George Orwell: A Political Life

Dr Alan Sennett
Tuesday, 4 May 2021 - 6:30pm


Why does George Orwell matter today? Those who know something of his writings can probably name at least two of his books - Animal Farm and Ninety Eighty-Four - and appreciate their importance has to do with his analysis of authoritarian regimes.

Many of his phrases and concepts have entered the lexicon: ‘Big Brother’, ‘newspeak’ and ‘room 101’. To use the term ‘Orwellian’ is to invoke ideas of dystopia and authoritarianism. The intrusive state, and falsification of history. ‘Fake news’, repression and manipulation. In our age of the Alt-right, ‘QAnon’, and many other conspiracy theories circulating through social media, it would seem Orwell’s political insights have never been so apposite. Orwell’s analysis of the role of the intellectual in society, the nature of state power and the positive arguments he advanced for what might be called ‘democratic socialism’, need to be understood in the context of his own experience as an imperial policeman in Burma; a struggling writer during the Depression; a fighter against Fascism in Spain; wartime radio propagandist; and analyst of the emerging Cold War. 

Contrary to claims by some on the political Right, Dr Alan Sennett will argue that understanding Orwell’s commitment to a form of socialist democracy is fundamental to appreciating his world view and, hence, his writings.


About the speaker

Dr Alan Sennett studied modern history at Sheffield City Polytechic, took an MA in Political Sociology at Leeds University and obtained a PhD from Manchester University. He works for the Open University, Liverpool University and various adult educational organisations in addition to freelance lecturing, research and writing. He is part of the Manchester Continuing Education Network (MANCENT) that delivers adult education courses of university level in the North West. His main areas of research and and publication concern the Left in the Spanish Civil War and film propaganda. He is the author of Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937 (Brill, Leiden 2014) and articles in the Journal of Popular Film and Television and Framework.

Current research includes the collaboration between the Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens and American writers Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and Archibald Macleish that produced the pro-republican propaganda film the Spanish Earth (1937).



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Event image: photograph of Trump demo in Denver, Colorado, USA, by Logan Weaver on Unsplash