Some people see 1984 as an anti-communist screed and to a certain extent, it is. It was one of the first salvos of what would become the ‘totalitarianism’ meme, a Cold War attempt to try and draw comparisons between the fascists and communists who, before that point, where seen as two inherently opposed and contrasting forces, basically night and day. Indeed, some of the communist influences on the book are undeniable. ‘Big Brother’ is described as a mustached man with piercing blue eyes and handsome features-clearly a reference to Stalin (and perhaps Hitler), while Emmanuel Goldstein is clearly Trotsky, people call each other ‘comrades’ and so on. But these things are mostly surface level.
Some boomers still believe 1984 is set in Russia and is a more or less accurate depiction of the Soviet Union, but it’s actually set in London, within a larger superstate called Oceania. Oceania is basically the British Empire merged with the United States which has also conquered Latin America. Ultimately, then, this is supposed to be less a screed against fascism or communism, and more a prediction of where Britain was heading, at least in Orwell’s eyes.
And that’s why it’s worth looking at. 1984 is a very Anglo dystopia and ultimately an exploration of Anglo culture and politics.
Maybe the most telling aspect of Oceanic society in that regard is the ‘Anti-Sex League’. If nothing else does, this should tell you that this is about Anglos, it’s not the Germans, Italians, Russians or Chinese who are notoriously weird and prudish about sex.
But there’s other things. Even though the name for the ‘Ministry of Truth’ was likely inspired by Pravda (‘Pravda’ means ‘Truth’ in Russian), everything else about it was inspired by Orwell’s time working for the BBC. The Party pushes ‘newspeak’, a heavily abbreviated, terse form of language more or less engineered to be thought-terminating. “Stalinist” propaganda was nothing like this, it was notoriously verbose, often belaboring the point well past redundancy. On the flip side, ‘newspeak’ had already been more or less an Anglo tradition by the time Orwell had written the book. The United States loves its acronyms so much, it’s become a thing to just refer to federal agencies as ‘Alphabet Soup’, and British tabloids are often have headlines like “BOJO’S BREXIT BOOM”.
But the thing central to liberal society more generally, and Anglo states in particular, is ‘doublethink’ and the idea of having an evolving narrative where the past shifts. With ‘doublethink’, you have people being presented with two contradictory pieces of information, and accepting both as true. This might be most exemplified in their official slogan.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Which might as well be the official slogan of Anglo-style liberalism. The war office of the United States is still called ‘the Department of Defense’ and it’s normalized that invading and attacking other countries has something to do with defending the country and, somehow, preserving peace. All ‘freedom’ means in Anglo-Protestant countries is bourgeois authority, it’s literally just a slogan that allows the ‘right’ of the bourgeoisie to exercise their class authority as they see fit. The freedom-mongers are often opposed to anything and everything which would give greater liberty to anyone else for, you see, that would infringe on bourgeois class authority. Because freedom is slavery. And, of course, these are countries where ignorance is actively praised, where simply being taught forbidden information is tantamount to corruption and true and loyal citizens simply do not know what the criticisms of their society are and do not care to know. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
And, as anyone who follows the native English speaking world knows, it is very much about controlling the past to control the present and getting people to accept an evolving narrative. Bush is actually a good guy. The Iraq War? Basically never happened at this point. Trump is bad now, but watch as his same exact policies are now progressive under Biden. And then join in the Two Minutes Hate against the Great Enemy of the week, ~Venezuela~ I mean Iran, eh I mean, Russia, excuse me, Eastasia, we were always at war with Eastasia.
And that’s how I think we should view 1984. Not about fascism or communism or “totalitarianism”, but a deconstruction of Anglo liberal politics.