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The Rebellious and Revolutionary Spark (A Companion to 1984)
Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. –Winston, “1984”
Rebellion is a curious thing. In essence, it is simply another means of change; bringing a state of life from one stage into another. A just government intellectually enables its people to comprehend the concept of rebellion and, if need be, act upon it. Those corrupted by power reject its possibility, if not its entire existence. Those living beneath the corruption come to crave it, although the very nature of their government prevents its possibility. It is a method of constructing empires, and the destructive force behind the downfall of a regime. Change is a result of nature; it is a force which causes the affected to become something new, whether it is on the microcosmic or macro-cosmic level—the change of water to vapor, the change of seeds to flowers. Humans, then, as a result of nature on the biological level, must also accept the almost inherent ability to cause change. A human being is an agent of change, turning base elements into products of labor daily. By acting upon the power of change, human beings prevent their existence from stagnating. George Orwell’s horrific Utopia of 1984 is the ideal example of a stagnant society without the means of rebelling.
There are many factors in Orwell’s novel that can be attributed as the cause of the dysfunctional state of Oceanic society—blind compliance, constant surveillance, the extremities of malleability that the Party exerts upon its people—but, at the heart of the sickness is this: The general population does not have the means to rebel. Winston recognizes that the proletarians—the lower class of his society—constitute the majority of the Oceanic populace, but also understands that they do not have the means—intellectually and materially—to act upon any rebellious thoughts. Through a combination of terror, oppression, and psychological manipulation, they have been stripped of the ability to identify corruption in their government, recognize the inevitable presence of power-crazed officials, and, accordingly, overthrow them. By making a thought-transition from the novel to reality—Earth, 2011—it can easily be seen that rebellion and revolution are still very necessary, and it is in the interest of humanity that it not be oppressed.
Across the ocean, countries away from America,—the lovechild of Revolution—Libya is in the midst of its own rebellion The Libyan government headed by Gadhafi—in itself, the government being an extension of Gadhafi—has reached the epitome of its corruption. Its people denied the right to elect new officials, or, realistically, affect their government in any way, have realized that it is their duty to overcome the unjust conditions they live beneath, and overthrow their President. They understand that it is only natural to rebel against a form of life that oppresses their basic human rights—not as dictated by other countries, but as the “feeling in the bones” that Orwell’s Winston mentions, the feeling that the current state of life is not as things should be—and that the only method of bringing about that change is by force. This is by no means an isolated event—rebellions and revolutions have been occurring throughout history (Roger). The assassination of Caesar by Brutus and Cassius is one of the earliest examples of rebellion, because the Roman people understood that their society could not continue under an improper rule. The French rebelled against their Kings, the Russians’ against their Czars, and, more recently, the Iraqi people against Saddam Hussein. With so many instances of rebellion occurring, how can rebellion be anything but a natural result of Nature? Nature, then, to remain natural, must not encounter interference by its products. Orwell’s Party assumed that they “make the laws of nature”; those who presume to control nature, then, also decide what is natural and unnatural. Tyrants like Gadhafi, by denying rebellion, presume to control a natural element. They create a state of existence where rebellion is impossible—and rebellion is born out of its own denial. By becoming a vicious circle, rebellion and revolution more naturally become a part of nature, because nature is full of vicious circles: Life and Death, War and Peace, Ease and Unrest. By each act of rebellion, rebellion solidifies itself as necessary.
Of course, it is easy enough to speak of revolutions and rebellions when relating it to foreign powers—this does not mean that it has no place here at home. The United States of America is a concrete result of rebellions’ fruits’—the rebirth of a government out of its own destruction. To understand the role of rebellion today, its role in history, and the means by which it comes about, must be examined:
At one point in time, as it is known, the United States of America was at war with itself. The rebellion of the South against a government which, they believed, did not have its
interests at heart, was an action of almost second-nature. As destructive as this revolution
was—more so than the American Revolution that formed the foundations—it cannot be denied that it was a necessary evil. The United States known today would not be possible is this natural occurrence had never come about. In the processes of destruction, something was created—unity. By routing out the rebellious spark created by discontent, the United States became more efficient as a whole. At the time, such an event was seen as tragic, but, looking at it historically, the current government could not exist any other way. Rebellion establishes rules, ethics, codes, morals, and infrastructures. It creates economies, and establishes crimes. It is one of the most efficient destructive life-bringers humans have the right to access.
