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1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication

Thanks to George Orwell, 1984 promises to be a good year for those of us who pay for the groceries by teaching literature. But Nineteen Eighty-Four is a different matter: Nineteen Eighty-Four still lives close to the centre of our society and its culture, as the last few months of bombardment, from beer adverts to sensitive profiles on BBC2, will have reminded everyone. On the other hand, one of the reasons why I was stuck with Oxfam liberalism when I ought to have been old enough to know better was a vague but persistent memory of a 1950s TV production of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This bolted into place in my mind all those concepts — Thought Police, Big Brother is Watching You, Newspeak and so on — that the dominant ideology used and still uses as crippling shorthand for anything mildly to the left of the Monday Club. Orwell seems at one moment to be an odd sort of socialist who doles out half-bricks for right-wing hacks to throw at us, and then, at another, essentially an old Etonian ex-policeman who nonetheless inadvertently wrote things that can substantially undermine some of the assumptions of British capitalism.

He himself is long dead and his books are simply inert lumps of wood-pulp on the shelves: All 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication are in this sense co-authored by readers — in Marxist terms, their production is only completed in their consumption. But the possibilities of that reproduction are not limitless: Texts, in other words, set material limits to the ways they can be read and the tasks they can perform, but for some texts — and Nineteen Eighty-Four is clearly one of them — those limits are broad and a range of conflicting readings and uses is possible.

Where politics and political criticism can intervene, rather than simply leaving it to the dominant forces in the society to impose a particular way of seeing and understanding a book through, say, the packaging of a Penguin edition, characteristic O-Level questions, the specific interpretation in a TV version and so on.

Intervention of this sort is above all worth making in the case of Nineteen Eighty-Four because it has become one of the ideological touchstones of Western society right from its first appearance in 1949 when it was US and London Evening Standard Book-of-the-Month Club choice and was thus at once installed at a level of public awareness far beyond the run-of-the-mill novel.

So, in the US and Britain, it sold over 400,000 copies in the first year and has sold massively ever since: Nineteen Eighty-Four is a text that has formed and this year above all is being energetically used to form the way enormous masses of people see themselves, their world and its possibilities.

  • This is a move much favoured by liberal ideologues and it aims to block any normal criticism of him as a man embedded in particular social and historical contexts with certain limitations and blind spots connected to those contexts;
  • Some say he was alluding to the centenary of the Fabian Society, founded in 1884.

The ideological importance of the book is evident in the fact that, right from the start, attempts were made to hijack its meanings as hostages for reactionary politics. At its most glaring, this also involved efforts to doctor the text in order to make it easier to swallow: But he could do little — beyond the odd gesture like refusing to give the Time-Life correspondent an interview — to influence the thrust of the publicity that at once surrounded the book and sought to dress it up not only as an anti-Communist pamphlet but also as an attack on the Labour Government.

This is not correct. I think that, Nineteen Eighty-Four could happen. This is the direction in which the world is going and the trend lies deep in the political, social and economic foundations of the contemporary world situation.

Specifically the danger lies in the structure imposed on Socialist and Liberal capitalist 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication by the necessity to prepare for total war with the USSR and the new weapons, of which of course the atomic bomb is the most powerful and the most publicised.

But danger lies also in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by intellectuals of all colours. The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: It depends on you. This is fully dealt with in the relevant chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four. These super states will naturally be in opposition to each other or a novel point will pretend to be much more in opposition than in fact they are.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four is published

Two of the principal super states will obviously be the Anglo-American world and Eurasia. If these two great blocks line up as moral enemies it is ob6ous that the Anglo-Americans will not take the name of their opponents and will not dramatise themselves on the scene of history as Communists. Thus they will have to find a new name for themselves. The name suggested in Nineteen Eighty-Four is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. If there is a failure of nerve and the Labour Party breaks down in its attempts to deal with the hard problems with which it will be faced, tougher types than the present Labour leaders will inevitably take over, drawn probably from the ranks of the Left, but not sharing the Liberal aspirations of those now in power.

Members of the present British government, from Mr Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps down to Aneurin Bevan, will never willingly sell the pass to the enemy, and in general the older men, nurtured in a Liberal tradition, are safe, but the younger generation is suspect and the seeds of totalitarian thought are probably widespread among them. It is invidious to mention names, but everyone could without difficulty think for himself of prominent English and American personalities whom the cap would fit.

Henson, an official of the US United Auto Workers, who had been tempted to recommend the book to his members but was disturbed by its warm reception in the conservative press: My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party of which I am a 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralised economy is liable and which have been already partly realised in Communism and Fascism.

I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.

The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasise that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.

In so doing I hope to arrive at an answer to the main question that the text raises for Marxists today, namely, what do we do with it? Do we slide past in embarrassed silence, wishing 1985 would hurry up and we could get shot of the bloody thing? Do we actively combat it as a pernicious book with a pernicious impact? Or is it a text that every revolutionary needs to absorb and learn from to make sure that, when the time does come, this time we get it right?

II Orwell had had trouble finding a publisher for Animal Farm in 1944 and 1945. But four years or so later there were to be no such problems with Nineteen Eighty-Four.

He reacted to the text with delight: The political system which prevails is Ingsoc English Socialism. This I take to be a deliberate and sadistic attack on socialism and socialist parties generally.

It seems to indicate a final breach between Orwell and Socialism, not the socialism of equality and human brotherhood which dearly Orwell no longer expects from socialist parties, but the socialism of marxism and the managerial revolution. After all, to see the persistent use by the Right of the book and its terms over the last 35 years as simply a giant capitalist media swindle is to offer the standard sort of Bennite response which absolves you from any more searching and critical examination of the politics involved.

