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September 18, 2007

Comments

Brenda Castillo

I think that to solve Orwell’s dilemma is a difficult one because if the solution to capitalism, based on Orwell, is socialism but socialism does not seem possible, then how can we solve the problems caused by capitalism? I have to agree with Simon that Orwell does not provide a concrete solution in Road to Wigan Pier because he is hesitant to imagine what could be the results of having an equal society, making it harder to find a solution to this problem. Yet at the same time, I can see Orwell’s hesitation because after seen the inhumane conditions and the complexity of the problem in which the poor English class live and work in it may be very difficult to find a solution or even imagine one.
The main problem to acquire socialism in Road to Wigan Pier is due to the fact that the different social classes do not want to have the same ideology of social equality. The problem is not about economic differences between classes because if the upper class wants economic equality, the wealth could be distributed. The problem is that the upper class does not want to see in terms of “exploiter and exploited,” or take an ideological approach, and do not want to admit their perspective roles (as exploiters) that they have taken in society. Basically the social classes are not willing to see for the welfare of the other classes. The other problem is that Orwell states that socialism will improve the situation of the working class through industrialization, yet industrialization requires some kind of capitalistic mechanism to work and that would go against his argument that capitalism should be terminated. It is ironic, as Serena stated previously, that in order for socialism to work, capitalism would be necessary. Therefore, industrialization does not seem to be the best solution.
However, I do have to agree with my classmates that some ideas could help find a solution but I believe that they can not be the solution due to the complexity of society, politics, ideology, and economics. I agree with some of my classmates when they state that education could help the working class rise to a higher social status. I also agree with the idea that Socialists should be ‘deconstructed’ in order to create the “true essence of socialism” and to allow for the working classes to rise to the bourgeoisie level to achieve equality. However, this can only be possible if the state provides education, society accepts an economic and social equality ideology, wealth distribution is enforced through an economic and political stand point, and the lists goes on in order for suggested solutions to fully work.

Shane Barclay

As Vera, Tal, and many others before me have stated, I think Orwell’s desires are too unrealistic. If he is correct that class distinction must dissolve, then I see no solution (except maybe, as he suggests, they should just go to war). He readily admits that the nation’s opinions on class are concrete and it would be difficult to expect people to remove themselves from their beliefs that have been engrained in their minds since birth. He says, “To get rid of class-distinctions you have got to start by understanding how one class appears when seen through the eyes of another.” This is no small task.

I agree that socialism would have some benefits in his current situation, but go as far as saying that “the idea that we must all cooperate….seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system” is taking it a little too far. He had gone through pains to explain why it is not obvious, saying, for example, how he was taught that “the lower classes smell.” He also stretches it when he says that socialism is simply “common sense” because it gets everyone fed. For many, common sense is getting oneself fed, not a nation. Orwell should take his own advice when he says that one cannot simply “wish away” the country’s economic problems.

Michael Pimentel

Our best bet in order to resolve Orwell's dilemma is to leave his suggestions behind. Orwell seems to be on privy to the reasons why Socialism, in numerous of ways, has failed to make progress, but doesn't offer a critique of society that is scathing enough. As he outlines, the repugnance for lower-class culture as perpetuated by class division, the inability for those at the bottom to ever be fully accepted in bourgeois society, and the phenomenon of naive middle-class socialist all contribute to the continued existence of an unfair capitalist order and the inefficacy of socialist politics, yet he addresses these issues inadequately. Moreover, Orwell’s dilemma exists for the sole reason that the suggestions he makes work within the confines of the extant system in an attempt to please all parties.

