George Orwell is not a great writer, but he is an admirable journalist. He does not shy away from difficulty or experiencing hardship on his own body. I admire him a lot for this trait of character.
In The road to Wigan Pier he was commissioned by “the left bookclub” to write about the experience of miners in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Orwell has never been anything but clearly socialist and this is a book about socialism and an attempt to argue for its benefits for every layer and class in society. And oh, how I love his ardent passion, even as it never quite translates to a convincing argument.
The book is divided into two. The first part details the life of coal miners. Orwell lives as a lodger with several families in different towns, interviewing the coal miners as well as observing them in their day-to-day life. Once he goes into the mines. Orwell is not cut out for that.
“If there is one man to whom I do feel myself inferior, it is a coal-miner”
This part is enjoyable and well-written, though we are left, as Orwell is, as outsiders to the world. We can experience the ghastliness of the coal mines, but we don’t have life of traveling down by lift, crawling 3 miles on our hands and knees to the place we’ll do our actual, back breaking labour for seven hours, crawl back, take the scary, claustrophobic lift up only to have to walk home, covered inside and out in soot. It was ghastly and even then they lived in poverty, in dismal housing facing mass-unemployment. These people are poor and Orwell does a great, if boring job, of outlining why. He brings out budgets and aligns it against the actual income showing how the mining-companies trick the miners into receiving less pay e.g. by not including transport time (the scary lift and the crawling) in work time and by letting the miners have to rent their own equipment. It’s appalling.
Orwell describes the circumstances they are in, they he analyses how, before finally bringing in socialism as the solution.
This is the second part of the book. Orwell quite honestly details the issues socialism must tackle in order to win wide-spread popularity in society. He pits it against fascism, saying that at the heart of it they can both attract the same type of people, because the answer isn’t in the solution, but in the ideology. He hilariously urges Socialists to stop being so openly vegetarian which is like…Okay. But he also delves into the constant ideology of growth as the heart of socialism. If everything is streamlined to make humans obsolete well them Socialism is the only answer.
“[…] the inhabitants of Utopia would create artificial dangers to exercise their courage, and do dumb-bell exercises to harden muscles they would never be obliged to use.”
The heart of fascism is exploitation, wheres as socialism is liberty and justice. And if only we’d all stop being so damn vegetarian maybe they’d see that.
“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.”
However, I don’t mean to imply that his thoughts are dated, not at all. In fact the succinctness of which he analyses poverty and class are still relevant today, such as recognizing the tendency of poor people to buy immediately gratifying objects to alleviate the harshness of their lives.
“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.”
He also takes an honest look at his own class and criticizes socialism for wanting to break down class structures. He claims this is impossible and we should rather unite across the financial status rather than our heritage.
“The fact that has got to be faced is that to abolish class-distinctions means abolishing a part of yourself. Here am I, a typical member of the middle class. It is easy for me to say that I want to get rid of class-distinctions, but nearly everything I think and do is a result of class-distinctions. All my notions — notions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful — are essentially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the characteristic movements of my body, are the products of a special kind of upbringing and a special niche about half-way up the social hierarchy.”
In the end, there is no clear cut answer and certainly the world has not become more socialist, but I always admire Orwell for, literally, fighting for a world built on justice and liberty.