George Orwell on the real meaning of Animal Farm: get rid of the pigs

Originally published at: George Orwell on the real meaning of Animal Farm: get rid of the pigs | Boing Boing


See also the corruption of Adam Smith’s conception of “free market”, and the consequent absorption of his ideas as supporting the status quo.


Yeah, in the UK educational system when I read Animal Farm, it was made pretty bloody obvious that the pigs were the real bad guys.

I mean, even without input from teachers, it was hard to reach any other conclusion, and I thought that was the genius of it. Orwell took a complicated, emotionally charged subject such as revolutionary politics, and wrote a story around it that children could understand.

But then, at the same time, I had some remarkably right-on socialist teachers growing up. My history teacher in particular was able to deliver a curiculum that covered the history of medicine and the Chinese Communist revolution and impart that the real, over-arching messages were:
1: Regarding the history of medicine, religion has rarely served as anything but a lethal impediment to progress.
2: Painting Mao as a relatively sympathetic figure early on in his life (to be honest, he probably was a little too lenient on Mao in hindsight).


Same here - never trust the bastards in charge!

We studied Animal Farm, 1984 and Brave New World in the same year. They’re all warnings, not psalms for Capitalism.

Pigs will change the laws to suit themselves, happily sell workers to the glue factory, and meet dissent with thuggery. Yeah, that’s not vindication.


As I understood it, the theme of Animal Farm was that those in power will ALWAYS try to expand their own control and privilege over those that are under them. Even if they start from a position of benevolence, they must be watched carefully for signs of power-grabbing. Ideology is not the important factor. The dynamic is always the same.


The implication here was that these authoritarian tragedies existed in diametric opposition to the the unique American-ness of our freedoms.

I never knew it was taught that way in Americn public schools. It just strikes me a weird, contextless way to present the book, although I suppose that’s to be expected from the same system that brought the nation Texas-approved textbooks.

When we studied it at my American private school, it was just presented as what it was: an anti-Stalinist and, more generally, anti-authoritarian* allegory. We discussed not only form and style (it was assigned in English class) but also the author’s life and the history of the early Soviet Union. One would have to put in major bad-faith effort to turn all that into an endorsement of capitalism (as represented by the human farmers).

[* I recall noting to a friend’s parent when discussing the book that purges were common to any such system, bringing up the Night of the Long Knives as another example.]


Maybe it’s a generational thing, but when I read Orwell in high school (in Minnesota) in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, it was definitely not taught the way it’s described here.

Oh, it was definitely taught as more of a commentary on Communism than on Capitalism, but only to the extent that power corrupts, regardless of ideology. The pigs and the farmer were both equally bad! And if you read the end of the book, which I have semi-memorized, that’s obvious: “The animals outside looked from man to pig, pig to man, and man to pig again, but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


Another mistake is to think of Orwell as a theorist and overly intellectualize his works. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell speaks at length of his experiences participating in the Spanish civil war, and how Soviet operatives derailed the people’s revolution. I tell people that when you picture the phrase “manning the barrricades”, you can picture George Orwell there holding a rifle.


The pigs were clearly the bad guys, yes, and there was still a general takeaway of “authoritarianism = bad.” But the way I was taught it, we were given the idea that all revolution and all communism inevitably ends this way. I remember arguing (because I was THAT precocious kid in English class) that the animals had the right idea and that their vision of an equitable society was possible, if things had been different. But I also remember having that interpretation get shot down by the teacher, who insisted that nope, it was always going to end this way.


Wait, really?!?

Between this and the pledge of allegiance, it’s a miracle any Americans grow up anything other than totally brainwashed. Good lord.


Pigs love going to the free market, it’s in the nursery rhyme.



Yeah, we were taught this as an anti-authoritarian allegory, not specifically anti leftist authoritarian. As was pointed out upthread, the conclusion makes this very clear.


I presume the fact that kids in the USSR read it in school, too, did not come up.


That’s the message I took from Animal Farm; the other animals, especially Boxer, should have trounced the pigs as soon as they started privileging themselves over everyone else.


Same for me in the mid-80’s in MN, but we read it in 8th grade in social studies at the height of Ronnie Raygun’s poking at the Soviets. Lots of focus on the “evils” of communism. Yet we read Grapes of Wrath the previous year in the same class. I don’t think they really wanted us to believe capitalism is the bestest thing ever, now that I’m really pondering it. :face_with_monocle:


Of Mice and Men is really about petcare.


I think we also read this in social studies. Grow up in Minnesota, real all the “banned” books in junior high social studies!


I concur; my personal experience reading the book in Ohio between '90-92 was not as Thom describes.


It was part of my English studies, alongside a bunch of Shakespeare. No Social Studies for me, it was art and classic literature, though I first read Animal Farm when I was a little kid


For me in the late 60s it was taught there were good communist and bad communist. The farmer rejected both and in the end failed. Change happens and you need to embrace it. Also it helps to be a good person.

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