George Orwell’s Essay on Totalitarianism in 1948

Totalitarianism is when a government exerts complete control over the everyday lives of its people. These types of governments allow citizens little to no freedom and discourage individualism. Totalitarian governments are nothing new and are known to have been around since the early 1900s; however, repressive governments still existed before the rise of dictatorial governments (“Totalitarianism”).

In George Orwell’s novel, 1984, Oceania’s government, INGSOC, seeks to obtain and maintain power by controlling not only the people’s actions, but also their thoughts. INGSOC divides Oceania into three social classes: The Proles, the Outer Party, and the Inner Party. Eighty-five percent of Oceania’s population belong to the Proles, the working class. The Inner Party, also known as the Party, does not monitor the Proles because they are seen as nonthreatening and are believed to be too uneducated to interfere with the Party’s power. Above the Proles are the Outer Party members who are more educated and have administrative jobs. They are supposed to express patriotism for the Party and must adhere to the Party’s strict rules. The Outer Party members are closely monitored because their greater education makes them more of a threat to the Party’s power. On top lies the Inner Party, which is the ruling class. They have special privileges; however, they face the same treatment as any of the other Party members if they commit a crime. INGSOC, in 1984, is similar to Nazi Germany’s totalitarian government, ruled by Adolf Hitler, in the sense that both use children, surveillance, and propaganda in order to employ absolute power over its people.

The similarities can be seen between INGSOC and Nazi Germany in how they both use children to uphold power. In 1924, Hitler formed an organization called the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth became mandatory for all non-Jewish, German children beginning at age ten. Hitler believed that this generation of German children was the key to creating a dominant and ideal nation through encouraging national allegiance and spreading Nazi Party beliefs. For the boys in the Hitler Youth, one of their focuses was physical strength. This was meant to prepare them for future military service as they are drafted when they turn eighteen years old. The girls also focus on physical strength, but mainly on preparing them to be mothers, since they will be raising “the first generation of the Aryan super race” (“Hitler Youth”). Along with focusing on individual strengths, Hitler also held Hitler Youth rallies to advocate national unity. Hitler exploited these children, knowing that it would be easier to persuade them into Nazi ideology than adults, and he knew they would remain loyal to him (“Hitler Youth”). Comparable to Hitler’s organization, in Book One, Chapter Two of 1984, the reader is introduced to the Party’s organization called the Junior Spies when Winston goes to fix his neighbor, Mrs. Parsons’, kitchen sink. As Winston walked into the living room, Mrs. Parsons’ son and daughter jumped out from the couch and began yelling, “You’re a thought-criminal! You’re a Eurasian spy! I’ll shoot you! I’ll vaporize you!” (23). The Parsons children are a part of the Junior Spies, an organization of children who spy on adults and ensure that they remain loyal to the Party. The role of the Junior Spies is again showed in Book Three, Chapter One when Winston arrives at the Ministry of Love after being arrested for thought crime. While sitting in his cell with other prisoners, Mr. Parsons, an extremely loyal Party member, walks in. Mr. Parsons tells Winston that he was turned in by his own daughter for committing thoughtcrime while talking in his sleep. Through Mr. Parsons’ arrest, it is evident that the children of the Junior Spies are brainwashed into believing that any kind of thought against the Party is wrong and should be reported, no matter if it’s their parent or not. Nazi Germany’s Hitler Youth and the Party’s Junior Spies illustrate their similar totalitarian governments as both use brainwashing of children to the Party’s ideology to increase their rule over their people.

Along with the use of children, INGSOC is similar to Nazi Germany’s totalitarian government because both covertly monitor their people to retain power. Nazi Germany had secret police called the Gestapo, which was led by Heinrich Müller. The Gestapo searched for those who may pose a threat to the supremacy of Nazi Germany. This secret police force was unique because members of the Gestapo could be its own jury and even execute those that they caught. Since the Gestapo could not surveil everyone, its most effective method of control was instilling fear into the Germans. The fear that the Gestapo was everywhere, watching everything, kept the people in check, making the Gestapo quite successful (Trueman). Like the Gestapo of Nazi Germany, Oceania had the thought police, a secret police that sought out people who committed thoughtcrimes – any type of thought against the Party or that contradicted the Party’s beliefs. In Book One, Chapter Eight of 1984, Winston is walking through the prole district when he enters a shop owned by Mr. Charrington. Winston finds out that Mr. Charrington has a room above his shop that does not have a telescreen, which was used to watch and listen to everything the Party members said or did. Mr. Charrington said that telescreens were too expensive to have and saw no need for one. Winston ends up renting out this room when he meets a girl named Julia, and they use this room to have an affair, which the Party was against since having sex drew their happiness and loyalty away from the Party. In Book Two, Chapter Ten, Winston and Julia are lying next to each other in the room above Mr. Charrington’s, talking about life, when they say, “We are the dead” (221). Suddenly, they heard a voice talking to them. From behind a picture on the wall was a hidden telescreen. When Mr. Charrington walks into the room, Winston and Julia find out that Mr. Charrington is actually a member of the thought police, disguised as a sixty-year-old man, but actually about thirty-five years old. This showed Winston and Julia that they could not trust anyone because thought police members were in disguise everywhere. The Party’s thought police and Nazi Germany’s Gestapo exemplifies their similar totalitarian governments as they both use secretive surveillance to control their people’s everyday lives.

