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Opinions : Essays : Orwell's Political Messages
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Opinions : Essays : Orwell's Political Messages

from Rhodri Williams (

Orwell once said that he wanted to "make political writing into an art". What are the political messages he expresses in his books 'Nineteen Eighty-four', 'Animal Farm' and 'Homage to Catalonia'?

Orwell's ambition as a political author was to "make political writing into an art" ('Why I Write'). He saw his duty as being to "attack the Right, but not to flatter the Left". His political views were shaped by his experiences of Socialism, Totalitarianism and Imperialism all over the world. In his essay 'Why I Write' (1946) he admitted that "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly against Totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism, as I understand it".

Orwell wrote about his experiences of the Spanish Civil War in 'Homage to Catalonia'. During the war Orwell began to realise the true nature of Stalin's rule in Russia. The actions of the Communists in Spain exposed to him how false the idea was that Russia was a Socialist State. He then went on to write Animal Farm as a way to remind people about the true facts of the Russian Revolution and the nature of Stalin's rise to power, becoming a totalitarian dictator. Essentially Orwell wanted to save Socialism from Communism. It was the realisation of Orwell's fears about Stalinist Russia and the rise of Totalitarianism that inspired him to write his final novel 'Nineteen Eighty-four' - an Anti-Utopian novel depicting a world where Totalitarianism had taken over.
Orwell wrote 'Animal Farm' primarily as an allegory of the Russian Revolution thinly disguised as an animal fable. Orwell specifically had Russia in mind but also draws from his experiences in Spain to show that all well-meant societies are at risk. The major theme of 'Animal Farm' is the betrayal of the Russian Revolution and the way that good will can fall prey to ambition, selfishness and hypocrisy. 'Animal Farm' also addresses the abuse of power. Gradually as the pigs gain more and more power they find it harder to resist temptation. Soon their "resolution falters" (Ch.I )and they "adopt his vices"(Ch. I ) - they move into Jones' house, drink alcohol and engage in trade with the other farms (all things which Old Major had specifically urged them not to do). Orwell's message is that any society which has leaders with absolute power is ultimately doomed to failure due to the inevitability of leaders manipulating power for their own personal benefit. Orwell mocks the pretence that any such society could be regarded as being fair or equal - hence addition of the suffix "but some animals are more equal than others" to the original commandment "All animals are equal". The philosophy of 'Animalism' in 'Animal Farm' quite clearly is designed to represent Marxist-Communism. The parallels between the commandment "Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy" and Marxism's hatred of Capitalism is obvious. What started off as a philosophical set of ideas by Karl Marx was transformed into a means of propaganda by Stalin. In 'Animal Farm' the theory of Animalism is drawn up into seven commandments exclusively by Snowball, Squealer and Napoleon. Animalism quickly becomes a means of breeding such a great fear of man into the animals so that they would become even more determined to work hard. Orwell is attacking Stalin for betraying the revolution to suit his own ends.

Orwell hints at the shortcomings of Old Major's Marxist teachings in a number of subtle ways. The supposition that all animals are "comrades" is undermined straight away by the fact that the dogs and cats openly show hostility to the rats, who "only by a swift dash for their holes" escape from the dogs with their lives. A second thing which undermines the Animalist maxim that "All animals are equal" is the fact that even before the revolution there is evidence of a basic hierarchical society. The pigs straight away take their places "immediately in front of the platform" (Ch.I) when the animals meet to hear Old Major's speech, thus signalling the fact that they are seen as more important than other animals. It is the pigs who take it upon themselves to direct the revolution, and it is they who assume leadership after Jones had been driven out.
Animal Farm follows the events of the Russian Revolution quite closely with characters from the book representing real life people or groups. The way that Orwell presents these real-life people in the book gives an insight into his political feelings.

