Orwell & Marx
Animalism vs. Marxism
Every line I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism," quotes George Orwell in the preface to the 1956 Signet Classic edition of Animal Farm. The edition, which sold several millions copies, however, omitted the rest of the sentence: "and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.?
It is in Animal Farm, written in 1944 but not published until after World War Two in 1945, which Orwell offers a political and social doctrine whose ideas and ideols can be seen in all of his proceeding works. In an essay published in the summer of 1946 entitled "Why I Write,? Orwell claimed to have been motivated over the preceding ten years by a desire to "make political writing into an art.?
In the essay, he states that "in Animal Farm he had for the first time in his writing career consciously tried to achieve this goal ? to harmonize political concerns with artistry? (Twayne, 17). Orwell, however, for reasons such as the omitted portion of his preface and misreadings of his novels, has been mislabeled a traitor of Socialism or a hero to the right wing by theorists and critics.
His book, besides a parody of Stalinist Russia, intends to show that Russia was not a true democratic Socialist country. Looked at carefully, Animal Farm is a criticism of Karl Marx as well as a novel perpetuating his convictions of democratic Socialism; these are other inherent less discussed qualities in Animal Farm besides the more commonly read harsh criticism of totalitarianism.
Orwell and Marx differed in their views on Socialism and its effects on religion and nationalism as well as Socialism's effects on society and its leaders. Orwell shared many of Marx's viewpoints, but he did not share with Marx the same vision of a utopian future, only the prospects of a worldwide revolution. "Orwell's work indicates that he had read Marx with care and understanding. That he remained unconvinced and highly critical does not mean he did could not follow Marx's arguments; or rather, it could mean that only to a Marxist? (Zwerdling, 20).
It is in Animal Farm, lesser talked about for the author's social theories than Nineteen Eighty-Four, that Orwell's criticisms of Marxism can be seen as well as Orwell's social theory, which can be seen through a careful reading of what the animals refer to as Animalism. Animalism, as we will see, has its faults and inaccuracies, but Orwell's use of it is to put forth his own political and social doctrine based on remedying those faults. Orwell's Animalism, what I believe to be his moderately Marxist-Leninist ideology, is different from the animals', but it is Orwell's Animalism that can best be compared to Marxism.
Animalism, based on the theories of old Major, a prized-boar of Mr. Jones, is born early on in Animal Farm. The fact that old Major, himself, is a boar implies that political theory to the masses or a theorist proposing radical change and revolution are, themselves, bores, in the eyes of the proletariate more prone to worrying about work and survival.
Old Major, however, is able to gather all the animals on the farm except the sleeping Moses, the tame raven, for a speech about a dream he had the previous night. In his talk, old Major tries to explain the animals' place in nature and how they can get out of it, very much like Marx's writing on the social consciousness of the proletariate in A Contribution to the Political Economy and the evil practices of bourgeois-controlled capitalism in The Communist Manifesto.
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being,? wrote Marx, "but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness? (preface to A Contribution..., 363). He also called for revolution by the proletariate in The Communist Manifesto to change the social structure of the state and its distribution of wealth.
Orwell agreed with Marx's social arguments, but as we will later see, disagreed on many of his other beliefs. In Animal Farm, we can see his depictions as man as a social animal and his Socialist ideologies through old Major's very Marxist speech in the barn: "Why... do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings. There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems: It is summed up in a single word ? Man. "Man is the only creature that consumes without producing... He sets [the animals] to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself... "Only get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own... That is my message to you, comrades: Rebellion! (18-20)?
Old Major, sanctified by the animals after his talk, is the visionary the animals needed to lead them out of their state of nature. But old Major, who dies three days after his speech is not a prophet nor is he representative of the nature of religion in Orwell's view of the state, only as the visionary philosopher responsible for perpetuating social change.
It is Moses, the lone animal who slept through the speech, that represents religion. Though his name alone invokes an underlying religious meaning, when we look at the character and his interactions with the animals do we see his role as representative of the Church. Moses does no work; he only sits on a pole and tells tales of a mysterious country called Sugarland Mountain, where all animals go when they die.
