Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Animal Farm": The Historical Background

Animal Farm is a satire exposing Stalin's misdeeds after he had become the dictator of Russia. As the story of Animal Farm allegorizes a number of incidents in the history of Russia during Stalin's regime, it is necessary for the student to know something about the historical events and the historical personalities who figure in the story, though these events and these personalities are not directly named but are presented in disguise.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx was a German economist and the founder of international revolutionary Socialism. Of Jewish origin, he was born in 1818, and educated at the Universities of Bonn and Berlin, where he studied history and philosophy. In 1849, Marx migrated to London, where he spent the rest of his life. Marx was a leading exponent of the materialistic conception of history. On the purely economic side he held the theory that the working classes produce far more than they consume and that this surplus value was inevitably consumed or accumulated by the capitalists who allowed to the labourers inadequate wages to provide for their bare survival. From this it followed that there could be nothing in common between the employers (or the capitalists) and the labourers (or the proletariat). Marx called upon the working people to develop this class-consciousness which, when sufficiently developed, would result in a class-war in which the whole capitalist system would be overthrown. Marx's views form the basis of Communism as established in Soviet Russia. Marx died in London in 1883.
In  Animal Farm, Marx   appears as  old Major in the very opening chapter when Major (who is an experienced and  wise boar on Mr.  Jones's farm) summons a secret meeting of all the animals and calls upon them to revolt against Mr. Jones.  Major tells the animals that Mr. Jones has been exploiting the labour of the animals in order to lead a comfortable and luxurious life, while subjecting the animals to incessant labour without even giving them adequate food.
The Russian Revolution of 1917
World War I broke out in 1914. Russia was at that time being governed by the autocratic Czar, Nicholas. The affairs of the country were going from bad to worse. The Czar and his ministers were unable to put the nation's business on a sound footing. One Prime Minister after another tried to keep the old system going. At last the army chiefs decided to join the popular leaders in submitting a list of demands to the Czar. But, before this could be done, people who were afflicted by hunger and starvation, and provoked by police action, brought about the downfall of the Czar in March, 1917. This rebellion by the common people against the authoritarian Czar, leading to the overthrow of the Czar, is known as the Revolution of March, 1917. A provisional government was now set up. However, from the very beginning, this provisional government was threatened and sabotaged by the Soviet of workers' and soldiers' deputies, which had arisen overnight after the collapse of the monarchy. This Soviet was dominated by the Bolshevists. After several re-shuffles in the government, a leader by the name of Kerensky became the Prime Minister. But he proved quite ineffective. Authority in the country was now rapidly disintegrating; industrial production was falling; the countryside was in a state of anarchy; and the armed forces were in a state of chaos. At this stage Lenin, who had been in exile, returned to Russia and overthrew Kerensky's shaky government on November 7, 1917; and the Soviets under his leadership established themselves in supreme dictatorial authority. This was the real Revolution which brought the Bolsheviks into power and established Communism in the country. Trotsky was next in authority to Lenin; and leading Bolshevists acquired key posts under the new regime. The new regime called itself a dictatorship of the proletariat (that is, the common people); but it was, in fact, the dictatorship of a very small group of men, led by Lenin and Trotsky, over the rest of the nation.
In 1924, Lenin died and there began a struggle between his principal followers, of whom Trotsky and Stalin were the leaders. The personal rivalry between these two men turned to a great extent on the future political course to be pursued. Trotsky was of the view that a world revolution was necessary if Soviet Russia was to continue with its Communist system of government because, according to him, Socialism or Communism in one country alone had little chance of survival. Stalin disagreed with this view, and with the views of other leaders. Stalin was able to drive all these leaders out of power one by one. In 1927 he had become powerful enough to be able to expel Trotsky and his supporters from the Communist Party and then to banish them from Russia. In 1928 Stalin introduced the first five-year plan which proved to be a powerful instrument of political terrorism at home and of economic blackmail abroad. This plan aimed at bringing about collectivisation of agriculture. For a long time the peasants refused to accept the concept of collective farms and preferred to destroy their crops and cattle and to face extermination themselves; but in the end they were brought under control, and collectivised agriculture was established. Subsequently, more five-year plans were introduced. In 1936, Stalin introduced a new constitution which gave to the Communist Party a dictatorial position with the result that all those freedoms which had initially been promised were now shelved. Stalin further consolidated his power by holding trials of all those, who were suspected of being opposed to him, and by ordering the execution of all who were convicted by the courts of treason on the basis of the confessions which these men were forced to make. The executions, known as the purges, were carried out during 1936-38. These Moscow Trials and purges brought a lot of notoriety to Stalin.
Bolshevists
"Bolshevist" was a Russian political label, dating from 1903. In that year, the exiled Russian social democratic party met in London where important differences in doctrine and policy emerged. One faction advocated compromise and cooperation with the moderates in order ultimately to overthrow the Czardom in Russia. The other faction, led by Lenin, urged a purely proletarian revolution, putting into practice the doctrine of Karl Marx, and involving a forcible seizure by the workers of the control of all production, and the destruction of the capitalist regime in favour of an administrative system in the hands of workers themselves. Lenin's supporters were in a majority and they came thenceforward to be known as "Bolshevists". The Bolshevists under Lenin subsequently seized complete power through the revolution of November, 1917, the Czar having already been overthrown in March of the same year.
