“Animal Farm” (1945) by George Orwell is the story of animals who overthrew their human masters and took over a farm. It is a Trotskyite allegory about Stalin and how he undid the communist revolution in Russia. It is also an excellent study of the nature of power.
Catchphrase: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
The story: Animals take over a farm and throw out the humans. Without humans running it to suit their own interests, the animals will be able to work less and eat better. But bit by bit the pigs take more power and assume more privileges for themselves. In the end the pigs prove to be worse than the humans, working the animals harder and feeding them less.
The twists and turns in the story match the history of Russia from 1917 to 1945. So closely, in fact, that no one in Britain would print the book while Stalin was fighting with Britain against Hitler. But later when Stalin became the great enemy of the West, the book became a hit – without a single word being changed. It was not openly printed in much of Eastern Europe till 1989 with the fall of communism.
Who the chief pigs in the book are based on:
- Old Major – Marx/Lenin
- Snowball – Trotsky/Lenin
- Napoleon – Stalin
- Squealer – Molotov
Snowball believed in the Rebellion and wanted to make Animal Farm a great place for all the animals. But before long he was driven out by Napoleon.
Napoleon only cared about himself and (possibly) his fellow pigs, using power to suit his own interests. He did not care about right and wrong: he killed and lied when he had to. He turned the loyalty and pride the animals had for the Rebellion to his own ends. He used dogs to frighten them to do his will, he used Squealer to persuade them with speeches and he used the mindless sheep to end debate by endlessly repeating “Four legs good, two legs bad!”
Many on the left did not like Orwell in his own time because he did not turn a blind eye to what Stalin was doing.
Like in Orwell’s “1984”, those in power lie to fool the masses. They tell everyone that life is better now than in the old days when in fact it is worse. They rewrite history to support their lies and get others to doubt their own memory and judgement (gaslighting).
The book is good at showing how power, when it is not held accountable, will tend to serve its own interests and cannot be trusted, how freedom and justice are not at all natural outcomes.
Although many in America see it as “a book about Stalin”, it is in fact a wonderful story written against a belief many of them seem to hold: just world doctrine, the idea that the world is more or less just.