Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree: A Nineteen Eighty-Four Timeline

Just about every alternate history aficionado, George Orwell fan, lover of literature, or high school freshman has read, or at least heard of, George Orwell's classic 1984. Orwell drops the reader into a dystopic London in the year 1984, when the world is occupied by three superstates who are locked in constant, total war with each other and do away with those of their citizens who fail to control their own thoughts at the governments' whim.

Although such a world seems (mostly) implausible today, in Orwell's time of 1949 it was frighteningly realistic. The devastating power of the nuke had been unleashed onto the world. The peoples of nearly every country had experienced the hardships of total war. Terrifying ideologies like fascism, Stalinism and Nazism had shown an unsettling tendency to become reality. This is an ATL that gives one possible theory as to how the world transitioned from a world full of big victory parties to a world run by Big (Brother), victory (gin), and (the) Party.

Originally I was going to do this all in the style of an encyclopedia article or a history book, but I decided it would be more fun to include some entries that emulated news articles, speeches, interviews, etc., so look out for those. Criticism is welcome, of course, but as you're about to rip into me please know this is my first timeline, as well as my first real attempt to devise such a thing. It's probably not going to be perfect but I'll do my best.

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POD: The Shot That Doomed the World
Excerpt from The Times, Sunday, September 1, 1918

by Ralph Ludden

MOSCOW--Vladimir Lenin, leader of Russia's ruling majority Socialist (Bolshevik) Party and Chairman of the socialist government in Moscow, was shot in the stomach Friday following a speech at a Moscow factory. After giving a speech at the Hammer and Sickle, an agricultural equipment factory in the industrial area of the city, Lenin was returning to his car when a female assailant approached him, called his name and fired two shots into his lower abdomen before her pistol jammed[1]. Abandoning her malfunctioning weapon, the attacker fled the scene pursued by armed members of the Red Guard, while Lenin was rushed to the Kremlin to receive medical attention.

Surgeons brought in to Lenin's living quarters managed to remove the bullets from the chairman's body. Lev Trotsky, a high-ranking member of the governing Council of People's Commissars, made a statement on Saturday that Lenin's injuries were deemed non-fatal, and that his survival of the assassination attempt serves as "a symbol of the resilient and irrepressible heroism of the cause of worldwide revolution".

[1] In OTL, Lenin was shot in the neck and the shoulder--two much more severe wounds that were likely a main contributor to his declining health and fatal stroke in the years to come. This represents the POD for this TL--Lenin will die early but he will not be forced to withdraw from Party politics; rather, he will continue to have an influence on them for the next few years.
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From p. 52 of The Hammer and Bayonet: A History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Until the End of the Second Great War by Colin Morford, 1948

...However, the turning point in the war between Trotsky and Stalin came on 20 April 1923, at the Twelfth Party Congress in Moscow. By this time Stalin had already begun to use his position as General Secretary to his advantage, having appointed many of his followers to local delegate positions. However, most of the other voting delegates were still unaligned with either Trotsky or Stalin, and were undecided as to whom they preferred. Furthermore, even Stalin's supporters were largely unaware of the tension between Stalin and Trotsky, and so, for the most part, they still held Trotsky in high regard.

On the 22nd, hours before Trotsky was due to deliver his speech, a rumour spread through the Congress that Lenin had arrived to speak. Some initially disbelieved this--Lenin was not listed anywhere on the agenda, and as far as anyone knew he was still recovering from his latest bout of fever at the Gorki Estate--but, sure enough, in the late hours of the afternoon, a somewhat shaken Stalin, who was about to give a speech denouncing the localised imperialism of the Georgians, called for the audience to turn their attention to Comrade Lenin, who was about to deliver an unexpected oration. Any buzz that had been stirring in the hall was immediately silenced as the delegates leant in to listen to their respected leader.

