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Why Socialists Are Despised, As Explained By George Orwell

Why Socialists Are Despised, As Explained By George Orwell
May 24, 2018, 08:00am EDT
Why Socialists Are Despised, As
Explained By George Orwell
Tim Reuter Contributor
I write about books, economics, foreign policy, and history.
This article is more than 3 years old.
“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.”
George Orwell had a talent for simplifying complex subjects. At a time when
the political left in the United States has a renewed interest in socialist
policies, Orwell’s dictum is worth keeping in mind.
The Road to Wigan Pier is not one of Orwell’s best known books.
Commissioned as a work of investigative journalism by the Left Book Club,
Orwell immersed himself in the world of the English working-class in the
mid 1930s. He lived in filthy boarding houses, observed coal miners at work,
and scrutinized government statistics on unemployment. He makes no
effort to hide his sympathy for his subjects; coal mining is described as a
“dreadful job”. Yet, one enduring legacy of The Road to Wigan Pier is its
refusal to engage in moral exhibitionism. Orwell attempts to explain why “so
many normal decent people” reject socialism by articulating their
objections. This devil’s advocate criticism of socialism is something from
which his contemporaries did not learn and their spiritual descendants in
the United States, social justice activists, ignore at their peril.
Why Socialists Are Despised, As Explained By George Orwell
If one accepts Orwell’s premise that for the common man socialism means
improved living and working conditions, why is socialism unpopular? The
fault lies with socialists. For one thing, socialism attracts a fair number of
cranks. “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.” Some of those categories should be
dropped and new ones should be added, such as gender studies students.
However, the sentiment is correct. An ideology that appeals to a large
number of oddballs has little hope of being adopted by the average man.
Socialists also know little about those they wish to help. Their language is a
dead giveaway of their ignorance. In the Twentieth Century, socialists laced
their diatribes about industrial capitalism with jargon, such as “dialectical
materialism” and “class consciousness”. Their spiritual heirs decry “systems
of oppression” and exhort people to be “woke”. No average man speaks or
thinks in those terms. Yet, he is the one who must be “educated".
Although the phrase virtue signaling did not exist in the 1930s, the concept
did. As Orwell notes, the socialist ranks were full of “book-trained” socialists
who could expound on the details of Marxist orthodoxies. But socialists’
intense awareness of their political convictions had little to no effect on the
working-class. This was not accidental. Much like the social justice
movement today, socialist ranks were full of middle-class individuals who
“while theoretically pining for a classless society, cling like glue to their
miserable fragments of social prestige”. English socialists joined trade
unions and gave fiery speeches denouncing the bourgeoisie. Social justice
activists get graduate degrees in creative writing and rail about “oppression”
on social media.
Although Orwell wrongly claimed socialism at its most basic meant “justice
and common decency”, he deserves acclaim for his honesty. He played the
role of devil’s advocate so convincingly that his publisher wrote a rebuttal as
Why Socialists Are Despised, As Explained By George Orwell
the foreword to The Road to Wigan Pier. If nothing else, the Left Book Club
showed some tolerance for dissent.
George Orwell was a rare individual, a socialist with worldly experience and
a capacity for introspection. Capitalism’s future is secure for as long as the
political left fails to produce men like him.
Tim Reuter
I am researcher at a Washington D.C. think-tank and a graduate of Columbia University.
I have had work published at Forbes, Real Clear Markets, and Real Clear Sports.
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