Eric Arthur Blair — also known by his pen name, George Orwell — is one of the UK’s most celebrated writers. In his short life he penned classics such as Down and Out in Paris and London, Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm. His most famous work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, has become a metaphor for people around the world concerned by creeping authoritarianism and duplicity. He was a passionate advocate for democratic socialism and unafraid to criticise the excesses of others on his side of the political spectrum. And he was a brilliant essayist whose Politics and the English Language remains a seminal work for political writers everywhere.
Orwell’s 1984 tells the story of a dystopian future led by a totalitarian leader called Big Brother. The state watches people through their television screens, controls the information they receive, alters their language to control their thoughts and liquidates those suspected of dissenting. Children spy on and denounce their parents. How scared should we be of modern threats to liberty?
Liberty in danger warn both left and right
A shocking graphic on a magazine has sparked outrage. Meanwhile two acclaimed writers from opposite sides of the political divide have published trenchant warnings about a Trump autocracy.
2016 in review: authoritarians rule the roost
It was a bloody weekend in the final month of a turbulent year. Deadly bombs exploded in Cairo, Istanbul, Palmyra and Aleppo. Was this the year that democracy itself came under threat?
Turks take to Twitter to defy government ban
Turkey’s prime minister attempted to ban social media to crush dissent, but Turks responded by posting anti-censorship messages on Twitter. Is the internet an unstoppable ally of democracy?
Orwell was a committed socialist; during the second world war he wrote that the conflict had proved that free-market capitalism “does not work”. But he was a fierce critic of communism, and Stalin’s Russia in particular. His novella Animal Farm is a heartbreaking metaphor for the Russian revolution, in which those who seized power on the people’s behalf then betrayed them and enriched themselves.
Castro: a cruel tyrant mourned by millions
His history of murder and oppression is appalling. But Fidel Castro’s death on Saturday brought tributes from many Western politicians. How can anyone admire a man with his record?
Corbyn faces anger at lack of progress
It was a tough night for the Labour leader with the worst performance of any opposition party for 30 years. Is this part of a wider story in which socialism itself is running out of steam?
Socialist festival shows Marx still draws a crowd
Twenty years since end of the Cold War, most people think of communism as a dying creed. Yet this weekend, modern revolutionaries converged on London for the Marxism 2012 lecture series. Why?
Orwell subtly explored the role of language in politics and society. In 1984, “newspeak”, the official language, is the only one in the world to consistently shrink. As those in power control what people are allowed to say, they control their thoughts. And in Politics and the English Language, Orwell exposes the euphemistic absurdity of much contemporary language. How important are words?
‘Children must be trained to fight fake news’
Fake news, propaganda, misinformation: the media, says one prominent journalist, has reached its ‘nadir’. And another columnist says children should be taught to separate fact from fiction.
Trees, beers and tickling: a glossary of joy
A psychologist has created a list of words from around the world that relate to ‘wellbeing’. He hopes that it will enrich our emotional states. Can language really influence us in this way?
Lotsa lolz new words enter Scrabble lexicon
Collins has announced 6,500 new official Scrabble words, many of which draw on slang and new technology. Should we welcome changes in the English language — even if we don’t like them?
Orwell’s part-autobiographical memoir Down and Out in Paris and London was his first full-length work. It explores his experience of poverty and his attempts to find casual work in two of the world’s great cities. He has to sell his clothes and work long hours for low pay, and he learns about the art of begging. How big a problem is poverty today, and what is the best way to lift people out of it?
Pope honours the poor in battered Philippines
Pope Francis addressed a crowd of millions in Manila. He talked about the nobility of suffering, but does this represent a patronising view of the true horror of poverty?
‘Devastating’ welfare drama hits screens
Today, I, Daniel Blake reaches British cinemas on a wave of hype. The drama about a man mistreated by the welfare state has wowed the film world. But can it have the same impact on society?
Criticism adds up over Oxfam inequality claim
Eight men own as much as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people, according to anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Free trade advocates have hit back at the charity’s maths. Are the claims valid?
In 1984, Orwell invented the notion of “thoughtcrime” — having ideas that contradict those which are officially sanctioned. In his memoir from Paris his experience of crime is much more real: he describes sleeping through a murder as it is committed just below his window. And the humans and pigs of Animal Farm are portrayed as criminals against those who serve them.
Drugs, violence, suicide: jail chaos exposed
A BBC programme has highlighted the shocking situation in prisons in England and Wales. As scandals mount and guards fear enforcing the rules, should jails be abolished — or made tougher?
I deserve to be pardoned, says whistleblower
As a film of his story hits cinemas, the controversial Edward Snowden has publicly appealed to Barack Obama for a presidential pardon. What is this? And should it even exist?
No jail for ‘Heathrow 13’ who held up flights
Activists who oppose the expansion of Heathrow have been spared prison sentences after disrupting flights at the airport last year. But can such action be justified in a democratic society?