“Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves richer — except, of course, for the pigs and dogs.”
Animal Farm presents plenty of (obvious) parallels to the Russian Revolution and the formation of the USSR. It portrays the rise and fall of socialism, along with the farm’s transition from a democratic socialist farm (state) to a totalitarian one.
While reading Blair’s novel, however, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the capitalism and resultant economic and social inequality that is omnipresent in today’s society. Of course, this is merely my interpretation of his writing.
Below are some tenets of a dystopian capitalist society, that I believe we are headed towards — if not already — living.
Illusion of Choice
The animals on Manor Farm are oft mistreated by Mr. Jones and eventually riot and overthrow the farm when they are not fed for several days. As the story progresses, Napoleon and Snowball — by virtue of their supposed intellectual superiority — begin to accumulate power. They provide the other animals with the ‘right to vote’ and decide their own outcomes, while in actuality, there are merely given the illusion of choice. Napoleon establishes his monopoly over the farm when his dogs viciously chase Snowball away. He uses his dogs and threats of violence to assert his control.
Similarly, today, with the ever-growing number of monopolies — from AT&T, Intel and Google to Unilever, PepsiCo and Monsanto — we consumers are merely provided with the illusion of choice, when there really is none. This has not only allows us to be lulled into a false sense of pro-choice but also allows these companies to artificially raise prices.
Napoleon, initially through his speeches and later through Squealer, utilizes the malleability of the sheep and the loyalty of the other animals to propagate (false) political propaganda in order to further his agenda. The commandments are changed one by one:
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
Squealer even uses his skills of persuasion and the mindlessness of the sheep to convince the other animals that certain facts are untrue, and slowly subverts their memories and plants false truths. The Sunday meetings are no longer about discussing the spread of Animalism, but rather about persuading the animals that these new ration “readjustments” are necessary. The pigs even manage to convince them that conditions are still better than those that prevailed during Mr. Jones’ time. The animals go along with this, for they believe they have true free will and are working for their own benefit (and not that of Mr. Jones).
At present, we have Big Pharma telling us all that we need antidepressants to function normally, to improve ourselves — as if we aren’t living up to our true potential. Monsanto tells us imperfect fruits and vegetables are not fit for consumption. Even the Sugar Industry tells us that ‘low-fat’ (and thus, high-sugar) is good for us. Everywhere we go, from restaurants and billboards — in public, to the ads on television and our Facebook News Feed — in private, we are constantly bombarded by propaganda. All of us notice it; most of us don’t believe it affects our choices. Unfortunately, it does. The psychological subversion is slow, subtle, almost unnoticeable. Yet, our brains are malleable sponges, willing to lend a metaphorical ear to anything that will grab our attention. Why else do you think billions of dollars would be spent on advertising?
Wage Labor | Concentration of Wealth & Power
From the view of employment, the pigs have sole control over the amount of rations provided to the other animals. They further assert their control over the “wages” (food rations) — a key tenet of capitalism —when they claim all the milk and apples for themselves. Towards the end of the story, it is revealed that the pigs even have the deed to the farm in their name. The pigs continue to live a lavish lifestyle, drinking alcohol, carrying whips and sleeping in beds. The other animals of the farm live without lights, running water or sufficient food.
Wage labor refers to employment in which a free worker sells his or her labour for an indeterminate time (from a few years to the entire career of the worker), in return for a salary. They are not provided any equity in the company, and merely work for a wage that can barely sustain them, let alone their families. Wage labour has even been compared to slavery. This leads to further alienation of the poor workers, introduction of ‘classes’ — both in society and in the workforce, as well as concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. The workers are at the mercy of their employers for their salaries — just like the animals are at the mercy of the pigs. Meanwhile the employer continues to amass wealth and widen the economic gap between the employer and employee. Sure, workers have their rights, some disability and health insurance benefits, sometimes even a pension. However, this pales in comparison to those received by the employers.
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
Humanity has improved more in the last one hundred years than it has in the last one thousand. Yet, we still live in a world where children die of starvation and disease, people do not have access to basic sanitation or health care and food insecurity is becoming an ever-growing concern.
We know that Socialism is ineffective. However, Capitalism does not seem to be working much, either. I am at odds with finding an effective solution to bridge the socio-economic divide between the rich and poor. Perhaps the solution does not lie in big measures, but in small ones.
I ask you this, dear reader, how do you think we can bridge the socio-economic divide?