A must read classic novel from the early 20th century reviewing the idea of Socialism.
June 01, 2021
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The story is about a group of animals who rebel against their neglecting owner Mr. Jones to create a society where all animals are free, equal, and happy. They renamed their home the "Animal Farm" and adopted the 7 Commandments of Animalism after their successful rebellion. Then we follow how incidents played out with pigs as the leaders and other hardworking animals believing in their cause. "All animals are equal." or are they?
It's one of the books in the classic novel reading list. I heard there's a film based on it too. I've been into understanding political issues and some history recently. I suppose it's because of the civil unrest in HK and also the political conflict between the US and China. This book fits right in the category.
Anyone who's interested in how Socialism / Communism was viewed in the early 20th century in the context of a short story (112 pages). It helps us reflect on the ideologies governing a society.
Animal stereotypes are used mockingly accurate. Depends on how we interpret pigs, they are actually one of the most intelligent animals. They serve as smart yet lazy and manipulative characters. There's Boxer - the strong, loyal, and a dedicated horse who believes any problems can be solved by working hard. Moses the Raven is a clever talker and spy. The sheep are blind herd conformers without understanding what's going on. They resolve to the slogan of "4 legs good, 2 legs bad" every time. Dogs serve as powerful security forces. Cats don't care or do anything.
Having to know Napoleon - the tyrannical President of Animal Farm is based Joseph Stalin interested me to dig around the early days of the Soviet Union. I realized how similar communist states operate like China particularly during the Maoist era. They made Five-Year Plans to industrialize the country hoping to beat Western societies. They eliminated the "enemies of the people" who opposed their ideas. The Soviet Union had the Great Purge and Maoist China had the Cultural Revolution. Millions of lives were lost during these events.
Animalism and the 7 Commandments were appealing ideals on the surface. Power in the wrong hands amplifies the corruption of being. Animals were once equal but Napoleon took it to a totalitarian state. Pigs were the only rulers and enjoyed the best food and living environment. Others animals suffered but were given hope for a better future if they work hard. The Commandments were revised to justify the contradicting actions of the leaders. Some animals were skeptical but they were threatened and deceived to live under the state's control. Some were just too dumb to realize what's going on. They were "educated" well to willfully trust and support the state at any cost.
The story resonates with the book 12 Rules of Life, primary on Rule 8 - Tell the truth or at least don't lie. Leaders of the farm lied about the unfairness towards other animals. They kept everything to themselves. They falsified reasons for their inadequate actions. They create propaganda to deceive others. The entire farm was rooted on lies. Even animals who saw the discrepancy didn't dare to speak up or lied to themselves that everything was fine. This was basically how communist states in the last century collapsed. State officials and perhaps citizens lied about their actual work. No one was trustworthy and felt safe to be around. Altogether, it created an illusion that the country was on track towards success. In reality, no targets were met and the economy was unsustainable. The top officials might still be fine inside their bubble. But the rest of the country suffered greatly from poverty, starvation, and illness.
The story didn't give a strong opinion on whether the way Animal Farm was governed was correct. This is also an important lesson that we should stay open-minded and draw our own rational conclusion on any issues.