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September 18, 2007

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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…

Andrew Gurwitz

I think Christy hit it almost precisely on the mark when she identified education, welfare, and regulation as the necessary steps towards a more socialist society. I also think that this points to Dave’s observation that “In order to fix the destructiveness of pure capitalism, almost all advanced democratic, capitalist countries have developed complex systems of social welfare and human rights protection that create a society where a decent living is possible for almost everyone.” Ultimately, England must move more towards this welfare state in order to bring about more equality and to raise the stature of the middle class.

I differ with many of my classmates on how this may be accomplished. Surely, behind Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance one could bring about the raising of the working class and eliminate some class distinction, but this is an unlikely phenomenon in reality. We must recognize that classes exist for one group to raise their relative degree of prosperity to another’s and we must exploit class to raise the position of the working class. The middle class would never support a policy that would relatively lower their position in society. It is in their interest to feel as though the working is securely below them. One way to introduce these welfare reforms is to do so under the guise of increased productivity. If we can train workers, feed them properly, and house them properly, they will be more productive and England will be more productive and everyone will prosper. Additionally, England, as the foray into imperialism showed, likes to believe that they are more civilized than everyone else. Along these lines, regulation and welfare should be expounded as nationalistic goals and appeal to England’s moral sense of superiority. The idea that England is so much superior to everyone else, morally and economically, that do not work like African slaves or Asian laborers in the Chinese mine Professor Delong described in class.

Finally, I’d just to address one point of disagreement I have with the education argument. While I believe education an important part of this effort, I agree with Beth’s take that we are not talking about the kind of education we are getting. The working class must work, even from a very young age and do not have the means to afford to send themselves or their children to work. The education I am concerned with is that of unemployment retraining, much like countries like Denmark and Sweden do today. Instead of wandering around from spike to spike or boarding house to boarding house as Orwell does in Down and Out in Paris and London, England must take those man, provide them housing, and educate them with skills that the market demands, allowing them to contribute to England’s productivity and support themselves. Once a solidified working class with living wages is established, only then can universal education be attempted.

Dorit Iacobsohn

The problem with “Road to Wigan Pier” is that Orwell presents an ideological argument in support of socialism, but he doesn’t provide practical measures that could be implemented in the pursuit of socialism. He clearly states, “Socialism, as a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out,” but that despite this, “we have got to face is that Socialism is not establishing itself.”

But instead of giving us a clear-cut course of action to establish socialism, Orwell instead plays the Devil’s Advocate as to why socialism has not come about so far. He neglects to present viable steps we could take to change the trajectory of society.

In regards to possible solutions to Orwell’s dilemma, many people who previously commented said that it is necessary to provide better education to people. However, there are two problems with this. First of all, Orwell himself alluded to the fact that this is not effective. He said (apologies for the long quote, but I think it is important):

"It is of course true that plenty of people of working-class origin are Socialists of the theoretical bookish type. But ***they are never people who have remained working men;*** they don’t work with their hands, that is. They belong either to the type I mentioned in the last chapter, the type who squirms into the middle class via the literary intelligentsia, or the type who becomes a Labour M.P. or a high-up trade union official. This last type is one of the most desolating spectacles the world contains. He has been picked out to fight for his mates, and all it means to him is a soft job and the chance of ‘bettering’ himself. Not merely while but by fighting the bourgeoisie he becomes a bourgeois himself."

To sum up that long quote, people of working class origin who manage to get an education never actually remain working class. They “squirm” their way into the middle class with their education, and then they half-heartedly, patronizingly fight for the lower classes. And in the process, they become one of the bourgeoisie they are fighting against. So I do not think that Orwell would have thought that improved education would have helped the socialist cause.

The second problem I see with this proposed solution is that I do not think that the lower classes need to go to school. I think they need to EAT. They need to SLEEP. They need access to sanitation so they can bathe. They need better living conditions. They need better working conditions. They need basic health. They need to be treated like human beings.

One solution could be to increase workers’ rights. Better regulated working hours, fair pay, safer working conditions, etc.—these are all basic things that were in scarce supply at this time. So government intervention in the form of aiding workers’ rights would have gone a long way. In addition, government intervention could have helped living conditions by implementing housing regulations. Food programs could have been established to subsidize the weekly diet in the face of starvation. And some public facilities could have been created established to aid in hygiene, sanitation and health. I think all of these things would have aided in the progressive movement towards socialism.

Jazmin Segura

We all agree that George’s Road to Wigan Pier portrays Socialism as the “way out’ of the greedy inhumane capitalist system experienced at the beginning of the 20th century. It is admirable to read that a lower-upper middle class man took the time to write about the horrendous living conditions of the working class and also provided background information about how difference in social classes are created from a very young age.
One important idea I want to focus on is the fact that, 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. Unfortunately, this dilemma has not changed, today we see the same upper-educated class that makes the policies but that don’t really understand the conditions of the lower class. A perfect example of this is the North American Free Trade Agreement. In order to implement this neo-liberal policy, the Mexican government had to abolish the communal/ejido system. Sadly, this policy left thousands of rural indigenous population landless and without a means their primary means of subsistence. Therefore, I have to strongly disagree with Dave Koken who believes that “capitalist countries have developed complex systems of social welfare and human rights protection that create a society where decent living is possible”. I believe that the only way to put an end to this problem is to have more politicians and people in power acknowledge the reality of the poor working class. The solution is to have more people like George Orwell who are truly interested in providing a truthful system of “justice and common decency”. I am a true believer that the accurate solution for a problem can only come from people who accurately understand what the True problem is.
Therefore, I feel as though Orwell did provide us with solutions, and even though they might appear to be too idealistic (abolishing class differences and humanizing Socialism) that is what it takes to make a genuine change in the system.

