Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

A critical review I’ve been reading.


George Orwell is often presented as a critic of any thoroughgoing attempt to change the world. Yet he was a socialist and a fighter against inequality, exploitation and oppression.

Orwell’s major writings – Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four – all address the question of whether it is possible to build a fundamentally different society. Orwell’s politics developed and shifted during a tumultuous period in world history – an era of war and revolution. To understand his works, we have to understand the times in which he wrote them.

Orwell was born into a middle class family of colonial administrators. He attended Eton, Britain’s most exclusive private school, before joining the Indian Imperial Police, stationed in Burma (Myanmar) in the early 1920s. The experience radically shaped his world view. Orwell was exposed to the ugliest and most brutal aspects of the system. “For five years I had been part of an oppressive system, and it had left me with a bad conscience”, he wrote in The road to Wigan Pier in 1936.

“I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants.”

Orwell returned to Europe in 1925 and worked in low wage jobs, living, observing and recording the conditions and experiences of the working poor. Down and out in Paris and London, written in 1933, is a powerful indictment of the way the rich thrive by pushing the vast majority downwards into poverty, drudgery and unemployment.

Orwell concluded that a socialist party had to be formed in Britain and capitalism overthrown. His socialism was rooted deeply in moral outrage. But he remained uncertain about whether exploited workers had the capacity to understand the need for a new world.

“The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes … so far as my experience goes, no genuine working man grasps the larger implications of Socialism”, he wrote in 1936. The question was to be settled for Orwell in the space of year. Not in London or Paris, but in Barcelona in the heat of revolution.

Orwell

On 17 July, the fascist general Francisco Franco launched a military coup to put an end to a seven-year worker and peasant revolt that had challenged the running of Spanish capitalism. The Spanish workers, aware of the fate of their comrades in Germany and Italy, were not prepared to go quietly. Their rallying cry became: “Better Vienna than Berlin!” (In Berlin Nazism had triumphed without a fight, while in Vienna workers armed themselves and resisted fascism to the last.)

Immediately, Franco was halted. His army was defeated in two-thirds of Spain. With the old Republican government crippled and the army in revolt, workers were in power across sections of Spain. Orwell travelled to the country to assist in the fight against fascism. He arrived in Barcelona just after Christmas. The scenes did away with his uncertainties about the capacity of workers to transform the world.

“It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle”, he later wrote. “Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags … Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal … I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”

Barcelona completely transformed Orwell’s understanding of socialism. At first hand he experienced the political maturity, courage and profound ability of workers to create a new society. Orwell had seen workers’ power and was not about to turn his back on it. He resolved to stay in Spain and join a working class militia.

Orwell’s sojourn in revolutionary militancy in Spain, his commitment to socialism, is an awkward fact for many of his conservative biographers. Robert Colls, for instance, decries Orwell’s role in the revolution as a flight of fancy, condescendingly stating that he “might have spent a little less time responding to his own experiences, and a little more time thinking about the art of the politically possible”.

Initially, Orwell had little understanding of or interest in the political differences between the groups fighting in Spain. But he would soon learn that the fate of the struggle hung on the debates between the working class organisations central to the resistance.

Orwell joined the POUM in early 1937. The organisation identified as Trotskyist and argued that the way to win the war against Franco was to complete the social revolution that was already under way. It would be possible to defeat fascism only if workers were aware that they were fighting for their complete liberation from all forms of exploitation.

The counter-argument came from the Stalinist Communist Party, which argued that the war needed to be won first, and that workers could make a revolution only after fascism had been defeated. Workers needed to keep Spanish capitalists on side, and this meant avoiding anything that would scare them off – such as taking control of production or arming themselves in the streets. The number one imperative for the Stalinists was therefore to put this revolutionary situation to an end as quickly as possible.

When Orwell arrived back in Barcelona from the front in May, the Communist Party was attempting to do just this. As troops tried to take back the worker-controlled Barcelona Telephone Exchange, workers rose up to defend themselves. Tragically, the other workers’ organisations, particularly the anarchist CNT and the POUM, refused to give a lead to the uprising. After days of fighting, workers began to take down the barricades, opening the way for a wave of repression. Orwell escaped across the border to France just as other members of the POUM were being rounded up by Stalinist secret police.

Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky had said that at the beginning of the revolution: “In its specific gravity in the country’s economic life, in its political and cultural level, the Spanish working class stood on the first day of the revolution not below but above the Russian workers at the beginning of 1917.” Now, a great workers’ revolution was crushed under the heel of fascism and Stalinism. A great hope vanished.

