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George Orwell > The Road to Wigan Pier > Chapter 11

The Road to Wigan Pier

Chapter 11

Meanwhile what about Socialism?

It hardly needs pointing out that at this moment we are in a very
serious mess, so serious that even the dullest-witted people find it
difficult to remain unaware of it. We are living in a world in which nobody
is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is almost
impossible to be honest and to remain alive. For enormous blocks of the
working class the conditions of life are such as I have described in the
opening chapters of this book, and there is no chance of those conditions
showing any fundamental improvement. The very best the English-working
class can hope for is an occasional temporary decrease in unemployment when
this or that industry is artificially stimulated by, for instance,
rearmament. Even the middle classes, for the first time in their history,
are feeling the pinch. They have not known actual hunger yet, but more and
more of them find themselves floundering in a sort of deadly net of
frustration in which it is harder and harder to persuade yourself that you
are either happy, active, or useful. Even the lucky ones at the top, the
real bourgeoisie, are haunted periodically by a consciousness of the
miseries below, and still more by fears of the menacing future. And this is
merely a preliminary stage, in a country still rich with the loot of a
hundred years. Presently there may be coining God knows what horrors--
horrors of which, in this sheltered island, we have not even a traditional

And all the while everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, as
a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out. It would at least
ensure our getting enough to eat even if it deprived us of everything else.
Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such elementary common sense
that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already. The
world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of
provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it
that every-one does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of
the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one
could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for
clinging to the present system. Yet the fact that we have got to face is
that Socialism is not establishing itself. Instead of going forward, the
cause of Socialism is visibly going back. At this moment Socialists almost
everywhere are in retreat before the onslaught of Fascism, and events are
moving at terrible speed. As I write this the Spanish Fascist forces are
bombarding Madrid, and it is quite likely that before the book is printed
we shall have another Fascist country to add to the list, not to mention a
Fascist control of the Mediterranean which may have the effect of
delivering British foreign policy into the hands of Mussolini. I do not,
however, want here to discuss the wider political issues. What I am
concerned with is the fact that Socialism is losing ground exactly where it
ought to be gaining it. With so much in its favour--for every empty belly
is an argument for Socialism--the idea of Socialism is less widely
accepted than it was ten years ago. The average thinking person nowadays is
not merely not a Socialist, he is actively hostile to Socialism. This must
be due chiefly to mistaken methods of propaganda. It means that Socialism,
in the form of which it is now presented to us, has about it something
inherently distasteful--something that drives away the very people who
ought to be nocking to its support.

A few years ago this might have seemed unimportant. It seems only
yesterday that Socialists, especially orthodox Marxists, were telling me
with superior smiles that Socialism was going to arrive of its own accord
by some mysterious process called 'historic necessity'. Possibly that
belief still lingers, but it has been shaken, to say the least of it. Hence
the sudden attempts of Communists in various countries to ally themselves
with democratic forces which they have been sabotaging for years past. At a
moment like this it is desperately necessary to discover just why Socialism
has failed in its appeal. And it is no use writing off the current distaste
for Socialism as the product of stupidity or corrupt motives. If you want
to remove that distaste you have got to understand it, which means getting
inside the mind of the ordinary objector to Socialism, or at least
regarding his viewpoint sympathetically. No case is really answered until
it has had a fair hearing. Therefore, rather paradoxically, in order to
defend Socialism it is necessary to start by attacking it.

In the last three chapters I tried to analyse the difficulties that
are raised by our anachronistic class-system; I shall have to touch on that
subject again, because I believe that the present intensely stupid handling
of the class-issue may stampede quantities of potential Socialists into
Fascism. In the chapter following this one I want to discuss certain
underlying assumptions that alienate sensitive minds from Socialism. But in
the present chapter I am merely dealing with the obvious, preliminary
objections--the kind of thing that the person who is not a Socialist (I
don't mean the 'Where's the money to come from?' type) always starts by
saying when you tax him on the subject. Some of these objections may appear
frivolous or self-contradictory, but that is beside the point; I am merely
discussing symptoms. Anything is relevant which helps to make clear why
Socialism is not accepted. And please notice that I am arguing for
Socialism, not against it. But for the moment I am advocatus diaboli. I am
making out a case for the sort of person who is in sympathy with the
fundamental aims of Socialism, who has the brains to see that Socialism
would 'work', but who in practice always takes to flight when Socialism is

Question a person of this type, and you will often get the semi-
frivolous answer: 'I don't object to Socialism, but I do object to
Socialists.' Logically it is a poor argument, but it carries weight with
many people. As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for
Socialism is its adherents.

