Animal Farm: Some allegories are more equal than others

Posted On: Wednesday - June 9th 2021 4:31PM MST
In Topics: 
  Books  Socialism/Communism

This post is not supposed to be a book review [though we'll see how that pans out - Ed]. From commenter MBlanc46's recommendation I read this short George Orwell novel that most of you probably read in high school. (I'm not sure how I skipped it.) It'd be presumptuous to review one of the classics. Peak Stupidity is presumptuous enough to do so nevertheless, but, no, we won't bore the reader with a review*.

This was to be about the evolution of the thoughts of writers that are seen as the classic authors, but that'll be another post, as I just want to write about Mr. Orwell's state of intellectual development at the time of his writing Animal Farm. I know he was a fairly prolific writer in his short period only 15 years (mid-1930s till 1984 in 1949) of writing books, but I'm thinking just of 3 books here. They would be Homage to Catalonia - reviewed by PS here - Animal Farm, and 1984. He wrote Animal Farm at the 70% point in this writing career, so I would assume he'd have had his ideological act together by this time.

I have long heard the expressions "four legs good, two legs bad, and especially "some animals are more equal than others" from the book. It is an allegory, using the running of a farm by the animals to demonstrate an ideological point. What is that point?

I should have known better, as Mr. Orwell was said to be a Socialist to the end. From the reading of 1984 the only book I'd read from him until recently, I could not discern that, as it is a warning about absolute Totalitarianism. To me, a warning about Communism/Socialism goes right along with that.

After getting about 1/2 way into the story of the Animal Farm, I realized that the allegory was not what I'd thought for years it was. Mr. Orwell tells a story of how an attempt at Socialism can go bad. He has nothing against the system at all. He wrote this allegory to disparage the problems that he saw with the Soviet Communism that had effected him directly during his time in Spain, fighting for the Commie side in the civil war. It is a pretty specific to the events that unfolded there. In a blog comment** someone noted that the story of the two top pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, was written to be about Lenin and Trotsky. There is the influence of the outside world, the need to always have an enemy to unite the people, well, the animals, the use of literal attack dogs by the Dear Leader, and the historical revisionism and un-personing, such as the USSR was known to practice. (It worked nicely on animals with short memories.)

That's a good, but very specific allegory. I have no problem with anyone writing satirically about the old USSR. Orwell wrote this one at the very beginning of the Cold War, a nice help for those trying to expose the lies of the Communists.

This was not the allegory I had expected, however. It seems everything on Animal Farm would have worked out OK, per Mr. Orwell, had the bad animals not ruined things. (This is very much as he thought the military could run just fine with no chain of command, but equal footing for everyone, in Homage to Catalonia.)

Nah, I'd have rather read a story in which the hardworking horse Boxer finally got fed up with putting in more effort for no reward, as other animals, especially the damn cat, were wanking off. There should have been a page or two about the weekly animal meetings in which the many chickens and their numerous chicks, born to the least-productive egg-laying hens and given the vote at 18 weeks, outvote the dogs, pigs, horses, and sheep, giving themselves large rations. Then, at a subsequent weekly meeting, Muriel the goat, pissed off about the unfairness of it all, goes ahead and eats all copies of the ballots, causing a riot that results in the construction of an animal penitentiary, something they all thought was in their past.

Perhaps, I'm a little harsh on the author. He did, after all, have the pigs decide that their leadership work was worth more pay and better accommodations. That was a big part of the story, of course, but I'm not sure George Orwell actually got it. That's bound to happen because some animals and some people simply ARE better than others, and we can't all be equal. Did he get that?

I don't know, and it sounds presumptuous [yes, it is, VERY! - Ed], but maybe I coulda' written a better Animal Farm. OK, if not me, Ron Paul, how 'bout?

* I'll at least write this again though, as I did for his last book: For all that's decent, and I'm talking to YOU, C. M. Woodhouse, YOU! DO! NOT! GIVE! AWAY! THE! STORY! IN THE INTRODUCTION!, assholes. (Same goes for the preface, but Russell Baker got this.) I know this is a classic that I should have read already, but I haven't, OK? Maybe this is an Orwellian thing.

