Totalitarianism in Cuba and George Orwell’s 1984
George Orwell’s book 1984 displayed an example of a real-life dystopia. Totalitarianism is shown in this communist-based society so ghastly that it coined its own term “Orwellian” in the dictionary. However, a country living in full surveillance with extremely nationalistic views in cookie-cutter world is not entirely fictional. Historical dictatorships are similar to Orwell’s telling of Big Brother, the man in control of Oceania’s economy and strictly enforced values. An example of such was the Cuban regime under control of Fidel Castro from 1959-2008. The Cuban Revolution began under Castro and was aimed moderately towards the structure of communism as well. Totalitarianism can be determined by several factors, some of which being nationalism, ideologies, censorship, methods of propaganda, and use of terror as control. Though differing slightly in ideology, both Castro and Big Brother exhibited qualities of totalitarians who executed power in similar ways to accomplish their agenda.
Revolutionaries of Cuba were more self-organized than Oceania’s Thought Police, who were organized by the government itself. Through undercover spies and organizations called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), the neighborhood groups implemented heavy surveillance that “used CDRs to mobilize citizens against dissenters, impose ideological conformity, and root out ‘counterrevolutionary’ behavior.” (Bureau of Democracy, 2003). These groups were acting similarly to Oceania’s people when they are persuaded by The Party to be nationalistic. The only life they had known was the one overindulged to them. The actions of these organizations were supported by Castro’s regime because he conditioned them to think as he. Although Oceania had undercover agents too, its means of forced conformity were established by government officials instead of nationalist citizens. In reference to the Thought Police, it was “inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it” when thinking about or committing crime against the government (Orwell, 1949, p. 102). Nonetheless, the goal of both governments was to reprimand counter-revolutionaries.
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Both Oceania and Cuba were against a capitalist government. Reinforcing the idea that countries of capitalist nature were unacceptable and inferior was a part of both of their standards. The structure of socialism supported each’s perception of total government control and destruction of socioeconomic classes. Oceania’s government favored total communism, reaching far above the progress Castro made as leader. Separate from socialism, Castro imposed extreme reprimands for opposing his regime. This came with limited freedom for the common citizens who did not have the right to free speech or the press. Castro and Big Brother can be described by National Review columnist Richard Neuhaus (1986) as people who aspire to be “the artisans of their own destiny” (p. 46). In declaring their own rule as the subject to other people (the objects), they are likely to be heinous in nature and follow a rule of law that allows them to have total control.
Big Brother censored all aspects of life, including history, the language, and even thoughts. Big Brother was listening and watching from several places to monitor the content of conversations. Many were in plain sight, such as telescreens, which carefully studied expression and tone of who was speaking in the case they choose to conspire (Orwell, p. 8). Thoughtcrime, the word for thinking about committing crime, was considered equally as punishable as treason (p. 24). Casual conversation was limited to certain topics. Any unusual or provoking behavior was dismissed immediately. Books were rewritten to pretend like old information had never existed (p. 46). Censorship was strict under Castro, as well. It reached a lesser extent due to lack of technology, but outright anti-revolution ideas were destroyed. Magazines printed articles selected by Castro and only featured articles and films that portrayed him and the revolution in a positive light (Soles, 2007).
Methods of Propaganda
Oceania’s propaganda in 1984 is primarily enforced daily through scheduled ideology. Featured every morning is the Two Minutes Hate, when counter-revolutionaries are broadcasted for public ridicule (Orwell, 1949, p. 13). People of the society actively practice contempt for their enemies, even if they are unaware of their intentions. The method behind this keeps the population in opposition of the enemy, whoever Big Brother decides is traitorous. However, this wasn’t the only means of propaganda. Hanging in streets and buildings were posters of Big Brother, placed by The Party, that are “so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move” with a slogan reading “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” (Orwell, 1949, p. 5). This tactic is used to make the citizens fear consequence and adhere to The Party’s beliefs. It is effective, too, because they know they can suffer severe punishment or death for disobeying Big Brother. Castro utilized broadcasting similar to Big Brother in the form of selective interviews and stories that made his regime appear superior, and “criticized democratic leaders, governments, and parties” (CIA, 1983). His nightly broadcasts reached several South American countries and Washington as well, increasing the number of voluntary revolutionaries (CIA, 1983). In each government, selectively choosing the content their citizens can view causes them to become brainwashed into believing one party.
Use of Terror as Control
Castro and Big Brother differ in how they manipulate the masses into following their regime. Thousands of oppositionists in Cuba suffered imprisonment for openly disagreeing with Cuban government, some of whom were subjected to the firing squad (Padgett, 2016). Cuban government was threatening to any who dared speak against Castro and his regime, even claiming “invincible resistance” to potential United States intervention (Padgett, 2016). Government officials often abused and assaulted detained people, such as human rights activists and reporters, and the same prisoners often died in the prison conditions because they were refused medical care (Bureau of Democracy, 2003). Using violence kept common citizens under Castro’s control. Big Brother alternatively used a technique of “vaporizing” the people who committed crimes against The Party. Those people disappeared, were written out of history, and were considered to have never existed (Orwell, 1949, p. 24). The exact punishment for the wrong-doers was unknown to the public, and that is the terrifying, mysterious element of why Big Brother was able to maintain order. He allowed fear of the unknown to terrorize his people.
Big Brother shares qualities of a totalitarian with Castro, and they each represent extreme authoritarian rule. The Cuban government under Fidel Castro has evident similarity to George Orwell’s 1984. Nationalism was strongly associated with their regimes, as well as sharing complementary beliefs. Censorship, propaganda, and terror as a tactic proved to successfully control the public. Manipulation of the masses was achievable by their position of power and the threat of punishment. The Cuban government under Fidel Castro has evident, totalitarian similarity to George Orwell’s 1984.