Essay on 1984 and Soviet Russia: Analyzing Police Forces



Control has been a prevalent topic throughout history. Oftentimes, the state attempts to control the economy and the function of society by violence. Occasionally, a state is established that controls not only those things, but every aspect of people’s lives, including how they think. In the novel, 1984, for example, the Thought Police is a secret group that always watched and listened lest a citizen make any anti-party comment or thought. In the real world, the Soviet Union of the 20th century had a similar police force named the KGB. The Thought Police of the novel, 1984, resemble the Soviet Union’s KGB in how they control society. 

The first way in which the Thought Police mimics the KGB, is by their control of anti-party actions. The main character is Winston Smith, who is a middle aged, outer party member that lives in London, in the state of Oceana. In the beginning of the book, Winston starts writing in an illegal diary. In this diary he writes many things against the party, most of which are considered crimes to even think. Since the novel is written in third person, the reader is given insight into Winston’s thoughts and emotions. 

He initially considers destroying the evidence in order to remain guiltless, but hopelessly realizes, “the Thought Police would get him just the same” (Orwell 16). Winston proceeds in describing what happens to the people the Thought Police capture: “...there was no trial, no report of the arrest. People simply disappeared…” (Orwell 17). Later on, when Winston is indeed apprehended, he tells of the actual process that the police follow. They typically beat and torture the inmates, or send them to “force labor camps”(Orwell 9)The inmates then eventually confess to crimes that they had not actually committed and then they would be publicly executed as traitors (Orwell 69).

These actions taken by the Thought Police often directly correlate to the actions taken by the KGB. One particular example is how they deal with defected Soviet citizens protesting and renouncing Soviet control. In a study done by the CIA during the cold war era, they found, “Soviet intelligence seeks to neutralize, discredit and destroy anti-Soviet groups… by kidnapping and murdering…”(Meissner). This strategy is prevalent in the Bandera assassination. Bogdan Nikolayevich Stashinski, a KGB agent, used a poison gun in order to assassinate Ukrainian emigre leader Stefan Bandera. 

This particular murder happened at Bandera’s apartment which was located outside the Soviet Union (United States). This relates to the Thought Police because they both take action right in one’s dwelling and with no warning, objection, or appeal. As well, Winston’s thought added to the location of the KGB assassination show that both organizations are extremely hard to hide from. 

Also, the use of “force labor camps” by the Thought Police in 1984, parallels the KGB’s use of the Gulag in real life. Gulag refers to the labor camp system set up by the Soviet’s (Gulag).  In the novel, when Winston is in prison, a colleague of his is put in his cell. They converse and the man lets slip that he is in because of talking in his sleep. He worriedly asks Winston, “I’ll get off within five years, you think? Or even ten years? A chap like me can make himself pretty useful in a labor camp” (Orwell 208). This shows how they harshly used the labor camps even for petty crimes, against the state since the man was technically unconscious when committing it. Such an example in the book relates to the real life scenarios of people in the USSR. 

One particular example is when a woman was imprisoned in a forced labor camp because of her husband. Her husband had been arrested and shot, and she was then arrested due to the fact of being married to an, “enemy of the community” (My Life). She served 8 years in the camp, met a man and had 2 children, before they were finally released. Later in life one of the children, a daughter with whom the interview was being conducted, received certificates from the government stating that none of them had actually committed a crime and had been wrongly imprisoned (My Life). The common theme between the two examples is that neither had really committed a crime and both had been apprehended and sentenced without being a trial. 

Another way that the Thought Police parallel the KGB, is the elaborate use of disguise and cover. In the book, Winston often visits a shop run by an older prole man named Mr. Charrington. On the day Winston is arrested, he is surprised to find that the commander of the men arresting him is Mr. Charrington. He claims that, “He was still recognizable, but he was no longer the same person any longer” (Orwell 199). He proceeds to describe the changes in Mr. Charrington’s appearance, including height, hair color, and facial wrinkles. Winston then realizes, “...for the first time in his life he was looking, with knowledge, at a member of the Thought Police” (Orwell 200). 

This quote that Orwell put in Winston’s thought confirms to the reader that the Thought Police are able to hide in plain sight. One real world similarity to this is the KGB’s “Coca Cola City”(Locket). This city was a shadow town set up by the agency to train spies to blend in as Americans. The spies in training there, “...drove American cars using American traffic regulations and watched American movies” (Lockett). This relates to the Thought Police in the sense that in both instances, spies were trained to infiltrate and blend into their surroundings. For the Thought Police, they were required to pose as an old, lower class, shopkeeper while the KGB were required to simply pose as an American. They each are learning to act in the manner almost completely contrary to their own beliefs. 

Although there are many similarities between the Thought Police and the KGB, one subtle difference is their goal. The KGB simply wanted to annihilate all resistance to the party. As previously mentioned, they do this through kidnapping and murdering. The Thought Police however, seek not only to annihilate their opposition through murdering and kidnapping, but also seek to convert them to their own mindset. As Winston was interrogated in the Ministry of Truth, O’Brien asks him why people are brought there. Winston’s reply is unsatisfactory to O’Brien and he exclaims,”To cure [them]” (Orwell 225).

He proceeds to explain how they attack and eventually change their enemies to prevent martyrs. This differs heavily from the KGB of Soviet Russia, which O’Brien explicitly cites in his interrogation with Winston. He claims that, though they sought to defame the executed by having them confess false crimes, they still failed in doing so because the people who were killed still retained their own mindset and did not truly believe their confessions. O’Brien boasts that, “...we make the brain perfect before we blow it out”(Orwell 227). Though these two groups are shown to be different, it is only a slight difference. In fact, the citation of Soviet Russia by O’Brien helps to show the similarity as well because it shows they were founded on very similar principles. 

The KGB’s role in society in Soviet Russia is the foundation for the Thought Police in the novel, 1984. Many striking similarities include control of anti-party sentiment, use of labor camps, and employment of elaborate disguises. Also, in a few particular parts of the novel, Thought Police operatives even directly cite Soviet Russia, insinuating similarities between the two groups. Although the Thought Police’s end goal is a step further than the KGB’s,  the difference is very subtle. In conclusion, the Thought Police and the KGB are very similar groups.

Works Cited

“Gulag.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/gulag.

Lockett, Jon. “Inside Top Secret KGB College Where Trainee Spooks Honed Their Deadly Skills.” The Sun, The Sun, 9 Mar. 2018, www.thesun.co.uk/news/5767038/inside-top-secret-russian-kgb-spy-school-soviet-training-cold-war/.

Meissner, Daniel. Web Page Template, academic.mu.edu/meissnerd/kgb.html

“'My Life in a Gulag': The Horror of Stalin's Prison Camps.” The Spectator, 18 May 2017, www.spectator.co.uk/2017/05/my-life-in-a-gulag-the-horror-of-stalins-prison-camps/.

Orwell, George, et al. 1984. Debols!Llo, 2017.

United States, Congress, “Memorandum for the Record.” Memorandum for the Record, 22AD, pp. 1–16. www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/BANDERA, STEFAN_0081.pdf.