Christopher Hitchens re-reads Animal Farm

Animal-Farm-001 In the Guardian:

Like much of his later work – most conspicuously the much grimmer Nineteen Eighty-Four – Animal Farm was the product of Orwell's engagement in the Spanish civil war. During the course of that conflict, in which he had fought on the anti-fascist side and been wounded and then chased out of Spain by supporters of Joseph Stalin, his experiences had persuaded him that the majority of “left” opinion was wrong, and that the Soviet Union was a new form of hell and not an emerging utopia. He described the genesis of the idea in one of his two introductions to the book:

. . . for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement. On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone . . . However, the actual details of the story did not come to me for some time until one day (I was then living in a small village) I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.

I proceeded to analyse Marx's theory from the animals' point of view.

The simplicity of this notion is in many ways deceptive. By undertaking such a task, Orwell was choosing to involve himself in a complex and bitter argument about the Bolshevik revolution in Russia: then a far more controversial issue than it is today. Animal Farm can be better understood if it is approached under three different headings: its historical context; the struggle over its publication and its subsequent adoption as an important cultural weapon in the cold war; and its enduring relevance today.

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