George Orwell on socialism, capitalism and totalitarianism

This is a regrettably slow-paced talk by David Ramsay Steele, now a libertarian, who was once a Marxist but such a serious and critical scholar that he saw through the whole socialist/collectivist thing and turned against it.

The talk is about George Orwell, his life and work, his shifting views on politics. The points that I want to report came from the end. The whole thing is good, especially if you want to know more about Orwell and also the shifting orientation of the communists and their fellow travellers during the 1930s.

During the 1930s it appeared that both democracy and capitalism could not survive – Steele listed the European nations that departed from democracy in recent decades; Russia in 1917, Italy, Lithuania & Poland 1926, Albania 1928, Yugoslavia 1929, Portugal 1938, Latvia & Bulgaria 1934, Estonia 1935, Spain & Romania 1939.

The left had two beliefs: 1. Socialism is better than capitalism and 2. Capitalism is doomed (a view shared with many non-socialists).

By the time Orwell came to review “The Road to Serfdom” in 1944 his thoughts had evolved and a clue came around 1940 when he regularly referred to TOTALITARIANISM which he saw as an evil in the communist system that existed in Russia.

Steele listed 5 points:
1. Socialism should replace capitalism.
2. Collectivism will come one way or another.
3. Collectivism may be DEMOCRATIC or it may be TOTALITARIAN.
4. Democratic collectivism is better than capitalism BUT CAPITALISM IS BETTER THAN TOTALITARIAN COLLECTIVISM.
5. DEMOCRATIC CAPITALISM SOCIALISM MAY BE IMPOSSIBLE. (Sorry to early readers, a major misprint).

The implication is that capitalism should be saved from socialism, with all its faults, because worse would follow after socialism. Orwell did not say this, and Steele did not suggest that he even suggested it, or thought it through far enough to see a political solution. However 1984 is his imaginative depiction of the end game of socialism after the totalitarian tendencies have fully taken over.

The purposes of this post is to point out that this process is not just a morbid figment of Orwell’s imagination because it is happening in front of us as we observe the statements and the actions of the hard left, ignorant young thrill-seekers and many rusted-on supporters of the ALP. We see orchestrated hate speech (even on the national public broadcaster), black depicted as white and vice versa, history being re-written (the stolen generation etc). Truly we live in interesting times and 1984 remains a tract for our times.

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10 Responses to George Orwell on socialism, capitalism and totalitarianism

  1. 2dogs

    DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM MAY BE IMPOSSIBLE.

    Under socialism, the distribution of wealth is determined by the nation’s constitution. Wealth takes whatever form is the one which makes decisions concerning capital. If the state owns capital, wealth simply takes the form of political influence rather than exchangeable rights.

    So the first enquiry to be made of any socialist is as to what they see as being the best constitution.

  2. A Lurker

    In my opinion collectivism will never work – the majority of humans are selfish creatures, it is wired into us to be so – selfish being defined as not only looking after ‘number one’ but also selfish regarding putting family/tribe etc. first before others and strangers. Not only do you have inherent selfishness, but you also have other humans who will use the generosity/empathy of others to enrich themselves and promote themselves into positions of power where they receive largesse, rather than sharing. This is most obvious in the quote – “all are equal, but some are more equal than others” – and clearly evident in the actions of our local politicians, union officials, various celebrities and political activists who demonstrate some quite disgusting and porcine behaviour at the taxpayer trough. Anyone who thinks that Socialism and Collectivism is this nice benign ideology is fooling themselves – in my opinion both lead inexorably onto totalitarian misery. With all its faults at least with Capitalism you can raise yourself up – it just takes enterprise and vision, finding an opportunity, grasping that opportunity, putting in hard work (and perhaps being blessed with a little luck as well).

  3. Poor Old Rafe

    Sorry 2dogs, I made mistake re democratic capitalism: it should read democratic socialism may be impossible.

  4. 2dogs

    I actually read it right though, Rafe. Sinc, can you edit my comment above?

