Orwell and Dalrymple on English Class

Ever since Marx, the concept of class has been foundational to sociology—as well as to almost everything else. This would not have surprised the German economist, for class, as he saw it, determines all: one’s motivations, one’s social position, even one’s consciousness. Britain, where Marx’s Capital was written, has long been known for its intricate class system, and as such is the source of much writing on the subject. Two of the most acerbic English social critics of the past century, George Orwell and Theodore Dalrymple, take class as a central subject. Drawing on firsthand experience (Orwell as a journalist, Dalrymple as a prison doctor and psychiatrist), both document in detail the suffering and privations of the class below them. Both also contend that a central cause of this poverty is the indifference of the middle and upper classes, a conclusion Marx would surely have agreed with. Yet, despite this, their work stands in flat contradiction to Marx’s central dogma that the material conditions of a society determine everything about it, including class. In their literary journalism, the authors’ social commentaries and insights into the human condition far surpass Marx’s “scientific” analysis.

George Orwell, Wikimedia Commons

To begin, it is worth considering the work of historian David Starkey, who argues that the essential class distinction is not the one Marx drew, of proletarians and their bourgeois oppressors. Instead, it is between manual workers, whose trade is material, and the professions, whose work is knowledge—and it dates back to antiquity. This was the key dividing line in Roman society, differentiating slaves from citizens. The slaves did the manual labour (craftsmen, porters, servants), while the liberal (i.e., free) arts of the professions (statecraft, oratory, literature) were reserved for free men. The same distinction between the learned literate and the masses can be traced all the way through ecclesiastical Christianity to the modern professions of law, medicine, and academia, all of whose structures are based on that of the medieval clergy. On this model, credentialled, learned authorities profess revealed knowledge to the untrained layman. Today, these secular clergy are reverentially known as “experts”. But it is in the nature of these professions, which, being based on ideas, always begin at least one step removed from material reality, to get carried away with their own dogmas. This is especially true where there is no worldly authority against which to verify their claims. If an architect or engineer is a fraud, his buildings are likely to fail. In academic peer review, only the initiated have the credentials required to judge.

That class is a function more of outlook than income was clear to Orwell, as he explains in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier, which depicts both the privations of working-class life and the British class system as a whole.

Cover of Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Wikimedia Commons

Orwell describes how the “lower-upper-middle-class” (Orwell’s own), generally professionals in the “Army, Navy, Church, Medicine [or] Law”, understood and aspired to all the many customs of the upper classes (hunting, servants, how to order dinner correctly) despite never being able to afford them. Thus, “To belong to this class when you were [only] at the £400 a year level was a queer business, for it meant that your gentility was almost purely theoretical.” This same dynamic applies today (though the bourgeois values aspired to now are quite different): a poor librarian is far less likely than a wealthy plumber to have voted for causes like Brexit or Trump, which are both populist and, thus, lower-class.

Themselves men of letters, both Orwell and Dalrymple understand that this class distinction is frequently signalled through language. “As for the technical jargon of the Communists,” writes Orwell, “it is as far removed from the common speech as the language of a mathematical textbook.” Such contorted academic prose means little to the ordinary worker, for whom, Orwell argues, Socialism simply means “justice and common decency.” Indeed, Orwell laments that “the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents” because of their distance from everyday concerns and inability to speak plainly. Summarising the problem, he quips: “The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight.”

A lifelong socialist, Orwell was repeatedly frustrated by the symptoms of this intellectual snobbery—why do the revolutionaries have such disdain for the ordinary punter? Dalrymple, meanwhile, in his essay "How—and How Not—to Love Mankind,” takes aim at its roots. Here, Dalrymple compares the life and work of Marx to his now lesser-known contemporary, Russian novelist and playwright Ivan Turgenev. Though their lives closely resembled one another’s, Dalrymple argues, “They nevertheless came to view human life and suffering in very different, indeed irreconcilable, ways—through different ends of the telescope, as it were. Turgenev saw human beings as individuals always endowed with consciousness, character, feelings, and moral strengths and weaknesses. Marx saw them always as snowflakes in an avalanche, as instances of general forces, as not yet fully human because utterly conditioned by their circumstances.”