The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that
Socialism, in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the
middle classes. The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies
imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous
voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years' time will
quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman
Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-
collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian
leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with
a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting. This last type
is surprisingly common in Socialist parties of every shade; it has perhaps
been taken over en bloc from. the old Liberal Party. In addition to this
there is the horrible--the really disquieting--prevalence of cranks
wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the
impression that 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.
One day this summer I was riding through Letchworth when the bus stopped
and two dreadful-looking old men got on to it. They were both about sixty,
both very short, pink, and chubby, and both hatless. One of them was
obscenely bald, the other had long grey hair bobbed in the Lloyd George
style. They were dressed in pistachio-coloured shirts and khaki shorts into
which their huge bottoms were crammed so tightly that you could study every
dimple. Their appearance created a mild stir of horror on top of the bus.
The man next to me, a commercial traveller I should say, glanced at me, at
them, and back again at me, and murmured 'Socialists', as who should say,
'Red Indians'. He was probably right--the I.L.P. were holding their
summer school at Letchworth. But the point is that to him, as an ordinary
man, a crank meant a Socialist and a Socialist meant a crank. Any
Socialist, he probably felt, could be counted on to have something
eccentric about him. And some such notion seems to exist even among
Socialists themselves. For instance, I have here a prospectus from another
summer school which states its terms per week and then asks me to say
'whether my diet is ordinary or vegetarian'. They take it for granted, you
see, that it is necessary to ask this question. This kind of thing is by
itself sufficient to alienate plenty of decent people. And their instinct
is perfectly sound, for the food-crank is by definition a person willing to
cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the
life of his carcase; that is, a person but of touch with common humanity.

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 remember my
sensations of horror on first attending an I.L.P. branch meeting in London.
(It might have been rather different in the North, where the bourgeoisie
are less thickly scattered.) Are these mingy little beasts, I thought, the
champions of the working class? For every person there, male and female,
bore the worst stigmata of sniffish middle-class superiority. If a real
working man, a miner dirty from the pit, for instance, had suddenly walked
into their midst, they would have been embarrassed, angry, and disgusted;
some, I should think, would have fled holding their noses. You can see the
same tendency in Socialist literature, which, even when it is not openly
written de haut en bos, is always completely removed from the working class
in idiom and manner of thought. The Coles, Webbs, Stracheys, etc., are not
exactly proletarian writers. It is doubtful whether anything describable as
proletarian literature now exists--even the Daily Worker is written in
standard South English--but a good music-hall comedian comes nearer to
producing it than any Socialist writer I can think of. As for the technical
jargon of the Communists, it is as far removed from the common speech as
the language of a mathematical textbook. I remember hearing a professional
Communist speaker address a working-class audience. His speech was the
usual bookish stuff, full of long sentences and parentheses and
'Notwithstanding' and 'Be that as it may', besides the usual jargon of
'ideology' and 'class-consciousness' and 'proletarian solidarity' and all
the rest of it. After him a Lancashire working man got up and spoke to the
crowd in their own broad lingo. There was not much doubt which of the two
was nearer to his audience, but I do not suppose for a moment that the
Lancashire working man was an orthodox Communist.

