The Complete Works of



George Orwell > The Road to Wigan Pier > Chapter 12

The Road to Wigan Pier

Chapter 12

However, there is a much more serious difficulty than the local and
temporary objections which I discussed in the last chapter.

Faced by the fact that intelligent people are so often on the other
side, the Socialist is apt to set it down to corrupt motives (conscious or
unconscious), or to an ignorant belief that Socialism would not 'work', or
to a mere dread of the horrors and discomforts of the revolutionary period
before Socialism is established. Undoubtedly all these are important, but
there are plenty of people who are influenced by none of them and are
nevertheless hostile to Socialism. Their reason for recoiling from
Socialism is spiritual, or 'ideological'. They object to it not on the
ground that it would not 'work', but precisely because it would 'work' too
well. What they are afraid of is not the things that are going to happen in
their own lifetime, but the things that are going to happen in a remote
future when Socialism is a reality.

I have very seldom met a convinced Socialist who could grasp that
thinking people may be repelled by the objective towards which Socialism
appears to be moving. The Marxist, especially, dismisses this kind of thing
as bourgeois sentimentality. Marxists as a rule are not very good at
reading the minds of their adversaries; if they were, the situation in
Europe might be less desperate than it is at present. Possessing a
technique which seems to explain everything, they do not often bother to
discover what is going on inside other people's heads. Here, for instance,
is an illustration of the kind of thing I mean. Discussing the widely held
theory--which in one sense is certainly true--that Fascism is a product
of Communism, Mr N. A. Holdaway, one of the ablest Marxist writers we
possess, writes as follows:

The hoary legend of Communism leading to Fascism. ... The element
of truth in it is this: that the appearance of Communist activity warns the
ruling class that democratic Labour Parties are no longer capable of
holding the working class in check, and that capitalist dictatorship must
assume another form if it is to survive.

You see here the defects of the method. Because he has detected the
underlying economic cause of Fascism, he tacitly assumes that the spiritual
side of it is of no importance. Fascism is written off as a manoeuvre of
the 'ruling class', which at bottom it is. But this in itself would only
explain why Fascism appeals to capitalists. What about the millions who are
not capitalists, who in a material sense have nothing to gain from Fascism
and are often aware of it, and who, nevertheless, are Fascists? Obviously
their approach has been purely along the ideological line. They could only
be stampeded into Fascism because Communism attacked or seemed to attack
certain things (patriotism, religion, etc.) which lay deeper than the
economic motive; and in that sense it is perfectly true that Communism
leads to Fascism. It is a pity that Marxists nearly always concentrate on
letting economic cats out of ideological bags; it does in one sense reveal
the truth, but with this penalty, that most of their propaganda misses its
mark. It is the spiritual recoil from Socialism, especially as it manifests
itself in sensitive people, that I want to discuss in this chapter. I shall
have to analyse it at some length, because it is very widespread, very
powerful, and, among Socialists, almost completely ignored.

The first thing to notice is that the idea of Socialism is bound up,
more or less inextricably, with the idea of machine-production. Socialism
is essentially an urban creed. It grew up more or less concurrently with
industrialism, it has always had its roots in the town proletariat and the
town intellectual, and it is doubtful whether it could ever have arisen in
any but an industrial society. Granted industrialism, the idea of Socialism
presents itself naturally, because private ownership is only tolerable when
every individual (or family or other unit) is at least moderately self-
supporting; but the effect of industrialism is to make it impossible for
anyone to be self-supporting even for a moment. Industrialism, once it
rises above a fairly low level, must lead to some form of collectivism. Not
necessarily to Socialism, of course; conceivably it might lead to the
Slave-State of which Fascism is a kind of prophecy. And the converse is
also true. Machine-production suggests Socialism, but Socialism as a world-
system implies machine-production, because it demands certain things not
compatible with a primitive way of life. It demands, for instance, constant
intercommunication and exchange of goods between all parts of the earth; it
demands some degree of centralized control; it demands an approximately
equal standard of life for all human beings and probably a certain
uniformity of education. We may take it, therefore, that any world in which
Socialism was a reality would be at least as highly mechanized as the
United States at this moment, probably much more so. In any case, no
Socialist would think of denying this. The Socialist world is always
pictured as a completely mechanized, immensely organized world, depending
on the machine as the civilizations of antiquity depend on the slave.

So far so good, or so bad. Many, perhaps a majority, of thinking
people are not in love with machine-civilization, but everyone who is not a
fool knows that it is nonsense to talk at this moment about scrapping the
machine. But the unfortunate thing is that Socialism, as usually presented,
is bound up with the idea of mechanical progress, not merely as a necessary
development but as an end in itself, almost as a kind of religion. This
idea is implicit in, for instance, most of the propagandist stuff that is
written about the rapid mechanical advance in Soviet Russia (the Dneiper
dam, tractors, etc., etc.). Karel Capek hits it off well enough in the
horrible ending of R.U.R., when the Robots, having slaughtered the last
human being, announce their intention to 'build many houses' (just for the
sake of building houses, you see). The kind of person who most readily
accepts Socialism is also the kind of person who views mechanical progress,
as such, with enthusiasm. And this is so much the case that Socialists are
often unable to grasp that the opposite opinion exists. As a rule the most
persuasive argument they can think of is to tell you that the present
mechanization of the world is as nothing to what we shall see when
Socialism is established. Where there is one aeroplane now, in those days
there will be fifty! All the work that is now done by hand will then be
done by machinery: everything that is now made of leather, wood, or stone
will be made of rubber, glass, or steel; there will be no disorder, no
loose ends, no wilder-nesses, no wild animals, no weeds, no disease, no
poverty, no pain--and so on and so forth. The Socialist world is to be
above all things an ordered world, an efficient world. But it is precisely
from that vision of the future as a sort of glittering Wells-world that
sensitive minds recoil. Please notice that this essentially fat-bellied
version of 'progress' is not an integral part of Socialist doctrine; but it
has come to be thought of as one, with the result that the temperamental
conservatism which is latent in all kinds of people is easily mobilized
against Socialism.

