“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
A close evaluation of Animal Farm testified to the fact that Orwell, like Acton, is of the view that power is a corrupting agent. Christopher Hollis’s remark on this aspect of the book would not be out of place to quote here:
“It is Orwell’s humour to show no great difficulty in the task in which they had expected their main difficulty-in the seizure of power-but enormous and finally fatal difficulty in the task which they had hardly expected to present a problem at all-in the exercise of power when seized.”
The thesis that power corrupts is traceable to Acton and Orwell’s treatment of it can be evaluated as both dependent on and independent of that of Acton’s. It is as much Orwell’s thesis as of Acton’s. That is not all. Orwell is not satisfied simply to say that power is corrupting force but feels tempted to observe that revolutionary forces, once in power, lose sight of their goal and purpose. Politics, according to Orwell, as according to Burnham, is the struggle for power, and nothing else. Animal Farm, viewed in this way, is a political satire, which makes fun not only of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Soviet Russia but of all revolutions of all times. It is not only a mockery of Communism but of all isms oblivious of their goal on the one hand and human values as a whole on the other. It is not only great poetry that transcends its immediate source of inspiration; a great novel like Animal Farm too can do that. It is an established fact that the book was conceived abinitio to bring to light the corruptions of the communist revolution, but it turned out to be a commentary on all revolutions, a magnum opus of political literature, which has permanence and universality of appeal.
Revolutions are inspired by sublime sentiments. At the barn meeting, Major lays stress on the need to rise to the occasion and assume control over the affairs and manage them benevolently. He points out that man is their exploiter who appropriates to himself all the fruits of their labour. Man has enslaved animals. Not only their body but their soul is in bondage. Hence it is incumbent upon them to throw off their yoke and set up republic which will be run without copying the ways of man. He denounces man’s habits as vile and wicked. Hence when the animals have become masters of the farm they should not sleep in bed, wear clothes, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, handle money, indulge in trade or kill another animal. They must remember the elementary fact that all animals are equal. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy and whatever goes on four legs is a friend. In such a Republic the strong shall protect the weak. ‘From each according to his capacity and to each according to his needs’ should be their guiding rule in all their activities.
The down-trodden and the suppressed animals stick to this noble ideal. But when they get rid of Jones and his men, and the animals are free to act on their own, the ideal suffers an ugly change. Even on the very day of the Mid-summer Eve rebellion, it is proved that the last commandment that all animals are equal, is liable to be defied. Napolean reserves all the milk for his own community of pigs. Class division has already come into being. In the matter of food, the pigs are proclaimed more equal than the other animals, and hence they are provided with butter and rich diet.
Next, the pigs move into the farm house itself. They start sleeping in beds and using Jones’ crockery and all that. Squealer, the propaganda agent of the pigs, explains elaborately why pigs need to have these special facilities. They are the brain trust of the farm, he would say, and as such have to plan for the farm which involves mental activity. To keep their energy at par they need special kind of diet and special kind of comforts. If they are not given this special treatment, the planning, which they handle will suffer; the farm will run to chaos and Jones will return to retake it. The threat of Jones’ return silences all the other animals.
The pigs are certainly an intelligent lot, and they use their wits to grab more and more power. True it is that they do planning and have avoided manual labour. The manual part of the work is assigned to other categories of animals who work strenuously, the pigs merely moving about as supervisors, directing operations. They have become rulers.
However, the rulers themselves work at cross purposes. Napolean and Snowball compete for supremacy. Napolean succeeds at last by means of sheer cunning. When the windmill scheme of Snowball is put forward, Napolean has no cogent arguments to oppose it. He simply pronounces it as impractical and urinates on the blueprint. And at the Sunday meeting where the scheme is put for voting he lets loose the dogs whom he has secretly -nursed and trained to be loyal to him. The dogs ferociously fall upon Snowball and chase him out of the farm. By means of organised violence, Napolean becomes an unrivalled master of the farm and arbiter of the destinies of the animals.
In order that he may have all the power in his own hands, he abolishes Sunday meetings where matters are popularly discussed and debated upon. He decrees that all policies will be considered and evolved at the in camera meetings of the pigs presided over by himself and the final decisions will be conveyed to the animals. The pigs who protest are marked down as traitors, to be dealt with at an opportune time. Again, when Napolean begins to dismiss Snowball’s contribution to the Animal Farm as worthless, Boxer, the loyal and hard-working cart-horse, protests. So Boxer also is black listed. When Napolean realizes that the farm cannot pay its way and the windmill cannot be built without importing essential things from without he initiates his new economic policy of trading with humans. When the hens object to the sale of their eggs, Napolean orders a cut in their rations and starves them into submission and surrender.
Next, Napolean perpetrates a terrible shock on the inmates of the farm by carrying out the great purge. His ferocious pack of dogs fall upon the heretic pigs, on Boxer and the hens. Boxer, of course, is able to frighten away the assaulting dogs. But all the others are torn to pieces on the spot. And what is ironically astounding is that the victims confess to reasonable activities. These forced confessions and the punishments meted out to innocent creatures show the extent of corruption that the greed for power has generated.
With his position firmly established, Napolean shamelessly casts all decencies to the winds. He gets all the seven commandments modified to suit his selfish aims. Finding alcohol pleasant, he gets the relevant commandment prohibiting it to be modified so as to make it permissive. The recast commandment is made to read-“No animal shall drink to excess”; the last two words added to the original text cleared the way. Similarly, to justify the purge, he gets the sixth commandment modified to read
‘No animal shall kill another animal without cause.’
Thus, invent a cause and kill an animal. Life becomes harder and harsher by and by for the inmates of the farm other than pigs who without the least sense of shame copy man in walking, dressing and smoking openly and ostentatiously. Corruption bred by power makes the pigs luxuriously show-minded, devoid of all sense of decency, dignity and decorum. Finally, all the original seven commandments are scraped and a new one inscribed in their place which reads
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Corruption is no longer apologetic. It claims legality. At the banquet to Pilkington, Napolean formally declares without compunction that his farm is not Animal Farm, but the Manor Farm exclusively owned by the pigs. The use of the word ‘comrade’ is prohibited and lower animals are strictly kept in their places.
Orwell draws our attention to the fact that an organisation is bound to fall from its pedestal as soon as acquisition of power becomes the guiding and driving force. Animal Farm thus poses the problem of the corruptive influence of power at every level without suggesting a remedy against the evil.