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Most dictatorships depend on propaganda and propagandists, and certainly this is true in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. Orwell knew very well that a dictatorship, in order to maintain power and impose order, cannot simply rely on brute force but must also try to control the thoughts and feelings of the population. In Nazi Germany, the infamous propagandist Joseph Goebbels imposed tight control over nearly every aspect of German culture. In Animal Farm, the equivalent figure is a pig named Squealer, who eagerly does the bidding of his master, Napoleon (modeled on the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin).
The novel’s first description of Squealer already suggests that he will make an effective propagandist:
He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, which was somehow very persuasive. The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.
This ability to “turn black into white” is crucial to most propagandists, and it later proves very important when the regime must explain how Animal Farm’s former enemy (a farmer named Frederick) has suddenly become its ally:
Napoleon assured the animals that the stories of an impending attack [by Frederick] on Animal Farm were completely untrue, and that the tales about Frederick's cruelty to his own animals had been greatly exaggerated.
This moment in the book is clearly an allegorical reference to the famous non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, which allowed Hitler to launch World War II and which allowed Stalin to seize half of Poland. Stalin’s propagandists suddenly had to explain how Hitler, whom the Soviets had condemned for years as an enemy, was now a friend. Later, when Hitler launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Soviet propagandists then had to explain that Hitler was now an enemy again. Perhaps Orwell is alluding to this kind of cynical flexibility when the narrator mentions Squealer’s ability to skip “from side to side.”
As Stanley G. Payne writes in his book A History of Fascism: 1914-1945,
The beginning of the European war was greatly facilitated by Soviet policy, which found nothing repugnant about a secret deal with Hitler for the elimination of independent states. For Stalin, the pact seemed a brilliant stroke . . . . [page 361]
As Albert L. Weeks notes in his study Stalin’s Other War, shortly after the signing of the pact, “foreign observers noticed a diametrical shift [in attitudes toward Germany] in Soviet propaganda" (page 73).
Orwell clearly had such real-life incidents in mind when he presented his allegorical picture of the usefulness of propaganda in the Soviet Union.
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