While George Orwell’s book 1984 was an interesting read, that often resorted to hyperbole, it also had within it a great deal of political knowledge and insights. George Orwell despised totalitarianism, after witnessing the horrors unleashed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and due to the rise in totalism, George Orwell may have very well believed that totalitarian political systems would evolve to be the dominant, never-ending status quo of the future, and in many ways, it wasn’t necessarily a bad assumption. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had exploded in terms of wealth creation, industrialization, and military capabilities at the time of 1984’s writing, and it would seem that totalitarianism was a facet of industrial society, using new technologies to mobilize the masses in ways no state before could have dreamed of. During the 20th century, totalitarianism socialism in the forms of national socialism and Blanquist-“Leninism” seemed to be on the rise, and not only proved an effective counter to the most powerful European Empires in history but ended them, with most of continental Europe being trampled under the boots of soldiers. For George Orwell, in writing 1984 and pointing out the ways that totalitarian regimes operated, as well as effective ways in which they could cement their rule, he ironically may very well have contributed more to totalist theory than anyone else before or since. In this article, we’re going to dive into how the Outer Party operated in the fictitious country of Oceania and explain how in keeping the Outer Party under tight control, the Inner Party could enjoy a sense of security no elites had ever enjoyed previously.
In 1984, it is pointed out that the elites in any given society do not have to fear uprisings from the proletarians, but rather from the educated middle-class, who stand to benefit from revolutions by taking the place of the elites they had overthrown. The way this is reiterated in the book, it’s probable that George Orwell saw revolution as the product of a naturally occurring class interest, rather than a spontaneous or situational event. This may have been a bit too broad, as the Founding Fathers were not part of the middle-class by any means but may have rung true in industrial societies where the only thing separating office workers from the owners was that they did not own the means of production. In societies where companies generate enough surplus to afford owners the luxury of doling out duties to different specialized employees, the owners don’t necessarily have to be involved in operating the means of production at all anymore. Because of that dynamic, where the engineers, accountants, and other workers at companies like Tesla and Apple do all of the heavy intellectual lifting for Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, it isn’t a very large leap for white collar workers to gain class consciousness. At the point that the owners stop factoring into the production equation at all, they begin to lose their relevance and importance in the minds of workers who give up the majority of their labor surplus to the owners. It’s hard to convince people to labor so hard for so little, when they’re working closely with the numbers that in more traditional family businesses only the owners would be privy to seeing. Because of this, perhaps because ownership becomes increasingly unnecessary and businesses need to hire more specialized professional-managerial workers as they grow, that as technology increases the case for socialism is made clearer and more compelling over time.
The offspring of the truly rich today don’t necessarily have to truly work at all, and even though this is anecdotal, oftentimes they content themselves with running businesses subsidized by their family’s wealth. The bourgeois today indulge in things like owning an art gallery and dabble in what they like, legitimizing their idle lifestyle with a veneer of productivity and prestige, while living off money siphoned out of family trusts and stocks. While the ownership class in the past had a direct influence in the running of the business, this is becoming less so overtime, especially as the continual destruction of small businesses by corporate America renders the petit-bourgeois, the class of small business owners, extinct. The rich today live in worlds completely separate from normal people, in indefensibly parasitic lifestyles off the backs of workers they’ll never meet, and gobble up more and more of the pie each year. Because of this, class consciousness in modern America is far more of an existential threat than it ever was before to the ruling class. Workers are less likely to defend the anonymous shareholders of their employer, and when it comes down to the simple material benefits they can gain from socialism, the case is settled in favor of socialism. Whoever works today, whether or not they like to admit it, is working class. 60% of millennials that make over $100,000 in America live paycheck to paycheck, so the idea that your job separates you from someone who makes less than you is slowly eroding as the differences in living conditions between the middle class and the working class are erased. As the rich take more and more, the workers across different industries, professions, and classes share more and more in common. Because the rich in America today are tied to their wealth in such abstract ways, often not even knowing what stocks they own, the only class interest they can take into consideration is how fast stocks rise and how much dividends they yield.
