Sunday, August 3

Brent writes:

Moreover, it's easy to forget that there was a time before 1984 and Animal Farm. Those books made such an impact precisely because they were so shocking to their culture.

We forget that, decades ago, a whole lot of people romanticized the Soviet experience, sugar-coated it, or were just plain ignorant of it. A whole heck of a lot of people living 50 years ago thought that socialism and command-and-control governments were fundamentally good and would inevitably lead to world peace. I'm not exaggerating; many magazines published thoughtful opinion pieces about the shining governmental example of Soviet Russia.

The literary and intellectual fascination with Soviet Russia, and an accompanying blindness to its flaws, was real enough. It's something I need to spend time getting a realistic picture of, since it comes up again and again in the writing I'm interested in, and it still has pretty big repercussions. An Orwell essay I pointed to earlier was principally an attack on said blindness.

However, as regards socialism and the folks who thought it would be a good idea, I'm going to throw out another Orwell quote:

What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalism - that is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned privately and operated solely for profit - does not work. It cannot deliver the goods. This fact had been known to millions of people for years past, but nothing ever came of it, because there was no real urge from below to alter the system, and those at the top had trained themselves to be impenetrably stupid on just this point. Argument and propaganda got one nowhere. The lords of property simply sat on their bottoms and proclaimed that all was for the best. Hitler's conquest of Europe, however, was a physical debunking of capitalism. War, for all its evil, is at any rate an unanswerable test of strength, like a try-your-grip machine. Great strength returns the penny, and there is no way of faking the result.

— The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, Shopkeepers at War

I don't think he was all that right - I don't think planned economies work all that well, or more exactly, I don't think planned economies really exist - but Orwell seems to have believed in their value. I don't think this is a minor point.