Recently sifting through the archives of George Orwell I came across a long letter apparently written by one of the late writer’s friends. The letter purports to be a follow-up to the events, which took place on Animal Farm, that unique experiment in animal self-rule:
My research brought me to the Farm in **shire, which you described so vividly in your book. I can’t tell you how excited I was to receive the Academy grant to study the only Farm in the world where Animals managed their own affairs.
I knew that full democracy at the Farm had been substituted almost immediately by the harsh rule of Pigs and their ferocious Dogs, so I was rather afraid to cross its well-fortified perimeter. As I was driven in a Horse-cart through the wide avenues of the Farmstead, Linda the Piglet told me that the horrors of oppression described in your book were now consigned to history and a liberal system had come into existence.
The place was one of the least efficient farms in the area. But the Animals were well fed and decently housed, though in rather shabby shacks. It was not a place of total equality; a small band of specially bred Pigs was in charge. But even their superior conditions did not seem to differ greatly from the rest – a bit more grub, a slightly bigger shack, access to a Farm-owned cart.
The Animals were not content. And the closer an Animal was to the pinnacle of power, the more dissatisfied she or he was. Linda’s dream was to go into the world of Humans and become the star of the Muppet Show. That evening she brought some friends round to my Human Lodge room. They were ruling Pigs and intellectual Foxes – the only kinds of the animals, which a stranger like me would meet at the Farm. The proletarian Horses and peasant Cows couldn’t speak Human language anyway.
They always complained. The Pigs compared their sty with palaces of Texan oil millionaires (they watched Dallas). I met one prominent Pig, Stinky, who had everything the Farm could give. He was the boss of the Massage parlour for the Ruling Pigs and therefore belonged to the elite. That meant unlimited grub, a nice sty in the Centre, a comfortable country cottage and opportunities to go to London and Paris.
‘You must be content with your life,’ I commented.
‘No, I am an unhappy creature,’ he whined, ‘whenever I go to Paris or New York I have to economize and stay in our own service flats. The joys of the Cote d’Azur are not for me, I cannot shop in the Faubourg St Honore.
‘But you have your own pretty vacation resorts, your own jewellers,’ I argued.
They are not as good as yours, – he said firmly.
The Foxes were even more unhappy. ‘We are forced to live in the same houses as horses,’ a Red Fox told me. ‘We with our superb education – living with those coarse beasts.’ The Silver Foxes proudly proclaimed their North American origin; one showed me an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica attesting to this fact. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘we could be living in Beverly Hills. I have a relative who moved back to America and has landed on Nancy Reagan’s shoulders.’
‘Life is so gorgeous outside,’ exclaimed Linda. ‘I once went to a Pig exhibition in Montreal. We stayed in golden sties, washed in huge bathtubs and were served real French fries. Just think: we all could have such a life. But our bosses will not have it. They keep telling us that Humans would eat us, slaughter us, take away our children… Tell us, how can we get rid of the ruling Pigs and join Humankind?’
I found myself in a dubious position. This enthusiasm for Human society was exciting and contagious, but the vision was patently too optimistic. I mumbled something about pork chops. Linda looked at me with horror: ‘I should have figured it out for myself – if you were invited to the Farm, you must have agreed to support Rotten’s brainwashing machine. It’s good that not all Humans are like that. Mr Johnson, for example…’
‘Who is Mr Johnson?,’ I inquired.
‘I am Mr Johnson,’ said a tall, blond, clean-shaven man in a well-cut grey suit who entered my room without knocking.
‘Dear Mr Johnson,’ the others greeted him. ‘You are back. Did you bring those little things you promised?’
‘Yes, I did. Here is a pack of Marlboros for you, Linda, and some Christian Dior for you, Stinky, and blue jeans for you, Rose…’
I learned that Mr Johnson was the heir to the huge Johnson Ranch to the West and was a regular visitor to Animal Farm where he would buy up surplus produce and sell nice things from the Big World.
He later told me that his father, Jamison Johnson senior, dreamed of making his eastern neighbour’s lands part of his estate. If modernized, Animal Farm could be a good source of income, producing milk, meat and hides…
Business aside, Mr Johnson senior was quite obsessed with the idea of regaining Animal Farm for people. ‘The thought of animals ruling themselves is a horrible profanity,’ he would say, ‘it could lead my cows and horses into temptation.’
Anyway, Mr Johnson junior had come that evening for a special religious occasion – to celebrate the Cargo Cult. Its Chief Priest was Stinky.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Stinky proclaimed, ‘let us thank our Great Benefactor, dear Mr Johnson. And let us thank The Great Box of Goods.’ The animals cheered.
But Mr Johnson had some bad news: ‘We tried to convince Chairman Rotten to sell us some meadows which border with our Ranch, but he didn’t agree. That is why you cannot have all the sweets and goodies you asked for, dear Stinky.’
‘Bloody Rotten,’ fumed Stinky, ‘What do we need those meadows for? We have enough meadows. It’s sweets we are short of. Next week I’ll come to your ranch and we shall see what we can do.’
They walked away hand in hand.
