I recently came across George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell is known for his insight into the behaviour of revolutionary governments. What I found in the book had me gasping for air.
1984 is set in a post-revolution world divided into three regions: Oceania, Eastacia and Eurasia. Winston, the protagonist, is based in Oceania. Oceania is ruled by “The Party” and a leader known only as “Big Brother”. The Party subscribes to the principles of “Ingsoc”. The only resistance movement is an almost-mythical underground organisation known as “The Brotherhood”. The Brotherhood is led by Emmanuel Goldstein. Once a member of The Party, Goldstein disappeared many years ago but remains public enemy number one. It is rumoured that Goldstein wrote the elusive and prohibited Red Book. Winston obtains a copy of the book.
The Red Book is titled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. It explains the system of thoughts of an orthodox Party member, known in Newspeak — the lingua Franca of Oceania — as a Goodthinker. These systems of thought — embedded into members through elaborate mental training — are Crimestop, Blackwhite and Doublethink.
Crimestop means the power of not grasping ideologies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to the Party. It means the ability to be bored or repelled by any argument which challenges the Party.
Crimestop entails more than mere stupidity, but the ability to completely control one’s thought processes. The society rest ultimately on the assumption that the Party is omnipotent and infallible.
Blackwhite has two meanings. When applied to an opponent, it means the habit of prudently claiming that black is white and contradict plain facts. To a Party member, it means the loyal willingness to say black is white when Party discipline demands so. It means the ability to believe that black is white, to know that black is white. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, facts and reality.
Doublethink (or reality control) means the power to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them. The Party intellectual knows which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality. By exercising Doublethink, he satisfies himself that reality is not violated. For a party member, no change in doctrine of political alignment can ever be admitted.
The Red Book might as well have been set in post-apartheid South Africa where The Party is the ANC, a Goodthinker is a loyal member and Ingsoc is the ubiquitous National Democratic Revolution.
Crimestop means the power to overlook the glaring failure and incapacities of the ANC. It entails the habit of being repelled by any challenge to the ANC government or its elected representatives. It entails the notion that any opposition is “counter-revolutionary”.
As recently as the Mangaung elective conference, President Jacob Zuma of the ANC said it was unacceptable to take the party to court to challenge internal processes. That is to say, even when the ANC’s internal processes are irregular, a Goodthinker must exercise Crimestop to accept the unjust outcome of such processes. Those who dare to challenge the ANC are ”dealt with”.
Blackwhite calls for deliberate ignorance. It embraces a doctrinal hypocrisy; the ability to embrace lies and incompetence for greater good. The ANC Goodthinker must believe that the ANC cares about the poor and must know that ANC cares about the poor, irrespective of the prior knowledge that policy is dictated by business tycoons with speed-dial-access to the top leadership.
Doublethink requires the members to know and believe that members of the party are not squandering public funds to build private mansions. They must accept the spending of R206 million from the public purse to build a private mansion when children are still learning in mud huts.
Exercising Doublethink, the top ANC leaders consider themselves champions of the struggle of the poor yet they continue to hold wide-ranging business interests including interests in the same ”capitalist-tendencies” they criticise. Those who do not openly hold stakes in banks and mining companies rely on their spouses.
Julius Malema identified himself as a poor black championing the struggle of the poor. But the taxman exposed a young man with a very handsome bank account, a man of very exquisite tastes. Heck, he was a millionaire. Through the exercise of Doublethink, Malema believed he was poor and was championing the struggle of the poor.
How did we get here, you ask.
Edward Rees in The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorships traces the development of cult leadership. Rees argues that a cult leadership is an established system of a political organisation to which all members of society are expected to subscribe. The system is expected to persist indefinitely. Rees soon hits home. He says “states beset by economic failure and social conflict invariable respond by seeking symbolic legitimation where there is low consensus on ideological and programmic goals, regimes seek to reinforce symbolic attachment; appeal is made to the loyalty of their citizens, loyalty to the state, to the party and to the leader”.
But these are only my thoughts. What do you think?