Fellow Travelers

Monday, April 11, 2011

Animal Farming

Looking in the library at the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation tent), I found one single book worth reading, one gem in a pile of excrement. Unfortunately, I'd already read it, George Orwell's 1946 novel "Animal Farm". This is an earlier paperback edition, with an introduction written in the 50s or 60s, and in the introduction there is part of an Orwell quote with which I am greatly familiar.

In the version of the quote approved for reprint in an introduction of a book published at the height of anti-Red hysteria, it reads
"Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism . . . Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole."

The section of the quote eradicated by that ellipsis, eliminated from historical memory by three simple dots, was as follows
"Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."

Many people today, familiar only with the sanitized and approved capitalist interpretations of George Orwell's work, might mistakenly yet understandably come to the conclusion that he was a supporter of Capitalism and an opponent of Communism and Socialism. These two ideologies were neatly wrapped up together by the Capitalist ruling class of the 20th century, with the assistance of the Communist, who helpfully called themselves Socialists also even though they were nothing of the sort. Capitalism took 1984 and Animal Farm, and twisted their message and interpretation to be purely anti-Communist, and anti-totalitarian, and they presented themselves, the Capitalists, as the only ones who were not totalitarian.

This is what necessitated an editing and sanitizing of the George Orwell quote from Why I Write for public consumption in the western world of the 1950s. You couldn't have people thinking that democratic socialism was an ideology completely opposed to totalitarianism, because people might start to realize the truth. This is a truth that the Capitalist ruling class of the 20th century, continuing into the 21st, is terrified that the masses might suddenly realize.

Specifically, that both Communism and Capitalism are totalitarian ideologies and systems of government. Both are wholly totalitarian, they only differ slightly in their methods and the language they use. Orwell was opposed to either system, and sought the middle ground of democratic socialism, freeing the people from the tyrannies of both totalitarian Capitalism and totalitarian Communism. And yet, ideal and idealistic democratic socialism, with few exceptions, was merely squashed like a grape between the conflicts of the two great totalitarian powers of the 20th century. The winner of that conflict, the tyrant that sits astride the world today, driving us into ever greater depths of misery, is totalitarian Capitalism.

Consider the first chapter of Animal Farm, when Major gives his speech. He talks of all the evils of Capitalism, how the dogs will be drowned when they are old, how the pigs will be slaughtered, the horse turned to dog food or glue, and so on. Now, as the story progresses, and as the farm devolves into totalitarianism, it's well worth noting that the worst things that happen are the same things that would happen under the Capitalist, the farmer. At the end, when the pigs seem to be like humans, and the humans seem to be like pigs, the horror is that the Communists and the Capitalists are indistinguishable, and the Socialist revolution has been squashed and suborned!

Most Capitalist interpretations of Animal Farm, in their attempt to sanitize Orwell and rehabilitate him posthumously as a defender of Capitalism, focus on the pigs as tyrants. It shows the tyranny that they will establish, and the way that they will pervert a revolution that seeks to establish fairness and equality for all the animals. But the thing that the safe interpretations seem to gloss over is that the tyranny of the pigs was that they exploited their fellow animals... the same thing the capitalist farmer had been doing in the first place.

This totalitarian oppression and exploitation seems so horrible coming from the pigs because the pigs are also animals, and thus should be comrades with the working class of animals. Betrayal by the pigs doesn't change the fact that the farmers exist as a completely separate oppressing totalitarian class, one that has nothing to do with the working class animals except to exploit them, one that is a completely separate species. These are the wealthy ruling class in our society, they only see the working and middle classes as beasts of burden to be exploited, they don't even consider themselves the same species as us. Does this make them more or less moral than the pigs? If they are more or less moral than the pigs, does that make any difference to us the exploited?

Within the context of Animal Farm, the farmers establish brutal totalitarian control over the animals in order to exploit them. They want total control from birth to death (typically slaughter, or an otherwise unnatural early death) over their animal subjects. When the pigs take control of the farm, they exploit the animals in order to control them. They want to control, and they use the exploitation as a means. However, for the working class animals, this results in very little practical difference in their lives. The Communist wants to exploit his people as a means of controlling them. The Capitalist wants to control his people as a means of exploiting them.

What we have to comes to terms with, here in the early years of the 21st century, is that Capitalism has survived the conflict between itself and Communism, but that it remains a totalitarian ideology. We are slaves, even if the chains are less visible at times than others. Capitalism controls the media, it controls the government, it controls access to the internet. We exist within a system of total control, a system focused on generating wealth and power and privilege for those few wealthy at the top, and on controlling the animals below for the purposes of exploitation, and to convince the animals that, if they work real hard, and try their best, and are extremely lucky, someday they too may become farmers. But no matter how hard a horse tries, he'll never be a human. That's one of the many lessons to take from Animal Farm, the wealthy oppressers are a completely different species from the rest of us; try as you might, buy into their propaganda your whole life, and you will never be one of them.

Democratic Socialism, a system in which the will of the people is used not to eliminate the wealthy but to limit and control their exploitation of the masses, while improving life for the masses, is the only non-totalitarian way. Orwell knew this, and that's why he wrote Why I Write, and laid out the separation between totalitarianism and democratic socialism. That's why he lumped together Capitalism and Communism as totalitarian systems. If we ever want to be free, democratic socialism is the way, and it is the alternative to the totalitarian tyranny of both unfettered Capitalism and unfettered Communism.

1 comment:

  1. Great article thankyou. Amazing how a few dots can change our view on the purpose of a book like animal farm. At the end of the book when the farmers are praising the pigs and saying that "If you have your lower animals to contend with, we have our lower classes". It is clear that Orwell is writing this story as a criticism of both capitalism and communism.