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Fun with allegories: Orwell/Hitchens edition

Posted by Christopher Shea  April 20, 2010 01:13 PM

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"Animal Farm" is--obviously, famously--an allegory: It was George Orwell's attempt to jolt the left out of its infatuation with the Soviet Union, to strip aside the romanticization of communism and lay bare its awful reality. As such, the pigs serve as stand-ins for the Soviet leadership (as well as its precursors). Old Major, a "purebred" and something of a philosopher, is the Karl Marx figure, laying out a vision of revolution but leaving the details of implementation to others, not to mention dying before the real action starts; Napoleon is the ruthless Stalin, cloaking totalitarianism in the language of the revered Old Major; Snowball is a doomed Trotsky, peddling an arguably less corrupt vision of animal revolt and self-rule.

Revisiting Orwell's novel, in the Guardian, Christopher Hitchens points out a striking omission--and makes a bold claim about the originality of his insight:
There is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig. Similarly, in Nineteen Eighty-Four we find only a Big Brother Stalin and an Emmanuel Goldstein Trotsky. Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time (and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took me years to notice what was staring me in the face).

Hitchens has, indeed, has made the argument before. Online references trace his observations about the lack of a Lenin figure in "Animal Farm" to his book "Why Orwell Matters" (2002). Yet here is the British socialist and lecturer John Molyneux, writing in 1989, in an essay called "'Animal Farm' Revisited," published in the journal International Socialism:

It is clear that Napoleon represents Stalin, just as Old Major is Marx and Snowball is Trotsky. Who then represents Lenin? Since Orwell depicts the Rebellion as led by two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, one is forced to the conclusion that Napoleon also represents Lenin. Thus in Animal Farm the figures of Lenin and Stalin are merged into one character. This is of enormous ideological significance."

It's important because communists as well as historians have long argued over whether Leninism invariably led to Stalinism. As Molyneaux writes, "the merger of Lenin and Stalin in Napoleon forecloses on this possibility, and greatly strengthens the impression of a smooth and inevitable degeneration into dictatorship."

Bloggers who follow left-intellectual debate are having fun at Hitchens' expense. Scott McLemee titles his post on the subject "It is Time That We Pay Tribute to the Absolutely Unique Insights of Christopher Hitchens, Is It Not?" And at the blog Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism, a writer who posts as, fittingly, Snowball takes the opportunity to brand Hitchens a "Squealer" for our time. That is, an "intellectual who prostrates his talents by making propaganda on behalf of the ruling class." Whether on the farm or in the blogosphere, internecine argumentation on the left can be a rough business.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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