Animal Farm: A Book For All Generations
Politics and Literature
The current Egyptian mess is a clear example of the unforeseen pitfalls of a revolution. After Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power by disgruntled Egyptian citizens, all signs pointed to a new age of political awareness and democracy.
However, months later and the turmoil that started in Tahrir square is far from over. What new changes that the revolution had promised don't seem to be coming anytime soon. It is at times like these that Egyptians will start asking themselves whether it was all worth it; in the same way the Iraqis questioned the benefits of their being extracted from the tyrannical claws of Saddam Hussein. Was it really worth it?
All this brought back memories of a fascinating story I once read. A story about regime change that shaped my views on modern day politics.
George Orwell, Animal Farm and The Russian Revolution
George Orwell wrote a book - at the time not-so-well received - that exposed, in a satirical manner, the pitfalls of a badly managed revolution. Orwell was not criticizing the idea of people wanting change, but of how a revolution could be easily hijacked by corrupt individuals with selfish objectives.
He wrote this literary classic in the early days of the Russian revolution; a time when the monarch had failed the people and consequently, communism had taken root. Orwell was not at all impressed at the direction the Soviet Union was taking under the tyrannical hands of Stalin and his cronies.
What had started out as a way to rid Russia of Tsar Nicholas II’s incompetent and authoritarian rule, ended up being the building blocks of a communist monster that would usher in the infamous Cold War era: an era where Eastern Europe was hidden under the Iron Curtain, Germany split into two and 'traitorous' millions killed or jailed in the infamous gulags.
The Animal Farm would have simply been considered a fable had Orwell not been so direct with his attack on the Russian hierarchy. Orwell was bold enough to base most of his animal characters on real-life personalities in the unfolding Russian revolution.
The Manor Farm Revolt
The Animal Farm tells the story of Manor Farm, an English farm owned by Mr Jones. Old Major, the former prizewinning boar on Manor Farm gathers up the farm animals for a meeting in the big farm. He reveals to the animals, his vision of a world where animals are free from the yoke of human bondage. He tells them that in order for his dreams to be achieved, the animals must become united.
Unfortunately, Old Major dies three days later but the animals haven't lost the zeal for attaining freedom. The animals plan a rebellion under the leadership of three young pigs - Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer. One night the animals stage a coup by chasing the lazy and incompetent Mr Jones off the farm.The victors rename the farm, Animal Farm ;and begin implementing Old Major's vision in the form of a new philosophy known as Animalism.
Seven Commandments of Animalism
To instill the philosophy of Old Major, the farm animals adopt seven commandments:
- 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.
The seventh commandment is considered the most important in the teachings of Animalism.
The most dedicated of the animals is the loyal but gullible workhorse, Booker. He becomes the most hardworking of the animals on the Animal Farm.
Manor farm, at first prospered under the leadership of Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball attempts to teach the other animals on how to read. Napoleon, on the other hand, takes the young farm puppies under his wings. He trains them privately, supposedly, in the ways of Animalism.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Jones makes an attempt to reclaim his property but is defeated at the Battle of the Cowshed. The animals take his abandoned gun as a sign of their victory.
Cracks start to emerge in the new leadership when Snowball and Napoleon differ on the direction the farm should take. Napoleon adamantly opposes a plan, forwarded by Snowball, to build an electricity-generating windmill. During a meeting to put the plan to a vote, Napoleon takes sole control of the farm by using the young puppies-turned-attack-dogs to chase Snowball off the farm. Napoleon bans future farm meetings and declares that all decisions will be made by the pigs.
Surprisingly, Napoleon embraces the windmill plan and sanctions its construction. When the windmill collapses after a storm, mainly due to poor construction, Napoleon makes Snowball the scapegoat by claiming the exiled pig came back in the night and destroyed it. Napoleon starts to rid the farm of animals that he sees as allies to the Snowball. Those who contest his leadership are branded as Snowball sympathizers and killed by his vicious attack dogs.
A local neighbor, Mr Fredrick, attacks the farm and destroys the newly reconstructed windmill. The animals manage to defeat him but at a great cost as many animals are injured, among them Booker the workhorse. Booker ignores his injuries and works even harder until he finally collapses under the strain. Napoleon sells the loyal workhorse to a glue factory but claims, through Squealer, that Booker was taken to the best veterinarian in the area, but died bravely.
Eventually, Napoleon starts adopting human habits like drinking whisky, sleeping on a bed and trading with the neighboring human farmers. Therefore in the process, changing the Animalistic commandments that were first established. Squealer becomes Napoleon's mouthpiece - justifying to the animals, every decision their self-proclaimed leader makes. Squealer tells the animals that Napoleon is looking out for their interests; even though, life on the farm is becoming more unbearable by the day.
Modern Day Relevance
George Orwell may have written Animal Farm as a direct attack of the communist movement in the Soviet Union, but probably never predicted the timeless political impact of his book.
Rarely do revolts turn out the way people expect them to. Whether it's a democratic change in leadership or a military coup, the outcome will eventually depend on how loyal the leadership is to the principles that set them on that course. This was tragically clear over the last decade with such disheartening scenarios like the US-attempted liberation of Iraq, another US attempt at liberating the Afghanis from Taliban rule, Muammar Gaddafi ouster that should have brought democracy to Libya and the Egyptian crisis that seems to have no end.
Orwell also highlights the importance of the followers being more aware of the intricate happenings inside a movement they are actively a part of. The easiest way for a revolution to fail in achieving its goals is when the people directly affected are too ignorant to realize they are being exploited. This is the key message that should be directed towards the Syrian rebels as they struggle to extricate themselves from Assads grip.
The Egyptian revolution may not have sunk to the depths of Manor Farm but it has certainly been less than successful in providing Egyptians with the outcome they wanted. Let us hope that the old age saying - better the devil you know than the angel you don't - doesn't apply to the Arab Spring.