George Orwell, “Review of The Totalitarian Enemy by F. Borkenau”

Session 8

George Orwell, “Review of The Totalitarian Enemy by F. Borkenau”

Session 8

Executive Summary

Orwell (1903-1950) was an English writer most known for Animal Farm and the dystopian 1984. A self-described socialist, Orwell was clear-eyed about the dangers of authoritarian socialisms in Germany and Russia. In this 1940 review of The Totalitarian Enemy by Franz Borkenau, Orwell weighs the socialist credentials of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists.

  1. Orwell criticizes both the right- and left-wing for having misjudged the Nazis
    badly. The right, he asserts, hoped the Nazis would be a bulwark against the
    international socialism of the Russian Bolsheviks. So they pretended that the Nazis
    were merely “capitalism with the lid off” and un-revolutionary.
  2. On the left, the Socialists “hated having to admit that the man who had slaughtered
    their comrades was a Socialist himself,” so they too pretended.
  3. But then the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 was an eye-opener. Everyone could see the
    “striking resemblance” of the two totalitarian régimes and how, as Stalin put it, the
    friendship of the two was “cemented in blood.”
  4. So against both deniers, Orwell asserts emphatically that “National Socialism is a
    form of Socialism, is emphatically revolutionary, does crush the property owner just as surely as it crushes the worker.”
  5. Yet while the early Nazis were sincere in their anti-Bolshevism, how, Orwell asks,
    did they become in practice so similar? One reason is the Nazi commitment to
    making Germany a war machine: a nation “which is waging or preparing for ‘total’
    war must be in some sense socialistic.”
  6. Orwell also believes that the Nazis’ goal is “simply power” and so they’re willing to
    be flexible on ideological matters. Hence their shifting use of scapegoat
    groups—Jews, Socialists, Capitalists, the English, Democrats—as “Public Enemy No. 1”: they can direct the flame of hate as a weapon against anyone who threatens their rule.
  7. Against the “purge-and-censorship variety” of socialism operating in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Orwell prefers “a humaner, freer form of collectivism” but does not believe it likely to happen any time soon.

​Read Orwell’s review of The Totalitarian Enemy here. Summary by Stephen Hicks, 2020.

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