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Classics #2: George Orwell's Critique of Leftist Socialism

George Orwell’s Critique of Leftist Socialism (October 2019)

I’ve recently been put onto a book written by George Orwell called The Road to Wigan Pier, in which Orwell discusses some of the most important social issues of his time. The book is broken up into two parts. The first part is a documentary style account of the subpar living and working conditions of the working class (proletariat) in England at the time. Coal miners, brick layers, people of that sort. He discusses that cleanliness and hygiene is a luxury not had by these people, and in his opinion this is the root of disdain for the working class. The bourgeoisie and middle class people can’t help but feel disgust for the reality of dirtiness. This is the main reason the upper and middle class, Orwell argues, attempt to keep their distance from the working class.

This makes a lot of sense to me. I can see wanting to avoid being around someone with bad breath, a raunchy odor, and poor manners. I can see how this would, and did, create a snobby culture within the bourgeoisie towards the average proletariat.

Orwell then writes about his own experience of leaving the comfort of his upper middle class life and going to live among the working class for a brief period of time. He ventures on to live in the same meager conditions as the proletariat. He writes that they are some of the kindest people when dealing with their own, but at the same time sees the resentment for the bourgeoisie. And who could blame them? These people living in poverty and filth, who are clearly still good human beings, are treated as outcasts by others. That is unfair, unjust, and they have every right to resent the bourgeoisie. He goes on later to make the point that often times that since the bourgeoisie don’t face the same struggles as the working class, they are often blindly ignorant to the struggles faced by the proletariat. Adversity toughens people up, and builds character. If a human doesn’t NEED to suffer, then they will tend to avoid it.

He then discusses ANOTHER problem. How when someone of the working class does manage to break through into the upper class, usually through academic scholarship, these types of people do not represent the working class people as a whole. They tend to be very disagreeable types, and often have no problem tearing into the bourgeoisie for how ignorant they are to the issues and struggles of the proletariat. And who can blame them? Here you are, struggling to make it out of a poor situation you are born into, and you come into contact with bourgeoisie society. A society of people who live a much softer, luxurious lifestyle. It would be very hard to not be upset by the way these people live in comparison to the realities that you the proletariat came from. Orwell notes, “If you want to make an enemy of a man, tell him that his ills are incurable.” He goes on to explain that his is the net result of most meetings between proletarian and bourgeois.

“Perhaps this class-breaking business isn’t so simple as it looked! With loving though slightly patronizing smiles we set out to greet our proletarian brothers, and behold! Our proletarian brothers-in so far as we understand them – are not asking for our greetings, they are asking us to commit suicide. When the bourgeois sees it in that form he takes to flight, and if is flight is rapid enough it may carry him to Fascism.” (Orwell 153)

He then follows with the acknowledgement that everyone half educated knows that Socialism, as a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out. At the very least, it would ensure everyone get enough to eat. He notes that Socialism is such elementary common sense he is sometimes amazed that it had not already established itself. The idea that we all must cooperate to see that each individual does their fair share of the work and in return gets their share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one could say it would be impossible to not accept Socialism unless they themselves have some corrupt motive to cling onto the current system.

Yet the fact remains, the average thinking person nowadays is not merely not a Socialist, he/she is actively hostile to Socialism. Orwell argues that this is mainly due to mistaken methods of propaganda.

“I am making out a case for the sort of person who is in sympathy with the fundamental aims of Socialism, who has the brains to see that Socialism would ‘work’, but who in practice always takes flight when Socialism is mentioned. Question a person of this type, and you will often get the semi-frivolous answer: ‘ I don’t object to Socialism, but I do object to Socialists.’ Logically it is a poor argument but it carries weight with many people. As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.

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