Dictatorship of the People: Orwell’s 1984 as an Allegory for the Early Soviet Union
A government of an ideal society is meant to represent the people. It is the people’s choice to support, to select, and to seize government. The idea of open communication is employed as a way for people to choose the best representative. With the hope that people are good in nature, corruption is supposed to be abolished by the people. Once they are aware of their own government, they are in control. However, not all societies are allowed to be; there is always interventions from the group in power. There are societies where an individual is a property of the state, and their minds are duplicates of everyone else. In these societies, individualism is a defectiveness of the mind, and all defects are fixed.
The society proposed by George Orwell in the novel, 1984, (hereinafter referred to as “the Novel”) is a sample of one of these societies. This is reflective of the history of Communist Russia (hereinafter referred to as “Russia”). Government controls such as propaganda and the installment of daily surveillance were routinely implemented with the purpose of aligning the public with their ideology. Oceania, which is ruled by the Party, and Russia were similar in how they functioned and originated. They both seized power through a series of lower-class uprising; secured a position of omnipotence by eradicating the upper-class except for a sole representative; and restricted free-will through the formation of a secret police.
Similarly, both nations were forged by a series of revolution. For both Oceania and Russia, revolutions were started with the promise of freedom to the lower-class. However, this was simply a tool for “the Middle [to make] revolutions under the banner of equality, and [to establish] a fresh tyranny as soon as the old one was overthrown” (Orwell 211). Likewise, one of the initial Russian revolutions — which caused the Bloody Sunday in 1905 — aimed to overthrow the emperor, Tsar Nicholas II. The Revolution of 1905 was led by Father Gapon, an Orthodox priest (Ulam 204 – 205). He convinced the demonstrators that the “march was to be peaceful” and “they were going to … relieve the misery of [the Emperor’s] people and to grant them freedom.” (Ulam 205). However, Father Gapon’s “fantastic vision of the Emperor summoning him … to rule Russia” was derailed by the massacre that occurred during the march (Ulam 205).
As for the Party, its intentions for the initial revolutions were just the same. The idea was to promote public interest to propel personal ones. This is detailed in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, also known as the book, (hereinafter referred to as “Goldstein’s Book”). It states that initial revolutionaries were hungry for power, so they recruited the lower-class as their way for a coup d’etat before “thrust[ing] the Low back into their old position of servitude” (Orwell 210). This is the ideal population, since it is the largest group and they typically feel oppressed by the upper-class. Upon the promise of any type of relief, they will follow this new leader in hope of liberation. This idea, along with the leader’s influence, will then spread due to desperation. Thus, the true power of the lower-class is the sheer size of it.
Nevertheless, the initial revolutions went awry for the revolutionaries in Russia, yet the demonstrators shown a fighting chance against the Tsar empire. During the Revolution of 1905, its “militancy and violence” was for the purpose of “push[ing] the middle class to .. an overthrow of autocracy” (Ulam 204). This ultimately led to the insurrection in the February Revolution of 1917. The main revolutionaries were grouped under the Bolshevik party. Led by Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks successfully removed Nicholas II from the throne and established a Provisional Government (Curtis).
Although Russia was once a monarchy, the Novel never mentioned the former government of Oceania in details. Nevertheless, there were “hereditary aristocracies” with a “father-to-son inheritance”, so the former government may have been a monarch (Orwell 218). In addition, the Oceanian history book states that “[t]he chief of all the capitalists was called the King”; hence, it is very likely that Oceania was once a monarch like Russia. The importance of this detail is to determine if there was an availability of assumed freedom. Compared to the government that the revolutionaries established, the monarch was seen as being distinct from the general public. For a supposedly democratic society, the public supports the government more, because it is viewed as a selected representative of public interest. As for a monarch, the public typically feels forced to obey, since it did not provide the availability of choice to the public (i.e. they have no said in government). To expand on that, the public is usually born and raised with acknowledgment of the monarch but without appreciation for it. This situation becomes critical when the revolutionaries spread news of “terrible oppression, injustice, [and] poverty” (Orwell 93). Suddenly, the public gains a energizing realization that will empower the revolutionaries to overthrow the monarch.
Aside from that, the ultimate intention and action of Russia and the Party were usurpation. This is what Goldstein’s Book meant when it stated that “[t]he aim of the Middle is to change places with the High” (Orwell 210). After a successful insurrection, it was time to assume power over the lower-class. For Russia, the Bolsheviks spread propaganda that dissolved a majority of the Provisional Government’s armies. This was the start of the October Revolution of 1917, also known as the Bolshevik Revolution. Slowly, the Bolsheviks launched a victorious attack on the Provisional Government’s main garrison. Now defenceless, the Bolsheviks took over all of its utilities and government-buildings (Curtis).
Likewise, the Victory brand in the Novel (e.g. Victory Mansions) demonstrates the massive re-branding that the Party had to go through. Items such as housing, coffee, and chocolate are all common commodities that are now controlled by the Party. This creates a physical reliability on the government. As the public becomes less self-sufficient, the government has became a necessity for survival; hence, it has earned the full dedication of the public. Interestingly, the brand, Victory, sets a mood of happiness and optimism as everything is “victorious”. More specifically, the term is for boosting morale, because victory should be of high regard during wartime.
