This novel is an allegory of totalitarian rule, particularly Stalinist Russia. It is set on a farm owned by a Mr Jones. At the beginning, one of the wisest of the animals, Major the pig,when dying, calls the animals together to outline his vision for an ideal future society where farm animals will be freed from oppressive human rule and will govern themselves. This ideal is enshrined in an old animal song called 'Beasts of England.' In this way Major fires the animals to stand up for their rights. Led by the pigs,this revolution against human rule is successfully accomplished. One of the pigs, an outstandingly brilliant and charismatic leader called Snowball, particularly distinguishes himself during the climactic battle against Mr Jones and other humans.
In the first flush of victory, the animals settle down to create their new free society. The pigs, by dint of their intelligence are the natural leaders. However a power struggle also begins between Snowball and another pig, Napoleon, who is not as brilliant but much more cunning. Snowball is manoeuvred out of power and eventually has to flee.
Napoleon now is set on grabbing all power for himself, and it gradually becomes apparent that he and his cohorts do not intend to let the other animals be free and equal either, as was the original ideal of the Revolution. He is backed up by the brute power of the dogs and his rule becomes more and more tyrannical, as he weeds out any opposition to his rule. Many animals are put to death, after a series of show trials in which they are forced to confess to plotting against Napoleon. The other animals that are left are forced to work hard for little or no reward, just like in the bad old days under Mr Jones. Even utterly faithful, if rather dim, animals like old Boxer the horse suffer; Boxer is unwittingly taken away to his death when he is no longer fit to work. The old idealist vision of 'Beasts of England' is replaced by a fulsome tribute song to Napoleon, and eventually the revolution degenerates to the point where the pigs actually take up with the old enemy, humans, once again, becoming literally indistiguishable from them by the end. Thus the revolution, and the ideals of Animalism all come to nothing, as the whole thing is hijacked by the power-loving Napoleon and his ilk. The book makes the sombre point that even the most idealistic of revolutions scarcely, if ever, translate into reality.