Lenin's words found Stalin completely off his guard. Though they began tamely enough--a typical call for unity in the Party, a reminder not to forget the purpose and legacy of the October Revolution--they soon evolved into an attack on Stalin's increasing greed for power. Through his post as General Secretary, Lenin warned, Comrade Stalin "[had] unlimited authority concentrated in his hands", and he could not be expected to "[use] that authority with sufficient caution", as shown by the fact that his "appointments to the Central Committee [had seemed] to be based on loyalty rather than merit or dedication to the efficient progress of socialism". He was therefore "unfit to serve the position of General Secretary", and he should be replaced posthaste with "a man more tolerant, loyal, considerate, and less capricious" to serve the vital role. Comrade Trotsky, conversely, possessed "the outstanding ability to embody the traits of a proponent of the Communist cause", and was "undoubtedly the most able man in the Central Committee".* Though Lenin did not explicitly recommend a man to replace Stalin as General Secretary, the implication was quite clear.

Despite Lenin's coughing (One delegate wrote in his journal that it was quite obvious that Comrade Lenin was ailing), the words rang clear in the minds of the delegates. By the time Lenin finished his subdued attack, Comrade Stalin was red with anxiety. If it had been Trotsky or Zinoviev who had dared to speak out against him, he might been able to persuade the delegates in the seats that the attacker was not to be trusted, and that such an address was a blatant attempt to destabilise the Party by an enemy of the Revolution. But no one was more respected than Lenin; to the Bolsheviks, he was the wisest, purest source of Revolutionary perfection. To attack him as a traitor to the Revolution would be to hasten his own demise. Lenin had already turned much of the Central Committee constituency against Stalin in one short announcement.

The worst, however, was still to come. To Stalin's heightened horror, Trotsky's speech was not the expected, inoffensive request for party democracy, but an impassioned tirade on the dangers of the new "autocratic despotism" of the existing order and the increasing "bureaucratisation" of the Party, which, he argued, had allowed "enemies of progress" to infiltrate the Party ranks and "sabotage" the Party's economic plans. By the end, Trotsky's every remark was accentuated by raucous, fervouristic agreement. One Bukharan delegate would later write that "near the end of Comrade Trotsky's speech it was nearly impossible to distinguish the words that he was saying amid the noise, and yet it was just as difficult not to join in the shouting and denounce Secretary Stalin at the top of your lungs".

In an apparently spontaneous fashion, Trotsky called for a new referendum for the position of General Secretary, to which the crowds immediately agreed. A vote was hastily arranged; Stalin watched silently as even his carefully-selected followers cast their votes against him in a fit of controlled frenzy and hysteria. After the results came out, Stalin nearly fell out of his chair: by a margin of 268 to 155, he had been ousted from the position of General Secretary. In a single gesture, Trotsky and Lenin had unseated their main rival and swept away much of the power that Stalin had spent years gathering for himself.

Memo drafted after Politburo meeting, April 28, 1923

Effective 1 March 1923, Comrade I. V. Stalin is to be removed from his position as General Secretary and appointed President of the first Policy Council [Sovpol], membership of which will be his prerogative. In order to prevent autocracy and to maintain accountability and central democracy in the Party, the Policy Council's decisions will be reviewed and deliberated by the Politburo. To give his full attention to the issues decided the Policy Council, Comrade Stalin will resign from the Politburo. By will of the people's delegates, and thereby of the Soviet people, Comrade L. D. Trotsky will assume the role of General Secretary.

*This speech, known as "Lenin's Testament", was written by Lenin in OTL (albeit in a slightly different form) after he saw through Stalin's lust for power. But he had been unable to come to the Congress to deliver it due to a stroke, which was brought on by his wounds from the shooting in 1918. Without Lenin's support, Trotsky did not bring up the issue of Stalin's consolidation of power, and he missed his chance to finally turn the Party against Stalin before it was too late.
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Trotsky and Stalin had unseated their main rival
Shouldn't this be Trotsky and Lenin? It seems now with Trotsky in a position of authority the creed of 'Socialism in One Country' will be discredited in favor of Trotsky's call for worldwide revolution. Perhaps this will result in a more radical Britain?
Shouldn't this be Trotsky and Lenin? It seems now with Trotsky in a position of authority the creed of 'Socialism in One Country' will be discredited in favor of Trotsky's call for worldwide revolution. Perhaps this will result in a more radical Britain?
Yes, you're right. Thanks for catching the mistake. And yes, you're on the right track with the world revolution thing...
A passage from p. 82 of The Hammer and Bayonet: A History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Until the End of the Second Great War by Colin Morford, 1948

