Revisiting Orwell’s 1984

George OrwellBy Richard Mynick for the World Socialist Web Site:

Since first appearing in the popular lexicon, the term “Orwellian” has conjured up a vision of the prototypical “totalitarian state”: a one-party dictatorship that swarmed with secret police, spied on its own people, quashed dissent, made arbitrary arrests, tortured prisoners, waged perpetual war, rewrote history for mere expedience, impoverished its own working population, and rooted its political discourse in doublethink—a thought system defined as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

Many Americans would easily recognize this description of “Oceania,” the futuristic dystopia immortalized by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the most influential English-language novels of the mid-twentieth century.

Whether many Americans recognize that this description applies to their own society as well is another matter. But since the theft of the 2000 election—a period marked by such events as the 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Iraq based on fictitious “WMD” (weapons of mass destruction), the torture scandals, and the 2008 financial crash—it’s a point that increasing numbers of Americans seem to be grasping.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in June 1949, amid rising Cold War tensions. For most Western readers, the book was readily interpreted through the anticommunist prism of that period.

The novel’s police state bore an obvious resemblance to Stalin’s USSR. Coming from Orwell—a self-described democratic socialist who was deeply hostile to Stalinism—this was unsurprising. But while Orwell was too clear-sighted to conflate Stalinism with socialism (writing, for example, “My recent novel [‘1984’] is NOT intended as an attack on socialism…but as a show-up of the perversions…which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism.…”[1]), his Cold War-era readership was often blind to this distinction…

[continues at the World Socialist Web Site]

  • tonyviner

    I still contend that the way people speak in text messages, on facebook and Twitter, even spilling over into real life, is becoming more and more like Newspeak. If you have not noticed it I urge you to start paying attention to how we are starting to communicate with one another. Lol.

    • swabby429

      I agree, tonyviner. It's pandemic. Like you “LOL”.

      • tonyviner

        See, you get it!

  • Hadrian999

    first time i read 1984 i was in a bunker in iraq,
    very eyeopening, surprised it wasn't moved out of fiction to political science at the bookstore yet

  • dumbsaint

    “Until they become conscious- they will never rebel, and until after they they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

  • cakeypig

    Very interesting indeed – most of the articles detailing comparisons between 1984 and present day that I have read on the interenet are very one dimensional, e.g CCTV=telescreens etc. but this piece is far more intelligent and thought provoking.

  • nemoide

    “I love Big Brother.”

  • oman28

    Excellent article. My thoughts exactly.
    I liked the quote from Marx.“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

    I first read the book at high school in the late '70s where, ironically, it was used as an anti communist propaganda tool.
    When I read the book again in the '90s I realised that Orwell was illustrating that communism and democracy are essentially the same thing.I think it's time for another read.

    However, unlike In China at least I am free enough to express my thoughtcrimes here………….

    • Zenc

      For now.

      Don't worry though, Cass Sunstein and friends are on the case.

      • oman28

        Damn. This guy proposes

        'that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government.'

        The thought police are coming. I think we're all in the shit

  • Rarian Rakista

    We have become a country guided not by principles but by prejudices and as we embark on the 21st century with the underpinnings of an authoritarian state being implemented through the dispiriting abuses of executive, congressional and judicial powers we must ask ourselves, is it time?

    • tonyviner

      It has been time, good luck getting anyone on board, though.

  • resigned

    A fascinating article, but he doesn't discuss, at all, the falsehood of revolution. Orwell's fictional Goldstein also makes the point that political upheaval merely transposes the higher ruling class with the power-hungry middle class, The low class is simply a heavy tool wielded by the middle class in order to attain the power they so desire. After the “uprising,” the proles go back to their hopeless existence still dominated by a separate ruling class. In the immortal words of Roger Daltrey, “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”

    • tonyviner


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     Whether many Americans recognize that this description applies to their own society as well is another matter.