Thanks to his Russian connections in Paris, Boris hears of another opportunity for him and Orwell to make money. Many Russians are living in Paris in exile, including a number of Bolsheviks eager to recruit more to their fold. Orwell writes that most of the Russian expatriates are hard-working, but that some, including a number of now penniless Russian aristocrats, are swindlers. They eat out at smart restaurants, impressing waiters with their claims to royalty and wealth, and leave the waiters with the bill.
Waiters, over-worked and underpaid, end up footing the bill for Russian royalty whose only real claim to superiority is luck of birth. It’s likely that many of the Russian aristocrats Orwell mentions immigrated to Paris in the wake of the Russian Revolution, which unseated Tsar Nicholas in 1917.
Boris’s proposal is that they seek out a group of Bolshevik newspapermen who run a communist weekly. Orwell, a writer, might find employment with them writing pieces on British politics. Orwell is leery of writing for a Bolshevik newspaper given the French police’s intolerant attitudes toward communists, but he agrees to the scheme. He and Boris, in the company of a Russian journalist friend of Boris’s, sneak into the newspaper office fronted by a laundromat.
This entire scheme is suspect from the first. The fact that Orwell agrees to it, given his reservations and admitted ignorance of British politics, hints both at his desperation for regular employment and lack of respect for the Bolshevik cause. Boris, likewise, has no sympathy for the communists. Both men hope only to make money.
The publisher scolds Orwell for not bringing a load of washing with him as a cover. Boris, the publisher, and the journalist speak in Russian while Orwell imagines their discussion is like that of characters in a Russian novel—intelligent, passionate, wide-ranging. Not so. They want Boris and Orwell to pay a 25 franc entrance fee just to have the opportunity t o write for the newspaper. Boris pays an installment, and Orwell, having convinced the publisher that he has a working knowledge of British politics and sport, agrees to write for the Russian weekly at a rate of 150 francs per article. The publisher tells Orwell to expect word from him by the next day’s post, and Boris, ever the optimist, buys a cigar in celebration.
Orwell’s assumption that the men in the office are having a conversation straight out of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky reveals the depth of his naiveté, courtesy of his privileged background. An educated aristocrat, Orwell’s first thought is that a group of Russians in a room together would obviously be engaged in a philosophical discussion. Really, they too are concerned primarily with money.
The mail, however, brings nothing, and when Orwell and Boris return to the secret society headquarters to investigate, the men are gone. Orwell then concludes that they were not communist newspaper publishers at all, but small-time crooks running a profitable scheme in which they charge gullible parties a so-called “membership fee,” only to flee just before they are found out. Orwell has to admit that the scam, while clearly unethical and corrupt, is rather ingenious.
Orwell and Boris choose to believe that the newspapermen value Orwell’s unique talents even when it’s clear he has very little to contribute. In this way, ego dooms them both, as does their tendency to take people at face value—a dangerous move in a capitalist society where criminality is rewarded and honesty punished.