By ENRIQUE KRAUZE
Not long ago, I talked with my friend, the Spanish writer José María Lassalle, about the novel “1984” by George Orwell. We had my copy on hand. I transcribes the conversation.
JML: In the country dominated by Big Brother — the omnipotent, omnipresent, omnipotent character of the novel — there were several ministries, but none as important as the Ministry of Truth. It was in charge of dissimilating lies.
EK: Starting with the story, what impressed me the most was the phrase: “Whoever controls the past, controls the future, whoever controls the present, controls the past.” If the inhabitants of Oceania — the immense collectivist state that Orwell invented — knew of their past, they would control their future, which is why the party was systematically dedicated to destroying all true news of the past.
JML: But it not only destroyed the past, but also remade it and invented it. Counterfeiting applied to newspapers, books, magazines, brochures, posters, programs, movies, soundtracks, children’s comics, photographs.
EK: Winston Smith, the protagonist of the novel, worked there, remaking news in the “Records Department.” If Big Brother had promised a record for boot production and it was not achieved, the records were altered so that the past declaration matched the present results.
JML: But it not only destroyed the past, but also remade it and invented it. The textbooks were rewritten. People were convinced that so-and-so, a great general, had triumphed in a certain battle, but the general was an invention. And vice versa, the true general was erased from the texts.
EK: I underlined this paragraph from the books, referring to the past immediately prior to “the glorious Revolution of 1950” in England (now part of Oceania). A jewel: “In the old days … London was not the beautiful city we know today. It was a dark, dirty and miserable place where hardly anyone had anything to eat and hundreds and thousands of unfortunates had no shoes to wear or even a roof to sleep under. Children of the same age as you had to work 12 hours a day under the orders of cruel masters who punished them with whips if they worked too slowly and only fed them with stale bread and water. But among all this horrible misery, there were a few large and beautiful houses where the rich lived, each of whom had at least 30 servants at their disposal. These rich were called capitalists … all those who were not capitalists became their slaves. They owned all the land, all the houses, all the factories and all the money. If anyone disobeyed them, they were immediately imprisoned and could be put out of work and starved to death. When an ordinary person talked to a capitalist, they had to uncover themselves, bow deeply to him and call him sir. The supreme chief of all capitalists was called the king…”
JML: In “1984,” the newscasts propagated the phenomenal achievements of the regime and omitted the disasters.
EK: But even that control was insufficient. That is why the Ministry of Truth had agents, eyes, listeners, television screens equipped with thought, gesture and emotion sensors.
JML: And what about newspeak?
EK: It was the central instrument of domination. It had the objective of increasingly limiting the number and meaning of words, in order to reduce the range of thought and with it, reality. For example, you could say “the tablecloth is dust-free,” but you couldn’t say “I exercise my freedom of criticism.” That was a crimethink (crime of thought) punished by the Thinkpol (thought police).
JML: The newspeak was full of lies compressed into two words: They called the labor camps joycamps.
EK: They practiced institutional schizophrenia, whose method was as follows: Being aware of what is really true, while telling carefully crafted lies. Simultaneously holding two opinions, knowing that they are contradictory. Disavowing morality while summoned. Forgetting as much as it is necessary to forget and, nevertheless, bringing it to mind as soon as it is needed, and then forgetting it again.
JML: It was a totalitarian regime. What was it looking for?
EK: The regime leaders themselves proclaimed it: “The object of power is power.”
JML: Did “1984” seem credible to you when you read it for the first time?
EK: I thought it corresponded to the Stalinist era. But “1984” is a manual of 21st century populism.
JML: Shall we delete this conversation?
EK: What’s the point? Big Brother is watching.
The above article first appeared in Reforma and is being republished in Pulse News Mexico with express prior permission.