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Michael Rademacher

Orwell and Hitler

Mein Kampf as a source for Nineteen Eighty-Four


The fact that George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is not just an attack on the Soviet Union, but also a criticism of Hitler's German Nazi Regime, has often been noticed. However, up to now there have not been any detailed studies showing which elements of Nineteen Eighty-Four have their origin in Nazi ideology or in the history of Nazi Germany. In the following article a comparison is made between elements of Nazi ideology — using Hitler's Mein Kampf as main source — with the social system and party ideology described in Nineteen Eighty-Four. I will discuss as the most important components going back to National Socialism the structure of the party and its propaganda, both being organized according to principles Hitler put down in Mein Kampf, the religious worship of power and physical violence and the pseudo-christian leader-worship.

1. Introduction

George Orwell's anti-utopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is a fundamental criticism of totalitarianism. He himself stated that in his opinion “totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.”[1] Apart from the Soviet Union, that was in many ways a model for the fictitious state of Oceania, and totalitarian Japan during the Second World War, with which George Orwell had to concern himself while working for the BBC and which provided him with the model for the ‘Thought Police’,[2] Nazi Germany in general and Hitler‘s book Mein Kampf, which Orwell reviewed in 1940, in particular provide another possible frame of reference.

In secondary literature it has indeed often been noticed that the totalitarian society described in Nineteen Eighty-Four “echoes Hitler's German Nazi Regime in numerous ways as well.”[3] Steinhoff[4] and Galtung[5], though they mention Mein Kampf in passing several times, do not concern themselves with the question whether and in what ways it could have provided Orwell with source material for Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is what John Wesley Young does, restricting himself however to linguistic and stylistic problems. Young comes tho the conclusion that “without question Mein Kampf supplied him [Orwell] with primary source material for Nineteen Eighty-Four.[6] It shall be the purpose of this essay to show that ideas from Hitler's Mein Kampf did in fact play an important role in the genesis of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

2. Hitler as a model for ‘Big Brother’

George Orwell had a rather ambivalent attitude towards Hitler. On the one hand he strictly disapproved of Hitler's ideas; antisemitism especially was for Orwell “simply not the doctrine of a grown-up person.”[7] On the other hand he was not completely immune to Hitler's charisma. In his review of Mein Kampf he wrote:

I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power — till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter — I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him.[8]

George Orwells ambivalent attitude towards Hitler is reflected in the attitude of Winston Smith towards Big Brother, suddenly realizing during the ‘Two Minutes Hate’, that “his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of Asia.”[9] The latter is a typical motif in the war-propaganda of Joseph Goebbels, who regarded the Soviet Union and soviet bolshevism as an “Ansturm der Steppe [assault of the steppe]”[10].

Another detail linking Adolf Hitler and ‘Big Brother’ in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the quasi-religious way in which he is revered by the party. Whereas in 1939 Orwell spoke of the “oriental worship of Stalin”[11], the worship of Hitler clearly contains a strong christian element. Hitler was not only presented by Nazi propaganda as a ‘saviour’. From reading Mein Kampf one can get the impression that Hitler indeed thought of himself as a christlike saviour-figure. In Mein Kampf he wrote: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.[12] National Socialism was his “political faith” (Hitler, 346) or “political creed” (Hitler, 350), terms turning up again in Nineteen Eighty-Four as “the sacred principles of Ingsoc” (Orwell, 179). To Munich, that was to be the centre of the Nazi movement, Hitler ascribed “the magic spell of a Mecca or a Rome” (Hitler, 315), the Nazi Party being a “tightly organised community of faith and struggle” (Hitler, 346). Winning Germany over for National Socialism was his “sacred mission” (Hitler, 509).

In 1940 George Orwell reviewed Mein Kampf. The book contained a photograph of Hitler that Orwell described as follows:: "In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself."[13] Eitner, not quoting Orwell, comes to the same conclusion: “Since his Damascus-experience [the prison-sentence served in Landsberg 1923/24, M. R.] Hitler does not see himself any longer as a ‘Saint-John-nature’ or a drummer, but as a ‘political Jesus’ or ‘Führer’.”[14] The pseudo-christian worship of Hitler Orwell diagnosed has found its way into the description of the ‘Two Minutes Hate’: “With a tremulous murmur that sounded like ‘My Saviour!’ she extended her arms towards the screen. Then she buried her face in her hands. It was apparent that she was uttering a prayer” (Orwell, 170). Just as ‘Big Brother’ is “infallible” (Orwell, 337), Hitler claimed “infallibility” (Hitler, 413) for his ideology.

Another similarity between Hitler and ‘Big Brother’ lies in the use of the “trick of asking questions and then promptly answering them” (Orwell, 196). This trick was developed by Adolf Hitler during his early ‘Kampfzeit [time of struggle]’ until his failed putsch in November 1923. At that time, Hitler was not yet well-known and often had to speak before an audience in which his own supporters formed only a small minority and could not yet rely on a strong SA to protect him against communist rioters intent on breaking up the meeting. In those days, his speeches were often visited by ideologically well-schooled members of the German Communist Party, who tried, by interjected questions, to put him off and to present his argumentation as implausible. Hitler, however, found a way to make these attempts at disturbing him ineffective:

In those days I learned something important in a short time, to strike the weapon of reply out of the enemy's hand myself [...] and it is still my pride today to have found the means, not only to render this propaganda ineffective, but in the end to strike its makers with their own weapon. [...] In every single speech it was important to realise clearly in advance the presumable content and form of the objections, and to pull every one of them apart in the speech itself. Here it was expedient to cite the possible objections ourselves at the outset and demonstrate their untenability (Hitler, 424 f.).

