Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Animal Farm by George Orwell
This is one most of us will have read at school, and I remembered it pretty vividly. Four legs good two legs bad; taking the old workhorse Boxer to the knackers' yard; the end when the pigs become indistinguishable from the greedy farmers. But it's worth experiencing again when you know a bit more about Stalin and Orwell himself.
What really struck me was the faith the author has in socialism. Burgess's 1985 made a big deal of how Orwell's was a very English socialism (Ingsoc!) and that's a major issue here. The animal version of the Internationale is Beasts of England, which explicitly harks back to a golden age of proto-marxism in this green and pleasant land. It's not just a direct metaphor for Russia under Stalin, it's also the dream of a strangely conservative communism at home.
I am not and have never been a member of the communist party. To me it's always seemed self evidently evil and stupid, so it's interesting to get such a vicious denunciation of the Soviet Union from a staunch left winger writing at a time when Stalin was at the height of his powers, and the commies were actually our allies (the book was published in 1945.) He must have been pretty brave. His disgust is at how the high ideals of Marxism are twisted to become the same tyranny as before - they're not really communists any more. But that makes the denounciation all the more bitter.
Here's one aspect I found especially intruiging - Napoleon holds late night drinking sessions with his pig cronies in the farm house (breaking at least two tenets of Animalism) which seem very close to Stalin's "parties" with Beria, Malenkov et al. Were these drunken, terrifying parties common knowledge at the time, or is corruption just that obvious and banal.
This has piqued my interest not only in Orwell, but in left-wing infighting. I'm keen to read Homage to Catalonia now, especially since a union rep in Aberdeen told me (with a touch of bitterness) about how he'd spied for MI5 during the Spanish Civil War, and sold out the real communists. Who knows, but I get the feeling that Orwell's moral compass is probably more reliable than most.