Despite all of this, there is a catch: Any government that is born of rebellion will, at some point in time, establish rules preventing a reoccurrence. First—in relation to 1984—the Party demonstrates this rule perfectly. It was born of a revolution, which its then-to-be-future members advocated—as all future leaders do. Playing off the Low-Middle-High Class-Ranking System—revolutionaries belonging to the High-Middle and Low classes—the future-Party members, after the overthrow of the former government, established themselves as the new ruling power, and immediately set to work at preventing more revolutions. There happens to be a parallel between the non-existent Party and the current government, though not to such extremities—yet. As stated, America was born out of two revolutions, and, being at a point where no more have occurred, the American government progressed to the point where it must prevent them from occurring indefinitely. Although it is stated in the United States Constitution that America’s people have the right to overthrow the government in the case of its corruption, The Smith Act of 1940 seems to contradict this basic right (Smith Act of 1940 18 U.S. Code § 2385):
§ 2385. Advocating Overthrow of Government.
Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or
Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or
Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof--
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
As used in this section, the terms "organizes" and "organize", with respect to any society, group, or assembly of persons, include the recruiting of new members, the forming of new units, and the regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes, and other units of such society, group, or assembly of persons.
Life, seeming to be teeming with little paradoxes, presents another in the definitions of rebellion and revolt:
Revolt- 1. To break away from or rise against constituted authority, as by open rebellion; cast off allegiance or subjection to those in authority; rebel; mutiny: to revolt against the present government.
Rebellion- 1. Open, organized, and armed resistance to one's government or ruler.
Rebellion is revolt, and revolt is rebellion; although the definitions differ, the essence of rebellion is force, whether it be physically, or by pushing ideals across where they will not be automatically accepted--the thought--and revolt is the act. The Smith Act separates force and violence, which implies that force is something wholly different than violence; The Smith Act prohibits the overthrow of the United States Government through organized force. Every rebellion in history has included force as a means of its completion—some more violently than others; even America is the product of rebellious bloodshed. How can a country born of forceful and violent rebellion deny its use in future events? The logic in the illogical nature of this Act is the fact that those who come into power fear to lose it—if this was not true, then the Libyans would not need war to bring about justice, and Brutus need not have plunged a knife into Caesar. Whatever the arguments, the truth is that the United States government—like the Party—have reached the point in which they must ensure that their power will not be stripped away without warning. Furthermore, this Act creates malleability—in Article III, Section 3, of the United States Constitution, treason—one of the only mentioned crimes in the document—is defined as “…levying War against [the government], or in adhering to [the government’s] Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort…” If a government comes into the position where its sought-after power is threatened, any element that contests the right to power will become an ‘enemy’, and therefore, a rebellious organization against an unjust government, labeled ‘enemy’, becomes guilty of Treason, and can be constitutionally punished. The illogical fallacy of a “forceless” rebellion has been solved by those in power: By creating a structure in which it can contradict itself, like doublethink-- “We are a government founded on and promising the right to rebellion, while we deny the possibility of its occurrence”—thereby preserving the bid for power while creating the illusion that, if corrupted, it can be taken away.
1984 is a novel, as well as a warning: In order to prevent stagnation and corruption, a government must grant the possibility of change. Throughout time, change has occurred in various guises, and rebellion is just one of those many. Libya, Iraq, France, Russia, America—it is not an unfamiliar event, and can never be allowed to become such. Orwell has presented an image of what is created when the flow of nature is obstructed, when a human-element decides to become natural law. Change is natural—therefore it must not be controlled. Motions such as the Smith Act balance atop a dangerous line of destruction and creation—such things attempt to give the feeling of safety, while they may, in fact, endanger it. Albert Camus—the late renowned philosopher and author from Algiers—sums up succinctly the role and importance of rebellion, something Orwell would surely have agreed with:
The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy. He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave. Therefore, thanks to rebellion, there is something more in history than the relation between mastery and servitude. Unlimited power is not the only law. It is in the name of another value that the rebel affirms the impossibility of total freedom while he claims for himself the relative freedom necessary to recognize this impossibility.
The Party terrorized its people in the name of Revolution—they were false Saviors. America must never tread that path for even a moment, though its actions have begun to hint at such wanderings. If any truth is to be derived from 1984, and from the world today, it should be this:
Change is destruction—change is creation—change is life—rebellion is change.