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September 18, 2007


Helen Louie

Orwell argues that Socialism is necessary to improve the lives of the working/poor class by improving their living and working conditions; however, he believes that Socialism is not possible mainly because of class distinctions. He believes that the Socialists of his day were not attractive as a political movement because they were mostly from the middle class and did not understand the working class, in which they were fighting for. Moreover, the Socialists put their own, middle class interests, over those of the working class. Therefore, he believes that the working/poor class’s lives were incapable of improving unless social classes are eliminated and the population understands Socialism. I agree with Orwell because his argument makes sense and this dilemma still exists today.

The best solution to this dilemma is to educate the middle class and the Socialists about the living and working conditions of the working/poor class, as well as redefine Socialism, and this is what Orwell did with his text. However, in order for Socialism to work, people need not only to understand the situation but be able to put aside their class differences and prejudice; this is unlikely because income inequalities and class prejudices have existed throughout history and still exist today. Eliminating social classes and forcing equality among populations does not work, as we have seen with China and Russia. Orwell believes that situations such as Russia and China occurred because the Socialist did not fully understand Socialism. Therefore, the best solution would be to educate the population and to make them understand that it is most beneficial to have Socialism and to be rid of social classes and status, thus making the population want Socialism.

However, it is not realistic to believe that educating the population will create change and make people believe that it is best for there to be equality. This is a result of humans always wanting more than they had and attempting to better their lives. In addition, it is hard for people to adjust to new lifestyles, such as the middle class losing a lot of their perks. Therefore, the best way to achieve this quickly is to start off with a blank slate and make the population want what is best for everyone, but this is highly impossible. Thus, in order for change to happen, it must occur overtime, but overtime the inequality gap increases.

Glory Liu

George Orwell’s dilemma with Socialism was not one merely limited to class consciousness; it was a dilemma that encompassed numerous misunderstandings between classes and within one class itself. Clearly, Orwell wants Socialism to reign supreme; Orwell’s fundamental argument is not only for education of the different classes (as Helen mentioned was part of his solution), but more importantly, for an initiative to dismantle the common misconceptions about Socialism and to popularize Socialism’s true goals: “justice and liberty.” By creating a stronger case for Socialism, Orwell believes that people of all classes will recognize the noble intentions of Socialism, discover their “inner-Socialist” that they didn’t recognize before, and forge the way toward a better society.

I agree with Helen that Orwell’s hope for cross-class understanding is highly unlikely; furthermore, divisions within a class are complicated. In my opinion, Orwell’s biggest problem is that the Socialists themselves don’t even know who they are; there are numerous types of people who deem themselves “Socialist.” Orwell describes three main types of people who describe themselves as “Socialist:” the first, an “un-thinking” socialist who only seeks to eliminate poverty; the second, an “intellectual” who only knows the hardships of civilization and believes that it must start over in order to better any situation; and finally, the completely anti-bourgeoisie Socialist. Clearly, Orwell’s largest obstacle was not just trying to convince the bourgeoisie to accept Socialism as not-so-revolutionary, but moreover, to UNITE those who called themselves “Socialists” in the first place! Only then would the Socialists be able to clarify their position, educate others, and reconcile differences with other classes to achieve social harmony.

His main solution to the aforementioned problem- of Socialist fragmentation- is for all those who call themselves “Socialists” to declare loud and proud that the goals of Socialism are pure and simple: “justice and common decency” and liberty. People want food on their tables. People want an equal opportunity to work. People do not want to be enslaved. Who in society- whether upper or middle class- does not want these goals? Orwell sees these harmless achievements of Socialism to be its greatest strength for uniting Socialists and converting the bourgeoisie.

Orwell describes at length the shortcomings of educating the other classes to accept Socialism. Again, as Helen stated, different classes will adhere to their different beliefs of other classes which have been engrained in them from the beginning. Orwell describes his own experience growing up in the class of the “shabby genteels,” where appearances were life, despite how little income was available—all expenses were for maintaining images to separate them from the “common people,” who apparently smelled. Class snobbery cannot be overcome easily; the middle classes will continually think that the working classes are inherently dirty. Snobbishness cannot be dropped unless it is truly meant; that is, deliberate and hasty action that attempts to resolve class distinctions will not work, for humans cannot change habits so quickly.

Thus, Orwell strives not for the artificial elimination of class differences by simply dropping inherited class beliefs, but for the fostering of a common goal that transcends all class boundaries, namely justice and liberty for all.

