My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party, of which I am a supporter, but as a show of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. (Orwell's Letter 509)
George Orwell's novel 1984 is recognized as a work of communist satire, influenced by a contemporary of Orwell's, Stalin, and his actions in regard to the Soviet Union. Orwell himself was a socialist, and extremely pessimistic about the future of world society. Socialists before him "had not despaired because they had their Socialism. Orwell's despair was based on the knowledge that much of this 'Socialism' had in practice become debased and corrupted." (Atkins 37) 1984 was Orwell's response to the corruption of Socialism by the Soviet Union, and made clear Orwell's own anti-Totalitarianism, which is a term encompassing both Communism and Fascism. (Atkins 31) The influence of Stalin's Soviet Union upon 1984 is clear in the similarities present between Stalin and Big Brother, the society of Oceania's clear connections to that of Russia at the time, and the hierarchical and family conceptions in both Oceania and the Soviet Union.
The character of Big Brother was Orwell's fictional representation of Stalin, with everything from Stalin's slogans to secret police working their way into 1984. Even Big Brother's facial features are reminiscent of those of Stalin. (Freedman 98) Like Big Brother, after Stalin ascended to high rank he "concentrated all power, material and spiritual, in his hands." (Heller 247) His power and words altered the entire makeup of the country. Short slogans, such as those Big Brother supposedly coined for the three ministries- the ministries of peace, love, and truth- dictated the policies and ideology of the country. The three phrases for the ministries were "War is peace", "Freedom is slavery", and "Ignorance is Strength". (Orwell 7) Similarly, Stalin would, within the course of a few years, use a series of sayings such as "Technology decides everything," "Tempos decide everything," and "Cadres decide everything." With each new phrase, the government would change, sometimes subtly; sometimes drastically. (Deutscher (Stalin) 350-370) Stalin could also make unrealistic proclamations and they would still be accepted; for example he said "life has become more joyous," and the citizens, whose comrades were being eliminated and killed for betraying the homeland, had to rejoice. (Heller 247) The power of words was reflected by Big Brother, for when he announced that the chocolate ration had been raised to 20 grams- only a day after it had been reduced to 20 grams- there were "demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to 20 grams a week. Was it possible that they (the citizens) could swallow that, after only 24 hours? Yes, they swallowed it." (Orwell 51).
Both the citizens of Oceania and those of the Soviet Union were extremely susceptible to such government propaganda. The Party members under Stalin "closed their eyes to Stalin's machinations and willingly accepted black as white in order to stay in 'the stream of history.'" (Heller 289) The Soviet Government wished to proclaim a truth about everything, and that "truth was Marxism, and only the party and its leader knew it for certain." (Heller 290) Similarly, the citizens of Oceania could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding, they remained sane.
In defiance of such parallels existing right before their eyes, some sought to deny the reality of Orwell's depiction. Their views are summarized by one critic, Atkins:
However, the use of fear and oppression to maintain power was common during the time when Orwell wrote 1984. Stalin's reign had entered the period known as The Great Terror, which lasted from 1936-1938. No one was safe during this time, for even mere personal ties with those branded the enemies of the people was sufficient reason to arrest someone. (Heller 303) Stalin warned that the enemy was everywhere, and anyone could be an informant and a traitor. Betrayal of the homeland was a crime punishable by imprisonment, then death. "Purge Trials" were held in which artists, historians, writers, and many others were killed. (Deutscher 1 369) In the society of 1984, this is echoed, with everyone under constant surveillance for any sign of traitorous notions. Those who showed the slightest idiocincracy or unusual tendency would be imprisioned by the Ministry of Love and "re-educated" or killed. (Orwell 8)
The members of society in 1984 most at risk of being targeted by such extreme measures were the lower class, those outside the "Inner Party." Orwell portrays a definite class system in his work, for "though membership in the Party and Inner Party is not hereditary, both groups might be considered classes on account of the definite hierarchy in economic standard of living." (Freedman 100) This reflects the class system under Stalin, in which those who worked their way into his favor were given enough privileges to separate them from the lower, unfavored classes. These privileges ranged from better food to good positions and apartments. Yet even the favored groups were but a step away from the general proverty and famine among the population, as the a man who fell from favor would quickly lose those benefits. (Heller 263) This is echoed in 1984, when shortages of needed items were common even among the favored, for "at any given moment there was some necessary article which the Party shops were unable to supply. Sometimes it was buttons, sometimes it was shoelaces, at present it was razor blades. You could only get ahold of them, if at all, by scrounging more or less furtively on the 'free' market." (Orwell 43-44) The free market was run by the proles, who were considered almost a sub class of humanity and overlooked by most policies and social purges.
It was in these overlooked classes that Orwell placed his faith:
Stalin and the Communist Party, like Big Brother and the Inner Party, ignored the prole laborers except as an excuse for the revolution. (Heller 242) According to one of Orwell's orthodox characters, Syme, "the proles are not human beings." If the proles had stood up and rebelled against the government, it is quite possible that the government might have been overthrown in both the case of Stalin and that of Big Brother. As the diplomat S. Dmitrievsky recognized, there was a potential threat to Stalin arising from the peasants, as "the victory of the peasantry within the country would be a victory for the West, for its fundamental conception of the individualism and liberalism in political life." However, the same principles that held true in the 1984 society were true in the time of Stalin- the proles did not think of rebellion, for they were not yet "conscious." Any notion they might have had involving betrayal of the homeland was squelched by the laws of the land.
Collective action was even more hindered by the fact that in the society of the Soviet Union, betrayal was a family matter. Policy dictated that the members of a family became "collectively responsible for any flagrantly criminal deed committed by one of them." Obstinately such polices existed to demonstrate that "the state was interested in reviving a strong family." (Wolfe 103) However, each Soviet family had to accept a new member- the Soviet state, a watchful older brother acting to keep the family in line. This is reflected in the pattern of Oceania's society, where citizens feared even their children were spying on them for some sign of disloyalty to Big Brother, as "hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak- 'child hero' was the phrase generally used- had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the thought police." (Orwell 26) Yet the 1984 society was not interested in strong families, as they felt "the only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party." (Orwell 57)
Stalin's reign of terror lasted until 1963, when he passed away after World War II was fought. This was years after the publication of 1984, which had its first edition in 1949. In Orwell's work, Winston despaired that there was no way of knowing that the rule of the Party would not endure eternally. (Orwell 25) Perhaps if the novel had been written after the rule of Stalin, then Orwell would have taken a more positive outlook. As it was, 1984 ended on a depressing note, with the last resistance to the domination of the Party swept away and replaced with devotion to Big Brother, the fictional Stalin. One difference between the fictional Big Brother and Stalin is that Stalin was but a man, doomed to die eventually. Big Brother probably was not even alive during the time of the story, for the only way anyone would know of his death was through the Inner Party informing them. And with Big Brother the symbol for the power of the Inner Party, they were not likely to inform anyone of his death.
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