  5. Andrew

    Well of course we’re seeing it. We had a grubiment who studied 1984, not as a warning but as an instruction manual. Can anyone seriously deny that Gillard or her office went through the book with a yellow highlighter?

  6. JohnA

    A Lurker #1435189, posted on September 1, 2014 at 6:15 am

    In my opinion collectivism will never work – the majority of humans are selfish creatures, it is wired into us to be so – selfish being defined as not only looking after ‘number one’ but also selfish regarding putting family/tribe etc. first before others and strangers.

    Which is why the Christian faith is hated so – because it is the only transcending belief system / world view that says the selfish wiring
    a) is not original
    b) is presently all-embracing – everybody is basically self-centred
    but
    c) can be undone without forfeiting human dignity.

    Every other worldview available is totally fatalistic or deterministic, thus requiring the imposition of order onto a (permanently) chaotic human condition.

    This means that, apart from the Christian world view, totalitarianism is inevitable but will fail in the face of the overwhelming level of chaos evident.

    Absent Western, Christianised, civilisation with its assumption of the dignity of humanity and work, there is no economic system like capitalism.

    (sorry, can’t extend the argument; gotta go and do my bit for freedom and the dignity of work now).

  7. Token

    The purposes of this post is to point out that this process is not just a morbid figment of Orwell’s imagination because it is happening in front of us as we observe the statements and the actions of the hard left, ignorant young thrill-seekers and many rusted-on supporters of the ALP.

    To the young, naive & ideolistic and the amoral crass opportunist,s the lies of the left are a siren song.

    Seriously, who at 16 is cognatively able to understand that real happiness (i.e. satisfaction) comes from what is earned rather than given?

  8. Des Deskperson

    One of the interesting things about 1984 was that it was posited on the rise of United States totalitarianism. The formation of Oceania involved the takeover of the UK by America. ‘Airstrip One’ was simply an outpost of a super state centred in America.

    Orwell’s ideas for 1984 came partly from an American ex-Trotskyist called James Burnham whose book, ‘The Managerial Revolution’ saw similar centralist and totalitarian strains emerging under Roosevelt’s New Deal as were already evident in Stalinist Russia. The concept of the world divided into two or three super states – identical with each other in terms of politics and society but also always at war – came from Burnham.

    Orwell. of course, based his model for 1984 on Stalinism, probably because it was more familiar, but logically it would have been an American based system with American symbols of totalitarianism and control. ‘Big Brother’ replaced by ‘Apple Pie and Mom’??

    Of course, it drawing a very long bow indeed to suggest any direct link between Burnham, 1984 and Obama-ism but I note these connections, for what they are worth.

    eat n S

  9. Turtle of WA

    2+2=5 is the formula for global warming. Those who disagree have been threatened with the same punishment as Winston Smith.

  10. Rafe-

    My book Credentialed to Destroy: How and Why Education Became a Weapon literally ties the undenied pursuit of collectivism via K-12 education going on right now through the documents, books, reports, laying out how to use poorly understood shifts that occurred globally like constructivism and Transformational Outcomes Based Education to alter how students perceive reality and what they value.

    I have always seen the connections between what the US calls the Common Core and Australia’s Core Skills. Australia is using CASEL from Chicago to push Whole Child Learning in its public and private schools. 21st Century Skills globally is deliberately set up in Australia to obscure the Corporatism involved with its tech company partners along with UNESCO, OECD, and the World Bank.

    I have also been tracking Australia’s involvement with GELP–Global Education Leaders Program and what the Innovation Learning Network involves. The Co-Director of GELP is Tony MacKay of the University of Melbourne. He has also brought over John Hattie from New Zealand to push Visible Learning directly in conjunction with ATC21S.

    Recently a reader sent me a global document put out by Price Waterhouse called GEMS Education. The Chinese representative in the report from 2011 openly said that we would all have to learn to accept more collectivism. Everything is on the march but too little covered. Thanks for doing this post.

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