Talking about George Orwell's 1984, and the book within the book, is always interesting. But this semester the discussion took some turns that seem to me worth sharing.
The book by Emmanuel Goldstein, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, is an intentional parody of Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto. It represents a plan to bring about something less like what Marx and Engels idealistically envisaged, and more like what Communism ended up looking like in Eastern Europe.
Orwell's analysis, albeit fictional, is thus nonetheless very serious. The notion that revolutions have consistently been led by the middle class rather than the lower, making appeals and promises to the masses that are never fulfilled, seems strikingly accurate. And it doesn't just apply to Communism.
When we started asking whether our own socio-economic system aims to elevate the poor, or merely to keep the poor unrealistically hopeful of the possibility of elevation, it was hard not to be cynical.
Isn't our society in fact an oligarchy, with the American Dream held out unrealistically as a way to keep the poor engaged in a system that rarely actually benefits them, while the wealthy really control things? Doesn't being a leader not only in the business world but even in politics require that one already have access to wealth?
Believe it or not, I wrote the above before I saw the Princeton study suggesting that the U.S. is an oligarchy.
See also this video: