“I think this was true of George Orwell — whatever the virtues of his political writing, he served for almost 20 years as a policeman of the “Left”. He didn’t really engage with the arguments of opponents; rather, he tried to close off their views by tagging them as “soggy, half-baked” Socialists, “Fascifists”, “quislings”, and “crypto-Communists”. A year before his death, he turned over a list of “suspect” names to British intelligence services. For me, that was an episode that had a powerful symbolic importance.” — Noam Chomsky
“I have said before, though, that one aspect of the seemingly endless popularity of the Zombie story in film and TV is based in a desire FOR apocalyptic end of time events. Somewhere buried within the bourgeois mind is a desire to wash it all away and start over. And with that comes, in standard Hollywood terms, a new frontiersman mentality — it is to do Manifest Destiny again, only better, and starring ME.”—John Steppling
“Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic”—Kollibri Terre Sonnenblume
It takes close to zero genius, imagination or insight to write a dystopian novel. They are released now like junk mail. One can hardly get through a week without being bombarded by the latest book telling you the world is going to end. Strangely enough such books are not just met with critical acclaim, but with excitement. It is the liberal’s version of the Book of Revelation. Many people don’t seem to mind the world ending—as long as they predicted it.
Climate change aside, people have been predicting that the world will end throughout the history of imperialist civilizations. Every society built on the destruction of another society naturally anticipates their own demise by some greater force whether that be the government, God, or something in between. The United States of America is especially prone to this thesis because of our ruthless genocide of Native Americans. Now it is the same class of people guilty of genocide that are gleefully predicting the end of the world.
Climate change may finally bring the world to its knees. But this by no means ends the world. New species will grow and eventually the earth will recover. Humans may be extinct by then, although populations as of now are still growing. Regardless, if the world is going to end, it will not be by any human “government” policy. It will be by climate change which was caused by the heartless greed of a handful of people. Climate change is also unique because it is an event that will supersede politics. The devastation it causes sends entire civilized countries into war, famine and desperate poverty. Of course, so do even the least imperialist U.S. politicians, but in general, one has to admit climate change is a rather unique phenomenon.
Either way pre-climate change dystopians have even less excuse for their lazy works than present-day ones. The most celebrated dystopian is George Orwell, who put together the book 1984, as well as several other paranoid and underdeveloped pieces of literature. Donald Trump must be stopped. But celebrating dystopia will only reinforce Trumpism even when it is in the name of anti-Trump.
There is no such thing as a progressive dystopian novel. Even when there are underlying truths in these futuristic warnings we should not trust the ideal of dystopia. When Donald Trump was elected President he painted a picture of carnage in America. Donald Trump needs chaos more than anything for his political message to thrive. He ran on the message of a collapsed society in need of a savior. What Trump leverages is the growing social anxiety that at once fears and revels in a future dystopia. Mass shootings are publicized and debated as singular acts of valor while little to zero notice is made of the defunding of public schools and programs for children and families that made such shootings inevitable. Donald Trump and his liberal detractors both thrive on chaos and distrust while ignoring the larger economic forces that make such conditions possible.
There were many foolish political moves to get here but they all have to do with the greed of the 1%. Authoritarian governments have murdered millions of humans, but they have never come close to the cost of the murder by private oligarchs. These oligarchs hoard wealth to the point of global starvation, water poison, air pollution, unaffordable health care and shortages of resources across the board. Racist nationalist governments like the one of Donald Trump are indefensible, but predictable outcomes of this inequality. Now inequality is so steep it has become a *social* problem that can be resolved by nativist hierarchy.
What are the parallels exactly? George Orwell warned of Big Brother, Donald Trump warned of the Deep State. Here we see a similar conspiratorial skepticism that deliberately undermines social programs of uplift in the name of individual freedom. This is not to say we should have zero critique of the overreach of the Deep State in imperialist misadventures and post-9/11 racist police state tactics. It is rather to look closely at who is actually making these criticisms and for what purpose. Donald Trump, himself a white supremacist, makes these claims to undermine the support system of government that most helps poor people, minorities and women. Donald Trump’s criticism of the deep state is only employed to foster cynicism, paranoia and identity based resentment. Meanwhile the military and police are given increased funding on the basis of nativism and nostalgia.
One could argue that George Orwell was one of those leftists who criticized the deep state for the right reasons. However when one looks closely at what Alexander Cockburn correctly identified as a snitch list we see Orwell had many prejudices he hid behind closed doors. Furthermore, much of the criticism in general of government today comes from the very same space that Donald Trump occupies. Neoliberalism argues that all government, if not all society, is a form of oppression upon the individual freedom to do whatever you want. Meanwhile this freedom is heavily coded by race and class as the United States incarcerates poor people of color at a rate that is unparalleled in the world today..
