Animal Farm Viewed Through a Totalitarian Lens
Animal Farm, written by George Orwell in 1945 tells the story of farm animals who felt constantly overworked by their human master, Mr. Jones. These animals decided to take matters into their own hands (or trotters?) by running off their master so they could have opportunities to work by and for themselves.
Through the novel, the animals inspired by the idea of a revolution, so that they are no longer working for a human master. Yet, the intelligent pigs, give themselves more privileges. As this happens, they become more like the humans, who were the original enemy. This story is an allegory to a totalitarian society, in which the central government is controlled by one party, and there is a single dictator who uses methods of force to achieve goals. Characteristics seen in Animal Farm specifically mirror those seen in history Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union totalitarian states. According to Sherman and Salisbury, Stalin presented plans that would ultimately make life better so people wouldn’t have to work hard such as his Five-Year plans, but Stalin deceived the people as his Union became more dictatorial (Sherman and Salisbury 703). Nazis in Germany also hoped to promote a pure race and promoted an antisemitic feel in Germany.
As presented in themes and events in Animal Farm and documents from Stalinism and Nazism, life under totalitarian rule includes extreme control using methods of terror and violence, propaganda to influence emotions, and strict regulation of the economy. These characteristics of a totalitarian society reflect the true nature of totalitarian rule in the way that they use their position to obtain rule and achieve goals for societal and economic gain. To begin, Animal Farm demonstrates a main characteristic of life under a totalitarian government by using terror and violence to intimidate the subjects. This is analogous to Stalinism and Nazism as both of these forms of totalitarianism use methods of terror to obtain objectives, which demonstrate the nature of their rule. In Animal Farm, the dogs that were trained to protect Napoleon were extremely vicious as they actually chased Snowball, the pig who began to contend with Napoleon for power, off the farm (Orwell 52, 53). After this, the dogs were seen as intimidating figures to ensure that everyone followed Napoleon, and the dogs were described as fierce-looking as wolves. (Orwell 53). In many ways, Napoleon’s dogs are analogous to the secret police employed by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. Sherman and Salisbury discuss the use of secret police in the Great Purges in which officials were ordered to kill people who could be seen as possible threats to achieving his goals (Sherman and Salisbury 706). Also, Napoleon became very intimidating as he and the other pigs in leadership began to walk on their hind legs, carrying around whips (Orwell 133).
As seen in The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Stalin supported an idea of corrective labor to modernize the country, and people were sent to gulags or forced labor camps, where people were forced into dangerous, exhausting work, where many people died (Perry 345, 346). This mirrors the actions of Napoleon in Animal Farm, as it may be inferred that Napoleon’s secret agenda was to create a society in which he was the sole, dictatorial power, and to have more benefits from the efforts made by the less intelligent farm animals. As an additional example of terror used in Stalinism, Khrushchev’s Secret Speech by Nikita S. Khrushchev, who was a premier of the Soviet Union, attacked Stalin, and described his methods of terror. Khrushchev states that Stalin used extreme methods for any situation, whereas the former leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, used extreme methods in the most necessary cases, and that Stalin often chose the path of repression and physical annihilation, for enemies and even individuals who had not committed any crimes against the Union (Perry 343, 344). This speech supports the argument that Stalin wanted to obtain power because of his own desire for mass murder, of enemies and innocent people, which explains the immoral nature of totalitarian rule. Although, the argument could be made that from other perspectives, the innocent people killed by Stalin were actual threats. But, the example described in Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, Comrade Eikhe was accused of slandering the Communist party in 1939, which he had been a part of since 1905 (Perry 344). This simply is hard to believe, as there is little evidence that Eikhe actually slandered the USSR yet, he was still shot, after his trial (Perry 344).
Next, Animal Farm demonstrates a main characteristic of life under a totalitarian government which includes the use of propaganda to influence the emotions of animals living on the farm. This practice is analogous to Stalinism and Nazism as both of these forms of totalitarianism use influential propaganda in order to promote their values and desires for the society. Through these things, the nature of the rule was revealed, and it promoted their form of rule in order to make society better on their terms. For example, the pigs who became the main leaders on the Animal Farm all supported a revolutionary spirit, and Old Major, one of the older, well-respected pigs helped to teach all of the animals the tune, Beasts of England, which supported the overthrow of man, and supported a hopeful future of riches and prosperity, which explained the goals of the pigs, to be glorified and become prosperous (Orwell 24, 25). Through the revolutionary song, the animals connected emotionally. So, the single party of pigs aimed to use their leadership to achieve goals of an ultimately better society, in which the animals worked for themselves. Also, other means of propaganda, such as teaching the bleating sheep four legs good, two legs bad! shaped the other animals as well, and this shifts to see the pigs more cynical goals, after they began walking on two legs like humans, teaching the sheep, four legs good, two legs better! (Orwell 133, 134). One main influencer for propaganda in Animal Farm was Squealer, who often relayed messages from Napoleon to the other animals, and he was instrumental in hiding things from the animals, like how the Seven Commandments were constantly changed, with little things at first, to eventually allowing for the pigs to drink alcohol and live in the farmhouse.