Orwell’s impassioned account of the war, Homage to Catalonia, written upon his return to Britain, was an attempt to expose the betrayals of Stalinism – this theme became a particular obsession for him in the years to come. Criticism came at a cost. The British left was dominated by Stalinism, and finding a publisher for the book proved very difficult.

Nonetheless, having witnessed a different kind of society, his determination to see socialism in Britain was intensified. Orwell planned to oppose the Second World War on internationalist grounds, and even made preparations to build an underground organisation to undertake “illegal anti-war activities”.

Based on his experience of the ease with which the Spanish capitalist class and the Republicans opened up to Franco, Orwell was convinced that the working class was the only force that would put up sustained opposition to fascism. He said in 1941:

“The feeling of all true socialists is at bottom reducible to the ‘Trotskyist’ slogan: ‘The war and the revolution are inseparable’. We cannot beat Hitler without passing through revolution, nor consolidate our revolution without beating Hitler.”

When workers’ revolution failed to materialise at the end of the war, Orwell collapsed into despair, writing in 1945:

“I wanted to think that the class distinctions and imperialist exploitation of which I was ashamed would not return.” It was in this period of disillusionment that Orwell produced his two best known works.

Animal Farm is a biting satire of the tragic defeat of the Russian revolution. It’s also a deeply humanistic text, with sympathetic characters: Old Major, the wise pig representing Marx; Snowball representing Leon Trotsky; Boxer, the sturdy farm horse standing in for the exploited Russian working class; and finally Napoleon, the representative of Stalin, who betrays the revolution, reconciles with the old rulers, and raises the slogan

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

The most common interpretation of Animal Farm is that it is a warning against any attempts to change the world. But rather than being a defence of the status quo, Animal Farm contains in allegorical form a damning critique of capitalist exploitation, as Old Major explains:

“We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable are forced to work to the last atom of our strength, and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty.”

Orwell himself answered the question of whether Animal Farm was intended as an anti-revolutionary text in a letter to Dwight Macdonald, a former Trotskyist: “I did mean it to have a wider application … What I was trying to say was…

“You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship.”

Nonetheless, in some respects Animal Farm falls well short of its stated intentions. Rather than presenting a radical alternative to Stalinist dictatorship, the book offers no substantial analysis of how the revolution was defeated, leaving the reader with no answer to the devastation of Soviet betrayals.

Orwell failed to identify the material limitations faced by Russian workers as they took control of society. Economic crisis gathered as the First World War took its toll. Besieged by commercial blockade and the might of 14 foreign armies, the industrial working class that made the revolution sharply diminished in size and political enthusiasm. The Bolshevik party grew into a massive bureaucratic apparatus, compelled to stand in for a working class too defeated to wield power directly.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell’s best-known work, and the meaning of the book is fiercely contested. It was intended by Orwell as a critique of bureaucracy and totalitarianism in both Britain and the Soviet Union. Indeed, increasingly it is becoming identified not with Stalinism, but with the surveillance state in the post-9/11 world.

The novel’s protagonist is Winston Smith, who lives under the watch of Big Brother and the thought police in a totalitarian state. What gives the novel its power is Winston’s growing consciousness and rejection of the existing state of affairs, summed up by the note he scrawls in his diary:

“Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four. If that is granted all else follows”.

Orwell gestures to potential resistance, with the refrain: “If there is hope, it lies with the proles.”

Yet as he quietly opens this door, he shuts it quickly. Rather than being a source of resistance, of strength, cunning and self-sacrifice, as the Spanish workers appear in Homage to Catalonia, the working class in Nineteen Eighty-Four appears purely passive. The “proles” are described by Orwell as “like the ant which can see small objects but not large ones” and “people who had never learned to think”.

The sense of futility and abject despair deepens when the resistance movement that Winston dedicates himself to turns out to be a fabrication, an invention of Big Brother. Winston is captured, is tortured into submission and recants his oppositional views, declaring his undying love for Big Brother. His defeat is absolute.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is in many respects the most profound expression of Orwell’s pessimism.

“If you want a picture of the future”, Winston’s torturer tells him at the climax of the book,

“imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”.

By the time of his death in 1950, Orwell had abandoned any hope for revolutionary change in the near future and had accommodated to the ruling Labour government as a “lesser evil”. But he never abandoned his visceral hatred of inequality and exploitation.

