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Monday, July 18, 2005


If our lives are defined by the free market economy we live in then the fact that Amazon are selling George Orwell's '1984' at a 20% discount at a time when our liberties are being curtailed as never before and the surveillance society is permeating every aspect of our existence must indicate a worrying indifference on the part of society. Either that or people have stopped reading books not written by J.K. Rowling.

George Orwell did not choose the year 1984 at random, though for all intents and purposes he might as well have done. He chose it because he finished writing the book in 1948 and reversing the last two digits of that year offered a time period sufficiently well-advanced into the future, without appearing too unattainable. The book though was not about the future, it was about the developing cold war and it was also about the nature of totalitarianism and about the emerging post-war British society in which Orwell lived.

This view is reinforced by the piece in today's Guardian, which reveals that a secret Metropolitan police file, newly released at the National Archives, shows that Orwell was himself the subject of repeated special branch reports for more than 12 years of his life. It is possible to argue that Orwell was unaware of such surveillance but this appears to be unlikely given his later collusion with the security services when, in 1948, he supplied a list of 86 "Stalinist fellow travellers" to a Foreign Office anti-communist propaganda unit.

With the increasing use of CCTV, biometric ID cards, the abolition of trial by jury in some cases, the introduction of detention without trial and many other worrying trends Orwell's work has never seemed so apposite.


The show trials were lifted straight from the pre-war Soviet Union. O'Brien's extreme relativist epistemology reminds me of Lysenko and of a book I had the misfortune to read once, comrade Stalin's ghostwritten Marxist-Leninist book on chemistry (I kid you not); the book was borrowed from a friend who was in Militant. The ease of swapping enemy for ally has to have its real-world correlate in the Hitler-Stalin pact, surely?

Of course Orwell took some elements from the BBC but I think in the main it was more a warning about Soviet communism specifically (as was Animal Farm, of course).
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