The problem, for Dalrymple, is abstraction. As Kant understood in his Critique of Pure Reason, theory alone, unchecked by experience, is always liable to overextend itself. This intellectual narcissism is portrayed archetypally in literature by Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. Cast out of Heaven and bent on revenge, he declares bitterly: “The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

Theodore Dalrymple

Thus, preferring his mind’s eye to reality, the idealist intellectual creates glittering cathedrals in the sky; it is only when construction begins that problems start to arise. Marx’s mechanical theory of society reduces real individuals, with their hopes and fears, beliefs and desires, to mere abstract “classes”. He subordinates reality—messy, limited, and all too human—to a perfect model in which utopia is the only possible outcome. As Dalrymple puts it: “Marx’s eschatology, lacking all common sense, all knowledge of human nature, rested on abstractions that were to him more real than the actual people around him.”

For Orwell, a key cause of such ideological pretensions is the abuse of language. The question is whether one sees plain speaking as a virtue. “If you simplify your language,” writes Orwell in Politics and the English Language, “you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.” He is concerned especially with “the invasion of one’s mind of ready-made phrases”—the hallmark of being a mere puppet to conventional wisdom or ideological dogma, rather than actually thinking.

Dalrymple illustrates this in a recent essay, in which he excoriates the inane word salad accompanying a London art exhibition. Though it may be incomprehensible, he explains, that “does not mean it is without function. It mystifies, the better to extract public funds to support those who want to play at being artists, who ‘perform composites,’ ‘create interventions’ and ‘presence their objectification’ while focusing on (surprise, surprise) race and gender.” Dalrymple notes that the class element underlying this prose necessarily takes on an “Emperor’s new clothes” dynamic: “No arts bureaucrat wants to admit these pompous, profoundish-sounding statements convey nothing to him.” This is language used less for communication than for the pursuit of social status.

Orwell aptly explains the mental process behind such writing: “When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about till 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.”

Orwell knew what the postmodernist philosophers denied: that reality exists prior to language. Words do not exist in and of themselves—they refer to real things or potentially real ideas. The right-on artist who “performs composites of plants, animals, elements and people” is less trying to describe an existing reality (what on Earth does that mean?) than to demonstrate her immense linguistic skill. Instead of finding the right words to express an idea, she stitches words jarringly together, then leaves it to the reader to wonder what they could possibly refer to.

Both writers criticise intellectuals’ pretentious jargon, but it is worth pausing over how each relates his own social position to their subject matter. In a telling passage of Wigan Pier, Orwell describes the working man who has made it into the middle class, perhaps as a Labour MP or trade union official, as “one of the most desolating spectacles the world contains. He has been picked out to fight for his mates, and all it means to him is a soft job and a chance of ‘bettering’ himself. Not merely while but by fighting the bourgeoisie he becomes bourgeois himself.” The scare quotes reflect Orwell’s mixed feelings about social class: does Orwell not believe that a middle-class career—such as his own—is an improvement over the harsh, backbreaking labour of the miners he so vividly documents? He has hit on a deep dilemma, born of a compassionate humanism that points in contradictory directions.

Ostensibly, Orwell chronicles poverty in order to change it, to shock the comfortable hearts of his readers into action. Yet, at the same time, (romanticising the poor against his own advice), he presents the dirt as liberating: squalor and poverty are in some sense more authentic, more real than bourgeois comforts. Thus, as literary critic John Carey argues, Orwell’s “phobia about lower-class dirt collides head-on with his determination to invest dirt with political value, as the price of liberty.”

For Carey, Orwell’s class confusion stems from guilt. It is clear at least that much of Orwell’s harshest criticism is reserved for his own social milieu. Indeed, he writes: “It is strange how easily almost any Socialist writer can lash himself into frenzies of rage against the class to which, by birth or by adoption, he himself invariably belongs.” True enough, Orwell’s polemics take the form of acerbic wit, not apoplectic fury, but he is certainly self-deprecating just like the bourgeois Marxist who, one always suspects, protests too much. In proclaiming their hatred for privilege, they both confess their own privilege and seek atonement for it. As Carey thus explains, “Dirt, if sufficient of it got on him, could make up for [Orwell’s] past career as an imperialist oppressor.”