How did Orwell shift from putting his life on the line for socialism in Spain, to later falling into extreme pessimism? There were a number of factors.

First, Orwell’s embrace of socialist politics coincided with a period of horrific defeat for the working class internationally. The Trotskyist opposition was in the late 1920s imprisoned or exiled from the Soviet Union, and the gains of the Russian Revolution were being erased as a brutal dictatorship was consolidated. German and Italian workers were crushed under the heel of fascism, which annihilated their organisations and left their leaders languishing in concentration camps. This period, which the writer Victor Serge referred to as “midnight in the century”, was one of despair for the left internationally.

Second, Cold War hysteria divided politics into the two equally barbarous camps of Soviet totalitarianism and Western capitalism. Orwell’s opposition to Stalinism was fuelled by the conviction that the fraudulent socialism in Russia must be exposed in order to fight for the genuine article. However, lacking faith that the working class movement in both England and Russia provided an alternative to Stalinist dictatorship and British liberal capitalism, he increasingly threw his lot in with the latter as a lesser evil.

Compounding this, the anti-Stalinist left was too small to provide Orwell with any centre of gravity. His fleeting contact with British Trotskyists, who attempted to defend genuine revolutionary Marxism against the dictatorship in Russia, was not enough to negate the demoralisation that followed such crushing defeats. Had a substantial revolutionary organisation existed at the time, Orwell might have found hope through actively involving himself in renewed resistance to capitalism.

Only a couple of years after Orwell’s death, the monolith of Stalinism was cracked open. In 1953, construction workers went on strike in East Berlin and sparked a mass revolt. In 1956 workers across Hungary occupied factories, offices, railways and power stations and ran them themselves.

The revolts kept coming. In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, the brute force of Stalinist tanks was necessary to put down a revolutionary movement demanding change. In 1980, workers in Gdansk, an industrial city in Poland, occupied their factories and issued the following proclamation:

“We are different now, above all because we are united, and therefore stronger. We are different because in 30 years we have learned that their promises are illusions. We are different because we have understood that when we hear the words ‘financial reorganisation’, this means exploitation.”

The movement spread across the country, and it took the government more than a year to wrest power back from the workers.

Had Orwell seen these uprisings and the birth of a new anti-Stalinist left that followed, perhaps he would have been reminded of his earlier experiences. If he had been around to see the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the general strikes against austerity in Greece, the Baltimore rebellion, it’s safe to say he would have been on the side of the downtrodden.

And if Orwell was shocked by the inequality and class distinction that was so clearly observable in 1936 London, what would he say about a world where the richest 69 individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion people?

In 1942, he recalled a moment from Spain when he shook hands and locked eyes with an Italian militiaman, who like him had travelled to fight for the working class:

“The question is very simple. Shall people like that Italian soldier be allowed to live the decent, fully human life which is now technically achievable, or shan’t they? Shall the common man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not?”

Seventy years later, the question remains a good one. As is Orwell’s answer:

“I myself believe that the common man will win his fight sooner or later, but I want it to be sooner and not later – sometime within the next hundred years, say, and not sometime within the next ten thousand. That was the real issue of the Spanish war, and of the present war, and perhaps of other wars yet to come.”

Shared from: https://redflag.org.au/article/george-orwell’s-socialism

It’s worth noting, Orwell has been co-opted by every capitalist regime on Earth. They point to 1984 as the cautionary tale of what happens if you go totalitarian, claiming that the Orwellian society is modeled on Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. But this general co-option and location of the text within a particular historical narrative is but another example of how the “Ministry of Truth” operates.

1984 seems to be accurately describing all the major regimes contemporary to Orwell, especially Britain and the USA. 

As has been pointed out by many before, 1984 is an anagram of 1948, the year that the book was published, indicating it is not a prediction of a potential future, but a veiled description of an actual present.

1984 has affected me since school, it is a cautionary tale (a blueprint?) against the total state after the warring life under capitalist states, with society swinging from one extreme to the other. It has been a cautionary tale, similar to the ‘Boy in striped Pyjamas.’ about use and abuse of power by any institution.

These institutions, once they gain power, whether they be in the name of capitalism or communism, and the form of a state, a multinational , a church, a media, a bank or anything. Too much power corrupts and total power corrupts totally. All people and all institutions need to be on their guard about the corruption, whether it be group think or just an individual. For me it was a book warning institutions to take care of their whistle blowers as they guard an institution’s health.

