Winston 's understanding of the proles is partly a romanticized one, if this is possible in a post-apocalyptic world. "If there is hope, it lies in the proles," he tells himself. In them, he sees a huge potential strength untapped; the proles are asleep, seemingly unaware that they can overthrow...
Winston's understanding of the proles is partly a romanticized one, if this is possible in a post-apocalyptic world. "If there is hope, it lies in the proles," he tells himself. In them, he sees a huge potential strength untapped; the proles are asleep, seemingly unaware that they can overthrow the Party if they put their minds to it.
Winston imagines they have this potential because of their numbers (they are said to make up seventy percent of Oceania's population), but more because they are unaffected by Party doctrine. But this is by design; the Party explicitly regards them as inhuman. The enormous irony of this is that the Party is supposed to be socialistic: its governing philosophy, INGSOC, stands for English Socialism. The entire stated purpose of socialism is to liberate the working class and create an egalitarian society. Far from having done this, the leaders have created an arrangement that is almost a parody of the class stratification of the old capitalist world, described in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism—"Goldstein's book," though in reality written by O'Brien and other Party operatives—as consisting of High, Middle, and Low. In the dystopia of 1984, these correspond approximately to the Inner Party (people like O'Brien), the Outer Party (Winston, Julia, and virtually all of the other named characters in the novel), and the proles.
In the pre-dystopian society, the lowest stratum of capitalism, the working-class poor, is described in "The Book" as having the intention of creating a classless society, but only in those anomalous instances when they are roused to have any purpose at all. Winston sees the proles as lacking awareness—that is, lacking a consciousness of the injustice with which they are being treated and of their own potential to overthrow the Party. Once they do achieve that awareness, however, Winston sees a wild, uncontrollable power in them that can achieve anything. In the prole woman hanging washing on a line and singing to herself outside Charrington's shop, Winston thinks he sees an emblem of this enormous strength.
O'Brien tells Winston the proles will never rebel in a million years. This belief is at the core of the cynicism and brutality upon which the Party bases its rule. One wonders if this was Orwell's actual view as well: that the working class could never become politically motivated to the point of acting. If so, this would be a rejection on his part of left-wing orthodoxy and really of any mode of left-wing thought. It is the right-wing view, for instance, of the Russian Revolution that it was not an uprising of the people but basically a coup d'état by a small group (the Bolshevik Party) that seized power unlawfully and only for the objective of power for themselves, rather than any ideal of equality and brotherhood. It is exactly in these terms that we are to understand the history of the Party in 1984, and Orwell seems to give little hope that the proles will overturn the dictatorship.