Old Major represents a mixture of Marx and Lenin. He preaches the Marxist Doctrine of Revolutionary Socialism and provides the basic beliefs which later become the Seven Commandments. He is presented as being a kindly, wise, natural leader who has a dream about a Utopia where 'All animals are equal' (Ch. I ). Orwell shows Old Major in a sympathetic light - Old Major is seen as having good intentions but too much of a naive idealism to realise that not all animals share the same public-spiritedness that he has. Revolution leads to power, and once power is achieved it is prone to being abused. Orwell himself believed that revolution was not the answer - he believed that revolution was not a way of changing society : it was in fact merely a way of keeping it the same. Revolutions often have good intentions and provide new faces with a new rhetoric but soon it is hard to tell the new faces from the old. The answer according to Orwell was reform, not revolution : Reform really changes. Orwell believed that The Left in Russia had been tricked into revolution by its enemies.

Farmer Jones represents Czar Nicolas II who was the leader of Russia before the Revolution. Right at the start of the book Orwell shows Jones as being a drunk, neglectful Farmer who cares very little about his animals. The farm was in a terrible state - "the fields were full of weeds, the buildings wanted roofing, the hedges were neglected, and the animals were underfed"(Ch.I). Orwell clearly wanted to show that Nicolas was a bad ruler who ran Russia for his personal benefit only. The animals were clearly oppressed and had good reason to want change. Orwell deliberately contrasts the improving way of life for the animals after the revolution with the poor lives they had under Jones. He also draws parallels between Jones's drunkenness and the drunkenness of the pigs after they had moved into the house. Jones and Napoleon are as bad as each other - both exploit the animals for his own benefit : they are typical all-powerful dictators motivated solely by self-interest.
Orwell's attitude towards religion is shown through the way that he presents Moses the Raven who symbolises organised religion in Russia. Orwell is very critical of religion, describing Moses as being "a spy, a tale, bearer but also a clever talker". At first Moses was loyal to Jones, just as the Russian Church had been to the Czarist Regime. Orwell showed how Moses's tales of a heaven called "Sugarcandy Mountain" were useful to Jones as a way of keeping the animals in order - religion gave them hopes of a better life after they died and their belief made them more willing to accept their current harsh lives. Religion was contrary to the beliefs of Socialism and so the Church was heavily opposed after the revolution - hence Moses' disappearence. Moses's return in Chapter IX represents the way in which Stalin allowed religion to re-establish itself in Russia as he realised that he could use it ,just as Nicolas II had, as a way of pacifying the animals. Orwell showed religion to be a both a crutch for the animals to lean on when times were bad (gave them unrealistic hopes for the future), and also as a means of preventing rebellion against authority (whether it be Czarist or Communist).
Orwell's views about Trotsky were mixed and these contrasting feelings are shown in the way he describes Snowball (who represents Trotsky in the book). Snowball is shown to have been a key factor in the success of the Battle of the Cowshed - his bravery was inspirational to animals around him. Orwell also describes him as being "brilliant and inventive" in Chapter 2. Snowball is also shown to have a darker side - the fact that he supported Napoleon's seizure of the apples shows that he is also susceptible to greed. Orwell clearly preferred Trotsky to Stalin, but saw him as merely the lesser of two evils - the main difference between the two being that Stalin used terror and force in order to assert his authority over the animals and Trotsky main support was gained from his inspiring speeches. Snowball's collaboration with Napoleon leads us to wonder whether life for the animals would really have been much better under Snowball than it was under Napoleon.
