Jones Manoel
Translation: Compañera Mai
Editing: Roderic Day, Nia Frome

A Critical Read of Animal Farm (2022)

41 minutes | English | Art & Propaganda Latin America

This transcript was adapted by Compañera Mai and Roderic Day from a freely available online lecture given by Brazilian Communist Party member Jones Manoel. [1] It is not an exact to-the-letter adaptation; we have attempted to stay faithful while focusing on readability. Please verify with the original before referencing this text.

All Animal Farm excerpts were taken from Project Gutenberg. [2]

Let us broach a polemical subject. The British author George Orwell is very well known for works such as Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and his book about the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia. Throughout 2022 I intend to discuss each of these three works in detail. They’re not necessarily his best works, nor necessarily the most revealing ones regarding his own personal development, but I consider them his most popular works, with the largest impact. Here I want to focus only and specifically on Animal Farm. I don’t intend to discuss the context of Orwell’s production at large, nor Orwell’s biographical trajectory. [3] I won’t go into Nineteen Eighty-Four or any other of his works, either. We will discuss Animal Farm in isolation, which I think is fundamental. Why?

The name George Orwell carries immense ideological, political, and historical weight. He is the kind of author most of us have heard about before even encountering his work. We’ve heard about him, we’ve formed an opinion about him. With an unknown book by an unknown author, our opinion is formed after our first read, based on our first read. With Animal Farm, however, we approach it with a pre-formed opinion — a prejudice, even. In this way it is similar to The Communist Manifesto, The Bible, and pretty much any book that is considered general knowledge. Whether correct or incorrect, whether based on reality or not, everybody approaches the work having previously heard about it, and about its author as well. Before reading a single page the reader is likely already aware that Orwell’s a democrat, a socialist, that he later fought with anarchists, that he was an anti-Stalinist, that he fought against “Totalitarianism,” that he was an advocate for individual liberties, that he was opposed to surveillance, and so on. This general knowledge means the reader does not pick up the book “bare-handed,” they approach it armed with some knowledge. In my view, this prevents the reader from noticing certain aspects of the book. Regardless of how the reader feels about the Soviet Union or about capitalism, Orwell is pre-labeled a “democratic author” — democratic in the sense of “anti-Totalitarian” individualism, against the state, etc. I believe this heavy cultural bias prevents the reader from noticing several alarming elements in its narrative.

Animal Farm is a critical allegory of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It aims to discredit the revolutionary process by stressing that, though the revolution was initially impelled by desires of hope and change and transformation, it quickly derailed, and life got as bad or even worse than it was before the revolution. Some insist the book is a narrow critique of “Stalinism.” I will later explain why I believe the book does not stand narrowly opposed to the Soviet Union or Stalin’s administration, but in fact stands opposed to revolutions in general. However, that’s not the really alarming part. The quality of the critique of the Bolsheviks, the Soviet Union, so-called “Stalinism” is not my main concern here.

I was 20 years old when I first picked up this book. I was young, I had only just begun reading Marxist literature, only just begun getting involved in communist organizing. To be clear: I’m the son of a housemaid; my father was a bricklayer. I started working at the age of 13. In other words, I’m a proletarian, born and raised in the favela. Therefore, I was very familiar with the subjects of the book’s metaphors when I first read it.

In Animal Farm, the animals represent the working class, and each different species represents a different social category within the working class. The pigs — the most intelligent animals — are the professional revolutionaries, Orwell’s stand-in for the Bolsheviks. The chickens, the horses, the sheep and so on are representations of the workers. The humans represent the bourgeoisie, and the book depicts class struggle in terms of animals versus humans.

Even back then, that first time I read this book, something really bothered me. There was something really strange about it, and it had nothing to do with the Soviet Union.

In 2013 I read the book for a third time. By this time I was organizing with the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) Youth, the Communist Youth Union (UJC). I was well-read in Marxist literature, and even had tried my hand at literary critique based on my studies of the works of Carlos Nelson Coutinho, which ended up being the topic of my master’s thesis a few years later. Studying Coutinho’s literary critique — possibly the highlight of his intellectual contribution — I learned to detect when an author writes from an aristocratic or pseudo-popular perspective, when an author, despite advocating for perspectives that superficially appear left-wing or progressive, manifests disdain and scorn for the people, for the working class and the oppressed. In other words, as Lukács might put it, the individual might have left-wing ethics, but a right-wing epistemology.