Donald Trump and George Orwell literally say the same thing: it is all fake news. For some reason liberal elites see Orwell’s words to be exposing Trump, rather than mirroring him. But in fact both men are warning of a world where you can’t trust anyone, especially not the government. The liberals actually want the same thing. They just want to use Trump to get there. Trump becomes the embodiment of what Orwell warned of, even as Trump rode to the top giving Orwell’s warnings.
What is this suspicion good for? Sure, it could be good for overthrowing the ruling class. But not when employed by neoliberals who have helped to privatize markets, defund governments, and create division within the working class. When the ruling class employs suspicions it is for people on food stamps, welfare, disability, etc. Suspicion is used to militarize the middle class against the working class who is supposedly not doing their fair share.
In this world women who are abandoned by men and want to feed their family are framed as gold diggers or welfare queens. Immigrants are seen as leachers. The homeless are seen as excess. The water of poor and brown communities is no longer a right but a resource that needs to be liberated for profit by the market in order to get better jobs for middle class whites. All business adventures by the 1% are seen as charitable and beneficial when in fact they are highly destructive, selfish and pathological.
George Orwell is like Donald Trump in some ways. He has no loyalty to anyone but himself. He despises government, especially when it is in the name of socialism. He is racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. He is driven by his egotistical sexual urges more than any ideology. Bad writers only have one story to tell, and it’s their own.
1984 was such a story. George Orwell snitched out his comrades to a member of the secret police he was in love with. Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith, himself a politically active middle class man, has a love interest who he believes to be an informant. Smith, like Orwell, keeps a journal, in which he agonizes over his sexual resentments. The only real fiction begins when Smith gets the woman to fall in love with him. This “love” is framed as a rebellion against the deep state or something. Give Orwell some credit. He completely switches over to fiction when his main character is imprisoned with his biggest fear: rats. Given Orwell was the biggest rat of all, so it took a lot of nerve to come up with that tidbit.
Trump is more Big Daddy than Big Brother. This crude patriarch has so little knowledge, let alone appreciation for government. Trump’s faults lie in capitalism. He is greedy, he is selfish, and he has no regard for the public good or public institution. He has no idea what government does, what it is good for or how to use it. And that’s because he’s rich and has never needed the government. In fact the government has always been his enemy. Therefore he can dismantle the regulatory state and never notice the damages to public health.
The environmental deregulation of this administration has been far more harmful and racist than any of its real authoritarian measures. Tweets are racist. Deregulations, pipelines and developmental projects that target poor communities of color are white supremacist. Trump’s authoritarianism is mostly bad for his opponents: that is the Democrats, media and in some limited cases other elites. Trump silenced the “resistance” who really have little to say in the first place. Trump’s environmental policies are deadly for the working class and you therefore never hear about them.
Trump thrives not because of a communist party, but because there is none. With the lack of institutional structures necessary to provide even the most basic needs to most citizens Trump can exist as a Superman who provides more than the state can simply by expressing the most primitive desires of the people.
Contrary to Orwellian thinking, Trump also thrives because he can point out that the corporate media is not telling the truth. Trump lies in the way Orwell imagines. He says 2+ 2=5 and people agree with him. Not necessarily because they can’t add 2+ 2. This is precisely the point of such a simple example. 2+2 is easy math. Rather the real news media who does argue that 2+2=4 has lost all credibility in part because they have reverted to petty sensationalism completely divorced from the shrinking realities of the working class.
The bourgeois class wants to convince us that Donald Trump is a communist, not a natural consequence of capitalism. They do this by referencing Orwell but also by linking Donald Trump to Russia at every turn. The Russia talk is so obsessive one can only conclude that the ruling class still sees Russia as communist and Donald Trump as the co-conspirator. Russia is not communist, and neither is Donald Trump.
In all anti-communist language there is an intentional effort to feminize the subject of smears. Communism and socialism are always associated with being feminine and weak precisely because they favor solidarity and community over individuality. The blatantly sexist and homophobic rhetoric from the ruling class comes from their fascination with the “bromance” of Trump and Vladimir Putin. The ruling class wants to feminize both “strong men” by labeling them lovers and collaborators. The ruling class wants Trump and Putin at war with each other. Anything less is framed as gay. Of course on a separate note there are very real dangers of racist and sexist corrupt authoritarians like Trump and Putin putting their heads together.