History is tainted by the historians of the State

For 75 years, the British state and right-wing commentators and historians like DC Watt have covered up the truth, allowing anti-Communists of every stripe to get away with the lie that the Soviets preferred a pact with Nazi Germany to one with the West.
Some of the most extreme right wingers today even use the pact to hold the Soviet Union jointly responsible for the Second World War.
Now, as the truth emerges thanks to Russian sources, it’s undeniable that it was the British and French ruling classes – as well as the reactionary Polish junta – who didn’t want a united front against facism, hoping they could appease Hitler and turn Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.
What a catastrophic mistake, which capitalism’s intellectuals have been lying about ever since.

It’s worth noting that Blair/Orwell was criticised as an opportunist and anti-semite who assisted in the blacklisting of communists in post-war Britain.

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ray 4

Ray Davies, one of South Wales’ most colourful councillors, has died after recently being diagnosed with cancer.

Mr Davies died on Thursday night aged 85.

For many years he represented his home village of Bedwas as a Labour member of Caerphilly council.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/one-south-wales-most-colourful-9218187

As well as being a leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, he was involved in many local organisations including the Cardiff Reds Choir – Cor Cochion Caerdydd – with whom he was often to be seen singing near the eastern entrance of Cardiff Central Market, wearing his trademark red beret.

Related: Cardiff Reds Choir celebrates 30 years of protest and song

A peace campaigner and anti-nuclear weapons activist
As a young man he worked as a miner in Llanbradach Colliery and later in Llanwern steelworks.

In the early 1980s he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt, together with a young Ron Davies, to deselect Neil Kinnock as the MP for Bedwellty, which included Bedwas.

They were angry with Mr Kinnock because of his refusal to support Tony Benn when he challenged Denis Healey for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

More recently he became well-known for his protests in support of the Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel, and for his actions as a peace campaigner and anti-nuclear weapons activist.

Related: Veteran Labour councillor and CND stalwart Ray Davies will urge Scotland to ‘grab freedom with two hands’

‘Ray was one in a million’
Wayne David, who has been re-elected as the Labour MP for Caerphilly, said: “Ray was one in a million. He was highly respected by everyone locally – even by those who disagreed with him.

“I knew him for decades – from the time I was a student at Cardiff University. He was always highly enthusiastic about left-wing causes and passionate about fighting for the underdog.

“A few years ago I got a phone call from him. He asked me if I could get him out of prison. He’d been arrested demonstrating at a protest against the Israelis and was in a jail in Jerusalem. He gave me the number of the Israeli Ambassador and asked me to call him, which I did. Ray got released and was sent back to Britain.”

Ray Davies was heavily involved in the support movement for the miners’ strike 30 years ago and appeared in a film directed by Karl Francis called Miss Rhymney Valley, in which he argued that the winner of a beauty contest should be the contestant who did most to help the miners’ cause.

In 2013 he starred in a documentary film called The Spirit of ‘45 made by left-wing director Ken Loach about the achievements of the Labour government elected in 1945

Resources | The Wales We Want.

The National Conversation will hear directly from the people of Wales about the most important issues for them in improving their lives and those of their families, communities and businesses. It is an opportunity to look beyond the short term pressures of daily life and focus on our long term legacy.
The National Conversation on ‘The Wales We Want’ is a pilot project following the former Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Jeff Cuthbert AM, asking the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, Peter Davies, to enhance our understanding about the long term issues that future generations in Wales might face.
At the heart of the Conversation will be Future Champions – people who can help keep the conversation going locally, regionally, nationally and collectively enable as many voices of Wales to be heard as possible. This summer the proposed Future Generations Bill is being introduced by Welsh Government, and the National Conversation will set the agenda for the action that the devolved public service, in particular, can take.

The Wales We Want Report (launched on 2 march 2015) is the culmination of the year-long conversations with individuals, groups, organisations and communities across Wales. Discussions focussed on a variety of intergenerational challenges including climate change, poverty, an ageing population and health inequalities, and the opportunities available that require collaborative approaches and integrated solutions translated at an individual and community level. The Report distils these key messages from the Conversation and sets out seven foundations for the wellbeing of future generations – the seven values that are most important to you. These values form the foundation on which we can build a better future.

