The animals on Manor Farm do not have an easy life. One night after the owner, Mr. Jones, goes to bed, Old Major, a big boar, addresses the other animals, saying, "The life of an animal is misery and slavery." He explains that the cause of all their problems is Man, declaring, "Man is the real enemy," He adds that animals are all comrades, and since they perform all the work, there is no reason that they need man. Old Major encourages the animals to rebel and to never adopt any of the habits of man. To incorporate his ideas, he has composed a song, which he sings.
After Old Major dies three days later, Mr. Jones has begun drinking in his disappointment over a lawsuit; consequently, he neglects the animals. When they go unfed, one of the cows breaks a shed open and gets some feed. Mrs. and Mr. Jones and his men hear the noise, but the hungry animals attack the men, frightening the humans so much that they flee. The farm is renamed Animal Farm and seven commandments are formed under their new philosophy of Animalism organized by the intellectual Snowball, the domineering Napoleon, and the eloquent Squealer:
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
Soon, the brilliant Snowball devises a plan for reducing the work load of the animals. Still, in the fall, some of the farmers help Jones to attack Manor Farm. The animals are victorious and Boxer and Snowball are the heroes in what they call the Battle of the Cowshed. At meetings, sheep repeat "Four legs good, two legs bad."
As time passes, it becomes apparent that Snowball and Napoleon have their own followings. Snowball proposes a windmill that can operate a dynamo which will supply electrical power to the farm; however, Napoleon argues that they must focus upon food production. Before a vote is taken, Snowball convinces the others, and suddenly there is the sound of the ferocious dogs, and he must flee for his life. Afterwards, Squealer becomes a propagandist and explains the noble qualities of Napoleon to the other animals, pointing to the exaggeration of Snowball's role in the Cowshed Battle. Then, three weeks after the disappearance of Snowball, Napoleon surprisingly announces his plans for a windmill, while the propagandist Squealer explains that Napoleon has only appeared to oppose the windmill as a way to be rid of the corrupt Snowball.
The following year animals work harder than the previous year; in addition, they have the advantage of not having to feed the humans, and in some ways the animal method is more efficient than that of the humans. Then, one Sunday Napoleon announces a new policy: He will engage in trade with humans. Remembering the words of Old Major, the animals are concerned that this action is a violation of their policy. But Squealer goes around the farm, assuring the animals that the resolution against trade was never passed, nor were other policies. Nevertheless, things begin to change, and the pigs have moved into the house.
One night a terrible storm knocks out the windmill, but Napoleon claims that Snowball has done this damage. When some animals confess under duress to being a part of a conspiracy, they are killed. Shortly after this brutal action, the animals begin to notice that the commandments have been altered, but if anyone mentions this, he is slain. Then, the anthem Beasts of England is done away and replace with a two-line slogan. Further, the commandments are all changed and the animals are told to address Napoleon "Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon." He becomes more and more corrupt walking on two legs and staying in the farmhouse, even drinking liquor. No longer do the sheep bleat, "Four legs good, two legs bad."
One day Manor Farm is attacked by Mr. Frederick, who has cheated the animals with counterfeit money. Napoleon, nevertheless, declares their defeat a victory even though the windmill is again destroyed and the animals suffer from a scarcity of food. In fact, their lives are harder than they were before the Rebellion. Having become more tyrannical, Napoleon has more animals put to death or exploited such as the hens whom he forces to lay eggs that he trades with the humans. After Boxer is injured, he sends the loyal horse to the glue factory. Eventually, the altered commandments are reduced to one, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Napoleon consorts with the men, in direct violation of the tenets of Old Major. But, his becoming like man marks Napoleon's defeat as a leader, and the farm's name is returned to Manor Farm. One night when the poor animals look into the lighted house, they cannot distinguish Napoleon from the men.
George Orwell's allegory is an effective satire of communism under Stalin as it demonstrates how power always corrupts. Some who come into leadership, such as Napoleon, never have any intention of working for the good of all.
Not only are the people physically oppressed under such totalitarianism, they are allowed no intellectual freedom as propaganda dominates their lives. Orwell, who had believed in democratic socialism, was greatly disillusioned by the history of Communism in Russia under the tyrannical Stalin, whose collective farms wrought the starvation of Ukranians and others, and whose vision demanded the killing of others.