A student in Cuba finds the government presenting alternative facts in the novel, 1984, even as it lifted the ban on George Orwell’s work.
Back in January, talk of the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” rocketed George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” to the peak of the Amazon best-seller list, shining a spotlight on the book unmatched since it was first published in 1948.
In Cuba, however, the reappearance of “1984” is old news. In 2015, after decades of banning anything penned by Orwell, the revolutionary government’s Art and Literature Editorial Board finally approved publication of “1984.”
On a trip to Havana’s annual and wildly popular book fair, I was able to get a Spanish language copy of my own for just 10 Cuban pesos — about 40 cents. Only after I was halfway through it did I flip back to the prologue. Upon reading it, I realized that the choice to publish the novel came with strings attached.
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In Cuba’s 60 years of censoring the media, the state has taken on a strategy of passing the culpability to individuals rather than the government as a whole. A film isn’t said to be banned by the government but rather deemed “anti-revolutionary” by some bureaucrat in the Ministry of Culture. In the case of “1984,” the five-page prologue supposedly written by the Editorial Board’s Pedro Pablo Rodríguez evokes quite an Orwellian feeling.
Rodríguez begins with his own summary of Orwell’s ideology. Life in imperial Burma, Rodríguez states, taught Orwell the atrocities of capitalist imperialism. This planted the seeds of doubt which germinated after he wrote about unemployed workers and miners in industrial Great Britain, where he “discovered socialist theory” and “was won over by the ideology.”
Here Rodríguez doesn’t stray far from the accepted narrative of the author’s life. Orwell was a self-described democratic socialist, and strong critic of colonialism. Nevertheless, Rodríguez fails to mention that Orwell was also starkly anti-authoritarian and decried Stalinism.
In the analysis, Rodríguez careens off-script. He argues that Orwell’s book, “Animal Farm,” “…in fact wasn’t about Stalinism” and instead the book’s message “was repurposed by capitalist powers to warn against the most viable answers to capitalism.”
In the case of “1984,” the five-page prologue supposedly written by the Editorial Board’s Pedro Pablo Rodríguez evokes quite an Orwellian feeling.”
For good measure he adds that Stalin “with a heroic and victorious motive confronted Nazism with the might of the Soviet people.”
Rodríguez moves on to explain how “1984” is also not about Stalinism. The all-seeing Big Brother in the book is “so generic that it could represent any ideology.”
Finally, Rodríguez ties the meandering rant together with a Gran Finale to make Stalin Proud. “Little did Orwell know that the real crisis of civilization that humanity would encounter, would take the form of subordination of the people by the free market, and the control of all aspects of the human mind by the same market (which takes the form of increasing capital concentration) and by the states which offer us every day a varied, and totalitarian sampling of more subtle, refined, and effective forms of individual and social control.”
In another context, such a critique could incite healthy economic and political discourse. However in the government-authored prologue, the tirade looks like it comes straight from el Gran Hermano himself.