Animal Farm, an allegorical novel by George Orwell, was one of several speculative stories upon which I cut my teeth. At some point I want to discuss the other speculative stories as a body, what they taught me, how they affected my thinking. Not today.
In part this article will be a political rant. I don’t usually talk much about my political views, especially on a team blog where my thoughts might inaccurately be taken as the thoughts of Spec Faith. They aren’t. None of our articles represent anyone but ourselves, though we all do hold a faith statement in common. And we do all love speculative fiction.
Which brings me to Animal Farm. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this book was required reading in school when I was growing up. The allegory is an animal revolution that mirrors the Communist Revolution.
In the story, the animals take over control of the farm where they live and work, and drive off the humans. But as years pass the animal leadership does some shady things: they alter history, lie about the cause of disasters, cover up killings, change the laws upon which the revolution was founded. In the end, the pigs, who are the inner circle making all the decisions, look and act so much like humans, the other animals can’t tell them apart.
The point of the allegory is clear: communism is no answer to the inequities and economic difficulties of the workers because those who benefit will be those who rule, not everyone else.
All through the cold war, that idea seemed to come true in the news headlines of the day. Cruelty, economic chaos, restricted individual freedoms, lies, coverups—these were all common place in the communist world. That is, whenever the Iron Curtain could be cracked. All we needed, really, were the accounts of people being shot trying to leave communist Berlin. If communism worked so well, why did they have to stop people from fleeing?
And why were the Soviet-made cars such shoddy workmanship? Why was the Soviet economy in such shambles? Why was there a notable lack of initiative?
When at last the Soviet Union crumbled and capitalism came out of hiding in the black market, socialism seemed defeated. Certainly I and others who cut our teeth on Animal Farm, as well as other dystopian novels that denigrated Big Government, along with government-controlled economics, assumed socialism was dead in the water. It had a fleeting moment in history in which the concept of equality proved to be little more than a shifting of wealth and power from one group to another.
More recently Venezuela has served as another example of socialism’s failure:
The current situation is the worst economic crisis in Venezuela’s history and among the worst crises experienced in the Americas, with hyperinflation, soaring hunger, disease, crime and death rates, and massive emigration from the country. Observers and economists have stated that the crisis is not the result of a conflict or natural disaster but the consequences of socialist policies (“Crisis in Venezuela”)
Imagine my surprise, then, at the rise in popularity here in the US of political figures who take the mantle of socialism upon their shoulders. One such individual recently has received a lot of attention for supporting a “Green New Deal.”
The idea behind the proposed changes to our society is two-fold. One, the plan is to do away with carbon energy sources and mandate renewable energy within ten years. Ten years! Let that sink in a bit. The other part of the plan is a make-over of our economy. A change from capitalism to socialism, essentially, with the government guaranteeing everyone a job if they want one.
So, back to Animal Farm. Does no one read the book any more?
I think most people can see that greedy entrepreneurs have a lion’s share of the wealth in the US and other capitalist countries. Some have gained their wealth by corrupt and unfair practices (lots of history of such in the late nineteenth century; other examples more recently in the banking industry). Others gained their wealth by innovation and developing better ideas for doing business.
Most Americans are not in the highest tax bracket, however. We do our best to provide a comfortable living, and largely we do so by hard work. But it’s clear the system isn’t “equitable.” I mean, the star baseball player gets $30 million dollars for ten years while teachers strike to get a 6% raise.
But is the answer to the inequity to be found in an Animal Farm take over?
In many ways, George Orwell was prophetic in his little book. After all, he wrote long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he saw the ways the lofty goals of socialism affected the people in Russia and how it changed the country and the people who led it. He saw the “pigs” become like “men”—the socialist leaders become like capitalists. The only difference for the chickens and the plow horse and the dogs was who they worked for.
Animal Farm in no way glorifies capitalism, but it makes a strong allegorical case against communism.
Young people would know this if they read the book, so I’m wondering, does anyone still read Animal Farm?