Yelena Bakman

Orwell grew up as a child on scholarship attending a public school with children that lived with more wealth. And he admits himself that this caused him to be more snobbish and more insistent on his wealth, the little that he had. The key turn around point for him was his travels to Burma, if this piece is to be believed. He finally saw the connection between the oppression that was happening in Burma to that happening at home. He first puts himself fully into the experience of the extreme, that of the tramps and of the beggars before trying to experience the life of the working class. Interestingly, this is not as easy since, just like he was as a school boy, they are fully aware of the differences in accent or in dress or in job position. Beggars are the exception to the rule while the working class is a much stronger force; another strong force is the low end of the middle class. If these classes stopped looking at each other with distaste, then they would be able to make Socialism happen, overpowering in numbers the wealth of the small upper class. Socialism is how he sees the world to be able to continue on to be as productive as it can. But since the Socialists of his days have not figured out a way to work cross class, they have demonstrated that they are not as strong as they would like to think they are. I think Glory had this in her argument as well; saying that until there was cross-class communication, there was no way that Socialism would be able to take hold since communication is what leads to understanding.

I think there were already some steps taken toward Socialism in his time. First of all, the newspapers stopped belittling the working class as it did before since now they read it as well. Orwell writes, “newspapers and even books now have to appeal to a working-class public” which in turn makes them write stuff that is not as mean. The availability of scholarships had allowed these people to learn how to read so that they could influence the newspaper. Overall, however I think the best way out of Orwell’s dilemma, is the creation of more in between classes. A better way to express that would be to have less of a difference between classes. The reason that people that grew up like Orwell, as Glory referred to as “shabby genteels,” was because the fall to the next level was so far. If there was more cushion, provided by the government, say, then the fall would not be as great and the snobbishness and the constant downplay of the next level would not be present. Going back to his Burmese example, one knows that one cannot go from being English born to being a “native.” As a result, there is no fear of falling that far and so people can cross classes without a problem in different forms of interaction. At home, however, there is only your image that separates you from the other people. For this reason that image is all important and until that importance is diminished there is no way for people to accept each other as would be necessary for Socialism to take form.

Therefore, I believe that the solution to Orwell’s dilemma is the introduction of cushion policies that would make falling in standing not as far from lower to middle class socially. Both education and a common goal, as mentioned by Glory and Helen will help this endeavor. A missing element is the participation of Parliament pass things that have a Socialistic lean but not necessarily Socialist in its entirety to balance with a capitalist economy as best as possible.

Ellen Dobie

George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier is a thorough and (at times) very amusing descriptive piece about the working class doldrums of industrial England and the class distinctions of English society which prevent true social change. The first half of the piece describes the plight of the English working man, yet the beef of Orwell’s piece is found within his discussion of Socialism and its possibility as the catalyst for change. Orwell comments that to create a truly cohesive society in which social mobility (and thus an acceptable standard of living for all) would require an abolishment of class distinctions. Such an abolishment would necessitate “abolishing a part of [oneself].” All social notions, all tastes, all moral codes, patterns of speech, accents, body language—even table manners—that are inherited by a person as part of their social class code would have to be done away with. It does not take too many minds to declare that such a demand on society is far-fetched and highly unrealistic. While Orwell’s proposal would perhaps do away with class prejudice, it is impractical in its demands upon society.

While it is lamentable that Orwell’s vision of abolishing class distinctions and creating a new order for society is too far-fetched, some of his ideas can be used to justify socially-just modern-day policies. A (perhaps more practical) way out of Orwell’s predicament would be to let classes remain as they may, but try to capitalize upon their structure for the benefit of the whole. An example: socially-just capitalism. How is this achieved? Policies such as the “Red” campaign in which popular consumer items—ipods, Gap clothing, Chanel sunglasses—have the “Red” logo on them, and a certain percent of proceeds are donated towards AIDS-relief efforts in Africa. Such a policy builds upon Orwell’s perception of human nature: while “everyone, barring fools and scoundrels, would like to see the miner better off,” it is still too much to ask that all members of society cast away their own luxuries and live off the land for sake of equality. Instead, efforts can be made to make the existing social structure more just and equitable for its citizens—just as it is. Other conscious consumerism policies such as Fair Trade and microcredit could also be considered as offbranches of ways to escape Orwell’s delimma. The rich will continue to get buy…so why not make some of their consumerism benefit all?

