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September 18, 2007


Adriana Gomez

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.

Ziwei Hu

In describing the ravages of capitalism on much of the 20th century British population, Orwell makes clear the need for socialism when he says “for the moment, the only possible course for any decent person…is to work for the establishment of Socialism. Nothing else can save us from the misery of the present or the nightmare of the future.” However, Orwell does not provide a blueprint for doing so, but instead, delineates various obstacles to the creation of a socialist society, such as the fact that the middle class can never truly sympathize with the working class because the working class simply smells too bad.

Orwell describes the odor of the working class as “an impassable barrier. For no feeling of like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling.” The easy solution to this problem would be to distribute soap and educate the working class on basic hygiene and sanitation procedures. The disparity between working class and middle/upper class hygiene, however, is only the symptom of a larger problem between the classes: the difference in living standards. These distinctions were created by capitalism, and are perpetually enforced by a capitalist economy.

One possible solution to this difference in living standards is to raise the wages paid to workers. This creation of a minimum wage would have to be carefully managed so as not to create a great deal of unemployment and worsen the condition of the working class. Nevertheless, it would give a large number of the working class more purchasing power and a chance to improve their circumstances and perhaps invest in toothpaste and deodorant.

Adriana hinted at another solution when she wrote that “classes must find their interests in the welfare of the other class”- that people of all classes need to be educated about the benefits of a socialist system, and learn that exploitation is not beneficial for anybody. Orwell also writes that “the job of the thinking person, therefore, is not to reject socialism, but to make up his mind to humanize it.” He observed that socialism was often associated with radicalism; thus it is necessary to educate people in order to bring socialism into the mainstream.

Evan Fleming

As a journalist in early 20th century England, and 20th century Spain, Orwell presents two very different societies in which in one Socialism has not established its presence and the brash working class has not stood against the detrimental and degrading bourgeosie; and in another a post revolution environment in which the proletariat takes power in the changed city of Barcelona and its effects are seen in a wide variety of aspects and characteristics of social and economic scenarios. Even though the Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia take on two different journalistic perspectives, Orwell demonstrates the need for socialism in both, but doesn't describe the fundamental courses of action that must be taken in order to better the dismal future and nightmarish presence of the working class.

In the Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell describes many of the issues that are disabling the working class from bettering themselves. In industrialized England during that time the coal mines served as the fuel for the economy and Orwell describes the incredibly filthy, courageous, and extraordinary lifestyle that these coal miners live. Outside of the mines two of the main social shortcomings are the housing shortages and massive unemployment. I agree with previous responses in that the one way to help the working class and lessen the gap between classes is to start at increasing wages and providing more opportunities for workers so they can avoid unemployment.

However, one other solution that Orwell does not mention is to implement a socialist ideology where there is equality of education. Providing a means to an increased intellectual capacity is something that would be beneficial to working class and would bridge the gap between the 'worker' and upper middle class lifestyles. Furthermore, elaborating on the point that Adriana made, the classes must embrace each other and find a comeraderie that we see with the Catalan people in Barcelona. The help must come from within and not from outside in order for a successful political movement to take place. The best way out of Orwell’s dilemma is to put an increased emphasis on what the social standard is and provide a fulfilling and educational system for support of the working class without causing inequalities in other areas of the social hierarchy.

Irina Zeylikovich

Like Julia, I was impressed to read Orwell’s observations on the living conditions of Britain’s lower classes, and I similarly feel that many observations still ring true. Reading the first few chapters, I can understand why Orwell would believe that “there is no chance of righting [those] conditions” – the harshness of a coal miner’s life seems to be the very epitome of the failure of capitalism.

Orwell points out that while socialism in itself may provide a better alternative, it is the socialists who make the ideology unpalatable. They spout Marxist dogmas while sitting in their comfortable, middle-class homes with little contact or knowledge of the miseries of the lower classes. What Orwell calls “snobbishness” we call hypocrisy, and it is this schism that presents the major hurdle which Orwell believes needs to be overcome. He says then that our responsibility lies not in rejecting socialism, but in humanizing it – focusing not so much on the dogma but rather the heart of the matter (and getting those ‘snobbish’ socialists off their hypocritical high horses). However, I think the solution to Orwell’s dilemma lies not only in humanizing socialism, but also not entirely discrediting capitalism. It is what eventually ended up happening with the creation of the welfare state when the harsh realities of capitalism were mitigated via socialist institutions.