For it must be remembered that a working man, so long as he remains a
genuine working man, is seldom or never a Socialist in the complete,
logically consistent sense. Very likely he votes Labour, or even Communist
if he gets the chance, but his conception of Socialism is quite different
from that of the, book-trained Socialist higher up. To the ordinary working
man, the sort you would meet in any pub on Saturday night, Socialism does
not mean much more than better wages and shorter' hours and nobody bossing
you about. To the more revolutionary type, the type who is a hunger-marcher
and is blacklisted by employers, the word is a sort of rallying-cry against
the forces of oppression, a vague threat of future violence. But, so far as
my experience goes, no genuine working man grasps the deeper implications
of Socialism. Often, in my opinion, he is a truer Socialist than the
orthodox Marxist, because he does remember, what the other so often
forgets, that Socialism means justice and common decency. But what he does
not grasp is that Socialism cannot be narrowed down to mere economic
justice' and that a reform of that magnitude is bound to work immense
changes in our civilization and his own way of life. His vision of the
Socialist future is a vision of present society with the worst abuses left
out, and with interest centring round the same things as at present--
family life, the pub, football, and local politics. As for the philosophic
side of Marxism, the pea-and-thimble trick with those three mysterious
entities, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, I have never met a working man
who had the faintest interest in it. 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. And meanwhile it is quite possible that he has remained
an orthodox Marxist. But I have yet to meet a working miner, steel-worker,
cotton-weaver, docker, navvy, or whatnot who was 'ideologically' sound.

One of the analogies between Communism and Roman Catholicism is that
only the 'educated' are completely orthodox. The most immediately striking
thing about the English Roman Catholics--I don't mean the real Catholics,
I mean the converts: Ronald Knox, Arnold Lunn et hoc genus--is their
intense self-consciousness. Apparently they never think, certainly they
never write, about anything but the fact that they are Roman Catholics;
this single fact and the self-praise resulting from it form the entire
stock-in-trade of the Catholic literary man. But the really interesting
thing about these people is the way in which they have worked out the
supposed implications of orthodoxy until the tiniest details of life are
involved. Even the liquids you drink, apparently, can be orthodox or
heretical; hence the campaigns of Chesterton, 'Beachcomber', etc., against
tea and in favour of beer. According to Chesterton, tea-drinking' is
'pagan', while beer-drinking is 'Christian', and coffee is 'the puritan's
opium'. It is unfortunate for this theory that Catholics abound in the
'Temperance' movement and the greatest tea-boozers in the world are the
Catholic Irish; but what I am interested in here is the attitude of mind
that can make even food and drink an occasion for religious intolerance. A
working-class Catholic would never be so absurdly consistent as that. He
does not spend his time in brooding on the fact that he is a Roman
Catholic, and he is not particularly conscious of being different from his
non-Catholic neighbours. Tell an Irish dock-labourer in the slums of
Liverpool that his cup of tea is 'pagan', and he will call you a fool. And
even in more serious matters he I does not always grasp the implications of
his faith. In the I Roman Catholic homes of Lancashire you see the crucifix
I on the wall and the Daily Worker on the table. It is only the 'educated'
man, especially the literary man, who knows how to be a bigot. And, mutatis
mutandis, it is the same with Communism. The creed is never found in its
pure form in a genuine proletarian.

It may be said, however, that even if the theoretical book-trained
Socialist is not a working man himself, at least he is actuated by a love
of the working class. He is endeavouring to shed his bourgeois status and
fight on the side of the proletariat--that, obviously, must be his

