Marxist Criticism Is Always Concerned with the Class Struggle in History.
The main aim of Marxism is to bring about a classless society. Thus the reason I chose to study George Orwell’s Animal Farm is because its characters share (originally) this same ambition. Animal Farm represents the oppressed masses rising up and forming a ‘classless’ society of their own. While offering a critique of communism in general, the book also serves to act as a mirror of Soviet Russia under Stalin. As reflected throughout the text, it was no secret Orwell considered Russia, and consequently Communism, a counter-revolutionary force that would inevitably become corrupted by greed and power.
Indeed, perhaps in order to go further in offering a Marxist reading of the text, it is necessary to pass judgement on the author and the epoch in which the book was written. In doing so, I hope to show just how progressive (or anti-progressive) the book is. From almost the very beginning of this book it possible to see Orwell’s criticism of Karl Marx, displayed through ‘Old Major’. Many of the characters in the book symbolize real political figures. Old Major’ is very much like Karl Marx, at times he appears single minded and unrealistic. Before his death ‘Old Major’ gave an unwavering speech stating no animal should ever “touch money, or engage in trade” . This is clearly a direct criticism of Karl Marx’s naivety, as shown later through Orwell’s narration: Never to have any dealings with human beings, never to engage in trade, never to make use of money – had these not been among the earliest resolutions passed at the first triumphant meeting when Jones was expelled?
It soon becomes clear that ‘Animalism’ (which bears a striking resemblance to communism) is a system that cannot be maintained the way originally intended. The morals that, at first, rule on the farm become controls. The animals effectively split themselves into ‘classes’. This class splitting becomes accepted as normal through a process of Hegemony . As described by Raymond Williams, hegemony is a form of social control that becomes accepted as ‘normal’ after becoming the predominant influence.
Indeed the notion of hegemony is closely related to a concept developed by the French Marxist Louis Althusser. Althusser’s theory of Ideological Structures becomes hugely relevant when applied to Orwell’s political satire. These Ideological structures are effectively institutions that prevent the masses causing a revolution. In the case of religion for instance, a Marxist would suggest that it prevents a revolution by imposing the notion that you will be rewarded in the ‘after-life’, for all you put up with in this life.
The manor in which religion is depicted in Animal Farm leads one to think that Orwell was not a particularly religious man, and in this instance at least he would have agreed with Marx’s views on the subject. Here religion is portrayed through the aptly named Moses, the raven. Moses refuses to listen to the rebellious speech given by Old Major, though later preaches about a magical place for all animals called ‘Sugar Candy Mountain’. In Animal Farm the pigs work hard to convince the other animals that ‘Sugar Candy Mountain’ (heaven) does not exist, though, significantly, this is done before the rebellion takes place.
This shows a slightly hypocritical side to Marx’s work because after the rebellion takes place the pigs are keen to enforce their own ideology on to the other animals (proletariat), leading to the important question ‘Is the will of the people also transferred to their leader”‘ In this instance the answer seems to be a resounding ‘No’. However on second reading, it could be argued that, up until the very climax of the book, the animals actually get what they want. One gets the impression that in offering a true Marxist critique of the book, it is actually the case that the animals do achieve their top priority; ousting man.
In this sense they do become free (from man at least) and it is only their subsequent inability to grasp the prospect of equality that leads to another regime of dictatorship. Although at the same time it cannot be argued that the majority of the animals (or the ‘masses’ as they appropriately refer to themselves) are treated fairly. Evidence of this can be found in the extract of the book I have largely chosen to focus my attentions on (appendix one), where from the outset the animals, in my opinion, are treat worse than ever before.
As a result of the revolution that took place on the farm the animals, excluding the pigs, presume that the luxuries that were once taken away from them, such as milk and apples, would be shared equally among the group, however this is not the case: (p. 23) You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege. Many of us actually dislike milk and apples… milk and apples (this has been proven by science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well being of the pig. We pigs are brainworkers. (Appendix one)
Consequently the animals find themselves in a state of confusion. Their situation, they are constantly reassured, is better than before. They now live under their original ideal of animalism, they are told. This can be closely related to the theory of ‘Carbonarism’, which was identified as having been created under the Italian Communist Party (1921-43). The theory is largely based around the recurring tendency to distract the masses from the ‘real’ (or perhaps relevant) problems that were occurring under communist rule. In reality the animals are living under a harsh dictatorship, under the veil of animalism.
Engels refers to this as an illusion of democracy. By creating this illusion of democracy the ruling class (Napoleon/Stalin) can ensure they stay in power, while everything will stay ‘natural’ to the proletariat. Indeed this illusion of democracy is further emphasized when the animals are asked questions by the pigs; questions to which there can be only one possible reply. In a sense the rhetorical questions act as a tool to reinforce the false class-consciousness: It is for your sake that we pigs drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed our duty?
Jones would come back! Surely comrades… surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back? (p. 23) Althusser calls this Interpellation. A process where by a person is made to feel like they have a choice, when actually the ‘choice’ does not exist. Peter Barry offers an example: ‘You can have any colour you like… as long as it’s black’ Animal Farm can also be linked to another theory. The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel offered the notion that contrasting ideas can be bring about new situations, this is known as the dialectic.
Thus, a process whereby ‘contradictions are inherent to its structure’ becomes particularly relevant when discussing Animal Farm. Hegel’s dialectic was constructed around three key concepts: the thesis, the antithesis and the resolution. What Karl Marx did was effectively reinterpret Hegel’s work and relate it to his own concepts based on class struggle. Thus, Hegel’s thesis becomes Marx’s ‘the way things are’; Hegel’s antithesis became ‘the conflict’ and the resolution, or the ideal, communism.
This process is known as ‘dialectical Marxism’. However, what Hegel or Marx failed to anticipate was the collapse of their ideal, once it became accepted (‘the way things are). Indeed, I contend that Hegel’s dialectic was a process fuelled by repetition. In other words, it will continue a ‘natural’ process through the stages until the resolution is reached and when the resolution fails, it will start again. This undoubtedly is the case in Animal Farm, where once the animals achieve the goal, they slip back into Hegel’s thesis.
In terms of offering a Marxist reading, the era in which the book was written and, significantly, published is very important and relevant to Orwell’s satire. Animal Farm was written in 1943 (the end of communist Russia), but not published until after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Indeed at such a historical moment in time, I believe that a Marxist would see Orwell as a product of the society in which he was raised, and therefore the book becomes the ‘bi-product’. Too add weight to this argument, the dominant ideologies at work at the time the book was written suggest Orwell had capitalist ideals at heart.
However, George Orwell was an active socialist. He did strongly oppose the views of Karl Marx and was not impressed with the idea of communism, but he was equally opposed to the idea of capitalism. Therefore I believe that Animal Farm should not be regarded as the ‘bi-product’ of the distinctly capitalist society Orwell was a part of. Instead I argue that Animal Farm is the consequence of such a system in which Orwell was expected to conform. This would perhaps explain why it took so long to get published; society (capitalists and Marxists) was weary.