Both political parties show their hands when they use the same language of Orwell and Trump to describe leaders of other countries they wish to invade. This is not to say that all leaders are the same or that all these leaders are completely innocent. It is rather to say that if the number one purpose of the United States media apparatus is to maintain and expand the imperialist superpower then we can see the warnings of Big Brother actually are done with the intention of expanding its apparatus of suspicion, fear, paranoia, surveillance and white supremacy. For example: the warnings of Vladimir Putin’s use of the surveillance company Facebook sounds progressive until you consider that the critique is merely meant to expand Big Brother by making Big Brother itself another terrorist threat. It goes without saying that this imperialism has expanded, or even began on our home turf through our police state, mass incarceration, immigrant detention, and barring of refugees.
The New York Times was quite predictable in their endorsement of the “communist” Orwell. They praised him for his centrism: “Orwell had been thinking about the novel that would become “1984” as early as 1944, when he wrote a letter about Stalin and Hitler, and “the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible führer.”” It is outrageous and predictable that the billionaire libertarian Donald Trump is being weaponized by the ruling class to foster further suspicion of communism and socialism. The ruling class has openly indicated they would rather sabotage the social democrat Bernie Sanders than beat Donald Trump.
In this age of politics where almost all discourse is dictated by the 1% what we see is all politicians reverting to Orwellian fear-mongering in the place of real economic policy. Without concrete economic policies beyond austerity we see that liberal politicians like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris rouse up fear around Trump in order to justify an expansion of the very police state they correctly claim Trump is running. Along with clear undercurrents of white supremacist fear-mongering comes an explicit attempt to feminize political opponents through the language of imperialist toxic masculinity.
This is not to say that Donald Trump isn’t a terrorist, but to say Biden, Harris, etc. are as well. They are employed by the ruling class to shift focus into the duopoly game of beating the very scary opponent, who not by accident, is pretty darn scary. Trump is perfect for these times both because he embodies the police state and also because he is scary enough where the actual police state can be expanded without anyone noticing.
In times like these one is bombarded by news of Trump precisely to leave the citizen in perpetual paranoia, anger and frustration. While the bottomless BREAKING NEWS cycle is intended to glue people to their private couches, the ruling class directs any resistance that does arise into the game of beating the evil government boogeyman whose only relation to class is that the citizen knows they hate them personally. Left out of the news is the relentless deregulation, privatization and defunding of community by the 1%, who stay in office every year no matter what sort of elections we have.
So yes we should read 1984. Not to inform us about our current political age. But to help us to understand what we are up against. We need to understand that both Donald Trump and the liberals who employ Orwell have the same goal: dismantle and defund the state, smear socialism and abolish community in general. The best way to fight Orwell and Trump is to build communities of our own that are centered around economic empowerment for the masses. Donald Trump, who says he has no friends, and George Orwell, the snitch who proved that he had no friends he cared for, have a lot in common. What does that say about the elites who employ Orwell and abhor Trump? Maybe that as they give analysis of fascism with one hand, they create the very conditions for collective despair with the other.
Dystopia then finds its way into mainstream discourse not to confront the real crisis of climate change but to disempower individuals to the point of inaction, pessimism and division. The distribution of this sort of media can be linked to an entertainment industry that is increasingly in the hands of the 1%. Most of these works directly target young audiences who are disproportionately left-wing, politically active and idealistic. George Orwell’s dystopia is being systematically shoved down our throats as a form of ‘Newspeak’. We are supposed to speak in the language of fear and despair or not speak at all.
Children across the world are sounding the alarm on climate change. They know that climate change may end civilization as we know it. Children who must face the potential consequences of an actually existing dystopia have little time for the threat of terrorism completely divorced from class. Instead we see children rising up and demanding radical change now. No excuses. No fear-mongering. Simple action.
This courage scares the ruling class who seek to destroy the planet for a few more bucks. As a result they bombard hopeful and united youth with their own cynicism and division. Any book, television show, video game or music artist who represents this nihilism is promoted by the rich and target the young. Their political message is secondary. All of it is marketing.
How do we know that there is no real political message behind the Orwellian dystopia media industry? Precisely because it all blends together. Take Orwell, although they are all like this. 1984 bans individuality. Is that really Donald Trump? Read closely and one can see that Trump actually rode that same resentment to the White House. The reason why the media loves Trump is because he is so so selfish. He is therefore a star. Anyone who shoves their shit in everyone’s faces is a star in the media.
Also what is so great about individuality? Are we talking about that same individuality that the elites use to justify money as speech? What about that freedom to jail other people? That freedom to abuse your workers? That freedom to invade other countries? That freedom to live the American Dream, that dream of standing alone on top of a pile of money while the rest of the world burns.