Orwell's attitude towards Stalin is hinted at even in the naming of his equivalent in the book. 'Napoleon' was the name of a famous French revolutionary leader who tyrannised his people and was regarded by some as being the Anti-Christ. As far as Orwell was concerned, Stalin represented the main force behind the threat to true Socialism. Stalin claimed to be committed to making a fair and equal society but Orwell saw him in a very different light. In 'Animal Farm' Orwell closely follows Napoleon's rise to power and illustrates to the reader how Napoleon used cunning and brute force to gain and maintain power on Animal Farm. Orwell is keen to try and show how evil Stalin was and how far removed the way he ran Russia was from the original Marxist Socialist beliefs which had been the inspiration for the revolution in the first place.
The character Boxer in 'Animal Farm' represents the typical loyal, hard working, man in Russia. His name originates from the Boxer Rebellion in China which signalled the rise of Communsim in China. Orwell shows Boxer as being an honest worker who follows Animalism faithfully without fully understanding its more intricate details. Boxer is of limited intelligence and has complete trust in the pigs. His maxims "Napoleon is always right" and "I must work harder" are ultimately his downfall - he works himself to exhaustion and is sent off to the knackers yard by Napoleon, not realising his fate until it is too late. The example of Boxer is used by Orwell to show to the reader that even the most loyal and honest people suffer under such a brutal regime. The fact that Napoleon sends Boxer off to his death signals to the reader how corrupt this Stalinesque figure has become. Boxer's demise illustrates what can happen to those who have blind trust in their rulers.
The dogs in 'Animal Farm' are a metaphor for the Terror State which Stalin created in Russia as a means of keeping his political opponents in order. They are a tool of oppression for both Jones and Napoleon. Their lack of loyalty to Animalism right from the start puts the whole principles of Animalism into question. If "All animals are comrades" then why do the dogs attack the rats at the first meeting in the barn?
The gradual changing of the Seven Commandments of Animalism is one of the main devices which Orwell uses when illustrating to the reader the extent of the betrayal of the revolution. The commandments, which were themselves a crude simplification of Old Major's teachings, were altered by Squealer in order to suit Napoleon's requirements. The fact that even these blatant changes went almost unnoticed by many of the Animals shows how little they really understood Old Major's teachings and casts further doubt on Old Major's supposed "wisdom".
The constant arguing between Snowball and Napoleon over almost every issue (most notably the windmill) on Animal Farm caused great tension. Within Russia the arguements between Trotsky and Stalin were also never-ending. Orwell mirrors this in the situation between Snowball and Napoleon, saying how "These two disagreed at every point disagreement was possible". In the same way that Trotsky was exiled to Mexico due to Stalin's fears that Trotsky's supporters would assasinate him, Snowball was chased out of the farm by Napoleon who feared him in a similar way.

