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September 18, 2007

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Vera Bersudskaya

In the first part of the book, Orwell exposes the evils of the capitalist economy as he sees it during the Depression years. Terrible working conditions in the mines, mass unemployment, and the resulting social malaise lead him to the conclusion that capitalism needs to be replaced by another form of economic organization—namely, socialism. However, he is aware of the numerous obstacles that may prevent the implementation of socialism. Among them, he stresses the rigidities of class structure, which continue to govern people’s consciousness, and thus make it difficult for socialist bourgeoisie to organize and ally itself with the working class to bring about socialism. Likewise, he acknowledges major differences in perception and understanding of what socialism is about: the “ordinary working man” thinks that it is about “better wages and shorter hours and nobody bossing you about” while its “essential aims are justice and liberty”. Orwell discusses another important common misunderstanding about socialism: many associate socialism with progress, and therefore identify it with mechanization, ignoring its ‘human’ aspect.
According to him, the working class and the bourgeoisie (who finds itself in the process of ‘proletarianization’) need to realize that the question is not really about class differences, rather it is about the “cleavage between exploiter and exploited”. And once they understand that, they will be able to act together (and ignore the class differences) to achieve their common interests—the establishment of socialism and the elimination of the oppressors.
I think that the solution that he finds is less than realistic, because it is still unclear how the working class and the bourgeoisie are supposed to realize that they do have common interests. The fact that socialism is unpopular politically implies the need for clarification of its goals. I don’t really see a solution for Orwell’s dilemma, other than maybe instituting socialist education programs aimed at explaining the true essence of socialism.

Serena Yang

As Vera points out at the end of her first paragraph, Orwell concerns himself with bridging the social gap between the working class and the middle class because the unification of these classes will be the catalyst for a real socialist revolution. So in many ways, what Orwell invokes when he calls upon socialism as the cure for what ails English society is not just an economic or a political revolution, but more of an ideological revolution. And I agree with Vera when she says that Orwell fails to provide a concrete method of creating awareness of the middle class and the working class’s common interests.

However, at one point, Orwell asserts that the greatest barrier between these two classes is the bourgeoisie’s class prejudice against the tramps and the working classes, what Orwell calls the proletariat’s bad smell. He believes that to abolish the classes would necessitate the destruction of a part of that class’s identity, an idea that is wholly repellant to the middle-class worker and is therefore a huge obstacle to socialism; the bourgeoisie will praise the proletariat and can admire him, but is unwilling to become like him. But instead of “lowering” the bourgeoisie to the proletariat’s level as a way of eradicating class and class divisions, we could “bring up” the proletariat to the bourgeoisie’s level. As Orwell emphasizes in the first half of his book, unemployment and housing shortages are market failures that could be corrected with assistance from the state. So in dissolving class distinctions by transforming the proletariat into the bourgeoisie, their interests would intersect, and their respective classes would become one. Nevertheless, this too is not a wholly practical solution to Orwell’s dilemma, but as he himself admits, there is no one in England who does not wish to see a better standard of living for the working class. Perhaps, in this way, capitalism must, ironically, be used to unite the two classes so that socialism may come.

Adriana Gomez

Very bold point, Serena: “there is no one in England who does not wish to see a better standard of living for the working class.” But in addition to this, Orwell also mentions that it is class distinctions that keep the different classes in struggle against each other. He concludes that there must be some sort of interest that each class must protect amongst each other because everyone in society is interdependent.

In his book The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell argues that the biggest problem in society is the fact that there are class distinctions. Through these class distinctions, the bourgeoisie class keeps the working class in poverty and inhumane conditions. He comes to empathize with the working class and finds that he is easily made an equal to them while class distinction remained wide with the “middle class” workers. The elimination of classes looks likely to be a possible solution for his dilemma until he comes to the new conclusion in his book Homage to Catalonia. In this book Orwell describes the lack of class distinctions that are presented to him as he “serves in the militia.” There are no class distinctions in the militia. Orwell writes, “And it was here that those few months in the militia were valuable to me. For the Spanish militias, while they lasted, were a sort of microcosm of a classless society. In that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of everything but no privilege and no boot-licking, one got, perhaps, a crude forecast of what the opening stages of Socialism might be like.”

