Chapter I introduces us to the idealism upon which Animal Farm and Animalism will later be built. In explicating Animal Farm, some critics stress Orwell’s broad focus on totalitarianism over his specific criticism of Stalinism. After all, Orwell saw the threat of totalitarianism (and elitism) manifested not only in Soviet Russia but also in places such as Spain and colonial Britain. However, despite Animal Farm’s far political reach, Orwell did write it as a cautionary tale about Stalinism specifically and, as we shall see, matched its plot quite closely with Russian history. We can read the novel as both a specific and a general allegory.
Old Major assumes the role of philosopher, creating a detailed model for a utopian society. His role is also that of visionary or prophet because, smart as he is, part of Major’s vision of the future came to him in a dream. In his roles of philosopher and visionary, Major represents the political theorist Karl Marx. Old Major is older and wiser than the other animals, a fact that mirrors history. Marx and his theories predated (and therefore influenced) the ideas of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. All three men were still children at the time of Marx’s death.
Major’s vision of mankind’s problems and his plan for a utopian society closely match the tenets of Marxism as expressed in The Communist Manifesto. Major’s ideas of the animal and Man correspond with Marx’s views of the common man and the elite. We should bear this symbolism in mind as we examine Major’s speech. First, Old Major focuses on the exploitation of the animal by Man, who is concerned only with making a profit. Although the animal does all the work, it gets no stake in what it produces because man controls not only the means of production but also the means of distribution. Marxism argues that the common man becomes confused by the elite’s self-serving ideology and becomes separated from its true nature. In the same way, Major says that Man keeps animals in submission only because he is the one creating the ideology and the rules. In order to claim their destiny of being “rich and free,” the animals must overthrow Man.
Major also represents Vladimir Lenin, the foremost author of the Russian Revolution and of the formation of the Soviet Union. If historically Marx played the role of grandfather theorist, then Lenin played that of young interpreter and motivator. Old Major not only bestows his theory upon the animals, he awakens them from the dreamtime of Man’s ideology and rouses them to action. He does so with the help of “Beasts of England,” a revolutionary song that helps the animals envision the “golden future time” when they will live free of man’s (literal and metaphorical) yoke. Orwell also connects Major to Lenin by his use of the word “comrade,” which is associated with communism.
If Major represents Marx and Lenin, two revolutionary forces, then Jones represents the existing totalitarian regime. He symbolizes imperial Russia and the ineffective Czar Nicholas II. Jones stands for an ideology and methodology that have been in practice for a very long time. In all the history of Manor Farm, the animals have never risen up against him nor thought of doing so. Though they are superior in numbers and strength, they cannot match his intellectual capabilities (or at least think they cannot). We should also note that Moses the raven is Jones’s “especial pet.” Moses represents the religion that, in the Russian Empire, was connected closely with the throne. Jones feeds Moses bread soaked in beer to keep him tame, just as the Russian throne cooperated with the Church but kept it on a tight leash. Under Marxism-Leninism, religion is one of the things that appeases the common man and makes him easier to subjugate; as Marx famously stated, “religion is the opiate of the masses.” It has no value in a truly utopian society, such theorists believe, because people are satisfied in reality and no longer feel the need to rely on faith or the promise of heaven. It follows that Moses is conspicuously absent from Major’s big meeting.