The Masses

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People always say that George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning about communism or Stalinism. One reason they say so is because Animal Farm certainly was a dark satire about the Russian Revolution (among other things), but some aspects of 1984 seem a lot closer to Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution than Russia. I am reading Anchee Min’s memoir, Red Azalea, and the world she describes, one in which people live in mortal fear of being caught in a romantic or sexual relationship, sounds a lot like life under Newthink. At one point, she describes a scene in a large park in Bejing, filled with masturbators hiding in bushes – if they tried it at “home,” they might very well be caught and denounced as a bourgeois reactionary with no devotion to the proletarian spirit, and be “sent down” to slave on the farms. The universal unisex clothing, the endless hectoring about every aspect of private life, the ceaseless propaganda pitched at high decibels…yes, 1984, and a small step to Pol Pot and the killing fields of Cambodia. The mass meetings, the mindless quoting from Mao’s Red Book – it all sounds like 1984’s anti-Goldstein rallies, and the Two-Minute Hate sessions.

In Stalin’s Russia, they didn’t care what you wore, and once you were in the Gulag, they didn’t try to reeducate you – they just expected you to work until you dropped. On the other hand, nothing I’ve read talks about Mao’s China having industrial quotas for shooting people, although they did make up for it by causing millions of people to starve to death.

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