In regard to the suggestions that have been made, it must be said that people are too apathetic, their social consciousness, too microcosmic for any education, regardless of its merits, to bring about sympathy for plebeians. While it may eventually be ascertained that the middle and lower classes do indeed have common interests, this does not necessitate resounding respect and compassion for those who have, for centuries, been inferior. Although crude, the only way out of Orwell's dilemma, is to force, through means of a shared experience, those middle-class socialists to live through the working class's struggle. For, if those with power in reach were to squalor for an extended period of time in the conditions thrust upon the working population, there would be not contest as to the immediacy of policy change. Those who champion that educating the middle class can bring about marked progress in the social welfare of the masses, serve only to further promote an apparatus that, for all intents and purposes, keeps the population segregated and ensures the longevity of the middle class's supposed superiority. Education, as detailed by Orwell in the first half of his book, is a middle class phantasm, it doesn't bring the middle class to better relate to others, but simply displays its clawing obstinateness to step down from its cloud and embrace a policy that may cause it to venture away from its familiar notions, its values, or, more poignantly, its comfort zone. While what I suggest is a bit of a stretch, if it were to be put into place, it would serve to unite the classes of interest in a way that no amount of education could ever hope to achieve and lead us out of Orwell's dilemma. Experience, in my opinion, speaks with more power than theory alone.

Yu Hsin Chou

I think it is important when looking at Orwell’s ideals towards capitalism and socialism to remember that these –isms are ideals. Anybody looking back in history can see that there is no such thing as true capitalism, socialism, communism, democracy—at least, none that have continued to exist. Even today, the so-called communism of China is mixed with democratic/capitalist elements, and America’s “democracy” is, well, questionable. One point that many classmates have made, then, is in Orwell’s idealism: idealisms towards such concepts as socialism tend to be oversimplified, and Orwell is no exception.

Orwell writes: “We all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. In Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell highlights the bleak conditions of workers as a product of industrialism. My classmates have highlighted Orwell’s disdain for class distinctions and the need for a classless society through education as Orwell’s solution to reconcile his views towards socialism. I agree with this, and would like to add on Christy’s point that “the reason for the animosity is perception.” Oftentimes, class distinctions and other stereotypes are the result of what people are taught as children, and if leaders and educators can place less emphasis on one’s place in society and find a common ground between various classes, the mindset of society can be somewhat changed. This, however, needs to start from the government level—a form of propaganda in itself, which Orwell perhaps would object to.

Another solution is for Orwell himself to change his set views toward society. Professor Delong spoke about Schumpeter and Mellon’s view that the economy has natural ups and downs, and that to intervene would be to restrict the “breath” of the economy. Orwell, then, despite his best intentions towards creating a more fair and righteous society, needs to accept that the most fluid society will be one where it has some room to breathe, and that pure “socialism”, equality, or righteousness could never exist.

Stephen Deng

Orwell’s piece starts with a firsthand account of the lesser known lives of the “lower classes.” He tries very hard indeed to write with a knowing, almost sympathetic view. I believe he does succeed to a point when he describes the destitute situation of the poorer Englishmen. That coal mining section was quite exhaustive and telling.

Now, the issue he sees with relieving some of the economic strain upon the hordes of people he mentions is class stratification, as many before me has pointed out. He makes a good point when he asserts that Marxists and Socialists from the middle-classes simply are not actively participating in any kind of social change. Rather, they tote the buzzwords and theories proudly, but continue on with their fiercely capitalist lives as usual. In other words, people readily rally behind the concept of social welfare and distribution, but are too encased in the present socioeconomic situation to pro- actively give a damn.

As Serena mentions, Orwell prescribes that “we could ‘bring up’ the proletariat to the bourgeoisie’s level.” To me, this seems like a circular argument. He wishes to empower the lower classes so that they can be on a similar social level as the bourgeoisie. Then, with this new unified order, industrialized England would be able to enact Socialist agendas and live happily ever after. This process of “bringing up” the proletariat will have to encounter the issue of the economic dissonance between the classes. The social identity of the proletariat and their economic situation is inherently intertwined. One must rise for the other to do so. If this unity were to be realized, there would be no need for the (supposed) cure that is Socialism.

How do we enable the “talk-the-talk” socialists to get up and actually accomplish something? I would agree with those that advocate a revised educational system. However, I would argue that there is also danger when investing the application of change in an educational system. Our current educational system nurtures a group of intelligent non-actors – the same as those in Orwell’s time. I think when we learn, as we are now, we feel that we are already contributing. We can denounce the evils of poverty, inequity and greed on paper quite eloquently, as evidenced by these assignments, but rarely are we empowered enough to take action.