Ironically, the quality of their products are extremely poor, and the Party routinely increases poverty among the public. The goal of this is to make people “stupefied by poverty” (Orwell 198). In summary, the objective of poverty is to remove human desires and restore animal instincts. That is, satisfied people will gain a purpose in life other than survival. With a purpose, they shall pursue knowledge and improvements. Slowly, the public will “realize that the privileged minority had no function” so “they would sweep it away” (Orwell 198). On the other hand, a nation of starving, uneducated people will live in accordance to the simple life cycle of “working, breeding and dying” as opposed to rebelling (Orwell 219).
Not only so, by forbidding the existence of “the free market”, Oceania has shown a transition from capitalism to communism (Orwell 8). Interestingly, the word “Bolshevik” is the root of Eurasia’s ideology, “Neo-Bolshevism” (Orwell 211). In a sense, Ingsoc and Neo-Bolshevism were “each a variant of Socialism … [where] the aim of establishing liberty and equality was … openly abandoned (Orwell 211). This shows that Oceania and Russia were on the same political spectrum of Socialism, since Russia was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As the name implies, Russia was in a transitional stage of Socialism. More importantly, the control of trading would help the Party create a unsustainable population; so that, the Party is their only way to life. Not only will this increase support for the Party, it forces people to either live according to the Party or die.
However, the key to absolute power is the establishment of a despotism. Even though Goldstein’s Book outlines the principles of an oligarchy — a type of despotism — it states that the Party is “different from all the oligarchies of the past” (Orwell 275). As O’Brien explains: “The command of the old despotisms was ‘Thou shalt not’. The command of the totalitarians was ‘Thou shalt’. [The Party’s] command is ‘Thou art’” (Orwell 267 ). In essence, a despotism limits wrongdoings; while, a totalitarian controls actions. Whereas, Oceania controls the mind as well. This is the basis of the thought police, for their goal was to identify and correct any deviation from the Party’s ideology.
Although Russia was not controlling thoughts, there was a constant struggle between the government and religion. After the Bolsheviks came into power, the support for churches rapidly declined. This separation from religion started with the diversion of education from churches to Russia’s Ministry of Education (Von Geldern, “Conflict with the Church.”); eventually, it led to the complete removal and confiscation of the churches’ assets (Von Geldern, “Antireligious Propaganda.”). This restriction on religious practices was, however, not as effective as harnessing the devotion for the government. Opposed to simply removing religion, Oceania concentrated all religious faith to the Party by making Big Brother a god-like figure. This extends to O’Brien’s explanation, for the Party exists closer to a religion rather than a government structure such as Russia’s. This is shown by the Party’s constant attempts of re-educating people. As stated in Goldstein’s Book, memberships into the Party have no “racial discrimination” as long as the “common doctrine” is shared (Orwell 217). This doctrine was never a single idea; instead, it is a way of thinking. It was stated that the Party desires to have “full control of the minds of its members”, i.e. controlling all thoughts, beliefs, and hence the actions of its people (Orwell 222). In fact, this provides a unique hierarchy where “the apex of the pyramid comes Big Brother”, a character that is credited for “all wisdom, all happiness, [and] all virtue” of Oceania (Orwell 216). Accordingly, Big Brother closely resembles a divine figure rather than a real person. If so, the position of Big Brother is secured from any uprising, for it is a concept that can only exist and survive in one’s mind. Additionally, the fact that a divine figure rules the people of Oceania suggests that the Party either is or is using religion to control its people.
The reason for this is the concept of internal reality. The Party focuses on creating a “disciplined mind” in each of its members (Orwell 261). With such, a form of devotion and self-control is established within each member. As one’s conscience states that the Party is unchallengeable, the mind believes and the body surrenders. However, the Party’s main purpose is to have the ultimate decision where “[w]hatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth” (Orwell 261). The reason that this is possible is due to the way that Party members are assimilated. While most governments suppressed their people from wrongdoings, the Party insinuates people into accepting its ideology. With acceptance, it was a choice; it is the individual that wants it, not the government.
Still, a position of omnipotence was not created in Russia until Joseph Stalin came into power. Even though Lenin’s authority was undeniable, his actions were frequently challenged (Ulam 416). Unlike Lenin, Stalin held a series of persecution against the upper-class between the years of 1936 and 1938. This was known as the Great Purge, or the Great Terror (Siegelbaum). While Lenin arrested and exiled suspected traitors (Ulam 464), the Great Purge killed thousands on the ground of alleged terrorism. During this period of time, “arrests and executions of party and state personnel” were made “as part of [the government’s] response to alleged terrorist plots”. In order to excuse these executions, “show trials of former high-ranking Communists” were made (Siegelbaum).
