Monday, December 30, 2013

274. Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm are classics in more ways other than literary. His exploration into the intricacies of politics, the psychology of politicians, and the eventual outcome of revolutions provides conclusions that are themselves revolutionary and almost incomparable. The former is the book that gave us words like Newspeak and Big Brother, whose frequency of use has shot up in this period of massive surveillance and draconian government agencies [1]. If the recent National Security Agency's (NSA) global surveillance has increased interests in Nineteen Eighty-Four, then the series of uprisings and pseudo-revolutions across Africa and the Middle East, christened Arab Springs by the Media, should equally force us to reread Animal Farm, as this book - more than any other - shows the effects of uncontrolled and unfocussed revolutions. 

One can cite the Egyptian uprising which toppled the Mubarak regime and its successor Morsi government, or the Syrian uprising, which seems to be more of a military attack by civilians than anything. What one could learn from these uprisings and demonstrations is that if it is not easy to start a revolution, it is equally not easy to direct it to its logical end, especially when the interests and objectives cannot clearly be identified. Besides, once these fires are sparked, several interests come into play and the resulting government, if any, might not necessarily be different from the one which was toppled and in situations where the revolution has no recognised nucleus, reversal to the status quo is swift.

Animal Farm (2000 (FP: 1945), Penguin Modern Classics; 120), is a satiric fable of a revolution that changed nothing. The animals on the Manor Farm are fed up of the drudgery they had to go through just to serve and keep Joneses alive. To them Man is the source of all their problems and so by eliminating man they would have solved all their problems.
Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished. [4]
They realised that - like in most countries where the ruling class live on the labour of the working class - Man is preoccupied with consumption; he produces nothing. He lives on their labour, directly and indirectly. They plough is field, provide manure, serve him with meat and eggs as his needs may demand. Their offspring are sold or eaten by him. In the end, he serves them with just what they need not to die. However, if they should take control over the farm, there would be enough for everyone to eat. To achieve this, Man's authority has to be challenged. Man's government has to be toppled. 
Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself. Our labour tills the soil, our dung fertilizes it, and yet there is not one of us that owns more than his bare skin. [4]
Old Major, the brain and instigator of the rebellion, sensitised the animals on the ways and characteristics of the enemy. He analysed all of Man's cunning and what he is likely to say in his defence. He foresaw that Man was likely to say that his interests and the interests of the animals' were the same and clearly informed them of the impossible equality between the two. Old Major's admonishment seems as important today and to us as humans as they were to the animals to whom he was speaking, for just as the interest of Man and the animals cannot be the same, the interest of corporations and that of the masses can also not be the same and it is foolish to think that the top one percent has the interest of the remaining ninety-nine percent in mind. Consequently, the animals had no doubt of the identity and psychology of the enemy and were thus prepared not be swayed by his shenanigans.
And remember, comrades, your resolution must never falter. No argument must lead you astray. Never listen when they tell you that Man and the animals have a common interest, that the prosperity of the one is the prosperity of the others. It is all lies. Man serves the interests of no creature except himself. Among us animals let there be prefect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades. [6]
As Old Major outlined his thesis on the enmity between Man and the animals, he also provided them with what they should do. To him, the post-revolution strategy was simple: never to behave like Man, for the ways of Man are diabolical. Instead, he preached Animalism which was steeped in the spirit of collaboration, cooperation, and unity. He thought them that all animals are equal; that anything that walked on four legs or has wings was a friend whilst anything that go on two legs was an enemy. He painted a kind of paradise for the farm if the people should pool their labour; he claimed that there would be more food and less drudgery and work would be shared not equally but according to one's ability.
I have a little more to say. I merely repeat, remember always your duty of enmity towards Man and all his ways. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil. And above all, no animal must ever tyrannize over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal. [7]
However, after the death of Old Major, leadership naturally fell on Snowball and Napoleon, the two most intelligent animals among the lot. To them, the animals gave their support. And the long-awaited rebellion to rid the farm off Man came into fruition in the Battle of the Cowshed, which left some animals dead and others wounded. Nonetheless, since the beneficiaries of a revolution are not necessarily those who stick to its principles but those who are cunning enough to have mapped out their own strategy ab initio, it was not long before individual interests began to break their front and supplanted group interest. For instance, the breakdown of Communism in former USSR benefitted the members of the politburo and their cronies - those who became the oligarchs, and not the proletariat. Similarly, most individuals who profited from independence were not the masses but those who strategically positioned themselves.

