Animal Farm – 75th Anniversary of Orwell’s Tragic Parody of An Immoral Political Economy

George Orwell’s morality tale Animal Farm was published 75 years ago in August.  His disgust at the ethics of autocratic rule is as relevant today as it was when he wrote to expose Joseph Stalin’s police state.

As in the first Star Wars movie, also a morality tale about good and evil, about speaking truth to power, about standing up when the odds are long against you, Orwell brings right into our minds stark awareness of the “dark side of the force” in the character of Darth Vader.

In these stories, we can’t run away from evil.  And in life, we seemingly never run out of abusive, evil people – in culture, organizations, businesses, politics and government.

I like to think that in this way too are the Caux Round Table principles for moral capitalism and moral government – “morality tales” about right and wrong, narratives, if you will, speaking truth to power.

Another point made by Orwell in that fictional narrative of animals rebelling against humans, setting up a collective farm under their management and then the ruling class – the pigs – coming to live as their human enemies use to, is the evil that language can do.  We, especially intellectuals, too often forget that using language has its ethical obligations too.  So, who, these days of disinformation, misinformation, gaslighting, ad hominem marginalization and career cancellation of others and more, teaches the ethics of using language?

What I remember from Animal Farm is the perverted repurposing of the ideal that “all animals are equal” into “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

In modern totalitarian democracies, all persons are equal under the constitution but, in practice, some persons are far more equal than others.

Now, in Afghanistan, we will see whether this ancient working of darkness in the human heart will assert itself once again.

Those with power, the elites, again and again, pose as one thing and rule as another.  They are imposters, acting upon a stage before a servile audience, mouthing a fantasy discourse to legitimate their socially psychotic needs for power and relentless desires to exploit for themselves and their families the good things of this world.

Here, for those who have not read Animal Farm or did so long ago that, like me, the details have slipped your mind, is the synopsis from Wikipedia:

The poorly-run Manor Farm near WillingdonEngland, is ripened for rebellion from its animal populace by neglect at the hands of the irresponsible and alcoholic farmer, Mr. Jones.  One night, the exalted boar, Old Major, holds a conference, at which he calls for the overthrow of humans and teaches the animals a revolutionary song called “Beasts of England.”  When Old Major dies, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command and stage a revolt, driving Mr. Jones off the farm and renaming the property “Animal Farm.”  They adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal.”  The decree is painted in large letters on one side of the barn.

The original commandments are:

-Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

-Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

-No animal shall wear clothes.

-No animal shall sleep in a bed.

-No animal shall drink alcohol.

-No animal shall kill any other animal.

-All animals are equal.

Later, Napoleon and his pigs secretly revise some commandments to clear themselves of accusations of law-breaking.

-No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.

-No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.

-No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.

Snowball teaches the animals to read and write, while Napoleon educates young puppies on these principles of Animalism.

Eventually, these moral standards are replaced with the maxims, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” and “Four legs good, two legs better,” as the pigs become more human

To commemorate the start of Animal Farm, Snowball raises a green flag with a white hoof and horn.  Food is plentiful and the farm runs smoothly.  The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items, ostensibly for their personal health.

Following an unsuccessful attempt by Mr. Jones and his associates to retake the farm (later dubbed the “Battle of the Cowshed”), Snowball announces his plans to modernize the farm by building a windmill.  Napoleon disputes this idea and matters come to a head, which culminate in Napoleon’s dogs chasing Snowball away and Napoleon declaring himself supreme commander.

Napoleon enacts changes to the governance structure of the farm, replacing meetings with a committee of pigs who will run the farm.  Through a young porker named Squealer, Napoleon claims credit for the windmill idea, claiming that Snowball was only trying to win animals to his side.

The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill.  When the animals find the windmill collapsed after a violent storm, Napoleon and Squealer persuade the animals that Snowball is trying to sabotage their project and begin to purge the farm of animals whom Napoleon accuses of consorting with his old rival.  When some animals recall the Battle of the Cowshed, Napoleon (who was nowhere to be found during the battle) gradually smears Snowball to the point of saying he is a collaborator of Mr. Jones, even dismissing the fact that Snowball was given an award of courage, while falsely representing himself as the main hero of the battle.

“Beasts of England” is replaced with “Animal Farm,” while an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man (“Comrade Napoleon”), is composed and sung. Napoleon then conducts a second purge, during which many animals who are alleged to be helping Snowball in plots are executed by Napoleon’s dogs, which troubles the rest of the animals.

Despite their hardships, the animals are easily placated by Napoleon’s retort that they are better off than they were under Mr. Jones, as well as by the sheep’s continual bleating of “four legs good, two legs bad.”

Mr. Frederick, a neighboring farmer, attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the restored windmill.  Although the animals win the battle, they do so at great cost, as many, including Boxer the workhorse, are wounded.  Although he recovers from this, Boxer eventually collapses while working on the windmill (being almost 12 years old at that point).  He is taken away in a knacker’s (British for roadkill collector) van and a donkey called Benjamin alerts the animals of this, but Squealer quickly waves off their alarm by persuading the animals that the van had been purchased from the knacker by an animal hospital and that the previous owner’s signboard had not been repainted.  Squealer subsequently reports Boxer’s death and honors him with a festival the following day.  However, Napoleon had in fact engineered the sale of Boxer to the knacker, allowing him and his inner circle to acquire money to buy whisky for themselves.

Years pass, the windmill is rebuilt and another windmill is constructed, which makes the farm a good amount of income.  However, the ideals that Snowball discussed, including stalls with electric lighting, heating and running water, are forgotten, with Napoleon advocating that the happiest animals live simple lives.

Snowball has been forgotten, alongside Boxer, with “the exception of the few who knew him.” Many of the animals who participated in the rebellion are dead or old.  Mr. Jones is also dead, saying he “died in an inebriates’ home in another part of the country.”

The pigs start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, drink alcohol and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to just one phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  The maxim “Four legs good, two legs bad” is similarly changed to “Four legs good, two legs better.”  Other changes include the Hoof and Horn flag being replaced with a plain green banner and Old Major’s skull, which was previously put on display, being reburied.

Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance.  He abolishes the practice of the revolutionary traditions and restores the name “The Manor Farm.”  The men and pigs start playing cards, flattering and praising each other, while cheating at the game.  Both Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington, one of the farmers, play an Ace of Spades at the same time and both sides begin fighting loudly over who cheated first.  When the animals outside look at the pigs and men, they can no longer distinguish between the two.