The Distortion of Socialist Views in the Soviet Union
By Yusra Keinan
Posted on November 1, 2023
Cover Image Title: Animal Farm
Cover Image by: Julianna Ma
Classification: Traditional media
Specifications: Marker on paper, 20 cm x 20 cm
A promised egalitarian utopia swiftly becomes a dystopian nightmare, revealing the truth in “Animal Farm,” a novella by George Orwell. These truths have not only shaped the course of history, but also revealed the inherent flaws and dangers that can emerge from ideologies, when manipulated by those with a thirst for power. Published in 1945, Orwell’s enlightening novella presents a scathing critique of the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin in which the egalitarian principles of socialism were corrupted to justify authoritarian rule. The tale unfolds as a group of farm animals whose initial hopes for equality, justice, and prosperity through an ideology called animalism is shattered, instead creating a system wherein only the interests of the privileged are served. Orwell’s work portrays the distortion of socialist views in the Soviet Union, using a satirical allegory that transforms animals from comrades to oppressors.
In an unequal and stratified society, the dynamics of power are such that a select few hold power while exploiting the majority. This is exemplified by the pigs assuming leadership without laboring. The novella’s depiction of the farm and its animals reflects that of the Soviet Union and its citizens as it illuminates the contrast between ideals of equality espoused by the leadership and unequal reality of power. Orwell describes, “The pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge, it was natural that they should assume the leadership" (Orwell, 9). Thus pigs position themselves above from the rest, using their intellectual superiority to claim leadership. Similarly, Soviet leaders touted socialist ideals while living lavish lifestyles and exerting control over the working class. By establishing a hierarchy based on knowledge, the rights that were ostensibly shared amongst every animal were relegated to r the pigs alone. Furthermore, Orwell describes that, "Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer−except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs," (38) exposing unequal distribution of wealth, akin to the Soviet Union. Despite the many promises of a more equitable society, the majority of citizens remained impoverished while the ruling class enjoyed increased prosperity. Further proving the exploitative nature of animalism by showing how it is obvious to them that the pigs and dogs benefit the most from accumulated wealth without participating in any labour is the excerpt “except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs,”. The novella, a cautionary tale, brings the dangers of class stratification under the guise of socialism to light, using allegory to expose the misuse of socialist ideals in the Soviet Union and calls for a re-definition for the true essence of socialism – collective ownership, equality, and the empowerment of the masses.
To control the population, propaganda is a crucial tool. Language is utilized to shape the public’s opinion and distort the truth. Vladimir Lenin stated, “When one makes a Revolution, one cannot mark time; one must always go forward - or go back.” The Soviet Union went backwards, as Lenin’s successor, Stalin, used lies and propaganda to maintain power. The power of language in shaping perceptions is one that is prominently shown in Animal Farm through the character Squealer, who represents propaganda. Squealer convinces the animals that their memory is faulty and the commandment “no animal shall sleep in a bed” only applies to beds with sheets. He argues, “You would not rob us of our repose, would you? You would not have us too tired to carry out our duties? Surely none of you wish to see Jones back?" (21). By invoking fear of the return of Mr. Jones, Squealer manipulates the animals’ emotions, forcing them to accept the pig’s privilege. He asks rhetorical questions such as “surely none of you wish to see Jones back?” exploiting the animals’ concerns and emotions, spreading anxiety and a sense of dependency on the pigs. This helps the pigs hide their hypocrisy and reinforce their control. Another instance is when the commandment “All animals are equal” is changed to “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Orwell conveys that “It did not seem strange when Napoleon was seen strolling in the farmhouse garden with a pipe in his mouth−no, not even when the pigs took Mr. Jones's clothes out of the wardrobes and put them on” (40). Animalism, the original system of thought, represents socialism, supporting rights for all. By editing the commandment , the pigs’ desire for superiority is unmasked and they become the evil they swore against. By emphasizing that “it did not seem strange” for the pigs to display human behaviour and act in a way that was originally condemned demonstrates how propaganda was used to help the pigs achieve such a high level of privilege. The parallels between the Soviet Union’s propaganda and Orwell’s novella displays the transformation of formerly equal beings to oppressive figures, ultimately leading to the betrayal of the values that rulers claimed to uphold.
The final straw that led Animal Farm to its dystopian future was relentless abuse of power, creating a world suffocated under the weight of oppression. The pigs, led by Napoleon, were able to successfully exploit their positions of authority using violence and oppression. Orwell vividly illustrates this abuse when Napoleon orchestrates a frightful scene of murder and demands that the other animals confess. The animals “ were shaken and miserable. They did not know which was more shocking−the treachery of the animals who had leagued themselves with Snowball, or the cruel retribution they had just witnessed. In the old days there had often been scenes of bloodshed equally terrible, but it seemed to all of them that it was far worse now that it was happening among themselves.” (25) The animals felt a profound sense of disillusionment with the realization that their utopian ideals were betrayed. Given the opportunity of power and leadership at the hands of the pigs, led to a system where some animals were more equal than others. This mirrors the Soviet regime’s use of false narratives to justify their purges and mass executions, claiming they were necessary for the greater good of the country. Napoleon’s abuse of power and his disregard for the lives of other animals mirrors the brutal tactics employed by Stalin. In both instances the leaders go to extreme lengths to preserve their authority. Thus, the novel remains a timeless reminder of the potential for oppression in any system where power is concentrated in the hands of few.
Through satirical allegory Animal Farm exposes the distortion of socialism by class divisions, propaganda, and oppression. Stark differences between the professed principles of animalism and the inequality between different classes are displayed. The pigs assume leadership without working, similar to how Soviet leaders lived in ease at the expense of the working class. The pigs use their intellect to manipulate the distribution of wealth among themselves. Propaganda assisted in shaping public opinion and distorting the truth to silence dissent and maintain power. Additionally, the relentless abuse of power and eradication of revolutionary values as Napoleon's ruthless dictatorship and disregard for others mirrors the brutal tactics employed by Stalin. Thus, society quickly perishes, representing how socialist ideals in the Soviet Union were distorted for personal gains rather than equality, justice, and prosperity.