Elisabeth Miller

Orwell begins the Road to Wigan Pier by describing the lifestyle of the poor coalminer's. While many believe that the miners are being paid very well for their work, Orwell goes deep into a discussion determining that they are actually paid very little after various dues they are obligated to pay. That people, who are so necessary to industrial life at that time, were being paid so little for their back- breaking labor, was simply horrendous to Orwell. Orwell continued with more examples of how the capitalist system was broken and continued to create extreme poverty. His solution, as many have noted above, was socialism. However, since Orwell was unhappy with the present socialists, he leaves us without a solution. Some previous posters chose to say that an altered form of socialism is the answer to Orwell's problem. I, however, disagree that capitalism cannot be fixed, even though it is broken.

The market is not perfect by any means. We see growing disparity between classes, and many live in poverty still today. This does not mean that this can't be changed. I agree with the person above me, that part of the solution is getting leaders in office who actually care and who know about what is going on. I don't think it is right that a man is more likely to be elected because of his father than because of his principles. We need new leaders who are willing to create better programs for the needy, as opposed to being more concerned about the welfare of big business. Orwell was concerned with unemployment and housing issues. Those issues are still present today, and need to be dealt with. A socialist government is not necessary if the capitalist government can focus help on those who are being hurt by the system.

Samira Ghassemi

This book has an interesting background to how it was made and the sole purpose of it. Orwell did a fine job of uprooting the problems in the industrial north of England's coal mines and presented to the rest of England (and now the world) the people who slaved away their lives. Orwell did in fact put a lot of emphasis on the class distinctions and prejudices among the citizens of England. Earlier, one of our classmates regarded hygiene to be a barrier to uniting the different classes. How practical and true, but it is not just a little bit of soap that will glue together society, but it will definitely help bridge them together. However, I have to disagree with a fellow classmate about raising the minimum wages. It might sound humane to advocate such a thing and one would surely gain much popularity by doing so. However, in the long run, it would only create inflation, distorting the purchasing power and create animosity as a whole. So instead of raising wages, I would further the notion of another classmate's suggestion of providing toothpaste, deodorant and soap, given as subsidies by the government.

The notion that socialism is necessary and that capitalism is too inhumane to continue is justly portrayed in his writings. He makes every effort to give detailed descriptions of the lives of these miners and people living in drastically foul conditions. He mentioned that the daily nutrition of these people are so poor that it affects their physical features. A Darwinist approach of this: The elites don't care about them and will let the "weak" rot their lives, as long as they keep producing. In our prior readings we focused on Angel's notion of society looking out for each other and working to benefit everyone as a whole; Does any one see this from the owner's point of view? Most people may start out with humanistic values and socialistic ideas, but as soon as they gain power and with that more money, they tend to loose those values. It would be beneficial to all, as one person put it, to educate society of the values of socialism, and disregard the faulty reputation given to socialism from those sandal wearing, bearded vegetarians (as Orwell put it). Radicalism in any sense never solves but only adds problems.

Ellen Guan

Like many of my classmates mentioned before, George Orwell wrote, in his book The Road to Wigan Pier, that Socialism is necessary to end the inhumane class distinction of the old capitalism system.

Orwell was born into the lower-upper-middle class. Although his class is not as wealthy as the bourgeoisie, he was still born and raised to fear the “common” children. As a result, he distasted the filthy working class for most of this life. Nonetheless, while serving in the Indian Police, Orwell came to despise the Imperialism England has imposed on India and see the Indian people as being very oppressed and poor. He soon realized that much of the conditions of the England proletariat are in fact similar to the oppressed people of India. They weren’t getting enough to eat and were constantly threatened to unemployment and starvation.

Orwell concludes that only Socialism can solve the problem; however, he finds the socialists/communists of his time to be ineffective. He states that any middle-class person can embrace Socialism but nothing will “change in his tastes, his habits, his manners, his imaginative background – his ‘ideology’.” To a large extent, his concern is very true. People can go around and advocate Socialism but nothing is going to come of it. The wealthy might embrace it, but they will still continue to live luxurious lives. And if and when time comes for them to give up what they own, the matter becomes a whole different issue as they will have to face the fact that abolishing “class-distinctions means abolishing a part of [themselves].”

Moreover, even is Socialism does replace the old capitalism system, there will still be an invisible barrier between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As Orwell states: “a man who thinks all virtue resides in the proletariat [will] still drink his soup silently… responding to the training of his childhood, when he was taught to hate, fear, and despise the working class.”

