Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)

George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) is an allegorical account of the Russian Revolution and a critique of the degeneration of the Soviet Union into totalitarianism under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.  It tells the story of an uprising of oppressed and exploited farm animals who were inspired by socialist ideology to overthrow the corrupt, selfish and complacent humans and run the farm themselves, according to their own egalitarian principles and interests. But instead of finding utopia after the ruling class of humans was defeated and has fled, a new ruling class of pigs takes over to become worse oppressors than the humans and eventually almost indistinguishable from them in terms of their mannerisms, elitism and love of luxury. 

In this manner, the book critiques Stalinism as having betrayed the socialist ideals of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.  The book illustrates how, step by step, the ideals of socialism were undermined or rewritten according to the interests of a new ruling class and how these elites established an oppressive dictatorial system that used brutality, and was dishonest in regards to the use of media and the rewriting of history.  These elites also exploited the goodwill of ordinary workers, and cared little for the wellbeing of the rank-and-file members of the population.

Orwell wrote the book as a man who still supported socialism but resented the way the Soviet Union had developed under Stalin while many socialist intellectuals and activists in Britain seemed to have been beguiled by Stalinism when Orwell believed they should have realised that Stalinism represented a betrayal of the ideals that socialists claimed to support.  In this sense, his book advanced a Trotskyist thesis.  Trotsky was a rival to Stalin who failed in the competition with Stalin to become the communist leader after Lenin, the original leader, had died.  Trotsky and his followers eventually fled or were purged from the Soviet Union.  Trotsky argued that Stalinism had side-tracked and betrayed the proletarian revolution.  This leadership rivalry is represented in the text in the competition between the tyrannical pig Napoleon (Stalin) who defeated the principled pig Snowball (Trotsky). Following this, Snowball is unfairly vilified in the new regime, just as Trotsky was vilified in the Soviet Union under Stalin.  In this context, the book also presents an appreciation of the original ideals of Marxism articulated by the pig old Major (who represents a combination of Marx and Lenin) to show that Stalinism was far removed from these ideals since it represented a degeneration into an unsavoury totalitarianism.  By the end of the book, the revolution had lost its revolutionary quality, with its elites behaving like, and cavorting with, the capitalist elites of neighbouring farms since Stalinism had created a variation of capitalism that bore little resemblance to the original ideals of socialism. 

Published in 1945, the book quickly became swept up in the passions of the Cold War to be appreciated by those on the Right and the Left who sought to condemn the communism practised in the Soviet Union and its satellite states.  Consequently the book has been used to support liberalism, democracy, individual liberty, social justice and social democracy. It has become a text valued as a critique of totalitarianism.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Animal Farm meaning, Animal Farm themes, Animal Farm analysis, Animal Farm notes