My son has a summer reading assignment. He was given a list of books and told to choose one to write an essay about.
He picked Animal Farm by George Orwell. I was never assigned this book in school so I reached my mid-thirties without ever reading it.
In an attempt to help him understand the book, I read it last night. (It’s rather short.) I want to make sure I’m getting all the nuances.
Obviously, it’s an allegory on totalitarianism. (Barely a third of the way into the book I told my son to look up totalitarianism in the encyclopedia and see if that helped him understand the book.) Is Orwell saying that people are too stupid to recognize a dictator rising to power? Except for the pigs and the dogs, the rest of the farm animals are rather dumb, believing Squealer’s propaganda and his declarations that they remembered things wrong, and they are unable to memorize the seven commandments or even write them down for themselves.
Even Hitler’s Germany had its Resistance movement, but there is no resistance movement in Animal Farm. I don’t count Snowball because he was run off by Napolean’s dog army fairly early and never heard from again, except as a bugaboo to scare the rest of the animals. The animals accept the fact that things need to be done in this way and this way only, and it’s not until the end of the book that they realize they are right back where they started from under Mr. Jones.
So are the animals in the book too stupid to recognize a dictator when they see one? And what does this say about humans and dictators?
It’s not just an allegory of totalitarianism, but very specifically of the Russian Communist Revelution, with various pigs representing Marx, Lenin & Stalin (it’s been years since I read the book & I can’t scrounge up my copy at the moment), the black crow promising the Big Rock Candy Mountain- the Russian Orthodox Church, and so on. An oppressed people who throw off one form of oppression can be very blind to the oppression by their “liberators” when the hope in continuously dangled that things will improve if we stay dedicated to the cause.
Every leader in the western world was terrified of Communism (or Bolshevism) from the moment that Lenin took over. Fear of Communist takeovers affected the entire peace process after WWI (see Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919 for a detailed look at how the Big Four western leaders made decisions specifically to counter the possible spread of communism, decisions that affected much of Europe for decades).
Communism had great appeal as an alternative to what appeared to be failed capitalism after the Depression, but was hurt badly after news of the Show Trials that Stalin use to decimate his opponents in the 1930s became public.
In short, much of the history of the 20th century is about Communism and the measures taken to avoid it. By 1946 there was no other subject in anybody’s mind that rivaled it.
Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Fascists (where he was shot in the throat). He was a lifelong socialist, but the behaviour of the communists in Spain crystallised his thinking against them - while many other British intellectuals were prepared to turn a blind eye to the Soviets, Orwell saw them as the totalitarians they were.
The Russian revolution was in 1917 - the unhappy results of the USSR were well established by the 1930s.
Trotsky was more of a genuine communist and had a lot of the original international overthrow of capitalism, brotherhood of the workers etc that the Soviet revolution started from.
Stalin, on the otherhand, was more interested in securing a totalitarian and self contained state that crushed all opposition and stuff the international revolution of the workers. Ultimately his aims were completely the reverse of true communism, like most “communist” states.
In simplistic terms you could say that Trotsky was the good guy, but a hopeless dreamer, whereas Stalin was the bad guy and inevitable result of giving one man too much power. Naturally Stalin was the one that came out on top.
Trotsky was, in a lot of ways, Lenin’s number 2. He was the creator of the Red Army, and pretty widely considered Lenin’s successor, until Stalin outmanouvered him after Lenin’s death.
In terms of big picture views, Trotsky followed Lenin’s philosophy of “permanent revolution”…that the Soviet Union’s main goal should be to incite revolution and promote Communism worldwide, and that the only way the Soviet Union could be truly socialist is if the whole world was socialist.
Stalin, on the other hand, adopted the philosophy of “Socialism in One Country”…the idea that the main goal of the Soviet Union should be to industrialize and build itself up…that it could create a socialist society on its own, and that way, serve as a model for the rest of the world.
Oh… do notice that while Snowball may be compared to Trotsky, he is not a very good character. Notice that even under Snowball’s brief regime, the pigs (party people, people in power) had more food than the other animals.
IIRC, the USSR became an official threat to the US right after WWII ended in 1945… so… yea, they were a threat. Stalin was the one in charge of USSR during WWII, and the one with whom the allies made treaties or pacts…
The situation was comparable with when Napoleon first came to prominence as Bonaparte he was the hero of the French Revolution then disappointed and outraged his admirers by turning the Republic into his own Empire. [is it true that Beethoven scored out the dedication to Nappy of one of his most famous works at some point] An anticipation that the pig Napoleon will be using the power for his own sake and betraying the libertarian ideals.
BTW many events following the Russian revolution have direct parallels in Animal farm - the Stakhanovite hero workers and the show trials when dissenters are wiped out.