Every sensitive person has moments when he is suspicious of machinery
and to some extent of physical science. But it is important to sort out the
various motives, which have differed greatly at different times, for
hostility to science and machinery, and to disregard the jealousy of the
modem literary gent who hates science because science has stolen
literature's thunder. The earliest full-length attack on science and
machinery that I am acquainted with is in the third part of Gulliver's
Travels. But Swift's attack, though brilliant as a tour de force, is
irrelevant and even silly, because it is written from the standpoint--
perhaps this seems a queer thing to say of the author of Gulliver's Trawls
--of a man who lacked imagination. To Swift, science was merely a kind of
futile muckraking and the machines were non-sensical contraptions that
would never work. His standard was that of practical usefulness, and he
lacked the vision to see that an experiment which is not demonstrably
useful at the moment may yield results in the future. Elsewhere in the book
he names it as the best of all achievements 'to make two blades of grass
grow where one grew before'; not 'seeing, apparently, that this is just
what the machine can do. A little later the despised machines began
working, physical science increased its scope, and there came the
celebrated conflict between religion and science which agitated our
grandfathers. That conflict is over and both sides have retreated and
claimed a victory, but an anti-scientific bias still lingers in the minds
of most religious believers. All through the nineteenth century protesting
voices were raised against science and machinery (see Dickens's Hard Times,
for instance), but usually for the rather shallow reason that industrialism
in its first stages was cruel and ugly. Samuel Butler's attack on the
machine in the well-known chapter of Erewhon is a different matter. But
Butler himself lives in 'a less desperate age than our own, an age in which
it was still possible for a first-rate man to be a dilettante part of the
time, and therefore the whole thing appeared to him as a kind of
intellectual exercise. He saw clearly enough our abject dependence on the
machine, but instead of bothering to work out its consequences he preferred
to exaggerate it for the sake of what was not much more than a joke. It is
only in our own age, when mechanization has finally triumphed, that we can
actually feel the tendency of the machine to make a fully human life
impossible. There is probably no one capable of thinking and feeling who
has not occasionally looked at a gas-pipe chair and reflected that the
machine is the enemy of life. As a rule, however, this feeling is
instinctive rather than reasoned.

People know that in some way or another 'progress' is a swindle, but
they reach this conclusion by a kind of mental shorthand; my job here is to
supply the logical steps that are usually left out. But first one must ask,
what is the function of the machine? Obviously its primary function is to
save work, and the type of person to whom machine-civilization is entirely
acceptable seldom sees any reason for looking further. Here for instance is
a person who claims, or rather screams, that he is thoroughly at home in
the modem mechanized world. I am quoting from World Without Faith, by Mr
John Beevers. This is what he says:

It is plain lunacy to say that the average L2 10s. to L4 a week man
of today is a lower type than an eighteenth-century farm labourer. Or than
the labourer or peasant of any exclusively agricultural community now or in
the past. It just isn't true. It is so damn silly to cry out about the
civilizing effects of work in the fields and farmyards as against that done
in a big locomotive works or an automobile factory. Work is a nuisance. We
work because we have to and all work is done to provide us with leisure and
the means of spending that leisure as enjoyably as possible.

And again:

Man is going to have time enough and power enough to hunt for his
own heaven on earth without worrying about the super-natural one. The earth
will be so pleasant a place that the priest and the parson won't be left
with much of a tale to tell. Half the stuffing is knocked out of them by
one neat blow. Etc., etc., etc.

There is a whole chapter to this effect (Chapter 4 of Mr Beevers's
book), and it is of some interest as an exhibition of machine-worship in
its most completely vulgar, ignorant, and half-baked form. It is the
authentic voice of a large section of the modem world. Every aspirin-eater
in the outer suburbs would echo it fervently. Notice the shrill wail of
anger ('It just isn't troo-o-o!', etc.) with which Mr Beevers meets the
suggestion that his grandfather may have been a better man than himself;
and the still more horrible suggestion that if we returned to a simpler way
of life he might have to toughen his muscles with a job of work. Work, you
see, is done 'to provide us with leisure'. Leisure for what? Leisure to
become more like Mr Beevers, presumably. Though as a matter of fact, from
that line of talk about 'heaven on earth', you can make a fairly good guess
at what he would like civilization to be; a sort of Lyons Comer House
lasting in saecula saeculorum and getting bigger and noisier all the time.
And in any book by anyone who feels at home in the machine-world--in any
book by H. G. Wells, for instance--you will find passages of the same
kind. How often have we not heard it, that glutinously uplifting stuff
about 'the machines, our new race of slaves, which will set humanity free',
etc., etc., etc. To these people, apparently, the only danger of the
machine is its possible use for destructive purposes; as, for instance,
aero-planes are used in war. Barring wars and unforeseen disasters, the
future is envisaged as an ever more rapid march of mechanical progress;
machines to save work, machines to save thought, machines to save pain,
hygiene, efficiency, organization, more hygiene, more efficiency, more
organization, more machines--until finally you land up in the by now
familiar Wellsian Utopia, aptly caricatured by Huxley in Brave New World,
the paradise of little fat men. Of course in their day-dreams of the future
the little fat men are neither fat nor little; they are Men Like Gods. But
why should they be? All mechanical progress is towards greater and greater
efficiency; ultimately, therefore, towards a world in which nothing goes
wrong. But in a world in which nothing went wrong, many of the qualities
which Mr Wells regards as 'godlike' would be no more valuable than the
animal faculty of moving the ears. The beings in Men Like Gods and The
Dream are represented, for example, as brave, generous, and physically
strong. But in a world from which physical danger had been banished--and
obviously mechanical progress tends to eliminate danger--would physical
courage be likely to survive? Could it survive? And why should physical
strength survive in a world where there was never the need for physical
labour? As for such qualities as loyalty, generosity, etc., in a world
where nothing went wrong, they would be not only irrelevant but probably
unimaginable. The truth is that many of the qualities we admire in human
beings can only function in opposition to some kind of disaster, pain, or
difficulty; but the tendency of mechanical progress is to eliminate
disaster, pain, and difficulty. In books like The Dream and Men Like Gods
it is assumed that such qualities as strength, courage, generosity, etc.,
will be kept alive because they are comely qualities and necessary
attributes of a full human being. Presumably, for instance, the inhabitants
of Utopia would create artificial dangers in order to exercise their
courage, and do dumb-bell exercises to harden muscles which they would
never be obliged to use. And here you observe the huge contradiction which
is usually present in the idea of progress. The tendency of mechanical
progress is to make your environment safe and soft; and yet you are
striving to keep yourself brave and hard. You are at the same moment
furiously pressing forward and desperately holding back. It is as though a
London stockbroker should go to his office in a suit of chain mail and
insist on talking medieval Latin. So in the last analysis the champion of
progress is also the champion of anachronisms.

