Historical Context

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Last Updated on July 8, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599

Animal Farm’s Publication History and Reception: Though Animal Farm enacts the events of the Russian Revolution, Orwell was prompted to write and publish Animal Farm in response to concerns he had about censorship within the British media during the 1940s. Though critical of Lenin and Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s, Great Britain allied with Stalin’s Soviet Union in the latter half of World War II. To garner public support for this alliance, the media began to censor anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet publications. In his proposed preface to Animal Farm, Orwell describes the British press as 

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“extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics . . . At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia.” 

Orwell wrote Animal Farm in order to convey the nature of the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s Soviet regime to the people of Great Britain and the Western world at large. Rejected by four separate publishers, among them T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber, Animal Farm was eventually published on August 17, 1945. 

  • Animal Farm was an immediate success. Popularized by favorable critical reviews in the US, Animal Farm quickly become a radio play, a printed cartoon, an animated film, and a mainstay in educational curricula. By 1950, when Orwell died, 25,500 copies had been issued in Britain and 590,000 copies had been issued in the US. Since publication, Animal Farm has been translated into all major European languages, as well as Farsi, Telugu, Icelandic, Ukrainian, and other languages across Asia. Many cite the novel as having inspired refugees and resistors of totalitarian regimes over the course of the twentieth century.

Animal Farm as an Allegory of the Russian Revolution: In 1917—the midst of World War I—Russia was in a particular state of crisis. Though a nation of 157 million and rich in metal ores, it had struggled to industrialize the way other European countries had in the previous decades. As a result, soldiers were sent to the front without proper equipment. As casualties mounted, poor working conditions, low wages, and food shortages intensified unrest in the cities. In February, a popular revolution forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate. Power was shared between the bureaucrats who had formed his government and representatives from councils of working-class interest groups. By October, continued frustration within the working class caused another violent revolt, this time led by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik party. After years of civil war, the nation coalesced into the Soviet Union in 1922, with Lenin at its head. With the support of other Bolsheviks, including Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, Lenin worked to enact an economic policy similar to that described by Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Upon Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin began to consolidate power and eventually had Trotsky exiled in 1928. Stalin ruled the Soviet Union as a dictator until his death in 1953. 

  • “Every line I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism,” wrote Orwell in the summer of 1946. A journalist, theorist and self-identified democratic socialist, Orwell fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War alongside other left-wing groups, among them the Communists and Spanish Trotskyists. When the Communists gained partial control of the Spanish government in 1937, Orwell witnessed the ruthlessness with which they attacked other left-wing groups that might pose a threat to their power. Never having stepped foot within Russian territory, Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a satirical allegory, illustrating the means through which a dictator can rise to tyrannical, totalitarian power. 

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Significant Allusions