Moses, like Marx's view of religious institutions, is a tool of the state. Feeding off crusts of bread soaked in beer (an allegory for the body and blood of the ruling bourgeois) left by Mr. Jones, Moses is his especial pet, feeding lies and stories to the animals to give them something to live for. After old Major's speech was heard by the animals and his school of thought, to be known as Animalism, began to spread across the farm, only Moses was too stubborn to listen or pay any attention. Interestingly, after the animals successfully revolt, Moses disappears, only to return a little while later, after Napoleon, the eventual totalitarian leader of the animals, uses him as a tool just as Mr. Jones did. He begins to tell his stories again and gets paid in beer, just as he did before with the animals' leader.
Orwell, unlike Marx, believed religion would not fade away after revolution because there would always be a people hard on their luck and looking for answers to questions and places they can go after they die where life is easier. Later, we will see Orwell's views on revolutions themselves. Orwell believed in a society that would always have a class of people who would always turn to religion. Not a dystopian theorist, as many believed after Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell was a theorist who was not in favor of any orthodox theories that were naive enough to believe such a class of people would not exist.
His books might depict dystopian societies with ruthless leaders, but he did so to convince people how to stave off the ascension of such leaders. His reasons were simple ? He favored no society where a leader like Josef Stalin, Big Brother, Napoleon the pig or Napoleon the emperor could emerge to destroy what could be a suitable society based on democratic Socialism. If such a society existed, as it does in Animal Farm, the same problems and social consciousness are still existent. "To accept an orthodoxy,? wrote Orwell in one of his later essays, "is always to inherit unresolved contradictions? (Collected Essays..., 411).
It is a belief not unlike Leon Trotsky's view on revolution. "Revolution is full of contradictions,? wrote Trotsky. "It unfolds only by taking one step back after taking two steps forward? (Trotsky, xxxviii). The paradox, however, is that Orwell wanted to show that capitalism was not the only social injustice nor the only cause for dystopian societies while Trotsky wanted to use the revolutionary process to overthrow a government.
Orwell believed that a nation would always exist where there are people, thereby allowing for nationalism, something Marx said, just like religion, would fade away after the Revolution. The Revolution in Animal Farm, clearly based on the Russian Revolution, did not keep nationalism from disappearing, a point Orwell makes clear early on.
The animals, after revolting, are so proud of their newly formed state, that they take a green tablecloth and paint a white hoof and a horn on it similar to the hammer and sickle of the former Soviet Union. It is a flag that flies over the newly-named Animal Farm and at whose base lies a gun taken from a helper of Mr. Jones and later, the disinterred skull of the old Major.
Looking deeper at Animal Farm, we can see that Orwell's criticism of Marx through Animalism goes way beyond religion and the nationalism ? to revolution and the nature of man.
The gun that sits at the foot of the flagstaff, besides being a reminder of the Battle of Cowshed, it is also a criticism on the method behind the Rebellion, thereby a criticism on Trotsky's methods of revolution as well. Whereas old Major's Animalism preached revolution through working "day and night, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race? (20), the animals revolted with war and bloodshed, symbolized by the gun and the war cry of Snowball (Trotsky) at The Battle of Cowshed ? "The only good human being is a dead one?. A serious objection by Orwell on Marxism and Trotskyism is their conviction of Socialism's victory by any means necessary.
Though hard-working proletarian Boxer, after a subsequent attempt at taking over the farm by the humans, says, "I have no wish to take life, not even human life? (49), his damage has already been done, having killed a man. Boxer, representative of the anti-capitalistic Boxer Rebellion of 1900 in China, may speak of pacifism, but his words are coming from the mouth of a horse who has killed.
To Orwell, Socialism through warring was just as decadent as what Socialism was supposed to overthrow ? capitalism. Orwell did not want war because it would put Socialism on the same scale as its enemy because, as Vladimir Lenin wrote, capitalism led to war ? not Socialism. Where Animalism stresses a long process and some sort of mechanism, "classical Marxism misses the essential nature of revolution as a complex and extended process. It offers no conception of the natural sequence of stages in the revolution? (Daniels, 12).