Meanwhile I am assuming that the tendency of mechanical progress is to
make life safe and soft. This may be disputed, because at any given moment
the effect of some recent mechanical invention may appear to be the
opposite. Take for instance the transition from horses to motor vehicles.
At a first glance one might say, considering the enormous toll of road
deaths, that the motor-car does not exactly tend to make life safer.
Moreover it probably needs as much toughness to be a first-rate dirt-track
rider as to be a broncho-buster or to ride in the Grand National.
Nevertheless the tendency of all machinery is to become safer and easier to
handle. The danger of accidents would disappear if we chose to tackle our
road-planning problem seriously, as we shall do sooner or later; and
meanwhile the motor-car has evolved to a point at which anyone who is not
blind or paralytic can drive it after a few lessons. Even now it needs far
less nerve and skill to drive a car ordinarily well than to ride a horse
ordinarily well; in twenty years' time it may need no nerve or skill at
all. Therefore, one must say that, taking society as a whole, the result of
the transition from horses to cars has been an increase in human softness.
Presently somebody comes along with another invention, the aeroplane for
instance, which does not at first sight appear to make life safer. The
first men who went up in aeroplanes were superlatively brave, and even
today it must need an exceptionally good nerve to be a pilot. But the same
tendency as before is at work. The aeroplane, like the motor-car, will be
made foolproof; a million engineers are working, almost unconsciously, in
that direction. Finally--this is the objective, though it may never quite
be reached--you will get an aeroplane whose pilot needs no more skill or
courage than a baby needs in its perambulator. And all mechanical progress
is and must be in this direction. A machine evolves by becoming more
efficient, that is, more foolproof; hence the objective of mechanical
progress is a foolproof world--which may or may not mean a world
inhabited by fools. Mr Wells would probably retort that the world can never
become fool-proof, because, however high a standard of efficiency you have
reached, there is always some greater difficulty ahead. For example (this
is Mr Wells's favourite idea--he has used it in goodness knows how many
perorations), when you have got this planet of ours perfectly into trim,
you start upon the enormous task of reaching and colonizing another. But
this is merely to push the objective further into the future; the objective
itself remains the same. Colonize another planet, and the game of
mechanical progress begins anew; for the foolproof world you have
substituted the foolproof solar system--the foolproof universe. In tying
yourself to the ideal of mechanical efficiency, you tie yourself to the
ideal of softness. But softness is repulsive; and thus all progress is seen
to be a frantic struggle towards an objective which you hope and pray will
never be reached. Now and again, but not often, you meet somebody who
grasps that what is usually called progress also entails what is usually
called degeneracy, and who is nevertheless in favour of progress. Hence the
fact that in Mr Shaw's Utopia a statue was erected to Falstaff, as the
first man who ever made a speech in favour of cowardice.

But the trouble goes immensely deeper than this. Hitherto I have only
pointed out the absurdity of aiming at mechanical progress and also at the
preservation of qualities which mechanical progress makes unnecessary. The
question one has got to consider is whether there is any human activity
which would not be maimed by the dominance of the machine.

The function of the machine is to save work. In a fully mechanized
world all the dull drudgery will be done by machinery, leaving us free for
more interesting pursuits. So expressed, this sounds splendid. It makes one
sick to see half a dozen men sweating their guts out to dig a trench for a
water-pipe, when some easily devised machine would scoop the earth out in a
couple of minutes. Why not let the machine do the work and the men go and
do something else. But presently the question arises, what else are they to
do? Supposedly they are set free from 'work' in order that they may do
something which is not 'work'. But what is work and what is not work? Is it
work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish,
to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build
a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of
these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody.
There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as
work or play according as you choose to regard them. The labourer set free
from digging may want to spend his leisure, or part of it, in playing the
piano, while the professional pianist may be only too glad to get out and
dig at the potato patch. Hence the antithesis between work, as something
intolerably tedious, and not-work, as something desirable, is false. The
truth is that when a human being is riot eating, drinking, sleeping, making
love, talking, playing games, or merely lounging about--and these things
will not fill up a lifetime--he needs work and usually looks for it,
though he may not call it work. Above the level of a third- or fourth-grade
moron, life has got to be lived largely in terms of effort. For man is not,
as the vulgarer hedonists seem to suppose, a kind of walking stomach; he
has also got a hand, an eye, and a brain. Cease to use your hands, and you
have lopped off a huge chunk of your conscious-ness. And now consider again
those half-dozen men who were digging the trench for the water-pipe. A
machine has set them free from digging, and they are going to amuse
themselves with something else--carpentering, for instance. But whatever
they want to do, they will find that another machine has set them free from
that. For in a fully mechanized world there would be no more need to
carpenter, to cook, to mend motor bicycles, etc., than there would be to
dig. There is scarcely anything, from catching a whale to carving a cherry
stone, that could not conceivably be done by machinery. The machine would
even encroach upon the activities we now class as 'art'; it is doing so
already, via the camera and the radio. Mechanize the world as fully as it
might be mechanized, and whichever way you turn there will be some machine
cutting you off from the chance of working--that is, of living.