The Seven Foundations for the Well-being of Future Generations

The Seven Foundations for the Well-being of Future Generations

The Wales We Want Report (launched on 2 March 2015) is the culmination of the year-long conversations with individuals, groups, organisations and communities across Wales. The Report distils key messages from the Conversation and sets out seven foundations for the wellbeing of future generations – the seven values that are most important to you.

These values form the foundation on which we can build a better future.

  1. Children need to be given the best start in life from very early years
  2. Future generations need thriving communities built on a strong sense of place
  3. Living within global environmental limits, managing our resources efficiently and valuing our environment is critical
  4. Investing in growing our local economy is essential for the well-being of future generations
  5. Well-being of all depends on reducing inequality and a greater value on diversity
  6. Greater engagement in the democratic process, a stronger citizen voice and active participation in decision making is fundamental for the well-being of future generations
  7. Celebrating success, valuing our heritage, culture and language will strengthen our identity for future generations

George Orwell

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse.

It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer.
Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)
2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.
Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)
3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)
4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
Communist pamphlet
5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

DYING METAPHORS.

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness.

But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

Examples are:

Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed.

Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying.

Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line.

Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS.

These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry.

Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc.

The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining).

The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION.

Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

MEANINGLESS WORDS.

In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2).

Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.

When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused.

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.

In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.

Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive.

Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way.

The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek.

The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague.

The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English.

I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay.

Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.

Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means;

(3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs.

In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink.

In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence(3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.
To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails.

I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.
1946

_____

  1. 1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.
  2. 2) Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.)
  3. 3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

THE END
____BD____
George Orwell: ‘Politics and the English Language’
First published: Horizon. — GB, London. — April 1946.
Reprinted:
— ‘Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays’. — 1950.
— ‘The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage’ — 1956.
— ‘Collected Essays’. — 1961.
— ‘Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays’. — 1965.
— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.
____

George Orwell
‘Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays’
© 1950 Secker and Warburg. London.


 

The battle over whether to apply the name of “torture” or “enhanced interrogation” to waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions, extremes of hot and cold, and the entire bag of dehumanizing tricks devised by the CIA interrogators has far deeper importance than a mere choice of which terms will pass the test of legality or avoid public revulsion.

The first label “torture” is cruel and honest.

The second, “enhanced interrogation”, is a euphemism, a word or words that aim to disguise unappetizing truths or activities that fall under social taboo.

It isn’t always the devil’s spawn. We can still smile at the Victorian prudery regarding biological functions that would describe a pregnant woman as being “in an interesting condition,” even though we ourselves preserve traces of it to this day when we “go to the bathroom” for reasons other than bathing.

When things have got to the point where “torture” is a forbidden term, euphemism is no longer a disguise for truth but an absolute enemy to it.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about selling a “pre-owned” rather than a “used” car from an honest dealer. But describing overcrowded prisons rife with cruelty and corruption among both guards and inmates as “correctional” institutions edges into the shadowy terrain where pretty words hide ugly facts and become part of the ugliness.

And from the moment years ago that we saw “collateral damage” as the description of innocent civilians murdered in the course of aerial bombing I hated it.

If it was arguable that important military targets in crowded areas had to be destroyed, then journalists at least, unlike government propagandists, should have described non-military victims as “civilian dead and wounded” simply to make us confront the actuality of war that any front line soldier learns on a battlefield full of corpses.

Let’s be clear.

The purpose of language should be to clarify and explain the world as we see it. The distortion of language by any means is to obfuscate, deny, and sometimes to create blind worship of fallen idols.

No one knew this better than the inventor of newspeak, doublespeak and the Ministry of Truth. In 1946, three years before he wrote Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell already had published this durable and brilliant essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which traced the ways in which bloated and vacuous writing serves the purposes of totalitarianism.

Today, even sixty-eight years later, it has kept its power and freshness. It ought to be required reading for anyone who reads or writes, and in the interest of public service I reprinted it here.

 

 

Why Socialism?

 

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism?

I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service. – Albert Einstein, 1949.

 

 

http://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism/

This statement rings as true today as it did when Einstein wrote it in May 1949.

The only thing that dates it in the slightest, is the fact that television, global multi-media and the Internet are absent from the listed sources of information.

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Actor Michael Sheen came to our Action Group meeting on 22nd September

Michael Sheen @michaelsheen came to our UVAG meeting last night. We knew we were having a guest speaker but It was a complete surprise, only known about by our Treasurer, his wife and a select few others.

