What are journalists talking about when they refer to our presently evolving culture as an Orwellian dystopian nightmare? George Orwell was a British journalist and socialist who was very concerned about the plight and problems of the working classes. Well into the Civil War in Spain he travelled there to report on and possibly to participate in the resistance of workers against a despotic Fascist dictator.
One night in Barcelona he witnessed a horrific slaughter of street people mowed down by Stalinist socialists using machine guns. He wanted no part in such communist activities and was able to flee to France. The experience had a profound effect on the way he viewed socialism. He continued to support the Workers’ Party and still considered himself a socialist but he saw that an ideology whether from Right or Left, from Socialist or Fascist, can be radicalized and become a force of power to be feared.
World War II devastated most of Europe and Great Britain suffered attacks as well. By war’s end Orwell was ready to publish a cleverly composed allegory describing the history of communism from the socialist ideas of Lenin and Trotsky which succeeded in overthrowing the tzarist regime, to the eventual bloody scourges by which Stalin enforced conformity to his radical lust for power and control. This did not go over well with the elites in Great Britain. They looked upon Stalin as one who had saved them from almost certain destruction by Fascist Hitler and his mob. The story involved a group of pigs who convinced all the animals to take over a farm, change its name and run it to benefit all equally. A set of seven commandments was agreed on and all went well for a while. Eventually a few sought power invested in one in particular. The seven rules were replaced with one slogan: All are equal but some are more equal than others. Those who did not comply were eliminated, the rest cowered in fear and the few ruled from an elite position while the lesser members worked slavishly to maintain the farm.
Orwell was turned down by major publishers. One less known accepted the commission and was remunerated handsomely as the work was received well throughout Europe and also in the United States. There followed a demand for his other works and he was kept busy by magazine publications at home and abroad. Not all were so enthusiastic. Some reexamined his works and printed malicious misinterpretations. He was suspected of harboring fascist ideas. At times his notes and papers were confiscated and former colleagues avoided him. All these things contributed to the production of his last and best known work, 1984.
An almost biographical novel set in a place called Oceania, the main character, Winston Smith, tries to fight back against situations that Orwell experienced in real life, not just paranoid imaginings as some claim. Smith detests “Big Brother’s” relentless surveillance everywhere. He has a job in the “Ministry of Truth” and is responsible for rewriting history by destroying and rewriting newspaper articles. “Newspeak” is a dictionary department responsible for erasing words from the English language. The “Thought Police” arrest and frequently make people disappear. Negative thoughts against the Party is a crime. Occurring events must be rearranged to suit a new narrative. Orwell went so far as to show that past history needed to be obliterated. Monuments must be torn down and documents destroyed so that all memories of the past could be erased. Present history could be manipulated to mean whatever the state wanted it to mean. Anyone not in conformity would be arrested. This ultimately happened to Winston. He was tortured and humiliated until his mind was rearranged. Successfully brainwashed, he was released having discovered a newfound love for the Party.
Orwell claimed he was not making a prediction. He wanted to warn people what could happen sometime in a not too distant future if what he was disclosing were allowed to go unchecked. The 84 was the reversal of 48, the year of publication and arbitrarily chosen as the not too distant future. At the time it all seemed so farfetched. These things might happen in China, North Vietnam, North Korea and other places but not in democracies such as Great Britain and the United States. As dire as it sounded, Orwell was hopeful that the power of the proles, the common working people, would rise up and push back against any such totalitarian attempt to take over one’s country.
When 1984 rolled around in real time just 36 years after publication, the novel was republished with a sigh of relief here in the USA. President Ronald Reagan was in the White House, Pope John Paul II was in the Vatican and Lech Walesa had in 1983 been awarded the Nobel Prize for the solidarity movement he inspired in Poland which had toppled the USSR stranglehold on his country. The total dissolution of the totalitarian regime would collapse on May 13, 1989. The USA and the Vatican had financed his efforts.
But not so fast! Another 36 years passed between 1984 and the year 2020, the year in which a radical left socialist fraction in the Democratic Party gained control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Over the summer and the past few months we have seen the narrative unfolding before us. Confused, some are asking, “What do we do now?” There are two choices. We “deplorable racists” can cower in fear as did the inhabitants of Animal Farm and Oceania and dumbly accept the role of slaves in a totalitarian regime. OR we can rally behind a strong figure like Lech Walesa and push back to retain or regain the rights and freedoms granted to us by our Creator and guaranteed by our Constitution. May we learn from history and chose the latter option!