After Stalin's "promotion" to President of the newly-created Sovpol, he knew he was treading on very thin ice. Although General Secretary Trotsky insisted that the Sovpol and the Politburo were to act as mutual checks on each other's power, it was clear from the start that the Sovpol's legislative power and influence over the Politburo was practically nonexistent. Whenever the Sovpol failed to approve a Politburo motion of any importance, Stalin and his fellow Council members were swiftly accused of trying to obstruct the implementation of socialism, or of trying to sow conflict and tension within the Party. On the other hand, the Politburo was essentially free to block the Sovpol at every turn with no repercussions, thanks in no small part to the Order for Information Security. Although its purpose was nominally to protect the "sensitive information" being discussed by the Sovpol from escaping to "enemies of the Party", in practice the law's primary function was to deny Sovpol members (and mainly Stalin) a voice to the Party representatives. This prevented them from lobbing similar attacks at the Politburo, from defending their decisions to the Party delegates, and from revealing just how little democracy there was in this "central democracy".

After gaining his ineffectual position, Stalin filled the Sovpol with his most trusted and loyal followers and allies, and swiftly began plotting his reascension, never believing that Trotsky would bother to interfere until it was too late. Though he was careful never to refer to his plans directly in official Sovpol mandates, his preferred euphemism--"Socialism in One Country"--was just as damning when the curtain was finally lifted. Trotsky knew that if he could get Stalin to incriminate himself, there would be no need to exaggerate the evidence, lob lofty accusations, or stack the membership of the Central Committee against him--all that would be necessary would be to present the facts, and the two-man war would be won. As an added bonus, the fact that Stalin had filled his ranks with his most devoted followers meant that they all went with him when the Sovpol was disgraced, dashing any last hope Stalin may have had of regaining power with the help of a friend in the Party.
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I really enjoy your writing style:) It's eloquent while still being easy to read. Have you written anything else? It seems like you've had the opportunity to hone your writing.
I really enjoy your writing style:) It's eloquent while still being easy to read. Have you written anything else? It seems like you've had the opportunity to hone your writing.
I appreciate the compliment.:) I've been told by a lot of people that I have a sort of way of attaching words together that carries good meaning. My day-to-day life doesn't involve much writing but sometimes I'll write a poem or a little short story if I'm feeling inspired...In this way I do have some chances to hone my skills.

The last two texts have a few grammatical errors--I have a tendency to write verbose, lengthy sentences that then need to be cut down stitched together, and in the process I sometimes forget a word or create a run-on sentence. These parts in particular may seem somewhat disjointed to some--I'm an American trying to imitate Mr. Morford, who, I've decided, is British. So I used an American-British English conversion tool I found online, and it may have affected the structure somewhat.
Shouldn't the POD be 1949 or later, since George Orwell intended it as a future prediction?
Yes, that's a decision I made with this TL. A generally accepted theory for the backstory to 1984 involves World War III breaking out shortly after II and the state of the world rapidly developing from there. However, I decided to write a TL that explains how the underlying themes and practices in the book developed over time. For example, the fervoristic spell that the Party delegates are put under during Trotsky's speech is meant to foreshadow the "Two Minute's Hate" in the book. I realized that to use the most common theory would make it hard to do this, so I took a few artistic liberties. I think this interpretation will be more enjoyable to 1984 fans who will be able to see where I've planted the seeds for doublethink, or permanent war, or some other element of 1984's world.
Transcript from a speech given by General Secretary Trotsky to Communist Party delegates at the Seventeenth Party Congress, 12 September 1924

...Comrades, the true motive of the revolution is inherently clear to anyone who truly invested his or herself into it. Marx, the very man whose revelations drove the Russian peoples to liberate themselves from the chains of autocracy, was adamant that world revolution--immediate, unrelenting, and violent--is the only instrument through which the oppressed victims of other imperialist states may liberate themselves as we have done. We, in particular, know that the struggle for liberation is plagued by hard resistance from the apparatus of state oppression, and that the bourgeoisie will do whatever is necessary to protect the defective imperialist states that fuel their capitalist enterprises. The years of counterrevolution that ravaged this country have proven these reactions to be inevitable.

