Last Updated on March 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2506
Everyone at the Ministry of Truth has been working almost nonstop for the past five days. Winston, overwhelmed with fatigue, is on his way to the rented room to rest, the rush of work finally over. In his hand is a briefcase containing Goldstein’s book, which he hasn’t had a...
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Everyone at the Ministry of Truth has been working almost nonstop for the past five days. Winston, overwhelmed with fatigue, is on his way to the rented room to rest, the rush of work finally over. In his hand is a briefcase containing Goldstein’s book, which he hasn’t had a chance to open since receiving it six days ago, on the sixth day of Hate Week. On the night of that sixth day, just as Londoners’ hatred of Eurasia was approaching a climax spurred on by parades, songs, films, decorations, displays of Oceania’s military power, and the promise of a public hanging of two thousand Eurasian war criminals, an announcement was made that Oceania was not at war with Eurasia but with Eastasia. Winston was at a demonstration that night, listening to a grotesque-looking Inner Party orator deliver a furious anti-Eurasian speech that stirred the crowd of thousands to a wild, hate-filled roar. Then a messenger handed the orator a slip of paper. He continued his speech without a pause, but now he condemned Eastasia instead of Eurasia. The crowd, accepting this immediately, assumed the anti-Eurasian posters and banners everywhere were the result of acts of sabotage by agents of Goldstein and ripped them from the walls. Meanwhile the orator continued his speech. After a few minutes, the crowd returned to yelling in rage, only this time at a different target. Winston is impressed, looking back, by how the orator shifted so seamlessly into directing his speech at Eastasia. At the time, however, he was distracted by a man handing him a briefcase, just as O’Brien had promised, and by the vast amount of work he knew he would have to begin. Immediately after the demonstration, he and the entire staff of the Ministry of Truth returned to their posts to remove every trace of evidence of the war with Eurasia and the alliance with Eastasia from the record. The work was not only seemingly endless but difficult, and Winston found himself concerned only with completing it rather than with the fact that he was producing lies. Finally, when every relevant record had been rectified, the workers were released until the next morning. Winston now arrives at the rented room and sits down to read Goldstein’s book while he waits for Julia.
The book, which is worn and heavy, is titled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Chapter one is titled “Ignorance Is Strength.” Winston reads for a while and then pauses to appreciate the fact that he can do so in safety and privacy. With a blissful sense of having eternity to read the book, he opens it to chapter three, “War Is Peace,” which describes the splitting up of the world into three perpetually warring superstates. This continuous war is very different from the previous wars of the twentieth century: none of the three superstates could conceivably defeat the others, acts that would previously have been considered war crimes are normal and right when performed by one’s own country, the actual fighting is done by small numbers of specialists, and there is no real ideological reason for the fighting. Since each superstate has its own self-contained economy, there is also no economic reason to fight except to obtain labor power from people living in the disputed territories near the superstates’ constantly fluctuating borders. The primary purpose of modern warfare, according to Goldstein, is for each superstate to have a way to use up whatever it can produce without raising the standard of living for its inhabitants. Before 1914, he says, people looked forward to a future in which technological progress and the new surplus of consumer goods would lead to a higher standard of living for everyone. Industrialization did raise the standard of living for a time, but a series of wars interfered. Moreover, it became apparent that an equal distribution of wealth would be fatal to the hierarchical basis of society. Even if power remained concentrated in the hands of a privileged few, people who had previously been kept powerless by poverty and ignorance would now have the chance to realize their subjugated position and topple the hierarchy. Reversing industrialization or restricting the output of goods, however, would weaken a country’s military power. Continuous warfare was therefore the only practical way to continue producing goods without increasing the wealth and power of the masses. Human labor is used to build weapons and other implements of war that are either destroyed or provide no tangible benefit. In this way the vast majority of the population is purposefully kept in a state of poverty. The differences in quality of life between the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the proles keep the social hierarchy in place, while the constant awareness of being at war makes people more willing to hand over power to a small elite. The constant state of war serves the function of keeping up Party members’ morale, encouraging them to heights of fanaticism, hatred of the enemy, and love of the Party. In addition, it helps Party members to perform doublethink, which allows them to simultaneously know that the war is false and to wholly believe that the war is real and will end with Oceania achieving world domination.
