Russian society in the early twentieth century was bipolar:
a tiny minority controlled most of the country's wealth, while the
vast majority of the country's inhabitants were impoverished and oppressed peasants. Communism arose in Russia when the nation's workers and peasants,
assisted by a class of concerned intellectuals known as the intelligentsia, rebelled against and overwhelmed the wealthy and powerful class of capitalists and aristocrats. They hoped to establish a socialist utopia based on the principles of the German economic and political philosopher Karl Marx.
In Das Kapital (Capital), Marx advanced an economically deterministic interpretation of human history, arguing
that society would naturally evolve - from a monarchy and aristocracy, to capitalism, and then on to communism, a system under
which all property would be held in common. The dignity of the poor workers oppressed by capitalism would be restored, and all people would live as equals. Marx followed this sober and scholarly work with the Communist Manifesto, an impassioned call to action
that urged, "Workers of the world, unite!"
In the Russia of 1917, it appeared that Marx's dreams were to become reality. After a politically complicated civil war, Tsar Nicholas II, the monarch of Russia, was forced to abdicate the throne that his family had held for three centuries. Vladimir Ilych Lenin, a Russian intellectual revolutionary, seized power in the name of the Communist Party. The new regime took land and industry from private control and put them under government supervision. This
centralization of economic systems constituted the firs steps in restoring Russia to the prosperity it had known before World War I and in modernizing the nation's primitive infrastructure, including bringing
electricity to the countryside. After Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky jockeyed for control of the newly
formed Soviet Union. Stalin, a crafty and manipulative politician, soon banished Trotsky, an idealistic proponent of international communism. Stalin then began to consolidate his power with brutal intensity, killing or imprisoning his perceived political
enemies and overseeing the purge of approximately twenty
million Soviet citizens.
Major, a prize-winning boar, gathers the animals of the Manor Farm for a meeting in the big barn. He tells them of a dram he has had in which all animals live together with no human beings to oppress or control them. He tell the animals that they must work toward such a paradise and teaches them a song called "Beasts of England," in which his dream vision is
literally described. The animals greet Major's vision with great enthusiasm. When he dies only three nights after the meeting, three younger pigs - snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer - formulate his main principles into a philosophy called Animalism. Late one night, the animals manage to defeat the farmer Mr. Jones in a battle, running him off the land. They rename the property Animal Farm and dedicate themselves to achieving Major's dream. The car-horse Boxer devotes himself to the cause with particular zeal, committing his great strength to the prosperity for the farm and
adopting as a personal maxim the affirmation " I will work harder."
At first, Animal Farm prospers, Snowball works at teaching the animals to read, and Napoleon takes a group of young puppies to educate them in the
principles of Animalism. When Mr. Jones reappears to take back his farm, the animals
defeat him again, in what comes to be known as the Battle of the Cowshed, and take the farmer's abandoned gun as a token of their victory. As time passes, however, Napoleon and Snowball increasingly quibble over the future of the farm, and they begin to struggle with each other for power and influence among the other
animals. Snowball concocts a scheme to build an electricity-generation windmill, but Napoleon solidly opposes the plan. At the meeting to vote on whether to take up the project, Snowball gives a passionate
speech. Although Napoleon gives only a brief report, he then makes a strange noise, and nine attack dogs - the puppies that Napoleon had confiscated in order to "educate" - burst into the barn and chase Snowball from the farm. Napoleon assumes leadership of Animal Farm and declares that there will be no more meetings. From that point on, he asserts, the pigs alone will make all of the decisions - for the good of every animal.
Napoleon now quickly changes his mind about the windmill, and the animals, especially Boxer, devote their efforts to completing it. One day, after a storm, the animals find the windmill toppled. The human farmers in the area declare smugly that the animals made the walls too thin, but Napoleon claims that Snowball returned to the farm to sabotage the windmill.
He stages a great purge, during which various animals who have allegedly
participated in Snowball's great conspiracy - meaning
any animal who opposes Napoleon's uncontested leadership - meet instant death at the teeth of the attack dogs. With his leadership unquestioned (Boxer has
taken up a second maxim, "Napoleon is always right"), Napoleon begins expanding his powers, rewriting history to make snowball a villain. Napoleon also begins to act more and more like a human being - sleeping in a bed, drinking whisky, and engaging in trade with neighboring farmers. The original Animalist
principles strictly forbade such activities, but Sqealer, Napoleon's propagandist, justifies every action to the other animals, convincing them
that Napoleon is a great leaser and is making things better for everyone - despite the fact that the common animals are cold, hungry, and overworked.
Mr. Frederick, a neighboring farmer, cheats Napoleon in the purchase of some timber and then attacks the farm and dynamites the windmill, which had been rebuilt at great expense. After the demolition of the windmill, a pitched battle ensues, during which Boxer receives major wounds. The animals rout the farmers, but Boxer's injuries weaken him. When he later falls while working on the windmill, he senses
that his time has nearly come. One day, Boxer is
nowhere to be found. According to Squealer, Boxer has died in peace after having been taken to the hospital, praising the Rebellion with his last breath. In actuality, however, Napoleon has sold his
most loyal and long-suffering worker to a glue maker in order to get money for whisky.
