Sunday, May 17, 2015

Orwell on Collectivism/Socialism

In George Orwell's classic 1984, he appears to give his impressions of the various ideologies derived from Marxism (through the eyes of the fictional dissident Emmanuel Goldstein) and explain why they all share the same essence, character, and outcome.  In the following quotes, all emphases are mine.

The "equality" that all forms of collectivism (fascism, communism, and socialism) tend toward:
After the revolutionary period of the fifties and sixties, society regrouped itself, as always, into High, Middle, and Low. But the new High group, unlike all its forerunners, did not act upon instinct but knew what was needed to safeguard its position. It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called ’abolition of private property’ which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before: but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals. Individually, no member of the Party owns anything, except petty personal belongings. Collectively, the Party owns everything in Oceania, because it controls everything, and disposes of the products as it thinks fit. In the years following the Revolution it was able to step into this commanding position almost unopposed, because the whole process was represented as an act of collectivization. p. 120
The usefulness of government waste, the danger of capitalism's creation of wealth, and the power of scarcity:
 The economy of many countries was allowed to stagnate, land went out of cultivation, capital equipment was not added to, great blocks of the population were prevented from working and kept half alive by State charity.  . . .  The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world.  . . . War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. . . . In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another. By the standards of the early twentieth century, even a member of the Inner Party lives an austere, laborious kind of life. . . .   And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival. p. 112
How and when the Marxist-inspired collectivisms started abandoning the pretense of being about liberty and equality:
Socialism, a theory which appeared in the early nineteenth century and was the last link in a chain of thought stretching back to the slave rebellions of antiquity, was still deeply infected by the Utopianism of past ages. But in each variant of Socialism that appeared from about 1900 onwards the aim of establishing liberty and equality was more and more openly abandoned. The new movements which appeared in the middle years of the century, Ingsoc ["English Socialism"] in Oceania [i.e. the West], Neo-Bolshevism [Russian communism] in Eurasia [former Soviet Union], Death-Worship [Chinese communism], as it is commonly called, in Eastasia [the "Far East"], had the conscious aim of perpetuating unfreedom and inequality.  p.118
<spoiler> In 1984, it turns out that the dissemination of Emmanuel Goldstein's book is controlled by the State to carefully flush out dissidents.  The government's ability to monitor its citizens is absolute.  In the end it is unclear whether Emmanuel Goldstein is merely the State's amalgam of anti-collectivist revolutionaries. What does become clear is that the State does not mind some revolutionaries knowing the State's true values and game plan, because the strongest revolutionary can be reeducated (i.e. tortured) into complete submission to and love of "Big Brother." </spoiler>  

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