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George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

The poster for Michael Radford’s movie adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

1,048 words

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is probably the most important political novel of the 20th century, but the Trotskyite influence on it is underappreciated. The entire thesis about the Party’s totalitarianism is a subtle mixture of libertarian and Marxist contra Marxism ideas. One of the points which is rarely made is how the party machine doubles for fascism in Orwell’s mind—a classic Trotskyist ploy whereby Stalinism is considered to be the recrudescence of the class enemy. This is of a piece with the view that the Soviet Union was a deformed workers’ state or happened to be Bonapartist or Thermidorian in aspect.

Not only is Goldstein the dreaded object of hatred—witness the Two Minutes’ Hate—but this Trotsky stand-in also wrote the evil book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, against which the party defines its existence. The inner logic or dialectic, however, means that the Inner Party actually wrote the book so that it would control the mainsprings of its own criticism.

Emanuel Goldstein, the Trotsky figure in “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” from Michael Radford’s movie

One of the strongest features of Nineteen Eighty-Four is its use of what Anthony Burgess called “sense data.” These are all the unmentionable things—usually realities in the physical world—which make a novel physically pungent or real to the reader. This is the very texture of life under “real existing socialism”: scraping oneself in the morning with a bar of old soap, the absence of razor blades, human hair blocking a sink full of dirty water; the unsanitary details of conformism, socialist commerce, and queuing which made the novel feel so morally conservative to its first readers. This and the depiction of the working class (or proles), who are everywhere treated as socially degraded beasts of burden. Some of the most fruity illustrations come from Winston Smith’s home flat in Victory Mansions—the smell of cabbage, the horrid nature of the Parsons’ children, the threadbare and decrepit nature of everything, the continuous droning of the telescreen.

Most of these “sense data” are based on Britain in 1948. It is the reality of Wyndham Lewis’ Rotting Hill—a country of ration cards, depleted resources, spivdom, dilapidated buildings after wartime bombing, rancid food, restrictions, blunt razor blades, and almost continuous talk about Victory over the Axis powers. Britain’s post-war decline dates from this period when the national debt exceeded outcome by seven times—and this was before the joys of Third World immigration which were only just beginning. The fact that Nineteen Eighty-Four is just the conditions in Britain in 1948—at the level of the senses—is a fact not widely commented on.

The uncanny parallels between Newspeak and political correctness are widely mentioned but not really analyzed—save possibly in Anthony Burgess’ skit 1985, a satire which majors quite strongly on proletarian or workers’ English—whereby every conceivable mistake, solecism, mispronunciation, or scatology is marked up; correct usage is everywhere frowned upon.

Another aspect of the novel which receives scant attention is its sexological implications. In most coverage of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the party organization known as the Anti-Sex League is given scant attention. Yet Orwell had considerable theoretical overlaps with both Fromm and Wilhelm Reich—never mind Herbert Marcuse. Orwell’s thesis is that totalitarianism fosters a sexless hysteria in order to cement its power. The inescapable corollary is that more liberal systems promote pornography and promiscuity in order to enervate their populations.

Orwell certainly pinpointed the arrant puritanism of Stalinist censorship—something which became even more blatant after the Second World War. One also has to factor in the fact that Orwell was living and writing in an era where importing James Joyce’s Ulysses and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were criminal offenses. Nonetheless, Orwell’s anti-puritanism and libertarianism, sexually speaking, is very rarely commented on. Perhaps this leads to the nakedly sexual rebellion of Winston and Julia’s affair against the Party. A series of actions for which the mock Eucharist, the imbibing of bread and wine in O’Brien’s inner party office, will not give them absolution!

It might also prove instructive to examine the sequences of torment which Winston Smith has to undergo in the novel’s last third. This phase of the book is quite clearly Hell in a Dantesque triad (the introductory section in Victory Mansions and at the Ministry is Purgatory, and Heaven is the brief physical affair with Julia). In actual fact, well over a third of the novel is expended in Hell, primarily located in the fluorescent-lit cells of the Ministry of Love.

