Comrade Beardy Simon has been on. He habitually devours Orwell as if the emaciated Old Etonian (Orwell, that is, not Beardy Simon) were some sort of festive sweetmeat. He has dug out a tremendous essay of his, which concerns itself with fun and human happiness. In it, Orwell notes that Comrade Mrs Lenin read Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol aloud to Comrade Lenin on his deathbed. Lenin found its ‘bourgeois sentimentality’ absolutely intolerable, which Orwell sympathises with to an extent. That Dickens can paint a picture of fun and happiness under capitalism is to Lenin unacceptable poetic licence. But to Orwell it is sociologically interesting: “The Cratchits are able to enjoy Christmas precisely because it only comes once a year. Their happiness is convincing just because Christmas only comes once a year. Their happiness is convincing just because it is described as incomplete.”
What follows is a splendid exploration of Utopia, taking in Huxley, Wells and Morris, amongst others (read the whole essay – it’s excellent). But, as is always the case with Orwell, he never strays far from the vision of a better tomorrow that socialists share and, in those days, that socialists never tired of discussing. He acknowledges that,
“clearly we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable.”
And then Orwell hits us with something beautiful (if rather ‘gendered’ by today’s standards). And this is the message we want you all to take with you this festive season.
“I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.”
Many of you will have seen Comrade Josie Long in comedic action this year. She has been finishing her show with our very own “I Can See The Future”, which makes this point far less poetically than Orwell, but with a bit more RnB behind it. Here it is:
Have a lovely break, comrades. Two days off. Consecutively. The movement did that for you. That’s something worth reading Dickens for. A reminder that Bob Cratchit was not a member of a trade union, and had he been there’s no way Scrooge would have recognised it. More to the point, whether or not he was entitled to paid time off for Christmas was at the whim of his employer. So at this time of year, let’s not forget what it is all really about: don’t forget what the movement’s done for you. But more importantly, don’t forget where we’re going, and be ready for the journey. Are you ready?