Altogehter one can say that there a lot of points indicating that Hitler was next to Stalin another historical model for ‘Big Brother’. This corroborates Crick's thesis, that ‘Big Brother’ is “a Hitler-Stalin figure.”[15]

3. The party and its ideology

Hitler's Mein Kampf, which George Orwell studied intensively[16], did not only contribute to the genesis of ‘Big Brother’, but also made him see Stalinism and National Socialis as two political systems, which, as he wrote in his review of Franz Borkenau's The Totalitarian Enemy, “having started from opposite ends, are rapidly evolving towards the same system — a form of oligarchical collectivism.”[17] George Orwell wrote this a few weeks after having reviewed Mein Kampf. At this point in time, in spring 1940, he already used the term that describes the political system in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The idea for the totalitarian form of society of ‘oligarchical collectivism’ therefore does not go back, as Crick indirectly suggest,[18] to Burnham's The Managerial Revolution,[19] which was published only in 1941, but goes back to Orwell's reading of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and Franz Borkenau's The Totalitarian Enemy. The war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, whose ideologies, in Orwell's opinion, would have soon been identical, did therefore form the historical background for the war between the three super-states, which also claim to fight each other for ideological reasons, though their “three philosophies are barely distinguishable, and the social systems which they support are not distinguishable at all”(Orwell, 327).

In Nineteen Eighty-Four the four pyramids housing the ministries are the visible symbol of the rule of the party: “So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously” (Orwell, 159) Such monumental buildings were very much to the taste of the would-be architect Hitler, who complained in Mein Kampf that “our big cities of today possess no monuments [here Hitler does not mean monuments in the narrower, but monumental buildings in the wider sense of the meaning, M. R.], which might be somehow regarded as the symbols of the whole epoch.”[20] The four pyramids are indeed ‘symbols of the whole epoch’, as they do not only symbolize the “pyramidal structure”(Orwell, 327) of the society of Oceania, ‘Big Brother’ coming “at the apex of the pyramid” (Orwell, 337), but they also also carry in large letters the three slogans of the party ‘War is Peace’, ‘Ignorance is Strength’ and ‘Freedom is Slavery’.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four the party, which in all totalitarian systems is always identical with the state, is regarded as some kind of organism:

You are thinking that I talk of power, and yet I am not even able to prevent the decay of my own body. Can you not understand, Winston, that the individual is only a cell? The weariness of the cell is the vigour of the organism.” (Orwell, 387).

Thus the old picture of the ‘body politic’ gains a new dimension. This new dimension can also be found in Hitler's thinking. In Mein Kampf he wrote that “organisation is a thing that owes its existence to organic life, organic development.”(527) This shall be valid not only for the party, but also for the state: “From a dead mechanism which only lays claim to existence for its own sake, there must be formed a living organism with the exclusive aim of serving a higher idea.” (Hitler, 362) The logical consequence is that the death of the individual is not important. O'Brien explains to Winston Smith: “‘Can you not understand that the death of the individual is not death? The party is immortal’.” (Orwell, 391) This point, however, was in George Orwell's opinion crucially important, because “the major problem of our time is the decay of the belief in personal immortality”,[21] for “if death ends everything, it becomes much harder to believe that you can be in the right even if you are defeated.”[22]

Totalitarian states usually try to control their population in all areas of life. Even so, in Nineteen Eighty-Four only 15% of the Oceanian population are party members. However, this makes perfect sense when one considers what Hitler wrote about the size of organisations: “Organisations, in other words, membership figures, which grow beyond a certain level gradually loose their fighting power and are no longer capable of supporting or utilising the propaganda of an idea resolutely and aggressively.” (Hitler, 531) This is just what the leaders of the Inner Party are interested in: making their rule as effective and long-lasting as possible. Furthermore, limiting the membership of the party makes sense, as a constant supervision and, if necessary, a brainwashing of the whole population would involve too much effort.

In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four the party is divided into an Inner and an Outer Party. The Inner Party comprises intellectuals like O'Brien and is “described as the brain of the State” (Orwell, 337), whereas the Outer Party partly consists of members who often do jobs typical of the proles. Winston Smith sees Julia, whom he also characterizes as “only a rebel from the waist downwards” (Orwell, 291) “with oily hands and carrying a spanner” (Orwell, 164), while Parsons, a man of “paralysing stupidity” (Orwell, 174 f.), “was employed in some subordinate post for which intelligence was not required.” (Orwell, 175) The reason for this division into an Inner and an Outer Party becomes plausible only when one knows what Hitler wrote about the organisation of a party:

It lies in the nature of an organisation that it can only exist if a broad mass, with a more emotional attitude, serves a high intellectual leadership. A company of two hundred men of equal intellectual ability would in the long run be harder to discipline than a company of a hundred and ninety intellectually less capable men and ten with higher education. [...] They [the political parties of the middle-class as opposed to the Communist and the Nazi Party, M. R.] never understood that the strength of a political party lies by no means in the greatest possible independent intellect of the individual members, but rather in the disciplined obedience with which its members follow the intellectual leadership (Hitler, 415)

This also provides a possible explanation why a loyal party member like Syme gets ‘vaporised’. Naturally, in Nineteen Eighty-Four the ‘disciplined obedience’ is taken to extremes. Here the party members are even expected to believe that two plus two makes four if the ‘intellectual leadership’ of the Inner Party says so. At the same time, the simple party member is left in the dark about the real purpose of the rule of the party. Winston Smith learns this real purpose — the worship of power as such — only during his stay in the ‘Ministry of Love’. Whereas in stalinist Russia a thorough ideological schooling of the party members was deemed to be of great importance, in Hitlers opinion it was “not necessary that every individual fighting for this philosophy should obtain a full insight and precise knowledge of the ultimate ideas and thought processes of the leaders of the movement.” (Hitler, 414).