At a first glance this might not seem to matter. Why should you not
get on with your 'creative work' and disregard the machines that would do
it for you? But it is not so simple as it sounds. Here am I, working eight
hours a day in an insurance office; in my spare time I want to do something
'creative', so I choose to do a bit of carpentering--to make myself a
table, for instance. Notice that from the very start there is a touch of
artificiality about the whole business, for the factories can turn me out a
far better table than I can make for myself. But even when I get to work on
my table, it is not possible for me to feel towards it as the cabinet-maker
of a hundred years ago felt towards his table, still less as Robinson
Crusoe felt towards his. For before I start, most of the work has already
been done for me by machinery. The tools I use demand the minimum of skill.
I can get, for instance, planes which will cut out any moulding; the
cabinet-maker of a hundred years ago would have had to do the work with
chisel and gouge, which demanded real skill of eye and hand. The boards I
buy are ready planed and the legs are ready turned by the lathe. I can even
go to the wood-shop and buy all the parts of the table ready-made and only
needing to be fitted together; my work being reduced to driving in a few
pegs and using a piece of sandpaper. And if this is so at present, in the
mechanized future it will be enormously more so. With the tools and
materials available then, there will be no possibility of mistake, hence no
room for skill. Making a table will be easier and duller than peeling a
potato. In such circumstances it is nonsense to talk of 'creative work'. In
any case the arts of the hand (which have got to be transmitted by
apprenticeship) would long since have disappeared. Some of them have
disappeared already, under the competition of the machine. Look round any
country churchyard and see whether you can find a decently-cut tombstone
later than 1820. The art, or rather the craft, of stonework has died out so
completely that it would take centuries to revive it.

But it may be said, why not retain the machine and retain 'creative
work'? Why not cultivate anachronisms as a spare-time hobby? Many people
have played with this idea; it seems to solve with such beautiful ease the
problems set by the machine. The citizen of Utopia, we are told, coming
home from his daily two hours of turning a handle in the tomato-canning
factory, will deliberately revert to a more primitive way of life and
solace his creative instincts with a bit of fretwork, pottery-glazing, or
handloom-weaving. And why is this picture an absurdity--as it is, of
course? Because of a principle that is not always recognized, though always
acted upon: that so long as the machine is there, one is under an
obligation to use it. No one draws water from the well when he can turn on
the tap. One sees a good illustration of this in the matter of travel.
Everyone who has travelled by primitive methods in an undeveloped country
knows that the difference between that kind of travel and modern travel in
trains, cars, etc., is the difference between life and death. The nomad who
walks or rides, with his baggage stowed on a camel or an ox-cart, may
suffer every kind of discomfort, but at least he is living while he is
travelling; whereas for the passenger in an express train or a luxury liner
his journey is an interregnum, a kind of temporary death. And yet so long
as the railways exist, one has got to travel by train--or by car or
aeroplane. Here am I, forty miles from London. When I want to go up to
London why do I not pack my luggage on to a mule and set out on foot,
making a two days of it? Because, with the Green Line buses whizzing past
me every ten minutes, such a journey would be intolerably irksome. In order
that one may enjoy primitive methods of travel, it is necessary that no
other method should be available. No human being ever wants to do anything
in a more cumbrous way than is necessary. Hence the absurdity of that
picture of Utopians saving their souls with fretwork. In a world where
every-thing could be done by machinery, everything would be done by
machinery. Deliberately to revert to primitive methods to use archaic took,
to put silly little difficulties in your own way, would be a piece of
dilettantism, of pretty-pretty arty and craftiness. It would be like
solemnly sitting down to eat your dinner with stone implements. Revert to
handwork in a machine age, and you are back in Ye Olde Tea Shoppe or the
Tudor villa with the sham beams tacked to the wall.

The tendency of mechanical progress, then, is to frustrate the human
need for effort and creation. It makes unnecessary and even impossible the
activities of the eye and the hand. The apostle of 'progress' will
sometimes declare that this does not matter, but you can usually drive him
into a comer by pointing out the horrible lengths to which the process can
be carried. Why, for instance, use your hands at all--why use them even
for blowing your nose or sharpening a pencil? Surely you could fix some
kind of steel and rubber contraption to your shoulders and let your arms
wither into stumps of skin and bone? And so with every organ and every
faculty. There is really no reason why a human being should do more than
eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and procreate; everything else could be done
for him by machinery. Therefore the logical end of mechanical progress is
to reduce the human being to something resembling a brain in a bottle. That
is the goal towards which we are already moving, though, of course, we have
no intention of getting there; just as a man who drinks a bottle of whisky
a day does not actually intend to get cirrhosis of the liver. The implied
objective of 'progress' is--not exactly, perhaps, the brain in the
bottle, but at any rate some frightful subhuman depth of softness and
helplessness. And the unfortunate thing is that at present the word
'progress' and the word 'Socialism' are linked in-separably in almost
everyone's mind. The kind of person who hates machinery also takes it for
granted to hate Socialism; the Socialist is always in favour of
mechanization, rationalization, modernization--or at least thinks that he
ought to be in favour of them. Quite recently, for instance, a prominent
I.L.P.'er confessed to me with a sort of wistful shame--as though it were
something faintly improper--that he was 'fond of horses'. Horses, you
see, belong to the vanished agricultural past, and all sentiment for the
past carries with it a vague smell of heresy. I do not believe that this
need necessarily be so, but undoubtedly it is so. And in itself it is quite
enough to explain the alienation of decent minds from Socialism.