The media loves Donald Trump because he doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. They envy that about him. They revere him. They even whine and say it isn’t fair. How can he be so lucky not to have a conscious?
Trump works in a very real way for the ruling class precisely because he takes away all expectation of a civil society. By framing community itself as the oppressor the rich can now assert their own will without asking how anyone feels about it. Orwell is appealing precisely because his hero, like all heroes in America, went out on his own. There is no politics here. Only a license to do whatever you want, American style.
Orwell snitches. He has no loyalty to specific community or the communist one he came up with. What he does have is what we all have under neoliberalism: the freedom to express ourselves. Trump, like Orwell, rebelled against the political correctness and rigidity of the times. He said free your soul. Let it exploit others. Let it prey on women, lock up immigrants and pollute the air of brown and black people. Do it because they say you say you can’t.
The they is crucial. Orwell and Trump channel a highly misplaced ruling class resentment. Both ignore how the collective state lifts up the poor. Both choose to focus on their own petty problems within the context of a society that is thriving for egalitarian principles rather than individual destiny. Orwell returns as the prophet just as The East and communism return as the villain. Orwell is employed precisely because the contradictions of freedom within a capitalist system that systematically denies it has become too obvious to hide.
Therefore, and this has always been the primary tactic of the right, we see an attempt to label the present evils as left-wing and communist even when they are so obviously capitalist that no specifics or evidence can be used beyond fiction. Ironic for the master of truth named George Orwell.
Liberal capitalism has failed itself and now faces a reckoning. George Orwell and the liberals use him attempt to claim that society is suffering from a crisis of groupthink and propaganda when in reality the crisis is that no one believes in the propaganda anymore. The age of neoliberalism holds no logic for anyone outside of the ruling class. This is not to absolve anyone who has nativist beliefs that are just as repulsive. It is more to say that the real crisis for the ruling class at this moment is that their control can only be seen as savage, not benevolent. Therefore the crisis for the ruling class is exactly the opposite of George Orwell’s picture. Truth is not absent. It has lost on its own merits.
What we see instead is exactly the rogue individuality that Orwell, Trump and all the neoliberal class actually celebrates. What we see is people saying no thank you to the lies of the ruling class. This is not because the people in Trumpland are smart or organized. It is precisely because they believe in the less specific but more consequential lie of the ruling class which is that free market individuality is the answer and that community and government are the problem. Therefore they will ride their own believes and not give a damn about what the ruling class or anyone else says. This is why the crisis of Donald Trump can be blamed on the ruling class’s rules of engagement which are strictly based on the same far-right extremist deconstruction of the state that Donald Trump and his base appear to hail on their own grounds.
The same logic can be traced to Orwell. His prophecy becomes true in the minds of the elites only because he is a rat from the other side. One who will be celebrated not because he tells the truth but because he makes the ruling class the victor by disguising them as the resistance. Nothing is more pertinent to today’s times of duopoly rule. And yes, there is a sort of cohesiveness to the dual fascism between unelected deep staters like Robert Mueller and bonafide fascists like Donald Trump collaborating to conceal the crimes of the ruling class through their own *individual* battle.
1984 is ultimately the battle for the individual to liberate themselves from the greater good. It has a real historical background. It is not just an ancient folk tale. It was Orwell’s live action warning against communism before he set out to ruin the lives of those who had fought for communism in real life. It was a warning against a specific political backdrop in a time where communism made a real surge and threatened capitalism as the world order.
Capitalism was the victor and has since ruined the world. Entire countries have been abandoned because of for-profit wars and severe droughts caused by billionaire made climate change. Inequality is higher than it has been throughout human history. The rich own all the media and higher educational apparatuses and therefore attempt a sort of group think that was far too complex for Orwell to understand. Reading Noam Chomsky would give someone a better idea of how these systems actually operate.
The base simplicity of Orwell’s propaganda was so cartoonish that one could only believe it if in fact it was applied onto a character as ridiculous as Donald Trump. It does however entirely miss the point to buy into the propaganda of today by using a supposedly anti-propaganda novel being shoved down our throats by the propagandists. What Donald Trump has managed to do is to expose these lies as “fake news”. More accurately he has simply said what most of us knew already. Orwell will try to bring us back into his world of simple truths and dark warnings.
But the people no longer buy it. They are out on their own. A message that cuts against the highly destructive Donald Trump is necessary and urgent. It is however a message that must be built organically, communally and democratically. Being informed about our own demise from a rat who ensured it does little to help any of the working class that Donald Trump and George Orwell claim to represent.