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September 18, 2007

Comments

Kent Yamane

Orwell believes in socialism and its ability to improve the overall welfare of society from top to bottom. Socialism’s foundations are great and the idea of equality is something that everyone would say that they want. Yet the capitalist society does not easily allow this change to socialism to occur very easily. I agree with Orwell in that Socialism will help everyone, but the people who have the power to instigate a social change stand to lose the most with the instigation of this political movement. The middle and upper class have the political and social influence to change yet they are the ones that must give something up to let socialism live. For example, “To this you have got to add the ugly fact that most middle-class Socialists, while theoretically pining for a class-less society, cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige”

I agree with Orwell when he talks about “There can be no cooperation between classes whose real interests are opposed. . . But it is always possible to cooperate so long as it is upon a basis of common interests.” If one can find common goals that all classes can agree on and truly believe in then you can start to dissolve class distinctions. I agree with Helen also that education can help to bring about knowledge of how hard it is in the working class and how Orwell did this in his essay as a way of stimulating thought over the hardships of the lower classes.

I agree with the ideas of socialism yet I do not see it happening with the deeply ingrained class hierarchy. This hierarchy is to top heavy in its proportion of power. All the power to precipitate change lies in the few privileged at the top of this hierarchy, this privileged has everything they need and do not have the motivation to share common goals with the lower levels of the hierarchy.

Miranda Huey

Everyone certainly picked up on how the cultural difference between the “Orthodox” Socialists and the working class, the greatest beneficiaries of Socialism. But did anyone else feel like this entire debate seemed to be similar to the problems of liberals in America recently?

The way that Orwell talked about Socialists is a bit like the stereotype of the elitist, upper-class liberal or the rebel outcasts/hippies (those darn vegetarians with their darn sandals!) who constantly talk about the oppression of the everyday worker, but seem to detest the idea of actually mingling with the working class. To the same degree, many in today's conservative working class do not feel as if they can possibly represent their interests, especially when they presume to have a perfectly planned a top-down system that the lesser educated should never dare to alter or question.

The central problem for Orwell's time, one could also argue, stems from the forceful, systematic, and hard-to-understand writings of Marx himself. It is possible that Marx wrote it so densely and systematically in order to demonstrate that he did have the knowledge, education, and dedication to understand the arguments for the system, yet to reject them wholeheartedly. It is also possible that Marx just didn't actually live among the working class or poor and therefore failed to communicate across the cultural class difference. For whatever reason, his writings ended up only appealing to those who took a strong stance against the system (outcasts), yet religiously revered the system Marx imagined against all criticisms or those who would rather not read it (elitists). If these are the ones that are the strongest proponents/marketers of Socialism, Socialism is given a very unappealing face.

Perhaps these roots underlie the stereotypes today of all liberals as elitist and extreme. However, it is also true that today, Orwell's dilemma has been somewhat resolved. While there may be some people who are still extreme, most liberals are not so forceful against the system (perhaps unfortunate, but has the ability to appeal to those in upper class and those who identify with the upper class) and most liberals do not have a definitive guide to which they say they must adhere. The underlying goal, rather, is redistribution of wealth, which is now open to a wide range of interpretation. Unfortunately, however, there is still a cultural tension between urban and rural, or between those who have time and access to intricate theories, and those who labor to produce their food, services, and products. Yet the main solution to the dilemma is exactly those trends: to reduce the class anger, to make Socialism more open to discussion, and to unify the classes under the common goal.

Joyce Yawa Amoah

George Orwell wrote that “Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about.” Yet one cannot live without the “product” that is being produced from this other universe that we can decide not to acknowledge its existence. Who wants to be confronted with an ugly situation that one is not responsible for when it is best to ignore its existence all together?

Orwell acted surprised and shocked when confronted with the ugly truth about industrialization in The Road to Wigam Pier, as he saw for the first time the living condition of the proletariat. The proletariat enslaves all day to produce items that they themselves cannot afford, for example, after a hard day’s work in the coal mine, a miner’s home only get heated when his wife together with his children scramble “with their hands in the damp dirt” and pick “out lumps of coal the size of an egg or smaller” for the fireplace simply because they cannot afford the very product of their daily labor.
In the words of Karl Marx “the more the worker produces…the more worthless he becomes…a slave of nature.” A case in-point is the living condition of the coffee bean producers of Ethiopia who live in abject poverty while their product is rated as the second most expensive item on the New York Stock Exchange. The raw material producers of the world live in abject poverty and have no education while the manufactures of the raw material live in luxury.
This is the true picture of the two tier world that we live in, the developed and the underdeveloped. Personally, I do not believe in the so-called semi-peripheral coined by Immanuel Wallerstein, (1979).