Another criticism Orwell had of Marx was the idea that one man could foresee the future and predict the actions of men, as Marx had done in many of writings.
Orwell the novelist could write fictional political tales about the future as he did in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but he believed no man could accurately understand the nature by which man acts. "The main weakness of Marxism,? wrote Orwell: "is the failure of human motives... As it is, a ?Marxist analysis' of any historical event tends to be a hurried snap-judgement based on the principle of ciu bono?... Along these lines, it is impossible to have an intuitive understanding of men's motives, and therefore impossible to predict their actions? (The English..., 193).
It is a criticism evident after the rebellion in Animal Farm, as each animal's heart driven motivations drives them to individually try and make life better for themselves and leads the pigs towards greediness and the eventual assertion of power. The pigs go through the Jones's farm house and eventually come away with all its clothing, excess food and alcohol ? three things that eventually set them apart from the rest of the animals.
We can see this lead to the argument, inherent in the episode, that man will always be driven towards such things as private property ? another evident criticism of Marxist belief. The materialistic understanding of society, however, is a nod to Marxist analysis, though the notion that men are so different that can not fully be understood is but another criticism.
Orwell did, however, want the tendencies that lead some men to guide societies and other men to obey them, to fade away; in effect, he wanted to change the state of nature that led to hierarchal social structures.
As critic Alex Zwerdling eloquently puts it in Orwell and the Left: "The born victim and the born ruler; each acts his part in an almost predestined way. The victim's humility and shame become reflex responses; the ruler shifts uneasily between arbitrary assertion of power and the guilty gestures of charity. Orwell suggests that no amount of good will on either side can make this fundamental property of power tolerable. The task is to shatter the molds from which such men are made? (18).
Orwell's disgust of the social structure that separated men and economic classes from one another can clearly be see in an episode from Down and Out in Paris, where, as a dishwasher, Orwell noticed how social hierarchies developed everywhere.
Referring to the fact that no workers in the hotel where he washed dishes could wear moustaches, he writes: "This gives some idea of the elaborate caste system existing in a hotel. Our staff, amounting to about a hundred and ten, had their prestige graded as accurately as that of soldiers, and a cook or a waiter was as much above a plongeur as a captain above a private? (Pages From..., 22).
Calling the set-up of the hotel staff a "caste system,? Orwell implies that there is very little chance for upward mobility where one is employed as well the implicit nature of contentment within that system. Those at the bottom, like the horses in Animal Farm change very little when there are changes at the top of the system because they just want to do their job; maybe they want to do their job a little harder now, but nothing else changes ? especially their place in society after realizing Napoleon is just another Mr. Jones.
They are the proletariat, like the plongeur in the hotel who only worries about keeping his job to keep his children fed and his days filled. It is a proletariate quite different than Marx's; it is a proletariate unaware of a lot going on around them and preoccupied with the notion of bringing home the bacon. Orwell's critique of Marx is that Marx believed too much in a rationalized, educated proletariate that ? asserts Orwell ? can never exist.
To Orwell, the proletariate is too easily swayed by its leaders as well as its guiding ideologies. As mentioned previously, it are the leaders which Orwell detests just as much as a society that allows them to emerge.
In Animal Farm, the proletariate is not very swift in recognizing its situations. The animals, indoctrinated by a discourse of revolution put forth by the pigs and perpetuated by the Seven Commandments painted on the barn wall and the song of the revolution ? "Beasts of England? ? do not realize that as the state of their society changes every time the discourse gets molded by a leader, it stays the same.
The Seven Commandments, by the end of the novel, eventually become one commandment and "Beasts of England,? a song taught to the animals by old Major, is replaced by "Animal Farm,? a song taught by Minimus, the poet. "The replacement of 'Beasts of England'... Marks the crucial change from collective longing for a freer existence to a government-enforced enthusiasm for a utopia officially proclaimed as now achieved? (Twayne, 37).