Theodore Dalrymple, by contrast, leans into his upper-class conservatism. Anthony Daniels’s pompous pen name is a deliberate caricature of an upper-class English gentleman (Eric Blair’s nom de plume edges in the opposite direction). His essays, written for a conservative US audience in City Journal, show a cultivated man lamenting a culture in rapid decline. The irony of this is that his unabashed upper-class perspective, in fact, puts him gravely at odds with the fashions of the British intelligentsia in his time of writing (as it still does). In the memorable final essay of Life at the Bottom, ‘Seeing Is Not Believing’, he recounts being invited to a lunch at a “famous and venerable liberal publication” to which he is a dissident contributor (surely the New Statesman). “Around the lunch table (from which, I'm glad to say, British proletarian fare was strictly excluded) were gathered people of impeccable liberal credentials: the one exception being myself.”

This aside demonstrates why his liberal credentials are lacking. Unlike Orwell, Dalrymple has no qualms about declaring the superiority of better food and higher culture. Far from marking him out as a comfortable member of a snobbish elite, however, in so doing he fails to affirm the most sanctified shibboleth of contemporary liberal high society: a delicately cultivated moral relativism. In this simple aside, he has trampled over the doctrine of non-judgmentalism, that is, that there is nothing good or bad, dignified or venal—there is only difference. Worse still, his brutally honest depiction of underclass life offends the sensibilities of the mild-mannered guests. Not long into dinner, a fellow contributor, who reads Dalrymple’s columns with interest, asks bluntly: “Did [you] make it all up?” Dalrymple is no less incredulous: “Did I make it all up? It was a question I have been asked many times by middle-class liberal intellectuals, who presumably hope that the violence, neglect, and cruelty, the contorted thinking, the utter hopelessness, and the sheer nihilism that I describe week in and week out are but figments of a fevered imagination.”

The question is particularly galling coming as it does at the end of the book. The first 16 essays of Life at the Bottom (‘Goodbye, Cruel World’, ‘The Heart of a Heartless World’, ‘Lost in the Ghetto’, etc.) hauntingly document the misery and despair of the Birmingham slum in which he works, while the last five (including ‘The Rush from Judgment’, ‘How Criminologists Foster Crime’, and ‘Seeing Is Not Believing’) lay the blame for these conditions squarely at the feet of those bold reformers whose liberating vision has occasioned such social collapse. This narrative structure—a deep dive into the dirt followed by a polemic against the intellectuals who enable it—closely parallels that of The Road to Wigan Pier.

The contrast between dirt and polemic is most striking because of the authors’ touching portrayals of the plight of the underclass. Orwell begins the book with a long description of his dirty lodgings and their down-and-out denizens, dwelling always on the smells of the house and the men, which disgust him. He is soon anxious to leave the slums, but as he does, he sees from a distance a young woman unclogging a drainpipe, and out of nowhere comes the following heartbreaking vignette:

She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.

This brief human connection is enough for Orwell to empathise deeply with her plight; she is no different to him.

Dalrymple similarly pulls no punches in his essayLost in the Ghetto:’ “One of the terrible fates that can befall a human being is to be born intelligent or sensitive in an English slum. It is like a long, slow, exquisite torture devised by a sadistic deity from whose malevolent clutches escape is almost impossible.” He describes the life of a patient who, inexplicably, has a great love of French literature and hoped thereby to escape. She is bullied relentlessly at school for being clever but nevertheless makes it to university. Afterwards, having no money, she returns home and decides to teach, but a pupil attempts to rape her, immediately cutting short her career. Now all she wants is to leave. “Perhaps, she mused, it would have been better had she surrendered to the majority while she was still at school: for her heroic struggle had brought her little but three years' respite from misery.”

Here again is a character who is similar to the reader in every way but her unfortunate social position. Unlike in Orwell’s time, poverty in the era of the welfare state is less material than spiritual. As he explains: “where knowledge is not preferable to ignorance and high culture to low, the intelligent and the sensitive suffer a complete loss of meaning. The intelligent self-destruct; the sensitive despair.” Both authors blame the intelligentsia but for different reasons: Orwell, for living the life of high culture without affording it to anyone else; Dalrymple, for the same, but while also claiming that there really is no difference between high and low, anyway. He concludes pithily: “The absence of standards, as Ortega y Gasset remarked, is the beginning of barbarism: and modern Britain is well past the beginning.”

