Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

The Road to Wigan Pier
George Orwell
Published 1937
English non-fiction

This book was enlightening. It began with Orwell's grim observations of the working class in the industrial towns of Northern England, post WWI, and closed with an autobiographical sketch of the author's upbringing, how he came to support socialism, and why people were repulsed by socialism.

The last thing I ever want to do was like a book arguing for socialism - though that is not entirely the premise of Orwell's argument. He argued why the argument for socialism was not working. Nonetheless, he presented what appeared to be strong arguments for his argument; I just see through them. But the reason I was intrigued at all was because his presentation was very orderly and concise. Orwell was a very good writer.

I took many notes, which was not simple because I borrowed this copy from the library and obviously could not write in the margins. Instead, I used a little notepad and scribbled like crazy. Now I get to revisit my scribbles and try to make sense.


The ordeal of the coal miners and their treacherous work was astounding. Orwell went with them into the pit. Just getting to the pit where work began was a dangerous job in itself and time consuming, and neither were they paid for that travel time, which took 1 - 3 hours. Of course, the work was backbreaking, filthy, and dangerous, and Orwell described all of that.

The coal miner families lived in the slums, where the homes were uninhabitable. These living conditions did not encourage self-respect, and they tolerated the misery.

The author addressed the issue of unemployment. He said that people were on the dole for so long that they became accustomed to it; lower standards was a way of life.

The "common man" title separated the lower and working classes from the bourgeoisie. The lower classes resented this treatment and developed crude behavior as a response. One of the most offensive distinctions was that the "lower classes smelled." Physical repulsion cannot be ignored. "Smells divide us!" Author Maugham said of this issue:
The matutinal tub divides the classes more effectually than birth, wealth, or education.
To eliminate class distinction, it would be necessary to understand class image through their eyes and remove the prejudices learned in one's childhood to fear, hate, and despise the working class.

The younger working class of men who returned from World War I rebelled against the older, upper classes because they felt sacrificed by the older generation that sent them off to war while they sat in their safe places. Ideas of antimilitarism, antiauthority, pacifism, internationalism, humanism, divorce, free love, atheism, birth control, and feminism grew like tumors in the minds of the youth. The Christian religion was mocked, and even Lenin was hailed as a great leader. They had returned from war with a soldier's mindset.

At this time, Orwell was in his late teens, and he adopted these revolutionary attitudes. He did not understand socialism, but he called himself a Socialist.

While Orwell worked as a police officer in British-occupied India, he began to understand the wrongs of Imperialism. When he returned home, he was interested in the problems of the working class and decided to investigate by living with them. Everyone agreed with the problems of English Imperialism, but no one wanted to do anything about it; same with the class issue.


Orwell argued that to defend socialism, one must attack it. Why was socialism unacceptable? Because socialists were hypocrites, and socialist writers were boring, "empty windbags." It wasn't socialism that was despised as much as socialists themselves.

The intellectual socialist was far removed from the working class. They desired "hypertrophied order." They were less concerned with misery and wanted to control the world like a chessboard. Socialism attracted inhuman, unfeeling types. They did not understand the consequences of eradicating poverty. Most of them would become fascists in five years anyway.

Socialism demanded central control, uniformity in education, equal standards of life, and extreme organization. But the biggest problem with socialism was that it was bound up in machine production.

Man was told that machines would save humanity and set them free and physical dangers would be eliminated; but how would physical courage survive? or physical strength when not needed? These were admirable qualities. A safe and easy environment would produce softness in men, which was not very attractive. Socialism presented contradictions in progress.

So if machines saved a man from work, what would he do when he desired to work and wanted to use his hands? Machines would only suppress his efforts and creativity. This was why socialism was not very attractive to others.

Orwell said we could not turn back progress to a "simpler life." Frankly, no one really wanted to return to an agricultural lifestyle. (Admit it: we're soft! The machine has a hold on us.)
There are now millions of people, and they are increasing every year, to whom the blaring of a radio is not only a more acceptable but a more normal background to their thoughts than the lowing of cattle or the song of birds. 
In the end, Fascism, which rejected progress, was socialism's greatest competition; but it would win if the socialists were unable to remove the stigma of progress. Orwell pleaded with the working class to stand together; it would be either socialism or fascism. And he asked them not to be upset with him since he did not work with his hands. He was still part of the working class, and he was on their side.


If you like history, social science, economics, politics, and George Orwell, then yes. Of course, if you are a socialist, then you absolutely should read it.

I also like Jordan Peterson, and he shared this great talk on The Road to Wigan Pier, Marxism, and the working class. So I'm leaving that here:

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