The Communist Manifesto and Animal Farm are both historical documents which vividly reflected the most important socio-economic contradictions and political movements that took place in the last two centuries. Both works can be said to be part of a continuum of the struggle between ideologies and socio-economic system – of perpetuating capitalism and establishing communism in societies the world over. The Communist Manifesto was the defining work of Karl Marx, the father of scientific socialism and dialectical materialism, which articulated the rallying cry for liberation of the working class and the proletariat in 19th century Europe, at a time when the theory of socialism and communism was at its infancy. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, on the other hand, can be viewed as a scathing repudiation of the kind of political and socio-economic system Communism had become under the leadership of Josef Stalin, which was totally different from how Marx and Lenin envisioned it to be. In all of these, it is clear that both the Communist Manifesto and Animal Farm are adequate historical signposts to shed light on the path the Communist ideology took in the last two centuries, and whether it remained truthful to its end goal of liberating the working class from the yoke of poverty, exploitation and oppression. This paper will seek to describe and discuss major contemporary political, social, or economic events that influenced the writings of Marx and Orwell when these two works were published.
The Communist Manifesto
The opening line of the manifesto speaks of a specter that haunts Europe – the specter of Communism. Marx also describes, using historical materialism, the necessity for the proletariat of the world to rise up in revolution – to smash the capitalist system and establish socialism as a stage of transition before communism. It speaks of the dialectic between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, both of which represent antagonistic interests and contradictions which will never be resolved despite promises of higher wages and better living conditions for the people, notwithstanding explaining the fundamental difference between proletarians and a communists in which both do not have contradicting interests, only that the latter is the most advanced and resolute of the working class in destroying the bondage of their slavery to capital. The Manifesto also discussed the different kinds of socialism that existed in the history of the world prior to the development of the theory of scientific socialism by Marx and Engels in which it was concluded that all theories and forms of socialism that existed failed because it was not based on deep theoretical understanding of the dialectics between classes and the relations of productions throughout history – from the development of a slave society to feudalism until the establishment of the capitalist system in Europe.
Nonetheless, the obvious basis for writing the Communist Manifesto originates from the excesses of the explosion of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, in which peasants who flocked to the cities to work in the factories were severely exploited by capitalist owners of the factories, through extremely low wages and poor working conditions, as the eight-hour workday was yet to be struggled forth by the proletariat. More so, the world has been changing drastically by the start of the 19th century, especially when the French Revolution became successful in dismantling the feudal lands of the French monarchy and freed the peasants from their bondage to the land – signaling the end of an old and rotten economic system and the entry of a new one – capitalism. The economic factors of the colonial system also corresponded to the birth of capitalism as the dominant economic system as the industries produced so many goods to the extent that the colonial system became the repository of surplus products which could not be sold in Europe – planting the seeds of what would now be known as modern imperialism. On the other hand, an unlikely admission was given by the Manifesto – that at a certain period in the history of humanity, the bourgeois themselves was a revolutionary force as the masses that dismantled feudalism from the monarchies and landlords. This fact is a pivotal element of the Manifesto because it showed the loose alliance between capitalists and the toiling masses, insofar as revolutionizing the means of production, only to destroy such an alliance when the capitalists themselves are now in the reins of power.
The Communist Manifesto was also written as a critique of the other socialist theories and programs that existed prior to Marx’s scientific socialism, such as reactionary socialism, conservative socialism, and critical-utopian socialism. Marx concluded that all of these failed to truly establish socialism as the leaders and followers of these movements do not essentially seek to dismantle the capitalist system in the countries in which it exists but only provide false hopes of liberation to the masses. The Communists, on the other hand, are the only political movement in existence that truly works for the fundamental interests of the working class, struggling for their immediate aspirations and ultimately taking care of the future of that entire class of oppressed and exploited peoples.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm was written at a time when the Soviet Union was under the leadership of Josef Stalin, in which the Russian Revolution was turning into a nightmare to the Russian people and all other nationalities that soon after joined the Iron Curtain. The book was fable that had very obvious references to historic figures of the communist movement such as Leon Trotsky, Stalin, Marx and Lenin. It depicted the communists as a movement in betrayal of the foundations of classical Marxist theory and practice of liberating the proletariat from exploitation and oppression as Stalin, in his long years in power, had been busy purging the Communist Party of traitors and sending rich peasants and landowners to gulags to be tortured and executed by the Red Army. No less than Leon Trotsky (Snowball in the Animal Farm), the Soviet Union’s most brilliant military tactician, was believed to have been ordered executed by Stalin. On the other hand, the Animal Farm also depicted the political contradictions between the Soviet Union and the capitalist states such as the Russian Civil War when soldiers from capitalist states tried to remove Bolsheviks from power shortly after the October Revolution, notwithstanding the tacit collusion between Nazi Germany and Stalin in 1939, prior to the betrayal of Hitler of his promise of non-invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Animal Farm also showed how the people under intense Stalinist repression struggled forth and asserted their rights against the Soviet dictator especially when peasants destroyed their agricultural products instead of giving these to the government. However, these struggles by the masses against a leader that supposedly represented their interests were met with heightened forms of repression through torture, executions and forced disappearances, allegedly perpetrated by Soviet security forces led by the KGB.
When Animal Farm was written, the Soviet Union was the only worker’s state in existence in a world that was dominated by capitalist countries and its colonies and neo-colonies. World War Two had just ended the Chinese Revolution of Mao Tsetung had yet to establish its foothold in Asia. But in a short span of decades after the glorious revolution in 1917, the promise of communism seemed more horrific than the excesses and poverty that enveloped much of the capitalist world, especially during the time of Stalin. Under his reign of terror, the hope for a better life and a better world for the peasants and the workers became just a pipe dream with Stalin emerging as no different from the Tsar and capitalists in other states in terms of oppression and exploitation to the extent of utterly dismantling the basic tenets of Marx and Lenin combined. Instead of the state withering away as Lenin predicted, Stalin created a police state and an overarching bureaucracy that controlled most of the people’s lives. Instead of producing more agricultural and industrial output as a result of socialist collectivization, hunger and poverty was a daily reality inside the Soviet Union during his time. Under Stalin, it can safely be surmised that the conditions were almost comparable to the wretched conditions during the despotism of the tsars.
The Promise Continues?
The two historic works presented the theory and practice of communism in two very different ways – communism in theory as Marx predicted, and communism in concrete practice under the leadership of Josef Stalin. In the context of present economic contradictions of the world capitalist order and the failures of the Soviet Union, it cannot still be safely said that the ideology is dead, as the working peoples of the world have yet to find another alternative to communism that would truly secure their fundamental interests and rights. However, it must be unequivocally stated that the theory of communism can never be left into the hands of tyrants and despots as it would totally betray the purpose of the nature of communist struggle and society as a class in struggle for the building of better world and a better future. By handing power to tyrants, even communist societies become no different from slave societies, feudal lands and capitalist orders in which the people – the masses – are forever exploited and oppressed by those at holding the reins of power.
- Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederick. The Communist Manifesto. 1847.
- Orwell, George. Animal Farm. United Kingdom: Secker and Warburg, 1945.