It seems to me undeniable that in various ways — in the way it is structured, in the values it enacts and in its significant silences — Nineteen Eighty-Four is in the main a reactionary book.

For the future he has little regard because of a concomitant conviction, which the narrat4e 6ndicates, that resistance must be ineffective and change impossible. It is of course for precisely this reason that right-wing and fascist journals tend to carry lots of adverts for clairvoyants and astrologers, as indeed Orwell himself pointed out in an earlier and wiser work.

The proles are an unappetising lump. The only ones who emerge briefly out of the lump and into contact with Smith turn out to be a whore and a half-wit he meets in a pub. More often, as Raymond Williams has pointed out [7]they are seen, in the same revealing but disgraceful metaphor that is central to Animal Farm, as animals, a different species from normal humanity. Hence, above all, like animals they can have no political sense, no ability to look at their own experience and extrapolate the theory that might inform resistance: But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another.

They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones pp. 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication are, of course, massive problems in marrying socialist theory with working-class consciousness, as every 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication is painfully aware.

But in order to construct this grotesque notion of a whole class congenitally incapable of any kind of political sense, Orwell was forced quite simply to distort and to distort in ways that he had practised in The Road to Wigan Pier, as Peter Sedgwick noted: How, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, is production organised?

What are the factories like? What sort of working conditions obtain in them? Are there trade unions? What do they do? What that framing means for the novel as a whole is sourly familiar. If, as most readers and commentators feel, Goldstein is substantially based on Trotsky, then the text at this point drifts beyond mere distortion in to unforgivable slander.

But the women in Nineteen Eighty-Four are constructed along the traditional lines of conservative, male fiction. Thus, in order to allude to three of them in the last sentence, I was forced to describe them in terms of their relationship to Smith because those are the only terms the text supplies.

Even the fourth, Julia, is not sufficiently focussed to be given a surname, an omission that implies her essentially tri6al status for all the space she occupies in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It seems to me no defence to claim that argument along these lines misses the point, that Nineteen Eighty-Four is meant to be a caution about what could happen rather than a rendering of what will be.

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Nineteen Eighty-Four is, sure enough, a warning about the future but at the same time it seeks to throttle the only forces that might stop the warning being realised.

III If the account of Nineteen Eighty-Four given in the last section were the whole truth about the book then we could ignore it as an odd bit of 1940s right-wing graffiti, a mediation in the imaginative terms of fiction of the terrors that haunted the editorial columns of the Daily Telegraph. But Nineteen Eighty-Four is more than that, which is part of the reason why it has lasted while those editorials are long forgotten.

The text I have described is in a variety of places split and disrupted by other, profounder ways of seeing, by attempts to wrest the novel form round so that it can deal con6ncingly with the post-1945 world. The point is that at that time, the autumn of 1945, plans for Nineteen Eighty-Four has been working in his mind for a couple of years and within a few months he started writing it.

Moreover, he knows that such blocks will first redefine Britain as Airstrip One — and with well over a hundred US bases and facilities in this country in 1984 that is at one 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication perfectly accurate.

And second he perceives that the prime function of those blocks is not war against each other but against their own peoples. War or the threat of war provides both the atmosphere and the justification for a variety of 1984 nineteen eighty four and ancient publication strategies — encroachment on civil liberties, manic surveillance of the population, a climate of fear and jingoism that makes mild dissent seem gross treachery and so on — strategies mainly designed to disarm and destroy internal opposition rather than external enemy.

Orwell realised that the conventions of the traditional novel were disablingly inarticulate when speaking to this new order so that in Nineteen Eighty-Four he splits and breaks apart those conventions. To take a typical instance: In this Orwell is particularly astute: The insistences in The Principles of Newspeak — namely, that since we think in and through language then to change the language is to change people, their perceptions and their capacities — ruptures one of the premises of traditional literary culture which posits an unchanging human nature that great works timelessly explore and reveal.

The new world that Orwell wants to nail down demands the new forms of writing that in Nineteen Eighty-Four he supplies. It is tempting at this stage to go a step further and place Nineteen Eighty-Four alongside the Preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm which Orwell wrote in March 1947 when he was half way through the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In that preface Orwell contends: Then at last a space was blasted open for a revolutionary socialism that had no truck with Stalinism and thus was able to take firm root in that space.

But if there are highly creditable lines of vision in Nineteen Eighty-Four that point that way there are others, as I argued in Section 2, that look in contradictory and less reputable directions.

The Orwell who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four was beginning to be a wealthy man as the royalties for Animal Farm began to flow in and this edged him into the routine concerns and acti6ties and assumptions of the rich. If Orwell in the week after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four tried to steer the book in any direction it was down a path that is now thanks to the tireless work of Sun scribblers and SDP publicists a six-lane motorway leading straight to the dimmest sort of reaction.

A novel with what I have argued is the contradictory politics of Nineteen Eighty-Four has been similarly digested, although sometimes as I shall show bits have been spat out to make mastication easier. This routine journalistic work has been both echoed and informed by right-wing academic scholarship. Thus, one of his best-known claims, made in his 1946 essay Why I Write is: The Right, then, has two standard strategies for using Nineteen Eighty-Four: These strategies can then be reinforced by turning him into a kind of secular saint.

This is a move much favoured by liberal ideologues and it aims to block any normal criticism of him as a man embedded in particular social and historical contexts with certain limitations and blind spots connected to those contexts. Instead it transforms him into a latter-day evangelist, a seer who detects abiding truths in a blindingly clear, plain man style that it would be sacrilegious to challenge.

So ideas that proceed from and feed back into a specific politics can be passed off instead as Transcendental Truths about Humanity. Decked out in this way with a harp and a halo he becomes a handy figure to recruit for your side.