So this year I’ve read a lot of books that have to do with communism. For some reason, reading about this subject is really quite fascinating. I have been chugging through a book, “The Russian Revolution” since May, and I’m only half-way through but reading that as a preface to Animal Farm has been beneficial. Animal Farm is not strictly about communism per-sey, but Stalinist Communism in particular. It is a political commentary veiled beneath a story about farm animals about the Russian Revolution, the ensuing take over of Communists like Lenin, and the rise of the Stalinist Communism and critique of his policies.
In the story, an old pig named “Old Major” (who represents Karl Marx) gathers the animals to talk about “Animalism” (Communism). After he dies, they chase Mr. Jones, the human caretaker of the animals, off the farm for good. This is symbolic of pre-revolution Russia and Mr. Jones portrays the Tsar, Nicholas, and the concept of democracy. After the revolution, they adopt seven rules of Animalism, the most important is of course, “all animals are equal.” Two pigs (the smartest on the farm) incite the revolution and inherit leadership after Mr. Jones is chased off, Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball represents Leon Trotsky and Napoleon, Stalin. Things go well on the farm in the months proceeding the revolution: Snowball teaches the animals how to read and write, food is plentiful and in general things are run smoothly. Snowball gathers the animals to announce they are going to build a windmill, which angers Napoleon and he uses the dogs to chase Snowball off. After the regime change, many things go awry. Napoleon changes all the rules to benefit the elite status of the pigs. For example, the most important rule in Napoleon’s rule is “all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” A savage killing spree takes place one meeting to all the animals who have opposed Napoleon (reminiscent of the Red Terror that Stalin enacted that claimed the lives of millions of people). Napoleon decides to funnel all efforts into building the windmill he opposed. Eventually, the pigs start acting like humans, walking on hind legs and drinking alcohol (breaking two of the original seven rules and after changing them to allow the elite pigs the authority to do such things). In the end, the humans and the pigs become indistinguishable.
George Orwell was a committed Communist who opposed the Stalinist regime. Understanding that Animal Farm is not a critique of Communism but one of Stalin is essential in the underpinning message. But in my own view, this is simply a commentary on what happens, no matter the ideology, when one is given too much power. Under the auspices of Communism, “all people are created equal.” It is curious, then, to see the social elite in nations like China and the Soviet union twist this notion to “all people are created equal, but some are created more equal.” The rich lifestyles of Communist leaders (see Kim Jong Un) defeats the very nature of what Communism intends to create. It is much like other systems of government that intend one thing but are corrupted by power (see Vladimir Putin and modern day Russia).
Regardless of whether you agree with Orwell about Communism, this is a spot on allegory of the events that took place in Soviet Russia.