In their social commentaries—which may deal with general trends but are always about individuals—Orwell and Dalrymple are Turgenev, not Marx. They do not deal primarily in abstractions. They write clearly and perceptively; their truths are unvarnished. Though middle-class and professional, they do not seek to profess. Rather they inquire, document, and reflect. But crucially, they also judge. Seeing themselves in their subjects, they dismiss nothing as being merely how the other half lives. In Marx’s mechanical view of society, no one can transcend their class interest. But these two great English writers prove him wrong. All one needs is a little empathy, honesty, and imagination.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/05/02/orwell-dalrymple-on-english-class/
1 Like

Another day, another pedantic essay on the subject of the perennial obsession of western ideologues, namely to prove Marx was wrong.
The irony of it all, is that the permanent desperate attempts to prove Marx wrong in this day and age, is a living proof of the fact Marx was actually right.

The claim:

The mere admission of the existence of a “class interest” implicitly admits the existence of class and it’s connection to a class interest. Also the occasional transcendence of class interests in some individuals does not prove the theory wrong, just like the occasional empathy observed between predators and prey in the animal world, does not prove the “survival of the fittest” theory wrong.

But it goes deeper:

The aspiring intellectual who wrote the article proves he cannot transcend his class interest, which is to attempt to prove he has value in order to become successful in his field. The problem is that the aspiring intellectual class tries so hard to prove their value, that they end up proving the opposite:
with empathy you can prove Marx wrong…as if Marx lacked empathy for the oppressed?
with honesty you can prove Marx wrong…as if Marx was dishonest?

Have to agree on the imagination needed, because yes, you need a lot of imagination and delusion to fool yourself into thinking you proved Marx wrong by interpreting some fiction works.

This whole essay makes me think of an aspiring physicist who attempts to prove his worth by trying to prove the theory of general relativity wrong…yeah worthy attempt, its gonna work for sure.

If you’re referring to Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, that isn’t a fiction work.

As for your statement that Marx was right - I don’t see it. He did aptly observe that poor people were miserable, and that classes existed. But so did others before him.

I read a good quote about Freud (that other great pretender to scientific wisdom of about that same age) - “Everything he said that was true, was not new. Everything he said that was new, was not true.” That’s true of Marx as well, from what I have read (I’m no expert). Ricardo for example made many of the true observations that Marx did, before Marx.

As for the things that Marx said that were “new” or original, such as that the proletariat would rise up and revolt, and win - well that didn’t happen. Or the intransigence of the class war - that was not accurate. In many cases (pretty much everywhere that’s a good place to live nowadays) the rich, “upper”, powerful classes recognized that it’s just plain decent to change things, work things, run things, in such a way that the poor have a chance for good lives.

The idea of “permanent war” between the classes, it’s not correct. There is a certain element of truth to it, or perhaps better to say, the vision it conjures, looks kind of like the real world. Upper classes do self-identify and loathe the idea of becoming lower class, etc. But the resemblance is only partial, fuzzy, distorted. “Permanent class war” just isn’t a good and accurate portrayal of how things actually work in the real world.

The debate about Marx, and how much or little he was right, was tiring and tired out a long time ago.

The commentor compares Marxism to the theory of General Relativity. Theories can be hard to understand, and they can be debated. But there is another way to judge a theory, other than by being an expert. It’s possible to state the value of a theory by evaluating its fruitfulness.

If you look at the theory of “the ether”, that putative substance that waves were once supposed to travel through - technically it was discredited by the Maxwell-Morley experiments (going by memory here). But that refutation itself is not so easy to understand, especially for a non-physicist. There still seems room for doubt, argument.

But the theory of the ether, failed in an important way. Trying to use it, put it into practice, figure out what its implications might be and then utilize those implications - that all failed. It didn’t add anything.

The theory of relativity, of course, does yield all sorts of useful, demonstrable, real-world fruits. Such as GPS technology, and on and on, the list is very long.

I don’t know that Marxism ever yielded any fruit that wasn’t poisonous, bitter.


So the March and October revolutions never happened. The worker revolutions in Germany that were quenched in blood by the freikorps never happened, the Chinese revolution never happened.

Pretty much everything you say demonstrates that you are not familiar with Marx’s work. You only “know” it from what some western publications opinioned about it. That’s a generalized problem. People who dislike Marx are people who never even attempted to read Marx, and who equate his work with communism or socialism or class struggle, which is a complete fallacy.

The guy said there are classes and they have opposing interests…can you argue that?
Oversimplifying it he also said that the upper classes exploit the lower classes…can you argue that?
He described a system that’s almost mathematical, based on means of production, ownership over said means of production, and a complex system he called production relationships, and he described how in any system, there is a natural evolution towards an imbalance between these elements, which in turn create an objective need for change.
This is so common sense that no sane person would deny it.

