George Orwell once wrote: "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been … against totalitarianism." Animal Farm is no exception. Totalitarianism is a form of government in which the state seeks to control every facet of life, from economics and politics to the each individual's ideas and beliefs. Different totalitarian states have different justifications for their rule. For instance, Mr. Jones runs Manor Farm based on the idea that human domination of animals is the natural order of things, while Napoleon and the pigs run Animal Farm with the claim that they are fighting for animals against evil humans.
Orwell's underlying point is that the stated goals of totalitarianism don't matter because all totalitarian regimes are fundamentally the same. Every type of totalitarianism, whether communist, fascist, or capitalist, is founded on oppression of the individual and the lower class. Those who hold power in totalitarian regimes care only about one thing: maintaining their power by any means necessary. While the story of Napoleon's rise to power is most explicitly a condemnation of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, Orwell intends Animal Farm to criticize all totalitarian regimes.
Animal Farm depicts a revolution in progress. Old Major gives the animals a new perspective on their situation under Mr. Jones, which leads them to envision a better future free of human exploitation. The revolution in Animal Farm, like all popular revolutions, arises out of a hope for a better future. At the time of the revolution, even the pigs are excited by and committed to the idea of universal animal equality.
So what undermines the animal's revolution and transforms it into a totalitarian nightmare? Animal Farm shows how the high ideals that fuel revolutions gradually give way to individual and class self-interest. Not even Napoleon planned to become a dictator before the revolution, but as his power grew, he took more and more until his power became absolute. Revolutions are corrupted in a slow process. Animal Farm portrays that process.
One of the main tenets of Animalism is that all animals are equal. But quite quickly the pigs begin to refer to themselves as "mindworkers" to distinguish themselves from the other animals, who are physical laborers. Over time, this sense of separation takes hold: the pigs begin to discourage their children from playing with the children of the other animals, and then establish themselves as absolute rulers of the "lesser" menial laborers. Animal Farm shows how differences in education and occupation lead to the development of class, which leads inevitably to class warfare, in which one class seeks to dominate the other. Animal Farm suggests that the "mindworking" class will almost always prevail in this struggle.
Animal Farm doesn't just focus on the upper classes, however. In fact, it focuses more closely on the oppressed working class. The farm animals work so hard that they have no time to learn or educate themselves or think deeply about their world. Instead, they're taught that work is their contribution to society, their way to freedom. Boxer believes that "I will work harder" is the answer to every problem, though he never perceives that the pigs exploit his effort. Benjamin occupies the other extreme: he recognizes what's going on, but his cynicism stops him from taking action against the pigs. In the end, Animal Farm implies that whether because of ignorance, inaction, or fear, the working class allows itself to be dominated by the "mindworkers."
Animal Farm shows how the minority in power uses vague language, propaganda, and misinformation to control the thoughts and beliefs of the majority in the lower classes. The pigs, especially Squealer, become extremely sophisticated and effective in their attempts to rewrite the rules of Animal Farm and Animalism. They even revise the farm's entire history in order to mislead the other animals into believing exactly what they say. By the end of the novel, the animals on the farm believe Snowball fought against them at the Battle of the Cowshed even though they saw him fight with them. They believe life on the farm has improved even though they have less food than ever, and that Napoleon has their best interests at heart even though he kills those who disagree with him. As the only literate animals on the farm, the pigs maintain a monopoly on information that they use to build and hold their power.
While Animal Farm condemns all forms of totalitarianism, it is most explicitly a bitter attack on the Soviet Union. Though Orwell supported the ideas of Socialism, he strongly opposed the Soviet Union's descent into totalitarianism under Stalin. Animal Farm satirically attacks the Soviet Union by mirroring many events from Soviet history in the novel. The events of Animal Farm that mirror historical events in the Soviet Union, such as the revolution and the subsequent corruption of its ideals, will be highlighted and discussed in the Summary and Analysis sections.