The Ugly Truth - The Ideas of Karl Marx and George Orwell and the Trouble of Classes

The Ugly Truth

Karl Marx and George Orwell both attempt to demonstrate that their ideas are the solution to the troubles between classes. Marx presents ideas derived from the rise and fall of various classes throughout history while Orwell presents socialist ideas taken from his own experiences.

While both their ideas dealt with the conflicts between the bourgeoisies and the proletarians, there are many key discrepancies in their discussions of these class conflicts. Marx, as he explains in his Communist Manifesto, believes the bourgeois revolution has changed the basic aspects of society. He says, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real condition of life, and his relations with his kind” (223). When he says “All that is solid”, it represents the basis of social structure while “holy” symbolizes the moral standard. Consequently, these changes force men to confront their distorted lives and the impractical ideals held amongst mankind. Even though on the surface, Marx and Orwell agree that there were changes in social structure and moral standard, they came to different conclusions as to what those changes were. Orwell agrees that the bourgeois revolution has changed the basic aspects of society, but his idea of social structure and morals are completely different from Marx’s view. According to Orwell, people refused to have “sober senses” necessary to face reality that they could never ascend to the level of the bourgeoisie. Orwell establishes that capital is only a single factor that goes into the bonds forged between men.

Class distinction is a significant feature in both Marx’s and Orwell’s theories; however, Marx defines class distinction solely by capital whereas Orwell defines class distinction by both economic and social values. Marx believes that the “solid,” capital, is the basis of social structure. A capitalist society is built on its economy, thereby increasing the importance placed on money. “Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex” (Marx 228). In a Marxist view, it is key to note that an individual’s economic worth becomes more important than the individual. Individuality is almost non-existent because “age and sex” are meaningless in capitalism. Instead, individuals are transformed into instruments of labor, simply existing as a means of production. Men are judged by their economic worth, which is what determines their class. Marx categorizes men into one of two possible classes, stating that “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat”(220 Marx). The existence of these two classes is a direct result of the capitalist economy; as a result of such an economy, it becomes impossible for an individual to journey across the vast chasm that lies between the two classes. Marx talks about the idea of abolishing private property, and says, your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class.

(Marx 239)

The bourgeoisie has the “will” to maximize their wealth by increasing their “production and property.” That “will” of the bourgeois is then made into law and the proletarian has no choice but obey. Marx concludes that this is a result of predefined “economical conditions.” The bourgeoisie, whose “economical condition” is far above that of the proletarians, are therefore defined as the higher class who controls all the power. In other words, wealth determines class therefore assuring the bourgeois dominance over the proletarians.

Although Orwell also defines social structure by class distinction, he factors in social values as well as economic values. Orwell is from the “lower-upper- middle class,” a class that does not exist in Marx’s view of social structure. Orwell illustrates his understanding of class structure when he states “the essential point about the English class-system is that it is not entirely explicable in terms of money” (Orwell 122). He clearly rejects Marx’s statement on social status being entirely dependent upon economical condition. Orwell also rejects the idea of establishing only two classes. In Burma, Orwell observes a society in which “there was no obvious class-friction, because the all-important thing was not whether you had been to one of the right schools but whether your skin was technically white (Orwell 141). In this society, what determines class is race, regardless of their economical conditions. He also observed the failure of a two class theory in Europe, explaining that there are many who “live, so to speak, at two levels simultaneously” (Orwell 123). Orwell, having similar childhood experiences, states “the correct and elegant thing, I felt, was to be of gentle birth but to have no money. This is part of the credo of the lower-upper-middle class” (Orwell 138). They are the class that is economically inferior to the rich bourgeois, but distinguish themselves from the lower class with their customs. They refused to be associated with the dirty and uneducated lower class while at the same time struggling to be a part of the upper class. To Orwell, “there are countries where you can predict a man’s opinions from his income, but it is never quite safe to do so in England; you have always got to take his traditions into consideration as well” (Orwell 122). The “opinions” of a man has reflected his status and it is more than just money but also “traditions” that define his class. These traditions included habits, manners, and smells. Those in the upper class must know how to wear nice clothes, order dinners, tip servants, and shoot and ride because those are customs that distinguish them from the working class (Orwell 123). Overall, Orwell concludes, economically, no doubt, there are only two classes, the rich and the poor, but socially there is a whole hierarchy of classes, and the manners and traditions learned by each class in childhood are not only very different but-this is the essential point-generally persist from birth to death.