Consider, for example, the works of José de Alencar, a Brazilian writer from the 19th Century. Initially it appears that José de Alencar is exalting the indigenous and native perspective, but a critical read reveals that he is doing so in order to take the focus off of slavery, the maintenance of which he advocated for. In his works he depicts indigenous people as lacking agency, with no capacity as historical subjects. They are not the protagonists of their own history. Critical analysis reveals that this pseudo-elevation is an attempt to avoid grappling with the main contradiction of his era: slavery. His representation of the indigenous is a stereotype without autonomy.

This lesson from Carlos Nelson Coutinho allowed me to understand the cause of my discomfort with Animal Farm. In this book, George Orwell expresses aristocratic contempt towards the people, the working class. The main target of critique in this book is not the revolutionaries, but the working classes themselves. They are depicted as dumb, incompetent, incapable of reasoning, without any historical initiative — a manipulable mass lacking any capacity for political protagonism. When you analyze its narrative, only two subjects emerge as having the capacity for reason and historical autonomy: the human beings (the bourgeoisie) and the pigs (the Bolsheviks). The working class — the rest of the animals — is depicted as dumb and docile from beginning to end. In fact, about 70% of the book consists of nothing but such depictions.

I’ll cite several examples in order to illustrate that this is a constant theme throughout the novel. Such segments are so plentiful that there’s simply no way to chalk them all up to “cherry-picking” or “missing context.”

Orwell begins his story with Old Major, a pig metaphor for Karl Marx, who introduces the principles of Animalism — Marxism. With the exception of the other pigs, none of the animals can really grasp the depth of his theory, but they like what they hear anyway. The stage is set, and Orwell begins introducing the rest of the cast. Boxer and Clover are the first representatives of the working class that the reader learns about:

Clover was a stout motherly mare approaching middle life, who never quite got her figure back after her fourth foal. Boxer was an enormous beast, nearly eighteen hands high, and as strong as any two ordinary horses put together. A white stripe down his nose gave him a somewhat stupid appearance, and in fact he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work.

Boxer is the personification of The Worker — a metaphor for the Stakhanovite movement in the USSR. [4] Orwell then goes back to Old Major and the preparation for the upcoming revolution, caricaturing Marxism as a simple doctrine where animals simply label humans as a great enemy, and insist that all life will immediately improve as soon as the humans — the bourgeois — disappear. This is what Orwell says about this process:

Major’s speech had given to the more intelligent animals on the farm a completely new outlook on life. They didn’t know when the Rebellion predicted by Major would take place, they had no reason for thinking that it would be within their own lifetime, but they saw clearly that it was their duty to prepare for it. The work of teaching and organizing the others fell naturally upon the pigs, who were generally recognized as being the cleverest of the animals.

The pigs, the revolutionaries, are said to be the cleverest. But what about the working class?

Some of the animals talked of the duty of loyalty to Mr. Jones, whom they referred to as “Master,” or made elementary remarks such as “Mr. Jones feeds us. If he were gone, we should starve to death.” Others asked such questions as “Why should we care what happens after we are dead?” or “If this Rebellion is to happen anyway, what difference does it make whether we work for it or not?”, and the pigs had great difficulty in making them see that this was contrary to the spirit of Animalism. The stupidest questions of all were asked by Mollie the white mare.

The animals being described as “stupid” or otherwise made to seem dumb or incapable is a running theme throughout the novel. Orwell continues:

Their most faithful disciples were the two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover. These two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals by simple arguments. They were unfailing in their attendance at the secret meetings in the barn, and led the singing of “Beasts of England,” with which the meetings always ended.

Here “Beasts of England” is a metaphor for “The Internationale.”

Boxer was the admiration of everybody. He had been a hard worker even in Jones’ time, but now he seemed more like three horses than one; there were days when the entire work of the farm seemed to rest on his mighty shoulders. From morning to night, he was pushing and pulling, always at the spot where the work was hardest. He had made an arrangement with one of the cockerels to call him in the morning half an hour earlier than anyone else, and would put in some volunteer labor at whatever seemed to be most needed, before the regular day’s work began. His answer to every problem, every setback was “I will work harder!” — which he had adopted as his personal motto.