But is it? Sometimes I look at a Socialist--the intellectual, tract-
writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his
Marxian quotation--and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is
often difficult to believe that it is a love of anybody, especially of the
working class, from whom he is of all people the furthest removed. The
underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied
sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it
causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because
it is untidy; what they desire, basically, is to reduce the world to
something resembling a chessboard. Take the plays of a lifelong Socialist
like Shaw. How much understanding or even awareness of working-class life
do they display? Shaw himself declares that you can only bring a working
man on the stage 'as an object of compassion'; in practice he doesn't bring
him on even as that, but merely as a sort of W. W. Jacobs figure of fun--
the ready-made comic East Ender, like those in Major Barbara and Captain
Brassbound's Conversion. At best his attitude to the working class is the
sniggering Punch attitude, in more serious moments (consider, for instance,
the young man who symbolizes the dispossessed classes in Misalliance) he
finds them merely contemptible and disgusting. Poverty and, what is more,
the habits of mind created by poverty, are something to be abolished from
above, by violence if necessary; perhaps even preferably by violence. Hence
his worship of 'great' men and appetite for dictatorships, Fascist or
Communist; for to him, apparently (vide his remarks apropos of the Italo-
Abyssinian war and the Stalin-Wells conversations), Stalin and Mussolini
are almost equivalent persons. You get the same thing in a more mealy-
mouthed form in Mrs Sidney Webb's autobiography, which gives,
unconsciously, a most revealing picture of the high-minded Socialist slum-
visitor. The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists,
revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to
associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which 'we', the clever
ones, are going to impose upon 'them', the Lower Orders. On the other hand,
it would be a mistake to regard the book-trained Socialist as a bloodless
creature entirely incapable of emotion. Though seldom giving much evidence
of affection for the exploited, he is perfectly capable of displaying
hatred--a sort of queer, theoretical, in vacua hatred--against the
exploiters. Hence the grand old Socialist sport of denouncing the
bourgeoisie. It is strange how easily almost any Socialist writer can lash
himself into frenzies of rage against the class to which, by birth or by
adoption, he himself invariably belongs. Sometimes the hatred of bourgeois
habits and 'ideology' is so far-reaching that it extends even to bourgeois
characters in books. According to Henri Barbusse, the characters in the
novels of Proust, Gide, etc., are 'characters whom one would dearly love to
have at the other side of a barricade'. 'A barricade', you observe. Judging
from Le Feu, I should have thought Barbusse's experience of barricades had
left him with a distaste for them. But the imaginary bayoneting of
'bourgeois', who presumably don't hit back, is a bit different from the
real article.

The best example of bourgeois-baiting literature that I have yet come
across is Mirsky's Intelligentsia of Great Britain. This is a very
interesting and ably-written book, and it should be read by everyone who
wants to understand the rise of Fascism. Mirsky (formerly Prince Mirsky)
was a White Russian emigre who came to England and was for some years a
lecturer in Russian literature at London University. Later he was converted
to Communism, returned to Russia, and produced his book as a sort of 'show-
up' of the British intelligentsia from a Marxist standpoint. It is a
viciously malignant book, with an unmistakable note of 'Now I'm out of your
reach I can say what I like about you' running all through it, and apart
from a general distortion it contains some quite definite and probably
intentional misrepresentation: as, for instance, when Conrad is declared to
be 'no less imperialist than Kipling', and D. H. Lawrence is described as
writing 'bare-bodied pornography' and as having 'succeeded in erasing all
clues to his proletarian origin'--as though Lawrence had been a pork-
butcher climbing into the House of Lords! This kind of thing is very
disquieting when one remembers that it is addressed to a Russian audience
who have no means of checking its accuracy. But what I am thinking of at
the moment is the effect of such a book on the English public. Here you
have a literary man of aristocratic extraction, a man who had probably
never in his life spoken to a working man on any-thing approaching equal
terms, uttering venomous screams of libel against his 'bourgeois'
colleagues. Why? So far as appearances go, from pure malignity. He is
battling against the British intelligentsia, but what is he battling for?
Within the book itself there is no indication. Hence the net effect of
books like this is to give outsiders the impression that there is nothing
in Communism except hatred. And here once again you come upon that queer
resemblance between Communism and (convert) Roman Catholicism. If you want
to find a book as evil-spirited as The Intelligentsia of Great Britain, the
likeliest place to look is among the popular Roman Catholic apologists. You
will find there the same venom and the same dishonesty, though, to do the
Catholic justice, you will not usually find the same bad manners. Queer
that Comrade Mirsky's spiritual brother should be Father---! The
Communist and the Catholic are not saying the same thing, in a sense they
are even saying opposite things, and each would gladly boil the other in
oil if circumstances permitted; but from the point of view of an outsider
they are very much alike.