Michael asked some very pithy and poignant questions and really got stuck in.
Why was he there?
He’s doing a documentary about the Chartists and he was interested in our campaign to get our voice heard – and is drawing modern day parallels and all that…
I’m hoping the documentary will screen on the November 4th anniversary of the slaughter at John Frost Sq, Newport in 1839.

We had a good, lively discussion on the subjects of “democracy”, or more correctly, the lack of it!
He was on the money and he could also see where we (United Valleys Action Group) had been let down by the bureaucratic quagmire in the planning appeal process in Wales and also what we are trying to achieve. Michael also asked “what one change would we like to see to the political system”. It’s not every day I get to talk about the philosophical principles of Demarchy/Lotterocracy with a Hollywood superstar! But I take my chances where I get them – Demarchy is the rule by the randomly selected.
I made the point that our curse is the “career politician”, in a demarchy, politicians are randomly selected and limited to one term of 4 or 5 years, then can never stand for the same office again. Ever.

Michael Sheen has most recently been one of the main advocates for ‪#‎TheWalesWeWant‬ the Welsh government’s “conversation”, supposedly feeding into their Future Generations Bill?
There is a call for a mass day of action in Cardiff on October 11th in support of Frack Free Wales and like minded organisations.

We (UVAG) have been asked to join. It will be a great networking opportunity.

 

