Form and Content
For most countries the Great Depression began following the New York stock market crash of 1929. In Great Britain, the Depression merely worsened an already depressed economy that had been hard hit by the consequences of World War I. Between mid-1922 and 1929, the British economy had lurched from one crisis to another, with almost one-fifth of the adult male working force being on welfare (the dole) by 1929. Following the American stock market crash, the situation worsened, especially in northern England, the heart of British heavy industrial strength, where unemployment soon reached the one-third mark. Faced with an economic catastrophe of unparalleled magnitude, British politicians were unable to adopt measures which might have dealt humanely with the misery. Many intellectuals of the period, having lost faith in the political parties of the day, turned to socialism or to Marxism for cures to their country’s economic maladies.
One group, the Left Book Club, provided its forty thousand subscribers with a monthly book whose aim was “to help in the terribly urgent struggle for World Peace & a better social & economic order & against Fascism, by giving . . . such knowledge as will immensely increase their efficiency.” Coeditors Victor Gollancz, Harold Laski, and John Strachey commissioned authors to write works suitable to this task. One of the authors selected was George Orwell, then considered to be a developing voice for socialism. What the editors envisioned was a work in the tradition of Friedrich Engels’...
(The entire section is 631 words.)