In this article:
- Ingsoc is an ideology that serves as the driving force behind the totalitarian regime of 1984‘s fictional state of Oceania. It is also the country’s sole political party.
- Ingsoc keeps its grip on Oceania by regulating the flow of information, employing an army of spies to keep an eye on its members, and invading all aspects of private life.
- Ingsoc’s core ideas, though decidedly left-wing, take a page from Nazi Germany in the way it operates on a daily basis, which begs the question: What do we mean when we say something is like Ingsoc or like 1984?
You don’t have to be an avid reader to have heard of George Orwell’s 1984. This famous book has been referenced by politicians, pundits, and random guys on the street who’ll talk your ear off about politics if you let them.
It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they’re on, whatever the designated enemy ideology is doing is, as the internet meme puts it, “literally 1984.”
At the core of 1984‘s world of hyper-surveillance and state-wide brainwashing is Ingsoc, a political party and ideology that combines iron-fisted authoritarianism with a pretense of communism to maintain its grip on power over Oceania.
What Ingsoc Is and Its Role in 1984
Ingsoc stands for “English Socialism” and, as you can likely guess from the name, originates from 1984‘s version of England. There’s not a lot known about Ingsoc itself since part of what makes the party so terrifying is the confusion and ambiguity surrounding it.
This central idea of confounding anyone who would try to precisely pin down what Ingsoc is pervades all of Ingsoc’s policies.
Ingsoc is authoritarian yet socialist/communist, to put it broadly. The entire party and its ideologies are centered around Big Brother who is loved and feared by members of the party and by proles.
Big Brother makes public appearances to assure the people of Oceania that everything will be okay as long as they follow the party obediently, that they’ve done something good for party members, or that they’re currently under attack by external enemies so members need to stick together.
All of it is designed to create fear of the party and outside threats so that members are more inclined to depend on the party for everything.
In the same way that the party is ambiguous, the party also destroys any sense of meaning not determined by it. It can’t be defined in precise terms by design. What we do know about Ingsoc’s ideologies mostly boils down to these three mottos:
- War is peace.
- Freedom is slavery.
- Ignorance is strength.
Precise meanings are, again, not a lot of use here. But 1984‘s protagonist, Winston, believes the mottos describe how the members of the party and proles give Ingsoc its power.
By teaching Oceania’s people to fear war instigated against them by external aggressors (either Eurasia or Eastasia, depending on what Ingsoc wants to be true), Ingsoc is able to maintain internal peace.
This us vs. them mentality is integral to how cults brainwash their members into sticking together.
Therefore, war is peace.
When the Ingsoc says freedom is slavery what they mean to say is that identifying with fellow party members and Ingsoc makes you part of a community. The individual’s identity is surrendered to a collective identity and to the care of Ingsoc/Big Brother.
By sticking to the party, slavery becomes freedom because there’s nothing to worry about. Big Brother has you covered even if he’s lying about your chocolate rations being more than they were last month.
Meanwhile, ignorance is strength because individual ignorance about what’s really happening in the world and wider society gives the party more strength.
Because no one really knows anything and no one is really sure of anything (even Winston constantly questions his knowledge of the world and self-knowledge), Ingsoc is free to redirect everyone to its goals.
How Does Ingsoc Work?
Ingsoc’s name isn’t just a cutesy abbreviation, though that is what it’s meant to look like. Newspeak, Oceania’s fictional language, is a constructed language that Ingsoc (the Party) is pushing on its members and proles to gain better control over the way they think.
Think about it. When you read a book and highlight sections of it, why do you do that? Why do readers sometimes feel that a writer “sees” them and knows something deeply personal about the way they are and the way they think of the world? It’s because our own words fail us.
We borrow other people’s words to describe what we think and feel. This helps us pin down our thoughts and feelings and makes it easier to share them with other people who in turn might feel and think the same thing.
Now, consider the implications of living in Oceania, a world where Newspeak actively seeks to erode the descriptive power of language.
Newspeak deletes words for complex ideas and makes even the simplest words ambiguous. 2+2 can become 5 because the party says so and there’s no such thing as “bad,” “terrible,” “horrifying,” “atrocious,” or just “doubleplusungood.”
The same word for a poorly made stew is the only word available for describing torture in the world of 1984.
This heightens Ingsoc’s political power because it’s harder to plan a rebellion when no one can even describe what about Ingsoc makes them feel that something is “wrong”, if such a word will survive the eradication of complex language and thought that Newspeak works towards.
It’s also related to why the ministries of 1984 are named the way they are:
- The Ministry of Truth a.k.a Minitru regulates information and censors news, art, and entertainment.
- The Ministry of Peace a.k.a Minipax is actually a ministry of war.
- The Ministry of Love a.k.a Miniluv is the judge, jury, and executioner of Oceania. It’s Miniluv that captures Winston, tortures, and brainwashes him to believe, wholeheartedly, in the ideology of Ingsoc. The name is ironic, but not really since its goal is to force people to love Ingsoc and Big Brother.
- The Ministry of Plenty a.k.a Miniplenty manages economic affairs and rationing, the very opposite of what “plenty” is.
Ingsoc works only through its ability to maintain power and control using authoritarianism and confusion.
Why Does Everyone Compare Things to Ingsoc and 1984?
Since Ingsoc’s ideology is never fully defined and remains just as ambiguous as its Newspeak, it remains open to interpretation by anyone regardless of their political spectrum. Anything that sounds authoritarian or socialist is immediately described as “literally 1984” and anything seen as an intrusion of free speech or suggestive of using alternative words is accused of being “literally Newspeak.”
The rule of thumb is this: If you don’t like it, it’s 1984. So, if you’ve been wondering why everyone seems to think “x = 1984”, that’s basically it.