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Animal Farm

November 22, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I just finished “reading” Animal Farm. I put reading in quotes because I actually listened to it as an audio book. I can do that through my iPhone while driving to work, or while walking from one job to another, or while waiting for a software update to install. I listen to 10 to 20 books for every one I actually read because I just have more time to listen and reading a book at work doesn’t look so good!

Anyway, if you have been following this blog you might have noticed a trend where I am trying to “read” a few classic books. The previous one was “Atlas Shrugged” which I still haven’t written a thorough critique of. Animal Farm is a lot more approachable though because the whole book is just 120 pages – the same size as the single epic “John Galt” speech amongst the 1200 pages of Ayn Rand’s rather hefty tome!

I would have to say though that, while I appreciated a lot of Atlas Shrugged, I think George Orwell said a lot more in a lot less space in Animal Farm!

As we all know, Animal Farm was written as an allegory of communist Russia but ironically in many ways I could relate it to the situation we find ourselves in today under the tyranny of neoliberal capitalism.

Read the following 3 paragraphs and think about what they remind you of…

“…The windmill had been successfully completed at last, and the farm possessed a threshing machine and a hay elevator of its own, and various new buildings had been added to it. Whymper had bought himself a dogcart. The windmill, however, had not after all been used for generating electrical power. It was used for milling corn, and brought in a handsome money profit. The animals were hard at work building yet another windmill; when that one was finished, so it was said, the dynamos would be installed. But the luxuries of which Snowball had once taught the animals to dream, the stalls with electric light and hot and cold water, and the three-day week, were no longer talked about. Napoleon had denounced such ideas as contrary to the spirit of Animalism. The truest happiness, he said, lay in working hard and living frugally.

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs. Perhaps this was partly because there were so many pigs and so many dogs. It was not that these creatures did not work, after their fashion. There was, as Squealer was never tired of explaining, endless work in the supervision and organisation of the farm. Much of this work was of a kind that the other animals were too ignorant to understand. For example, Squealer told them that the pigs had to expend enormous labours every day upon mysterious things called “files,” “reports,” “minutes,” and “memoranda.” These were large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were so covered, they were burnt in the furnace. This was of the highest importance for the welfare of the farm, Squealer said. But still, neither pigs nor dogs produced any food by their own labour; and there were very many of them, and their appetites were always good.

As for the others, their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been. They were generally hungry, they slept on straw, they drank from the pool, they laboured in the fields; in winter they were troubled by the cold, and in summer by the flies. Sometimes the older ones among them racked their dim memories and tried to determine whether in the early days of the Rebellion, when Jones’s expulsion was still recent, things had been better or worse than now. They could not remember. There was nothing with which they could compare their present lives: they had nothing to go upon except Squealer’s lists of figures, which invariably demonstrated that everything was getting better and better…”

Does this not sound like a description of the western world as it is today? The technological and commercial progress which doesn’t benefit the majority? The promises of progress in the future which never happen? The constant propaganda making the situation look better than it really is? The claim that frugality is a high or necessary ideal? The ruling class who fool the rest into thinking they have a higher purpose when in fact they do nothing? The endless reports and paper work which achieve no useful purpose at all? The loss of memory of the past when things were, in fact, better? And the lies and false statistics which are designed to deceive rather than inform?

It sounds like an exact description of where we are today! And if it is also a description of life in communist Russia then surely that is as much a condemnation of our modern society as it is a criticism of life under Stalinism.

Maybe the book also tells us something else: that there will never be a fair and equal society. That all revolutions, no matter how well intentioned they are at the start, inevitably are corrupted by the rich and powerful and lose their original ambitions. That’s rather sad but if we understand that it’s true then at least we will know the truth of human experience: that no matter what political or economic system you have in place the most corrupt and self-serving will always rise to the top.

Remember at the end of Animal Farm there’s that rather disturbing closing paragraph: “No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

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