The fact is that Socialism, in the form in which it is now presented,
appeals chiefly to unsatisfactory or even inhuman types. On the one hand
you have the warm-hearted un-thinking Socialist, the typical working-class
Socialist, who only wants to abolish poverty and does not always grasp what
this implies. On the other hand, you have the intellectual, book-trained
Socialist, who understands that it is necessary to throw our present
civilization down the sink and is quite willing to do so. And this type is
drawn, to begin with, entirely from the middle class, and from a rootless
town-bred section of the middle class at that. Still more unfortunately, it
includes--so much so that to an outsider it even appears to be composed
of--the kind of people I have been discussing; the foaming denouncers of
the bourgeoisie, and the more-water-iri-your-beer reformers of whom Shaw is
the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers who are
Communists now, as they will be Fascists five years hence, because it is
all the go, and all that dreary tribe of high-minded' women and sandal-
wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come nocking towards the smell
of 'progress' like bluebottles to a dead cat. The ordinary decent person,
who is in sympathy with the essential aims of Socialism, is given the
impression that there is no room for his kind in any Socialist party that
means business. Worse, he is driven to the cynical conclusion that
Socialism is a kind of doom which is probably coming but must be staved off
as long as possible. Of course, as I have suggested already, it is not
strictly fair to judge a movement by its adherents; but the point is that
people invariably do so, and that the popular conception of Socialism is
coloured by the conception of a Socialist as a dull or disagreeable person.
'Socialism' is pictured as a state of affairs in which our more vocal
Socialists would feel thoroughly at home. This does great harm to the
cause. The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the
proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the
prigs, and he gets ready to fight.

There is a widespread feeling that any civilization in which Socialism
was a reality would bear the same relation to our own as a brand-new bottle
of colonial burgundy, bears to a few spoonfuls of first-class Beaujolais.
We live, admittedly, amid the wreck of a civilization, but it has been a
great civilization in its day, and in patches it still flourishes almost
undisturbed. It still has its bouquet, so to speak; whereas the imagined
Socialist future, like the colonial burgundy, tastes only of iron and
water. Hence the fact, which is really a disastrous one, that artists of
any consequence can never be persuaded into the Socialist fold. This is
particularly the case with the writer whose political opinions are more
directly and obviously connected with his work than those of, say, a
painter. If one faces facts one must admit that nearly everything
describable as Socialist literature is dull, tasteless, and bad. Consider
the situation in England at the present moment. A whole generation has
grown up more or less in familiarity with the idea of Socialism; and yet
the higher-water mark, so to speak, of Socialist literature is W. H. Auden,
a sort of gutless Kipling,[Orwell somewhat retracted this remark later.
See 'Inside the Whale', England Your England, p. 120 (Seeker & Warburg
Collected Edition).] and the even feebler poets who are associated
with him. Every writer of consequence and every book worth reading is on
the other side. I am willing to believe that it is otherwise in Russia--
about which I know nothing, however--for presumably in post-revolutionary
Russia the mere violence of events would tend to throw up a vigorous
literature of sorts. But it is certain that in Western Europe Socialism has
produced no literature worth having. A little while ago, when the issues
were less clear, there were writers of some vitality who called themselves
Socialists, but they were using the word as a vague label. Thus, if Ibsen
and Zola described themselves as Socialists, it did not mean much more than
that they were 'progressives', while in the case of Anatole France it meant
merely that he was an anticlerical. The real Socialist writers, the
propagandist writers, have always been dull, empty windbags--Shaw,
Barbusse, Upton Sinclair, William Morris, Waldo Frank, etc., etc. I am not,
of course, suggesting that Socialism is to be condemned because literary
gents don't like it; I am not even suggesting that it ought necessarily to
produce literature on its own account, though I do think it a bad sign that
it has produced no songs worth singing. I am. merely pointing to the fact
that writers of genuine talent are usually indifferent to Socialism, and
sometimes actively and mischievously hostile. And this is a disaster, not
only for the writers themselves, but for the cause of Socialism, which has
great need of them.

This, then, is the superficial aspect of the ordinary man's recoil
from Socialism. I know the whole dreary argument very thoroughly, because I
know it from both sides. Every-thing that I say here I have both said to
ardent Socialists who were trying to convert me, and had said to me by
bored non-Socialists whom I was trying to convert. The whole thing amounts
to a kind of malaise produced by dislike of individual Socialists,
especially of the cocksure Marx-quoting type. Is it childish to be
influenced by that kind of thing? Is it silly? Is it even contemptible? It
is all that, but the point is that it happens, and therefore it is
important to keep it in mind.

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