me with Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen with Me! Lol

Socialism lives in Britain, but only for the rich: the rules of capitalism are for the rest of us. The ideology of the modern establishment, of course, abhors the state. The state is framed as an obstacle to innovation, a destroyer of initiative, a block that needs to be chipped away to allow free enterprise to flourish. “I think that smaller-scale governments, more freedom for business to exist and to operate – that is the right kind of direction for me,” says Simon Walker, the head of the Institute of Directors. For him, the state should be stripped to a “residual government functioning of maintaining law and order, enforcing contracts”. Mainstream politicians don’t generally talk in such stark terms, but when the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg demands “a liberal alternative to the discredited politics of big government”, the echo is evident.
And yet, when the financial system went into meltdown in 2008, it was not expected to stand on its own two feet, or to pull itself up by its bootstraps. Instead, it was saved by the state, becoming Britain’s most lavished benefit claimant. More than £1tn of public money was poured into the banks following the financial collapse. The emergency package came with few government-imposed conditions and with little calling to account. “The urge to punish all bankers has gone far enough,” declared a piece in the Financial Times just six months after the crisis began. But if there was ever such an “urge” on the part of government, it was never acted on. In 2012, 2,714 British bankers were paid more than €1m – 12 times as many as any other EU country. When the EU unveiled proposals in 2012 to limit bonuses to either one or two years’ salary with the say-so of shareholders, there was fury in the City. Luckily, their friends in high office were there to rescue their bonuses: at the British taxpayers’ expense, the Treasury took to the European Court to challenge the proposals. The entire British government demonstrated, not for the first time, that it was one giant lobbying operation for the City of London. Between 2011 and 2013, bank lending fell in more than 80% of Britain’s 120 postcode areas, helping to stifle economic recovery. Banks may have been enjoyed state aid on an unprecedented scale, but their bad behaviour just got worse – and yet they suffered no retribution.
Contrast this with the fate of the unemployed, including those thrown out of work as a result of the actions of bailed-out bankers. In the austerity programme that followed the financial crisis, state support for those at the bottom of society has been eroded. The support that remains is given withstringent conditions attached. “Benefit sanctions” are temporary suspensions of benefits, often for the most spurious or arbitrary reasons. According to the government’s figures, 860,000 benefit claimants were sanctioned between June 2012 and June 2013, a jump of 360,000 from a year earlier. According to the Trussell Trust, the biggest single provider of food banks, more than half of recipients were dependent on handouts owing to cuts or sanctions to their benefits.
Glyn, a former gas fitter from Manchester, was sanctioned three weeks before Christmas 2013, and received no money. He had missed a signing-on day because he was completing a job search at Seetec, one of the government’s corporate welfare-to-work clients. Then there’s Sandra, a disabled Glaswegian who lives with her daughter. She was sent a form asking to declare whether she lived with someone; assuming it meant a partner, she said no, and was called in to a “compliance interview”. Because her daughter was not in full-time education, Sandra was stripped of her entitlement to her £50 per week severe-disability allowance. While the financial elite could depend on the state to swoop to their rescue, those who suffered because of their greed felt the chill winds of laissez-faire. Socialism for the rich: sink-or-swim capitalism – and food banks – for the poor.
Socialism for the rich manifests itself in a variety of ways. In 2004, corporations were posting record profits, and yet their workers’ wages had begun to stagnate or – in the case of those in the bottom third of the income scale – had started to decline. To ensure that these underpaid workers have an adequate standard of living, they receive tax credits “topping up” their take-home pay – subsidised, of course, by the taxpayer. In 2009–10, for example, the government spent £27.3bn on such tax credits. Between 2003–4 and 2010–11, a whopping £176.64bn was spent on them. Now, millions of working people who would otherwise be languishing in abject poverty depend on these tax credits. But that does not detract from the fact that tax credits are, in effect, a subsidy to bosses for low pay. Employers hire workers without paying them a sum of money that allows them to live adequately, leaving the state to provide for their underpaid workforce.
The same principle applies to the £24bn spent on housing benefit. In 2002, 100,000 private renters in London were forced to claim housing benefit in order to pay the rent; by the end of the New Labour era, rising rents had increased the number to 250,000. On the one hand, this was the symptom of the failure of successive governments to provide affordable council housing. With tenants instead driven into the more expensive private rented sector, housing benefit acts as a subsidy for the higher rents of private landlords. But housing benefit is another subsidy for low wages, too. According to a study by the Building and Social Housing Foundation in 2012, more than nine in every 10 new housing-benefit claims in the first two years of the coalition government went not to the unemployed but to working households. Many of these claimants are workers whose pay is so low that they simply cannot afford the often extortionate rents being charged by private landlords. As well as individual private landlords, companies providing private housing were being subsidised by housing benefit, in some cases receiving more than a million pounds of taxpayers’ money each year, such as Grainger Residential Management and Caridon Property.
One such private landlord is Conservative MP Richard Benyon, one of Britain’s wealthiest parliamentarians whose family is worth around £110m. Despite having condemned spending on social security for “rising inexorably and unaffordably”, and having applauded the government for “reforming Labour’s ‘something for nothing’ welfare culture”, Benyon benefits from £120,000 a year through housing benefit collected from his tenants. Another vigorous supporter of cuts to the welfare state was Tory MP Richard Drax, whose estate received a substantial £13,830 housing benefit in 2013. They are both wealthy benefit claimants who advocate slashing state support for the poor.
Much of Britain’s public sector has now become a funding stream for profiteering companies. According to the National Audit Office (NAO), around half of the £187bn spent by the public sector on goods and services now goes on private contractors. One such company was Atos, first hired in 2005 by the then Labour government to carry out work-capability assessments. Its contract was renewed by the coalition in November 2010, now with far greater responsibilities as the government launched a sweeping programme of so-called “welfare reform”. This five-year contract was worth £500m, or £100m of public money every year. In 2012 the NAO condemned the government contract with Atos for failing to offer value for money. Atos had not “routinely met all the service standards specified in the contract”, the report declared; its record on meeting targets was “poor”; the government had failed to seek “adequate financial redress for underperformance”; and the “management of the contract lacked sufficient rigour”.
