Soviet Posters With An Orwellian Message

As a regular feature, starting today I’m going to post instances of totalitarian (Soviet, mostly) mis-information that corresponds with “Newspeak’ mis-information as described by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

"To have more, we must produce more. To produce more, we must know more"
"To have more, we must produce more. To produce more, we must know more"

This Soviet education poster is by Alexander Nikolaevitch Zelensky (1882-1942) and I am grateful to Wikipedia from where I obtained the JPEG. Interestingly, the Wikipedia caption reads, “To have more, we must produce more. To produce more, we must know more”. This is classically Orwellian, though I use the term purely grammatically, since the poster is from very early in the revolution when Orwell would have still been a schoolboy at Eton.

The poster can be seen in the book by Albert Rhys Williams Through The Russian Revolution (Boni and Liveright, NY, 1921). And it is tempting to speculate upon the possibility that Orwell would have had access to the book, one of the earliest commentaries upon the revolution, and that the caption stayed with him until he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But I think I smell a rat! There may have been some jiggery-pokery by the compilers of the Wikipedia page wishing to emphasis the Orwellian message, because in Williams’ book the caption is the significantly less succinct “In Order To Have More, It Is Necessary To Produce More. In Order To Produce More, It Is Necessary To Know More”.

I’m no student of the Russian language, and therefore unable to determine myself which caption is the more accurate translation. So, I carried out a small experiment and copied both captions into Google Translate. Here are the results:

“To have more, we must produce more. To produce more, we must know more” translates as “Для того, чтобы больше, мы должны производить больше. Для получения более, мы должны знать больше”.

And…

“In Order To Have More, It Is Necessary To Produce More. In Order To Produce More, It Is Necessary To Know More” translates as “Для того, чтобы иметь больше, надо производить больше. Для того, чтобы производить больше, необходимо знать больше”.

Reasonably inconclusive, I’m sure readers will agree. But I have a feeling that the Wikipedia version is more accurate, and you never know; Orwell might have carried out his own translation and achieved the same result!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *