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Napoleon and Stalin:
In his Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx described his vision of the future, where the proletariat, or working class, rises up to topple the bourgeoisie and create a society without social classes. The Russian revolution of 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, attempted to do just that. Lenin died in 1924, several years after the revolution, and Joseph Stalin rose to replace him, forcing rival Leon Trotsky to resign. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Napoleon the pig represents Stalin, and he uses many of the same tactics as Stalin to obtain power. In order to secure their positions, both Stalin and Napoleon spread lies about their enemies, withhold information with the goal of spreading ignorance among their subjects, and force possible dissenters to confess to crimes that they have not committed.
Napoleon and Stalin each envision a society where they have authoritarian control, and they manipulate others to ensure their success. After Lenin died, “Stalin forced Trotsky to resign as a war minister and in 1927 expelled him from the [Communist] party.” Later, Stalin “had him assassinated” (Compton’s 2). Napoleon uses a similar method of eliminating his chief rival. During a debate about the windmill, “there [is] a terrible baying sound outside, and nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars [come bounding into the barn. They [dash] strait for Snowball” (Animal Farm 57). After their respective rivals are gone, Stalin and Napoleon spread lies about them. Their goal in doing this is to divert the attention of the people and animals away from their miserable economic conditions. Another action that both Napoleon and Stalin cognate is to establish five-year plans in order to catch up with competitors. These plans set extremely high goals for production which are rarely met. Additionally, the plans involve the rationing of goods. A final part of the economic plan for both Napoleon and Stalin is a large construction project; for Napoleon it is a windmill, and for Stalin it is a dam. The animals have a hard time building the windmill. “All year the animals [work] like slaves. But they [are] happy in their work this work [is] strictly voluntary, but any animal who [absents] himself from it [will] have his rations reduced by half” (Animal Farm 63). Deceit such as this is used commonly used by both dictators to ensure the happiness of the masses.
While Napoleon and Stalin resort to drastic measures to preserve their power, neither is successful in creating the society he envisioned. A reason for their failure is selfishness; each ruler betters his own conditions while the masses suffer. Stalin “[creates] a famine in Ukraine” and “[conducts] a series of purges” to secure support for his policies and suppress any resistance to him (Compton’s 2). Napoleon resorts to similar measures , and additionally bestows upon himself pleasures that were once forbidden. “You did not suppose, surely, that there was ever a ruling against beds? The rule was against sheets , which are a human invention” (Animal Farm 70). Napoleon’s selfishness leads to pain among the animals. “For days at a time the animals [have] nothing to eat but chaff and mangels. Starvation [seems] to stare them in the face” (Animal Farm 75). Napoleon, however, does not care about his subjects. Like Stalin, he is only concerned about how his competitors see him, and as a result both he and Stalin fail in their mission of creating an egalitarian society. Each does succeed , however, in acquiring and abusing power.
In Animal Farm, the initially hopeful revolution comes to a hopeless end after Napoleon takes over. From this we learn that while the members of a society ma hold certain ideals, their ruler will probably be self-motivated and ignore those ideals as much as possible. Throughout history, we have seen that the ideals of a revolution are rarely upheld, and visions of an ideal society usually disagree with the final reality. While such visions usually end in failure, they do have worth, for it is impossible to improve conditions without knowing how to improve them or what the final goal is. Hope, though not always satisfied, is necessary for survival, and those who live in bleak conditions need hope to look past the pains of life.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: New American Library, 1946.
“Stalin Joseph.” Compton’s Multimedia Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. 1999.
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