Orwell describes Boxer as a hard worker — excited for working, someone who believes in the revolutionary project, and also always as dumb. Boxer as subject is pure, he truly and wholeheartedly believes in the revolution and in Animalism, and this makes him gullible.

Time passes, Old Major dies, and the revolution goes on without him. We are treated to assemblies organized by Snowball and Napoleon — Trotsky and Stalin — in its aftermath:

Here the work of coming week was planned out and resolutions were put forward and debated. It was always the pigs who put forward the resolutions. The other animals understood how to vote, but could never think of any resolutions of their own.

Check this out: it’s not the case that the other animals are being manipulated. There’s no institution that manufactures consent here. Animal Farm is not Nineteen Eighty-Four, which portrays ideological control in complex terms, including some ideas I appreciate, like the manipulation of the past as a mechanism of domination. In Animal Farm the process is straightforward: the animals are fooled because they are dumb; there’s no complex scheme here. You might argue “Jones, it’s not a complex book, the narrative is simplified!” Listen, I understand that the book is simple by nature, that everything is direct for a reason, but you notice this in turn: when it comes to the betrayal of the revolution, the subversion of the revolution, there’s no challenge for the pigs. Do you get it? It’s easy for the pigs, because the working class is stupid.

There are very few moments in the narrative where we see animals protesting. There’s an incident with the chickens in the second half of the book, when Napoleon (Stalin) decides to take four hundred eggs to trade with the humans. The chickens protest, the dogs — the police and the army — threaten to repress the chickens, and they give up. That’s it. There’s two other moments, and it’s between the pigs only. Pigs who disagreed with Napoleon do question his decisions and stand against him, but the pigs are part of the revolutionary elite (from Orwell’s perspective) and not of the working class. As far as the working class goes, the incident with the chickens is the only incident. It’s treated as a triviality: the chickens tried, the dogs growled, Squealer (Napoleon’s lieutenant, Molotov?) spoke, and that’s it. The People are stupid.

Orwell also describes the animals’ literacy campaigns:

As for the pigs, they could already read and write perfectly. The dogs learned to read fairly well, but were not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments. Muriel, the goat, could read somewhat better than the dogs, and sometimes used to read to the others in the evenings from scraps of newspaper which she found on the rubbish heap. Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty. So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading. Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together. Boxer could not get beyond the letter D. He would trace out A, B, C, D, in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding.

We’re about a third of the way through the book and it’s the third time Boxer, the metaphor for The Worker, is described as an imbecile. The third time! In my edition of the book, this happens within a scarce 20 pages. Orwell continues, and does not restrict himself to Boxer:

None of the other animals on the farm could get further than the letter A. It was also found that the stupider animals, such as the sheep, hens, and ducks, were unable to learn the Seven Commandments by heart. After much thought Snowball [Trotsky] declared that the Seven Commandments could in effect be reduced to a single maxim, namely: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” […] The birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart. Four legs good, two legs bad.

With the exception of the donkey Benjamin, the pigs, the dogs, Muriel, and Clover, all animals are incapable of reading. Clover isn’t actually capable of putting words together, so really it’s just Benjamin and the others. Thus Orwell begins to explain the rise of hierarchy within the revolution’s ranks. Every con is obvious, but the animals swallow any explanation, because they are stupid. Consider the construction of the windmill:

Gradually the plans grew into a complicated mass of cranks and cog-wheels, covering more than half the floor, which the other animals found completely unintelligible, but very impressive.

Once again, the animals are incapable of comprehending absolutely anything. Orwell’s portrayal of the arguments that divided the factions to which Trotsky and Stalin belonged is pathetic:

According to Napoleon, what the animals must do was to procure firearms and train themselves in the use of them. According to Snowball, they must send out more and more pigeons and stir up rebellions among the animals on the other farms. The one argued that if they could not defend themselves, they were bound to be conquered; the other argued that if rebellions happened everywhere they would have no need to defend themselves. The animals listened first to Napoleon, then to Snowball, and could not make up their minds which was right; indeed, they always found themselves in agreement with the one who was speaking at the moment.

