Animal Farm was first published in 1945, four years before writer George Orwell’s second masterpiece, 1984. This short novel – usually printed with between 50 and 100 pages – is the allegorical tale of a revolution on a farm. The animals are tired of being exploited by their non-producing human masters and kick them out. What follows is the corruption of a utopia, brought about by the thirst for power of the new leaders of the farm, the pigs.
Orwell’s target was the USSR. The old boar’s speech in the beginning of the story, which prompts the animals into action, bears many similarities to The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engles. The two pigs who alternately rule Animal Farm were caricatures of Stalin and Trotsky.
But this story could apply to any government, much like how the extremism of Big Brother in 1984 has many parallels to much more moderate modern governments, including our own. It also clearly illustrates the common phrase, adapted from Lord Acton, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Not only one of the most masterful satires ever made, Animal Farm is also a better lesson in history, politics and human nature than most textbooks. We see the essential elements of a totalitarian government: the cult of personality, propaganda and fear and the concept Orwell later called doublethink, which is also known as cognitive dissonance. When you are told outright lies, how do you react?
Revolutions come and go, and while there may be good reasons for them, Orwell teaches us that what comes next can be much worse.