‘1984’, the dystopia that was born in Barcelona

Its echo has reached common language, the most popular television programs and, with some interference, even the speeches of the current head of the Spanish opposition. And, given its capital importance, despite being a novel, from now on the 1984 George Orwell has a biography. Its titled The Ministry of Truth (Captain Swing) and in it the British Dorian Lynskey traces his origins, from Orwell’s experiences in the Stalinist terror in the Spanish civil war, to the numerous borrowings that the writer takes from the turn of the century utopian novel.

Not only that: Lynskey shows the endless resonance of 1984 after appearing in 1949, both in politicians of all stripes, including Trump and Putin – who in 2012 dreamed of a substitute for the USSR that went from Vladivostok to Lisbon called Eurasia, as one of the blocks into which the world is divided in the novel – to David Bowie, who wanted to do a rock musical with her. Or to the first announcement of the Apple Macintosh on December 31, 1983.

Apple announced the arrival of the Macintosh on December 31 with a spot in which people move like robots towards a large screen that shouts the “Information Purification Directives”.


His stay in Barcelona during the civil war fueled the feeling of fear, paranoia and mistrust in the novel

Professor Miquel Berga, author of the book When history burns your hands (Tusquets), on the impact that the Spanish Civil War had on Orwell and Auden, stresses that the publication of a biography no longer of Orwell but of 1984 “confirms that it has been the most influential political novel since its publication until today.” And he points out that it is not a futuristic novel “but a political satire that uses mechanisms from futuristic novels to talk about the present. It’s not Nostradamus. But the future has turned his efforts to dissect the mechanisms of totalitarian systems and totalitarian temptations wherever they come from into posthumous victories. At international conferences he spoke with Russians who took it for granted that Orwell was the pseudonym of a Russian: how else could someone describe his system like this… He was not in Russia, a few days on the streets of Barcelona during the civil war were enough for him to do an intensive course”.


Advertisement image of the film that in 1956 adapted ‘1984’

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Lynskey agrees. Although he shows in his book how Orwell was influenced by previous utopian novels – from HG Wells and his When the sleeper wakes up to the Us of Evgeni Zamyatin, who lived under Stalin and of whom “he took constant surveillance and a protagonist who works for the State and rebels after meeting an attractive revolutionary” -, the British journalist opens The Ministry of Truth recalling that the turning point for Orwell is his arrival in Spain during the civil war as an idealist who sees “the future of Europe in struggle between the left and the extreme right”.


George Orwell on the BBC in the 1940’s

Third parties

And remember that “he says that he is going to fight for the Republic and kill fascists, but he will not have much of a fight because he is in the POUM, which does not have equipment and weapons like the communists. And above all he lives in Barcelona a civil war within the civil war where the communists supported by the USSR try to crush small groups of the left, Trotskyists, anarchists, including the POUM. There are brutal purges, some friends and comrades are arrested, killed. For him it is a shocking betrayal. He is a democratic socialist and sees how lies are invented and Trotskyists are accused of being fascist collaborators. Lies as justification for murder.” “His ideas of his about totalitarianism, propaganda, cognitive bias, and the ability to stand up for dire things if done by your side, he sees there. His stay in Barcelona is his only experience of the Police State, and the feeling of fear, paranoia and distrust will be part of the atmosphere. 1984 ”, he warns.


Vladimir Putin speaks with Emmanuel Macron days before the invasion of Ukraine


Lynskey then goes into great detail where many of the ideas in the novel come from. The expression “big brother” is taken from HG Wells and the three superstates into which he divides the world -Eurasia, Oceania and East Asia, in a stable perpetual war that no one can win-, appear in The managerial revolution , a work on the future of capitalism by James Burnharm, a Trotskyist who would become a neoconservative. The important thing, he says, is not that some take concepts from others, but that each one captures in the book a different vision of humanity.

Image from the film'1984?, starring John Hurt in 1984

Image from the film ‘1984?, starring John Hurt in 1984


Orwell’s is seen, he notes, in “his beautiful descriptions of nature, thrift stores, simple human pleasures. For him the most important thing proles of 1984 It is not that they are a potential revolutionary army but that they have continued to be human, he is concerned about how politics makes humans less human, tribal, fanatic”.

And it assumes that in each era it has its reading. “Today it is the obsession with propaganda, the danger of the industrialized militant lie, be it Trump or the trolls russians. In the US and Europe there are politicians and followers claiming that nothing is true and that power decides what is real. Orwell noted: ‘Don’t let it happen, it’s up to you.’ You have to look at the early signs, if the totalitarian state arrives, there is nothing to do.

‘1984’, the dystopia that was born in Barcelona