Orwellian Propaganda on 1984
What is 1984 really about?
Editor's note: This article is merely my theory based on deductions I made after studying the evidence. Don't take this article as historic fact, instead think of it as a way to interpret history.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know about Orwell’s problematic positions and I am well aware of problems in his earlier works. I also believe that his politics changed as he aged.
In critical reading, there are two theories on how to interpret literary works: Authorial intent and "Death of the Author." Authorial intent is the view that author's intentions matters and literacy critique should confirm to "decode" the author's intention.
Death of the Author is a more recent theory by French philosopher Roland Barthes. He argues that the author is merely a scriptor and the reader should be free to interpret the text as the reader sees fit and relevant.
JRR Tolkien probably has the most extensive notes about his characters that have not made it into the cannon of his books. For example, present-day critics often interpret eurocentric racism in his works. Under Authorial intent, we would look for clues on what Tolkien intended. In one of his letters to his son, he compared the British and Americans to the villains of the Lord of the Rings:
It would be at least some comfort to me if you escaped from the R.A.F. And I hope, if the transfer goes through, it will mean a real transfer, and a re-commission. It would not be easy for me to express to you the measure of my loathing for the Third Service – which can be nonetheless, and is for me, combined with admiration, gratitude, and above all pity, for the young men caught in it. But it is the aeroplane of war that is the real villain. Moreover, nothing can really amend my grief that you, my best beloved, have any connection with it. My sentiments are more or less those that Frodo would have had if he discovered some Hobbits learning to ride Nazgûl-birds, 'for the liberation of the Shire'. Though in this case, as I know nothing about British or American imperialism in the Far East that does not fill me with regret and disgust, I am afraid I am not even supported by a glimmer of patriotism in this remaining war. I would not subscribe a penny to it, let alone a son, were I a free man. It can only benefit America or Russia: prob. the latter. But at least the Americo-Russian War won't break out for a year yet.
Unless there is another piece of evidence to the contrary, this would end the dispute under authorial intent.
Under “Death of the Author”, if someone reading the book, in the midst of the War on Terror, felt that society portrayed them as if they were orcs, it would be a valid interpretation.
There is no right answer or wrong answer on literacy criticism and the author's intent. Depending on which philosophy you subscribe to, you may come to a different conclusion as to whether you agree with my theory.
Was George Orwell really describing life under Communism when he wrote 1984?
Under the authorial intent, there isn’t much evidence to say one way or another. The only illumination Orwell gave about his writing is from the essay Why I Write. He said, "The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."
Orwell who died shortly after writing his book, never further elaborated on what his book represents. Ironically, Orwell in his book, said:
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink .'
In the 1950s, the US and the UK were going through rampant anti-Communist purges and began the Cold War. The US "Party line" became "1984 is an allegory for life under Stalin" and this lie repeated enough times now becomes the truth.
If we read the book using “Death of an Author”, several passages would contradict the claim that George Orwell created an allegory to warn against communism:
Income Inequality and Tyranny
It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which WEALTH, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while POWER remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away.
-1984 (Page 240)
Deliberate Poverty and Misinformation
In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population….It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.
-1984 (Page 242)
Orwell seems to think that poverty is a necessary factor in a tyrannical government.
I posit that George Orwell was describing a different government. A government more familiar to him. Like many authors, Orwell drew bits and pieces from his experience when creating this dystopian science fiction novel. In 1984, Orwell describes Winston's place of work, the Ministry of Truth. His description was that it was "startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 meters into the air."
It is a perfect description of the Broadcasting House, where the BBC has its headquarters since 1932. George Orwell worked as a radio producer for the BBC during World War II. He hated his time at the BBC and described it as, "something half-way between a girls' school and a lunatic asylum."
Orwell was in charge of the radio programming for India and East Asia. During World War II, they had the extremely difficult challenge of convincing populations that had lived under 200+ years of English colonialism that the English are, indeed, better than the Nazis (which is a hard task). Especially since during this time, the British engineered the Bengal famine that killed nearly 4 million people. It was also made difficult by the fact that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion."
Not only did Winston Churchill use poisonous gas in Syria to quell anti-colonial uprisings, he also advocated for their use in Northern India. He also called poison gas "more merciful." On top of that, the British created concentration camps in South Africa and were responsible for the Amritsar massacre. Not to mention British colonialism ended with the mass-extermination of aborigines in Australia. I can only imagine the logical leaps the BBC had to engage in to justify their moral high-ground. Hence, 2+2 = 5.
George Orwell was in charge of the BBC radio show called,"Through Eastern Eyes." George Orwell always wrote it. Indian intellectuals, under strict scrutiny, read the script, to deceive people. The programming was the opposite of what it claimed to be. Hence, we get the slogans: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.
Imperialists have always been very fickle about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. For example, the US armed Noriega one day, and then waged a war to overthrow him. Saddam Hussein was our preferred guy for 20 years, and then suddenly, we fought a war against Saddam Hussein to "liberate" Kuwait. The Mujahadeen are heroes of freedom and soon we are fighting the War on Terror against them. We are always at war with Eurasia and we have always been at peace in East Asia and it suddenly turns around half-way through the book .
George Orwell later observed: “The BBC as far as its news goes has gained enormous prestige since about 1940 … ‘I heard it on the radio’ is now almost equivalent to ‘I know it must be true.'" This sounds like the telescreen that always spewed out propaganda from 1984.
Room 101 is a torture chamber. Room 101 was also the conference room at BBC, where Orwell had to sit through unending meetings. Presumably, any transgression would be followed by a lecture from the manager.
As for Big Brother, a man with dark hair and a mustache who oversaw everything:
This was Cecil Graves:the director of the BBC during World War II.
Reading sections of the chapter entitled War is Peace, it is hard for me to believe he wasn’t talking about the British empire.
Most importantly, Orwell wanted to illustrate that there is no external enemy and that the external enemy is created by propagandists who want to deceive the masses. I'd like to think that Orwell was offering a warning on our own society. He wouldn't want us to conveniently pin the dystopia on the enemy of the day. Instead, he wanted us to examine our own societies and see if we had the proclivity of turning into an Orwellian nightmare.
We can’t have a piece on Orwell without examining our own press, its distortions and its lies. Here is an example of all the lies about we were told before the Iraq War.
Amnesty International’s confirmation of the incubator babies that didn’t really exist:
Stack of Corpses
Serbia’s Secret Plan to Arm Saddam Hussein with WMDS
Saddam Hussein/Al Qaeda Connection
And the grand finale:
With that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. I hope to create a health skepticism of those in power as you go about your day!