Historians estimate that around twenty million perished under Stalin’s totalitarian socialist regime (Keller). Around 18-45 million died in China’s Great Leap Forward under Mao Zedong’s similarly structured dictatorship (SimpleHistory). Many more perished during his Cultural Revolution (Lowndes). Though similar to fascism in terms of death toll and suffering, communism is somehow interpreted as an egalitarian utopia, which is far from the truth. In Animal Farm, George Orwell presents a fascinating allegory of the rise of the Soviet Union and the dangers of communism. Through a simple fable, Orwell provides a detailed study of how absolute power corrupts and how dictatorships don’t ever work even if they have a populist basis. Any system that puts too much power into the hands of a few people is doomed to fail. Stalin leveraged Marx’s “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” to seize absolute power (Daugherty). Animal Farm’s central idea is that of a failed socialist utopia like the Soviet Union, with egalitarian socialist ideals, corrupted and twisted into something unrecognizable by power-hungry elites.
Both Old Major and Karl Marx saw a fundamentally unjust system with flagrant exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoise and challenged the status quo, inciting many revolutions. Karl Marx believed that all of society’s production is carried out by the proletariat, but the bourgeoise steals the fruit of their hard labor and reaps all the benefits, or “for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work” (Marx, 21). Old Major endorses the same beliefs in the relationship between animals and humans, when he says “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself” (Orwell, 4). Karl Marx was against any divisions amongst the proletariat, including classism, nations, or religion, because he believed these differences would be further exploited by the bourgeoise. Old Major’s commandments are similarly structured stating that animals should never have any of the habits of the humans and should always be equal and united. In his speech, Old Major says “No animal must ever tyrannize over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal” (Orwell, 5). Both imagined a classless society free of private property, in which everyone received equal shares of the products that labor creates. They saw this as the ultimate and inevitable end result of society. The similarities between Old Major and Karl Marx also spill over to Napoleon and Stalin.
While Stalin rose to power through lies, manipulation, and elimination of everyone who stood in his way (starting with Trotsky (Stuart)), Napoleon blazes a similar trail in Animal Farm with Snowball paying the price. Squealer is Napoleon’s mouthpiece, just like how all of the media in the Soviet Union were Stalin’s. Both Napoleon and Stalin controlled the flow of information and relied on propaganda to push their rhetoric, as propaganda is a key component of any authoritarian regime (McGregor). When the pigs stole all the milk and apples on the farm, Squealer justified it to the gullible animals by saying that “Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig” (Orwell, 15). This is a partial truth, as it’s necessary for the well-being of any animal. Though all animals are considered equal, Squealer also says that “We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples” (Orwell, 15). So, Squealer is using propaganda and fear to convince the other animals. Napoleon’s army of dogs is based on the Soviet secret police, who relied on fear to suppress all dissent and to establish a totalitarian regime that controlled every aspect of life in their society (Stuart). Napoleon and Stalin share many similarities, but Animal Farm is not an exact replica of the Soviet Union.
Though Stalin collaborated with the capitalists in World War II, similar to how Napoleon makes friends with the farmers in Animal Farm, he never reverted Russia back to a tsardom or abandoned the communist rhetoric, while Napoleon completely strays from everything the ideology of animalism once stood for. The animal farm ends as a total failure because they never manage to build the windmill to industrialize the farm and their living standards never improve, but the Soviet Union rose to being a superpower that challenged the United States for many decades during the Cold War before it finally fell (SimpleHistory2, Stuart). Stalin’s collaboration with the allies was a temporary measure, and he later betrayed them, establishing socialist dictatorships in the territories he seized from Germany (SimpleHistory2). On the other hand, Napoleon colludes with the humans and even invites them to the farm for a game of poker to show his solidarity, causing some friction when “Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously” (Orwell, 60). The animal farm is permanently renamed to its pre-revolutionary name, signaling the abandoning of all founding principles. Napoleon announces in his speech that “the name 'Animal Farm' has been abolished. Henceforward the farm is to be known as 'The Manor Farm'—which is its correct and original name” (Orwell, 59). All commandments are erased except for that of “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
George Orwell captures the giddy rise and inevitable corruption of utopian socialist ideals in a way that can be understood by everyone in a cute but gritty allegory. It’s horrifying to see the transformation of what starts out as high idealism into something even worse than what was present before. While there are many similarities to Soviet Russia, there are also some notable differences to how the events play out. But, Orwell makes his point that absolute power in any form corrupts.
Daugherty, Greg. “What Is the Difference between Communism and Socialism?” Investopedia, Investopedia, 8 Sept. 2021.
Keller, Bill. “Major Soviet Paper Says 20 Million Died as Victims of Stalin.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Feb. 1989.
Lowndes, Coleman. “This Photo Triggered China's Cultural Revolution.” Vox, Vox, 14 Feb. 2020.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Communist Manifesto. Pathfinder, 2009.
McGregor, Richard. “5 Myths about the Chinese Communist Party.” Foreign Policy, 3 Jan. 2011.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. Clavis, 2021.
SimpleHistory. “The Great Leap Forward (1958-62).” YouTube, YouTube, 25 Jan. 2020.
SimpleHistory2. “The Cold War (1945-1991).” YouTube, YouTube.
Stuart, Edward F. “Capitalism vs. Socialism: Comparing Economic Systems.” Wondrium, 29 Dec. 2021.