Kevin Van Meter
Orwell (Among the Anarchists and the Working Class)
Revisiting the work of George Orwell, who was born this day in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair, has been a reoccurring theme in my life and work. One of the aspects of this own writing and experience that is often ignored or underplayed is his attention to working class life. In Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Homage to Catalonia and other works Orwell sought to document and amplify the complexities of working class life. Actually, the image here is drawn from a collection titled George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists): Essays and Photographs (Freedom Press, 1998). Orwell paid a comrade, an anarchist, who was down and out themselves to take a series of photos, those are collected therein. Moreover, Orwell reminds those of us who are writers, thinkers, organizers, and "intellectuals" to be humble and understand the work that makes such work possible. On this, I often return to the following quote from The Road to Wigan Pier:
"It is so with all types of manual work; it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence. More than anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of the manual worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our experience, so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins. In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners work. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an “intellectual” and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior."
In 2017 I wrote a short piece, using Orwell, commenting on the early days of the Trump administration (here). If time allows I'll do the same for Biden. But in this moment, for now, on the day of Orwell's birth I'll simply reflect upon how he was often among the anarchists and the working class.