Not a Fairy Story But an Allegorical Satire
Orwell described Animal Farm as a fairy story. But to call this book a fairy story is a misnomer. A fairy story contains supernatural beings as well as human beings, and sometimes only supernatural beings. The supernatural beings include fairies, genii, and evil spirits, all of whom make use of magic.In a fairy story there are such miracles as the flying carpet and the magic crystal. We do not have any of this paraphernalia in Animal Farm. In fact, magic, which forms the core of a fairy story, does not figure here at all. Orwell called this book a fairy story because there are in it animals who can talk, who can read, and who can manage their affairs just like human beings. But an animal story belongs to a different genre from the genre of a fairy story. Animal Farm is an allegory in which we meet human beings in the guise of animals. It is a serious, almost grim book despite its wit, humour, and gaiety. It is an allegorical satire which gives as a deep insight into Orwell's political thinking. In this book Orwell appears as a political thinker as well as a story-teller. In writing this allegorical satire, Orwell's purpose was to reveal to us his views about current politics and his reactions to the political events which had taken place in the recent past and which were taking place as he wrote.
Orwell's Opposition to Totalitarianisms
First of all, we find that Animal Farm clearly reveals Orwell's opposition to the totalitarian form of government. Italy had become a totalitarian State under Mussolini in 1919. In the ninteen-thirties, Germany and the Soviet Union began to develop in dangerous ways which reminded Orwell of the hierarchical absolutism of the Roman Catholic Church. He noted particularly the pyramidal structure of the governments in these two countries and the emergence of a new ruling class to direct it. Such political systems, he thought, might become permanent and universal. The Russian Communists under Stalin had, in Orwell's view, developed into a permanent ruling caste or oligarchy.
had developed a system of government which could be described as "oligarchical collectivism", The phrase "oligarchical collectivism" was first used by Orwell for Russia and Russia in 1940. In Animal Farm, Orwell demonstrates, though in a disguised manner, the process by which a revolution aiming at the attainment of the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, fellow-feeling and comradeship may achieve these ideals but may soon afterwards shelve and forsake these ideals so that a new governing clique emerges and rules the country in the same dictatorial manner in which it had been ruled by the pre-revolutionary government. The animals on Mr. Jones's Manor Farm overthrow Mr. Jones who represents the autocratic Czar of Russia and who represents also the forces of Capitalism. They then begin to administer the farm in a democratic manner and in the spirit of the ideals of equality, justice, and comradeship. Soon afterwards, however, the pigs emerge as a privileged class, who enjoy certain privileges on the basis of their superior intelligence and skill. The pig named Napoleon manages, by deceit, by cunning, and by force, to become the undisputed leader of the farm. By the time the story ends, Napoleon, assisted by the whole class of pigs, has become an absolute dictator, while the other animals have to work as hard and have to suffer the same kind of injustice as they had to endure during the tyrannical administration of Mr. Jones. Of course, Orwell narrates the whole process of this transformation in a most witty and amusing manner. But he leaves us in no doubt about his disgust with the emergence of a new dictator on the farm, and about his aversion to totalitarianism. Germany
His Attitude to Communism in General and to Stalinist Russia in Particular
Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a critique of totalitarianism with a special and specific reference to -Communist Russia under Stalin's regime. Animal Farm is a clever satire on the betrayal of the Russian Communist Revolution by Stalin and his henchmen. The struggle of the farm animals in having driven away their human exploiters to establish a free and equal community takes the form of a most skilfully worked-out history of Soviet Russia from 1917 upto the time of the Teheran Conference. Inspired by the teachings of Old Major, the animals establish their own Utopian community. The control of the affairs on the farm comes into the hands of the pigs, and particularly into the hands of a large, fierce-looking boar called Napoleon who is able shortly afterwards to get rid of a rival boar by the name of Snowball. Napoleon drives away Snowball from the farm just as Stalin had driven away Trotsky into exile. The pigs begin by appropriating the milk and the apples produced on the farm to their own use, denying any share in them to the other animals. Gradually, all the Seven Commandments, which had been formulated at the outset for a democratic and just functioning of the farm, are eroded, distorted, and modified till they are reduced to only one Commandment which also undergoes a radical change and which now reads as follows: "All Animals Are Equal But Some Are More Equal." While this process of the modification of and deviation from the Seven Commandments goes on, the pigs acquire more and more privileges such as living in Mr. Jones's farmhouse and sleeping in his beds, and Napoleon himself consolidates his position by liquidating, with the help of his fierce dogs and in a savage manner, his supposed opponents. This liquidation of his suspected opponents by Napoleon corresponds to the Moscow Trials of the suspected enemies of the Communist regime and the executions of the accused under the orders of Stalin during the years 1936-38. The executions ordered by Stalin had come to be known as the "Great Purges" and had brought a lot of notoriety to Stalin. The pigs acquiring more and more privileges correspond to the bureaucracy or the oligarchy which had begun to flourish during Stalin's regime and which exists even today in Russia in much the same form.