Marx described the world in a physicist way, where progress leads to imbalance and society needs to change in order to find a different stable structure, namely achieve balance.
That’s exactly what has been happening since the beginning of human societies, but to people that have no clue about Marx’s work, Marx has to be wrong cuz’ capitalism is right.

What he was describing was something that could happen, not what would happen. It’s true that currently America is veering towards monopoly, but it is certainly not true in virtually every other Western nation. Some countries looked at Marx’s prophecies and decided to legislate against it and successfully so.

The problem with the committed communist is that he wants this process to happen, so that it can herald in the bloody revolution. This is despite of the fact that the more balanced free market capitalist societies have proved themselves measurably better than communist societies in almost every respect.

To be fair, having looked into the Soviet Union it did quite well on education and lifespan, but so did the Western democracies, with the added bonus that about 75% of people own their homes, enjoy much higher livings standards and are presented a blistering array of consumer goods which they can enjoy. The British Working Classes have been emancipating themselves for some time- namely by telling their boss to go stuff themselves and working for themselves, a condition which is more common than not these days amongst highly sought after trade professionals. They don’t want Marx, they have their little England. And the same is true of virtually every country where communism was tried and ultimately failed.

Marx might have been useful in telling us what to guard against, but his proposed solution is a place where only an ideologue would want to live, and it is little wonder that given the fact that the proletariat are generally the least ideological, they are usually the ones who are also most vehemently opposed to living in a ‘worker’s paradise’- especially if they happen to come from a former Eastern bloc country. Unions? Yes. Social Democracies run using free market capitalist systems with larger social safety nets? Of course. But communist utopias are something they want nothing to do with- they like owning their own homes, big TVs, nice cars, great armchairs, eating out at nice restaurants and foreign holidays too much.

Perhaps failed is the wrong word to use- let’s try utterly rejected instead. These days only the intelligentsia or naive students seem to be fans of communism, all too cognizant of the fact that often their over-priced education will only qualify them for working as a barista. More broadly, communism can only happen in societies where the ruling elites are too stupid to govern in their own self interest- which, again, means finding a balance between real economy workers and capital.

As usual, my essay are to be found on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:


Good point!
Which is why capitalists will look to oppose Marx at every turn… Marx set his ideology as the antithesis… so you can’t blame all those who are playing for the “thesis” team to be against him at every turn…

Power comes from the barrel of a gun… someone said… (I wonder who?). Unless you are willing to commit revolution through violence, you are wasting your time with Marx. No self-respecting capitalist would give Marx the time of day… he is completely corrosive to their purposes.


“It’s possible to state the value of a theory by evaluating its fruitfulness.”

“Trying to use it, put it into practice, figure out what its implications might be and then utilize those implications - that all failed. It didn’t add anything.”

“I don’t know that Marxism ever yielded any fruit that wasn’t poisonous, bitter.”

Such a great comment. Spot on.

Marx had a theory. Yeah there’s this thing called class. He got some things right. But you put his theory into practice, and it all goes to pot….and never has it NOT gone to pot.

A thing that sounds good but never works, would be considered garbage by most people most of the time…or so you would think. Or might be fine as a piece of art to gaze at, while taking a break from gazing at your navel. But definite junk as a scientific article.


A twitter post & thread on class that may be relevant. Link

Uhhh, I really don’t want untold tens of millions people to die (again) while some other to be named country can try to prove out Marxism for real this time. These aren’t theoretical objections.


Me neither. But if they go down that road, it;s entirely their business. Any group that chooses Marxist revolution now, after all the evidence of its failures, deserves their inevitable outcome.

1 Like

The classes also have congruent interests at times as well.

Yeah, this I would argue. Some of the upper classes may “exploit” the lower classes at different points in the capitalistic system. But not every single interaction is exploitative. Not even close.

Agreed there is a natural evolution toward the Pareto principle type outcomes in any given activity (economic or not). That wasn’t an original insight by Marx. But objective need for change? No, I would push back on that. The sole fact of inequality, even substantial levels of inequality, in and of itself is not any sort of scientific or objective basis for revolution. That’s a totally subjective values judgment Marx imposed on capitalism, essentially judging the accumulators to be guilty of an irredeemable and mortal sin punishable by death or imprisonment.


