Saturday, June 22

What would Orwell make of the woke?

How could Orwell – dead now well over 70 years – have had an opinion on the woke? The wealth-class infiltrating and undermining Leftism was a constant theme for the celebrated author of Animal Farm.

George Orwell, the prolific Left-wing essayist and novelist, and staunch critic of totalitarian regimes held profound concerns about a middle-class takeover of the Left.

His apprehensions stemmed from his observations and experiences in the early 20th century, particularly the interwar period and the rise of various political movements.

Orwell’s concerns were multifaceted, rooted in his disdain for class-based opportunism and his desire for a genuine socialist movement untainted by bourgeois values. In the same way Shakespeare had an almost supernatural insight into the human psyche, Orwell seemed to have a prophetic ability when it came to reading the trajectory of political movements. Woke politics could represent Orwell’s greatest fears having reached their most absurd conclusions.

Orwell’s critique of the middle class undermining the Left was not merely a matter of class warfare but a fundamental concern about the authenticity and effectiveness of socialist movements. In his essay/ novel “The Road to Wigan Pier,” after detailing life for the working poor, Orwell articulates his skepticism towards middle-class socialists. The structure of the book – the first half an almost anthropological study of poverty, followed by a critique of champagne socialists, creates a compelling case for how detached from working-class realities such people really are.

“In addition to this there is the horrible—the really disquieting—prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together.”

Orwell observed that many middle-class individuals who joined socialist movements were more interested in theoretical debates and fringe issues than in addressing the pressing needs of the working class (how prescient this now reads). This tendency, he feared, diluted the movement’s focus, alienating the very people it aimed to help. Without experiencing material deprivation, it would follow that a middle-upper class socialist would see the oppression of the mind as more pressing, which made the privileged Left’s slide into identitarianism not at all unsurprising.  

“Sometimes I look at a Socialist—the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation—and wonder what the devil his motive really is.”

Orwell also questioned the authenticity of middle-class solidarity with the working class. In his essay “Why I Write,” he reflects on his motivations and the broader socialist movement, highlighting the difficulty of overcoming deep-seated class differences:

“I have made it my mission in life to expose the lies and contradictions of the capitalist system, but I cannot help but notice that those who speak most loudly about revolution are often the least willing to relinquish their own privileges.”

This observation underscores Orwell’s belief that many middle-class socialists were unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve true equality. Their reluctance to give up their privileges suggested that their commitment to socialism was superficial, motivated by intellectual curiosity or a sense of moral superiority rather than genuine solidarity. This could point to the true purpose of today’s new identity politics: absent from the recent scandal of an American Catholic football star suggesting a woman’s greatest role will be motherhood was any discussion on the harsh reality that most contemporary women have no choice but to work for most families to be viable. Consumed purely with an identity question, this class concern was given no voice. Why? Wealthy people now steer the organised Left.  

Orwell’s ideal socialist movement was one that genuinely represented the working class and was driven by practical, inclusive action. He believed that for socialism to succeed, it needed to be rooted in the lived experiences of the working class, not the theoretical musings of the middle. In “Homage to Catalonia,” Orwell praises the Spanish anarchists for their genuine commitment to equality and collective effort:

“It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.”

This experience reinforced Orwell’s belief that true socialism could only be achieved through the active participation and leadership of the working class, free from the paternalistic tendencies of the middle class, whose projects, unsurprisingly considering their material comfort, tend to reinforce rather than tear down existing class structures.

Leftism will not return until the privileged classes are shown the door.

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