mutual destruction.