George Orwell’s 1984. We’re almost there. Or are we? Walter Cronkite thinks the danger looms, and if anyone speaks for the “thinking”American it is surely Walter Cronkite. He said it again in a special preface to the Orwell novel in 1983, as the fatal year approached. After ticking off the menace of orbiting satel­lites that can read license plates in a parking lot, computers that can tap into thousands of telephone calls, and scientists investigating the “vast potential” of genetic engineering, Cronkite warned (a touch of prudence creeping in), “1984 may not arrive on time, but there’s always 1985.”

It may come as a disappointment to those who think they get original thought from the giants of American television to learn that there is not a single idea in Cronkite’s “Special Preface” to the New American Library edition of Orwell’s novel published in 1983 that is not present in the “Afterword” to the same edition written by Erich Fromm 22 years earlier, in 1961. Fromm, a refugee from nazi Germany who became famous for his Escape From Freedom–an analysis of the totalitarianism of the right–was peculiarly sanguine about dangers emanating from the totalitarianism of the left, and warns in the last line of his analysis of the Orwell book: “…it would be most unfortunate if the reader smugly interpreted 1984 as another description of Stanlinist barbarism, and if he does not see that it means us, too.”

1984 is not just “another description” of Stalinist barbarism. Those have been written for us by people who experienced the system firsthand, from Victor Serge to Aleksandr Solzhenit­syn to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko. 1984 is a nightmare vision of the communist world–unrealistic, maybe, carried to ex­tremes, perhaps, but possessing a mythic quality of such power that, along with Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, it became the livre de chevet of an entire class of American leaders who, with nazi Germany defeated, swung all of their con­siderable will and energy into resistance to that other totalitar­ian system, communism.

It requires a peculiarly convoluted mind–which might be called an example of the New Double think–to read 1984 today, knowing the history, goals, and techniques of the com­munist system, and think that the book has any thing at all to do with our kind of society. Admittedly, since Orwell’s death, we have witnessed a vast expansion of the electronic, computer, and electro-optical industries that could greatly increase the potential for surveillance of its citizens by a police state–if we had such a state. But the surveillance systems (two-way televi­sion sets in every home, electronic bugging even in parks) are merely ancillary futuristic devices. The heart of 1984 is the na­ture of the society depicted–a society exercising total con­trol over the minds of its citizens, preventing even that once­ famous horror of the masters of the Kremlin, the “revolt with­ in the skull.” One has only to read 10 pages of 1984 to see that every single one of the features of this nightmare world is almost a straight-line extrapolation of the innovative–and to Orwell utterly hateful–characteristics of the Soviet system. Winston Smith, the book’s protagonist, works at the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite history. He remembers perfectly well (and this is the sort of thing that will be his eventual undoing) that four years earlier Oceania, his country, had been allied with Eurasia in a war against Eastasia. But now that the alliances have been reversed and his country is in al­liance with Eastasia  in a war against Eurasia, all references to the earlier alignment have been erased from every printed record and, ostensibly, from the minds of the people of Oceania.

Now, during the decade or so before Orwell wrote 1984, the Soviet Union had carried out some of the most spectacular volte-faces in history. Before Hitler came to power, com­munists had hated Social Democrats and called them “social fascists,” but when Moscow realized its policy had been a stupendous error and formed the grand and glorious Popular Front, Socialists became beloved brothers in arms and all ref­erences to their earlier pariah status were banned. Then, in 1939, when Stalin signed his famous Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler, all negative references to Hitler were suddenly obliterated and it became a crime throughout the U.S.S.R to use the word “fascist.” But when, only two years later, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, all references to the earlier German alliance were banned and eradicated from the historical rec­ord. To this day, the tradition continuing in an attenuated form, one looks in vain for the names of Soviet rulers Lavrenti Beria and Georgi Malenkov (not to mention Trotsky) in the Soviet Encyclopedia. They are not there. They have been “va­porized,” to use Orwell’s word. They are “non-persons.” They have disappeared down the “memory hole.” At no time has any government in the West, above all the United States, at­tempted anything remotely resembling this official attempt to rewrite the past. When World War II broke out and the earlier policyof appeasement was totally discredited, no one attemp­ted to claim that it had never existed. There was, infact, some brooding about the mistaken policy. Many loose ends re­mained loose. When the wartime Soviet alliance was in full sway and the plea went out for Russian War Relief, there were always voices to be heard chiding mordantly, “And what hap­pened to Finnish War Relief?”