Is socialism the solution? I do not think so. Is the abolition of social classes the solution? In the first place I do not believe it is possible- a little too utopian-. Should the world wait till the poor advocate for better conditions of life on their own? Or should the world listen to the bourgeoisie who plead on behalf of the poor? My response is the world should listen to anybody who has the means to draw attention to the plight of the poor, be it Bono or Jeffery Sachs. One need not experience poverty to know what poverty does to people. Orwell is wrong by saying that the middle class cannot advocate better living conditions for the working poor simply because they have not lived a life of poverty.

Previous commentators advocated cross-class communication and the like, but the ugly truth is that, no amount of communication or education can solve this problem neither can a particular political system of government address this issue. The working poor are mainly concerned about better wages so that they can afford education for their children and live in a more hygienic atmosphere. In Ethiopia the coffee farmers made it clear to the world that they do not need aid, all that they need is fair buying price for their coffee ( this is from the movie Black Gold) and what is the fair price they are asking for one may wonder – less than sixty cents ($.60). The solution is not Capitalism or Socialism maybe a combination of both so long as the working class can get a fair price for their labor because “Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower” and without their contribution our world will not be complete.

Aditya Gandranata

In the Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell introduces us with his suggestion on why people should establish socialism and why it is the best solution possible for society in general. In theory, Socialism seems like the best way to govern society; however, there are flaws in socialism that prevent it from being far from perfect.
1. Socialism’s number one goal is to bring equality to its people and bring about everybody to what George Orwell called “middle-class”. This could hardly work because if equality has to work, everybody would have to have the same income no matter what job they have, thus there is no incentive to work hard because no matter how hard they work, they would have earned the same amount of money by the end of the day. Because of this, the country could not develop and the country would remain poor and move backward since there is no incentive for people to move forward.
2. Because their goal is equality, when socialism is suddenly established, people with a lot of money (the upper class) would flee that country because they want to protect what they have and they would invest their money in some other countries. Investment is necessary, especially for ones country to develop into a much more advanced country, not to mention the amount of tax that is helpful to that country itself.
3. I agree with what Helen said about the issue of prejudice and class differences in which Orwell states that we should put aside. These issues are not the easiest to be solved because they have existed for a long time.

I agree with Helen that if socialism is to be established, educating people about it is very important; however, I do not see socialism being very successful because it is almost impossible to not have class differences because it seems too good to be true. To have such a utopian country requires a lot of honesty from too many individuals especially those who are suppose to “lead” the people towards achieving it. In my opinion, the best way out of this dilemma is by using the hybrid of socialism and capitalism. For example, by providing free education, free healthcare, etc. Class differences will always exist because some people are satisfied by living a decent life, while some other people are very ambitious to gain more wealth.

Jay Bessette

George Orwell’s “Road to Wigan Pier” is an attempt at proving societies need for a complete socialist form of government. Orwell describes from the first chapter the apparent need for government involvement. As he describes the bleak boarding house that he is staying he is already building his argument that the lives of the people living and owning the boarding home could indeed be better, better only if there was more government control, better clothing, better and ample amounts of food and considerable pensions that would allow those who have contributed to the growth of the countries economy to live a better life than sharing a room with another pensioner for a meager 10 shillings. Orwell writes about the resentment that he feels from the Brooker’s towards the pensioners. They are not making any money off from their rent and in a way they are not really capitalist at all but perhaps the rudimentary socialist themselves taking care of those few in society that they can actually help. Need not continue the story through the mines and the miner’s lives, the complete picture is painted in the first chapter. Orwell gets to the point in chapter 3 when he describes the bourgeois living live getting what they want within limits. That their education may be useless but they are accustomed to a certain amount of deference.
Let me pull together the thoughts of those who have written before me and put my own spin on it. Of course education is one of the pieces of a successful society, but that is not enough to eliminate class lines. Education alone will not save you or secure your future but there must also be an element of tolerance. Tolerance and education builds a society where class lines may exist but the opportunity for those to cross from one class up to the other or even down is entirely up to the individual. “Liberty and Justice” can be achieved not through government intervention alone but through mutual cooperation across class lines.
A way to look at would be to recognize that there are basically two types of people, those who are a burden to society, the takers, and those who contribute to society, the givers. It is incumbent upon the givers to help those takers to eliminate the need because the bottom line is that the givers will always give, one way or another, through taxes, higher prices or even philanthropy. What is needed is for our classes to live side by side with each other and not judge each other for the amount of money they make but subsidize their lives to give them the opportunity to evolve out of their current state. Eventually those takers end up becoming contributors because they were given the chance to live like everyone else and given the chance to work for and strive to be a better man.
The missing piece to Socialism is that there is no drive for man to accomplish anything more than the status quo. Socialism failed because people could not be motivated to go above and beyond to make their lives better and the system collapses. Orwell makes a good arguement but falls short on the psychology of man and the inherent need for competitive behavior which drives capitalism and creates a society that grows and improves the quality of life for most but there is still a lot of work to be done to make improvements that all of the world can benefit from.

