A Very Brief and Vulgar Reaction to Orwell’s Animal Farm

Rereading George Orwell’s Animal Farm last month made me realize how effective the text works as an attack of the Stalinist regime of the former Soviet Union. In the standard reading of the novel, it is construed not only as a critique of the specific example of the excesses of Stalin but the entire project of social transformation. The underlying premise of how every revolt is bound to end up in greater oppression rather than liberation has made the novel a staple of counter-revolutionary discourse.

A scene from the Great October 1917 Russian Revolution.

But the material conditions for a revolutionary event akin to that of October 1917 continues to haunt the present as masses of workers and peasants all over the World continues to suffer even greater loss of jobs, homes, and income and the rising prices of commodities and basic social services such as health and education. The poor becomes poorer as the rich becomes richer.

Against the pessimistic outlook presented by the novel, we should hence assert the continuing validity of the struggle for change: that there is something to look forward to beyond the injustices of the present order, that it is right to rebel against an oppressive and exploitative status quo.

Revolution does not end in failure all the time. And even if it does the important thing is the process of rising up to the challenge of the times, of attempting to create something new. As the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze said,

It is fashionable these days to condemn the horrors of the revolution… They say revolutions turn out badly. But they’re constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people’s revolutionary becoming. These relate to two different sets of people. Men’s only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable.

Or as the Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek said in his paraphrase of a line from Samuel Beckett: “after one fails, one can go on and fail better, while indifference drowns us deeper and deeper in the morass of imbecilic Being.”

As the world capitalist system suffers its worse crisis since the 1930s, the ruling order in the Philippines continues to disintegrate in a socio-economic crisis of graver proportions and thus hastens the possibility for radical change in the next decade. As Mao puts it, “There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent.” ■

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9 thoughts on “A Very Brief and Vulgar Reaction to Orwell’s Animal Farm

  1. Well said, Karlo. Much worse, purveyors of these reactionary ideas are not only concerned in using the failures of the past revolutions as counter-revolutionary propaganda but they also seek to sensationalize yet vulgarize the significant errors of present-day revolutionary movements.

  2. Well said. Further on, (i havent read Orwell´s book), capitalism is the failure of one of those revolutions. There is the need of keeping up with reality, and not falling in old categories (like Debord said). I would even go to say that a revolution fails when it actually turns into a tradition. Bourgeoisie revolution turned upside down when it established the bourgeois class as the only possible rule, leaving free way for new exploiters – whereas it was supposed to be a revolution about freedom.

  3. I see Animal Farm as not limited to a treatment of dictatorships in politics-just as Gulliver’s Travels can be appreciated can be appreciated without knowing Georgian politics so I think it is artistically wrong and unfair to the genius of the work to see it in terms of the background of Stalinism. I worked for a while in a large corporate structure and I found it exactly described the morals of corporate leadership-

    • Yes, the book is about many things. And it can be read and appreciated in various ways (criticism of corporate leadership or what have you). But that was Orwell’s authorial intention (writing an allegorical critique of Stalinism), and although the written word tends to develop a life of its own and come to mean other things than what one intended, that is how it was read by most during the Cold War (“in terms of the background of Stalinism”). And this specific reading of the text has real socio-political implications up to the present. And that is what I was particularly writing about, not its Formalist merits. :)

  4. Bourgeoisie revolution, or more precisely French Revolution, is not all about freedom at all–freedom in the broader sense of the term. Nonetheless, it paved the way for the elimination of feudal relations, thus creating the material conditions for a free market which was the initial stage of capitalism. It was the then-nascent and later ruling bourgeois class that greatly benefited from the revolution for they “received the freedom to own property,” as Marx put it, while an increasing number of propertyless class was either compelled or induced to sell their to labour power to the former. The establishment of the bourgeois class as the only ruling class was part of the capitalist transformation. Needless to say, the bourgeoisie revolution succeeded as a process of changing an old social order by a new one. It was the chronic crisis of capitalism that turned it upside down.
    The failure of the great socialist revolutions is another story and it should be made clear that it wasn’t because socialism is a failure itself.

  5. Pingback: A Very Brief and Vulgar Reaction to Orwell’s Animal Farm (via (Mis)readings) « "The Daily Rant"

  6. I don’t think that Orwell was trying to say that all revolutions,either right or left are doomed to failure.It was strictly aimed at the U.S.S.R.I think the building of the windmills can be seen as representing Stailin’s 5 and 10 year plans.The most important thing in a revolution is that no one minority can fairly rule without this being detrimental to the majority.The fact that the vast chunk of Russians suffered through the building of Communism only for the aftermath to be as grim(albeit a capitalist system) as it was for the many makes it all really sad.I consider myself a socialist but as a self admitted member of the U.K underclass I live very comfortably compared to the vast majority of any working person in Asia,Africa,South America,big parts of Europe and even large parts of the U.S.Free housing,a full belly ,free healthcare ,water and heating plus money for broad band and all sorts of luxuries.Although capitalism is far from perfect,when is compared with a compassionate society there is not a better system on the planet.

    • We must clarify, however, that there is no such thing as a rightist revolution. The categories right and left emerged during the French Revolution when the new republic established an assembly to replace the old monarchy. Those seated on the right are the old aristocrats and the new rich who wanted to retain their old privileges and property while those seated on the left are the peasants and the proletariat classes who wanted to more radical changes-the redistribution of wealth and civil liberties. In the present era of imperialism wherein the entire world is shackled by monopoly capitalists based in the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan, only a revolution by the forces of the left can be truly revolutionary.

      I will not anymore delve into a discussion on the types of socialism and how some “socialisms” in fact serve to prop up the present system. It suffices to say that changes coming from the right are counterrevolutionary by seeking to preserve this unjust system. Let us never forget: what little crumbs are enjoyed by the peoples of the advanced capitalist countries come from the superprofits plundered from their semi-colonies and colonies in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. These crumbs serve the purpose of preventing them from revolting and is not a measure of the system’s compassion.

      While the authorial intention was strictly speaking aimed at the former Soviet Union under Stalin, its underlying ideological premise pessimistically concludes that all social revolutions are exercises in futility because they end up with an even greater tyranny, i.e. the revolution devours its own children.

      This is the inherent limitation of Orwell’s and the bourgeois worldview. It makes the masses believe that capitalism, with all its exploitation and oppression, is the best socio-economic system to prevent them from resisting and overhauling this system.

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