It is the replacement of "Beasts of England? where Old Major's (Marx's) Animalism, represented by its lyrics, graphically fails ? succumbing to a simple song such as "Animal Farm?.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell points out the eventual dystopian drawbacks of governmental control of the social discourse to a much further extent. In Animal Farm, it is Boxer, the hard-working horse who gives his life to the cause, who pledges his allegiance to Napoleon; his speech is indicative of the discourse fed to him day in and day out. "What Ignazio Silone's ?rank-and-file-Fascist thinks' ? ?If my leader acts in this manner, it must be right!' ? Boxer says aloud. "Napoleon is always right,' intones the horse at just the crucial moment when a sign of his disapproval or even doubt might have stalled, if not thwarted, Napoleon's bid for sole power? (Twayne, 94-95).
Boxer's trust in his leader is faulty because it is a trust in an orthodox philosophy of society such as Marxism, according to Orwell. Orwell's view on society is that of moderate Marxist. It is true that many faults are found in old Major's (Marx's) Animalism, but they are exploited so much so as to learn from them and further Orwell's own Animalism based on Marxist ideologies. Their lessons ? Orwell's lessons ? are that utopias such as old Major's might never exist and that an extremist ideology such as Marxism can never accomplish what it is intended to accomplish.
We can see this if we look to the fact that, "Animalism, obviously communism, is significantly not instituted according to plan. The rebellion occurs spontaneously: once again Jones neglects to feed the animals, who break into the barn for food when ?they can stand it no longer' (21)? (Lee, 43). The revolution occurred not because of Marxist theory, but from a natural need ? hunger. This is not to say though, that Orwell did not want change in the system.
Orwell did, like Marx, want revolutionary change to occur and agreed with the Marxist principle that rebellions would spread and hoped that they would eventually lead to new democratically Socialist societies. Orwell did not, though, believe that revolution would be successful. We see this in Animal Farm when Animalism is suppressed by farmers after word of the Rebellion and its apparent success spreads and animals turn rebellious. Though we hear little of these other societies, the idea that revolutionary social change is bound to occur in them comes in the form of what the farmers think when they listen to their animals singing Animalism's hymn, "Beasts of England?: "Rumours of a wonderful farm, where the human beings had been turned out and the animals managed their own affairs, continued to circulate in vague and distorted forms, and throughout that year a wave of rebelliousness ran through the countryside. Bulls which had always been tractable suddenly turned savage, sheep broke down hedges and devoured the clover... The human beings could not contain their rage when they heard [?Beasts of England']... Any animal caught singing it was given a flogging on the spot... And when the human beings listened to it, they secretly trembled, hearing in it a prophecy of their future doom? (45-46).
The question emerging from this scene is how long can these farmers vent their anger on rebellious animals before those animals are driven so far as to rise up and rebel as Manor Farm's animals did, if they can at all. When a revolution does occur, however, as it does on Manor Farm, it eventually shatters and forms a whole new society in need of another, as it does on Manor Farm, a microcosm of revolutionary societies. It is a comment on the ever-increasing gap in the distribution of wealth and its affects on the proletariate as well as a criticism on Marxist theory of revolutions and dialectic materialism. Combined with Orwell's theories on man, "Orwell is opposing here more than the Soviet or Stalinist experience. Both the consciousness of the workers and the possibility of an authentic revolution are denied? (Williams, 73).
In Animal Farm, Orwell, like Marx in many of writings, wrote for the common man whose place in society was of utmost importance but of little recognition. Orwell's use of satire in the form of a "fairy story,? as he calls it on its title page, to get his point across shows his indignation for hard-core ideological doctrines whose purposes are to lead to the eventual destruction of a society.
Another "general aim of Animal Farm as a satire is to offer itself as an example of temperate, responsible criticism ? in no way a rancorous verbal assault? (Twayne, 106). It is a generally sympathetic criticism of Marxism that offers to ease many of Marx's statements about man, revolution, religion and society. It is a moderate Marxism whose definitive ideas are not really stated, but whose ideology surely exists throughout the novel.
Orwell's Animalism shares many of the same beliefs as Marxism, but its political goals are not as extreme, its trust in revolution is not as confident and its (Orwell's) forecast of the future is not as utopian as Marx's. Successful Animalism is the political and social doctrine George Orwell waited years to write; often misconstrued and rarely considered more than a criticism of totalitarianism, its natural tendency to be compared with Marxism has been too often overlooked.