Revolution Gone Sour

In order to understand the relevance of the concept of Revolution in Orwell’s work, and more precisely, in Animal Farm, it is necessary to be aware of the significance of the political situation at the time it was written. Moreover, George Orwell is one of the few authors whose life needs to be studied to fully comprehend his work since his literally figure is pretty much linked to his political ideals. According to Orwell´s statement in Why I write (1946:4), “(…), no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude”. In fact, “Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”.

Nowadays, Orwell is read as an author concerned with preserving equality and freedom in society and who is critic with those totalitarian regimes that tried to annihilate those rights. However, most of his contemporaries – some of them, left wing comarades – didn’t understand or criticized his political literature, and thus, his books had a mixed reception among audiences and fellow intellectuals. He was a left wing socialist who heavily disapproved of the Soviet Union and its policies, as a result, his criticism was often misunderstood. However, his aim was to attack the idea of totalitarian communism, or any other type of totalitarianism.

He wrote in The Lion and the Unicorn (1941:13), after the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939: “Only revolution can save England, that has been obvious for years, but now the revolution has started and it may proceed quite quickly if only we can keep Hitler out”. What he had in mind was a voluntary people’s revolution for freedom and equality that would change the established political system known until then. This is very much in line with the political currents at the time where new systems were being tried out around Europe (The Soviet Union, Spain, Germany).

A Revolution by definition means a radical change, and Orwell wanted exactly that. However, Revolutions are likely to fail due to a number of factors. Taking the Soviet Union, and the Communist Revolution as an inspiration, Animal Farm was written keeping in mind that the worker´s Revolution had degenerated into a totalitarian regime. At the time it was published, two totalitarian regimes had dominated Europe: The Fascist Hitler regime, and the Communist regime in the Soviet Union led by Stalin. Although they were antagonist in essence, according to Orwell (1941:12), “they had many things in common“, especially, the appellation of totalitarian.

According to Orwell (1941: 74-76), both regimes had the following particular characteristics:

1)    The Nazi Regime: Before the Nazi party raised to power, capitalists had always had the power, and it continued to be so afterwards, although, capitalists and workers, had to coexist with the Nazi Party, which was the ultimate controller of everything. In Animal Farm, Mr Jones represents perfectly the idea of the capitalist, as the suppressor and exploiter of the animals, who are considered inferior to him.

2)    The Communist Regime: This Communist Revolution attempted the ownership of the means of production so that it could solve the problems of production and consumption. However, the Communist Party controlled everything and tended to exercise tyranny over the workers. In Animal Farm, once the pigs are in control of the farm, their means of production and their modus operandi become more and more alike to that of Manor Farm, ran by the capitalist Mr Jones.

Orwell (1941:81) warns us that, Revolutions are often betrayed by those who occupy the positions of power. “One cannot simply change from one system to the other as one might install a new piece of machinery in a factory, and then carry on as before, with the same people in positions of control. Obviously there is also needed a complete shift of power. New blood, new men, new ideas – in the true sense of the word, a revolution.

Therefore, the idea of the Revolution is likely to disintegrate for different reasons: lack of organisation, lack of people’s control, the illusion of a shift of power, tyrannical leadership, hunger for power, betrayal of the revolution principles, etc… as can be seen in the events that occurred following the Revolution of the animals in Animal Farm.

This process is explained in this “fairy story”, which as many other satirical works, tried to avoid censorship under the appearance of an innocent fable. It is in Orwell’s original preface to Animal Farm where he discusses issues of censorship for that matter. In fact, the success of this story is that it can be read and understood by a wide readership. In the story, the animals of the farm rebelled against the farmer, Mr Jones, following Major’s ideals of accomplishing a free and an equalitarian society.

Orwell draws a parallelism between the book’s characters and the then leaders of the Soviet Union. For instance, the pigs are the alter egos of Stalin and Trotsky, while Major is the representative of the ideals laid down by Lenin. Once the revolution successfully achieves to evict Mr Jones (representing the Tsar) from Manor Farm, the pigs install a tyrannical regime, which grants them privileges over the rest of the animals. When the pigs take over, they claim that all the animals are equal, however, small privileges start to be granted which turns into a full-scale corruption network, resembling more and more the system they tried to replace.

The beginnings of the Revolution started thanks to Major´s inspirational principles: “whatever goes upon for legs, or has wings, is a friend. (…) All the habits of Man are evil. And above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. (…) All animals are equal” (Orwell 1945:7). But, the betrayal of the Revolution principles is evident in the ammendment of the Seven Commandments established after the Revolution:

1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy ——————- Four legs good, two legs better

2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend

3. No animal shall wear clothes ———————– but the pigs end up wearing human clothes

4. No animal shall sleep in a bed ———————- with sheets

5. No animal shall drink alcohol ——————— to excess

6. No animal shall kill any other animal ————- without a cause

7. All animals are equal ———————- but some animals are more equal than others.

The Seven Commandments, towards the end of the book, become one: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell 1945:77)

In spite of this, Orwell portrays the workers of the farm remaining loyal to the Revolution, unaware of the corruption of their leaders. Boxer, while being taken to the slaughterhouse, kept saying “I will work harder (…) Napoleon is always right” (Orwell 1945:72). Out of all the animals in the farm, only Benjamin, the donkey, dares to question the system but nobody follows him. All the power is held by the pigs that even had trained the dogs (the army) to avoid any future dissidence. They also controll the farm by means of propaganda- done mainly by Squeaker- and religion – the Sugarcandy Mountain.

The final moment in the book when the pigs are playing cards with the humans is revealing. Animal Farm has turned into the farm the Animals rebelled against. The pigs have broken all the Revolution ideals and they only care for their own well-being. Power corrupts, and power without control is disastrous for society as a whole.

Above all, Orwell’s Animal Farm is an universal tale of relevance for any troubled time of political and social upheaval, that can serves us to criticize illusions and false expectations about the world we want to live in, especially those illusions that were projected by his socialist contemporaries about the Soviet Union Communist regime. Orwell was particularly incensed by “the apologetics of its Western sympathisers (sympatthisers of the Soviet Union), who felt that the cause of building socialism in a backward country excused many abuses” (Dickstein in Rodden 2007:133).

On the other hand, Orwell considered that a Revolution is a main factor for changing this world, although it is likely to fail if lay people don’t develop a social conscience and awareness of their political and social environment and participates and controls, especially, the abuse of power. “Centralized ownership has very little meaning unless the mass of the people are living roughly upon an equal level, and have some kind of control over the government” (Orwell 1941:21). However, he thought, a Revolution for freedom and equality was still necessary to alter the old class structure.

Orwell (1946) expressed his desire to communicate his political opinions through his novels in the following quote:

His purpose was to use… “the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude“.

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