Eventually, Squealer changed the Seven Commandments to one single statement, reflective of the totalitarian nature that the dictatorial Napoleon supported, stating that all animals are equal but, some are more equal than others. (Orwell 134). This statement shows that the leaders viewed themselves as more deserving of rights, such as intelligence, and human privileges, such as alcohol and different means of comfort. Similarly to the methods used by the pigs in Animal Farm, Soviet propaganda during the totalitarianism era emphasized the goals of the dictator, Stalin. For example, the Soviet government used posters to promote the image of Stalin, and his desires for the Soviet Union to move forward, towards a more industrialized society, much like the desire of the pigs, to move towards shorter work weeks, and plentiful harvests and even more leisure time (Figure 1, Soviet Poster). Stalin also hoped for the country to advance in terms of economics, agriculture, and industry (Sherman and Salisbury 703). This is representative of the nature of Stalin’s rule, as he promoted an advanced society, in hopes of advancing in the direction of other countries. Although most of Stalin’s desires for advancement may be viewed for personal glorification, his desire for advancement can be seen in the light of reaching his objectives as ruler by promoting these things in a positive manner, expressing that industrialization will improve the lives of the people.
In a similar way, Nazism promoted a perfect society, composed of the Aryan Race, emphasizing the importance of the racial community and how that improves the lives of the Germans. Propaganda was used by Nazi government to shine a light on the perfect household, and even promoting the future of industrialization, which included Volkswagens for families to enjoy as a reward for their compliance with Nazi policies (Figure 2, Nazi Poster). Likewise, in The Demagogic Orator by Kurt G. W. Ludecke, the author tells of a time in which Hitler came before a crowd and basically enthralled the audience to comply with his excitement for the future of Germany (Perry 365, 366). This shows that through the use of emotion by means of verbal speech and written propaganda, dictators were able to excite and influence the subjects of the government to comply with their personal desires for their totalitarian society. Another main aspect of life under totalitarian rule consists of strict regulation of the economy. Through the control of the economy and work methods, totalitarian rulers demonstrated their nature by using specific, selfish tactics to achieve their goals for the society. As Orwell’s character Napoleon came to the forefront of the revolution, he explained to the other animals with the ideas considering that man was the only one to reap the benefits from the labor of the animals, and none of the animals ever got to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Napoleon also explained to the animals that after a revolution, there would be hard work, but they would ultimately be working for themselves (Orwell 8).
After Snowball presented the idea of the windmill and a three-day work week, many animals were excited to hear this news, and the pigs decided that in order to build the windmill (even though Napoleon wasn’t fond of the idea), all animals must put in effort (Orwell 51). As for the regular farm work, they worked six-day weeks, but they were persuaded into seventh day because if they did not work, their rations would be cut in half (Orwell 59). Additionally, the farm was ruled in a totalitarian style as the party in control decided to stop all trade with other farms, in hopes of becoming completely self-sufficient (Orwell 63). This control over the rations and trade with other farms presents as a totalitarian solution for the farm, as the single party took over all aspects of the economy and work. All of these examples from Animal Farm are analogous to totalitarianism in the context of Stalinism. For example, Stalin introduced several Five-Year Plans after ending the New Economic Policy established by Vladimir Lenin (Sherman and Salisbury 702, 703). The Five-Year Plans mainly focused on rapid industrialization of the country, which mirrors the goals of the windmill for Animal Farm. In the same way that Napoleon rationed food for the animals and micromanaged the way the animals worked, Stalin began to control the agriculture that previously had been managed by the peasants, pushing peasants to work towards industrial efforts (Sherman and Salisbury 703).
In the piece, Terror in the Countryside by Lev Kopelev, the horrors of how people were killed in response to the desire that Stalin had for achieving a more perfect society were expressed (Perry 332). Kopelev describes how people were driven away from their homes, and were completely robbed during the process of collectivization in order to change the economic order in the Soviet Union (Perry 332, 333). This horrific description of how people were forced to leave behind their own lives gives insight on how Stalin viewed his position of power, because Kopelev even comments that he was almost mesmerized by the greater goal of Communism that he came in and stole from so many people, saying that everything was permissible-to lie, to steal, to destroy hundreds of thousands and even millions of people (Perry 333). The process of collectivization is represented in Animal Farm when Napoleon pushed for the animals to work seven day weeks, in order for the windmill to be completed sooner, and so they would have better food rations. Additionally, Stalin constantly pushed for advancement for the country, moving forward quickly, as he mentions in his speech known as The Hard Line, stating that those who fall behind get beaten, and we refuse to be beaten! (Perry 330). Because of the complete control placed over how people worked and how the economy functioned, Stalin’s dictatorial style of rule showed that he was very focused on obtaining his selfish goals by any means, even if it caused hardship and even death for innocent people.
In the fashion of Animal Farm, Nazi Germany emphasized a rebuilding of the army, and Hitler wanted to support the idea of becoming self-sufficient, in the case of another war (Sherman and Salisbury 701). This is similar to how Napoleon wanted Animal Farm to become self-sufficient, ceasing trade with other farms. Ultimately, totalitarianism during eras of Stalinism and Nazism consisted of extreme economic control, the use of propaganda to influence emotions, and the use of terror and violence to promote goals of the party in order to reach objectives for the country. The allegory of Animal Farm to a totalitarian society allows for people to understand how the rulers are able to sneak into power, and manipulate their subjects and create a type of manufactured consent, which may lead to violence and destruction. The topic of totalitarianism proves to be a particularly important topic that deals with the possibility of sliding towards a government controlled in all aspects with terror and violence, which should be prevented at all costs.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. Signet Classics, 1996. Perry, Marvin. Sources of the Western Tradition: From the Renaissance to the Present. Vol. 2, Cengage, 2014. Sherman, Dennis, and Joyce E. Salisbury. The West in the World: From the Renaissance. Vol. 2, McGraw Hill Education, 2014.
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