Science and technological innovation have been largely discontinued in Oceania and are only applied when they can be used to help the Party solve two great problems: how to find out what another person is thinking and how to instantly kill vast numbers of people without warning. All three superstates already possess atomic bombs, but after an atomic war in the 1950s nearly wiped out civilization (and hence each superstate’s power), they have continued to produce and hoard atomic bombs without using them. Each world power supposedly plans to use its atomic arsenal to one day conquer the others, but all realize this is actually impossible. In addition, no superstate ever actually invades another as that would necessitate assimilating the conquered population. This would pose a problem because each society depends on its inhabitants’ regarding foreigners with fear and hatred rather than with understanding and empathy.
Living conditions, social structures, and philosophies are extremely similar in all three states: Oceania has Ingsoc, Eurasia has Neo-Bolshevism, and Eastasia has “Obliteration of the Self.” Each ideology fuels an intensely hierarchical society and a purposeful denial of reality that allows the superstates to engage in a mutually beneficial war without end. The fact that war is now continuous and lacks any real danger also means that it has become detached from physical reality; thus reality can now be distorted by the ruling class like never before. Citizens of Oceania are cut off from facts, from the rest of the world, and from the past, at the mercy of whatever twisted version of reality the Party wants to present. The endless war, Goldstein writes, is not waged by one nation on another but by a nation against its own citizens in order to preserve the social order. The state of the world would remain much the same if the three superstates decided to live in a state of permanent peace rather than permanent war, since each would continue to operate as its own separate universe. This is the true meaning of the slogan “WAR IS PEACE.”
Winston pauses when he hears a rocket bomb explode, but he still feels at peace, as well as reassured by the fact that Goldstein’s book has articulated and confirmed his own beliefs. Julia arrives for their first meeting in a week but seems disinterested when he tells her he has the book. Lying in bed together later, listening to the prole washerwoman singing as usual, Winston tells Julia they both have to read the book in order to join the Brotherhood, and she tells him to read it aloud to her. He begins at the beginning, with the chapter titled “Ignorance Is Strength.”
Goldstein explains that human society has been composed throughout recorded history of three groups: the High, Middle, and Low. The High want to maintain power, the Middle want to usurp power from the High, and the Low, when they are able to form aims beyond the drudgery of their daily lives, want to abolish the prevailing social structure and form an equal society. The same struggle is therefore repeated throughout history: the Middle, claiming to be fighting for justice and aided by the Low, overthrow the High as soon as the High falter; the Middle then take the place of the High and force the Low to return to their former positions. When a new Middle forms, the struggle begins again. Thinkers became aware of this pattern in the late nineteenth century, with some deciding that history was cyclical and inequality necessary. Socialist Middle groups after 1900 began to abandon their former Utopianism and the pretense of fighting for equality; Ingsoc, Neo-Bolshevism, and Obliteration of the Self openly aimed to perpetuate inequality. Each group wanted to take the place of the High and remain there permanently. The main impetus for the formulation of each group’s ideology was the fact that, with the spread of mechanization, social equality had now become a real possibility—one they wanted to prevent at all costs. The utopian visions of the future that once provided at least some inspiration for Middle groups in revolt died out when those visions became feasible, and by the 1940s authoritarian ideology had become the norm.
