Those of us who mistrust the evolution of our current politico-economic system, often look toward dystopian novels to portray a warning glimpse of where we are headed. The two most common examples are 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. While there certainly are elements of each of these systems in our recent history, for instance, the deliberate maleducation and permanent warfare systems of1984, and the technological bread and circuses mentality of Brave New World. In reality our ruling class cannot afford to go too far in either of these directions, lest they undermine our own ability as slave labor to keep them empowered.
The progressive managerial class revolution and the banking mafia consolidation of the early 1900s conspired to create something that looks, more than anything else, like a warped version of Marxism. Taking Marx’s revolutionary mechanics and applying them against their own original objective in a sense, creating a dictatorship of the super-proletariat, and thus, forming a much more stable class system than before. In fact one might say that Marx’s greatest error was in thinking that the proletarian revolution would be some sort of endpoint in history, when in fact it was just one more cyclical change of hands. Therefore, I submit that the dystopian novel that was the most prescient was the lesser known of Orwell’s: Animal Farm.
Animal Farm was Orwell’s warning to the left about what he saw becoming a greater and greater danger. This danger can be summed up in his quote, “All animals are equal, But some animals are more equal than others”. The book was essentially damned with faint praise. Brilliantly written, yet more subtly than 1984, it could not be roundly thrashed by either right or left critics; but it could be put aside as an afterthought.
Looking at the history of what broadly constituted the labor movement arising in the aftermath of the abolition of chattel slavery, one sees a definite progression in the direction of Animal Farm, in the countries that did not fall completely under the spell of Totalitarianism. At first, the goals were often simple and quite egalitarian, and yet also surprisingly libertarian as well. Freedom for the working man from the oppression of the capital oligarchy (which was itself the result of the British/Hamiltonian system of neo-mercantilism) and the wage slavery which resulted from it.
Even in the beginning however, there were many splits and threads. Some sought only the ancient protectionism revived and applied to labor as equally as capital. Marx called this “reactionary socialism”. But by and large, the movement began to gravitate toward the model of the IWW, at least for a short time. TheIWW was non-discriminatory and non-protectionist. Anyone who worked for a boss was welcome, and they applied pressure not to advantage some laborers against others, but as industrial unionists, as a unified working class front against all capital oligarchs. Over time this model of labor organization was growing more and more successful, yet also more and more internally fragile, as the new super-proletariat grew within the shell of the old proletariat, and the capital class began to scramble for new strategies and paradigms with which to defeat them. It was at this time also that Anarchism began to solidify as a political/social/philosophical movement, as a unified model through which this free labor movement could express its ideas. The IWW and its ilk were ostensibly apolitical, if not anti-political, but not officially anarchist. Several prominent members were, and many more were sympathetic to anarchism as a complement of their own movement.
The “progressive” movement of the early 1900s ostensibly sought much of the same “reforms” of working conditions that the apolitical labor movement did, but in a manner that was more amenable to the ruling class. As they grew more powerful, so did the more monopolist trade unions (once called craft unions), who were willing to compromise in order to make short term gains, at the expense of non-privileged workers.
The pigs had begun to diversify themselves from the rest of the four legged bunch. Of course the progressives and trade unionists still found a certain token opposition from hard line Hamiltonian capitalists who clung to the idea that they could simply convert chattel slavery into wage slavery and crush all opposition. But the force of the laboring class had shown most of the ruling class that those days were over. And in fact, this opposition proved exceptionally useful to the New Class forming up. They could position themselves as friends of the working man, albeit in a paternalist, technocratic manner. Their propaganda was the need for experts, rationality, control, to hold back “the excesses of the Robber Barons” and yet at the same time to guide the working class, to make them “efficient”, turning the language of the economists against their own original insights. And when the bankers engineered panic after panic, sacrificing their own lesser brethren in order to foreclose on vast tracts of land and corporate assets, everyone knew there had to be a Plan. And of course there were two. The “Aldrich Plan”, which openly consolidated the banking industry in the hands of a few private oligarchs. This was (rightly) harshly opposed and denounced, only to be replaced by the “Federal Reserve System”, which was de facto much the same plan, but even worse, because it integrated these oligarchs into the national currency.
It was the “progressive” President Woodrow Wilson who signed this act into law. It was the bankers who engineered the ability to wage World War I. It was this same progressive President who entered us into the war, who used the war as an excuse to destroy what remained of the more anarchistic industrial union movement, and its backbone of mutual aid.
Without the mutual aid programs of the free labor movement, the population on the margin of the sub-proletariat, the unemployed, disabled and other “undesirables” were completely at the mercy of the Government. It would be the technocrats who would decide whether or not they would eat or find shelter. All of these progressive, social democratic programs, create a class dependency that would not otherwise exist, necessary as they might be in a world with a crippled, sycophantic labor movement. They hollowed out the social force and class consciousness of the marginal sub-proletariat. No one dares bite the hand that feeds them, until they grow too desperate to do otherwise.
And so it goes on even today, with the “right wing” farmers and “left wing” pigs working hand in hand to keep the system going as long as possible. And sometimes, you can’t really tell who is who:
Summer arrives. Squealer is seen to take all the sheep of the farm aside, and no-one sees them for a week. The sheep eventually return. That evening, as the animals are returning to the yard from work, Clover is heard neighing excitedly from the yard. The animals rush forward to see what is happening. They stop dead when they all see what has startled Clover. It is the sight of Squealer walking upright, on his hind legs. At this moment, all of the pigs leave the farmhouse in single file, all upright on two legs. Finally, Napoleon emerges from the farmhouse, upright and carrying a whip.
It is the most shocking thing the animals have ever seen. It goes against everything that they have been taught up to then. Just as it seems that someone might object, the sheep break into a deafening chorus of “Four legs good, two legs better.” They went on for five minutes, during which the pigs walked briefly around and then returned to the farmhouse. The chance to protest is gone. Clover goes to the gable wall and brings Benjamin with her. She asks Benjamin to read for her what is on the gable wall. All the commandments are gone, and all that is written there now is “All animals are equal, But some animals are more equal than others.”
After this, the pigs and their sows start wearing clothes and carrying whips. They begin to have more direct dealings with the neighboring farmers. One day, the pigs invite a number of the local farmers to inspect the farm. After the inspection, the pigs and the farmers return to the farmhouse for a celebration. After a time, loud noises of laughter and singing are heard through the windows. The other animals are overcome with curiosity, and they approach the farmhouse to see what is going on. They look through the windows to see the pigs and farmers seated around the living room table, playing cards, making speeches and congratulating one another. Mr Pilkington makes a speech telling the pigs how impressed he is with Animal Farm, especially with the hard work and poor rations of the farm animals. Napoleon makes a speech in return, expressing his happiness that the mistrust between Animal Farm and the others is now at an end. He furthermore announces that the animals will cease to address each other as “Comrade,” and that “Animal Farm” will now revert to being called “Manor Farm.” As Napoleon finishes his speech to great applause, the animals outside seem to notice something changing in the features of the pigs, but what?
As the applause dies down and the card game is resumed, the animals creep away from the window. However, they hurry back when they hear a furious argument break out. The argument is because Mr. Pilkington and Napoleon have both played an Ace of Spades at the same time. But as the animals look from Napoleon to Pilkington, from man to pig and from pig back to man, they find that they are unable to tell the difference.” — Last Four Paragraphs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
C4SS Contributing Writer Anna O. Morgenstern has been an anarchist of one stripe or another for almost 30 years. Her intellectual interests include economic history, social psychology and voluntary organization theory. She likes piña coladas, but not getting caught in the rain.