Why do revolutions often end up devouring their own kind? The French Revolution was fought on the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity , yet it ended up creating a regime, as despotic and tyrannical as the one it overthrew. In Russia , the revolution against the autocratic Tsarist regime, created a new dictatorship of it’s own. Dictators in Africa, Asia and Latin America , who came to power fighting against unjust regimes, totally turned tyrannical themselves. Was their revolution for ideals or simply a lust for power? We have seen it back home in India, where the Angrez were replaced by the Brown Sahibs , infinitely worse.
George Orwell’s 1945 classic, Animal Farm , is one of the best novels, dealing with such questions. Short, but powerfully written, this is one of the most biting satires on communism you could ever find.
The novel deals with the story of Manor Farm , where animals are exploited by the humans owning that farm. Old Major , a prize winning pig on the farm, rallies the animals, saying that he has had a dream, in which all humans are gone, and animals can live in peace. Though Old Major dies, his two associates Snowball and Napoleon , two young pigs, rally the animals in a major revolt against the owner of the farm, Mr Jones and his family. After the owners flee, it is renamed as Animal Farm .
Snowball formulates the Seven Commandments of Animalism , and the 7th one is important, “All animals are equal”. Snowball teaches the animals how to read and write, and becomes a popular leader. This is however not to Napoleon’s liking, who creates an army of dogs, and chases Snowball away. Napoleon , who earlier opposed Snowball ’s idea of a windmill, takes the credit for it, after his ouster, and brainwashes all the other animals against him. He eliminates all of Snowball’s close associates, through his dogs, and of course he has a ready made propagandist in a pig, Squealer , who projects him as a hero. In the meanwhile he has a faithful ally in the hard working horse Boxer , who loyally follows the leader. Napoleon creates his own personality cult, and runs a reign of terror on the farm.
What started out as “All animals are equal” becomes “Some animals are more equal” as the pigs begin to assume special privileges for themselves. What happens to Napoleon’s dictatorial rule and how the revolt goes horribly wrong is what needs to be read. What makes the novel fascinating are the animal characters who have in fact been modeled on the real life characters of that time. Animal Farm is a scathing attack on Stalin’s dictatorial regime, and the Communist Party’s corruption.
Napoleon : This character is based on Stalin , and his nine dogs represent his secret police with which he harassed his opponents. He alters the original principles of Communism to suit his own personal interests. And his deal with the human beings, is akin to Stalin’s deal with Nazi Germany. At one stage in the story, he orders collection of hen’s eggs forcibly. The hens destroy all their eggs rather than give it to him. This is again in reference to his brutal collectivization program, where Ukrainian peasants, preferred to destroy their farms, rather than hand it over. George Orwell was a socialist, but he hated Stalin’s tyrannical rule.
Also the part where Mr.Frederick with whom Napoleon has made a pact, betrays Animal Farm and attacks it, is akin, to Hitler invading Russia , in spite of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Also Napoleon replacing the original anthem Beasts of England, with a totally mediocre one, is reflected in Stalin’s replacing the Internationale with Hymn of the Soviet Union .
Snowball : He is Napoleon’s rival and is ousted from the farm. This is based on Stalin’s real life rival Leon Trotsky , whom Stalin exiled from Russia . Like Snowball , Trotsky , was a popular leader and a passionate believer in the ideology of the revolution. When Snowball is driven out from the farm, Napoleon makes him the scapegoat for everything wrong. In real life too, Trotsky, was subjected to character assassination by Stalin’s cronies.
His close associates were all murdered, which is depicted in the book by Napoleon using his dogs to get rid of Snowball’s men. Trotsky was in fact later assassinated in Mexico , on the orders of Stalin himself.
Squealer is a pig, who is a crony of Napoleon, and indulges in his praise always. Orwell here was referring to Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s crony and the Russian newspaper Pravda . Together they indulged in blatant propaganda of Stalin and covered up his misdeeds. Squealer uses the bogey of humans coming back to take the farm, much like the standard Communist propaganda about enemies of the revolution.
While Old Major represents Lenin himself, the most tragic character is that of Boxer , the horse. Boxer represents the ever exploited, hard working, gullible working class. His loyalty is used by the pigs for their own purposes, and when the purpose is served, he is killed and disposed of. Mollie a white mare who loves ribbons and leaves the farm, represents the pampered elite of the Soviet Union , who fled after the revolution.
The hens whom Napoleon starves to death, are reminiscent of the Kulaks , who resisted Stalin’s forced collectivization program, and paid a heavy price for it. Mr Jones the owner of the farm, represents Tsar Nicholas II , the autocratic ruler who was executed by the revolutionaries, while Mr.Pilkington who represents the rival Pinchfield farm, represents Hitler .
Though Animal Farm is a satire on Stalin’s rule, it could apply to any country anywhere around the world, including India. The names might change but the basic characters don’t. Orwell, drives home the fact, that every revolution, which came to power, claiming to fight for the rights of oppressed, became much more oppressive than the previous regimes. During the Early part of the 20th century, in a world, shattered by the Great Depression , the World Wars , and rising anti colonial movements, Communism with it’s egalitarian ethos, held attraction for many people.
However in power, the Communist rulers, proved to be worse than those whom they had overthrown. What was supposed to be a movement, for equality, became one where the Communist leaders enjoyed a privileged life, while the ordinary people, still lived a life of misery. That was why in 1989, there was a massive upsurge against the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe , and they fell like nine pins. The ordinary people in Russia had to stand in the biting cold for hours together to buy a loaf of bread, while the pampered Communist officials, enjoyed caviar and vodka, in their plush homes. It was as if one set of opressors, was replaced by another one.
Closer home, we fought a battle against the British, but for what. The Gora Sahibs were replaced by the Brown Sahibs, a class of people, who were worse than the British. A class of people, who had no love for the country, corrupt to the core, and looted it. And the tragedy of India, is they still continue to loot the country. Animal Farm is a powerful satire on what happens, when the ideals of a revolution get distorted, by people for their own selfish ends. And it holds true even today, with regimes promising change, ending up like their predecessors, or maybe even worse. Short, concise and hard hitting, this book deserves to be read by every one, just to understand how we the ordinary people are being fooled and exploited in the guise of ideology.