A brief definition of the word ‘dystopia’ is that it means a bad place, or an awful place to be. In simplistic terms, dystopias present society as a dysfunctional, unstable and often terrifying environment; performing the opposite function of utopias. However, whilst utopias are positive ideals, an example of where this is not the case is Nazi Germany, in which Hitler’s idealised hopes of a supreme race materialised into a mass dystopia. Dystopias have a place in society because they are the result of what human beings are capable of doing to each other, and I think that victims’ accounts, as well as fictional representations of dystopian societies, serve as reminders of this as well as the horrific experiences people had to go through. The case studies I am going to talk about are the victims of Soviet Union Russia and their experiences centred on how they felt in the gulags and what they went through. I will also talk briefly about Japanese literature concerning how victims felt after the dystopia of Hiroshima and the Second World War, as well as the environmental and Cold War case studies, and Nazi Germany.
The first case study I am going to talk about is the Soviet Union; how it became a dystopia within the twentieth century and exploring how the victims’ viewed their living conditions, oppressive ruling power and the punishments they faced if they rebelled. The dystopia of the Soviet Union, in my opinion, largely concerns the social disorder of a corrupt and controlling government with Stalin at its forefront, along with heightened political problems.
Some of the features of Stalin’s totalitarian, dystopian Soviet Russia were child-rearing by the state, which began at a young age within the educational system and resulted in children being brought up within the Communist regime as soldiers or officers. There was also the practice of communal living, in which many families were forced to share tight living quarters with each other, often with one kitchen and bathroom. With so many people crammed together in such a miniscule space, the conditions were usually unsanitary and atrocious. Furthermore the lack of privacy would have had serious emotional effects, as well as the continuous invasion of others, such as within the kitchens fighting over food and rations. Within the Soviet Union under the Stalinist regime, this could be considered as a typical example of a dystopian lifestyle.
Another important factor to mention is the mass organisation of demonstrations, which not only served to include all generations, but also displayed the sports, military, navy and aircraft might to the world. The army was shown to be totally disciplined army, loyal to Stalin and his will. This was also a dysfunctional example of propaganda to the Russian people, and served to heighten their fear of living under the regime and being oppressed members of a dystopian society. Another form of dystopian hardship within the Communist state were the subbotniks’ free forced labour for the Russians, apparently working towards a greater Russia. They were forbidden to stop until the projects were completed. The Soviet Union dystopia was controlled by primarily by fear and the harsh conditions of living. People were made to swear oaths to their political party, and the fear of abandoning their posts would result in their being sent to gulags or exiled, often to Siberia.
“I explained to the workers the causes of the 1919 starvation and approach of the different starvation of 1932, which was caused by the unchecked exportation… of bread, poor inventorying, and absence of a systems of controls.” According to Jerry J Rossman, this shows that there were other disorders of dystopia within Soviet Russia, such as a lack of food rations in proportion to the number of citizens, poor organisational structure, a lack of inventory and no proper supervision concerning how the new state was formed. I feel that this is an important view of a dystopian society from the eastern perspective concerning Soviet Russia because it highlights the harsh reality of the lives of victims living in permanent poverty and a controlled totalitarian state.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, shows the harsh reality of the gulag camp – the place people were sent if they refused to conform. Even after being inside the prison camp for such a long time, Alexander Solzhenitsyn had to be exiled. The reason why I think that Solzhenitsyn wrote this book was because he wanted people to see the dysfunctional side of the Soviet Union and how controlling and socially crippling the everyday life for the average Russian was.
Anyone was able to end up within the gulag, from criminals to political opponents, and they were forced to work long, harsh hours within the labour camps, on infrastructure projects and remote islands in harsh environmental and working conditions. There were numerous accounts by victims of how they lived within the gulags and what type of problems they received if they chose not to conform.