Orwell then presented some arguments for and against Socialism as a possible solution. Part of the problem is that there are two kinds of Socialists – the regular Socialist, who simply advocates Socialism as a way out, and the intellectual Socialist, who truly understand the implications of Socialism (throwing the current system down the sink) and embraces it. On top of that, in a true Socialism, everyone needs to understand and endorse the fact that they must work hard for the good of the whole system, but that is hard to achieve because you might have the free rider problem.

I agree with Ziwei, who advocated minimum wage as a solution. I think minimum wage laws can be a great way to alleviate the horrible living conditions of the proletariat. Although there might be the problem, like Ziwei said, of raising unemployment. However, I think if the minimum wage laws can be endorsed for long enough duration to raise the purchasing power of the proletariat, the economic well-being of the whole society can raise and as the economy expands there will be more job opportunities. On top of that, the proletariat can get more educated and the society can become more industrialized and with even more economic well being.

Evan had mentioned before about raising education standards as a whole. While this is true, raising education standards alone might not be enough to alleviate the problem since the working class people will not have enough capital to enter the market themselves. The bar for employment will be raised, but if everyone has the same education level, the same amount of unemployment will ensue. However, like I mentioned before, minimum wage laws coupled with increased education level can solve this problem is a way out of the dilemma.

Julia Lohmann

I agree with what many people have said about education being a means to achieve Orwell’s dream of socialism, however, I think ‘education’ must be clearly defined. While Orwell is very pessimistic that socialism will finally be accepted and the class distinctions will become obsolete, he feels that this is less the fault of the logic behind socialism and more the fault of common perceptions of ‘socialists.’ As others have pointed out, most outspoken socialists were not members of the working class, making all their propaganda seem quite hypocritical. What no one has yet mentioned are the other socialists that Orwell defines, the outcasts of society who actively fight for the socialist cause. “The mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.” When Orwell speaks of education, he is speaking of educating people about the true meaning of socialism, of making both the working class, who understand it too simply, and the middle class, who have vested interests that lie outside to true realm of socialism, realize that it would truly be a better system for all involved. Orwell believes strongly in the logic behind socialism, and seems to think that everyone would readily agree with him if they could only see past the preconceptions they had of its supporters. “Everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, as a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out.” I do not think it is a question of trying to get rid of all class distinctions through equality of education, but more specifically of getting rid of the class distinctions that have formed around those who identify themselves as socialists. He wants the propaganda to move away from that of the communist revolutionaries and ‘quacks’ of society to the true meaning of socialism, that is a “means of justice and common decency.” He believes that if enough people are educated about the logic of socialism, the socialist revolution must naturally follow as a result of pure common sense.

Noah Castro

I agree with Dorit as far as Orwells criticism of society lacking a sufficiently articulated means of reaching the alternative socialist structure that he proposes. People have been referring to education a lot as a means to change things and I agree that it is important, you can’t just give a mouse a cookie; you have to teach it how to make its own cookies. The problem is that institutionalized schooling is not nearly enough and even looking at current education in America we can see how it can be a dangerous tool of selective inequality. The real way to solve what Orwell depicts as a class struggle is through social integration, exposure, and equal opportunity. Jazmin makes a very good point in regards to people who make policy as opposed to people who are affected by policy and this problem revolves around the total lack of exposure that the different classes have to each other. The average politician would be completely lost trying to cultivate a small yielding farm in rural Mexico, just as the average farmer is oblivious to the processes involved in legislating policy. Elizabeth does a good job suggesting a solution but I think she makes it sound much easier then it actually is. It’s not enough to say we need leaders that care. The reality of capitalism is that it forces people to care about themselves above all else. What we need are leaders that understand the opposing force to our own selfishness: the selfishness of others around us. The circulation of capital and assets must be continuous and expansive within the economy of a society otherwise you get things like the great depression. The remedy for class discrepancies within any kind of political structure is the consolidation of culture, values, and experience via empathy.

Kieran M. Duffy

I feel that Orwell's book encompasses a terrific portrayal of the roots of hatred among differant classes in his book. I feel that he makes great cases for the need for socialism. Starting with himself when he says" when I was fourteen or fifteen I was an odious little snob, no worse than the other boys of my age," and also when he describes himself later when he describes himself as "how he hated the hoggishly rich..." He further draws me in to his arguments for socialism, when he decribes his time decribing what it was like to live in the mining town and "sweat their guts out" so that "superior persons can remain superior." He also, in contrast draws a good picture of some of the so-called proletariats not knowing and understanding the proletariat party because they are bourgiousie.

While I do agree with his ideas and needs for socialism, I feel that his arguments are very turbulent due to the turbulent times that he experienced during his childhood and the when this book was published. I think what would have been a better solution to his dilemma would be to take a revolutionary stance against Capitalism of the day, and blaming it for being broken, but to support government intervention, and the cause of better treatment of working class miners.

I think that he, like Marx, Mao, Lenin, who initially had great intentions as socialists' rule out competitive human nature-the desire for more, and how in reality we are all out for ourselves, and don not care so much for others' well being. And also while Capitalism is by no means perfect it is much more realistic than socialism. Lastly, if we lived in a perfect world socialism would be popular, and thriving.

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