1984

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Themes and Colors
Totalitarianism and Communism Theme Icon
The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Icon
Reality Control Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Class Struggle Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in 1984, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Class Struggle Theme Icon

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, society is made up of three distinct social classes: the elite Inner Party, the industrious Outer Party, and vast numbers of uneducated proles. When Winston reads Goldstein's book, he learns that the history of humankind has been a cyclical struggle between competing social groups: the High, the Middle, and the Low. This theory was originated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century and became known as Marxism. Marxists believe that the aim of the Middle group is to change places with the High, which they do by enlisting the support of the Low group. After the Middle group seizes power in a revolution, they become the High and thrust the Low back into servitude. Eventually a new Middle group splits off and the cycle begins again. At various points in the narrative, Winston entertains the hope that the proles will become conscious of their oppressed state and initiate a revolution. At other times, he despairs that since the proles cannot rebel until they become conscious, and cannot become conscious until only after they have rebelled, such a development is extremely unlikely.

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Class Struggle Quotes in 1984

Below you will find the important quotes in 1984 related to the theme of Class Struggle.
Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes
The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

O'Brien has given Winston a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein's (banned) book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchal Collectivism, which Winston reads once he is in private in the rented room. In Chapter 3, "War Is Peace," Goldstein describes how the perpetual state of war is achieved and why. Although the war is partly a territorial conflict over colonized regions containing resources and people used as slave labor, the main reason for war is to use up goods in order to prevent a rise in the standard of living. The population is kept in poverty, as it is thought that the accumulation of resources would lead to better education and political resistance. The logic of war also gives a veneer of purpose to the Party's control of the population and to policies such as rationing; however, this purpose is undermined by the fact that the war is designed to be perpetual. Once again, 1984 depicts a world in which time no longer unfolds with any kind of direction or purpose, but is rather directionless and monotonous.

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The heirs of the French, English, and American revolutions had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and have even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable. Every new political theory, by whatever name it called itself, led back to hierarchy and regimentation. And in the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years--imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages, and the deportation of whole populations--not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 204-205
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Orwell gives an interpretation of the actual history of the world up until the 1940s through the voice of the imagined revolutionary Emmanuel Goldstein. This narrative presents a somewhat cynical view of the French, English, and American revolutions, suggesting that the leaders of these events only partly believed in the egalitarian political ideals on which they were supposedly based. The passage features an even bleaker view of the 1930s and '40s, suggesting that although political theories such as communism, socialism, and fascism may have seemed ideologically different, they all ultimately led to abuse of power and crimes against humanity. 

Although this passage is part of Emmanuel Goldstein's book-within-the-book, there is a strong sense of Orwell's voice coming through here. The pessimistic outlook reflects the climate in which 1984 was written. In 1948, the events of the first and second World Wars and the continued power of totalitarian regimes (such as Franco's fascist government in Spain and Stalinism in the USSR) made it difficult to trust that political theories would lead to positive outcomes, or that leaders would not end up corrupted by power. Both in this passage and throughout the book, Orwell suggests that political theories themselves are somewhat meaningless, because they seem to inevitably lead to authoritarianism and oppression. Although the Party in 1984 claims to be pursuing its aims in the name of equality, peace, love, and freedom, in reality of course the opposite is true. 

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted—if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently—then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Emmanuel Goldstein makes an important distinction between doublethink and lying or hypocrisy. Recall that doublethink is not saying one thing and believing another, but rather holding that two contradictory things are true at once. Again, the important thing to note here is that logic is a threat to the Party's power, and thus doublethink is necessary because it is a way of perceiving the world that is by definition illogical––it is completely incompatible with logic and thus, in Goldstein's words, can be considered a form of "controlled insanity."

It is also important to note Goldstein's statement that the aim of the Party is for "human equality... to be for ever averted." Of course this in itself represents doublethink, as the Party simultaneously tells citizens that the regime's purpose is to ensure equality. This reflects the hypocrisy of Stalinism, where communist ideals of a fair, egalitarian society were distorted in such a way that preserved the high status and rewards of government officials while huge sections of the population were starved, imprisoned, or worked to death. 

Book 2, Chapter 10 Quotes
If there was hope, it lay in the proles! Without having read to the end of the book, he knew that that must be Goldstein's final message. The future belonged to the proles. And could he be sure that when their time came the world they constructed would not be just as alien to him, Winston Smith, as the world of the Party? Yes, because at the least it would be a world of sanity. Where there is equality there can be sanity. Sooner or later it would happen, strength would change into consciousness. The proles were immortal; you could not doubt it when you looked at that valiant figure in the yard. In the end their awakening would come. And until that happened, though it might be a thousand years, they would stay alive against all the odds, like birds, passing on from body to body the vitality which the Party did not share and could not kill.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Red-Armed Prole Woman
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston and Julia have admitted they are doomed, and meanwhile have been watching the red-armed prole woman singing; it is in this moment that Winston realizes that in contrast to himself, Julia, and other members of the Outer Party, the proles still have enough energy and freedom to overthrow the regime. He considers that the proles might not realize this for a long time––perhaps even a thousand years––and that even when it does eventually happen, it would create a world that he might not personally feel comfortable in. However, he decides it would be worth it because there would at last be true equality and "sanity"––a world where freedom of thought and common sense were allowed to exist. 

This passage stands in contrast to the rest of the novel, which stresses the inevitability of the Party's total power over the population. Winston's belief that hope "lay in the proles" reflects Karl Marx's theory that revolution would be achieved through a temporary "dictatorship of the proletariat," meaning a period of time when working-class wage laborers took control of political power, overthrowing the bourgeoisie. In 1984 it is debatable whether Orwell endorses or dismisses this view; while he does depict the "proles" (proletariat) as possessing energy and freedom, the narrative ends on a decidedly hopeless note, with no sign of a coming revolution. 

Note also the rather elitist way in which Orwell describes the proles. In this passage his statement that they are "like birds" suggests that he considers them closer to animals than humans.