Miriam Dobson’s article in which she talks about Ivan Denisovich’s account of the gulags give us an insight into how people felt they were treated within the gulags and how they began to lose touch with reality as they had to accommodate themselves to a new way of life. “Who needs these camps, why do they exists? Are they method of ‘reeducation,’ or means of spiritual and physical corruption”. The victims’ point of view within Stalin’s regime of how they felt socially and what would have happened to them mentality and culturally often resulted in feelings of loss towards their personality and sense of ‘who they are’. “There’s only one way out: death! To die is far simpler than meeting the daily norms”. This is another example which shows the extent of how victims felt social and morally within the implication of forced daily work in dysfunctional societies within the communist Russia.
“Stalin’s amnesty did not extend to political prisoners or criminal recidivists”. This shows the wide selection of different people who were seen as no different from each other in the world of Soviet Russia if they opposed Stalin’s regime. The social order did not matter; if the opposed the regime or Stalin himself, they were sent to the gulags.
Another form of dystopia was within Nazi Germany. In the Second World War there were masses of propaganda which demonstrate Hitler’s utopian, and the global dystopian, regime of trying create the perfect human race and ‘advance’ in human genetics. Ways in which this would be explored consisted of human experimentations and in the eugenics within euthanizes. Other demonstrations of dystopias within Nazi Germany were mass meetings and rallies, the idealisation of one man and a nation of totalitarian and state-control created an era of dysfunction, social control and upset. “Aryan women were mated with SS soldiers and there offspring raised in special fosters families”. This shows what lengths they were willing to go to and that people thought this was unnatural upbringing and changing all aspects of human nature within German society turning into dystopia. Though this idea Hitler had would have brought about his own ‘great German’ utopian legacy, in the short-term this turned into a devastating example of a dystopian state.
According to Andrew Hammond, the Cold War theory within the mid 1952s and onwards was a dystopian fear of nuclear war and wipe-out devastation from the ‘east’ and the ‘west’, built up of many small wars. The mass fear “early 1980s a specific literary theory-so-called Nuclear Criticism-that focuses on the conscious and unconscious impact of nuclear technologies and of the widespread fear of nuclear disaster.” This shows there is a clash of ideologies as well as a confliction between the east and west. Because Stalin and his regime within communist Russia was very brutal and was conspiring against democracy and freedom against the west, people had mixed reactions of the nuclear bombings from the west and east. And through examples of nuclear missile crises as in Turkey and Cuba, there was always an on-going threat of nuclear devastation, and this added to the mass epidemic of fear which affected everyone on a wider scale.
Within Japanese dystopian literature there was left over the nuclear legacy and mass control of what happen on the nuclear bomb attack by the Americans on the cities of Hiroshima and Nasgaski. It is interesting to explore how the individual felt about the un-natural bombings of the cities; “The moment we step outside and look around, we will see our condition for what is: deformed, distressed and unnatural.” How people felt after the mass epidemic of what the fear of diseases and famine and illness was around after the World War. And the many consequences of the bombings within the Japanese society within dystopian within the Japanese culture; “Images of the Japanese as “Robots” or “Terminators” become common currency in the Western Press”. This gave more insight of what the western countries thought what was japan like and what they themselves were capable of becoming and sense of feather of machine advancement of technology the fear of science dystopian.
Fictional dystopias came about in the aftermath of great tragedies and hardships of World War One and World War Two, and how people felt and thought in the wake of the devastation reflected in the way they chose to write about these topics. The reason why people wrote about fictional dystopias is because it gave others an insight into how things went wrong and what they felt about the outcomes. It also enabled people to take a step back and see how countries and societies managed to descend, albeit in a fictional sense, into dystopias, and how this could possibly be avoided.
George Orwell’s book ‘1984’ was published in the year 1949. It is a very important book about fictional dystopias with references to various totalitarian regimes and how dangerous and controlling they were, which was very important because it gave insights into Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany in a more subtle, indirect way. 1984 deals with censorships, intellectual decline, concerns about the future generations and war. It also sheds some light on how Orwell himself felt about totalitarian regimes and controlled concentrations because people were ‘different’. “dystopian elements of his political ideology within an evolutionary, historical perspective.” This quote alludes to the atrocious and horrific things that were done to human beings just because of their race or disability.