Norris Tran Duc

After reading George Orwell’s “Road to Wigan Pier,” I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s quotation: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Orwell, I believe, also understands these two political positions, from the inhumane capitalism that drives several hundred men to mine for coal at the risk of their own lives, to the Socialism bent on industrialization for the sake of “progress.” It seems though that Orwell picks Socialism due to his possible humanitarian side, which echoes also in “Shooting an Elephant” and his disgust of imperialism, a more capitalist practice. In addition, he seems to pick Socialism, because it is the lesser of two evils: “[Socialism] would at least ensure our getting enough to eat even if it deprived us of everything else.”

George Orwell does not provide a “roadmap” as many of my peers have mentioned on how to proceed with Socialism, but he does evoke the necessary foundations of Socialism. The notion of class consciousness, and in return, class prejudice is what needs to be addressed. Socialism needs to focus upon “justice, liberty, and the plight of the unemployed.” Orwell focuses on the moral importance and decency of Socialism. Furthermore, Adriana mentions that Socialism will improve the working class through industrialization. However, I would like to add that industrialization does make human life simpler, but it also takes away human labor, which is not something I believe Orwell wanted. Orwell wants industrialization for the sake of progress but there needs to be a medium where machinery and mechanical progress should alleviate job performance, while maintaining the workforce. Nevertheless, I think he gave the tools that would lead to change, even if it may not have been extremely popular at his time.

As to solutions, Orwell emphasizes the necessity to not necessarily neglect “class consciousness” but rather eliminate the snobbery of class hierarchy, where “common” is synonymous to disgusting. Just like Christina said, the eradication of class distinction is too idealistic, and Tomas argues that class distinction exists due to material possessions, which I agree, and to resolve class issue is to alleviate the material disparities. Yet the issue is more on creating moral equality between the classes, not necessarily eliminating it all.
Orwell states the Socialist cause needs those who can hold a pen. Education is a necessity towards a social movement and towards Socialism. “Intelligent propaganda” needs to be administered to convince people that Socialism is a desirable objective. I want to propose that a possible way to solve his dilemma by using intelligent propaganda is to focus upon medical health institution and the welfare of all social classes. If you focused on how everyone, whether rich or poor, gets sick, everyone could empathize. Just like how Orwell made the accounts of the life of a miner, and the hygienic and financial conditions in Chapter 3, the readers can sympathize and empathize with the problems of the working class. If Socialism promised equal health opportunities, and acknowledged the greater risk factor in certain professions, it would be able to gather up all social groups, and eliminate the snobbery of those who pronounce their aitches. Furthermore, why not have mechanical progress also in the medical domain? Industrialization in that form would increase productivity and efficiency, but would not take away jobs from the nurses, the technicians, the physicians…

Megan Roberto

Orwell's stance on Socialism is woven amongst a descriptive part one and a analytical and opinionated part two.While it has been repeatedly stated that education is the means of opening up cross-class communication, eliminating social stereotypes and possibly creating a classless society, all of Orwell's intricate details have gone to waste. He goes into depth about the old men being compared to parasites at their boarding houses and the family structures of working class men to show the complexities of class/groups and the mannerisms that distinctly mark them as the working class. The working class is an economic, social and cultural group that cannot simply be educated into accepting Socialism.

Yet as Christine says, you can recognize despite your class who is the exploiter and the exploited. The recognition of exploitation is not hard to teach and is capable of mobilizing those of multiple economic statuses. For Orwell the true socialist "is one who wishes--not merely conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes--to see tyranny overthrown." This is clearly applicable to all economic groups and is a starting point in establishing a socialist movement, but not necessarily a socialist system.

While Orwell states a socialist system is only possible when one commits to eliminating class distinctions "by understanding how one class appears when seen through the eyes of another," I believe the essential ingredient in forming socialism is awareness. Awareness of where the coal is coming from and who is producing it. In his analogy of pregnant women mining coal he says, "I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal. But-most of the time, of course, we should prefer to forget that they
were doing it. It is so with all types of manual work; it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence." This dismissal from the educated classes is what continues the working classes miserable conditions. It is with an awareness of the working conditions from the upper classes and the recognition of exploitation from the lower classes, that these groups could work to establish a more just economic system.