Due to this dynamic, where the rich are so unattached from capital but uniformly motivated by increasing profits, shareholders can push harder and harder against the workers with no fear of reprisal, because the workers wouldn’t even know where to start and stocks are so liquid that the rich could just park their money in other companies should a strike occur. This is what will break capitalism, is when the working class realizes their efforts of attaining what they want in a consumerist society are meaningless by going about it the conventional pathways. The workers in the job market today have largely been created by legacy systems, such as cheaper tuition, lower COL, and easier entry into the job market, all of which are being gnawed away at by capitalism. To start off in many jobs today, that pay the same they did 40 years ago, is terrifying. To pay 500% more in tuition to get the same credentials as you’d get forty years ago, to try to break into a job market where large firms are eager to try and get H1-B workers that cost far less, is terrifying. Overall, the workers have been screwed and the stability of capitalism presently rests on the legacy workers set to retire soon, who are making off like bandits with properties that cost dozens of times what they paid for them, with no student loans, and benefits and wages younger generations will never enjoy. As older generations, who had been supported by socialist policies in their early lives and benefitted from syndicalist workplace practices, die off, they’ll be replaced by people who have far less reason to support the current system.
In keeping with this, it’s good to remember that every worker today is in the same boat. The same information that radicalized you can radicalize anyone else in your situation, and because none of us are truly that special, you can take comfort in knowing that millions of people have the same frustrations as you. Because of that, if someone is working class, they are a threat to the system at this point, and with every older person that retires, that becomes only truer as they’re replaced by people who have been oppressed by the same institutions as you. The truth is that the federal agents, police officers, and military personnel do have class interests counter to those of the rich, as do doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals. While in feudal times, generals and lawyers may have been sourced from the nobility, that isn’t the case anymore. More often than not, the people with institutional power across the various industries of society today share more class interests in common with you than at any point in history, and as time goes on, that’ll only become more and more true. While politicians get richer, the workers don’t, and as the United States continues to have it’s political theatre bankrolled by the wealthy and corporations, more and more will sentiment well up in the workers of America as the country becomes more and more engineered to extract every last cent and sense of dignity from us. The future of America rests in the Winstons from 1984, the members of the Outer Party who held decision-making positions within the bastions of power, who had nothing in common with their betters in the class system. Just like in 1984, the members of the Outer Party today have to walk the tightrope of political correctness and corporate-mandated glee, and live in a similarly oppressive atmosphere where they’re tightly controlled both at work and off work. While 1984 was meant to critique totalitarian socialism, it holds a lot of learning material for anti-capitalists living in the United Corporations of America.
At the end of the day, until we achieve true communism, we can never be free from the specter of totalitarianism. It materializes anywhere it can, within capitalist market economies and socialist command economies, across continents and seas, and within political parties and corporations. Totalitarianism is a problem of class interests conflicting between workers and decision-makers, and the state being mobilized to defend the interests of the decision-makers. Even in societies that promote freedom of speech, totalitarianism takes the form of political correctness, by narrowing what people can even talk about in a fashion reminiscent of newspeak, where in America new words have been created to both end arguments and irritate race and gender relations in order to fragment the working class. When science regarding IQ statistics and crime statistics are censured, when exposing the truth about the government’s actions leads to people like Assange and Snowden being persecuted, and when the masses are so compliant that no one bothers to do a thing, you live in a totalitarian society. When the government engages in lies and curtails what can be talked about to protect the interests of capital, when tough discussions are not only avoided but forbidden, when truths like class consciousness become the enemy, you’re not far removed from living in 1984. The beauty of this 1984 scenario, however, is that the entire country will eventually be run by the Outer Party as social mobility stalls out and the rich leave the workers to work on behalf of them completely.