What was so significant and important about 1984 is that it emphasises on the different side of the Soviet Union being victors within the Cold War, but it is written and presented in such a way that it can be related to concepts of future dystopian societies.
In conclusion, life for victims of dystopias in the twentieth century was very hard both physically and emotionally, because they lived in harsh conditions and were treated badly, either because they refused to conform, or because they were different physically, for example disabled or of a different race. Living in poverty and not being able afford the basic needs for living made people vulnerable and kept them under constant fear. It is important that their experiences are shared with others so people can understand the past and how victims felt about their situations. Dystopias tell us about human nature in that they demonstrate how human imagination is very powerful and the way they thought of how societies have became in the past and event present days and human nature tends go through pattern of dystopias. Victims’ accounts are crucial when forming our understanding of dystopias and when considering whether they could happen again.
A.Field, Deborah. Private Life And Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia.(New York: Peter Lang Publishing,2007.)
Mehlman, .J Maxwell. Transhumanist Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares The Promise and Peril of Genetic Engineering.(USA: The John Hopkins University press,2012.)
Napier, J. Susan. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature The subversion of modernity.(London:Routledge,1996.)
A.Field, Deborah. Private Life And Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia.(New York: Peter Lang Publishing,2007)
Zemtsov, Ilya. Encyclopedia of Soviet Life. (Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 1991)
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Robert Paul Resch, ‘Utopia, Dystopia, and the Middle Class in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four’, boundary 2,Vol.24,No.1(Spring,1997).99.pp137-176
Miriam Dobson, ‘Contesting the Paradigms of De-Stalinization: Readers’ Reponses to “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”’, Slavic Review, Vol.64.No.3 (Autumn,2005),pp.580-600
Jeffrey J . Rossman, ‘Teikovo Cotton Workers’ Strike of April1932:Class, Gender and Identity Politics in Stalin’s Russia’, Russian Review, Vol.56,50.1(Jan.,1997),pp.44-69
Golfo Alexopoulos,’Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gulag’, Slavic Review, Vol.64.No.2 (Summer,2005),pp.274-306
Andrew Hammond, ‘‘The Twlight of Utopia’: British Dystopian Fiction and the Cold War’, The Modern Language Review, Vol.106, No.3 (July 2011),pp.662-681
 A.Field, Deborah. Private Life And Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia.(New York: Peter Lang Publishing,2007).p.97
 Zemtsov, Ilya. Encyclopedia of Soviet Life. (Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 1991) p.326
 Jeffrey J . Rossman, ‘Teikovo Cotton Workers’ Strike of April1932:Class, Gender and Identity Politics in Stalin’s Russia’, Russian Review, Vol.56,50.1(Jan.,1997),pp.44-69.p.50
 Miriam Dobson, ‘Contesting the Paradigms of De-Stalinization: Readers’ Reponses to “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”’, Slavic Review, Vol.64.No.3 (Autumn,2005),pp.580-600 .p596
 p.596. Miriam Dobson, ‘Contesting the Paradigms of De-Stalinization: Readers’ Reponses to “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”’
 Golfo Alexopoulos,’Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gulag’, Slavic Review, Vol.64.No.2 (Summer,2005,pp.274-306.p275
 Mehlman, .J Maxwell. Transhumanist Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares The Promise and Peril of Genetic Engineering.(USA: The John Hopkins University press,2012). p.122
 Andrew Hammond, ‘‘The Twlight of Utopia’: British Dystopian Fiction and the Cold War’, The Modern Language Review, Vol.106, No.3 (July 2011),pp.662-681,p. 662
 Peter Eckersal, ‘Japan As Dystopia: Kawamura Takeshi’s Daisan Erotica’ TDR (1998-), Vol44,No.1 (Spring,2000),pp.97-108,p.97
 Napier, J. Susan. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature The subversion of modernity.(London:Routledge,1996.)p.182
Robert Paul Resch, ‘Utopia, Dystopia, and the Middle Class in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four’, boundary 2,Vol.24,No.1(Spring,1997)..pp137-176.p.153