A party that wants to consolidate its rule for all time has to attach great importance to the recruitment of their new generations. The party, as Goldstein makes clear in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism,

“does not aim at transmitting power to its own children, as such; and if there were no other way of keeping the ablest people at the top, it would be perfectly prepared to recruit an entire new generation from the ranks of the proletariat.” (Orwell, 338)

The reason is that “hereditary aristocracies have always been shortlived, whereas adoptive organizations such as the catholic Church have sometimes lasted for hundreds or thousands of years.”(Orwell, 338) For the same reason Hitler claimed that “in this the Catholic Church can be regarded as a model example” (Hitler, 393), as it draws its “future generation again and again from the broad people instead of from their own ranks.” (Hitler, 393) A constitution based on a hereditary monarchy was in Hitler's opinion out of the question, “for monarchs only in the rarest cases are the cream of wisdom and reason or even of character” (Hitler, 217), so people “must be content if the malice of Fate abstains at least from the worst possible mistakes.” (Hitler, 217) So Goldstein, though indisputably being modelled on Leo Bronstein aliasTrotsky, uses the same argumentation in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism as Hitler in Mein Kampf.

In recruiting a new generation it must be made sure that only the most able candidates get into leading positions. Hitler, who regarded the “theory about the equality of men” as “a sin against all reason” (Hitler, 391), drew the conclusion that “the best state constitution and state form is that which, with the most unquestioned certainty, raises the best minds in the national community to leading position and leading influence.”(Hitler, 408) Therefore, the state must select “the human material visibly most gifted by nature and [...] use it in the service of the community.”(Hitler, 393) This demand of Hitler is fulfilled in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The child of Inner Party parents is in theory not born into the Inner Party. Admission to either branch of the Party is by examination, taken at the age of sixteen.” (Orwell, 337)

One point in which Nazi ideology differs visibly from stalinism is the permanent use of religious vocabulary. Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four one gets the impression that O'Brien and the members of the Inner Party see themselves as some kind of religious order. In Hitler's opinion this religious element is vital for a political movement:

“The greatness of every mighty organisation embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism, and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly imposes its will against all others.”(Hitler, 318)

Against this background it seems to be a logical consequence that O'Brien calls the members of the Inner Party “priests of power” (Orwell, 387)[23]. In Animal Farm, being a satire on the Russian Revolution, the language of the pigs is modelled on the language of communist ideologists, lacking the religious element[24]. This shows that Orwell regarded the use of pseudo-christian religious vocabulary as primarily a feature of Nazism.[25]

The Inner Party defines ‘power’ as physical violence: “‘Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation’” (Orwell, 389), as O'Brien explains to Winston Smith. This corresponds to what Franz Borkenau wrote about the National Socialists in The Totalitarian Enemy:

If in the Nazi faith the Jew is the archenemy, then the Nazi methods of Jew baiting must be regarded as the incarnation of the Nazi Spirit. And that spirit is one of sadistic torture of helpless and innocent victims.[26]

In the days of the Weimar republic the members of the Nazi Party and the SA especially were accused of the “brutal worship of the blackjack” (Hitler, 330) and of using violence just because they “honoured the blackjack as the highest spirit” (Hitler, 488)[27], which Hitler of course denies, because, as O'Briens explains to Winston Smith, “‘the German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives.’”(Orwell, 386) Again, a comparison with Animal Farm shows that Orwell regarded the worship of power as such as a feature of Nazism. For the pigs, violence is only a means to safeguard their power and the good life that goes along with it, violence and power not being ends in themselves.

Interestingly enough in Nineteen Eighty-Four the rubber truncheon is a much more general symbol of physical violence than the boot.[28] The “gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms” (Orwell, 160) reminding the reader of the black uniforms of the members of the SS, are “armed with jointed truncheons” (Orwell, 160) and the ‘Victory Gin’ causes a “sensation of being hit on the back of the head with a rubber club.” (Orwell, 160) The rubber truncheon also symbolises Winston Smith's own violent potential. Having the impression that Julia is a member or an informer of the Thought Police he imagines flogging “her to death with a rubber truncheon.” (Orwell, 169)

Totalitarian rulers, who worship power and violence, take of course always care to safeguard their power. Goldstein says in his book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism: “In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.”(Orwell, 321) This idea goes directly back to Mein Kampf. Hitler alleged that the Jews safeguarded their secret power by keeping the German workers in misery and ignorance, using both the “bourgeois camp” (Hitler, 46) and marxist unions. Therefore, in Mein Kampf he stated: “The question of the ‘nationalisation’ of a people is, among other things, primarily a question of creating healthy social conditions as a foundation for the possibility of educating the individual.”(Hitler, 31) Hitler never had any scruples about using the methods of his adversaries, if he thought they were effective. Therefore, it would appear that, after the ‘nationalisation’ of the masses, i. e. after having won them over for his policy and after his rise to power, Hitler would use the alleged Jewish methods to safeguard his own power. Even in the thirties there were some signs to this effect, when the Nazi government offered to the German population ‘guns before butter’ and, to compensate for it, insipid entertainment films.