My biggest problem with Socialism is one that Orwell himself points out: the majority of Socialists are from the proletariat class, and live on within their own proletariat world, speaking out about the injustices of modern society against the working man while sipping their $4 Starbucks latte. The disjoint between the Socialist proletariat and the struggling working man is emblematic of the problems inherent in Orwell’s own proposals for social change. Too much of a chasm exists between Socialist vision and the reality of human nature to bridge a gap. Instead, more realistic policies such as ones that make capitalism more socially bearable should be pursued instead of chasing the dream of overthrowing the system.

Edward Taylor

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell provides a compelling argument for the implementation of Socialism in industrial England because the existing capitalistic system of his day is unjust and inhumane. In part I of his work he sets out to describe the dire working conditions of coal miners. Orwell says “watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit.” He continues by claiming that even though the coal-miners “lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower,” these people are underpaid and overworked. They live horrible lives in living quarters that many would deem uninhabitable. Thus Socialism is Orwell’s cure to England’s industrial problem. However unfortunately it is not this simple for Orwell since he does not find the Socialism of his day as an attractive political movement. As Helen and Glory initially hinted towards, the socialists of Orwell’s time were not a close knit group. It can even be said that these socialists really didn’t know who they were or what they were fighting for since the middle class socialists did not understand the lower class people’s needs and desires. While Orwell claims that “justice and liberty” and the main goals, I would argue that these goals vary depending on your social position and perspective. The root problem is the class distinctions in England during the time. Orwell talks about how “our civilization…is founded on coal, more completely than one realizes until one stops to think about it.” Very few actually understood what happened in a coal mine and under what conditions miners spent their days laboring away. While Orwell does his best to propose a solution for a true Socialism, I would have to agree with Ellen’s post that describes “all social notions, all tastes, all moral codes…would have to be done away with” in order for Socialism to take root. And this is simply impossible in the existing social structure in England during this time.

Roushani Mansoor

George Orwell makes perfectly clear his distaste for current Socialists thought and the majority of individuals who call themselves Socialists. Nonetheless, Orwell’s unfavorable portrayal of Socialism is nothing compared to the complete and utter disdain he holds for Capitalism and Fascism. Thus, Orwell is not arguing for another form of political thought, he is arguing for a different brand of Socialism- a Socialism that could actually change the present state of the world and improve the lives of the masses.

Along the same line of reasoning as the above entries, Socialism, to be affective, needs to be brought to the masses, the masses of the unemployed, the masses who, in Orwell’s mind, are living in misery, not because of Capitalism, but because of the lack of Socialism. There needs to be a new brand of Socialism that is closer to the people who will truly benefit instead of the individuals who have the luxury to sit around and ponder the foundations of platforms of Socialism. The working class- the most disenfranchised class- does not have the luxury of free time. And when it does, it rarely wants to waste it contemplating political theory. Therefore, Socialists thought needs to be brought to them, mainly through the education Orwell so wholeheartedly advocates for. Only then will class distinctions and economic boundaries be eliminated.

I think Glory Liu says it best by stating “Orwell strives not for the artificial elimination of class differences by simply dropping inherited class beliefs, but for the fostering of a common goal that transcends all class boundaries.” However, I do not agree that the ultimate goal is “namely justice and liberty for all.” Orwell’s choice to describe in sometimes painstaking detail the lives of English coal miners was to paint a horrific picture of unthinkable conditions for human beings. Orwell’s readers would have no idea what that kind of life is like- Orwell admits he vaguely knows himself. He is not advocating for equity under a political system, he is advocating for a more equitable division of wealth and the supposed universal opulence Smith promised. Orwell believes that Socialism, albeit the Socialism he speaks of will be able to provide this better than Capitalism or Fascism.

Zaheer Cassim

Orwell's "Road to Wigan Pier” introduction is descriptive and intriguing, but that changes in book 2.

Orwell does a good job in the first book explaining and giving examples of how capitalism has failed the masses of England. People earn practically nothing, work in horrid conditions, and live in terrible homes, caravans etc.

Book 2, Orwell talks about socialism and the problem with modern thinkers of socialism. Socialists are not united. Furthermore, there are two kinds of people, the intellectual socialist who knows textbook version of socialism and the working class socialist who just wants to start a revolution without actually knowing the implication of socialism. Orwell solution is to unite everybody through education.