Notice that this critique targets neither Napoleon nor Snowball, neither Stalin nor Trotsky. This critique targets the people, you dig? Once again: the people are stupid. They don’t understand anything, they agree with whoever’s speaking, they are a gullible mass. Orwell then proceeds to describe the process of “bureaucratization” of the revolution by way of the suspension of the assemblies. Remember how the animals learned to vote, but were incapable of producing either questions or answers?

They were unnecessary, [Napoleon] said, and wasted time. In the future all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee, presided over by himself. These would meet in private and afterwards communicate their decisions to the others. The animals would still assemble on Sunday mornings to salute the flag, sing “Beasts of England,” and receive their order for the week; but there would be no more debates.

This could be volunteered as a critique of Stalinism and the bureaucratization of the revolution, since with the suspension of debates there’s no more direct democracy. However, look at how Orwell describes the reaction of the workers, through Boxer:

Even Boxer was vaguely troubled. He set his ears back, shook his forelock several times, and tried hard to marshal his thoughts; but in the end he could not think of anything to say.

Check this out: so far in the narrative, there’s no repression worth noting. From this moment on the dogs will begin to show up more often, as will the pigs, and Napoleon will instill a general climate of fear. Fair enough. Right up until this point, however, half-way through the book, there’s barely any repression. It’s as if the revolution gradually decays by itself due to the stupidity of the working class. The pigs give orders, and nobody can think of anything else to say. The voting ceremonies have already been portrayed as simulations where only the pigs really debate and participate, and now even that is taken away from them… and the workers still have nothing to say about it. Why? Because they are dumb.

In one truly bizarre episode Orwell describes how Napoleon’s spokesman, Squealer, fools the animals:

Now that Snowball was out of the way, the plan could go forward without his interference. This, said Squealer, was something called tactics. He repeated a number of times, “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.

This is Orwell “explaining” how it came to be that Napoleon — who advocated against Snowball and his idea for the windmill — ended up getting credit for the construction of the windmill after Snowball was exiled. This is a very poor metaphor of the Soviet Union’s internal debates on rapid industrialization. In these debates, Stalin together with Bukharin were in favour of maintaining the NEP, while Trotsky was against it, a matter on which Stalin’s stance would later change. That’s not what’s important, though. The crucial point here is that all Squealer has to do is say “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” and the animals don’t get it but accept it regardless.

Orwell doesn’t showcase even sparks of original thought — he doesn’t concern himself with that. At all times the working class is described as subjects who feel a disturbance, who sense something is off, but are incapable of even verbalizing their own dissatisfaction in a conscious, intelligible way. They can feel, but are incapable of reasoning. This is the core message of the book. The working class are, in the metaphor of the narrative, farm animals incapable of reasoning.

I’ll limit myself to just a couple more examples.

Afterwards Squealer made a round of the farm and set the animals’ minds at rest. He assured them that the resolution against engaging in trade and using money had never been passed, or even suggested. It was pure imagination, probably traceable in the beginning to lies circulated by Snowball. A few animals still felt faintly doubtful, but Squealer asked them shrewdly, “Are you certain that this is not something that you have dreamed, comrades? Have you any record of such a resolution? Is it written down anywhere?” And since it was certainly true that nothing of the kind existed in writing, the animals were satisfied that they had been mistaken.

The relevant context here is that at the beginning of the novel, in the aftermath of the revolution, it was decreed that making contact or trading with the humans was prohibited, but later Napoleon established trade deals with the humans, and so on. However, take note here of Squealer’s method for convincing the other animals: “Are you certain that this is not something that you have dreamed?” Do you realize how contemptuous of the workers this metaphor is?

Imagine this situation: I ask my friend Cauê to lend me $400, and he hands me the money. One month later, Cauê asks me to return the $400 I borrowed, and I reply “Money? What money? I didn’t take any money from you! You must have dreamt it.” You dig? “Do you have video to prove that I asked for your money? You don’t? Then it didn’t happen.” Would anyone be convinced by that? Imagine Cauê replying “Oh, ok. Yeah, indeed, I don’t have any video to prove it, so I must have dreamt it…” You might say, “But, Jones, that’s just a literary metaphor!” Yes, it’s a literary metaphor, a metaphor which portrays its subject as stupid. If Cauê was convinced by that he’d be a dunce. And this is how the workers are portrayed.

