How much relevance does Orwell have today?
Orwell thought of himself as a member of the "dissident left," as distinguished from the "official left," meaning basically the British Labour party, most of which he had come, well before the second world war, to regard as potentially, if not already, fascist. More or less consciously, he found an analogy between British Labour and the Communist Party under Stalin - both, he felt, were movements professing to fight for the working classes against capitalism, but in reality concerned only with establishing and perpetuating their own power. The masses were only there to be used for their idealism, their class resentments, their willingness to work cheap and to be sold out, again and again.
Orwell seems to have been particularly annoyed with the widespread allegiance to Stalinism to be observed among the Left, in the face of overwhelming evidence of the evil nature of the regime. "For somewhat complex reasons," he wrote in March of 1948, early in the revision of the first draft of 1984 , "nearly the whole of the English left has been driven to accept the Russian regime as 'Socialist,' while silently recognising that its spirit and practice are quite alien to anything that is meant by 'Socialism' in this country. Hence there has arisen a sort of schizophrenic manner of thinking, in which words like 'democracy' can bear two irreconcilable meanings, and such things as concentration camps and mass deportations can be right and wrong simultaneously."
Well, yes and no. Specific predictions are only details, after all. What is perhaps more important, indeed necessary, to a working prophet, is to be able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul. Orwell in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own - the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the Third Reich and Stalin's USSR, even the British Labour party - like first drafts of a terrible future. What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living?
What has steadily, insidiously improved since then, of course, making humanist arguments almost irrelevant, is the technology. We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith's era. In "our" 1984, after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of computer technology circa 2003, most notably the internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old 20th-century tyrants with their goofy moustaches could only dream about.
Read the full article. It might actually make sense...The interests of the regime in Oceania lie in the exercise of power for its own sake, in its unrelenting war on memory, desire, and language as a vehicle of thought. Memory is relatively easy to deal with, from the totalitarian point of view. There is always some agency like the Ministry of Truth to deny the memories of others, to rewrite the past. It has become a commonplace, circa 2003, for government employees to be paid more than most of the rest of us to debase history, trivialise truth and annihilate the past on a daily basis. Those who don't learn from history used to have to relive it, but only until those in power could find a way to convince everybody, including themselves, that history never happened, or happened in a way best serving their own purposes - or best of all that it doesn't matter anyway, except as some dumbed-down TV documentary cobbled together for an hour's entertainment.
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