MOSCOW, MAY 12 -- Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union was the model for the dark totalitarian society George Orwell portrayed in his novel "1984." This week Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union published parts of the novel and will soon print it entire.
The book had been banned in this country since its publication 40 years ago. Customs officials confiscated it from tourists. Librarians and storekeepers had instructions to keep it off their shelves. As the introduction to the excerpt printed in this week's Literaturnaya Gazeta pointed out, there was even an official import ban on "1984."
The monthly journal Novy Mir, which recently printed Boris Pasternak's long-suppressed novel "Dr. Zhivago," will print the Orwell novel in full. The excerpt in Literaturnaya Gazeta, published by the Soviet Writers' Union, is called "The Ministry of Truth."
"It is so eerie to pick up an official Soviet publication and read phrases like 'the Ministry of Truth' or 'Big Brother is watching' and realize that the Soviet Union is trying, slowly, perhaps, to criticize such things along with Orwell," said one Moscow intellectual who had read the book in an underground edition.
The excerpt in Literaturnaya Gazeta described the propaganda work of the novel's main character, Winston Smith, who holds a job in the "Ministry of Truth," rewriting history and helping to develop slogans like "War Is Peace," "Freedom Is Slavery" and "Ignorance Is Strength."
The short introduction accompanying the excerpt conceded, if somewhat obliquely, that the Soviet Union itself had been a model for Orwell's book.
"It is bitter, very bitter, that some pages of the novel could, without special effort, be put down to our account," the introduction said. "But is Orwell alone to blame for that?"
"1984," which remains a searing satire of the psychological control and personal despair in totalitarian regimes, is one of many novels, censored for years, that have been published under Gorbachev's campaign to both enrich and woo the intelligentsia. Vasily Grossman's "Life and Fate," Anatoly Rybakov's "Children of the Arbat" and Andrei Platonov's "Chevengur" have also been returned to Soviet readers.
One of the most important political novels to be published recently was Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel "We." Zamyatin, who started as a supporter of the Communist revolution in 1917, began to see the authoritarian direction the Soviet Union had taken and wrote "We" as a kind of warning of what life here could become -- lifeless, controlled, barren.
Literary critics here and in the West consider "We" to be a forerunner of Orwell's novel.