‘By the Light of the Harvest Moon’: Orwell, Animal Farm and Revolution

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Abstract

Animal Farm as an explicit political fable and unmistakable allegory of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism is still widely seen as a powerful warning against the idea of revolution in general. As Robert Colls notes in his 2021 afterword to the Penguin edition, ‘Orwell called it “A Fairy Story” but there was nothing gentle or unworldly about events he described … of one thing we can be sure. Animal Farm is a very bad place for animals and no advert for revolution’. Even some writers coming from the revolutionary left accept the essential argument that ‘Animal Farm is a “right wing” book by a “left wing” writer’. Yet Orwell himself disagreed when it was put to him that Animal Farm showed revolutions always descend into tyranny, writing to Dwight Macdonald that ‘I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job’. This essay will demonstrate the critical Trotskyist and anarchist influences on Orwell’s writing of Animal Farm, which is best understood as a revolutionary classic within a broader anti-Stalinist literary tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to George Orwell
EditorsTim Crook, Richard Keeble
PublisherRoutledge
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2025

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