Repression without ideology

I hope there’s a part of paradise reserved for writers, because I am fairly sure that you would find George Orwell there. Not that he’d be in a very good mood at the moment.

It’s understandable that recent proposals in Britain and France to massively increase surveillance of ordinary people, together with the numbing cumulative effect of the Snowden revelations, each more disturbing than the last, have prompted people to dig out their copies of 1984 again. And yes, Mr Cameron, with that tone-deaf disconnection from reality which only an expensive education can buy, tells us he proposes to criminalize thought itself. No doubt it won’t be long before the boys in the black uniforms are out on the streets and listening at our windows.

But what is really creepy about the current situation, is that we seem finally to have arrived at the situation that Orwell foresaw: a repressive political system without an ideology. The Party in 1984, you will recall, had no ideology. As O’Brien explains to Smith during his interrogation, the only purpose of the Party (which significantly has no name) is to remain in power. “The purpose of power” he explains “is power”. Patriotism, ideology and so forth, are simply for the masses, to keep them quiet. Power is all that matters.

This must have seemed very far-fetched in the ideologically-charged world of 1949, but it’s horribly relevant today. In the past, it could at least be said that repression served an ideological purpose. The Soviet State spied on its ideological enemies, and even Assad and Saddam Hussein had a degenerate ideology of some kind to defend. Now there is nothing. Most western states have, in fact, a single Party – The Party- although it may notionally be split into several parts, and have disagreements about peripheral issues, just as the old CPSU did. But it’s The Party, nonetheless, with the important qualification that, like Orwell’s it has no ideology. The Party, with its international branches, has no real objectives other than staying in power, and making money for its leaders and their financial backers. As in 1984, foreign wars and alleged domestic threats are a good way of keeping the masses quiet.

How far today’s political class are really aware of this is hard to say. But since (Mr) Clinton and Blair, they have been managerial politicians, essentially with nothing between the ears. Cameron or (Mrs) Clinton today are almost caricatures of tone-deaf, largely ignorant and insensitive political hacks. Perhaps at some millimeter-deep level of their shallow psyches they actually think they have some kind of beliefs, some kind of principles. Or perhaps they drink a toast every night to O’Brien. The purpose of power, one more time, is power.

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