Thanks, Skeptic. I agree. Marx was wrong over and over and over (cf “Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson). But more succinctly, Churchill said: “Capitalism is the unequal sharing of wealth, Socialism is the equal sharing of poverty” (sadly, he was slightly wrong…the .1% had enormous wealth…or at least power, resources, and sex.)

But going back a little further…which we should not forget…Adam Smith NEVER talked about “Capitalism”…the system he proposed, he very simply called “…the natural system of liberty”.

Yes, please, I would like some more of that.

1 Like

Your ignorance is becoming obnoxiously loud, you are articulating your ignorance as fact, you are talking about things you have no clue about.

For your info, Marx did not describe something that could happen, he described the workings of the capitalist system, in a scientific way, period. Yes i know that’s too hard to fathom for someone who didn’t read a word of what Marx wrote, but still insists on pushing uninformed pompous rubbish opinions as fact.

Except Marx made no prophecies, but by all means keep making nonsense statements like this.

More nonsense. Committed communists made this process happen a century ago, there were revolutions followed by a very complex history, of which you know nothing about. You insist on conflating century old history with present events, on the background of a total lack of knowledge and understanding of either.
You also insist on calling me a committed communist, when all i did was state that communism was not as bad as the western propaganda tried to make it look like.
In a proof of your self absorbed arrogant and vain personality, you call me “a Russian expat communist who never lost his religion”.
You were not even able to figure out i was not Russian, but Romanian, despite me stating so, and not a communist, never been one and i stated so, communism is not my religion, i just tried to say that it was not as bad as some people say…you are not able to figure out a recent conversation, but you seem to be an expert in everything.

Once again, Marx did not tell anyone what to guard against. Marx described in scientific terms the functioning of the capitalist economic system.

Marx did not propose any solution in his “The Capital”, but thank you for proving beyond a reasonable doubt your ignorance on the subject.

Despite your crazy style, i have a lot of respect for you, you make some crazy good points.
But i have to correct one important thing.
Marx did not create an ideology at all.
Seriously, all this dude ever did, was to describe in scientific terms the functioning of the most advanced system at the time, namely the capitalist system.
He made no prophecies
He did not propose any ideology
He suffered a lot during his lifetime, (which ended long before the first revolution, he did not even finish his work), because his analysis of the functioning of the capitalist system was not very flattering to the middle and high classes.
Power always comes from the barrel of a gun, always been like that, and the crossing of the Rubicon was a shining example. Would be nice if that changed at some point, wouldnt you agree?
About your point of being “willing to commit revolution through violence”…its a valid point as no revolution was ever made without violence…or without an army of sorts.

Also another important thing you said, namely that “no self-respecting capitalist would give Marx the time of day”…
That’s actually not correct, the purpose of any self-respecting capitalist, is to make sure that we, the people, don’t give Marx the time of day. That’s why they give Marx the time of day on a regular basis in the media, someone up there is still afraid that some people down here might get the crazy idea to read what the dude had to say.

1 Like

A picture which was largely incomplete and inaccurate. I’ve already demonstrated that small and medium-sized non-scalable enterprise encompasses significantly more of the economy in a modern advanced nation than the power of a few large scale corporate operations, effectively diminishing the power of capital to deplete ‘living labour’, and by this criteria alone Marx’s theory proves invalid. This doesn’t mean that large corporations don’t have power- they do, and in the monopolistic context they exercise it most over consumers, but it is simply that they don’t possess significant power over labour, to the extent that they can strip labour of its price by more than a couple of dollars an hour.

To put this into context, Amazon is the most powerful single capitalist entity in the history of capitalism. In the Tristate area, the standard rate for warehousing and distribution jobs was $24 an hour. Currently, Amazon has pushed this figure down to $18, but other sources show the average associate makes closer to $21 an hour. By the time labour has finished organising and built a PR campaign which has the potential for a somewhat adverse effect on Amazon’s bottom line, they will probably end up $2 shy of the previous existing labour rate, which was broadly reflective of labour value.

Sure, it’s true that in some countries like Denmark and Sweden a forklift driver might be paid $70,000 a year. But first we have to remember that forklift drivers are better paid than most warehouse and distribution workers. Second, union negotiations in Nordic model countries are more likely to include an element of ‘give and take’- in this case they will argue down the labour rates made by engineers and other highly paid technical staff, in order to raise the pay of less qualified workers. That’s their choice, if workers choose to avail themselves of collective bargaining, but it also might be one of the factors driving engineering start-ups in the Nordic countries, with a ready made niche of automating away lower value jobs. Much of the work done on self-service tills was first done in Denmark.