I believe a revised educational system that encourages people to not only learn about but contribute to socially beneficial programs at a young age can go a long ways in terms of bridging the awkward differences between classes.

How can something like that be carried out done effectively? That is quite beyond me.

Anthony Risi

George Orwell is obviously conflicted throughout his book, The Road to Wigan Pier, over the issue of how to go about deconstructing the capitalist system and replacing it with a socialist one. He goes on for quite a period of time describing the horrors of life within an industrial capitalist society: pollution, exploitation, and poor working as well as living conditions. He even spends a good amount of time observing coal miners and describing how drastically different their lives are from middle class citizens.

This brings about the reason for his confliction; the issue of far-reaching social stratification. In order for a more socialist society to come about, there must be essentially a melding of the social classes. Orwell however continues to describe how extremely difficult this process would be. The more powerful and upper-class citizens would most certainly not we willing to relinquish their superior positions and wealth; and similarly, they would not be willing to let a significant amount of the lower classes rise up, as that would also compromise their position.

I agree with Chun Chung Chan’s position that Orwell’s belief is that socialist “ideology is unfit to the society at this point.” This is true in the sense that besides a violent proletarian revolution, there is no way the upper-classes will give up any power. However, I believe that the only way to bring about any type of socialist change is through increased education overall, as well as the implementation of socialist policies by the government, such as universal healthcare, public education, and welfare services, which were not in place at that time. It is by no means a “revolution” in the Marxist sense, yet it is an evolved version of the capitalist system designed to close the gap between social classes.

David Guarino

As strange as it may sound, Orwell's dilemma is that of both classical Marxism and classical utilitarianism: how does one achieve justice in economic outcomes. Granted, each party presents their own policy preferences in this regard (be it revolutionary change in the ownership of the economy's commanding heights or radical marketization of every aspect of society), but I believe the goal is fundamentally the same: maximizing aggregate welfare. And I believe this is Orwell's endgame as well.

As for the way out of this dilemma, I believe Orwell's primary conclusion that change in the nature of the economic system is in the interest of the vast majority of people currently living under advanced capitalism (despite perhaps different class associations and identities, a subject so complex that nary a left-wing polemicist has aptly described it) is correct.

More boldly, perhaps, I believe it came to fruition: the social-democratic consensus of the postwar years in Europe (and America, to an extent). The problem Orwell is really confronting is not that systemic change in the economy is impossible, but rather that the idea is marketed poorly. When it comes down to it, Orwell wants a system where people have a decent standard of living, and where the excesses of market fundamentalism are eradicated. And he believes that most people, given the chance, would choose this system over both fascism and laissez-faire capitalism.

In short, Orwell wants a grand bargain.

And this is precisely what happened in the postwar years in Europe. The leaders of capital (businessmen), government (politicians), and labor (union-heads) all sat down at the table and said, "Enough. We've seen what can happen when the means to making people better off - whether the market or state-ownership - overshadow the true end, which should be providing the majority of people with a life they can call 'well-off.' We all want a prosperous Europe. Let's make this work."

And they did. For a while, at least. The challenges of the postwar consensus and management of the economy are issues for another day, but Orwell's dream I believe did come true - at least for 20 years or so. That it took a tragedy on the scale of the WWII to achieve the consensus he sees as so patently obvious is a problem. But by the time of his writing, that was out of his control.

Sam Iverson

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell depicts a dehumanizing and irreparable capitalist system in England. The greatest vice of capitalism, which has exacerbated poverty and working conditions, is the fracture between the working class and the middle class. The true nature of a socialist system, that values human equality alongside liberty and justice to decrease poverty and raise standards of living, is the key solution to this social and political problem. However, Orwell falls short of offering a clear and capable method of transition to socialism. Orwell hurts his argument by relying upon ideals instead of facts as well as missing the essentials to unification.