Through all of his arguments for and against socialism, I will advocate that some of the aspects of socialism that he has listed are ones that look likely to keep people from falling in the hands of inhumane treatment of the bourgeoisie class and from suffering from shortages with the application of socialism. For one thing, in his book, The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell mentions that socialism will improve the working conditions of the working class through means of industrialization. Industrialization means more machines, and more machines mean that there is less human labor and the human life is made simpler. Aside from this, more capital use and innovation will be likely to create more abundance of goods and thus save people from shortages. Another point from this same book is made to say that classes must find their interests in the welfare of the other class. That is, everyone must acknowledge that it is in their best interest to assure that the other class is not being exploited or harmed for their own interest rather than to think that domination should be established over another class. These two points together, I believe, would help solve the bigger portion of Orwell’s dilemmas.

Jennifer Miller

As Vera and Serena mentioned, Orwell’s dilemma is that socialized class divisions between the working and middle class prevent coalescence around common goals of undoing oppression that could lead society to socialism. I agree with Vera about the possible solution of “instituting socialist education programs aimed at explaining the true essence of socialism.”
I feel that Orwell outlines solutions to his dilemma that fall along those lines, but that he first wants to deconstruct Socialists in order for them to properly express and embody the “true essence of socialism”. He puts the burden of class deconstruction mainly on the bourgeois left, whom he describes as inherently hypocritical, snobby, or just plain weird. He feels that this group will never make Socialism happen unless they stop being vegetarian sandal wearers, and over-intellectualizing socialism (i.e. using big words).
He feels they should put political brainpower towards finding common goals instead of fancy theories, as he states, “Probably we could do with a little less talk about' capitalist' and 'proletarian' and a little more about the robbers and the robbed.
The unification of classes around common struggles is more possible due to the ‘proletarianization’ of the middle class, as Vera mentioned. I think this point is particularly important as in addressing how the Socialists, and Orwell could attempt to address the actual concerns of the middle class instead of alienating them. The main thrust behind this is according to Orwell that “There is a quite obvious danger that in the next few years large sections of the middle class will make a sudden and violent swing to the Right”. This is because as things get harder for the middle class, “most of them are clinging to their gentility under the impression that it keeps them afloat.”
In addition, Orwell sees the “mistaken Communist tactic of sabotaging democracy” as a barrier. He wants Socialists to integrate in tangible ways into existing social reforms to address poverty and inequality; such as embracing and reforming both (political and non) occupational centers so that they are either more practical or more Socialist, respectively.
His dilemma may be resolved by Orwell (and others) following his own advice and breaking down Socialist ideals into common language, supporting struggles not ideologies, and convincing his Socialist peers to do the same. Orwell said, “in order to decide if you are genuinely in favor of Socialism, you have got to decide whether things at present are tolerable or not tolerable”. Perhaps education and strategy on the part of the left will help each class come to address this question in a dynamic and organic way.

Hye Jin Lee

The ultimate solution is to eliminate the class distinction. In Orwell’s words, we need to “drop that misleading habit of pretending that the only proletarians are manual labourers.” This explains how socialism is supposed to be made a “fair deal,” without division of classes from the exploited to the exploiters. Orwell writes that it is foolish to reject socialism when the alternate choice is fascism. I propose education as the key to eliminate or more realistically, reduce class distinction. Where Orwell writes in “The Road to Wigan Pier”, that the middle class rejects education, I think that it is not true and was not true for many working class people. Many were pressured by the family and others to work and if they were given a chance to obtain solid education on a higher level, they would have taken that chance. As we see today, we have public education have people who rise from their original family class towards a higher one with education, but they are still the unusual cases. Orwell writes how a person from one class “invariably marries into his own class,” signifying how difficult it is to leave one’s own class.