My point being that the strongest capitalist entity in history doesn’t seem particularly powerful in terms of its ability to affect the price of labour.

In addition, I argued that the primary means of raising living standards, of material progress, is labour stripping- eliminating jobs through productivity gains after a market is saturated (which is not completely saturated, because the price point dictates the size of the market). You stated that there were other means of creating material progress, but then didn’t elucidate- just as Marx didn’t when he imagined that communism would provide gains in productivity (I suspect he imagined that his future communist state would gain its wealth by subjugating inferior peoples (re: his letters)). Of course, you are correct in some ways, there are forms of material progress which don’t entail labour stripping- technological innovation and better products is one- but there problem is that they don’t deliver abundance and ready availability unless they also comprise labour stripping.

In this case it is exactly the part of the process which Marx critiqued, the depletion of ‘living labour’, which actually led to the massive gains in productivity and abundance we see today. A good example of this relates to food- even though much agricultural progress had been made by 1920, with large portions of labour being removed from the land (increasingly being deployed to urban centres), it is still true that a labour unit of value can buy seven times as much food today as it could back in 1920.

The other problem with Marx is that he advocates for a dilettante approach to living which inherently strips labour of its commercial value. Specialisation is exactly the process by which individuals can increase their labour value and improve their standard of living. All those other pursuits which Marx envisaged should rightly be relegated to the role of hobbies and interests, and constitute bad advice to young people.

So Marx is wrong on three counts- one that capital only gains influence over labour, it doesn’t gain power over its ability to set its own labour rates (because people have the choice to work for employers other than concentrated capital) and the very process which Marx critiqued, the process of removing living labour, is exactly what historically emancipated people from desperate need (although wants are another matter). Finally, his view on specialisation are inimical to the pursuit of the human commercial value, and the status and sense of self-worth it conveys. People like being good at what they do, and being valued for it- and in this sense his attitudes are likely to leave people with unrealised potential.

OK, sorry about that. I must have missed it in our thread, although it might be the case that we had two parallel lines of debate open at the same time and I simply missed one of your posts (it’s one of the few failings of Discord).

We are arguing on the basis of different priors. You are addressing Marx in a theoretical sense, I am addressing Marx in terms of his theory’s practical applications and history- and as to my understanding of Marx, it’s by no means extensive, but I have read him. We both have very good reasons for arguing our specific positions, and both know why the other person is taking the practical vs. theoretical view of Marx- and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

My position would be that any social, philosophical or economics theory has to be judged by its real world impacts, and not simply the quality of its ideas. In the case of Marx, the chief problem is human psychology- any system of ideas which stokes a Manichean belief in ‘them vs us’, or the politics of resentment and grievance, is inherently prone to pathological invasion by bad actors, particularly of the dark triad type.

This doesn’t mean that socialism won’t produce charismatic leaders who genuinely care about the downtrodden, but unfortunately it also means that it will draw in dark triad demagogues who are able to manipulate the masses feelings of resentment and grievance to their own advantage. The problem is that the bad socialist leaders inevitably end up murdering or politically displacing the good socialist leaders, which is where socialism’s inherent totalitarian leanings stem from. And I know that other power hierarchies have this feature as well, there are corporate psychopaths for example, but they are rarer than people think, it’s just that socialism tends to draw the dark triad types in like moths to a flame and unleashes powerful feelings in the masses, which are easy for these types to exploit.

This Quillette article does a pretty good job of showing how certain political and social movements can be prone to pathological invasion, and it’s as true of Marxism as it is of these more modern social tendencies:

This doesn’t mean that Marxism is always bad. Simply that it’s a peculiarly bad means of achieving social or political transformation, unless we are talking about the more constrained and girded ‘limited’ socialism which was present in Western Europe in the second half of the Twentieth century. And it’s also a useful lens for critiquing current social and economic systems. It’s just as a practical system it leaves a lot to be desired. But generally, it has several major flaws in the way it perceives society and economic functioning.