Vladislav Andreyev

While not many people do not remember Orwell well, debates about him have been continuing for about half of the century. He was born in well-do family and he got a good education, which definitely influenced him in the future. After reading the book "The Road to Wigan Pier", where he shows the life of poor people and inequality of classes, I became extremely interested in his philosophy. Orwell was sure that one of his main rivals was totalitarianism. In totalitarianism he saw an unmitigating threat to democracy and human values. In this book, he shows that he became a follower of a democratic socialism system which gives people freedom, social fairness and respect to human falues. The quotation that describes Orwell best (from his work) is the following: "democracy is impossible without enlightenment of people, and education of people is impossible without democracy". This brings me to two interesting questions. 1) - What would Orwell have thought of the American democratic system, which doesn't have the socialist tendencies present in Europe. And 2) - What would he say of emerging democracies that cannot build their countries right away because their populace is not educated? In my opinion, he would be very careful about these questions, but in the end he'd prefer the European socialist-leaning (humanist) democracy to American (which, one may argue, is more libertarian than the one in Europe), and he would prefer to slowly transition to a democratic system as the education level of a country improves.

Wei Shao

Orwell is a socialist, and also a realist. While stiriving for a perfect socialist society where wealth is evenly distributed by means of universal equality, Orwell realizes that such a society of socialism will never exist.
In his book, he splits the book in two parts; the first to describe the putrid living conditions of the lowest class in the society and the second to communicate his views on socialism using the first part as support. For the sake of discussion, I will simply discuss the second part as the first is composed of merely observations.
In the second part of his book, Orwell explains how socialism is no longer led by the working class, but rather it is now led by the middle class who fight for "prolaterian solidarity." However, Orwell goes on to explain how the class structure is not only dependent on income, but rather family history, and that middle class consists of those with annual income in the thousands as well as those in the hundreds. The biggest problem why such a dream socialist society led by the middle class will not exist is due to class inequality. As Orwell notes, the middle class are imbued with the notion of the working class as subhuman hooligans since childhood, and such physical associations cannot be dismissed simply. Despite how many middle class socialists often speak against their own class, they still behave much to the manners of a middle-class person. And even though they're fighting for the solidarity of the working class and the abolition of class differences, the middle class rarely come in contact with the working class.
With such a distance in between the two classes, how can the middle class socialists fight for a working class that they barely know and even are digusted of? They simply cannot advocate for an idea while they, by their innate nature, despise. Megan (above my post)indicated that the only way for socialism to work was awareness. I, on the other hand, believe that mere awareness would not suffice, since I'm certain that many middle class socialists are already aware of the working class conditions as well as their contributions. What is required for socialism to take form in such a society is consistent action. Up to that point, the idea of socialism has merely been somewhat of a phylosophical consistency. It's only an idea, a thought, a hope, a "what if?" but has not been avidly put into action. And after all, ideas are only ideas and cannot achieve anything. Ideas are what we think, what we put on paper, what we plan. But for the idea to take form, actions must be taken. The middle class socialists must forego their elitist mentalities in regards to the working class. After all, the first step to prolaterian solidarity is to shorten, if not eliminate completely, the class gap between those who are fighing and those whom they are fighting for.

Stephen Yang

As most people have come to agree, the first part of Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier" seems mostly observational, and I am pretty sure that when compared to the second part, the first is only skim-worthy. However, when you consider all the viewpoints and conclusions about Orwell's piece that everyone has brought up, as well as the solutions to the dilemmas, there can be more value found in that first part.

I’ll get back to that in a second. First, I want to acknowledge and agree with everyone (Helen, Glory, Carolina, etc.) who pointed out that education is one of the key parts of the solution to the dilemma. And for those who pointed out that education is not enough, I agree with you as well. As Zaheer wrote, there is no real incentive for a middle-class or upper-class person to support Socialism, except for maybe a desire to see the poor be better off. But if we depend upon people’s conscience to support socialism, that really isn’t going to get us anywhere. The middle and upper classes need so much more than education—they need to have hearts that are willing to sacrifice and give up their lifestyles and tastes in order for Socialism in its truest form to work, as Orwell suggests (not necessarily explicitly…I don’t remember…). As Orwell writes, “We all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them.”

Back to what I was about to write earlier. I like how Jay writes, “The missing piece to Socialism is that there is no drive for man to accomplish anything more than the status quo.” If you look at the observations that Orwell makes in the first part, it can be seen why Jay’s statement is true: The working class is so poor, and endures so much hardship, that their main concern isn’t attaining the best life possible, but rather, to survive. I mean, sure, they probably hope for a life like the middle or even the upper-class, but they’ll be content with just getting by, and maybe even doing just a little better than that (like a buffer of comfort, one could say). One could even say that those of the working class are realists. They do remember, after all, “…what the [middle-class] so often forgets, that Socialism means justice and common decency.” The proletariat isn’t necessarily looking for anything beyond those things, if you speak in terms of Socialism.

I wish I could write more of my thoughts, and post in a more organized fashion, but alas, I have put this to the last minute once again, and I am late for my next class. Though I must say, I like in-class discussions more. When people speak as opposed to writing, it is easier to respond to all the ideas that are thrown out, mainly because people don’t say 300+ words at a time when they speak. But this is good too.

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