Can the Dems Learn Anything from Orwell?Breaking News
tags: political history, socialism, George Orwell
The lament is almost old enough to qualify for Medicare.
“Why are we Democrats losing the working class? Why do they like our policies but vote for the party that comforts the comfortable? What’s wrong with our messaging? What’s wrong with our candidates?”
Odd as it may seem, a partial answer can be found in the works of a writer who never set foot in the United States and who has been dead for more than 70 years. When George Orwell traveled to the Depression-ravaged north of England in 1936, his intention was to chronicle the horrific conditions in the mines, the towns and the homes of the people who lived and worked there. (His account of the near starvation, the hellish conditions in the mines, the sights, sounds and smells of life are still riveting all these decades later).
It is in the second half of his book, “The Road to Wigan Pier,” where Orwell deals with a broader question: If socialism is the way toward providing a fairer, more decent life for those with the least, why has it not succeeded politically? His answer — one that unsettled his Left Book Club’s publisher — was that there was a deep cultural chasm between the advocates of socialism and those they were seeking to persuade.
“I am,” Orwell wrote, “making out a case for the sort of person who is in sympathy with the fundamental aims of Socialism … but who in practice always takes flight when Socialism is mentioned.
“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 argument for Socialism is its adherents.”
Orwell, himself a socialist, argues first that “Socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the [relatively well-off] middle class.” In its language, it is formal, stilted, wholly distant from the language of ordinary citizens, spoken by people who are several rungs above their audience, and with no intention of giving up that status.
“It is doubtful whether anything describable as proletarian literature now exists … but a good music hall comedian comes nearer to producing it than any Socialist writer I can think of.”
In the most provocative segment of the entire book, Orwell also cites “the horrible, the early disputing prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw toward them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.” And he notes the prospectus for a summer Socialist school in which attendees are asked if they prefer a vegetarian diet.