It was an appearance of John Hurt on television that set me off. There he was in my head as Winston Smith. And next to him was Richard Burton as O'Brien. Spooky casting.
I've read the book and seen the movie three times each I'm pretty sure. But not lately. What with my understanding of the world being in a constant state of flux (particularly lately with events steaming in the vertical part of an exponential curve), I found myself rolling 1984 around in my head and wondering at it anew.
No mistake, Orwell was a genius. His name entering the dictionary as an adjective is a fitting and proper testament to this. But he didn't get everything right. 1984 can primarily (arguably so, sure), be considered a discussion of Stalinism, which is to say a betrayal of the revolution. But what did Orwell know of Stalinism? Hell what do we know even now?
1984 is a tricky beast. Its protagonist Winston Smith (John Hurt's character in the movie of the eponymous year) is 'enlightened' by inner-party member, O'Brien (played by Richard Burton) in two key scenes. But are the revelations he is given real? Might they not be more propaganda? We will never know. The only 'truth' of 1984 is to be found in its narrated actions. Thus it's entirely possible that there was no Emmanuel Goldstein, no Eastasia, no war even. The rats on the other hand were real.
But that aside, Orwell didn't put these explanations in 1984 for no reason. He had points he wanted to make and parallels he wanted to draw. Take the Goldstein character. Orwell didn't pull him out of his arse. The possible apocryphal aspect of Goldstein aside (and his immediate plot function sure), Orwell was clearly referring to Leon Trotsky. But who was Leon Trotsky? Did Orwell really know? And who was Stalin? Who was Karl Marx? I expect that Orwell understood pre-Stalinist communism in the terms laid out by Marx, Lenin, and the Bolsheviks who founded it - the ownership of the means of production, the bourgeoise, the proletariat, blah blah blah.
I wonder if it ever occurred to Orwell that perhaps Marx and his buddies were bullshit-artists? Certainly, Marx's work was really something. To write a treatise on class struggle and macro-economics and leave out ownership of the money supply is an astounding effort. It's like re-writing Romeo and Juliet, but leaving out the two lovers and still having a story that not only makes sense but goes on to become everyone's favourite play. You'd have to be impressed wouldn't you? That's not to excuse Marx of course. He's a motherfucker.
So when Stalin seized control and threw out Trotsky, the banker's friend, who was the bad guy? Okay, everyone, sure, ha ha. But Orwell would vaguely have us understand that the Emmanuel Goldstein character didn't deserve his 'villain' status. And thus nor did Trotsky deserve his. Or so Orwell, and everybody else thought (even me at one point). Perhaps the greatest truth in 1984 was one unintended by Orwell. Insofar as we have no idea if anything that is revealed to Smith by O'Brien is true, so it is with communism as told to us by communists and their banker backers. Remember how communism was all about the 'means of production'? Where's the means of production now? Who gives a fuck? It's all about the means of exchange, which is to say the ownership of the money supply. If you have that stitched up the means of production is neither here nor there. Mills and lathes ain't going to save anyone now. Only smashing the banks will.
Meanwhile it's acceptable to dip into 1984 for metaphors and analogies for this, that, and the other. Hell, they teach it in high-school. But I wonder what would have happened had Orwell written 1984 with not just the proles and the outer party being deluded, but the inner party too. What if he'd had a tiny number of families occupying the tiniest pointy bit of the pyramid with the ownership of the means of exchange as their ultimate control mechanism? Do you think his publisher Frederick Warburg would have still put 1984 into print?
This is the bit where I roll my eyes and say, 'Sure why not?' Ever the comedian, me.