Furthermore, INGSOC is similar to Nazi Germany’s totalitarian government because both utilize propaganda as a means to exercise authority over their people. Hitler often gave speeches on the anniversaries of his coming to power on January 30, 1933 (“Nazi Germany”). In 1939, Hitler gave his six-year anniversary speech to the German Reichstag, or German parliament. In his speech, Hitler states that it is shameful how the world has sympathy for the Jews and the torment they endure but is so cold-hearted in actually helping them. In this speech, it is clear that Hitler is trying to move the Jews out of Germany. He believes that in doing this, the ideal nation of Aryans will be created. Hitler continued his speech, talking about how the Jews are taking all of the leading positions in society and proclaims that the German culture is German and not Jewish, so its leaders should be of its own nation – German. Hitler ends his speech with a vow that if the Jews pull Germany into another world war, it will result in the extermination of the Jews. Hitler continues to create a negative image to the Germans of the Jews, abusing his power to convince the people that the Jews are a threat to society (“Extract from the Speech”). In Book Two, Chapter Nine of 1984, Oceania is in the middle of Hate Week. Winston, a records editor in the Ministry of Truth, and many other Party members have been busy making posters and other types of propaganda against the Eurasians. The purpose of Hate Week is to heighten the hatred that the Party members have towards their enemy. Halfway through one of the speeches on the sixth day of Hate Week, it was announced that the enemy was actually Eastasia, not Eurasia, and the enemy had always been Eastasia. Instead of questioning the Party, the crowd continued on with their Hate Week rallies, except now they were exhibiting extreme hatred towards Eastasia. Then, all records that mentioned Eurasia as being the enemy had to be altered. The crowd’s fickleness demonstrates the Party’s power over its people. The alteration of history also helps the Party hold power by writing newspapers, books, and other forms of media that portray the Party in a positive way. The Party’s Hate Week speeches and Hitler’s speeches demonstrate their similar totalitarian governments as they both use manipulation of propaganda and their authority to influence their people’s thoughts.

INGSOC, in 1984, is similar to Nazi Germany’s totalitarian government in the sense that both use children, surveillance, and propaganda in order to enforce dictatorship over its people. Orwell’s made up government in 1984 is not completely the same as Nazi Germany’s totalitarian government in the early 1900s, but Orwell reminds readers that totalitarianism has occurred in real life, and totalitarian governments could rise again in the future if mankind is not careful.

Works Cited

  1. “Extract from the Speech by Adolf Hitler, January 30, 1939.” Feng-Shan Ho, Yad Vashem, 2016, www.yadvashem.org/docs/extract-from-hitler-speech.html.
  2. ‘Hitler Youth.’ Gale Student Resources in Context, Gale, 2014. Student Resources In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/RUGLOD813825132/SUIC?u=clem79777&sid=SUIC&xid=aeec9e01. Accessed 31 Dec. 2018.
  3. ‘Nazi Germany.’ Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments, Gale, 2009. Student Resources In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3048600132/SUIC?u=clem79777&sid=SUIC&xid=a678938e. Accessed 30 Dec. 2018.
  4. Orwell, George. 1984. Penguin Group (USA), 1949.
  5. ‘Totalitarianism.’ Political Theories for Students, edited by Matthew Miskelly and Jaime Noce, vol. 1, Gale, 2002, pp. 361-385. Student Resources In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424700026/SUIC?u=clem79777&sid=SUIC&xid=faf5a4ab. Accessed 5 Jan. 2019.
  6. Trueman. “The Gestapo.” History Learning Site, History Learning Site, 9 Mar. 2015, www.historylearningsite.co.uk/nazi-germany/the-gestapo/.
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