The only ones who have got the power to end the rule of the party are the proles: “the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire.” (Orwell, 216) Hitler as well spoke of “the tremendous power which at all times must be attributed to the masses as the repository of revolutionary resistance.” (Hitler, 99) What is needed for a revolution are “not a hundred or two hundred reckless conspirators, but a hundred thousand and a second hundred thousand [fanatic] fighters.” (Hitler, 494) An uprising of the proles is, however, unthinkable. The reason is given in Goldsteins The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism: “The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are suppressed.” (Orwell, 336) Winston Smith formulates it in his diary like this:

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. That, he reflected, might almost have been a transcription from one of the Party textbooks.” (Orwell, 217)

In fact it could have been taken right out of Mein Kampf, as in Hitler's opinion “the political understanding of the broad masses is far from being highly enough developed to arrive at definite general political views of thein own accord” (Hitler, 78), so that at the beginning of his political career he came to the conclusion that “the great masses could be saved, if only with the gravest sacrifice in time and patience” (Hitler, 57).

An important instrument for the safeguarding of power is the permanent state of war, because “the object of war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact” (Orwell, 329) The war “is also useful in keying up public morale to the necessary pitch” (Orwell, 336). This corresponds to Hitler's views, as from reading Mein Kampf one gets the impression that Hitler was convinced of the necessity of an eternal war:

In the end, only the urge for self-preservation can conquer. Beneath it so-called humanity, the expression of a mixture of stupidity, cowardice, and know-it-all conceit, will melt like snow in the March sun. Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish (Hitler, 124).

Accordingly, in his review of Mein Kampf George Orwell described Hitler's vision of the future as a “horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder”,[29] a vision he called “monstrous”[30] .

The continually changing alliances between the three super-states fit Hitler's idea of foreign policy well: “The promise for the linking of national destinies is never based on mutual respect, let alone affection, but on the prospect of expediency for both contracting parties” (Hitler, 564) In the foreign policy of the three super-states “the slave population of the equatorial lands, who pass constantly from conqueror to conqueror” (Orwell, 337) does not play an important role. Whereas the Russian Bolshevists after the October Revolution refused to grant the other peoples of the former tsarist Russia the right of self-determination, arguing that they must be brought communism and in this way be helped in their development, Hitler in Mein Kampf stated unequivocally that he does not care for the destiny of underdeveloped nations: “In particular, we are not constables guarding the well-known ‘poor little nations’, but soldiers of our own nation” (Hitler, 597).

In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four the only object of war is to destroy superfluous wealth “in a psychologically acceptable way” (Orwell, 322). The economy as such does not play any role in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell does not give any detailed description of it is organisation[31]. For the state and the safeguarding of power it is irrelevant: “Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared.” (Orwell, 191). This corresponds to Hitler's views about economics, who did not regard it as a vital factor for the state:

“How little the state-forming and state-preserving qualities are connected with economics is most clearly shown by the fact that the inner strength of a state only in the rarest cases coincides with so-called economic prosperity” (Hitler, 139).

It was important to him “to combat the error that the nation and the state owed their survival to economics and not to eternal ideal values” (Hitler, 215). In the same way, the rulers in Nineteen Eighty-Four are only interested in the ‘inner Strength’ of their state and its survival.

Another aspect of the systematic neglect of economics is that even “the favoured groups” live “somewhere near the brink of hardship” (Orwell, 322). The slightly better living conditions of Inner Party members differ just enough from the living conditions of Outer Party members to create a psychologically effective difference of status. A more convenient lifestyle would therefore be no reason to strive for a position in the Inner Party. In Hitler's opinion as well a higher position did not necessarily have to go along with economic advantages. He even warned that

we must in future guard ourselves against an excessive differentiation of wage rates. Let it not be said that this would destroy achievement. It would be the saddest sign of the decay of a period if the impetus to a higher spiritual achievement lay only in the increased wage. If this criterion had been the sold determinant in the world up to now, humanity would never have received its greatest scientific and cultural treasures (Hitler, 396 f.).

One can say that Hitler's views on the meaning of economics for the state and economic advantages for people in leading positions corresponds to what Goldstein writes in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. In contrast, the pigs in Animal Farm, being caricatures of communist functionaries, show no liking whatsoever for a frugal lifestyle.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four science does not play an important role, apart from the development of new weapons, which remind the reader of Hitler's ‘miracle weapons’ with which he hoped to still win the war even in 1945. The disregard of science and even denial of the existence of objective truth, which in Nineteen Eighty-Four play such a crucial role, can also be found in Mein Kampf:

With a doctrine that is really sound in its broad outlines, it is less harmful to retain a formulation, even if it should not entirely correspond to reality, than by improving it to expose what hitherto seemed a granite principle of the movement to general discussion with all its evil consequences. (417)

Just as with the question of the recruitment of new generations, Hitler presented the attitude of the Catholic Church towards science as a model example:

Here, too, we can learn by the example of the Catholic Church. [...] It has recognised quite correctly that its power of resistance does not lie in its lesser or greater adaptation to the scientific findings of the moment, which in reality are always fluctuating, but rather in rigidly holding to dogmas once established, for it is only such dogmas which lend to the whole body the character of a faith. And so today it stands more firmly than ever. (Hitler, 417)

Of course Hitler did not disbelieve in the existence of objective truth, though this is just what George Orwell thought about him, as can be shown by a quotation from “Looking Back on the Spanish War”:

Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as ‘science’. There is only ‘German science’, ‘Jewish science’ etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.[32]

Therefore, it is only a logical consequence that in Newspeak “there was, indeed, no word for ‘Science’” (Orwell, 426), as is made clear in the appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The permanent falsification of history has to be taken in context with the denial of the existence of objective truth. Winston Smith does not see the purpose of such a faking of history: “The immediate advantages of falsifying the past were obvious, but the ultimate motive was mysterious. He took up his pen and wrote: I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.” (Orwell, 225) O'Brien explains to Winston Smith, refering to this diary-entry, the rulers of the Inner Party are interested in power and in safeguarding it. He does not explain how a falsification of history can safeguard power. An explanation can be found in Mein Kampf. In Hitler's opinion, the authority of any government was based first of all on the factors popularity and force, these factors being given by propaganda and the work of the Thought Police. However, the Party has been in government for only about 25 years, so its rule has no tradition. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf:

If popularity and force are combined, and if in common they are able to survive for a certain time, an authority on an even firmer basis can arise, the authority of tradition. If finally, popularity, force and tradition combine, an authority may be regarded as unshakable. (471)

Therefore it absolutely makes sense to create an ‘artificial’ tradition through the faking of history. Party members are expected to accept this with the help of Doublethink, whereas the proles do not even recognize it, as “they remembered all the useless things [...], but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision.”(Orwell, 236) In this way, the totalitarian rulers in Nineteen Eighty-Four take up an idea from Hitler's Mein Kampf and draw it out to its logical consequences, just as George Orwell stated, that in Nineteen Eighty-Four he had “tried to draw these [totalitarian] ideas out to their logical consequences.”[33]

Crime is not seen as a threat by the totalitarian rulers: “There was a vast amount of criminality in London, a whole world-within-a-world of thieves, bandits, prostitutes, drug-peddlers, and racketeers of every description; but since it all happened among the proles themselves, it was of no importance.”(Orwell, 218) Hitler, too, did not see in crime any threat to state authority, as long as “violent elements possess only the character of individual criminal natures, and are not regarded as proponents of an idea in extreme opposition to the state views” (Hitler, 486). On the other hand, the “few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous” (Orwell, 218) are of course dealt with by the Thought Police.

The only obvious difference between ‘Ingsoc’ and the ideology of Hitler, as described in Mein Kampf, is the lack of the Aryan-racist element: “Jews, Negroes, South Americans of pure Indian blood are to be found in the highest ranks of the party” (Orwell, 337), though it still shines through in “the physical type set up by the Party as an ideal — tall muscular youths and deep-bosomed maidens, blond-haired, vital, sunburnt, carefree” (Orwell, 208). In the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, anti-semitism was clearly noticeable.Here the boat of the refugees, that Winston Smith sees in the war movie, is “full of Jews”[34], and the proles, in their occasional outbursts of patriotism, “looted Jewish shops”,[35] an unambiguous allusion to the Reichskristallnacht, the anti-Jewish riots organized by the German Minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, in November 1938.

4. Purpose and functioning of propaganda

Adolf Hitler considered propaganda as “a true art” (Hitler, 161), that should take its effect first of all on the ‘broad masses’.Hitler did not think highly of the ‘broad masses'’ capacity for thought. Just as in Nineteen Eighty-Four loyal Syme says that “‘the proles are not human beings’” (Orwell, 202), or the party slogan says: “‘Proles and animals are free’” (Orwell, 218), Hitler says that “the broad masses are only a piece of nature” (Hitler, 307). No politician or ideologist of a left-wing party would have spoken about the revered proletariat in such a condescending way.

Propaganda must fit “the great masses' small capacity for thought” (Hitler, 46). In Mein Kampf a passage on marxist propaganda can be found that can be read like an explanation for the propaganda in Nineteen Eighty-Four, explaining why the proles are behind the party and even support it with “periodical frenzies of patriotism” (Orwell, 285):

The psyche of the great masses is not receptive to anything that is half-hearted and weak.

Like the woman whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an indefinable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner and feel inwardly more satisfied by a doctrine, tolerating no other beside itself, than by the granting of liberalistic freedom with which, as a rule, they can do little, and are prone to feel that they have been abandoned. They are equally unaware of their shameless spiritual terrorisation and the hideous abuse of their human freedom, for they absolutely fail to suspect the inner insanity of the whole doctrine. All they see is the ruthless force and brutality of its calculated manifestations, to which they always submit in the end. (Hitler, 39 f.)

In this context another quotation from Mein Kampf must be quoted. Here Hitler speaks about “the proverbial modesty of a section of our people who always detect profound wisdom in what is most incomprehensible to them personally” (Hitler, 47). This can be read as an explanation why the proles, being confronted with the three completely absurd party slogans, do not protest against them.