This is the period where O’Brien comes into his own as the party inquisitor or tormentor, an authorial voice in The Book, and a man who quite clearly believes in the system known as Ingsoc, English Socialism. He is a fanatic or true believer who readily concedes to the Party’s inner nihilism and restlessness: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

Moreover, the extended torture scene and was quite clearly too much for many readers—in north Wales, one viewer of the BBC drama in the mid-’50s dropped dead during the rat scene. I suppose one could call it the ultimate review! Questions were even asked in parliament about what a state broadcaster was spending its money on.

Big Brother, the Stalin figure in “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” from Michael Radford’s movie

Nonetheless, O’Brien is quite clearly configured as a party priest who is there to enforce obedience to the secular theology of Ingsoc. (Incidentally, Richard Burton is superb as O’Brien in the cinematic version of the novel made in the year itself, 1984.)

The point of the society is to leave the proles to their own devices and concentrate entirely on the theoretical orthodoxy of both the inner and outer party members. In this respect, it resembles very much a continuation of the underground and Bohemia when in power. You get a whiff of this at the novel’s finale, with Winston ensconced in the Chestnut Tree Café waiting for the bullet and convinced of his love for Big Brother.

This is the inscrutable face of the Stalin lookalike which stares meaningfully from a hundred thousand posters in every available public place. Might he be smiling under the mustache?



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  1. Posted July 2, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    “The inner logic or dialectic, however, means that the Inner Party actually wrote the book so that it would control the mainsprings of its own criticism.”

    I actually hadn’t thought of that. It’s remarkably like the thesis I’ve been hammering away at on my blog: analyzing culture and politics from the idea that the Jew always wins because he controls both sides. Politically, you can see this on any talk show:

    The Deficit: Reduce taxes on the rich, or borrow more from the banks?

    Settlements in Palestine: Temporary halt, or full speed ahead?

    War with Iraq: Now, or soon?

    Another aspect of this is paralleled here:

    “Orwell’s thesis is that totalitarianism fosters a sexless hysteria in order to cement its power. The inescapable corollary is that more liberal systems promote pornography and promiscuity in order to enervate their populations.”

    Exactly! Regarding homosexuality, the positions used to be

    Exterminate the brutes [Judeo-Christian “family values”] vs. Poppers and promiscuity.

    Both of which, of course, serve to rob Aryan societies of their traditional source of culture: the Mannerbunde [see Alisdair Clarke or Baron Evola]

    Post-AIDS, however, the second “alternative” became untenable, and was modified to:

    “Gays” [so-called] all want marriage and kids [thus, “marriage equality” and adoption rights] because they’re just like everyone else.

    Which of course produces the same result: the totalitarian reign of “family values.”

    As Mr. Bowen notes, the “nakedly sexual rebellion of Winston’s and Julia’s affair against the Party” is essentially counterproductive.

    “The point of the society is to leave the Proles to their own devices and concentrate entirely on the theoretical orthodoxy of both the inner and outer party members. In this respect, it resembles very much a continuation of the underground and Bohemia when in power.”

    The Party being the Underground, the Proles being Bohemia? Indeed, this would seem to be the vision of the “liberated” society of the Liberals: the masses, powerless but content with their free for all of sex, drugs, iToys, video games, and other aspects of Popular Culture [a Newspeakism if ever there was one!] while the Inner Party [ironically, to those who haven’t “gotten it” and believe the propaganda] is a sour, tight-lipped little group of Savonarolas endlessly investigating each other and themselves for deviations from PC. All under the leadership of that Methodist scold, Hilary.

    And “The inescapable corollary” that Mr. Bowen leaves out: the world under the “other” side would presumably be the inverse, a tightly controlled Puritanical populace with an Inner Party secretly consumed with orgies. Indeed, is that not what we see, from televangelists to Republican hacks to the secret meetings at Bohemian Grove [note the name!], where the world’s elite get the chance to party naked with Henry Kissinger?

