|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Ken MacLeod's comments.
“If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders
Contact: kenneth dot m dot macleod at gmail dot com Blog-related emails may be quoted unless you ask otherwise.
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' ... a treeless, flowerless land, formed out of the refuse of the Universe, and inhabited by the very bastards of Creation'
War and Revolution
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For the sake of the argument
Saturday, August 21, 2021
The story has been long in the making. Sometime in the early 1990s I had an idea for a story called ‘Nineteen Eighty-Nine’, in which events like those of 1989 in our world happen in the world of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I wrote it and sent it to Interzone, and they sent me a kind rejection note suggesting that I try a local fanzine. I sent it to the local fanzine New Dawn Fades, and they rejected it. The editor softened the blow by encouraging me to write something else for them. They later accepted, I think, a review and a poem. But for the moment, I was done with short stories. After that, there was nothing for it but to write a novel.
That’s the story I’ve told now and again, usually with the punch-line that the best thing about the story was the title, because it tells you exactly what the story is about.
Now I’m going to have to retire that anecdote.
Earlier this year, shortly after I had read that Orwell’s fiction was now out of copyright, Ian Whates emailed me to ask for a story for a new venture he was planning. I pitched ‘Nineteen Eighty-Nine’. Ian was keen, so I looked at my old story (or what I could find of it), decided it was beyond help, and wrote an entirely new story. I’m fairly sure it’s an improvement on my first attempt.
One inspiration for the new version was the article ‘If there is Hope’ by Tony Keen, in Journey Planet #3 (pdf). Another was the article Orwell on Workers and Other Animals, by Gwydion M. Williams, which makes the intriguing point that 1945 is missing from the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
While writing the story I chanced on a clue to Orwell’s pessimism that, as far as I know, has escaped scholarly attention. Orwell, it turns out, had read and been impressed by George Walford's pamphlet The Intellectual and the People.
Walford drew on his mentor Harold Walsby's The Domain of Ideologies, the founding text of what Walford later called Systematic Ideology. This argued that the major social outlooks form a historical, numerical, and political series in decreasing order of antiquity, size, unity, and radicalism. The (historically) oldest and (currently) largest group is the apolitical, followed by the conservative, the reformist, the revolutionary, and the anarchist ... with the tiniest, least effectual and most extreme group being the Systematic Ideologists themselves, who understand the whole process but can't think what to do about it.
More about this another time, but it seems to me significant that Orwell attributed political apathy, ignorance and indifference to – not 'perhaps the largest single group' of the population, as Walford did – but to the vast majority: 85%.
I knew George Walford. Nice guy. He was a regular at London Anarchist Forum discussion group when I attended around 1990. He was ex-SPGB, and I don't think he ever left their orbit. I heard he left money to them. Though to fit in with his pyramid he called them the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Fascinating! I have his 'Beyond Politics' and 'Angles on Anarchism', and I must have ordered some other material because I have a kind note from Alison Walford thanking me for the cheque and my inquiry. There is something wonderful about developing an entire theory of history to answer the burning question: 'Why is the SPGB's vote so small?'
Ha! Definitely never escaped their orbit! He did have a magazine too but I think my copies are long gone.
Well, I got it downloaded and read. I don't know if you ever ran across this, but there was a similar book written about 35 years ago. I read it years before our 1989. It was written by a Hungarian emigre, I remember its title as "1985." In it, Oceania is defeated and stripped of all territory except for Airstrip One. Very satirical of the then existing socialist countries.
Hi Lee -- in the 1980s I read that book too! I particularly liked that for a short while Julia was Minister of Culture, and how the only clue to the defeat was they stopped getting weather forecasts for Noth Africa.
Phil - the SPGB is just as extreme as the Situationists, and no changes in liefstyle required. You might think you'd at least have to stop voting Labour, but one member admitted to me that some members didn't.
Surprised - and pleased - to see that short story publishing still happens!
When I was younger I distinctly remember looking for the most thoroughgoingly radical group / ideology I could find, and I did indeed finish up with "the tiniest, least effectual and most extreme group" of all, "who understand the whole process but can't think what to do about it" - the Situationists, who were so radical they didn't even have an ideology or exist as a group. I carried on working, spending money and voting Labour, though, on the principle that actually following my principles would entail living outside the law in a commune or something, which frankly sounded a bit chancy.
By Phil, at Sunday, August 22, 2021 11:04:00 am