A generation ago every intelligent person was in some sense a
revolutionary; nowadays it would be nearer the mark to say that every
intelligent person is a reactionary. In this connexion it is worth
comparing H. G. Wells's The Sleeper Awakes with Aldous Huxley's Brave New
World, written thirty years later. Each is a pessimistic Utopia, a vision
of a sort of prig's paradise in which all the dreams of the 'progressive'
person come true. Considered merely as a piece of imaginative construction
The Sleeper Awakes is, I think, much superior, but it suffers from vast
contradictions because of the fact that Wells, as the arch-priest of
'progress', cannot write with any conviction against 'progress'. He draws a
picture of a glittering, strangely sinister world in which the privileged
classes live a life of shallow gutless hedonism, and the workers, reduced
to a state of utter slavery and sub-human ignorance, toil like troglodytes
in caverns underground. As soon as one examines this idea--it is further
developed in a splendid short story in Stories of Space and Time--one
sees its inconsistency. For in the immensely mechanized world that Wells is
imagining, why should the workers have to work harder than at present?
Obviously the tendency of the machine is to eliminate work, not to increase
it. In the machine-world the workers might be enslaved, ill-treated, and
even under-fed, but they certainly would not be condemned to ceaseless
manual toil; because in that case what would be the function of the
machine? You can have machines doing all the work or human beings doing all
the work, but you can't have both. Those armies of underground workers,
with their blue uniforms and their debased, half-human language, are only
put in 'to make your flesh creep'. Wells wants to suggest that 'progress'
might take a wrong turning; but the only evil he cares to imagine is
inequality--one class grabbing all the wealth and power and oppressing
the others, apparently out of pure spite. Give it quite a small twist, he
seems to suggest, overthrow the privileged class--change over from world-
capitalism to Socialism, in fact--and all will be well. The machine-
civilization is to continue, but its products are to be shared out equally.
The thought he dare not face is that the machine itself may be the enemy.
So in his more characteristic Utopias (The Dream, Men Like Gods, etc.), he
returns to optimism and to a vision of humanity, 'liberated' by the
machine, as a race of enlightened sunbathers whose sole topic of
conversation is their own superiority to their ancestors. Brave New World
belongs to a later time and to a generation which has seen through the
swindle of 'progress'. It contains its own contradictions (the most
important of them is pointed out in Mr John Strachey's The Coming Struggle
for Power), but it is at least a memorable assault on the more fat-bellied
type of perfectionism. Allowing for the exaggerations of caricature, it
probably expresses what a majority of thinking people feel about machine-

The sensitive person's hostility to the machine is in one sense
unrealistic, because of the obvious fact that the machine has come to stay.
But as an attitude of mind there is a great deal to be said for it. The
machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it
rather as one accepts a drug--that is, grudgingly and suspiciously. Like
a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous, and habit-forming. The oftener
one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes. You have only to look
about you at this moment to realize with what sinister speed the machine is
getting us into its power. To begin with, there is the frightful debauchery
of taste that has already been effected by a century of mechanization. This
is almost too obvious and too generally admitted to need pointing out. But
as a single instance, take taste in its narrowest sense--the taste for
decent food. In the highly mechanized countries, thanks to tinned food,
cold storage, synthetic flavouring matters, etc., the palate is almost a
dead organ. As you can see by looking at any greengrocer's shop, what the
majority of English people mean by an apple is a lump of highly-coloured
cotton wool from America or Australia; they will devour these things,
apparently with pleasure, and let the English apples rot under the trees.
It is the shiny, standardized, machine-made look of the American apple that
appeals to them; the superior taste of the English apple is something they
simply do not notice. Or look at the factory-made, foil-wrapped cheese and
'blended' butter in any grocer's; look at the hideous rows of tins which
usurp more and more of the space in any food-shop, even a dairy; look at a
sixpenny Swiss roll or a twopenny ice-cream; look at the filthy chemical
by-product that people will pour down their throats under the name of beer.
Wherever you look you will see some slick machine-made article triumphing
over the old-fashioned article that still tastes of something other than
sawdust. And what applies to food applies also to furniture, houses,
clothes, books, amusements, and everything else that makes up our
environment. There are now millions of people, and they are increasing
every year, to whom the blaring of a radio is not only a more accept-able
but a more normal background to their thoughts than the lowing of cattle or
the song of birds. The mechanization of the world could never proceed very
far while taste, even the taste-buds of the tongue, remained uncorrupted,
be-cause in that case most of the products of the machine would be simply
unwanted. In a healthy world there would be no demand for tinned foods,
aspirins, gramophones, gaspipe chairs, machine guns, daily newspapers,
telephones, motor-cars, etc., etc.; and on the other hand there would be a
constant demand for the things the machine cannot produce. But meanwhile
the machine is here, and its corrupting effects are almost irresistible.
One inveighs against it, but one goes on using it. Even a bare-arse savage,
given the chance, will learn the vices of civilization within a few months.
Mechanization leads to the decay of taste, the decay of taste leads to the
demand for machine-made articles and hence to more mechanization, and so a
vicious circle is established.