Orwell wrote 'Nineteen Eighty-four' to try and show how political systems can suppress individual freedom. 'Nineteen Eighty-four' is a warning for the future that of what society could become should totalitarianism be allowed to achieve dominance. The totalitarian Dystopia in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' is inescapable for those who suffer under it and is constantly changing for the worst. The world of 'Nineteen Eighty-four' is a model of Orwell's idea of a Totalitarian state that has evolved into its ultimate form. However, Orwell is not trying to make a complete and accurate prediction of what the world will be like in the future under a totalitarian government, but instead he presents it as an extreme instance that sheds light on the nature of current societies that already exist. Shortly before his death Orwell spoke of 'Nineteen Eighty-four', saying "I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe that something resembling it could arrive".
Orwell once said he writes "because there is some lie that I want to expose". It is this fundamental lie upon which the political structure of 'Nineteen Eighty-four' rests. The very slogans of the party are contradictions : "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength". In writing 'Nineteen Eighty-four' Orwell wanted to expose the cruelty of political oppression and the kind of lie on which that inhumanity depends.
'Nineteen Eighty-four' can be interpreted as an antipolitical book - the nightmarish world in which Winston lives is one where politics has displaced humanity and the state has stifled society in its quest for total control over its inhabitants. The purpose of the Party was not to rule for the general good, but in order to have control over everyone and everything. Power is everything. The most startling concept that Orwell deals with in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' is the idea that a political party could see power as being the ultimate goal. The Party rules over its people without even the pretence that it is governing for the benefit of the people.
In 'Nineteen Eighty-four' Orwell used the form of Scientific Romance because it allowed him to express his political messages in the form of a novel. Orwell used the Scientific Romance in a realistic way in order to drive home his political point - that a Dystopia such as the one in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' is a human possibility. Essentially Orwell is warning us of what may happen should certain dangerous political trends be allowed to carry on.
'Nineteen Eighty-four' has a narrow plot which focuses solely on the life of Winston Smith. However, Orwell makes a political point from this - Winston Smith is the only person left who is worth writing about; all the rest have been brainwashed already. When considering the title for the novel Orwell mentioned in a letter that he was considering "The Last Man in Europe" - a clear indication that he saw Winston Smith as the last true free thinker in Europe.
The political and human aspects of 'Nineteen Eighty-four' are very closely linked. Every thought that Winston makes against Big Brother is Thoughtcrime, every time he writes another entry in his diary he is risking arrest, even embracing Julia was "a blow struck against the party". His very relationship with her was "a political act".
In 'Nineteen Eighty-four' Orwell examines how the human spirit copes under the worst conditions possible. Winston is, as O'Brien laughingly calls him, "the guardian of human spirit" - a half starved wreck of a man. He is the last person alive capable of free thought against The Party. Orwell shows how political organisations are capable of doing anything in order to reach their goals. In this case The Party's goal is to eradicate individual thought and they are prepared to do anything in order to achieve their goal and think nothing of torture. Winston's heresy is his insistence on the individual's right to make up his own mind rather than having to follow what the Party perceives as truth and so he is tortured constantly until, eventually, he has learned to "love Big Brother"(Section 3, Ch.VI).
In the world of 1984 there has been no improvement in the living standards of the average person since1948. Big Brother had deliberately kept it this way in the belief that should people not have to concentrate on trying to get the bare essentials for life then they might turn their attentions to demanding more from the Party. Orwell makes a political point from the similarity of living conditions in 1948 and 1984. The opening chapter of 'Nineteen Eighty-four' describes how the lift seldom worked even "at the best of times", that "the electricity was cut off during daylight hours", and how he had to use "coarse soap" and "blunt razor blades". Winston has a nagging belief that life used to be better than what he could remember but he couldn't prove it - when he spoke to the old prole in a pub the only fact that he could extract from him was that "the beer tasted better before Big Brother".
The description that Orwell gives of Big Brother as being "a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features" immediately brings the image of Stalin to the reader's mind. 'Big Brother' is the icon of the Party and it is under his name that every Party announcement is given - "every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration" (Part II, Ch.IX, Goldstein's book, Chapter I).
The character of Goldstein is designed to resemble Stalin's political arch-enemy Trotsky. Just as in 'Animal Farm' a Trotsky-like scapegoat is incessantly blamed for all problems and is labelled an enemy of the people by a government led by a Stalinesque figure. Goldstein's book "The Theory and Practise of Oligarchical Collectivism" is an obvious replica of Trotsky's "The Revolution Betrayed". The sections of Goldstein's book which are printed in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' serves two purposes - firstly it identifies many of the ways in which the Party manipulates its own people (they are merely "cheap labour"), and secondly it mocks Trotsky's revolutionary rhetoric of polysyllables and ridiculous paradoxes such as "The fields are cultivated with horse plows while books are written by machinery".
In Section 1,Chapter 7 Winston writes in his Diary "If there is hope, it lies in the Proles". However, there is no evidence of any revolutionary desires amongst the Proletariat at all in the novel. O-Brien laughs at Winston in 3.3 for placing his hopes in them and declares "The proletarians will never revolt". The reason for this is that the Proles do not show the intelligence, or the desire to revolt - The Party no longer fears the proles because as a class they have become totally demoralised. Orwell himself confessed in a letter written in 1940 "I have never met a genuine working man who accepted Marxism".
One of the major issues in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' is the nature of freedom and the way that Totalitarianism has the capacity to destroy it. Winston's comment in his diary that "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four" encapsulates Orwell's belief that the individual must have the right to make up his own mind, regardless of official political party lines. Orwell saw his role as a writer to be the objective conscience of a society - he was trying to express the truth as he saw it.