    Thanks to Mr. Bowden, I can now add Orwell to the list of famous people smart enough to agree with me!

    • TJ McAllister
      Posted July 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Mr O’Meara said: “It’s remarkably like the thesis I’ve been hammering away at on my blog: analyzing culture and politics from the idea that the Jew always wins because he controls both sides.”

      I noticed this the other day in the much-praised documentary ‘Food, Inc.’, which is a critical look at modern food production and economics. Both the primary critic of the industry and one of the heads of a massive, ‘inorganic’ food factory were Jews.

      • Fourmyle of Ceres
        Posted July 10, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        Linder said Chuck Pearson, Linder’s mentor in matters Judaica, said he began to understand How The World Worked when he realized the Jews take ALL repeat ALL sides of an issue, so they can control the outcome of any decisions so the decisions are always “good for Jews.”

        They also make sure they control the organization at all levels that matter. It is just astonishing to see how deeply their control of all institutions are, and it gets stronger all of the time – until it doesn’t.

        Their greatest technique is seen in 1984, and that is demoralization. Bezmenov said demoralization was the critical key in destroying a society, a Culture, from within. That’s why we see so much in the media designed to demoralize us, to give us a feeling of despair, and to make us senseor/feelings based, rather than analytically/abstract thought based. My horror, of all in 1984, was at the end, when Winston wrote in the dust on his chess table, “2 + 2 = ” He just stared, helplessly – a deliberately learned helplessness.

        I see this more than I feel comfortable saying. People mind’s simply can not accept what their senses are telling them, and they are holding ever more tightly to a world that intends to destroy them, their families, and their Race – deliberate genocide. As I told one guy at the local grocery store, “Look at these violent flash mobs on YouTube. What do they ALL have in common? Do they look like Amish to you?” He glitched out, and I could see him literally negate what was before his eyes. THAT is why we have been singularly unsuccessful after almost a century of attack. People are locked into the Matrix, and we will not make any headway appealing to their heads. It is only their heart that moves them, and even then, alcohol, tranquilizers, and professional sports and entertainment go a long way to distract them from the Hell of their lives.

        COMPREHENSION: Above all, they fear independent thought.

        One of my fears, and a good metaphor for this society, comes from the end of “Atlas Shrugged.” It is the picture of Eddie Willers standing helplessly, hopelessly, in the desert, in front of the light of the stranded Taggart Transcontinental. In the distance, the sounds of the Raider’s horses can be heard…

        That’s because Eddie adopted the views he was told to adopt, by the System, without question. Only at the end can we see him as what he was to them, a Tool to be used, and thrown away. The importance of Master Sergeant Thomas James Ball’s Second Set of Books is something he, like Charlie Browns everywhere, had no Idea existed. To paraphrase, “Ignorance of the Second Set of Books is no excuse. They are still up and running.”

        Learned helplessness, and demoralization.

        Those are much more effective than guns in taking over a nation. The example of those who were softly gelded, from Winston Smith to Eddie Willers and Dr. Revilo Oliver, should serve us all in good stead, and inspire us to avoid the traps that controlled them, transforming them into steppingstones to effectiveness.

        Sending money to counter-currents, regularly, is an excellent way to defeat them.

        What’s In YOUR Future? Focus Northwest!

  2. margot darby
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    The most insightful short essay on Nineteen Eighty-Four’s atmosphere and underpinnings I’ve ever read. I would make one small edit: the atmosphere of the novel is that of London circa 1944, not 1948. It’s wartime London, and Winston’s work at Minitrue corresponds to Orwell’s at Broadcasting House. The buzzbombs falling over the city are of course V-1 rockets. Orwell himself was up in Scotland in 1948-49 when he wrote the book.

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