Close to the end there’s a notable passage in which Orwell describes how several years go by and the farm “prospers” — the animals are still poor, barely eating, going through a famine, etc. but the pigs and dogs eat well. He discusses the new animals being born:

The farm possessed three horses now besides Clover. They were fine upstanding beasts, willing workers and good comrades, but very stupid. None of them proved able to learn the alphabet beyond the letter B. They accepted everything that they were told about the Rebellion and the principles of Animalism, especially from Clover, for whom they had an almost filial respect; but it was doubtful whether they understood very much of it.

Orwell spends the entire book describing generations of animals as easily confused, dumb, stupid, illiterate, amnesiac… the entire book! The main target of this book’s critique aren’t the revolutionaries or communism: it’s the working class. George Orwell writes from an aristocratic ethos. “Elite theory” posits the people as incapable of self-governance, without the capacity to constitute themselves as a political subject, and therefore always the object of dispute and manipulation by vying elites. The people lack the capacity for political self-determination, cannot build a political program or engage in autonomous political action. This is George Orwell’s theory, borne out by his choice of metaphors.

Notice that the revolution isn’t lost to repression. In the book’s narrative structure, it is not the repression that kills the revolution and it is not the institution of privileges that kills the revolution. The book’s narrative structure indicates that all the processes that led to its corruption have their roots in the fact that the working class is incapable of intervening on its own behalf. For example, in the Sunday assemblies in which the direction of the revolution is debated, nobody from the working class can think for themselves — only the pigs speak. It’s not the case that the pigs manipulate the working class. When the animals undergo a literacy campaign, the working class proves incapable of learning how to read and write. This point is very important! It’s central to the argumentative and narrative structure. The pigs don’t try to stop the rest of the animals from learning how to read and write, it’s the animals themselves who prove incapable… because they are dumb.

According to the story, every time a new bureaucratic privilege is established someone changes the Commandments that were written on the wall, until one day all Seven Commandments disappear and a single new one is written: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” If the animals knew how to read, it wouldn’t be possible for Squealer, Napoleon’s spokesman, to change the Commandments every dawn. And in the narrative it’s not the dogs who prevent the animals from reading; it’s not even Squealer or anyone else convincing the other animals to forget about learning how to read and write. In fact, Squealer explicitly tells the other animals that it’s precisely because they can’t read or write that the pigs must “expend enormous labours every day upon mysterious things called files, reports, minutes, and memoranda.” And the animals accept this, beause they are dumb.

Animal Farm isn’t a critique of revolutionaries; it’s a critique of workers. It’s an aristocratic manifesto against the working class.

When you get down to it, the villains in the book are more meritorious than the workers. The humans are described as exploiters, but they can negotiate. They manage to hold on to the other farms and, by the end, they are happily collaborating with the pigs, satisfied that they have squelched all the potential out of the revolution. They are intelligent, cunning, and achieve their goals. Same goes for the pigs: they’re capable of fooling everyone, etc. Meanwhile, the non-pig, non-dog animals — especially the horses Boxer and Clover — are imbeciles. They have no merit outside of their kind character and ability to work. This point is crucial. The novel repeatedly describes Boxer as a hard worker of great character, and an imbecile. He explicitly gets called stupid at five separate points; there’s even an interesting aside where, approaching the age of twelve, Boxer contemplates retiring and using that time to finally learn the last twenty letters of the alphabet. In other words, the representative of the working class needs to dedicate his entire retirement to overcoming illiteracy.

Some might say “Jones, this isn’t a critique of the working class, he’s just saying the working class doesn’t have proper conditions, that the working class doesn’t have the resources to dedicate itself to theorical studies or politics…” I would buy this had there been a single character from the working class, from the entire cast of animals, who pursued that path, who tried to lead another rebellion and failed. For example, Orwell could’ve sent a message by making an animal character who understood what was happening, got pissed off, and was taken out by the dogs as they attempted to ignite a movement to revive the principles of Animalism. This character simply doesn’t exist. All that exists are other pigs — other Bolsheviks — who question Napoleon’s politics and are assassinated as a result. In Orwell it’s clear: no representative of the downtrodden people ever manages to achieve any complex political conscience nor advocacy for a return to the principles of the revolution betrayed.

