Fact Check

Did Orwell Write That People Who Elect Corrupt Politicians Are 'Accomplices'?

A seemingly Orwellian quote made a comeback during the 2020 election season.

Published Nov 30, 2020

(Eingeschränkte Rechte für bestimmte redaktionelle Kunden in Deutschland. Limited rights for specific editorial clients in Germany.) *25.06.1903-21.01.1950+Schriftsteller, GrossbritannienPorträt vor einem Mikrofon der BBC (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images) (ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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Author George Orwell wrote: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims … but accomplices.”

In times of political turmoil, George Orwell’s words usually carry something relevant for everyone. One such alleged quote has been used on social media for many years, often to critique the election victories of particular figures and attributed to the famed writer who had also been a journalist with the BBC.

The quote: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims … but accomplices.”

In order to determine its origins, we reached out to a number of experts at the Orwell Society — whose patron is Richard Blair, Orwell's adopted son — and The Orwell Foundation, which brings together Orwell scholars and awards the Orwell Prizes. Representatives of both organizations said that this quote could not be attributed to Orwell.  

A cursory internet search indicates Newsweek claimed Orwell wrote the statement in the 1940s. The quote was attributed to a collection of Orwell’s essays in "The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: As I please, 1943-1945." But we were unable to find the quote in an archived version of the book online.

Leslie Hurst, a trustee of the Orwell Society, told us that this was not an Orwell quote, as it could not be found in his "Complete Works" collection. He believes the line was loosely copied from a sentence about fascism (not elections) from an Orwell essay titled "Rudyard Kipling":

Whoever coined this phrase seems to have copied the construction of a sentence from George Orwell's 1942 essay "Rudyard Kipling": "Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices of Fascists," which suggests a certain intelligence and knowledge of Orwell's work, but while the statement "A people that elect [...]" may be true it does a disservice to attribute it to Orwell.

Benedict Cooper, publicity officer for the society who had most of the Orwell library digitized on his computer, also could not find the above quote in the collection.

Hurst also pointed us to Wikiquote, which he said "is very good with misattributed Orwell quotations," but the above quote was not listed there.

We also reached out to a number of academics, and we will update this post if we receive new information.

Given that expert institutions associated with Orwell's work have not heard of this quote, we rate this claim as "False."

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.