Snowball's and Napoleon's visions for Animal Farm were antagonistic and mutually exclusive. Whereas Snowball was bent on implementing Old Major's visions to the letter (including teaching the animals how to read), Napoleon was training his guard dogs. And because there could be only one leader, the struggle devolved into a full-blown head-on confrontation resulting in the chasing away of Snowball from Animal Farm by Napoleon's personally trained and well-fed dogs. In the end, Napoleon, who really did nothing in the Battle of the Cowshed, and had hidden all through the struggle, credited all the successes to himself and discredited Snowball's obvious heroics, through his eloquent propagandist, Squealer. So effective was propagandist Squealer that even those who saw Snowball charge at Mr Jones with a bullet in his shoulder to doubt their memories. In the end, Squealer claimed that Snowball was not decorated at all, that it was his own fabrication that led to that belief among the animals. When the control was complete, with the dogs ready to pounce and kill and Squealer ready to deceive, the laws began to change.

The pigs who had led in the repudiation of human luxuries now began to enjoy and revel in them; just like politicians in developing countries. They repudiate the sitting government's policies, programmes, strategies, only because they need the power and not because they truly believe in its weaknesses or that they have anything better to offer, for when voted into power they do nothing different. Napoleon made several changes to the governance structure of the animals to suit himself and his cohorts including the The Seven Commandments, which was promulgated after the rebellion. Life on Animal Farm became more difficult and draconian; food became scarce, the animals worked harder than they had under Jones, they were threatened and were savagely murdered at the least protest; the milk and eggs were used to feed the politburo and their children. Using the combination of the animal's fear of Man's return to the farm, doctored production and feeding figures, and eloquence, Squealer convinced the animals that their lives were still better than it was under Jones. After all, were they not working for themselves? Or did they want to see the return of Man? And for those who still had doubts the dogs were there to ensure belief. Every problem on the farm was attributed to Snowball and anyone who was fingered to have been in connivance with him, even in their dreams, were killed. Snowball became the poltergeist and enemy number one of Animal Farm.

Meanwhile the prolitburo pigs, slept in the Joneses' feathered beds, drunk and ordered whiskey, ate from plates, wore clothing, and dealt with the owners of the adjacent farms. Though all these had been repudiated or banned at the early stages of the revolution, Squealer was able to explain or interpret each of them. The laws were no longer the same or were what Snowball said they were. He was the sole ruler of Animal Farm working in the 'interest of the animals' and was rarely found outside because the job of thinking was a difficult one requiring good food, comfort, and quietness. In fact, the revolutionary song was banned because it was no longer needed once the revolution had taken place.

The revolution which was fought for with the blood of the animals turned out to benefit only a select few who had cunningly positioned themselves. Everything the animals had blamed the Joneses of came back to them much worst. The only change was the type of leadership and not the circumstances. It became clear that people do not fight oppression because they hate oppression but because they think they are superior to oppression.

The final transformation of pigs into men came about when they began to wobble on two legs, becoming the enemy.
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. 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 is which. [102]
Though this book is an analogy to the rise of Stalin in Russia, its importance and significance lies in its unveiling of human greed and predilection towards dominating others. However, what is germane to us in these times is its treatment of the outcome of revolutions if left unguarded by the masses. This is an important book that requires more than one reading.
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[1] The Use of Big Brother, Newspeak, and Orwellian from 1900 to 2008 (in Books) using GoogleNgram Viewer



Note: the problem with this is that it excludes undocumented books, magazines, and newspapers; the latter two is likely to have a large dose of usage of these words. Also, there is likely to be a sort of double counting for the words 'Big Brother' as it could have meanings different from Orwell's. For instance, prior to the publication of 1984 in 1949, there are records of their use, unlike 'Orwellian' whose first appearance coincided with the publication of 1984. 

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