The Russian Revolution and its aftermath
Even though Animal Farm is, on the surface, a bizarre tale about animals rising up against their masters to form a new society, it is clearly intended to directly reflect real developments that took place in Russia in the first half of the 20th century.
Old Major represents the various authors of the political philosophy of Communism (which becomes ‘Animalism’ in the novel), notably the philosopher Karl Marx (who wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848). However, Old Major also recalls Vladimir Lenin, a central figure in the early days of the Soviet Union. Lenin served as the head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 (the time of the October Revolution) until his death in 1924. Just as Lenin’s ideas encouraged a group of Russians to rebel against the rule of Tsar Nicholas II, Old Major’s ideas inspire the animals to rebel against the oppressive rule of Mr. Jones.
After Lenin’s death, a cult of personality was established around Lenin and his ideas, and his body was preserved and displayed in Red Square in Moscow (where it remains to this day). This is recalled by the way in which Old Major’s skull is dug up, cleaned and presented as an object of veneration for the animals.
In the new society, Napoleon and Snowball become the main rivals for political power, just as Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky had their rivalries in the early days of the Soviet Union. Eventually, Napoleon seizes power and chases Snowball away, echoing how Stalin seized power and forced Trotsky into exile. The way Napoleon and Squealer try to discredit Snowball’s reputation as a war hero mirrors the negative stories Stalin and his allies spread about Trotsky’s military efficiency as a leader of the Red Army.
Napoleon’s dramatic show of confessions and executions in Chapter VII mirrors Stalin’s Great Purge, in which hundreds of thousands of political opponents were either directly executed or sent to die in prison or labour camps. Much like in Animal Farm, the ‘confessions’ of the criminals were often fabrications (or at least very unreliable) since they had often been produced through torture, or were exaggerated by the government afterwards.
In general, Squealer’s attempts to persuade the animals that Napoleon’s rule is benefitting them and that production is improved since Jones’ time recalls Stalin’s reliance on propaganda, which he used to brainwash citizens and convince them of his programme’s success. Alongside this, Stalin used a network of secret police (the KGB), informers and prison camps (the gulags) in order to create an atmosphere of terror and to control his citizens. In Animal Farm, this aspect is reflected in the role of the dogs, who combine forces with Squealer to stop the animals from questioning the propaganda they are given.
Towards the end of the novel, the plot starts to reflect the events of World War II.
Mr. Frederick, the neighbour who at first seems to be Napoleon’s ally, eventually betrays him by paying him with forged money, and then attacks Animal Farm. This reflects the relationship between Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler during WWII, as they initially had a non-aggression pact, but ended u...