I did not understand then that I had witnessed the great moment: the beginning of the revolution, which was to change the face of Animal Farm…
A few days later I switched on the TV in my Human’s guest room in Animal Farm and instead of the usual stories about the Best Working Horses I saw Stinky’s visit to Mr Johnson’s Farm. It was just like a royal visit, with a red carpet and a sea of journalists and cameras. Overnight, Stinky had become the most popular Pig in the world. Even Animals who had known him for years started to look at him with new eyes as he proclaimed: ‘We shall make our life every bit as jolly as that of the Johnsons.’ Until now life on Animal Farm had been boring but easy-going. Every animal got its low quality but ample fodder and had no reason to work harder. But all this was going to change.
Then, Max the Fox – a Fox of good standing with many influential Pig friends -received a novel toy from Johnson. It was a glorious, flashing, Japanese videobox. A Pig with access to the press that printed the chits for hay sales bought the videobox. But Max the Fox made a smarter move: he used his small worthless chits to buy huge amounts of hay which he drove to Johnson’s to swap for 20 more videoboxes.
This made quite an impact on the Animals. Now they could see that the good life was not tilling fields nor weaving cloth, but selling videos and exporting hay. The Foxes and Pigs started to sell hay to bring in Human delights. And hay became scarce. Proletarian Cows and Horses had to queue, waiting for its delivery.
They stopped working: queuing for hay was consuming all their time. As hay became scarce Foxes discovered that they could get handsome profits by selling hay for more chits. And although the Horses and Cows were unhappy nobody understood their language.
Some old-style Pigs opposed Stinky. They thought one should leave some fodder for Animals, and they were supported by a small and esoteric group of intellectual Horses who tried to remind the Animals that life outside also included slaughterhouses.
But Stinky was unstoppable. When he introduced a new freedom of speech campaign, Mr Johnson Senior unveiled a competition for the best piece of journalism debunking Animal Farm’s past. All dark spots of the Farm’s history were exposed, all skeletons were removed from the closets, while life outside was truly glorified.
The Farm became a miserable place. Stinky was awarded honorary doctorates at Salamanca and Oxford but became increasingly unpopular back home.
‘Very soon Stinky will be overthrown, the Old Guard Pigs will rule again and we shall lose all our hard-earned villas and millions,’ said Max the Fox to his friends. ‘It’s time to act.’ He remembered Tough the Hog, once in charge of a farmstead but dismissed by the senior Pigs in a row over stolen tarts. Tough was a great admirer of the Human way of life, which he felt consisted of executive jets and whisky galore. Max found Tough inside his sty brooding over an empty bottle and offered him the chance of a lifetime…
Then Max went to Stinky and warned him of the danger: ‘You will be overthrown if you do not protect yourself. You must use the Dogs for your own defence.’
‘How can I – a Salamanca and Oxford Doctor of Philosophy – behave like an old founder of the Farm?’ Stinky whined. But eventually he agreed that the Dogs could be bought in on the sly.
Max chose old toothless Dogs and placed them around Stinky’s residence. Then Tough the Hog appeared with a carefully chosen band of Foxes. ‘Bite me if you dare,’ he exclaimed, ‘but you cannot stop the Animals craving for the Human way of life.’
These noble words were immediately broadcast by Johnson TV and brought many a cheer. The Foxes rushed for the palace, while the old Dogs could not figure out what they were supposed to do… Stinky claimed he had been imprisoned by the Dogs but this cut no ice with Tough’s band. He was dismissed and locked up. The Day of Great Victory over the Dogs was made a national holiday and a statue of Tough strangling a ferocious Baskerville Hound was erected on the main square.
‘The Pigs’ rule is over,’ proclaimed Tough the Hog. Pigs who supported Tough were renamed Swine. Tough did not care for the old style titles: he accepted a perfectly Human position of Executive Manager.
More and more meadows and pastures belonging to Animal Farm were handed over to Human ranch owners in exchange for Free Aid. Johnson fortified his fences to stop hungry Horses and Cows grazing there, and only Foxes and Swine engaged in export were allowed across.
‘But what could they export?’ I wondered – until I spotted Max overseeing a truck being loaded up with rather thin Cows.
‘It’s silly to be the only Farm that has lots of Cattle but does not export beef,’ he explained.
Some of the Animals – mainly Horses and few Pigs – began to notice what was going on and gathered in protest. ‘Animal Farm for Animals!’ they shouted. ‘Do not sell us to the butcher!’
The gates of Tough’s office opened and a pack of Great Danes stepped out. These were not old toothless creatures but strong, ferocious beasts that charged the crowd. Tough won the day – but discontent was strong. Even my guide Linda started to have her doubts as she saw her friends disappearing into the meat trucks.
Max the Fox, meanwhile, went to Mr Johnson Senior and came back with a contract: ‘Animal Farm will belong to Mr Johnson and will be called Johnson’s New Farm. Mr Johnson will provide the animals with hay. It is only natural that he will be free to take some animals to his facilities. Mr Tough will remain Executive Manager.
The contract was signed and that is how the troublesome history of Animal Farm came to its end. The new Human masters were forced to send quite a number of Animals to slaughterhouses. Nobody needed so many hay sales personnel…
Johnson made his Ranch even more efficient, closed a few outlying corrals and turned every literate Pig into chops. Foxes were sent to furriers and Johnson’s TV closed down as it now created inappropriate expectations among the Animals.
Thoroughly disgusted I left the blighted place. On board the train I met Max the Fox and Tough the Hog; they were on their way to Florida.
Israel Shamir is an Israeli journalist based in Moscow.