The problem with Orwell’s version of socialism is that it is so impractical. Orwell’s socialism could only work if those who had most to lose in socialism would adopt socialism; the proletariat socialist who is drinking his Starbucks as a fellow classmate would say. Why would they do such a thing? Why would someone who doesn’t have to hunt for his own food or walk miles to receive water, when that person could open the tap, why would they want to change to socialism? There is no incentive for them to change. There is no incentive in socialism unless you are poor. At least the Russian socialism, which Orwell criticizes, embraced modern science. Let the machines do it, so we don’t have to. There is an incentive for an intellect that is working to give up his position and join the movement.

Another thing, according to Orwell, the masses should machines. That would mean 6 people living in a house meant for 2, or a dilapidated house as Orwell describes would still be better than a shack or a hut, which the masse will now live in, because who is going to make concrete to build a house. How are you going to run electricity without electric lines, how are the toilets going to work? I don’t know about you, but a dilapidated house, is better than a hut. At least there is potential for a toilet.

Carolina Merizalde

After witnessing the living and working conditions of the lower classes throughout his journey, George Orwell realizes that socialism could be the ultimate solution to the shortcomings of capitalism in England. Yet, he also recognizes that socialism is practically impossible since it would entail, as both Ellen and Edward have pointed out, the extinction of all middle-class social notions. Consequently, the way out to this dilemma is a combination of Helen’s and Glory’s arguments: promote education and spread the ideals of justice and common decency across all class boundaries. Thus, I would like to add to what has already been exposed by focusing on the importance of who should be the agent performing the changes in question.
It is the “intellectual, book-trained” Socialists who count with the necessary tools to make socialism become a reality. Why them? Well, they are capable of understanding what the “warm-hearted un-thinking” Socialists cannot and, due to their position in the social pyramid, they have complete access and are respected by the middle-class.
However, Orwell particularly criticizes this type of Socialists for various reasons. First, they are willing to throw the present civilization down the sink; second, “it is strange how easily [most of them] can lash themselves into frenzies of rage against the class to which, by birth or by adoption, they themselves invariable belong”; and even when they condemn their own social class, they still behave like middle-class gentlemen.
Therefore, there is an imperative need for those Socialists to comprehend their role in the movement that they intend to support. They would have to become active practitioners of what they preach; joining the masses who associate with socialism and not just thinking of this ideology as a “set of reforms which ‘they’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon the Lower Orders” (Chapter 11). Hence, they could reach out to the other kind of Socialists and by educating and uniting them bring about real reforms. At the same time, these intellectual Socialists could introduce the need for justice and liberty in society and persuade the middle and upper classes to seek overall well-being by showing them the benefits of socialism for everyone. Education and the implementation of a fair and equal system can only succeed under the direction of the right agent.


I agree with Gloria that the main detriment to the rise of socialism was its false impression held by the large amount of people that would have supported it. Orwell wrote that a great amount of people supported socialism but not socialists and while this paradox may seem questionable, its makings are solidly based. The perceptions of socialists by the media and politicians at the time greatly impinged the greater throng from joining the cause of socialism. Many socialists were seen as shady, disheveled, anarchistic ruffians that destroyed protestant morality and family values. Two key reasons I picked up from Orwell’s reading match up with the inability of socialism to grasp popular culture.

The first effect that socialism encountered was its association with other revolutionary groups that were designed to stir popular sentiments. Although socialism was a prominent battle cry for the working class many did not join due to the adjunction with other groups that many distained from such as communists or anarchists. Actions of groups that were then paired with the socialist ticket operated with questionable measures and hindered involvement and membership to the socialist cause. Examples of this would be the Haymarket Bombing. While this event did not occur during the same, similar instances where a freak occurrence against the establishment ended in violence created a poor image for socialism and its cause.

The second effect was the economic sanctions placed by the polarized ruling elite of business via blacklists. Many members of the working class did not participate in socialism and other revolutionary movements for fear of retribution. Every income was crucial for survival during the times and being forced to migrate to very distant areas was fiscally impossible.

For these main reasons socialism would not seem very applicable in society at the time.

