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Only four years after publishing his fable Animal Farm, a biting satire of Joseph Stalin’s horrific regime of terror, George Orwell turned his attention to the future. But his next book was to be no satire, no fable. What emerged from Orwell’s pen in 1949 was the most grimly dystopian novel ever written: 1984.
Foreseeing that Stalin’s brand of radical socialism would prevail and spread, Orwell decided to describe the likely outcome in a future where a single party held absolute power, and kept it by using newly developing technologies in order to maintain their hold. The weapon that would keep party members in line was terror. Many of the book’s themes parallel the Soviet regime. The omnipresent images of Big Brother were based on Stalin. Production figures are a reflection of Soviet five-year plans. The methods of torture are similar to the procedures used by the Soviet NKVD officers. The constant state of war is used to rally the support of the masses. Hate Week was inspired by the constant rallies held throughout the Soviet Union. The surveillance state was all-powerful, and no one could escape it.
The only question that remained in Orwell’s mind before he died was what kind of despotism the democracies would fall under. Would it be a nationalist coup d’etat from above? Or communist revolution from below?