The basic purpose of propaganda is of course to win over the population for the party in order to safeguard its rule, as, in Hitler's opinion,

in the long run government systems are not maintained by the pressure of violence, but by faith in their soundness and in the truthfulness with which they represent and advance the interests of a people (Hitler, 257).

That is the reason why in Nineteen Eighty-Four propaganda tries to make the people believe that their conditions of life are steadily improving. Thus in a propaganda-programme of the ‘Ministry of Plenty’ “the phrase “our new, happy life” recurred several times. It had been a favourite of late with the Ministry of Plenty” (Orwell, 206), though life in general is characterized by its “dinginess” (Orwell, 219). This kind of glossing over the facts seems exaggerated and implausible. Hitler, however, knew “that by clever and persevering use of propaganda even heaven can be represented as hell to the people, and conversely the most wretched life as paradise” (Hitler, 251). The more intelligent members of the party, who normally would not be influenced by this kind of propaganda, are expected to reach the same effect by the use of doublethink.

According to Hitler the main element of a clever propaganda consists “in not dividing the attention of a people, but in concentrating it upon a single foe” (Hitler, 108). In Nineteen Eighty-Four this foe is Goldstein: “The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure” (Orwell, 166). As a public enemy, Goldstein is so well-established that the people who take part in the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ react like Pavlonian dogs: “the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically” (Orwell, 167). The effect of the propaganda in the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ is enormous:

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic (Orwell, 168).

This fits to what Adolf Hitler wrote about the different varieties of propaganda: “In all these cases we have to do with an encroachment upon man's freedom of will” (Hitler, 431). It is just this encroachment one's freedom of will that is the worst part about ‘Two Minutes Hate’: “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, that it was impossible to avoid joining in” (Orwell, 168). This encroachment upon man's freedom of will is most effective in large groups, as here people succumb “to the magic influence of what we designate as ‘mass suggestion’” (Hitler, 435). In 1939, George Orwell had already stated how important mass-suggestion and propaganda are for a dictatorial regime. He was, however, not sure quite how effective it would be: “Mass-suggestion is a science of the last twenty years, and we do not yet know how succesful it will be.”[36] There can be no doubt that George Orwell took a great interest in what Hitler wrote about propaganda and mass-suggestion.

The ‘Hate Week’ is a good example what propaganda, organized according to Hitler's principles, could be like in a totalitarian world. One of these principle is never to ridicule an opponent,[37] a principle completely ignored by English propaganda during the Second World War, which liked to make fun of Hitler. Accordingly, there is nothing funny about the Eurasian soldier on the propaganda-poster; he is a “monstrous figure” (Orwell, 285) threatening the viewer with a machine-gun. Another principle is that propaganda must be omnipresent, because, if propaganda shall be succesful then “from the child's primer down to the last newspaper, every theatre and every movie house, every advertising pillar and every billboard, must be pressed into the service of this one great mission” (Hitler, 577). The poster of the Eurasian soldier is a good example for the necessary omnipresence of propaganda: “The thing had been plastered on every blank space on every wall, even outnumbering the portraits of Big Brother” (Orwell, 285).

Another demonstration of the effectiveness of propaganda based on Hitler's ideas can be found in what happens during the ‘Hate Week’, namely when the alliances have suddenly changed, the speaker of the Inner Party not being put off by this in any way:

Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! (Orwell, 313)

Objective criticism would forward the interpretation that the listeners use doublethink or just act their part in order to demonstrate their loyalty. This is, however, only plausible for the reaction of the party members. As for the proles, Hitler offers another explanation why they accept this incredible distortion of facts. Hitler knew, just like the Marxists he criticized for their propaganda

the sound principle that the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads, and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others; yes, even when enlightened on the subject, they will long doubt and waver, and continue to accept at least one of these causes as true. (Hitler, 211)

In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four the ‘cause’ is of course to be found in the work of Goldstein. Taking into consideration that the party depends at least on the “primitive patriotism” (Orwell, 218) of the proles, who do not practice doublethink, it is necessary to find another way to make the new situation accessible to them,

for it is not possible to represent a nationality as ‘Huns’, ‘robbers’, ‘Vandals’, etc., over a period of years, only to discover the opposite suddenly overnight, and recommend the former enemy as the ally of tomorrow. (Hitler, 567)

Thus Adolf Hitler's principles of propaganda help to understand why it is not only possible for the propagandists of the Inner Party to talk to the proles about always one and the same war, but even necessary. Only in front of this background this scene is psychologically plausible.

The example of Nazi Germany made it clear to Orwell that a nation, if influenced by an effective, thorough propaganda can accept and even approve of a war:

Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time’, Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.”[38]

George Orwell also knew that totalitarian systems — at least for a certain time — can get away with even the most blatant lies. In his column “As I Please” in Tribune of 2 June 1944 he wrote:

For quite long periods, at any rate, people can remain undisturbed by obvious lies, either because they simply forget what is said from day to day or because they are under such a constant propaganda bombardment that they become anaesthetized to the whole business.[39]

In Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell has shown a kind of propaganda, which is not only based on the guidelines given by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, but is also as succesful and effective as Hitler predicts.