Christine Wang

The previous posters hit on most of Orwell’s major points. Orwell’s main goal in writing this piece is to have people who desire Socialist principles but are turned off by its adherents, as well as the dissenters among those who already do call themselves Socialists, unite on the grounds of a simple, common interest: “justice and liberty,” by which he means an end to the oppression of the poor. He urges people to stick to the heart of the matter—to battle poverty—and in fact calls people to forget about class differences for now, while we set up a Socialist system of equitable distribution, because the plight of “the twenty million Englishmen whose bones are rotting from malnutrition” is the urgent priority at hand.

That brings us to a crucial issue that Orwell identifies which has not yet been mentioned thus far: the need to distinguish between the exploiter and the exploited. Orwell tells us that there are many people who would benefit from Socialism besides the typical working class member, because the manual laborer is not the only one suffering from the capitalist system. There is the “exploited middle class”—the middle-class man who has “come down in the world.” The numerous office-workers, clerks, commercial travelers, grocers, lower-grade civil servants of British society…in fact, anyone with a small income is in the same boat as the working class. Orwell says that all of these people have the same interests and the same enemies as the working class, because all are being robbed and bullied by the same system. The problem is that labels like “proletariat” and “bourgeois” prevent many who would be benefited by Socialism from identifying themselves. Because the poor clerk and the office-worker tends to think of himself as bourgeois rather than proletariat, he will group himself with them—and so when confronted with Socialist ideals to help the “proletariat” class struggle against the “bourgeois”, he does not realize that he is one of the exploited, and flies to the defense of the exploiters (the very people who are exploiting him!) when he should be allying himself with the working class, who are in the same plight.

Whether you are being oppressed by the capitalist system is irrelevant of class lines. Instead of thinking, “proletariat or bourgeois?” we have to recognize who is exploited and who is exploiting—and we must recognize that “all those who cringe to the boss and all those who shudder when they think of the rent” are the exploited in this capitalist system, who have hope of escaping poverty by bringing about Socialism. And so the base of support for Socialism is much larger than people realize, repelled as they are by the many misleading stigma that have grown up around it.

That’s why Orwell says, “I am implying that different classes must be persuaded to act together without, for the moment, being asked to drop their class-differences.” He calls for ignoring class distinctions for now in order to recognize who your true allies are, who share your common interests of escaping from poverty. He knows perfectly well that class differences are not easily lost and does not call for a naive effort to homogenize (and here I am disagreeing with some previous posts). He merely wants Socialists to come together and not their class and ideological differences distract them from realizing that they have a common goal. This is the solution Orwell suggests—to bring an effective Socialist party into existence.

So what do you guys think about Orwell’s idea that we must identify the exploiter and the exploited? He believes that this to be more relevant than identification based on whether or not you feel bourgeois or not, but to be honest, I don’t think it is that simple. The line between exploiter and exploited blurs… Orwell himself mentioned how the worst, most stingy and uncompassionate landlords are the poor old women who are themselves trying to get by. It sounds to me that the problem is that everyone is poor, and are forced to try to keep themselves afloat by pushing other heads under the water…

So would this mean that whatever economic system that stimulates growth so that even the lowest standard of living is raised is the best solution? One look at the state of the poor in America today tells us that is not enough. I adamantly agree with Helen’s statement that this economic dilemma “still exists today.” If Orwell were to come to our society today, he would no doubt find parallels to the miners’ conditions in our migrant workers, in a single mother who labors at minimum wage, an accident away from living on the streets.. Many people are just scraping by. There needs to be more equitable distribution. That is the solution that I find to make most sense, as well as being politically feasible. I feel that this can co-exist with capitalism, because I’m not exactly sure what economic system Orwell’s Socialism is calling for. If anyone else has noticed.. Orwell never actually said in The Road to Wigan Pier what exactly Socialism entails policy-wise. He talks mainly about how to get a Socialist Party together—how to get people to “convert” to Socialism—but he never actually says what it is they will do to eliminate poverty and end the oppression. Orwell alluded vaguely to the elimination of the profit factor, the idea that Socialism is “equalitarian collectivism,” and that Socialism as a world-system implies machine-production because it “demands constant intercommunication and exchange of goods between all parts of the earth; it demands some degree of centralized control; it demands an approximately equal standard of life for all human beings and probably a certain uniformity of education.” But he doesn’t say if he’s calling for higher progressive taxes, or a complete overturn of the current economic system (and what would replace it), or merely more government effort alongside the market to rectify the current injustices… Can anyone else, with knowledge from outside this reading, shed light on this?

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