By 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.…”), his Cold War-era readership was often blind to this distinction…
[continues at the World Socialist Web Site]