His Hatred of Communist Propaganda
As already pointed out, the Seven Commandments are altered to give legitimacy to the increasingly tyrannical acts of the leader, Napoleon. Significantly, the task of explaining the motives of the regime and persuading the animals that everything is being done for their welfare falls to a pig called Squealer who symbolizes either the propaganda machinery maintained by Stalin or the servile Russian Press represented by the Soviet News Agency called "Tass" whose function even today is to support, defend, and justify the deeds and the policies of the Russian leaders. It is Squealer whose false logic and sophisms turn black into white for the rest of the animals. Squealer commits all those evil acts which Orwell had found and denounced in the Press reporting of the Spanish Civil War and in the leftist apologies for the Soviet no-war pact with Germany. Orwell hated this kind of misleading propaganda in which the Communist regimes have always excelled.
Orwell's Opposition to the Debasement of Art
Orwell also takes care through the song "Beasts of England" and the figure of Minimus the poet, to see the uses which a totalitarian regime makes of art. Old Major launched the rebellion by his singing of a song which he had heard in his infancy. Later, Minimus composes a new anthem which is less appealing to the animals than "Beasts of England" but which is the only one now sanctioned by the leaders, just as in the Soviet Union a new anthem replaced La Internationale. Napoleon feared, of course, that if Major's song could stir the animals to rebellion once, it might do so again and that it might serve also as a reminder of a hopeful past which Napoleon wants the animals to forget. Minimus also writes a poem in honour of Comrade Napoleon just as a hymn a praise of Stalin had been written. It is evident that Orwell strongly disapproved of art and literature being debased by the Communist leadership which uses them for its own glorification and also to divert the attention of the people from political issues of a controversial nature.
Orwell's Socialistic Ideas in Conflict with Stalin's Policies
Orwell wrote Animal Farm chiefly to expose the Stalin myth in the interest of world socialism. In the nineteen-thirties and forties, especially after Russia had become involved in World War II, a large number of younger British intellectuals had joined the British Communist Party or had become its sympathizers. Orwell strongly disapproved of all these British intellectuals because, in his opinion, they were supporting the Stalinist propaganda at the cost of truth, freedom, and ultimately of literature. He wrote Animal Farm to expose the reality of the Russian Revolution and the betrayal of the Revolution by the Soviet regime under Stalin. However, Orwell did not on the basis of his disgust with Russian Communism, feel any urge to give rap his socialist ideas or to join the Tories in England. He continued to support the Left of the English Labour Party even though he became a strong and determined foe of Communism as practised in Soviet Russia under Stalin. Animal Farm is a book which brings into a clear focus Orwell's hatred of, and antagonism towards, the working of the Communist system in Russia. Although it is a gay book, yet the inspiration for it came from Orwell's indignation at, and disgust with, Russian Communism.
Orwell's View of Revolutions in General
Although Animal Farm is specifically an attack on Russian Communism, especially under Stalin, Orwell's purpose was more general. Orwell was interested in tracing the inevitable stages of any revolution, and so he shaped his animal fable accordingly. The pattern which emerges from this book is meant to apply not only to the Russian Revolution but also to the Spanish Civil War of the nineteen-thirties and to the French Revolution of 1789. (It is significant that the central character in the book has been given the name of Napoleon). Orwell wishes to convey to us that revolutions always go through certain predictable stages. A revolution begins with great idealistic fervour and popular support. During the period immediately following a successful revolution, there is a general feeling of brotherhood, fellow-feeling, and equality among the people. But slowly things begin to change. Equality begins to give way to special privileges for certain people. In course of time, a new class of persons rises to the top because of their superior skill and their lust for power. With the passing of more time, the past is forgotten or is deliberately removed from the minds and memories of the people. The new leadership is as dictatorial and arbitrary as the government which had been overthrown by the revolutionaries. Equality and justice fade away, and the State becomes totalitarian in character.