Nicely done.
I stand corrected.
On this point, you are absolutely right! In fact, perhaps capitalists should spend a bit more time with Marx, if only to be sure what the critique is all about. Marx himself spent a lot of time enmeshed in the critique of capitalism. His theories have proven to be quite antithetical to their efforts. So, in the end I think you are absolutely correct. Capitalists need to understand Marx and his ideas… if only to better defend against them, or provide an alternative.

Obviously. Marx made many true observations and that was surely one of them and I doubt many would dispute it. Is there ever going to be a binary answer as to Marx being right or rong?

If so, a whole lot of socialists and communists don’t understand themselves very well.

We’re not living under real capitalism.

Annoyingly the story doesn’t specify the reason behind the contempt fine ($250K) but still notable as there is no mention of a single customer being dissatisfied or harmed anywhere in the reports.

So what exactly is Miller’s crime?

Slaughtering and processing the meat he raises on his own farm and selling it fresh-frozen to members of his private food buying club, who’ve all signed contracts stating they understand the meat is not processed in USDA-inspected plants, or treated with USDA-required chemical preservatives… because that’s how they want it, and the very reason they are willing to go to such great lengths to get it.

But the USDA thinks his customers are too stupid to think for themselves and need them to come in and protect them from themselves.

You probably don’t know (because I didn’t until Miller told me) that all USDA-licensed processing plants are required to treat ALL meat (even the local, grass-fed, organic variety) with synthetic preservatives. Miller said:

“Often they use citric acid, which you’d think comes from oranges or lemons, but it’s a modified substance made from corn… and they don’t even have to label it on the meat.”
Anke (who preferred not to use her last name), a customer who handles Miller’s website and other modern communications (because he’s Amish), told me:
"The USDA processing plants require the meat to be treated with a chemical cocktail of citric acid, lactic acid and peracetic acid. The peracetic acid is toxic and the citric and lactic are GMO. It’s not lactic acid coming from the fermentation of sauerkraut. It’s all created in a dish in a lab. It’s a synthetic sterilizer that causes many health problems."
Miller said:
"Our members don’t want any of that. They want fresh, raw meat, with no additives. Our members want it straight from the farm with no preservatives on it. As a farmer, you could invest all your energy and money producing the most healthy, nourishing meat and at the end of the day, you are ruining your meat sending your animals to a USDA facility for slaughter."
Additionally, USDA-approved processing plants aren’t allowed to sell certain organ meats and glands for human consumption. “The very nutrient-dense organs, that seem to help people, they want to ban,” Miller said.

Even if the USDA didn’t require preservatives and allowed the sale of organ meats, it still would still be nearly impossible for Miller and other small farmers to make a profit with Big Meat processors acting as middlemen. And the cost of becoming licensed by the USDA to process their own meat is too steep.

“The rules and regulations are such that you have to get into debt $100,000 before you ever sell your first pound of meat, and the market’s not guaranteed. There’s no option for farmers to start small and add on and buy equipment as they can.”
The USDA is basically telling us
“either get a license or go out of business. And our position is we’d rather go out of business, because their rules and regulations are too hard to follow. We have many small farmers in our area that would love to be farmers, but the business has gotten so monopolized.”

And yet these regulations do not apply to water buffalo, rabbits, fish etc:

Anke pointed out the hypocrisy that farmers are legally allowed to slaughter and sell water buffalo, rabbit and fish without a license:

"He can slaughter them in his backyard, at the front door, in his living room — it doesn’t matter — as many as he wants. There is no regulation for water buffalo or rabbit. If it’s just about food safety, why don’t the buffalo and rabbit pose a food safety risk? Because it’s all about profit and money. They want a monopoly on beef, pork and poultry.

"It used to be in our country that you are innocent until proven guilty. They have no evidence, no proof. We have never been in court to debate accusations. They are basically saying unless you go through federal inspection, you are making people sick.

"If that’s true, I should be dead, because I’m drinking raw milk, I’m eating raw eggs, I eat raw liver. I am thriving on this type of food and so are many of our members.

"We want to turn it around and take the USDA to court, so that we are the prosecutors, and they are the defendants. Let them take a sample of our meat, take it to the lab and a get a sample of the bacteria and compare it to the meat they sell at the grocery store. But they won’t do that."

The one on contempt of court by Miller (again vacuous):


Mere vulgar observation.

Pardon sir it is yourself who is obnoxiously loud. Geary is almost certainly the most respected member of this community and his opinions are always grounded in familiarity with any subject on which he posts. You have just made an ass of yourself.