As Vera and many others have said, it is critical for the socialism to be based on bringing classes together and create an “intelligent propaganda” that is desirable for all. Elimination of class distinction is the most important goal. In order to achieve this goal in my opinion, although Orwell argues unsuccessful, education plays a significant role because in order for people to have common interests, they need to be educated about their society with ability to see the bigger picture rather than only the immediate future. They must not be followers but leaders of their own thoughts.

Kurt De La Rosa

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell uses the examples of the living and working conditions of the people in Wigan to show his point of how great of a difference there was between the lower and middle classes. The coal miners and other individuals that lived in the industrial parts of town experienced such poor living conditions because of wages that the difference’s between the lower class and middle class could easily be seen. As Serena says, Orwell exemplified how the bourgeoisie was the main reason the differences of classes could be seen because it was the bourgeoisie that mentally and verbally distanced themselves from “lower” people. If we were to fix the problem by the means of socialism it would be the government’s job to help increase the living conditions of these lower class workers in an attempt to create a “visual” equality between the bourgeoisie and the lower-working class. This “idea” in itself would be very difficult due to the fact that most of the countries in Europe were still battling debts from WWI and in the best interests of the governments, improving living conditions for the lower classes is not at the top of their priorities.

Amitha Harichandran

As others have pointed out, Orwell’s argument centers on the class structure and the “impassable barrier” between them. As he details what he saw with the miners, he is amazed at how the majority of society knows so little about the mining process, which is essential for living. Orwell disputes the myth that these miners are paid decently and airs out the rumors that have long hidden the struggle that these workers face. It seems impossible, that mining, which plays such a key role in daily life, is a process unknown to those that reap the benefits of it.

Stemming from this observation, Orwell argues that “To get rid of class-distinctions you have got to start by understanding how one class appears when seen through the eyes of another.” He points out that he, himself, was so blissfully unaware of the working class conditions. While later on, it becomes “the fashion to pretend that the glass is penetrable” Orwell acknowledges the facts that while “we all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them.” Therefore, there is never a realistic attempt made to eliminate these barriers, as people fail to realize how intertwined their social class is in their life. Eliminating classes, is not simple, and the struggle comes in that while people yearn for the advantages of a classless society they do not want the potential consequences that also follow. Orwell provides an example of the middle class, who “while theoretically pining for a class-less society, cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige.”

Orwell is able to identify why Socialism has not yet triumphed, however he is unable to properly explain why this is so. He is able to correctly pinpoint the problem to the reluctance of individuals to change their own habits although they advocate a system for which change is necessary because they are two focused on the immediate impact rather than the larger idea.

Will Chen

I agree with the prior posts that the underlying problem is the existence of class structures and people's lack of commitment to abolish it, since it has been ingrained in their minds since childhood. Orwell uses his observations of the mining industry to show how little he knew about the working class and how much he learned afterwards, and ultimately, how he attained a new level of respect for them. Orwell is trying to show that the middle class should try and understand what the working class has to go through, and from that, class structure may be abolished. However, as mentioned afore, the problem lies in the fact that nobody wants to "sink" down to the working class level. This is why I don't see a solution unless everyone had to "start over" for some reason, knowing that the best solution is to help each other out equally. It is simply too difficult for the "haves" to go down to the level of the "have nots." Like Orwell mentioned, the only thing the middle class could do is sympathize with the working class, but they would never want to actually go down to their level.

Zack Simon

“Socialism is an urban creed,” so says Orwell. “It grew up more or less concurrently with industrialism, it has always had its roots in the town proletariat and the town intellectual, and it is doubtful whether it could ever have arisen in any but an industrial society.” I think that this statement of Orwell’s is telling of his foundation within a developing community, in the midst of progressive municipal civic and social activities of both distinct classes, in the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Orwell writes to great lengths to personify the stereotype of the Socialist, almost creature-like in description. He offers this poignant remark: “The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight.” Without any doubt, I feel, George Orwell supports the Socialist cause as the positive alternative to some inevitable tyranny, namely the prospect of Fascism.