** On I guess. I'd thought for sure one of our readers mentioned this, but I can't find that comment for the life of me.

Dieter Kief
Sunday - June 13th 2021 12:43PM MST
PS Thanks Alarmist! Rastatt - is deeply connectd with the German 48er's fate - not least with Friedrich Hecker, Carl Schurz and Wilhelm Struve, because in Waghäusel (near Speyer...) and  Rastatt the 1848 Revolution was finally defeated by an assortmnet of all kinds of establishment troops.

 I once met Rany Newman after a concert he had given in Friedrichshafen on a ferryboat to Konstanz late at night and spoke to him and it turned out, that he did know quite a bit about the 48ers - Hecker not least. He then invited me to his home and offered to arrange a date with Lauren Bacall (we talked about her too) - I thanked a lot and turned this kind invitation down, since I felt I would not want to travel to California anymore.
The Alarmist
Saturday - June 12th 2021 1:13PM MST

Then there’s this one from the Kinks in the late ‘70s ...

@Dieter Kief... Ludwig Wilhelm, Markgraf of Baden-Baden, initiated the new build of the Residenzschloß Rastaat after his original residence there had been burned by the French under the orders of his god-father, Louis XIV, in his scorched-earth retreat from east of the Rhein in the face of Imperial forces of the Grand Alliance.

The grounds and the new residence were done in the style of Versailles, but it was topped with a golden statue of Zeus (Der Goldenen Mann) casting his lightening bolts in the direction of Versailles as a symbol of his disdain for the French behaviour in the Nine Years War.
Saturday - June 12th 2021 4:19AM MST
PS: Peter, thanks for the recommendation. Youtube has the whole thing:

(Gotta put up with commercials.)

The Kinks were indeed Conservative, as I note from the song "Victoria", one of my favorites.

Dieter, you sure did get around! I wish I could have seen this band, but as it was, I haven't been a fan till ~2005 when a friend gave me "One for the Road".
Friday - June 11th 2021 9:12AM MST
@Dieter, I can see Germans liking the Kinks from that era. They have a lot of oompah-style beats. Very German!

But of course the best German music is the golden voice of Franzl Lang, the Jodlerkönig. A voice like a clear mountain stream!
Dieter Kief
Friday - June 11th 2021 9:01AM MST
PS PS Strange, PeterIke - I remember the afternoon this record was played for the first time in the German radio in late 1968. The moderator, hu, was Walter Krause, he had a quite popular radio show called Pop-Shop. The station was situated in - do you listen, Alarmist? -   ultimately lovely Baden-Baden, some 20 Minutes away from Rastatt in the Black Forest. Walter Krause liked the record but did not quite know what to make of it. He celebrated reading the title of the LP time and time again. He did play all songs of the record.

I loved the Kinks and would in later years hitchhIke by a concert hall which announced a Kinks concert in the grim outskirts of NYC if I remember right. The picture of this hall is something I did not forget either - I have it tored in m memory like a photograph - in black and white. just the billboard with the announcement is read. The concert hall did look pretty run down and I felt sorry for the band. Picture in my mind is a mixture of Edward Hopper's itchings and of George Grosz.
There is a heartwarming 1 hour plus documentary about the Kinks on youtube - loved that too (it features this album especially):
Friday - June 11th 2021 6:38AM MST
Moderator, you have to listen to the full album, "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society." It's a celebration of traditional English life -- now totally gone, but already disappearing back in 1968. Great tunes throughout. The Kinks are a truly conservative band in the old sense of the term.