But, central as it is to 1984, the rewriting of history is only one of hundreds of the book’s themes taken straight from the model of Soviet totalitarianism. On the novel’s second page we hear of the current “Three Year Plan”–whereas the Soviet Union was famous for its Five Year Plans. Within the next few pages we encounter references to “shortages” (still a feature of the Soviet system), the fact that there were “no longer any laws” (true defacto of the Soviet Union for crimes against the state and de jure of communist China in all areas until only the last few years), “the Party,” the “Inner Party,” “forced-labor camps,” the daily “Two Minute Hate” (here he anticipated Peking, which in 1950 was already instituting “Hate Weeks”), and, of course, the “Thought Police” (this term borrowed from the Japanese, who, under the military clique that led them in World War II, literally had “Thought Police”). But perhaps the most telltale figure of all is “Emmanuel Goldstein,” Enemy of the People:

the renegade and back slider who…had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counterrevolutionary activities… All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviation, sprang directly out of his teaching.

Goldstein is such a transparent surrogate for Trotsky that it is hard to imagine what figure even Erich Fromm could have found to offer as the personage that President Reagan, for ex­ample, might currently use for his “Goldstein.” Even the sug­gestion is ludicrous. And all these examples are taken from only the first 10 pages of 1984. As the novel proceeds, its hatred for a system of government which aspires to total control of all institutions of society and every one of its citizens becomes even more intense.

1984, of course, was not a gloomy Prediction of Things To Come; it was Orwell’s warning of the horrors of totalitarianism, particularly of the Soviet variety. But as a rough prediction of the destiny of a communist society it still has much to recom­mend it. Although it has never again sunk to the depths of the deranged coercion of the Stalin period, with innocent men confessing in show trials to crimes they had never committed, the nature of the Soviet state has not changed fundamentally. After all these decades, and all these Five Year Plans, and all of Khrushchev’s promises to “overrake” the West economically in 20 years, it still remains a society of scarcity. Despite the hopes pinned to “the Thaw” and “Detente” and the optimists who thought that increased contact with the West would “liberalize” the Soviet system, it has not been liberalized. The Soviet state offers virtually none of the freedoms promised in its own Constitution but continues to rule by repression. People still do not speak freely and sincerely to anyone out­side a circle of the most trusted friends–if even then. Class stratifications exist, despite vigorous official protests to the contrary, with what Orwell called the “Inner Party” now often referred to as the “Red Bourgeoisie” or even the “Red Aristoc­racy.” Defectors still move from East to West, and not vice versa. No one, as Senator Moynihan says, “swims through shark infested waters to reach the shores of East Germany.”

And yet Orwell, if we take his work as even a nightmare pro­jection of a communist society, was off the mark on two major points:(1) the ability of a totalitarian state to obliterate mem­ory (“He who controls the past controls the future; he who controls the present controls the past”); and (2) his famous  “doublethink.”

One of the spectacular findings of Antonov-Ovseyenko, the Soviet dissident who had access to some of the unpublished findings of Khrushchev’s commission investigating the crimes of Stalin, was that–after 20 years of saturation state pro­paganda claiming that Kirov had been assassinated by Trotskyite agents, which triggered the Great Purge–some of the com­mission members were told in Leningrad with a smile that, why, “everyone in Leningrad” knew that Kirov had been killed by Stalin. Memory had not been destroyed. The people knew. In Poland, where resistance to official communist mythology has been strengthened by powerful nationalist hatred of Rus­sia, official myths have had even less impact. I have never met a Pole, in Poland, who did not know the true circumstances of the 1944 Warsaw Rising by the anticommunist Home Army, when Soviet forces waited with folded arms on the other side of the Vistula for the Germans to put down the revolt and slaughter a quarter of a million Poles. Driving by the Vistula some years before Solidarity, a Pole pointed across the river and said to me with a strange combination of casualness and bitterness, “That’s where the Russians waited while we Poles were dying.” So Orwell might have overrated the ability of a totalitarian state to repress that “revolt within the skull.” Perhaps it is because although most people’s grasp on reality is often weak, the harshness of life in Eastern Europe has given the citizens of those states a stronger sense of the real world (and here is the paradox) than that of much of the intellectual class in the West.

But the key to it all is Orwell’s “doublethink”: “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies … above all, to apply the same process to the process itself–that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” Orwell’s assumption was that to produce this malfunctioning of the reasonable mind would require the efforts of an omnipotent, omnipresent, all­ intrusive state. But in my extensive travels in the countries of the Warsaw Pact (admittedly long after both Orwell’s and Sta­lin’s death) I have encountered vulgar hypocrisy, obtuseness, embarrassment, lying in all its multifarious forms, and sus­tained bursts of honesty depending on the year and country. But I am not certain I have ever encountered doublethink. Where I encounter doublethink regularly is in the West, where large numbers of the intellectual, semi-intellectual, and pseudointellectual classes–totally uncoerced by party, state, or even public opinion but accomplishing feats of self­ hypnosis–routinely give themselves over to monstrosities of doublethink. The ladies of Greenham Common, in England, have convinced themselves that if the West will only disarm, the lion will lie down with the lamb. The admirers of Jonathan Schell’s Tbe Fate of the Earth accept his judgment that a nucle­ar holocaust can be avoided only by some nebulously defined form of ”world government” while a few hundred yards east of his office are the headquarters of the miserable remains of the most recent attempt at world government, the United Nations.