5. Conclusion

It has been shown that the totalitarian society in Nineteen Eighty-Four is mostly in accordance with Hitler's ideas in Mein Kampf. The term ‘oligarchical collectivism’ goes back to George Orwell's studying of Nazi ideology and especially from his reading of Hitler's Mein Kampf and Franz Borkenau's The Totalitarian Enemy. Many other details in Nineteen Eighty-Four as well are plausible only if one knows that George Orwell has read Mein Kampf, the most important one being the structure of the party and its pseudo-religious air. There can also be no doubt that the true nature of the party-doctrine, i. e. the religious worship of power, violence and hatred has its origin in National Socialism. This shows that the Catholic Church was not — next to the totalitarian states — a target of George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four,[40] as Crick suggests, writing that “even the name “O'Brien”, being Irish, may suggest the Catholic”[41]. Orwell rather wanted to warn his readers of pseudo-religious ideologies like National Socialism[42]. O'Brien is, however, a case in point that Orwell did not intend to criticize a single totalitarian ideology, but rather to construct a ‘totalitarian worst-case scenario’: his name — “Orwell had constant trouble ‘inventing’ names”[43] — and his looks are reminiscent of Beria, since 1938 head of the soviet secret police NKVD, bearing the prime responsibility for Stalin's ‘purges’ and, just like O'Brien, wearing spectacles. His function and his way to deal with ‘Thought Criminals’ correspond to the ‘Thought Procurators’ of totalitarian Japan during the Second World War,[44] whereas his black Overall reminds the reader of the black uniforms of the Gestapo or the SS.

Goldstein and his book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, which gives an accurate description of ‘Oligarchical Collectivism’,[45] are another example for the synthetical nature of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Though Goldstein is clearly modelled on Trotsky, the content of his book and the line of argumentation are partly modelled on Hitler's Mein Kampf. This was to be expected, as ‘Oligarchical Collectivism’ is an amalgamate of both Nazi and Stalinist ideology.

The small importance ascribed to science by the party — culminating in the denial of the existence of objective truth — and the despisal of the ‘broad masses’ can be attributed to what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. Propaganda functions according to the guidelines given by Hitler in Mein Kampf. Only these guidelines make it plausible that the propaganda in Nineteen Eighty-Four exerts any influence on the proles, though their thinking is not restricted by doublethink.

The only typical element of Nazi ideology that is not present in Nineteen Eighty-Four is anti-semitism, though in the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four it was still obvious. Presumably Orwell left it out of the final draft, because he did not want the reader to get the wrong impression, that Nineteen Eighty-Four was solely an attack on National Socialism. This would have thwarted his intention to warn the reader of totalitarian ideologies of every shade and colour. Nevertheless, Orwell's warning of a totalitarian society is largely a warning of the ideas of Adolf Hitler, which survived him and his ‘Greater German Reich’.[46]



(1) Letter to Francis A. Henson, 16 June 1949. In: George Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (henceforth CE) IV: In Front of Your Nose 1945-1950, (Harmondsworth, 1970), 564.[back]

(2) Cf. Michael Rademacher, “George Orwell, Japan und die BBC. Die Rolle des totalitären Japan bei der Entstehung von Nineteen Eighty-Four”, in: Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, 234 (1997), 33-54.[back]

(3) M. Keith Booker, Dystopian Literature. A Theory and Research Guide (Westport, Connecticut, 1994), 213.[back]

(4) William Steinhoff, The Road to Nineteen Eighty-Four (London, 1975).[back]

(5) Johan Galtung, Hitlerismus, Stalinismus, Reaganismus. Drei Variationen zu einem Thema von Orwell. Mit einem Vorwort von Dieter S. Lutz (Baden-Baden, 1987).[back]

(6) John Wesley Young, Totalitarian Language. Orwell's Newspeak and its Nazi and Communist Antecedents (London, 1991), 271, Fn. 8.[back]

(7) “As I Please” in Tribune of 28 January 1944. George Orwell, CE III: As I Please 1943-1945 (Harmondsworth, 1970), 106.[back]

(8) In: New English Weekly, 21 March 1940. Orwell, CE II: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943 (Harmondsworth, 1971), 28.[back]

(9) George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. With a Critical Introduction and Annotations by Bernard Crick (Oxford, 1984), 168. Henceforth all references to Nineteen Eighty-Four given in the text are as Orwell plus page number.[back]

(10) Goebbels in his probably best-known speech of 18th. February. 1943 in the Berlin Sportpalast, in which he put to the Germans the question: “Wollt Ihr den totalen Krieg [Do you want total war]?”, in: Joseph Goebbels, Goebbels Reden 1932-1945. Herausgegeben von Helmut Heiber (Bindlach, fotomechanischer Nachdruck der beiden Orginalausgaben 1991), Band 2, 175.[back]

(11) George Orwell in his review N. de Basily's Russia under Soviet Rule in New English Weekly, 12 January 1939, in: Orwell, CE II, 418.[back]

(12) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf. Translated by Ralph Manheim. With an introduction by D. C. Watt (London, 1992), 60. Henceforth all references to Mein Kampf given in the text are as Hitler plus page number, refering to this edition unless stated otherwise.[back]

(13) In: New English Weekly, 21 March 1940. Orwell, CE II, 28.[back]

(14) Hans-Jürgen Eitner, Hitler. Das Psychogramm (Frankfurt a.M., vom Autor durchges., um ein Personenregister erw. Ausg., 1994), 57 [my translation].[back]

(15) Crick in his introduction to Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 7. The only proof given by Crick is that Orwell “saw that some lesser evils, like power-hungry intellectuals and bureaucrats, could also be satirized as Nazis or Stalinists.” Ibid.[back]