Thursday - June 10th 2021 7:58PM MST
PS: Peter, I'd never heard that Kinks tune before, but I liked it at first listen. This is a bright tune, somewhat unusual for the Kinks, so I thought it was really old stuff of theirs. 1968, wiki says.
Thursday - June 10th 2021 7:51PM MST
PS: You are right, Mr. Blanc. I expected a different allegory. Yes, this was pretty specific toward the way that Soviet Communism went. There can be only one "Animal Farm", so there won't be an animal allegory to show the problems with Socialism and Communism more generally. The more I read about Orwell (Eric Blair), the more I see he didn't see any problem with the former of the two ideologies.
Dieter Kief
Thursday - June 10th 2021 3:01PM MST
PS ok the cathedral of Speyer; a nice little saying about Speyer (a town I love - what I love most about it is to swim in the Rhine right across from the Dome below the high bridge and on to the north, downstream in a glaringly hot summer afternoon) - the saying about once rather poor Speyer goes like this: If not for all the dead emperors in the Speyerer (no typo German grammar though) cathedral, there'd be no life at all there. - "Ohh Speyer - wenn do im Dom die viele doode Kaiser ned weeere, weer do gar kä Leewe!"
I grew up in the Rhine valley in eysight of the romanesque cathedral in Speyer. I like it a lot. It is not as poetic (by far) as the "Münsters" (cathedrals) in Staßburg and Freiburg and not as cute and moving as the early romanesque chuch Sankt Georg on the Reichenau peninsula or as muscially overflowing with ideas, forms, figures and colors like the baroque church of the Birnau monastery I now have right in front of my eyes when I look to the east.
No, no idea about the golden man of Rastatt looking out for Versailles. I mean, an idea yes, but no knowledge whatsoever.
Thanks Alarmist for your nice remarks, btw.
The Alarmist
Thursday - June 10th 2021 1:54PM MST

@Dieter Kief ... well told, your story of the gardens at Schwetzingen. I spent a lovely day exploring them about a decade or so ago. Do you know the story behing Der Goldenen Mann in Rastatt and why he faces Versailles?

For us English speakers, the Dom of Speyer is a grand Romaneque-style Imperial Cathedral from the days of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century.
Dieter Kief
Thursday - June 10th 2021 12:28PM MST
PS Robert - "However, this is not necessarily a good idea. It is hard to be sure where they are going to land, and it could be dangerous sitting under them (pigs) as they fly overhead."
This was like that in the days of old: The king-size lazy duke of Palatina did not want to get on his horse (he had grown big 'n' heavy too, and the horses did not like it much either having him on their backs. But he still felt theurge to g on a nice pig-hunt. So - he instructed his miost talented courts-technician in Schwetzingen - his summer castle - that still sits there in Schwetzingen, in the Rhine Valley beautifully situated with the view of the Emperor's Chair mountain towering (a bit - - towering a bit - 400 m) over Heidelberg, ok he told his chief court engineer, he would want some sort of technical gadget, allowing him to go for a hunt without having to undergo the rather painful routine of riding on a horse and the engineer then came up with a solution which consisted of a fine drawing of the Palatinian Wodds - about 30 meters wide - and a catapult, positioned in such a way, that the catapulted - -pigs would - - fly - by the painted woods and could be shot perfectly easy by the Duke himself positioned on a - pig-rosa sofa, that would be brought out whenever there would be the time and he'd be in the mood, to - go for a hunt...
Charles Bukowski once visited thee Baroque Gardens, which feature a famous Mosque, by the way, built for pleasure and nothing else, while being on a reading tour in Germany and - when Carl Weissner, his translator, who lived in nearby Mannheim and gave him a quite informative tour of the (really fine, btw.) Baroque Gardens in Schwetzingen (where I happened to go to the Gymnasium for some time) - ah, Weissner, who made Charles Bukowski rich, because the German translations of his books sold very well (quite a few bestsellers) and were published by 2001, a publisher which payed double the usual roayalties: Weissner later would remark somewhere, that the - - - - flying pigs in the Baroque Gardens in Schwetzinge were - - - too much for the rather hardboiled Charles Bukowski even. He siad that that'd be decadent.

