It is an interesting point, that about the time George Orwell was preparing to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, Britain was close to becoming a fascist state. In fact, it only escaped becoming a fascist state because Labour pulled out of the coalition government at the end of WW2. Remember, general elections had been suspended since the war began. Had Labour not been a force in British politics, had the coalition comprised of the Conservatives and Liberals alone, it may have continued into the late forties — at least. It was only Labour pulling out of the coalition in 1945 that precipitated a general election.
Orwell doubtlessly noted this, his novel was a ‘what if’ story. ‘What if Labour hadn’t pulled out of the coalition?’ It was really only the end of the war that precipitated Labour doing so. In Orwell’s scenario, atomic bombs had been used, but in Europe and America, Germany having produced the bomb in time to use it, which they nearly did.
So, in Orwell’s parallel world scenario, Germany used atomic bombs in Europe, the war continued. Labour tried to persuade the government to sue for peace, but were branded traitors and exiled. And, general elections were never reinstated.
All right, it didn’t happen that way, did it? Well, not quite. But Orwell’s point is that it might have done. And in a way, yes, it did. With the suspension of general elections, it was more than half way there. In his parallel world, perhaps only one factor was different: the Nazis developed and used the atomic bomb. Had they actually done so, it would have been a chaotic world for all of us. When people say, “It’s getting like Nineteen Eighty-Four”, they demonstrate they have not understood Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that novel, there has been a continuous, atomic world war for at least forty years, (protagonist Winston Smith admits, he only guessed at the year actually being 1984). In fact, the war has been going on for so long, nobody can remember what it was about when it started. Orwell got this idea from other writers, including H G Wells — but with a twist.
Orwell used this idea of an endless, relentless stultifying world war as a platform on which to build a complex satire. While the absurd conservatism, brutality, and secrecy of Nineteen Eighty-Four makes more sense if it happens during a war, Orwell wanted us to realise that such practices go on in a more subtle form even in our democratic society — and in the name of peace.
The BBC (where Orwell worked) was originally created as an agent of propaganda, specifically to break the General Strike of 1926 with appeals to the Nation. It has never quite outgrown its paternalistic, know-it-all roots. Orwell is only slightly exaggerating when he describes the deliberate ‘changing of history’. In fact, before the Internet, all government departments changed and replaced documents, destroying the old versions — to the confusion of the lower grade Civil Servants. The BBC even divided up its broadcasts into hierarchical categories. Originally, there was the World Service, which was relatively uncensored, corresponding to the ‘Inner Party’ — not broadcast in Britain, look you — and there was its heavily censored, ludicrously pro government equivalent, The Home Service.Then there was The Third Programme, which was aimed at the ‘Outer Party’ — the Bourgeoisie — and then there was The Light Programme, aimed at ‘The Proles’ — the workers. This was revised in the ‘wake’ of Radio Caroline and other ‘pirate radio’ experiments, (it was amazing to witness, at the time, this outrageous debacle). Eventually, the BBC adapted, and renamed its channels, Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, and Radio 4. But little really changed — in attitude or effect.
Orwell’s point was that we needed to be aware that there is a war being continually waged — but not with atomic bombs. There is a class war in progress, and the ruling class is winning. Every time the public revels in the latest BBC farrago of fantasy-history that glamourises Royalty and the upper classes, that is another victory for the ruling class. It is not ‘political correctness gone mad’ that we need to be worried about, nor is it Europe intruding on our British way of life. Despite the name, the INGSOC of Nineteen Eighty-Four was not an English socialist party any more than the Nazis really were ‘socialist’. Hitler specifically told German industrialists not to worry about the ‘Socialist’ half of the ‘National Socialist’ name. That is precisely what Orwell was getting at. Just as the Russian Revolution was betrayed and the Russian Empire reinvented as state monopoly capitalism that was ‘socialist’ in name only.