'Homage to Catalonia' differs from 'Nineteen Eighty-four' and 'Animal Farm' in that it is a non-fiction account of Orwell's actual experiences rather than an allegorical work of fiction or scientific romance novel. Orwell is describing events as he sees them, putting his own views across about real events. Orwell's experiences in Spain when fighting in the Civil War had a major effect on his political attitudes - before Spain he had read much about Socialism and had experienced varying degrees of Socialist rule, but this was the first time that he experienced an attempt to put a truly Socialist society into practice.
Orwell came to Spain as a journalist and claimed to be "uninterested in the political situation" (Appendix I). He joined up in the POUM militia because he wanted to fight against the forces of Fascism (for this was how he saw the situation at that time, his knowledge mainly based on English newspaper reports).
Orwell showed his bitterness at the Communists regularly after he left Spain, once commenting how "The Spanish Communists and their Russian allies were bent not on making a social revolution happen, as most Western intellectuals believed, but on preventing one from happening". Instead he saw the Communists as being the true Conservatives - they simply used their rhetoric of radicalism in order to bamboozle the Spanish people. The issue of power which was crucial in both 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-four' raised it's head in 'Homage to Catalonia' - the Communists were not Socialist, they were merely extremely adept at obtaining power and keeping it.
Orwell's motive when writing 'Homage to Catalonia' seemed to be to simply tell the truth about the events in Spain. However, this 'truth' that Orwell was so desperate to write about was focused around the treachery of the Communists in Spain. Many historians have taken issue with Orwell's harsh words about the Communist influence, saying that they had to tone down the radical elements of the Federalist side (the militias) in order to try and encourage other European countries to supply them with the much needed weapons with which to fight Franco. It was certainly true that most of the West preferred the prospect of a Franco-run Spain than a radically socialist one. Recent studies have also cast doubt on Orwell's accusation that the Communists deliberately held back weapons from the militias, fearing that they might get into the hands of Franco's troops.
In 'Homage to Catalonia' Orwell describes the terrible conditions that he had to endure whilst fighting on the front line for the POUM. He and other troops had to endure "boredom, heat, cold, dirt, lice, privation, and occasional danger". The rats that ran riot all over the trenches were one of the most horrible, and most common problems. The ever-present rats which Orwell had to endure provided inspiration for his description of the dreaded "Room 101" in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' where they attacked Winston and caused him to eventually cry out "Do it to Julia! Not me!" and consequently betrayed his love for her.
Although the chapters Orwell wrote about the political situation in Spain were relegated to appendices because he felt he needed to separate them from his account of his own personal experiences, Orwell still devotes a lot of space throughout the book to political and philosophical topics such as the nature of Socialism. In chapter VII he talks of the "mystique of Socialism" and how Socialism to most people "means a classless society". It was this attempt to create a classless society which Orwell found so intriguing. Orwell talks enthusiastically about the militias dotted around the front line and described them as "a sort of microcosm of a classless society" (Ch.VII) - it was the sense of comradeship and hope that permeated the militias that gave Orwell's "desire to see Socialism established much more actual than it had been before". Orwell describes how in Aragon there were thousands of people "all living at the same level and mingling on terms of theory it was perfect equality, and in practice it was not far from it". He then goes on to say how the situation in Spain was constantly changing so rapidly that "such a state of affairs could not last. But it lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it". Orwell's short time in Spain during the early stages of the war modified his political outlook - now he could believe in Socialism, not just as a theory, but (at least in its early stages) as a reality. He had "breathed the air of equality" (Ch.VII).
The in-fighting between different factions of the Republican movement clearly distressed Orwell - it seemed to him that Spain was suffering from "a plague of initials" (Appendix I). When he arrived in Spain had the attitude "why can't we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?", but eventually even he was forced to take sides "For even if one cared nothing for the political parties and their conflicting 'lines', it was all too obvious that one's own destiny was involved". Orwell described himself as "a pawn in the enormous struggle being fought out between two political theories". It was, most definitely, far more complex than simply a case of a struggle between the forces of Socialism and Fascism.

Homage to Catalonia certainly provided a lot of inspiration for Orwell when he wrote 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-four' and their are many aspects of the book which link closely to them.
The most obvious link that joins 'Animal Farm', 'Nineteen Eighty-four' and 'Homage to Catalonia' is the way that they all examine the forces of totalitarian and socialist government. 'Homage to Catalonia' tells the story of Orwell's experiences in Spain in such a way that reveals not only what happened but his opinions, his feelings, and his political hopes. His two novels 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-four' are also primarily self-revalations about his political ideas. The in-fighting within the Republican movement in Spain, according to Orwell, was caused by the different factions becoming engulfed in a struggle for power. The corrupting influence of mans desire for power over his fellow man is one of the most major themes in both 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-four'. In 'Animal Farm' the revolution was betrayed by Napoleon in his quest for personal power and material benefit, and in 'Nineteen Eighty-four' Big Brother becomes the figurehead of an organisation whose sole goal is the acquisition and maintainance of political power.

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