But in addition to this there is a tendency for the mechanization of
the world to proceed as it were automatically, whether we want it or not.
This is due to the fact that in modem Western man the faculty of mechanical
invention has been fed and stimulated till it has reached almost the status
of an instinct. People invent new machines and improve existing ones almost
unconsciously, rather as a somnambulist will go on working in his sleep. In
the past, when it was taken for granted that life on this planet is harsh
or at any rate laborious, it Seemed the natural fate to go on using the
clumsy implements of your forefathers, and only a few eccentric persons,
centuries apart, proposed innovations; hence throughout enormous ages such
things as the ox-cart, the plough, the sickle, etc., remained radically
unchanged. It is on record that screws have been in use since remote
antiquity and yet that it was not till the middle of the nineteenth century
that anyone thought of making screws with points on them, for several
thousand years they remained flat-ended and holes had to be drilled for
them before they could be inserted. In our own epoch such a thing would be
unthinkable. For almost every modem Western man has his inventive faculty
to some extent developed; the Western man invents machines as naturally as
the Polynesian islander swims. Give a Western man a job of work and he
immediately begins devising a machine that would do it for him; give him a
machine and he thinks of ways of improving it. I understand this tendency
well enough, for in an ineffectual sort of way I have that type of mind
myself. I have not either the patience or the mechanical skill to devise
any machine that would work, but I am perpetually seeing, as it were, the
ghosts of possible machines that might save me the trouble of using my
brain or muscles. A person with a more definite mechanical turn would
probably construct some of them and put them into operation. But under our
present economic system, whether he constructed them--or rather, whether
anyone else had the benefit of them--would depend upon whether they were
commercially valuable. The Socialists are right, therefore, when they claim
that the rate of mechanical progress will be much more rapid once Socialism
is established. Given a mechanical civilization the process of invention
and improvement will always continue, but the tendency of capitalism is to
slow it down, because under capitalism any invention which does not promise
fairly immediate profits is neglected; some, indeed, which threaten to
reduce profits are suppressed almost as ruthlessly as the flexible glass
mentioned by Petronius.[For example: Some years ago someone invented a
gramophone needle that would last for decades. One of the big gramophone
companies bought up the patent rights, and that was the last that was ever
beard of it.] Establish Socialism--remove the profit principle--and the
inventor will have a free hand. The mechanization of the world, already
rapid enough, would be or at any rate could be enormously accelerated.

And this prospect is a slightly sinister one, because it is obvious
even now that the process of mechanization is out of control. It is
happening merely because humanity has got the habit. A chemist perfects a
new method of synthesizing rubber, or a mechanic devises a new pattern of
gudgeon-pin. Why? Not for any clearly understood purpose, but simply from
the impulse to invent and improve, which has now become instinctive. Put a
pacifist to work in a bomb-factory and in two months he will be devising a
new type of bomb. Hence the appearance of such diabolical things as poison
gases, which are not expected even by their inventors to be beneficial to
humanity. Our attitude towards such things as poison gases ought to be the
attitude of the king of Brobdingnag towards gunpowder; but because we live
in a mechanical and scientific age we are infected with the notion that,
whatever else happens, 'progress' must continue and knowledge must never be
suppressed. Verbally, no doubt, we would agree that machinery is made for
man and not man for machinery; in practice any attempt to check the
development of the machine appears to us an attack on knowledge and
therefore a kind of blasphemy. And even if the whole of humanity suddenly
revolted against the machine and decided to escape to a simpler way of
life, the escape would still be immensely difficult. It would not do, as in
Butler's Erewhon, to smash every machine invented after a certain date; we
should also have to smash the habit of mind that would, almost
involuntarily, devise fresh machines as soon as the old ones were smashed.
And in all of us there is at least a tinge of that habit of mind. In every
country in the world the large army of scientists and technicians, with the
rest of us panting at their heels, are marching along the road of
'progress' with the blind persistence of a column of ants. Comparatively
few people want it to happen, plenty of people actively want it not to
happen, and yet it is happening. The process of mechanization has itself
become a machine, a huge glittering vehicle whirling us we are not certain
where, but probably towards the padded Wells-world and the brain in the

This, then, is the case against the machine. Whether it is a sound or
unsound case hardly matters. The point is that these or very Similar
arguments would be echoed by every person who is hostile to
machine-civilization. And unfortunately, because of that nexus of thought,
which exists in almost everyone's mind, it is usually the same person who
is hostile to Socialism. The kind of person who hates central heating and
gaspipe chairs is also the kind of person who, when you mention Socialism,
murmurs something about' beehive state' and moves away with a pained
expression. So far as my observation goes, very few Socialists grasp why
this is so, or even that it is so. Get the more vocal type of Socialist
into a comer, repeat to him the substance of what I have said in this
chapter, and see what kind of answer you get. As a matter of fact you will
get several answers; I am so familiar with them that I know them almost by

In the first place he will tell you that it is impossible to 'go back'
(or to 'put back the hand of progress'--as though the hand of progress
hadn't been pretty violently put back several times in human history!), and
will then accuse you of being a medievalist and begin to descant upon the
horrors of the Middle Ages, leprosy, the Inquisition, etc. As a matter of
fact, most attacks upon the Middle Ages and the past generally by
apologists of modernity are beside the point, because their essential trick
is to project a modern man, with his squeamishness and his high standards
of comfort, into an age when such things were unheard of. But notice that
in any case this is not an answer. For a dislike of the mechanized future
does not imply the smallest reverence for any period of the past. D. H.
Lawrence, wiser than the medievalist, chose to idealize the Etruscans about
whom we know conveniently little. But there is no need to idealize even the
Etruscans or the Pelasgians, or the Aztecs, or the Sumerians, or any other
vanished and romantic people. When one pictures a desirable civilization,
one pictures it merely as an objective; there is no need to pretend that it
has ever existed in space and time. Press this point home, explain that you
wish to aim at making life simpler and harder instead of softer and more
complex, and the Socialist will usually assume that you want to revert to a
'state of nature'--meaning some stinking palaeolithic cave: as though
there were nothing between a flint scraper and the steel mills of
Sheffield, or between a skin coracle and the Queen Mary.