This is the same in the Novel, for there too was a “great purges involving thousands of people, with public trials of traitors and thought-criminals who made abject confession of their crimes and were afterwards executed” (Orwell 47). Most importantly, “the original leaders of the Revolution were wiped out … except [for] Big Brother himself” (Orwell 78). This became a crucial moment in both Russian and Oceanian history, because the death, or “complete intellectual surrender”, of the upper-class would cut off the distribution of power (Orwell 90). Without any disagreement, the upper-class, or person, that survives would be “infallible and all-powerful” (Orwell 216). These are the traits of leader, a guardian. More specifically, the power lies in the unknown. When no one knows the true nature of a leader, their greatness is as true as the government’s propaganda. This is meant to deify the leader. Instead of appearing before the public with impossible promises, announcements are made by an expendable member. Once the public realizes that the promises are unfulfilled, this member shall take the blame and disappear. By doing so, the leader is safe from the public’s accusations of perfidy, for it was an error in interpretation instead of deliberate betrayal. In fact, Oceania’s concept of doublethink puts the fault upon the people themselves. This is not only absolute faithfulness toward the Party but also a complete destruction on the value of truth.
Continuing on, both Oceania and Russia made false claims that were meant to increase morale. For Russia, they took credit for inventions that changed the world (Von Laue 201); similarly, the Party claimed they invented helicopters and airplanes (Orwell 160). The motivation for this is to build a form of patriotic pride that will eventually turn into indisputable support for the government, because it displays the government as being superior and all-knowing. In the Novel, this is aided by the daily control of media and the isolation of the public from the outside world. With such, there are no “standards of comparison” for the people; therefore, the lack of self-actualization would allow the Party to progress as they like without any demand from the public (Orwell 216). Even with promises, the Three-Year Plans that the Party proposed has been repeated for at least nine times without any valid results. The goal of these empty promises is to please the people. Correspondingly, Russia had a series of projects called the Five Year Plan. The first one was meant to increase industrialization, but the effect was counterproductive (Von Laue 194). Similarly, the population of Oceania and Russia were silenced through deceit or from cutting off the flow of information. In essence, the lack of free-flowing knowledge made the Party’s decisions and authority immune from being challenged by the public.
Above all, a form of omnipresent enforcement must be established to control the public. In both Oceania and Russia, secret police forces were formed. For Russia, it was the Committee of State Security (KGB); while, in Oceania, it is the thought police and Ministry of Love. Although the KGB originated from the Third Section of the Imperial Chancery, its function remained unchanged (Ulam 28 – 29). Expanding from “wide-scale political espionage” (Ulam 29), it also participated in “abduction and murder”. Accordingly, targets of the KGB “include[d] even the co-founder of the Soviet state, Leon Trotsky” and “assassinations … have been carried out so skillfully as to leave the impression that the victims died from natural causes” (“Soviet Use of Assassination and Kidnapping.”).
This was not the case in the Novel. If the targets were of the upper-class, they would be denounced as “foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, [or] thought-criminals” (Orwell 26) before being publicly executed; otherwise, the targets would “simply disappeared and were never heard of again” (Orwell 47). However, an omnipresent enforcement is only possible with self-control. This is the purpose of the posters and the Party’s desire to create a “disciplined mind” (Orwell 261). As soon as someone truly believes in the ideology, his or her actions shall follow. Still, deviation does exist, and that is where the disappearances come into play. The physical reasoning for these actions is obvious: exterminating real and/or potential threats. Whereas, the psychological effect is to create paranoia. By arresting “always at night”, the fear and uncertainty can create an unsettling feeling to behave (Orwell 21).
With this mixture of nerve-wracking fear and and undying love, Russia and the Party ruled in a distinct parallel. Their choice in utilizing the lower-class in a proxy warfare to overthrown their original government foreshadowed the manipulative nature of the original revolutionaries. Their motivation was always control. It started with a control of power then a control of the people. Along the way, security of this power became an issue; thus, the chain of command was cut off by displacing a majority of those in power. As for the potential of another insurrection, the populations of Oceania and Russia were placed under constant surveillance by the government. Ultimately, the Party’s solution is a complete control of one’s mental state and logical reasoning through a stream of perpetual re-learning. Using Big Brother as god, knowledge is no longer the truth; divine assent is the sole truth. Effectively, the people are now believers of the Party. Therefore, the Party does more than oversee the people; it lives and dominates the individuals’ minds.
Curtis, Glenn E. “Revolutions and Civil War.” Russia: A Country Study. n.p., 1996. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <http://countrystudies.us/russia/8.htm>
Orwell, George. 1984. England: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Great Terror.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. n.p., n.d. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936terror&Year= 1936>
“Soviet Use of Assassination and Kidnapping.” Central Intelligence Agency. n.p., 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol19no3/html/v19 i3a01p_0001.htm>
Von Geldern, James. “Antireligious Propaganda.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. n.p., n.d. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1924antireligion& Year=1924>
Von Geldern, James. “Conflict with the Church.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. n.p., n.d. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917church&Year =1917>
Von Laue, Theodore H. Why Lenin? Why Stalin?: A Reappraisal of the Russian Revolutions, 1900 – 1930. 2nd ed. New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971. Print.
Ulam, Adam B. The Bolsheviks: The Intellectual and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965. Print.
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