However, our revolution has also shown it to be inevitable that any bourgeois society, weakened by the ravaging of capitalism, will soon crumble in the face of continued pressure from the united proletariat. It is for this reason that our comrades in Germany and Hungary, who so bravely took up arms against their oppressors, cannot be considered to have failed in their efforts to bring down the government of the bourgeoisie; rather, the speed with which they broke down the oppressors' initial defenses has exposed just how weak the bourgeois state model is. It follows, therefore, that even the best-defended, most deeply entrenched hives of capitalism--Germany, Britain, America, Japan, and the rest--will all yield, sooner or later, to the progress of history and be swept away by the inevitable tides of revolution. A true believer in the revolution must see the events of 1918 and 1919 as encouragement, rather than discouragement, to permanently continue with fierce resolve the crusade against imperialistic oppression until the proletariat classes of all nations have been freed from the enslavement of capitalistic greed!

[Excited cheers and applause from the audience]

President Stalin has a wholly different perspective on this matter. The documents which have just been revealed to you prove not only that Stalin and his cronies have abused their positions to stir up conflict within the Party, not only that their primary goal is autocratic power, not only that they have consciously ignored the need for central democracy by acting independently of the will of the Party--but that their ultimate aim, referred to in their secretive protocols as "Socialism in One Country", is an affront to the revolution. [Angered murmurs from the audience]. As I have stressed, the revolution will only be complete when the proletariat classes of every nation, state and city worldwide have liberated themselves from their bondage to the bourgeoisie, and until that day, we must fight, rebel, chip away relentlessly at every capitalist establishment until all its subjects are free. Stalin (a name which, I feel, no longer merits the term "Comrade"), [Inaudible due to audience noise]...abandon the Marxist cause where it lies and selfishly cower behind our own borders, leaving our fellow revolutionaries to be torn down by their brutal imperialist overlords! To be content with a lone, socialist Russia, therefore, is not only to leave it without allies in the face of foreign imperialist aggression, not only to enjoy freedom while others suffer, not only to block the natural course of history--but to betray the socialist cause, our foreign allies and the revolution itself! And it is in light of this betrayal that I pronounce President Stalin, Deputy Chairman Kamenev, and all other members of the Sovpol to be enemies of the Party and of the revolution!

[As audience members resume their cheers (even more loudly this time), some begin to stand up and shout "traitor" at the top of their lungs]
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Тhe Times, 20 September 1924

by Connor Eldridge

MOSCOW--In the Soviet Union, the massive manhunt for former statesman Joseph Stalin has been extended to all the Soviet republics today with the discovery of a new lead.

Stalin, who was President of the Soviet Union's Policy Council (Sovpol) until its dissolution at the Seventeenth Congress of the Communist Party on 12 September, was missing from his apartment when Moscow police arrived to take him into custody. It was soon determined that he had fled hours before, after learning of his imminent arrest. The former President was, along with all other members of the Sovpol, disgraced in an impassioned speech by General Secretary Lev Trotsky, who determined them to be "enemies of the Party and of the [Russian] Revolution". The dissolution of the Sovpol came after the revelation of documents purportedly produced in secret by the Sovpol, which appear to describe plans to overthrow the government.

By the morning of 13 September, all former Sovpol members other than Stalin had been apprehended. The intensive search for Stalin was confined to Moscow until 18 September, when Viktor Rolovich, a railway attendant at the Kazanskaya Railway Station, admitted to having taken a bribe on the day of Stalin's condemnation to allow a man fitting Stalin's description, accompanied by two other men, to board a train to the city of Samara without showing transit papers or passport.

In response to this new lead, Soviet authorities have closed the borders and shut down all naval ports, airports and railway stations in the country. Nearly all houses and public buildings in the major cities are to be searched by military and local police troops, and citizens have been forbidden to leave their homes without government permission. An 800,000 ruble reward has been offered in exchange for information on the man's whereabouts. Karl Radek, Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), has declared that the only explanation for Stalin's escape despite the capture of all other Sovpol members is the presence "traitorous elements in the greater [Communist] Party" who informed Stalin of his looming disgrace and helped him to escape. The fate of the other Sovpol members has not been disclosed, but it is presumed that they have been executed or incarcerated.

Telegram from the Chief Commissioner of the Northwest Frontier Provinces to the India Secretary, London 9 September 1924



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Good question. I'm not sure that we can really know at present, but the likeliest contender may be Japan - China is far too divided. And yet I'm not sure how Japan would be able to form Eastasia without becoming massively overextended.