Power Tends to Corrupt: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
Although Animal Farm is to be interpreted in terms of Soviet history, and although Major, Napoleon, and Snowball represent Marx, Stalin, and Trotsky respectively, the story has some application to the western countries also. The barbs of criticism aimed at Russia are manifest, of course, but Orwell has a judgment to offer about the west also. After all, the pigs do not turn into alien monsters; they come to resemble those bitter rivals, Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick, who represent the Capitalists and the Nazis respectively. Orwell suggests that the three leading world powers (the
, U.S.A. , and the Britain Soviet Union) are hateful tyrannies, and that the failure of the Russian Revolution is not to be seen exclusively in terms of ideology but as a result of the famous maxim: "Power tends to corrupt ; absolute power corrupts absolutely." The initial spark of a revolution and the original intention of the revolutionaries may have been an ideal of the good life, but the result is always the same, namely tyranny. Fascism, Nazism, and Capitalism are as evil as Communism. They are all illusions which are inevitably used as a means of satisfying the greed of the ruling clique and its lust for power.
The Communists' Exploitation of People's Religious Belief
According to Orwell, even religion is employed by the tyrants as a device to divert the minds of the people who are being subjected to tyranny and injustice. Moses, the tame raven, is a symbol of religion. He is always croaking about the sweet and eternal life on Sugarcandy Mountain. He flies away when Mr. Jones has been expelled from the farm, but he returns when Napoleon has established his tyranny. Orwell, in his portrayal of Moses, has satirized religious orthodoxy. The animals dislike him because he does no work and because he is a spy and a tale-bearer. But he is a clever talker, and they find some comfort in his tales of Sugarcandy Mountain where all animals would go after death. Moses is tolerated by Napoleon and is permitted to live on the farm when he returns after an absence of several years. This corresponds to the attitude of toleration which the Soviet Union adopted towards the Orthodox Christian Church some time after the Revolution. Moses also represents the Reman Catholic Church; so that the tolerance with which he is treated on the farm under Napoleon corresponds to Stalin's attitude of indulgence towards the Roman Catholic priest through whom he wanted to come to an understanding with the Pope in Rome. Many of the animals secretly believe that there is some truth in Moses' tales of a better world, arguing that they deserve some compensation for the hardships of the earthly life. Thus Moses serves to divert the attention of the people from their earthly difficulties to the comforts of an after-life. It is evident that Orwell has no sympathy with such religious beliefs or with the comfort they offer to the people.
Communist Russia’s Good-Bye to Egalitarian Socialism
Orwell knew that the process by which the revolution in Animal Farm developed and then failed was understandable and perhaps even inevitable. Writing about the early leaders of the Russian Revolution, he said that the dictatorship of the proletariat had come to mean the dictatorship of a handful of intellectuals, ruling through terrorism. The Russian Communists, he said, had developed into a permanent ruling caste. As they could not tolerate the growth of opposition, they did not permit criticism, even just criticism, of their policies and actions. The result was that the dictatorship in Russia had moved far, far away from egalitarian socialism with which the Russian Revolution had started. Orwell himself had begun life as a socialist, and he remained a firm socialist till the end. His deepest regret was that the Russian Revolution, which had as its ideal egalitarian socialism, had completely departed from, and violated, that ideal in a most brazen manner, giving way to the emergence of a totalitarian State employing brutal, ruthless, and barbaric methods to keep the dictator in power.
The Power of Propaganda
Another important idea in Animal Farm relates to the power of political propaganda. Propaganda plays a very effective role in moulding public opinion. Every government, but more especially a totalitarian government, carries on propaganda to support its policies and to defend and justify its actions, no matter how wrong-headed those policies may be and how unjust and cruel those actions may be. Squealer in this novel has the power to turn black into white. Every decision which Napoleon takes in violation of the Seven Commandments is defended and justified, by Squealer; and Squealer is so successful that he is even able to make the animals think that their memories are playing them tricks. He is even able to convince the animals that the Commandment forbidding the animals to sleep in beds had actually forbidden sleeping in beds with sheets. Similarly, he is able to convince them that the Commandment forbidding the animals not to kill one another had really forbidden killing without cause. He reads out inflated figures of food-production to convince the animals that nothing has gone wrong with the government's functioning even when the rations of the animals are reduced.
Orwell, a Liberal and Progressive Political Thinker
Orwell creates an impression upon us of being a very liberal and progressive thinker. He shows his opposition to all the reactionary forces and reactionary ideas. His opposition to capitalism shows his progressive outlook. His opposition to totalitarianism shows his democratic outlook. His opposition to economic inequality shows his socialistic outlook. In all these cases, we find him poking fun at orthodoxy, conservatism, and dictatorship. The episode describing Boxer's sad fate shows his sense of humanity and his sympathetic nature because Boxer represents the hard-worked members of the proletariat. Thus our reading of Animal Farm raises Orwell in our estimation because we find ourselves in contact with the mind of a man who is a lover, upholder, and champion of freedom, democracy, economic justice, and fellow-feeling.