Predicting the Future or reflecting the Present

It is worth remembering in all this that nightmarish visions of the future have not abated. The latter half of the twentieth century has seem as much reason for pessimism as the first half, and from Brave New World to Blade Runner, the future is a foreboding place.

The future that has materialised is also a place that often differs markedly from the way that fiction has envisaged it. Much has been made of the fact that by the year 1984 the world was not that of Nineteen Eighty-Four. But the novel's message is one of warning and not prediction. As to why it is set in that particular year, it partly allegorical (1984 is anagramatic of 1948, the year in which it was largely written), and partly practical. When Orwell first started writing it in 1946, it was set in 1980; it later became 1982 and finally settled in 1984. It is worth noting that Winston Smith is not completely sure that it really is the year 1984 - he doubts his memory and he doubts the official calendar of the Party. The important aspect of the year is that it allows Orwell's thirty-nine year old protagonist to have faint childhood memories of the years before and during the Western revolution. For Nineteen Eighty-Four to have been true in 1984, the revolution would have begun in the early 1950s - virtually Orwell's present day.

This underlines the fact that Nineteen Eighty-Four, like so many visions of things to come, is as much about the present and recent past than it is about the future. Given this, much has been said about exactly who and what Nineteen Eighty-Four is satirising. It is often perceived, like Animal Farm, as another attack on Stalin's communist Russia. Indeed, Big Brother does bear an uncanny physical resemblance to the Soviet despot, and Goldstein is reminiscent of Trotsky to the extent that one might think that Stalin would have done better to keep his arch-enemy alive to be vilified. The world Orwell paints is one of shortages, drudgery, disappearances, constant surveillance and the routine restriction and forgery of records - all those images common with a western perception of life under communism. And for Orwell, the totalitarianism of Soviet communism was more ripe for satirising as, like the Party, it was grounded in 'socialism'. But as Goldstein writes in The Book (the counter- revolutionary Bible supplied to Winston by O'Brien, that is in fact co-written by O'Brien himself) "the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement ever stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of socialism" - a classic case of doublethink.

Also, Oceana's constantly shifting diplomacy between alliances with Eurasia and Eastasia (combined with the assertion that Oceana has always been at war with whichever power it is currently at war with) can be seen as Orwell satirising the shifting Soviet (and German) diplomacy of the 1930s and 1940s. Orwell was less surprised than most at both the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact of 1939 and rapid deterioration of East-West relations after the Second World War.

For the Party, the control of what is exactly the truth permeates every level of thought - and again real- world examples behind Orwell's satire are evident. In 1930s Soviet Russia, the purges were scientific as well as political, and Stalin sought to bring the laws of genetics and inheritance under the Marxist dictum of all-powerful environmental and social influence. No doubt Orwell had this mind in his portrayal of the Party's monopoly on all forms of truth:

'What are the stars?' said O'Brien indifferently. 'They are bits of fire a few kilometres away. We could reach out to them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out... For certain purposes, of course, that is not true... But what of it? Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a dual system of astronomy? The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that?'

Moreover, under Newspeak, the word science would cease to exist and be covered by the blanket term Ingsoc - English Socialism. The similarity of 'Ingsoc' and 'English Socialism's to 'Nazi' and 'National Socialism' tempt comparisons with totalitarianism of the other extreme to communism. 'One Party, One Reich, One Fuhrer' might as much apply to Oceana as to Nazi Germany, but for the fact that Big Brother is given the pretence of equality through his fraternal title. Mr Parson's community hikes are reminiscent of the 'Strength Through Joy' initiatives of the Nazi propagandists, and the almost Aryan ideal image presented by the Party is at odds with the reality of most people's physical state. Also, the centrality of war as an instrument of

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