Some argue the character of the donkey Benjamin plays this role. This is not the case. Benjamin is described as the oldest animal of the farm, a cynic who witnessed everything, and because of it, he doesn’t harbour any hope. He has no concern or enthusiasm for anything, because he believes that in the end everything always ends in tragedy. Orwell describes Benjamin thus:

Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse — hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life.

Benjamin represents a sort of nihilist conscience. He is the only working class animal who is actually intelligent, who knows how to read well, and therefore he doesn’t believe in anything, because “hunger, hardship, and disappointment … the unalterable law of life.” The only conscious being among the workers is politically apathetic because he knows, due to his intelligence, that the situation of his class will never change, that life will always be shit, that life never changes for the better or worse, that it’s always a disgrace.

The message is clear. Don’t conflate this with Nineteen Eighty-Four, that’s another story altogether. That novel expresses a complex theory of manipulation. As Louis Althusser would say, a complex ideological apparatus is deployed to ideologically dominate the people. Arguments about that work will be addressed in a specific piece on it. In Animal Farm, however, there’s no such complexity in domination; the fundamental critique is not over a supposedly “totalitarian” state which controls everything, overseeing every single aspect of life and thought. It’s simply about the working class being hopelessly stupid.

The pig-revolutionaries are also targets of critique, of course. Here we simply see several anticommunist myths recycled. I will spare the reader tiresome citations, but, for example, mid-way through the story Orwell ridicules the Soviet accounts of siege, sabotage, and espionage endured at hands of the imperial powers, portraying them all as Napoleon’s (Stalin’s) fabrications. The book showcases no real sabotage carried out by other farms still run by humans — that is, other capitalist countries. Orwell reproduces the myth that the Soviet Union didn’t face sabotage or terrorism, you dig? There’s no Animal Farm metaphor for the actions of England, France, the United States, Japan, Spain, Portugal. No metaphor for industrial sabotage, the blowing up of water treatment plants and hydroelectric dams, etc. Everything is a “Stalinist” lie. Whether you like or dislike Stalin is completely besides the point. Nobody can deny that the same imperialist nations which invaded Russia in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, who fueled the civil war which killed more than six million people — 17 countries banded together to invade Russia after the revolutionary war! A story where all of these capitalist countries simply stood by the sidelines and peacefully observed the growth of Soviet industry? That’s a fairytale.

There’s so much documentation out there: telegrams from ambassadors, CIA reports, British intelligence reports, diaries from agents and spies, etc. all discussing systematic sabotage, assassination attempts, the organization of groups of exiled reactionary Russians to commit terrorist attacks in the Soviet Union, etc. etc. Some might say “But, Jones, the Soviet government, with Stalin as leader, exaggerated these narratives to justify repressions!” Sure, you can say that, but it’s one thing to allege exaggerations, and an entirely different thing to assert that they were all fabrications and that these imperial adversaries were flat-out innocent. Read Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend by Domenico Losurdo and Terror and Democracy in the Age of Stalin by Wendy Goldman — read both of them, both are really worthwhile.

George Orwell’s ommisions are so conspicuous they in fact qualify as a form of Naziphilia. At around page 80 (in my edition), he begins to construct a metaphor of the preliminary stages of WWII, and criticizes Stalin (through Napoleon) for the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Throughout the book, there is no literary metaphor whatsoever that captures the gravity of the Nazi menace, the dangers Nazism presented to mankind. The story is constructed such that the denunciations against the neighbouring Foxwood and Pinchfield farms are all fabricated by the pigs. This is a seriously disturbing choice. It is tantamount to whitewashing the Nazis. At no point in the book does Orwell illustrate the Nazi threat through any metaphor or equivalent; according to his narrative Napoleon is simply being cunning, filtering out for faithful subordinates (who later end up backstabbing him anyway).