The predominant tone in American journalism today is per­sistently, if woozily, utopian. There are almost no survivors of the late Senator Jackson’s school of cold-war liberalism. Nor, to be fair, are many newsmen directly under the influence of the “hard left,” i.e., The Nation or the Socialist Workers Party or William Kunstler. Instead, with shining eyes, the media rep­resentatives look for a world without conflict, poverty, or hate, and take up a pose of contemptuous moral superiority toward those who tell them that the world is, in fact, a dangerous place, where the sttong quite habitually take advantage of the weak, and that our government must concern itself with this realty. Now these journalists’ life experiences, however limited, must have taught them something of the harshness of the world, as well as that total equality among human beings is a dream. In their rise in their profession they have not con­ducted themselves like Saint Francis of Assisi, and to my knowledge not one has ever turned down the possibility of higher financial reward. Yet in their professional pronouncements they weave fuzzily from one idealistic doctrine to another: equalitarianism, a kind of amorphous pacifism, among the more spiritually elevated even anarchism ( a doc­trine according to which man is “naturally good”). A woman who rose extremely high in the federally supported cultural hierarchy, and who has devoted her entire professional life to propagating such high-minded principles as equality, told me recently, having hired a chauffeured limousine to accomplish some minor errand, “My dear, there is really no substitute for money.” Does equality mean that we’ll all have chauffeured limousines? This I call the New Doublethink.

There has been no lack of explanations for why the intellec­tual classes and their hangers-on feel alienated from “bourgeois” society. Many used to say it was produced by re­sentment, because bourgeois society didn’t honor them (although this is becoming threadbare these days, when leading contemporary cultural figures get longer entries in encyclo­pedias than secretaries of state). Some feel the alienation is produced by a lust for power: who are these ignorant businessmen and politicians to run the country when the in­ telligentsia, so learned, so wise, does not? (With so many intel­lectuals, academics, and graduates of elite liberal-arts universities high in the councils of government, this, too, in my view, is wearing thin.) A persuasive explanation given by Max Weber is that intellectuals–less rational than they view them­selves–cannot give their allegiance to a society whose ulti­mate and sublime values have been withdrawn. And we also have the “pathology of affluence” and the “society of depen­dence,” both of which explain a growing irresponsibility of action and thought.

But the quintessence of irresponsibility in thought is double­think: calmly, complacently, smugly, to hold two totally contradictory thoughts in one’s head at the same time. To know that they are contradictory, and yet not know. To say things one does not believe, and yet to hypnotize oneself into think­ing that one does believe them. To know that the weak must yield to the strong, and yet by self-hypnosis to convince one­self that the Kingdom of God is somehow come, and that righ­teousness rules the earth.

1984 is a wonderful, fiercely anticommunist book. Every twist and turn in it is a warning, heightened imaginatively, of the horrors of communist society. Orwell’s special horror, the intellectual key necessary to make the whole thing work, was doublethink. And yet here 1984 is upon us.

It is perhaps among members of the “hard left” that some of the most striking adepts of the New Doublethink are to be found. Noam Chomsky, a Jew, recently leaped zealously to the defense of a French historian who claimed that Auschwitz and the Final Solution had never taken place and were fabrications of Allied propaganda (presumably this was out of hostility to Israel, which is pilloried systematically by the Soviet Union). Furthermore, Professor Chomsky (a linguist) leaves no doubt whatever, from his violent hatred of the United States and his elaborate apologetics in defense of regimes of the totalitarian left, that he would desire such a left-totalitarian regime for this country. But what role would Professor Chomsky occupy in such a regime? One senses a craving for power here and suspects that in one part of his mind, at least, Professor Chomsky sees himself as Minister of Culture, or Minister of Education, or perhaps even, with his gifts, Minister of Defense or Public Welfare or Central Economic Planning in such a new order. In another part of his mind, however, Professor Chomsky cannot help but know that, according to Lenin’s dictum, there is “no limit to the power of the state” in such regimes, and that they invariably fall under the control of brutal men who have a far greater aptitude for operating in lawless societies than Profes­sor Chomsky–who, after all, has had all his success under governments assuring the liberties he so despises.

So if in one part of his brilliant mind Professor Chomsky is dreaming of traveling by government limousine accompanied by police motorcade and deciding the destiny of some New America, in another part of that same mind he must know that he would have an excellent chance of ending up in the base­ment of Boston’s Charles Street Prison with a bullet in the nape of his neck. But Noam Chomsky, free, unconstrained by the power of any omnipotent state, does not seem to think much about that. “Unconscious,” as Orwell wrote, “of the act of hypnosis he has performed,” he labors tirelessly to establish a regime that would be quite likely to exterminate him. It’s the New Double think.