Lenin
Vladimir Lenin, Russian revolutionary and statesman, was born in 1870 on the banks of the river Volga in Russia. In 1902 he moved to London, where he met Trotsky. During the next two years he attended a series of international socialist conferences and was recognized as an extremist. In November, 1917, Lenin, who was at that time in Finland, returned to Russia and in the course of one night he was able to drive away Prime Minister Kerensky from power, and to set up his own government. As the new dictator of Russia, Lenin distinguished himself with many achievements which attracted many disciples to his creed of Bolshevism, or Communism as Lenin called it. Lenin's methods were pitiless, but he was convinced that no other methods could succeed. He lived in constant danger to his life and, in spite of his having a heavy bodyguard, he was fired at in 1918 and hit twice when he was on his way to a workers' meeting. Efforts were made by his opponents to liquidate him but by 1921 he was able to crush what may be called the counter-revolution. By 1922, his health had begun to fail and he died on the 21st January, 1924 at Gorky near Moscow.
Lenin agreed with Marx in regarding the State as the instrument of the ruling class; and therefore insisted on the initial necessity of violent revolution in order to otherthrow the existing capitalist order. He, however, believed also that the majority of the people must be won over by means of propaganda. The parliamentary State and the concealed dictatorship of the capitalist class must, he said, be replaced by a dictatorship of the proletariats or the working class. He believed in doing away with all class distinctions and class privileges and in the ultimate emergence of a classless society.
Stalin
Joseph Stalin was born in 1879 in a small Russian town. He was the son of a poor peasant. In 1905, after having been exiled to Siberia several times and having managed to escape each time, he met Lenin at the first Bolshevist Conference being held in Finland. He contributed actively to the overthrow of the Kerensky's government in November, 1917. In 1919, he was appointed by Lenin to a high political and administrative post. When Lenin died in 1924, it was by no means certain who would succeed him as the most powerful man in Russia. Stalin's position was a strong one, but Trotsky was generally considered to be Lenin's most obvious successor. Moreover, there were many other leading Bolshevists who had been very close to Lenin and who were better known than Stalin. Indeed, a life-and-death struggle among these various persons broke out almost immediately and lasted fourteen years. It was only with the biggest and most brutal purges of 1936-38 that Stalin removed the last of his rivals from the scene, destroying them all one by one. Trotsky was the earliest victim. After being banished from Russia and then being persecuted in every country where he took refuge, Trotsky was finally assassinated in Mexico by Stalin's agents. The others were made forcibly to appear at endless trials, were compelled to accuse each other of the worst possible crimes, and to confess having committed the most fantastic sins. They were physically destroyed on a scale unprecedented in the history of the civilized world. While this struggle was raging, Stalin in 1926 published his book, On The Problems of Leninism, which reveals his political philosophy and offers many clues to his mind and character. When Hitler's armies invaded Russia in 1941, Stalin personally directed the Russian defences and the entire Russian war effort. Throughout the Russo-German War, when most of the Soviet government leaders and officers were evacuated to a safer place, Stalin remained in Moscow. In November, 1943, he made his first journey abroad since 1912, to attend a meeting with Churchill and Roosevelt at Teheran. He died on the 5th March, 1953. During his life, Stalin held many honorary ranks and titles, including the "Order of the Red Banner" and the title of "Hero of Soviet Union". (In Animal Farm, Stalin is presented as Napoleon, the pig who soon after the rebellion against Mr. Jones, becomes the dictator of the farm).
A Non-Aggression Pact Between Stalin and Hitler
Stalin and Hitler (who had emerged as the dictator of a powerful and militant Germany) had for a long time been suspicious of each other. But now they came to some sort of understanding on the 23rd August, 1939 and signed a non-aggression within a few days of the signing of this treaty, World War II began. For about two years Stalin was able to squeeze concession after concession out of Hitler; but on the 22nd June, 1941, Hitler, without any prior warning, ordered his armies to invade Russia. A bitter conflict between the German and the Russian armies now began, the victory ultimately falling to Russia, though the victory was won at a very heavy cost.  In 1943 was held a meeting of the leaders of the three major Allied powers— Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. This meeting was held in Teheran, and came to be known as the Teheran Conference. (Animal Farm deals with many of the incidents narrated above and, according to Orwell's own statement, ends with the Teheran Conference).
Trotsky
Leon Trotsky was born in 1877, the son of a Jewish chemist. In 1890 he was banished to Siberia for his political activities, but he escaped in the third year of his exile, and joined Lenin in London. At the outbreak of World War I, Trotsky was in Paris where he edited a socialist newspaper in Russian.  He was expelled from Paris in 1916 and was for a time in  New York.   After the March revolution of 1917, he went to Russia and rejoined Lenin. He was one of the chief supporters of Lenin in the successful Revolution of November, 1917 in which Kerensky was overthrown. On the 8th November, 1917 he, with Lenin, seized the reins of the government. He occupied various important positions as Lenin's close associate and supporter. But, with the death of Lenin in 1924, Trotsky's influence declined, and Stalin gradually ousted him from all his posts. In 1927 Trotsky was expelled by Stalin from the Communist Party, and then exiled from Russia. After his expulsion from Russia, Trotsky lived in France and several other countries, but in 1937 he settled down in Mexico, where, on the 20th August, 1940, he was assassinated, presumably by one of Stalin's agents. Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution is a book of outstanding value. (In Animal Farm, Trotsky is presented in the guise of the pig, Snowball).

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