(Orwell 224)

It seems natural that class has been determined since birth. Although Orwell agrees that Marx’s two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletarians, exist, he goes on to elaborate that they are distinctly economic classes that do not cover the entire spectrum of social classes, which are determined by specific class customs.

Changes in social structure cause the modification of moral standards, which affects the relationships between people. Marx states, “the holy has profaned,” that is what was previously honored or respected is now ignored by society. People are forced to face “his relations with his kind”—the idealistic relationships amongst people. The “holy” values, for example family, are actually non-existent because the primary driving force behind class division is capital. He says, “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation” (Marx 222). Marx establishes that under capitalism, societal roles are purely determined by wealth—men are no longer are valued as individuals, but rather are only judged by how economically profitable they are to the bourgeoisie, thereby transforming the basis of the relationships between people into one defined by self-interest. Orwell, on the other hand, believes that class-prejudice, not economic differences, is what causes oppression and hatred between classes. Through oppression, “an attitude of sniggering superiority punctuated by bursts of vicious hatred” (Orwell 124). Hatred is the single thread which separates the various classes. The middle class exemplifies this trait whilst struggling to define who they are; they often oppress the working class in order to distinguish themselves from the lower class, even though they are economic equals. Hatred was passed down from generation to generation, as it sets the basic idea of connections to survive. Orwell is educated under the same morals at school, “As a child, one of the most dreadful things I could imagine was to drink out of a bottle after a navy” (Orwell 130). In English society, respect is only reserved for the upper class. Any aspects associated with working-class looked upon as dirty and disgusting, and one must embrace hatred in order to distinguish themselves. The idea of equality does not exist in society except amongst the lowest of the low, “it is a sort of world-within-a-world where everyone is equal, a small squalid democracy-perhaps the nearest thing to a democracy that exists in England” (Orwell 155). Orwell’s first experience of equality is among the slum. They do not discriminate against each other. They do not need to insult each other to be superior because they are already at equal levels. It is very ironic that amongst the uneducated, dirty, smelly lower class, there is respect and equality whereas higher moral values do not exist amongst the bourgeoisie.

As society deteriorates, Marx says people at last turned to face reality, but Orwell says the people avoid reality. People were at last uniting and confronting the problems caused by the bourgeoisie. Class distinction has created difficulties to the proletarians, but “ the modern labourer(proletarians), on the contrary, instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class”(233). The reality is that the proletarians are getting lower and lower in the social hierarchy. With their “sober sense”, the proletarians are finally facing their conditions and therefore they must seek change. According to Marx, the only resolution is to abolish class through communism. Orwell, on the other hand, disagrees with Marx. Orwell began by describing his experiences in which the lower-upper-middle class people were struggling so hard to take hold of the customs that the upper class embraces. They still hope to be the better people. People went to India to satisfy their desire to be part of the upper class. Many lower-upper-middle class people went to India to practice the manners of gentleman because in India their economic can support such lavish life style. It was “easy to play at being a gentleman” (Orwell 124). To “play” to be a gentleman, is because they lower-upper-middle class cannot afford but refuse to abandon the upper class image. In England, lower-upper-middle class is also grasping to the upper class image. “Practically the whole family income goes in keeping up appearances” (Orwell 124), because they fail to recognize reality. The unwilling thoughts to accept reality that they technically belong to the lower class have resulted in such actions.

Marx’s manifesto was written to remind people of the harsh reality that he believed was difficult for them to face and so forth make a change. Oppositely, Orwell was convincing the people to take a step back to real socialism as he explores the various social problems. They both agree the society has serious issues underlying the class system, as bourgeoisie is the main reason to the conflicts. Marx stats the society has only one value, the economical value which determines everything in its relation. Economical value is the common factor in both Marx and Orwell’s social structure, except the difference is that Orwell also includes social value. Marx and Orwell successfully revealed the unpleasant truth of the society nakedly to the open crowd through the texts.