I’ve just finished The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell, a book that I had been meaning to read for some time now. Aside from the evocative descriptions of Northern English desolation – towering slag heaps, sinewy coal miners with blue-veined noses infiltrated by coal dust, greasy boarding house tablecloths – what struck me particularly about this book is Orwell’s description of Socialism. I think it’s eminently fitting that I chanced upon the book at a time when the Occupy movement and the student protests in Montreal are increasingly held up as markers of a simmering anti-capitalist undercurrent in society.
Orwell was clear about the characteristics of a ‘Socialist’ political system as he saw them. The notion of mechanization of both economic and social activity is a recurring theme in Wigan Pier:
“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. […] 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.”
He goes on to further argue that Socialism is invariably tied up with notions of mechanical advance, and that technological progress becomes the end to which the ideology is oriented.
All of which makes me wonder how much of an unbroken line we can draw between political theorizing of this Orwellian type and liberal thought à la Occupy. I doubt that many of those associated with the movement realistically consider a return to some bygone technological era to be desirable, but I wonder how many of those calling for wholesale changes to the capitalist system have considered what that might entail.
My idle musings could fill enough paper to deplete a healthy stand of timber, so I ask you, dear reader, what do you think? Would Orwell’s Socialist society look fundamentally different than our capitalist one?
Heavy stuff for a first blog post, I know – but these thoughts (in more lucid form) have been rattling around in my head for a while now. Thanks for indulging me …