From the March 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard
George Orwell is in the news. "1984," written in 1949 just before his death, and "Animal Farm" which he wrote in 1945—and for which he could not find a publisher whilst the war was still on—are now "best sellers." Quite recently T.V. audiences were subjected to the horrors of "Big Brother" and the torture chambers of the Ministry of Love (Miniluv in "Newspeak") on their telescreens; and a film of "Animal Farm" is now running at a cinema in the West-End of London—complete with a less despairing ending! Other books by Orwell such as "The Road to Wigan Pier" and "Down and Out in Paris and London" have sold regularly for many years; although perhaps his best book, "Homage to Catalonia" is less well known. The reason for this is, no doubt, because he puts a view on the Spanish Civil War unpopular both to the Communists and the politicians of the Western Powers of the time.
Why, then, is Orwell in vogue? Partly because he has a message for working people, and partly because his writings, particularly "1984" and "Animal Farm" can be used by the Western ruling class in its propaganda war with the Soviet Union, China and the Iron Curtain countries. To our local propagandists "Big Brother" and "Comrade Napoleon" represent a Stalin or Malenkiv. But surely Orwell's message is that these totalitarian tendencies can and do exist in Britain, America, Spain and elsewhere. In fact anywhere that capitalist society with its coercive state structure exists; anywhere that private property, exploitation, and our so-called "welfare-warfare" system prevails.
Not only Soviet Russia but all countries have their secret and state police, their jails, and their laws protecting private property and exploitation of man by man. Russia has its M.V.D., Britain its M.I.5., America its F.B.I.— and "1984" its Ministry of Love!
Orwell's telescreens and Party informers are not so fantastic either. Soviet Russia has long been the classic home of the informer; although the Soviet authorities have recently attacked the abuses of the system. And McCarthyism and the Un-American Activities Committee are well known to all Americans.
An important aspect of "1984" society is the three slogans of the Inner Party: -
WAR IS PEACE.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
This is the "double-think" of "1984." But is it much different from the double-think of 1955? Are we not fighting for "democracy" in Malaya? Is not Spain one of the "free" nations of the West? Are not the Communists "fighting" for Peace? Is not "New China" a "Democratic" dictatorship? And so on.
George Orwell may not have been a Socialist but he understood more of the contradictions and tendencies of our present society than most people. And although not a "great" writer he was able to pin-point these problems and tendencies in an interesting and popular way. In "1984" and "Animal Farm" he gives a warning to the apathetic "couldn't care less" masses; unfortunately he has no answer to these problems and totalitarian tendencies in capitalist society. Only the Socialist has that.
Peter E. Newell