Tomas Salcedo

In the first third of The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell decries the working and living conditions of Britain’s working class. He describes them as illustrious examples of capitalisms evils the unfair nature of the economic social caste system that accompanies it. His repudiation for the socialist political movement however is that it is a product of the educated bourgeoisie bent on ameliorating the plight of the poor without addressing there inherent superiority within the class system that they benefit from. Essentially, Orwell wishes socialists would do more than address the economic aspect of poverty, and intend to transform the cultural aspect of it as well. To this I would argue that such progress comes naturally with economic development. In the much more prosperous England of today, accents still matter, but social classes are not by any means an individuals defining factor. Culture inevitably has a socioeconomic context and hence, middle class accents and mannerisms, as snobby as they may be cannot be divorced from the middle class. Similarly, working class accents and mannerisms are to some degree inherent to the dearth of economic and educational opportunities that accompany working class poverty. These are not issues that need be dealt with directly. Considering that the cultural differences between classes arise from the material difference between them, and that it is unfair to uphold the cultural bias that any one set of cultural norms is more appropriate than another, I believe that the Socialists' focus on economic and material well being is not incomplete. Class distinctions exist because of the material distinctions, and can be dealt with in that order. Despite the rather irritating snobbery with which the elite socialists operate to the dismay of George Orwell. In that sense I agree with Evan, who points out that the solution ignored by Orwell lies in equality of access to education. Which is one, of many reforms that would uplift the poor out of poverty, and hence weaken the classist paradigm that upholds the divisions of English society.

Jason Edwards

In the book The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell makes his case for a Socialist Government. He states that socialism is the only form of government that can save the world from horrid path. I could not find a point in the book were Orwell actually had a plan, or an outline, on how to embark on the socialist movement. However he did lay out what he believes to be the biggest problem that would impede this movement, CLASS. He reckons that the Middle Class would not want anything to do with people who identify them selves as Working class, therefore causes a social divide between the two classes. This divide is due to the “evil” capitalist government that is in place, that teaches these higher classes to look down upon the lower classes.

One possible solution to me would be to make education equitable for every class. In my opinion education is were the divide begins. Another solution would be to make trade trade with other countries less of a capitalist system and more of a socialist system. In my opinion if the world’s countries would just trade for what they need, and not for what would make them money, people who enter the United States into the lower classes would be in better shape coming out of their county of origin. This would be do to a better self economy for each county, and less of a system built on ports which import and export goods just to build world growth.

Allison Moore

The second half of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier is a challenging, self-referential meditation on socialism. Orwell's arguments are based on people suffering under the effects of industrialized capitalism. But in another way his ideas are based on the thought that class is as much about origins as it is about income. Class doesn't wash off easily. Take accents, for instance, is still an issue today in both England and the United States.

The thing about class -- and the same could be said I think of capitalism itself -- is that it's all very well to identify its harmful effects, but it's another thing entirely to actually eradicate it as a social reality. Orwell was suspicious of revolutionaries who didn't themselves know people of the working class, and who in their thinking often reinforced their own privileged class status.

Orwell is ideologically inconclusive; he doesn't provide a road-map even for his own times, much less our own. What he does offer, however, is an example in meticulous moral thinking. He was willing to fight for his country (and for other countries) when the cause was just. And he wasn't just playing: in Spain, he shot at the enemy, and probably personally killed some people. For that reason he's been championed by liberal hawks of the present era.