However, for someone like myself who is admittedly fixated upon the sociological notion of Class as a historical and contemporary reality, Orwell’s remark on the “godless conception of ‘progress’” is a powerful statement. He says that this progress “revolts against anyone with a feeling of tradition or rudiments of an aesthetic sense” and is very notable in the context of the class-based milieu of European socio-communal life that Orwell lives in as he writes. In the context of this contemporary notion of a State that supports this class distinction as a basis for social prestige and increased ideological domination, it seems obvious why a Socialist revolution (or at the least, a major reformation) is not inevitable. Rather, echoing the sentiments of my classmates who have posted before me, education seems to be the greatest potential for equalization between the two classes referred to the ‘bourgeoisie’ and the ‘proletariat’ and something that Orwell mostly ignores. The education of the proletarian class seems to be the best solution to equalizing a society, even where the dominating (bourgeoisie) class inherently has a vested interest in preventing their subordinate’s education that potentially translates to social mobility.

I think that George Orwell himself is above all hesitant to offer a particular solution because, though maybe not admittedly so, he too is hesitant to imagine this newly realized State that rises from the collapse of current and historical social life as he knows it.

Kinzie Kramer

What was ever apparent to me while reading Orwell was his constant confliction. He begins with a terrible description of the Brookers and how much they disgust him, followed by a defense in which he argues that these people are the by-product of the modern world and cannot be held accountable for being sickly folk living in a terrible slum. But then later he complains that even in the lowliest of conditions, indicating the Brookers, it is never beyond one to remove their chamber pots from the eating area, and how that is just unacceptably grotesque and “their own fault.”

Like the Brooker discussion, Orwell is constantly going back and forth deconstructing and defending both capitalism and socialism and the many classes of society these systems affect throughout “The Road to Wigan Pier.” To me, it never seemed like he came to any worthwhile solutions. He discusses preconditions that would be necessary for socialism to exist, but does not detail how to get to that type of environment.

For example, he makes clear that class distinctions need to be diminished for socialism to function, and then details basically everything that is preventing this from occurring. Weighing in on the previous discussion of class distinction eradication, I disagree with Vera that “the question is not really about class differences, rather it is about the ‘cleavage between exploiter and exploited.” That comment does not makes sense because the issue of exploiter and exploited is virtually the same as class distinctions- the upper classes are usually the exploiter and the lower class are the exploited. And in reference to Serena’s suggestion that you could bring the lower classes up, that is not a viable solution either because the upper classes will prevent the lower classes from coming up for the same reasons that they would not lower themselves in the first place. The upper classes tend to like their superiority, and Orwell uses himself as proof of this, how while he might be a revolutionary he is still a snob.

I don’t exactly see a solution to Orwell’s dilemma, but there seem to be small steps that society could take. The following are a few circumstances that could be changed, perhaps leading to lessening the gap between the classes:
1. Do not wholly separate products from their processes. He uses coal as an example of this, how while “watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit.” Certainly not everyone needs to be a coal miner, but if people were more aware of how much goes into making coal available for fuel, then people might think twice or at least be thankful every time they used coal. A current day example of this is the movement for people to know where their food comes from- to understand the processes of making food available and they type of foods/nutrients their bodies need.
2. Don’t “force the working man into a passive role.” Orwell describes how the working man is poorly treated everyday, constantly being told to wait around, and how this creates a feeling of indignity. General relations between classes would be improved if this type of domination were not constantly exercised, even in “petty circumstances.”
3. Assist useful education. He makes a distinction that it is not intellectual education he is calling for, but job skill education like that of the “revolutionary organization” N.U.W.M.--National Unemployed Workers' Movement.

Of course these three suggestions are not perfect or even whole solutions, but the issue that Orwell is attacking is not one that is easily solvable. He cannot even come to his mind, but does excellently flesh out the issue for others to try to wrap their head around.

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