Ok - Mr. Moderator -yes, Pink Floyd took their ugly pigs to Germany too and I was writing at the time for some rather - öh - far out magazines, and at one time I covered a festival on a Rhine peninsula near Speyer (most famous late middle ages German dome with most of the dead Emperors in it) - ahhh: - - At this festival were some thirty bands and 29 of them shared one stage (Rory Gallagher did a great GREAT performance there and I snapped a terribly heartwarming picture of him backstage, with a big bright smile on his absolutely pale Irish face (still have this one) - ahhh - and the second stage was exclusively for Pink Floyd. Their eleven or so monstrous black tour-trucks even did have a separated high security parking lot...).
Their concert was so - lala, the open air sound was a bit thin and they got drowned really in lights and special effects etc. - by I still have the echos of some of their songs in the back of my head (Be Carful With That Axe Eugene) and sometimes, tehy start playing all by themselves (no, I was not on drugs - I never was on assignment (I wrote and took pictures and was on a rather tight scedule at times,since I used to sell my stories more than once and thus had to cook up different versions of them too).
The weather was fine throughout. A friend of mine sent me some pictures a few months back of this very festival on the (I kid you not) Insel Grün (the Green Island - the real geographical name of it) of him and a quite nice blonde in a sleeping bag and I asked him who that was and he said - he never had any idea. On this picture they look as if they'd have known - and loved... - each other forever. Such were the days in Southern Germany Mr. Mod - we loved it to the max! We had the impression of having won one big life-jackpot after the other.
I oftentimes went on an assignment (mostly for the aptly titled PoP Mag from Zürich)instead of going to school, or I'd visit Heidelberg University, out of the purest lust to understand things - with no nothing: No papers, no official admission. You just went there an took part and were welcomed by everybody (the staff too), because - well: It was cool if cool kids would show up and wanted to know things and that was all what counted.
Thursday - June 10th 2021 10:47AM MST
PS It seems that what you want is a theoretical critique of “Communism/Socialism”. Orwell wrote an allegorical critique of the historical development of the Soviet Union, and a d*mned trenchant one, in my opinion. I imagine that there are bookshelves full of the former; there is only one Animal Farm.
Thursday - June 10th 2021 10:30AM MST
And now for the musical version, from The Kinks!

Actually, it has nothing to do with the Orwell book, I just like this song.

Thursday - June 10th 2021 9:12AM MST
PS: "Pig Lives Matter!" It's hard to tell how that one would go over at, say, a rally in support of our "Men in Blue". "Thank you ... hey, wait a minute ..."

Yeah, even a man-hole cover can fly pretty well with enough thrust behind it (or ahead if you're a prop guy) Your flying pig speculation, Robert, makes me wonder if you are a big Pink Floyd fan. ;-} I see Dieter already mentioned that. Did they come to Germany, Dieter?

Adam, thank you again for the help for everyone. That makes it a lot easier. Now you all have my warning to skip the Intro. or read it at the end, on the off chance that you haven't read this book.
Thursday - June 10th 2021 8:38AM MST
PS: With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine. However, this is not necessarily a good idea. It is hard to be sure where they are going to land, and it could be dangerous sitting under them as they fly overhead.
Adam Smith
Thursday - June 10th 2021 6:54AM MST
PS: Good morning everyone...

Just in case anyone would like a digital copy for convenient reading.

Dieter Kief
Thursday - June 10th 2021 4:49AM MST
PS Pigs With Wings was a really funny anarchic sexual lib novel and a best- and longseller in Italy and other European counties. I'd like to add this info here, gentlemen, sice you're already knee-deep in this sswine-sphere hre already.

Plus of course the big rose-colored flyin' pig that for some time crossed the concert halls ten meters above the heads of the crowds during Pink Floyd's Animals tour.
The Alarmist
Thursday - June 10th 2021 2:45AM MST

I would like to say Animal Farm is a User Guide for life in the West these days, but Orwell wasn’t prescient enough to include things DIE struggle sessions.

Pig Lives Matter?
Bill H
Wednesday - June 9th 2021 10:25PM MST
PS Echos of today's supporters of socialism, who claim that it has only failed in the past because it was "done wrong." They know that, done by them, it will succeed because they will "do it right." Of course they will. And pigs will fly, but not in my lifetime.
WHAT SAY YOU? : (PLEASE NOTE: You must type capital PS as the 1st TWO characters in your comment body - for spam avoidance - or the comment will be lost!)