Finally, however, you will get an answer which is rather more to the
point and which runs roughly as follows: 'Yes, what you are saying is all
very well in its way. No doubt it would be very noble to harden ourselves
and do without aspirins and central heating and so forth. But the point is,
you see, that nobody seriously wants it. It would mean going back to an
agricultural way of life, which means beastly hard work and isn't at all
the same thing as playing at gardening. I don't want hard work, you don't
want hard work--nobody wants it who knows what it means. You only talk as
you do because you've never done a day's work in your life,' etc., etc.

Now this in a sense is true. It amounts to saying, 'We're soft--for
God's sake let's stay soft!' which at least is realistic. As I have pointed
out already, the machine has got us in its grip and to escape will be
immensely difficult. Nevertheless this answer is really an evasion, because
it fails to make dear what we mean when we say that we 'want' this or that.
I am a degenerate modem semi-intellectual who would die if I did not get my
early morning cup of tea and my New Statesman every Friday. Clearly I do
not, in a sense, 'want' to return to a simpler, harder, probably
agricultural way of life. In the same sense I don't 'want' to cut down my
drinking, to pay my debts, to take enough exercise, to be faithful to my
wife, etc., etc. But in another and more permanent sense I do want these
things, and perhaps in the same sense I want a civilization in which
'progress' is not definable as making the world safe for little fat men.
These that I have outlined are practically the only arguments that I have
been able to get from Socialists--thinking, book-trained Socialists--
when I have tried to explain to them just how they are driving away
possible adherents. Of course there is also the old argument that Socialism
is going to arrive anyway, whether people like it or not, because of that
trouble-saving thing, 'historic necessity'. But 'historic necessity', or
rather the belief in it, has failed to survive Hitler.

Meanwhile the thinking person, by intellect usually left-wing but by
temperament often right-wing, hovers at the gate of the Socialist fold. He
is no doubt aware that he ought to be a Socialist. But he observes first
the dullness of individual Socialists, then the apparent flabbiness of
Socialist ideals, and veers away. Till quite recently it was natural to
veer towards indinerentism. Ten years ago, even five years ago, the typical
literary gent wrote books on baroque architecture and had a soul above
politics. But that attitude is becoming difficult and even unfashionable.
The times are growing harsher, the issues are clearer, the belief that
nothing, will ever change (i.e. that your dividends will always be safe) is
less prevalent. The fence on which the literary gent sits, once as
comfortable as the plush cushion of a cathedral stall, is now pinching his
bottom intolerably; more and more he shows a disposition to drop off on one
side or the other. It is interesting to notice how many of our leading
writers, who a dozen years ago were art for art's saking for all they were
worth and would have considered it too vulgar for words even to vote at a
general election, are now taking a definite political standpoint; while
most of the younger writers, at least those of them who are not mere
footlers, have been 'political' from the start. I believe that when the
pinch comes there is a terrible danger that the main movement of the
intelligentsia will be towards Fascism. Just how soon the pinch will come
it is difficult to say; it depends, probably, upon events in Europe; but it
may be that within two years or even a year we shall have reached the
decisive moment. That will also be the moment when every person with any
brains or any decency will know in his bones that he ought to be on the
Socialist side. But he will not necessarily come there of his own accord;
there are too many ancient prejudices standing in the way. He will have to
be persuaded, and by methods that imply an understanding of his viewpoint.
Socialists cannot afford to waste any more time in preaching to the
converted. Their job now is to make Socialists as rapidly as possible;
instead of which, all too often, they are making Fascists.

When I speak of Fascism in England, I am not necessarily thinking of
Mosley and his pimpled followers. English Fascism, when it arrives, is
likely to be of a sedate and subtle kind (presumably, at any rate at first,
it won't be called Fascism), and it is doubtful whether a Gilbert and
Sullivan heavy dragoon of Mosley's stamp would ever be much more than a
joke to the majority of English people; though even Mosley will bear
watching, for experience shows (vide the careers of Hitler, Napoleon III)
that to a political climber it is sometimes an advantage not to be taken
too seriously at the beginning of his career. But what I am thinking of at
this moment is the Fascist attitude of mind, which beyond any doubt is
gaining ground among people who ought to know better. Fascism as it appears
in the intellectual is a sort of mirror-image--not actually of Socialism
but of a plausible travesty of Socialism. It boils down to a determination
to do the opposite of whatever the mythical Socialist does. If you present
Socialism in a bad and misleading light--if you let people imagine that
it does not mean much more than pouring European civilization down the sink
at the command of Marxist prigs--you risk driving the intellectual into
Fascism. You frighten him into a sort of angry defensive attitude in which
he simply refuses to listen to the Socialist case. Some such attitude is
already quite clearly discernible in writers like Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Roy
Gampbell, etc., in most of the Roman Catholic writers and many of the
Douglas Credit group, in certain popular novelists, and even, if one looks
below the surface, in so-superior conservative highbrows like Eliot and his
countless followers. If you want some unmistakable illustrations of the
growth of Fascist feeling in England, have a look at some of the
innumerable letters that were written to the Press during the Abyssinian
war, approving the Italian action, and also the howl of glee that went up
from. both Catholic and Anglican pulpits (see the Daily Mail of 17 August
1936) over the Fascist rising in Spain.