Disabled people who needed support were having their support stripped away by Atos. In one three-month period in 2012, 42% of appeals against Atos judgments were successful; but it is a process that is expensive for the taxpayer and often traumatic for the claimant. In the harsh benefit-bashing climate of austerity Britain, disability charities reported that “scrounger” rhetoric had provoked a surge in abuse towards disabled people on the streets. But the behaviour of state-funded private contractors such as Atos must surely raise the question of who the real scroungers are. It was not until April 2014 that Atos was forced to abandon the contract because of the growing backlash, but not until they had pocketed large sums of public money.
This hiving off of core state functions – in this case, assessing support for some of the most vulnerable people in society – to private companies who exchange public money for a poor service is a striking feature of the modern establishment. Another such business is A4e, a welfare-to-work company dogged by controversy over poor performance. As one former A4e contractor suggested to me, A4e was running a “farming exercise”, cherry-picking easy cases and leaving the rest in the “field”. Its former chairman Emma Harrison paid herself £8.6m in dividends, all courtesy of the taxpayer. In February, four former A4e employees admitted committing acts of fraud and forgery after charging the state for working for clients that did not even exist.
In 2012, £4bn of taxpayers’ money was shovelled into the accounts of the biggest private contractors: Serco, G4S, Atos and Capita. It led to a damning assessment from the NAO, which Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, summed up: this outsourcing, she concluded, had created “quasi-monopolies”, the “inhibiting of whistleblowers”, the trapping of taxpayers into lengthy contracts, and a “number of contracts that are not subject to proper competition”. G4S had been contracted to provide security personnel for the 2012 Olympics; when it failed to provide them, the state – predictably – had to step in, mobilising 3,500 soldiers and leading even the then minister of defence, Philip Hammond, publicly to question his previously unwavering commitment to private sector provision of state functions. At the end of 2013, the Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into Serco and G4S, after they allegedly overcharged the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds for the electronic tagging of clients, charging for clients who had left the country or were even dead. Many of these private contractors, such as Atos and G4S, pay little or no corporation tax, even as they benefit from state munificence.
Rail Owen Jones ‘Privatisation of rail was a form of socialism for the rich.’ Photograph: Velar Grant/Demotix/Corbis
Privatisation of rail was a form of socialism for the rich that became particularly notorious. According to a report by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, state spending on the privatised railways was six times higher than it was in the dying days of British Rail. And yet under the privatised system, rolling stock was replaced less frequently, there was not enough carriage space to accommodate rising numbers of rail passengers, and ticket prices were the highest in Europe. As the report put it, technological innovation and improvement were powered or underwritten by the state. The taxpayer shouldered the risk, while profit was privatised: or “heads they win and tails we lose”.
Big business is dependent on the state in a multitude of other ways. An expensive law-and-order system defends its property. The privatisation of Royal Mail ensured that the state kept the pension liabilities – nationalising the debt, privatising the profit. The business elite benefits from around £10bn spent on research and development by the British state each year: and innovations from the internet to the technology behind the iPhone originate from public sector research, as Mariana Mazzucato uncovered in The Entrepreneurial State. Big business relies on extensive spending on infrastructure: in 2012, the Confederation of British Industry suggested savings from cuts to benefits – raids on the pockets of the working and non-working poor – could be used to invest in the road network. And the state educates the workforce of big business at vast expense.
Royal Mail Owen Jones ‘The privatisation of Royal Mail ensured that the state kept the pension liabilities.’ Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images
With big business benefiting from so much state largesse, you might expect gratitude in the form of the glad payment of taxes. After all, this socialism for the rich is not cheap. A common figure bandied around by defenders of Britain’s wealthy elite is that the top 1% of earners pay a third of all income tax, conveniently ignoring the fact that only a quarter of government revenue comes from income tax, with much of the rest coming from national insurance and indirect taxes paid by the population as a whole. But tax avoidance is rampant among much of the corporate and wealthy elite that benefits so much from state handouts. While the law cracks down on the misdemeanours of the poor, it allows, even facilitates, the far more destructive behaviour of the rich. Compare the billions lost through tax avoidance to the £1.2bn lost through benefit fraud, an issue that remains the news fodder of choice for the rightwing press.
The manner in which this happens shows who the state exists to serve. The Big Four accountancy firms – EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – have been slammed for their role in tax avoidance. But their response is instructive. “We don’t ever condone tax avoidance or support tax avoidance,” pledges EY’s Steve Varley. “Fundamentally, parliament has to legislate what parliament wants to happen … And people like us can follow the legislation and provide advice to our clients.”
But what Varley conveniently fails to mention is that firms such as EY help design the law in the first place, and then go off and help advise their clients on how to get around it. “We have seen what look like cases of poacher, turned gamekeeper, turned poacher again,” declared the Public Accounts Committee in April 2013, “whereby individuals who advise government go back to their firms and advise their clients on how they can use those laws to reduce the amount of tax they pay.” This is an astonishing finding. Senior MPs have concluded that accountants were not simply offering governments their expertise: they were advising governments on tax law, and then telling their clients how to get around the laws they had themselves helped to draw up.
When it comes to rhetoric, the modern establishment passionately rejects statism. The advocates of state interventionism are dismissed as dinosaurs who should hop in a time machine and return to the discredited 1970s. And yet state interventionism is rampant in modern Britain: but it exists to benefit the rich. No other phenomenon sums up more starkly how unjust modern Britain is. Social security for the poor is shredded, stripped away, made ever more conditional. But welfare for large corporations and wealthy individuals is doled out like never before. The question is not just whether such an establishment is unjust: the question is whether it is sustainable.