Friday, 18 March 2011
Communism, Oops, I mean Animalism
1984 by George Orwell is a manifestation of the failure of communist regimes, which fail when their leaders become corrupted with power and start serving their own interests rather than the interests of those, who they are meant to serve. But before inventing the utopian world of 1984 with its new language, Newspeak, used to transform reality, to turn black into white, and to conceal important truths, Orwell wrote Animal Farm.
The subtitle is 'A Fairy Story'. Indeed, in Animal Farm animals behave, speak, and think like human beings. However, unlike a fairy story, the novel doesn't have a happy ending. It tells the story of a revolution, that had the best intentions to change the lives of the animals in Manor farm for the better by overthrowing their cruel owner. However, the leaders become corrupted with power and the initial ideals are carefully modified in order to serve not the community, but the chosen few. 'All animals are equal' turns into 'All animals are equal but some animals are more equal'. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Animal Farm is a witty allegory of the Russian revolution and its terrible consequences in the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the novel Major, a forward looking pig sets the principles of Animalism, according to which animals should be working for themselves, and not for the human beings. All animals are equal and should share the benefits of their work. Similarly, Lenin, highly influenced by Marx, presented the postulates of communism, which triggered the Russian revolution in 1917. Unfortunately, Major dies and the struggle for power is divided between the two pigs Napoleon and Snowfall. Eventually, Napoleon overthrows his opponent largely through methods of fear and terror. Snowball is exiled from the farm and is now portrayed as an enemy to the principles of Animalism. Similarly, Trotsky is outcast from the Soviet Union by Stalin.
As Napoleon gains more power, he orders working conditions and targets, which are hard for the other animals to achieve. Some of them still work hard because they believe in the initial principles of Animalism. Slowly, however, these principles become perversely changed in order to serve the pigs, who become the chosen few in the farm. Analogically, Stalin uses terror and secret police to control people and to hide the true severe conditions in the Soviet Union.
Eventually, the animals suffer even more than before the revolution. They are forced to work longer hours, they starve, and they are suppressed by Napoleon and his army of fierce dogs. The new commandments of animalism allow the pigs to enjoy a lifestyle similar to Mr Jones's, the previous owner. They drink, wear human clothes, play cards, and sleep in beds, all of which contradict the initial principles set up by Manor. Obviously, Stalin and his loyal supporters also formed a higher class, which enjoyed the benefits of power.
The Flag of Animalism. Quite resembling something familiar, eh?
The revolution in Animal Farm (and in Russia accordingly) fell apart not because of the principles of equality. It fell apart because the leaders became corrupted. They served themselves and not the community, slowly but surely turning into the dictators they so wanted to overthrow in the first place. Orwell ingeniously points out the shortcomings of totalitarianism, and on a larger scale the shortcomings of the human behavior. Animal Farm is a political satire with all the powers of a myth. It is also a realistic examination of the importance of honesty and truth, two things the world desperately needs after the two world wars.
Orwell believed in the values of democratic Socialism and liberal and social conscience. His works have influenced many writers to focus on the communist myth (especially the Soviet one) and the reasons for its collapse. Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and George Orwell, all authors use quite different, yet witty and profound perspective to investigate the devastating effects of a world, where truth is concealed, mind is controlled, and people are severely suppressed with the false illusion of equality.
Strangely, a book against informational propaganda was in fact negatively affected by this same propaganda. Animal Farm was finished in 1943, during the Second World War but was published late in 1945. The reasons: at the end of the war the Soviet Union was a British ally against Hitler's Germany. Thus, it was seen by many political leaders that Stalin and Soviet Communism should not be criticized, even indirectly. God bless, though, Orwell was not one to be persuaded by such orthodox views. His novel, a precise attack on the failure of the Russian revolution was published.
I will finish off with a sentence I saw in a movie last night, which I believe very well adapts to the topic. The use of information and disinformation is ultimately power. The Soviet communists are well aware of this fact and effectively use it to establish and stabilize their power.