Any account of WWII should be honest about the fact that the Soviet Union made several desperate attempts to establish antifascist alliances with the liberal imperialists, especially England, France and the US, and that these same liberal imperialists rejected these efforts because they wanted the Soviet Union to experience maximal losses warring against Nazi Germany by itself. Particularly in the US, many of the figures from the political-economical establishment worked off of the thesis that Nazi Germany would invade and dominate the Soviet Union. If Europe fell to the Nazis, the Americas would still belong to the US, you dig? The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was a brilliant diplomatic maneuver because only thanks to this pact was the rest of Europe forced to join the war against the Nazis. That deal, in fact, prevented the forging of a liberal-fascist pact against the Soviet Union. There were concrete possibilities of an alliance between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, France, England, the US, and Fascist Japan against the Soviet Union. This possibility was undermined by Soviet diplomacy, and you can read about it in Opera magazine. [5] I also produced a video a couple of years ago, titled “Who defeated the Nazis?”, where I explain in more detail. [6] Additionally, I’ll discuss this in more depth in a forthcoming book chapter I’m writing, titled “Struggle for Memory: Reflections on Socialism and Revolution.”

In conclusion, it seems obvious to me that George Orwell was furious about the fact that the Soviet Union was not defeated in WWII. Animal Farm was published in 1945. Orwell witnessed the tragedy that Nazism brought to the world. In 1945 most people already knew about the Holocaust. People at that point were already informed about the concentration camps. People already knew what the Nazis had done in Poland and at Auschwitz. George Orwell, in this context, wrote an allegory where WWII and Nazism are depicted as nothing, where Soviet self-defense policies are depicted as sinister intrigues unrelated to liberal and fascist siege. There’s no Churchill cheerleading fascism in Italy or Spain. The gravity of this framing needs to be understood. In 1945 the whole world was shocked by Nazi concentration camps, and Orwell was asking “Sure, that was bad, but what about the Soviet Union?” It seems absurd, but this is exactly what this book describes, under cover of literary metaphor. “Sure, Auschwitz was bad, but what about Stalin?” That is this whole book’s vibe.

As I promised, I have steered clear of questioning whether Orwell was an anarchist, whether he was a democratic Socialist, whether he was anti-Stalinist or a “labourite” or “reformist” or anything else. I have strictly referred to Animal Farm and its contents. And this book, Animal Farm, is a deeply reactionary book, displaying aristocratic condescension against the people, a book in which the working class appear as imbeciles. It displays all the marks of the bourgeois genre of elite theory. Its historical metaphors for Soviet history whitewash capitalists and imperialists. The USSR is shown as self-sabotaging, while its enemies are completely absolved. This is George Orwell, and this is why he was so successful.

To conclude, it’s obvious why a book that depicts the workers as dumb, as imbeciles, would be eagerly promoted in a racist country with enormous inequality such as Brazil. The Brazilian “middle class” took to the streets and supported fascist politicians because housemaids were included in labor protection legislation, because they started seeing poor people in airports and shopping malls. Consciously or unconsciously — I don’t want to discuss Freud or Lacan here — the metaphor works for them, it validates their belief that the housemaid that works for them is stupid, dumb, and incapable of reasoning. Any profoundly unequal, racist, and pseudo-aristocratic society like Brazil’s would enjoy this book. It promotes an aristocratic perspective in which working people are stupid beasts incapable of reason. This explains all the hype, all the buzz and promotion it receives from the establishment. This book will remain famous and beloved so long as racist and aristocratic liberalism persists, until we put and end to this profoundly unequal society by waging a revolution of our own.

[1] Jones Manoel, 2022-01-30. Revolução dos bichos: uma abordagem crítica. [web] 

[2] George Orwell, Animal Farm. [web] 

[3] For a brief survey of George Orwell’s life, see On Orwell. — R. D. [web] 

[4] Stakhanovism is named after Alexei Stakhanov, a Soviet miner, CPSU member, and “Hero of Socialist Labour” who advocated for demonstrating the superiority of socialist industrial production based on the voluntary disposition and enthusiasm of the workers. 

[5] O Pacto Hitler-Stálin: Mito e Realidade. [web] 

[6] Quem derrotou os Nazista? Mitos e verdades sobre a Segunda Guerra Mundial — Ep. III Ajuda Professor. [web]