Ingsoc and its rival theories emerged out of totalitarian thought after a decade of war and revolution, along with a self-consciously power-hungry new ruling class intent on stamping out opposition. In this they were aided by the new ability to not only subject their citizens to a constant stream of propaganda but keep them under constant surveillance and cut them off from any other method of communication, thereby enforcing total obedience and total uniformity of thought. The Party, whose ideology grew out of Socialism, also abolished private property under the guise of collectivism, meaning that everything was now public property and therefore belonged to it. The Party’s next challenge was to prevent both the development of a new Middle group and dissent within its own ranks, which the Party achieved by continually influencing the consciousness of its members as well as the masses. Everything good in Oceanic society is attributed to Big Brother, who represents the top of the social pyramid, above the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the proles. Membership in the Inner or Outer Party is not hereditary, although proles never become Party members. Instead, proles who show signs of intellectual promise are eliminated. Unlike the hereditary oligarchies of the past, the Party is concerned only with perpetuating its worldview, structure, and power. There is no danger of the proletariat rebelling, because the Party ensures that they have no way of knowing the world could be or ever was different. Since there is no longer any real need to advance militarily or commercially, there is no need to educate the proletariat. Since the proles are regarded as having no intellect, there is no need to control their opinions. Party members, however, live under constant surveillance by the Thought Police. Every aspect of a Party member’s life and behavior is subject to scrutiny, and although there are no laws in Oceania, any hint of a failure to conform to Party doctrine could lead to vaporization. Party members are supposed to have the correct emotions and beliefs without having to think about it, and they are meant to turn the dissatisfaction they might otherwise find with their lives outward in the form of hatred of enemies and love of Big Brother. They are trained in a mental discipline that begins with crimestop, which encompasses the ability to stop oneself before fully forming a heretical thought and the inability to understand or be interested in the heretical ideas of others. Then there is blackwhite, the ability to not only believe but know with certainty that black is white—and to forget it was ever otherwise—if that is the version of reality the Party chooses to present through its continual alteration of the past.
The Party alters the past for two reasons: to prevent its members from unfavorably comparing their present to the past and to ensure the Party presents an appearance of total infallibility. History is therefore rewritten and records “rectified” to show that the Party is always right and never changes doctrines, enemies, or allies. The central tenet of Ingsoc is that the past can be altered because it has no objective reality; it exists only in records and memories. The training of Party members’ memories to agree with the records is therefore the most important aspect of the alteration process. The ability to rearrange one’s memories in this way and then forget that one has done so is known as doublethink and comprises the very essence of Ingsoc. Doublethink is what the Party employs when it knowingly practices deception while at the same time acting with what appears to be total honesty. It is also what has allowed the Party to arrest history and attain a seemingly permanent position of power. All past oligarchies fell either due to the ruling class’s unconscious weakness or conscious making of concessions. Doublethink, by contrast, allows the Party to be conscious of and learn from its past mistakes while at the same time believing itself to be infallible. It is the highest-ranking members of the Party who display the greatest talent for doublethink and the truest enthusiasm for the war. In other words, the most intelligent people are the least sane, the most knowledgeable are the most ignorant, and the most cynical are the most fanatical. Everything about the Party is contradictory on principle, in particular its rejection of all the original tenets of the Socialist movement in the name of Socialism. The four Ministries also serve as examples of these deliberate contradictions: the Ministry of Peace deals with war, Truth with lies, Love with torture, and Plenty with starvation. By basing the entirety of society on contradictions, the Party has established “controlled insanity” as the prevailing mental state. In so doing, it has apparently succeeded in permanently preventing the advent of social equality.
The one question that remains, Goldstein says, is the question of why the Party wants to prevent social equality. Just as Winston reaches a passage that seems to be about to explain the Party’s true, original motive for seizing power and establishing the Thought Police, the endless war, and the practice of doublethink, Winston realizes that Julia has fallen asleep. He stops reading and lies down beside her, thinking to himself that after what he has read, he understands how the Party operates but not why. Nevertheless, the book has reassured him that he is not insane and that objective truth really exists. He falls asleep feeling safe and confident, murmuring, “Sanity is not statistical.”