Recently I read George Orwell’s famous novel – 1984. In it he describes a utopian totalitarian society where party controls everything, such things like past events, the thoughts of its citizens. He completed writing this book in 1949 and the novel was supposed to draw parallels with Soviet Communism by that time. The title of novel came from the idea that if things were to continue as it was at that time, by 1984 totalitarian communism will come to such point as described in the book.
The events described in the plot happen in London. By that time the world is divided into three superstates: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia. Britain is part of Oceania and now called Airstrip One. The political systems and ideology in all three states are more or less same. Oceania is involved in continuous wars either with Eastasia or Eurasia. The society in Oceania is composed of Big Brother on the top, Inner Party members, Outer Party members and proles (пролетариат) who make 85% of population. There are four ministries, names of which means opposite to what they do: Ministry of Truth – main job of which is lying to population, Ministry of Plenty – makes resources deliberately scarce, Ministry of Love – deals with tortures, and Ministry of Peace – deals with wars. Party devised a new language called Newspeak by oversimplifying traditional English (like instead of good/bad, using good/ungood, cold – unwarm, good/better/best – good/plusgood/doubleplusgood). That was meant to make citizen even dumber (it is hard to express complex thoughts when you have very limited vocabulary) and better control them. There was another means of controlling people called telescreen. It is a technology that can transmit audio/video information in both directions. It was used by party to obsessively control the lives and even thoughts of citizen.
Main character of the book is a man named Winston Smith, a member of Outer party, who works in Ministry of Truth. His main job in that Ministry is to literally rewrite history, i.e. change the names of people in past newspapers, journals, books as if that person never existed or change the economic numbers in all past media press as directed by party. He is conscious enough to recognise that something wrong with this regime. He starts writing diary to express his thoughts in writing. He hides this act as it is prohibited to write diaries. It was prohibited to do anything unorthodox. Even thinking unorthodox was considered as thought crime and persecuted by Thought Police. Children were taught to check parents whether they behave unusual, think unusual and if so, report to Thought Police.
He secretly hates Party and wonders whether there was any group of people who think like him. Eventually he finds another party member O’Brien whom he considers as a like-minded person. And one day they meet and discuss about this and O’Brien tells him that secret underground resistance group against party indeed exists. O’Brien handles him a book called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism which described how the society worked in reality and how party members were able to retain power for unlimited time. Then Winston is caught by Thought Police and O’Brien just pretended to be a member of resistance. O’Brien tortures him to the point when Winston starts loving Big Brother.
There are several interesting points in this book:
- While it may seem that this is just fiction, a lot of things were influenced by real events, mostly by Stalinist regime in USSR. You can find such events following this link in wikipedia
- We can find some methods of total control described in the book even in our days. Take, for example, Prism program by the US (famously leaked by Edward Snowden) that did (or could do) similar surveillance on people just with different medium (internet vs. telescreen)
- The description of the political system is quite similar to the one, I imagine, in North Korea
- You can find other parallels if you notice.
I can highly recommend reading this book and I really liked it.