Socialism could be a plausible solution to the horrendous conditions produced from capitalism if the bourgeois were willing to cede their liberty and social standing to the filthy poor they employ. However, this is not rational. While it would help the working class to raise wages and improve working conditions, these changes would only hurt the bourgeois class that manages them. It is irrational to think that a class would feel a moral obligation to help their laborers and relinquish some of their liberty to aid the lower-class.

This is especially difficult because socialist dialogue demonizes the middle class in which they should be uniting with. To create a classless society, a movement would have to look past the characteristics that make up people of each class and pinpoint unifying qualities amongst the classes. However, Orwell only highlights the wretched living conditions of the working class, which scares away the middle class from wanting to associate with them, and creates an evil image of the capitalist, which will only persuade them not to provide aid. Thus, Orwell goes about theorizing a socialist society in an impractical way by making enemies out of the classes he seeks to unite.

Instead of searching for the way to transition from capitalism to socialism, it is best to occupy ourselves with a strategy that would self-correct the capitalist system. Rather than develop a classless system that values equality, it would be better to strengthen a competitive system that values liberty. What should be noted is that with greater public awareness of social problems, there is greater public scrutiny of unfair practices. This will force capitalists to independently correct working conditions and unintentionally raise living standards for their laborers. After all, it is more logical for someone from below to aspire to a higher class than for someone from above to settle into a single entity with the low.

John Keh

George Orwell’s book starts off with the inhumane conditions that capitalism has produced. Through vivid descriptions and a first hand look at the poor English families and their work environment, Orwell comes to the conclusion that a change needs to be made. In the latter half of the book, Orwell calls for the implementation of socialism, but he then goes and points out all the problems of the socialist school of thought at the time. He is in a sense playing the devils advocate, but his arguments against socialism sound too appealing. The problems of socialism that he points out are very relevant and prevent socialism from plausibly being implemented and working. One of the solutions to this dilemma would be to eliminate any prejudices that society may have, such as class structures or even racial prejudices. Orwell states that class prejudices hinder the ability to create an equal socialist society. In order to achieve a socialist utopia, Orwell hopes for people to concentrate upon the core concepts of socialism, such as fairness and social and economic equality. Educating the public of the real concepts and ideals of socialism is one of the only ways to wipe away preconceived, negative notions of socialism that have spread. Orwell hopes to get rid of the political problems and to focus on the concepts that make socialism what it is.

Stephanie Loville

I agree with the previous post that the dilemma arises out of the goal for maximum aggregate welfare and how to achieve justice in regard to economics. While many attempt to solve this dilemma through the debated economic policy preferences I think it is best to also look at the political policy that is backing it. The economic policy has no real bearing if the political nature is still very despotic.
I think the best answer to this dilemma is a free government / political structure with an economic policy regulated by that free representative government. If the people are able to vote on the economic policies and stances that the nation will take or at least on the officials who will make those decisions then a very strictly regulated economic policy would not be so bad. If people were educated on economic affairs so that they could make decisions and vote accordingly, then the economic policies would benefit the greatest subset of the population socio-economically.
Under the old capitalist system, as Orwell portrays it, the resources are clearly sucked from the working classes who are left living in poverty while those in the class above have more than enough comparatively. Mr. O’ Reilly and PAC Joe the Old Age pensioners “got what you’d expect for 10 shillings- bed in the attic and bread and butter”. He notes that he only got out of bed to receive his pension and was concerned with how long he had to live after being diagnosed with cancer in regard to how it affected his insurance policy. This is contrasted with the hopeless traveling workers whose living standard is compared to that of living I prison, where they can only afford to come in to sleep.
Orwell realizes that capitalism is a system that is driven by money and competition. The rich always desire to be richer and the system in place allows them to do just that. He also realizes that capitalism offers a place where resources can be distributed, although not evenly, but without bias. I think that as long as politics and the economic system remain so intrinsically intertwined that a free market must be backed by a representative political structure.

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