New essay

I forgot to post this when it came out. (Sorry.) I’ve got a new essay up at the Los Angeles Review of Books. This one takes a look at George Orwell’s Animal Farm, through the prism of John Reed’s parody, Snowball’s Chance:

Orwell, with his innate dislike for ideology and abstraction… [was] sensitive to the excesses of totalitarianism at a time when many were not, and that sensitivity is a prerequisite to any kind of political literature — to any reasonable politics at all. But a political literature, and a political understanding, that stops there is a deeply impoverished one. Problems exist, and they need to be addressed — and only shouting “no” will not accomplish that. Reed’s novel fails on many levels, but it succeeds in convincing the reader that merely removing Napoleon and his “Animalism” does not by itself guarantee that Animal Farm would be a happier place — and in so doing, he finally strikes a blow at Orwell’s original novella. Essentially, Orwell’s late, dystopian works — Animal Farm and 1984 — are the beginning of a conversation, not its end.

You can read the rest of the essay here.

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New Essay Online

Hey everyone, I’ve got a new essay up at the Los Angeles Review of books site (check it out here). This one takes a look at Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary:

Serge is ultimately a literary figure, in the sense that watching the push and pull between his unsentimental practicality and the unabashed idealism on display in the Memoirs is essential to understanding his appeal. He can be quite blunt on the weaknesses of human nature, writing, “Totalitarianism is within us,” while at the same time insisting, “The future seems to me, despite the clouds on the horizon, to be full of possibilities vaster than any we have glimpsed in the past.” He is upfront about his inability to turn Soviet society against Stalin, admitting that he was “too much of an intellectual” to be an effective activist. The Memoirs tells a harrowing story — Serge spent most of his adult life in prison and/or exile and saw the Russian Revolution, which for him was the pinnacle of his life in radical activism, lead to one of the most brutal dictatorships in human memory. But it also is a forward-looking book, committed to recording the history of an era in the obvious hope that others will learn from it. It is both realist and idealist, an attitude that is essential to any functional left-wing, or even liberal, movement

Longtime readers might remember I also took a look at Serge’s fiction a few years back. If you haven’t had a chance, you can read that essay here.