Eric Silverman

In many ways, I feel like The Road to Wigan Pier is an eloquent case study of the early development of capitalism. Clearly, in its early stages, entrepreneurship was closely tied with the sociological and cultural maladies of the day, specifically class hierarchy and racism. Even today, you can see Orwell’s point of inherent hatred of the destitute resonate. The way Orwell describes coal workers reminds me of our discussion of immigrant workers. There is an innate fear and distrust of those who are synonymous with having dirt under their fingers. In the contemporary economy, the battle of the upper-class versus the middle class or fight the colonizers versus the colonized has changed undergone a metamorphosis. The problems and prejudices that this author describes still exist, just in a different form.
It is then hard to give a solution to the most profound problems that appear today, but I’ll give it a good once over. I think that a step towards progress was already made as soon as Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier. Knowledge is a scarce resource. As much as Neo-Liberalism can be seen as a mixed blessing, it is almost irrefutable that it promotes the free flow of ideas and information. The next step would be allowing the free flow of people to compete in viable markets, with regulation only existing to the extent that it is absolutely necessary. Books such as these are the first step in a long process and allow for dialogue instead of monologue. While, I happen to disagree the full-fledged Socialism is the only remedy to the ills of capitalism, I have to hand it to Orwell catalyzing change.

Christina J. Adranly

Orwell stresses that the “decay and change” of English society are reflective of the failure of capitalism. He begins with an introspective look at the life of the working classes. I too appreciated this unique view; through his firsthand narrative he elucidates “the different universes people inhabit,” implying that the middle and upper classes are generally ignorant to the specific ills of their “necessary counterpart.” He not only discusses the physical strife; he also morally objects to workers’ status in society, and the fact that this prejudice has become automatic and accepted. Thus, as previous commenters have so concisely articulated, the problem lies in the fact that socialism is not implemented because it does not serve the interests of the powerful working class.

As I have mentioned previously, the working class has a very limited political voice due to their entrenched place in society. And though most believe in the uplifting of the working class, few believe in it enough to illicit change. As Orwell points out, members of the Socialist party are generally not workers themselves but educated, middle-class males who have little understanding of the actual status of workers. Due to the belief that nothing would ever actually happen that would knock them from preeminence, middle and upper classes are willing to advocate on behalf of the workers not out of altruism but to fulfill a philanthropic obligation.

One solution would be to eradicate class distinctions, which I believe to be overly idealistic. Therefore I would argue that the solution lies in a hybrid socialist-capitalist system, likened to modern-day Sweden, in which the government provides basic services such as healthcare, access to housing, education, and industrial protection, while maintaining free trade and property ownership. The facet I would stress most is education. The working class does not have the same access to the Marxian philosophical doctrine of socialism; the only thing the worker knows about socialism is that it means higher wages and better conditions. With education, combined with other facets of socio-capitalism, the worker would be armed with the tools necessary to “pull himself up by his bootstraps” and achieve upward social mobility that was previously impossible with Britain’s old brand of capitalism.

Rikus Pretorius

I agree with the previous comment regarding the stance of prejudice as being an overwhelming force in all of modern social-economic behavior. Orwell mentions that he knows based on personal experience that young children are taught to hate those who are different, specifically those who look different. He states that differences of education, differences in moral code, social hatred, etc can all be overcome, but a physical repulsion to another person cannot be overcome. Orwell believes that this physical distaste we develop for people that are different is the root of all socio-economic class distinctions that take place. Orwell specifically mentions that some physical attributes the lower class all shared were malnutrition and the absence of teeth unless they were children. In our modern world it is very evident that people all fear those who look different than them, and also build up a prejudiced depiction of what such a lower class person would look like.

Orwell introduces the idea of Socialism as a possible solution to this enormous inequality that exists among lower and middle class people but believes that those who are fighting for socialism the hardest are the ones that are the most disconnected from its effects. In our modern society we see the same problem, which is easily traced to the opportunity the lower class has to make its voice heard. The reality of our modern society is that those who are in power, simply become richer and gain more power. Those who are struggling to survive in the lower classes continue to live with a low standard of living because they aren’t allotted the same opportunities as middle or upper class citizens, in a financial and social sense. Orwell goes on to state that the future will bring forth the creation of a socialist party that works, or it will bring on the emergence of fascism simply cloaked in different signs and figures. Orwell also predicts that if we were to elect a socialist party, they will most likely tear themselves apart because the same classes that have been fighting so valiantly together will most likely end up feeling very different about each other once the dust settles.

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