For anyone familiar with George Orwell there can be no analysis or scrutiny of his writing without first understanding Orwell’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War.
One could be forgiven for assuming that Thailand’s current Prime Minister/Coup Leader/Generalissimo/Prayuth Chan-ocha knew nor cared little for history when he recommended Orwell’s Animal Farm as necessary reading on the responsibility of citizenry.
One could safely assume that Prayuth knew little about Eric Arthur Blair’s adventures on the Iberian Peninsula when he said through his spokesman that Animal Farm teaches us that “even though we may want to have everything that is better, we may not be able to fulfill all of our hopes, and no one can make everyone happy.”
But the backlash that he has received from the general public is as misguided as the general himself.
Thais have gone online to say that Animal Farm was Orwell’s call for democracy and Prayuth was a misguided fool for quoting a book that undermines his position as despot and coup-leader.
Of course, Orwell opposed totalitarianism in all its form throughout his life but to say somehow that George Orwell was a great force for democracy is wishful thinking at best.
One should not conflate Orwell’s enduring hatred of a totalitarianism to a yearning for liberal democracy and capitalism.
Orwell was a revolutionary. In August 1937, as Nazi Germany built up its armaments and prepared for war, Orwell wrote;
“It is desperately necessary to get people to see through the humbug that is talked about ‘fighting against Fascism,’ or the next thing we know we shall find ourselves fighting another imperialist war which will be dressed up as a war ‘against Fascism’, and then another ten million men will be dead before people grasp that Fascism and so-called democracy are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Orwell, as we know through his writing, was sympathetic to Trotskyism and acknowledged the need for constant revolution. This brought him to criticize the British Empire and eventually the United States’ proto-imperialism.
Animal Farm was not a call for democratization but a warning of revolution gone wrong. It is not a marked criticism of despotism, 1984 is, but a warning over the dangers that revolutions will face and must overcome.
Orwell’s experiences fighting for the Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) in Spain showed him how easy it was for a revolution to awry and how certain charismatic actors can hijack a whole revolution and throw away a cause.
POUM and the volunteer corps from across the entire world fought alongside Stalinists, Anarchists and communists.
Eventually the Stalinist became the predominant force and began rounding up and persecuting allies for not believing in the right form of revolution.
This infighting eventually led the left to lose the Spanish Civil War to Francisco Franco’s fascist.
If anything, Animal Farm is warning to future revolutionaries on what not to do when overthrowing despots. It is a tome on the necessity of scrutinizing leadership, especially the ones allied to the same cause.