Learning from Revolutions Past: History Brush Up, Nov 9

For reasons too roundabout to get into, I recently re-read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In light of an upcoming discussion about revolution, here’s a quick summary of this remarkable childhood classic if you, like me, have forgotten the details.

From his deathbed, the pig, Old Major urges the animals of Manor Farm to rebel against their drunken owner, Mr. Jones. After Old Major dies, two ambitious pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, prepare the animals and lead a successful attack, chasing Jones out of the farm and renaming it “Animal Farm.” 

Post-revolution, Snowball scurries about forming committees for everything from egg laying to fly swatting, while Napoleon undertakes the education of the youth, a litter of puppies. 

It’s a bona fide animal paradise – for all of about two pages. This idyllic existence degrades with terrifying swiftness. The rest of the animals don’t really understand Snowball’s grand plans for the farm, and tend to agree with whoever is talking at the moment.

So, when Napoleon ousts Snowball in a violent coup backed by his grown-up-and-nasty puppies, and then dispatches his lackey Squealer to spread manipulative propaganda, what tools do the horses, cat, and cows have to protest? 

For the rest of the book, Napoleon undermines the original rebellion for his own benefit in sly, sneaky ways until the pigs are getting drunk, sleeping in beds, wearing clothes, walking on two feet, and making deals with the other humans. It’s as if the animal revolution never happened. 

Our president has been accused of autocratic tendencies, like dear pig Napoleon, but the book makes clear that well-meaning liberals like Snowball need to do more than form committees. Folks acting under the banner of “the resistance” now could do well to learn the lessons of Orwell’s Animal Farm, and the real revolutions of the past. 

An upcoming Oregon State University event organized by two student groups, the Allied Studies for Another Politics and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, will take us from imaginary to real revolution, presenting a discussion about four significant revolutions – the Haitian Revolution, Mexican Revolution, Russian Revolution, and the German Spartacist Uprising of 1918 – with OSU professors, Dr. Robert Thompson (Ethnic Studies), Dr. Joseph Orosco (Philosophy), Dr. Tony Vogt (Philosophy/Sociology), and Dr. Barbara Muraca (Philosophy). 

Stop in to learn about each of these revolutions, and how they can inform your actions today. 

Revolution Matters will be held 12 to 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9 in the Oregon State University Memorial Union’s La Raza room.

By Maggie Anderson

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