1984
George Orwell

by

Karim Chandra

Context

1984 was published in 1949. It was not long after the end of Stalin’s despotic rule in the 1930s as well as the devastating Spanish Civil War, (1936 and 1939), and finally, the Second World War, (1938 and 1945). From 1929 until his death in 1953, Stalin was the undisputed leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During his reign, Stalin orchestrated the rise of communism in which all private property was seized and made communal. All the wealth belonged to the members of a community and was to be used for the benefit of everybody. However, unlike the Socialist principles laid down by Karl Max, where the ownership of production belonged to the working class, Stalin did not grant this right.  Instead, Stalin ruled with an iron fist, trampling upon the fundamental rights of the citizens. It is also not possible to forget the ruthlessness with which Stalin removed opposing organizations in the country with bloodshed and paranoia hallmarks of Stalin's administration. During this period, Stalin used the secret police to torture, brutalize and subdue suspected enemies. Many people died under mysterious circumstances while a significant portion also disappeared, never to be seen again. These events have parallels in 1984 with Orwell introducing the dreaded concept of vaporization. A lot of people simply vanish in the book, in addition to public records also being destroyed, leaving behind a trail of horror that was unprecedented. These fictional horrors based on the realities of Stalin’s Great Purge, (1934-1936) where many people disappeared, taken to prison or killed and buried secretly.

The Shadow of Stalin also loomed large in the Spanish Civil War. Stalin funded the socialist Republican Government as it battled against the fascist Nationalists. Paranoia had taken control of Stalin, and he found imaginary enemies in the Nationalists whom he thought were against his administration. Thus, he funded the Socialist Republicans to neutralize the Nationalists for his self-preservation. The fight between the Nationalists and the Republicans had devastating effects on the country. The bloodshed was unbearable. As a fervent Socialist, Orwell joined the ranks of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacian Marxista), one of the many factions that made up the socialist left. The fractious nature of the different socialist groups led to his neighbors becoming his fiercest critics. POUM were also targeted by Russia’s dreaded NKVD due to their links with Leon Trotsky and Orwell's close friends and allies were captured and interrogated. Setting the seeds of paranoia that come to life in 1984.

The Second World War was another event that demonstrated the damaging outcomes of totalitarian regimes. Through the Nazi policies and powerful resources, Hitler reigned terror on nations that he deemed to be bearing undesirable qualities. These included Jewish people, who bore the greatest brunt of the Nazi wrath as well as Romani’s and homosexuals. Although the Allies finally won the war, the damage that the conflict caused to Europe was extensive. Economic opportunities were lost while relationships among nations were either strained or destroyed. In Nazi concentration camps, this group of Jewish, Romani and homosexual people were treated as ‘nonpersons’. This classification removing the moral and social objections that might otherwise stop the heinous crimes that occurred. In his narrative about the vaporizations, Orwell uses the term, ‘Party unpersons’, just a short jump from the concept of ‘nonpersons’. The Nazi Party, just like the Inner Party and the Outer Party in ‘1984’ used operatives supportive of their cause to destroy critical evidence. In the late 1940s and the 1950s, the world's attention was turned to uncovering the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. In this work, Orwell looks into the ramifications of a regime that is not made to take responsibility for its actions.

1984 made an immediate impact on its readers. It appeared to many readers as a prophetic work that would appear to be immensely relevant to the European continent. The work was termed as a political prophecy and clearly spoke of the rise of technology as well as a divided and partisan media. In the 21st century, 1984 is still tremendously relevant. The adjective, Orwellian, is one of the products of this work. It is applied to refer to the totalitarian and dystopian future.

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