By Brett Taylor
I feel the subject of Right Wing Radio is an important one because it has such a profound impact on many working class people. Having worked in many blue collar jobs, I know that many workers rely on this source for their information about politics. I feel it is important to combat misinformation as much as possible.
Living as I do in a depressed region of the country, otherwise known as rural Appalachia, it is always a surprise when literary classics are casually mentioned in conversation. So I took note when two separate mentions of George Orwell’s work came up in a short span of time. The first was at a fairly menial job, where a rather eccentric coworker varied from his usual complaints about the current state of affairs to drop this literary reference: “I read 1984 in school,” he said, “but I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have to use it as a survival guide.” Aside from a certain amount of dubiousness about the parallels he was drawing between Big Brother and the Obama Administration, I was surprised at his familiarity with this literary work. A famous novel true, but I didn’t know him to be much of a reader but did know him to stretch the truth. I suspected he was quoting something he’d heard on Right Wing radio, which was usually booming from the lab in which he tested automotive materials. A few weeks later I was visiting the nearest library, which is a small one, and usually inhabited by a local retiree who makes frequent use of the Internet. This retiree, a former engineer I think, has a habit of loudly lecturing the librarian on the usual hot topics of the crackpot fringe, chem. trails and the Moon hoax and the like, the same topics regularly discussed on Alex Jones’ crackpot program. On this occasion he offered some advice to the librarian’s daughter, who looked to be Middle School age. “What books are they teaching you to read?” he asked. “Have you read Animal Farm? You need to read Animal Farm.” Again, I have never known this gentleman to read anything other than Internet news, so I suspected he was getting his literary opinions straight from his favorite radio hosts and their related websites.
Michael Savage has been known to reference Animal Farm on his popular Right Wing radio show. This is perhaps not too surprising, as the former Michael Weiner is simultaneously the vilest and the most literary-minded of the radio blowhard. The official Savage website includes a rather incoherent summary of Orwell’s book, presumably transcripted from the Savage Nation show. In this excerpt, Savage drags in Orwell in order to justify his belief that Obama is manipulating the turmoil surrounding attacks on Dallas police officers as an excuse to kill his opponents, apparently. “The Jim Crow laws are long dead,” according to Savage, “but Obama keeps referring to them.” Then Savage rhetorically asks, “Why does Obama keep referring to them?” The explanation is surprising and a little confusing: “If you read Animal Farm, you’ll find the answer.” The confusion is made worse by the fact that Savage keeps confusing the Bolshevik Revolution with the French one. Insisting on being an ardent student of the French Revolution, Savage describes Socialism as one long bloodbath: “Don’t you see what socialism is? It’s leading us to the guillotines.” This would be a surprise to the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who are largely more concerned with raising the minimum wage and combating social justice than in setting up guillotines in the streets.
Further, “Once that blade starts falling, it doesn’t stop. It has an unlimited thirst for blood. Those are rich words. But they’re mine. Once the blade of revolution starts falling, it is never satisfied. There’s no limit to the amount of blood-thirst it has.” According to Savage, revolutionaries eventually kill their allies, because there’s no one else left to kill. Muddying historical matters further, he cites the Cuban revolution as another example.
The most paranoid of the radio commentators, Alex Jones, refers to Animal Farm even more obliquely through his website, which warns of an “Animal Farm Race Database” being compiled by the Obama Administration. This database is an alleged system to sort out U.S. citizens by race, the ominous undertone being that Obama is planning to inflict genocide or race war on the United States. What this has to do with Orwell’s book is vague.
Throughout the modernist years of the twentieth century the art of novel writing was marked if not dominated by writers aligned in one way or another with the Socialist movement: H.G. Wells, Jack London, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, George Orwell.
Orwell wrote Animal Farm for the specific cause of upholding Socialism, explaining “for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement.” The myth to which Orwell referred was the false idea of the Soviet Union as a Socialist state. Orwell saw through the lies of the Soviet state and exposed them at a time when Britain and the United States were allied with the Soviets, which was a brave thing to do. To read this quote brings us to a salient point, that the Left boasted an anti-Stalinist wing almost from the beginning of the Stalinist Era. Indeed, the conservative T.S. Eliot, working on behalf of Faber and Faber, rejected the book for what he discerned to be a Trotskyite point of view. Actually, Orwell was as skeptical of Trotsky as he was of Stalin. Arthur Schelsinger Jr., one of the first reviewers to recognize the book’s merit, assumed it to be typical of “the left-wing British reaction to Soviet Communism.” All this marks a contrast to a common critique of the Left, heard often on Right Wing Radio, which is that the Left has consistently ignored or excused the horrors of Stalin’s reign. Certainly New York and Hollywood had no shortage of pompous intellectuals and limousine liberals willing to overlook the corrupt means in which the revolutionary impulse could be twisted. But they were by no means representative of the American Left as a whole.
When it came to attacking Communism, neither the Left nor the Right could claim a monopoly. Spurred by the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, Orwell and the more conservative Wyndham Lewis produced their respective anti-Communist books Homage to Catalonia and The Revenge for Love in the turbulent year of 1937. But it is Orwell’s work that had the most impact on the public consciousness, enough so that it still reverberates today. Even the realm of talk radio, not generally a haven for profound literary discourse, reverberates with Orwell’s warnings. Unfortunately it does so in a most distorted manner. It is sad that radio listeners, like the retired engineer at my local library, are hearing a warped version of Orwell’s thought. According to Savage, Animal Farm is an exposé of the “socialist lie.” But we know this isn’t true. It’s an exposé of the lie of Soviet Communism, written from a Socialist view. These two things aren’t the same.
Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984, works for the government falsifying historical documents to meet the standards of the ruling Party. These radio hosts are doing much the same. They are distorting the truth to support a Right Wing agenda. This is the irony of the quest for “freedom,” and it is indeed an irony with overtones of 1984. It is an irony that is more chilling than humorous, and it ought to disturb anyone who values the accomplishments of the Left, or anyone who values the truth.
Brett Taylor is a former officer with UNITE HERE local 2614. He has worked as a volunteer union organizer and helped with many campaigns such as Knoxville for Bernie and the Living Wage Campaign in Knoxville, TN.