(16) In January 1940 he offered to the women's group ‘Women of Today’ to hold a lecture on Hitler's Mein Kampf Cf. Michael Shelden, Orwell. The Authorised Biography (London, 1992), 349.[back]

(17) In: Time and Tide, 4. 5. 1940. Orwell, CE II, 40 f. Orwell did not, as might be assumed, borrow the term ‘oligarchical collectivism’ from Franz Borkenau. As for Franz Borkenau . Birgit Lange-Enzmann, Franz Borkenau als politischer Denker (Berlin, 1996).[back]

(18) Cf. Crick in his introduction to Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 84.[back]

(19) James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution. What is happening in the World (New York, 1941).[back]

(20) Hitler, 240. This must not be overinterpreted as an allusion to Hitler's ‘Germania’, as Hitler's plans to reconstruct Berlin and rename it ‘Germania’ became known to the general public only in 1951 with the publication of Hitler's private table talk in the Führer Headquarters, one year after Orwell's death and two years after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Hitler's table talk was first published in Germany by Henry Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier (Frankfurt am Main, 1951).[back]

(21) Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”, in: CE II, 304.[back]

(22) Orwell, “As I Please” in Tribune, 3 March Orwell, CE III, 126.[back]

(23) The well-known book by Hermann Rauschning Die Revolution des Nihilismus, published in England under the title Germany's Revolution of Destruction (London, 1939) spread the idea that Hitler and his inner circle of followers were unconditional revolutionaries without ideology, using ideologies only for one purpose: the conquering, safeguarding and advancing personal power.” Cf. Joachim Fest, Hitler (Berlin, 1997), VII.[back]

(24) In Animal Farm the ‘Seven Commandments’ are the only element with religious overtones.[back]

(25) Though, in fact, the use of religious vocabulary is not completely alien to Stalinism. See Young, 165.[back]

(26) Quoted according to Lange-Enzmann, 177. In Franz Borkenau's opinion National Socialism was “founded solely upon hatred [nur auf Haß gegründet].” Ibid. O'Brien explains to Winston Smith: “‘The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred.’” Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 389. This context is not noticed by Steinhoff, as he does not use Borkenau's book The Totalitarian Enemy as a source.[back]

(27) ‘Blackjack’ is a rather strange translation, as the word ‘Gummiknüppel” could have been rendered literally as ‘rubber truncheon’. Cf. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (München, 1933. Bd. 1: Eine Abrechnung (3. Aufl.) und Bd.2: Die nationalsozialistische Bewegung (20. Aufl.) in einem Bd.) (399 and 600). George Orwell reviewed the translation by James Murphy (London, 1940) which, unfortunately, has not been available to the author. It is, therefore, quite possible that Murphy rendered ‘Gummiknüppel’ as ‘rubber truncheon’.[back]

(28) “‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever’”. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 390.[back]

(29) Orwell, CE II, 28.[back]

(30) Ibid.[back]

(31) All the reader gets to know is that there are three-year-plans, which are the successors of the five-year-plans in Soviet Russia and the four-year-plan in Nazi Germany.[back]

(32) George Orwell, CE II, 296 f. Winston Smith, as a consequence of being brainwashed, comes to the conclusion that “the law of gravity was nonsense.” Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 399.[back]

(33) Letter to Francis A. Henson, 16 June 1949, in: Orwell, CE IV, 564.[back]

(34) George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Facsimile of the extant manuscript (London, 1984), 28. Cf. the final version in Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 163.[back]

(35) Ibid., 209. Cf. the final version in Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 285.[back]

(36) George Orwell in his review of N. de Basily's Russia under Soviet Rule, New English Weekly, 12 January 1939, in: Orwell, CE I, 418.[back]

(37) Hitler wrote about propaganda in the First World War that “it was absolutely wrong to make the enemy ridiculous, as the Austrian and German comic papers did.” Hitler, 198.[back]

(38) Orwell, CE II, 29.[back]

(39) Orwell, CE III, 195.[back]

(40) Rather the opposite is true. In “The English People” he wrote, not differentiating between Anglican and Catholic Church that “there is one sense in which the English common people have remained more Christian than the upper classes, and probably than any other European nation. This is in their non-acceptance of the modern cult of power-worship. While almost ignoring the spoken doctrines of the Church, they have held on to the one that the Church never formulated, because taking it for granted: namely, that might is not right.” Orwell: CE III, 22. Cf. Hitler: “Remember the words spoken at Leipzig: ‘Right goes with power’.” Hitler, 493.[back]

(41) Crick in his introduction to Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 52.[back]

(42) For a detailed study about ‘National Socialism as a religion’ see Uriel Tal, “Nazism as a Political Faith”, in: Jerusalem Quarterly 5 (1980), Nr. 15, 70-90.[back]

(43) Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 431, Fn. 13.[back]

(44) Cf. Rademacher, 46 f..[back]

(45) This is confirmed by O'Brien. Cf. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 384.[back]

(46) This is true especially of anti-semitism. Even after the German capitulation George Orwell wrote that “many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness.” Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism”, in: Polemic, 1 October 1945. Orwell, CE III, 411.[back]

Comments by Michael Rademacher


Michael Rademacher: ‘Orwell and Hitler: Mein Kampf as a source for Nineteen Eighty-Four’
Published in: ‘Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik’ No. 1. — 1999. — P. 38-53.

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