George Orwell: "1984"
By Peter Ulber
[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.dergrossebruder.net/main.php?id=7N00n.]
George Orwell's world success "1984" appeared in 1949. Orwell's real name was Eric Arthur Blair. The visionary novel alludes to National Socialism defeated a few years before, Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union and the imperialist economic efforts of industrial nations. Orwell planned the novel in 1948 with the original title "The Last Man in Europe". The action is set in the near future at that time, 1984. The number is the reversal of the year when Orwell decided on the final title of the book.
The world is divided into three superpowers Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia. These powers are in permanent war with one another. An oligarchic minority (the inner party) with Big Brother at the top rules the former British territory. With the help of the secret police, they control the functionaries, the so-called outer party. The spying of the thought police transpose them into a state of pathological fear. People are nowhere secure any more. Big Brother lurks everywhere, mediated by interactive surveillance televisions, thought police or conventional spies or informers with the outer party.
"Whoever controls the past controls the future.
Whoever controls the present controls the past."
George Orwell "1984"
The common people of the Prolls are excluded from the party, vegetating in mental captivity. The rule of the inner party is fortified by the common enemy Emmanuel Goldstein. By means of daily hate rites, the cohesion of party members is strengthened in the miserable economic situation. Under these conditions, neither historical truth nor justice exist.
"War means peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."
George Orwell "1984"
The starting point of the novel was Orwell's fear that English intellectuals could succumb to the temptations of totalitarian power thinking given the uncritical stance toward Stalin at the end of the thirties.
"... the older men, nurtured in a Liberal tradition are safe, but the younger generation is suspect and the seeds of totalitarian thought are probably widespread among them".
George Orwell's 1949 press report
We could ask how far Orwell's fears are corroborated today. "1984" should not only be read as an anti-communist writing. Rather "1984" turns against all totalitarian forms of rule whether disguised as communism or openly manifest in National Socialism. The more subtle elements of totalitarian power structures appear in Orwell's horror vision.
So terms like Big Brother - known to everyone since the reality-soap of the same name - don't remain misunderstood metaphors, we remind everyone that "1984" is not only a really exciting science fiction novel but contributes to sensitization toward totalitarian power structures. A democratic society depends on its citizens recognizing these tendencies on time and seizing counter-measures. We can and should learn for our future from dystopias like 1984, not only from history.
1984 was translated into countless languages. Recently there was a play in the German language. 1984 was filmed several times. The book should be preferred to the visual version.