In order to combat Fascism it is necessary to understand it, which
involves admitting that it contains some good as well as much evil. In
practice, of course, it is merely an infamous tyranny, and its methods of
attaining and holding power are such that even its most ardent apologists
prefer to talk about something else. But the underlying feeling of Fascism,
the feeling that first draws people into the Fascist camp, may be less
contemptible. It is not always, as the Saturday Review would lead one to
suppose, a squealing terror of the Bolshevik bogey-man. Everyone who has
given the movement so much as a glance knows that the rank-and-file Fascist
is often quite a well-meaning person--quite genuinely anxious, for
instance, to better the lot of the unemployed. But more important than this
is the fact that Fascism draws its strength from the good as well as the
bad varieties of conservatism. To anyone with a feeling for tradition and
for discipline it comes with its appeal ready-made. Probably it is very
easy, when you have had a bellyful of the more tactless kind of Socialist
propaganda, to see Fascism as the last line defence of all that is good in
European civilization. Even the Fascist bully at his symbolic worst, with
rubber truncheon in one hand and castor oil bottle in the other, does not
necessarily feel himself a bully; more probably he feels like Roland in the
pass at Roncevaux, defending Christendom against the barbarian. We have got
to admit that if Fascism is everywhere advancing, this is largely the fault
of Socialists themselves. Partly it is due to the mistaken Communist tactic
of sabotaging democracy, i.e. sawing off the branch you are sitting on; but
still more to the fact that Socialists have, so to speak, presented their
case wrong side foremost. They have never made it sufficiently clear that
the essential aims of Socialism are justice and liberty. With their eyes
glued to economic facts, they have proceeded on the assumption that man has
no soul, and explicitly or implicitly they have set up the goal of a
materialistic Utopia. As a result Fascism has been able to play upon every
instinct that revolts against hedonism and a cheap conception of
'progress'. It has been able to pose as the upholder of the European
tradition, and to appeal to Christian belief, to patriotism, and to the
military virtues. It is far worse than useless to write Fascism off as
'mass sadism', or some easy phrase of that kind. If you pretend that it is
merely an aberration which will presently pass off of its own accord, you
are dreaming a dream from which you will awake when somebody coshes you
with a rubber truncheon. The only possible course is to examine the Fascist
case, grasp that there is something to be said for it, and then make it
clear to the world that whatever good Fascism contains is also implicit in

At present the situation is desperate. Even if nothing worse befalls
us, there are the conditions which I described in the earlier part of this
book and which are not going to improve under our present economic system.
Still more urgent is the danger of Fascist domination in Europe. And unless
Socialist doctrine, in an effective form, can be diffused widely and very
quickly, there is no certainty that Fascism will ever be overthrown. For
Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face. The capitalist-
imperialist governments, even though they themselves are about to be
plundered, will not fight with any conviction against Fascism as such. Our
rulers, those of them who understand the issue, would probably prefer to
hand over every square inch of the British Empire to Italy, Germany, and
Japan than to see Socialism triumphant. It was easy to laugh at Fascism
when we imagined that it was based on hysterical nationalism, because it
seemed obvious that the Fascist states, each regarding itself as the chosen
people and patriotic contra mundum, would clash with one another. But
nothing of the kind is happening. Fascism is now an international movement,
which means not only that the Fascist nations can combine for purposes of
loot, but that they are groping, perhaps only half consciously as yet,
towards a world-system. For the vision of the totalitarian state there is
being substituted the vision of the totalitarian world. As I pointed out
earlier, the advance of machine-technique must lead ultimately to some form
of collectivism, but that form need not necessarily be equalitarian; that
is, it need not be Socialism. Pace the economists, it is quite easy to
imagine a world-society, economically collectivist--that is, with the
profit principle eliminated--but with all political, military, and
educational power in the hands of a small caste of rulers and their bravos.
That or something like it is the objective of Fascism. And that, of course,
is the slave-state, or rather the slave-world; it would probably be a
stable form of society, and the chances are, considering the enormous
wealth of the world if scientifically exploited, that the slaves would be
well-fed and contented. It is usual to speak of the Fascist objective as
the 'beehive state', which does a grave injustice to bees. A world of
rabbits ruled by stoats would be nearer the mark. It is against this
beastly possibility that we have got to combine.

The only thing for which we can combine is the underlying ideal of
Socialism; justice and liberty. But it is hardly strong enough to call this
ideal 'underlying'. It is almost completely forgotten. It has been buried
beneath layer after layer of doctrinaire priggishness, party squabbles, and
half-baked 'progressivism' until it is like a diamond hidden under a
mountain of dung. The job of the Socialist is to get it out again. Justice
and liberty! Those are the words that have got to ring like a bugle across
the world. For a long time past, certainly for the last ten years, the
devil has had all the best tunes. We have reached a stage when the very
word 'Socialism' calls up, on the one hand, a picture of aeroplanes,
tractors, and huge glittering factories of glass and concrete; on the
other, a picture of vegetarians with wilting beards, of Bolshevik
commissars (half gangster, half gramophone), of earnest ladies in sandals,
shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables, escaped Quakers, birth-control
fanatics, and Labour Party backstairs-crawlers. Socialism, at least in this
island, does not smell any longer of revolution and the overthrow of
tyrants; it smells of crankishness, machine-worship, and the stupid cult of
Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism may

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

  • Other Authors:    
> Charles Darwin
> Charles Dickens
> Mark Twain
> William Shakespeare

George Orwell. Copyright 2003,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.