Years pass on Animal Farm, and the pigs become more and more like human beings -
mankind upright, carrying whips, and wearing clothes. Eventually, the seven
principles of Animalism, known as the Seven Commandments and inscribed on the side of the barn, become reduced to a single principle reading "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS." Napoleon entertains a human farmer named Mr. Pilkington at a dinner and declares his
intent to ally himself with the human farmers against the
laboring classes of both the human and animal communities. He also changes the name of Animal Farm back to the Manor Farm, claiming that
this title is the "correct" one. Looking in at the party of elites through the farmhouse window, the common animals can no longer tell which are the pigs and which are the human beings.
Some of the characters:
Mr. Jones: Tsar Nicholas II
Mr. Frederick: Adolf Hitler
Mollie: The petit bourgeoisie that fled Russia a few days after the Russian Rev.
Mr. Pilkington: represents England and the United States
George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair, a British political novelist and essayist whose pointed criticisms of political oppression propelled him into prominence toward the middle of the twentieth century. Born in 1903 to British colonists in Bengal, India, Orwell received his education at a series of private schools, including Eton, an elite school in England. His painful experiences with snobbishness and social elitism at Eton, as well as his intimate familiarity with the reality of British imperialism in India, made him deeply suspicious of the
entrenched class system in English society. As a young man, Orwell became a socialist, speaking openly against the
excesses of governments east and west and fighting briefly for the socialist cause during the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939.
Unlike many British socialists in the 1930s and 1940s, Orwell was not enamored of the Soviet Union and its policies, nor did he consider the Soviet Union a positive representation of the possibilities of socialist society. He could not turn a blind eye to the cruelties and hypocrisies of Soviet Communist Party,
which had overturned the semi feudal system of the tsars only to replace it with
the dictatorial reign of Joseph Stalin. Orwell became a sharp critic of both capitalism and communism, and is
remembered chiefly as an advocate of freedom and a committed opponent of communist oppression. His two greatest anti-totalitarian novels - Animal
Farm and 1984 - form the basis of his reputation. Orwell died in 1950, only a year after completing 1984, which many consider his
A dystopian novel, 1984 attacks the idea of totalitarian communism (a political system in which one ruling
party plans and controls the collective social action of a state) by painting a terrifying picture of a world in which personal freedom in non-existent. Animal Farm, written in 1945, deals with similar themes but in a shorter and somewhat simpler format. A "fairy story " in the style of Aesop's fables, it uses animals on an English farm to tell the history of Soviet communism. Certain animals are based directly on communist Party leaders: the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, for example, are figurations of Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, respectively. Orwell uses the form of the fable for a number of aesthetic and political reasons. To better understand these, it is helpful to know at least the rudiments of Soviet history under Communist Party rule, beginning with the October Revolution of 1917.
In February 1917, Tsar Nicholas II, the monarch of Russia, abdicated and the socialist Alexander Kerensky became premier. At the end of October (November 7 on current Calendars), Kerenslky was ousted, and Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the Russian Revolution,
became chief commissar. Almost immediately, as wars raged on virtually every
Russian front, Lenin's chief allies began jockeying for
power in the newly formed state; the most influential included Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev. Trotsky and Stalin emerged as the most likely heirs to Lenin's vast power. Trotsky was a popular and charismatic leader, famous for his impassioned speeches, while the taciturn Stalin preferred to consolidate his power behind the scenes. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin orchestrated an alliance against Trotsky that included himself, Zinoviev, and Kaminev. Ian the following years, Stalin succeeded in becoming the unquestioned dictator of the Soviet Union and had Trotsky expelled first from Moscow, then from the Communist Part, and finally from Russia altogether in 1936. Trotsky fled to Mexico, where he was assassinated on Stalin's orders in 1940.
In 1934, Stalin's ally Serge Kiro was assassinated in Leningrad, prompting Stalin to commence his infamous purges of the Communist Party. Holding "show trials " - trials whose outcomes he and his allies had already decided - Stalin had his
opponents officially denounced as participants in Trotskist or anti-Stalinist conspiracies and therefore as "enemies of the people," an appellation
that guaranteed their immediate execution. As the Soviet government's economic planning faltered and failed, Russia suffered under a surge of violence, fear, and starvation. Stalin used his former opponent as a tool to placate the wretched populace. Trotsky became a common national enemy and thus a source of negative unity. He was a frightening specter used to conjure horrifying eventualities, in comparison with which the current misery paled. Additionally, by associating his
enemies with Trotsky's name, Stalin could ensure their immediate and automatic elimination from the Communist Party.
These and many other developments in Soviet history before 1945 have direct parallels in Animal
Farm: Napoleon ousts Snowball fro the farm and, after the windmill collapses, uses Snowball in his purges just as Stalin used
Trotsky. Similarly, Napoleon becomes a dictator, while Snowball is never heard from again. Orwell was inspired to write Anima Farm in part by his experiences in a Trotskyist group during the Spanish Civil War, and Snowball certainly receives a more sympathetic portrayal than Napoleon. But though Animal Farm was written as an attack on a specific government, its general themes of oppression, suffering, and injustice have far broader application; modern readers have come to see Orwell's book as a powerful attack on any political, rhetorical, or military power that seeks to control human beings unjustly.