Animal Farm is one of the most famous tracts of the 20th century. It’s a prescient warning against totalitarianism. Its influence is such that phrases such as “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” are still used today.
Yet for several years before its publication in the United Kingdom, Animal Farm was censored. Why did this happen? Well, the answer is quite simple.
It criticized the Soviet Union.
Animal Farm may have been about animals, but the farm was quite obviously the Soviet Union. Napoleon, the dictator pig, was obviously Stalin. It was in the midst of World War II at that time, and the Soviet Union was bearing the brunt of the Nazi attack. The Russians were a vital ally of the United Kingdom.
No reputable publishing organization was willing to lay hands on a text which tarred the Soviet Union so blatantly. One publisher wrote:
I mentioned the reaction I had had from an important official in the Ministry of Information with regard to Animal Farm. I must confess that this expression of opinion has given me seriously to think … I can see now that it might be regarded as something which it was highly ill-advised to publish at the present time. If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators, that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships. Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.
George Orwell, in protest, included an introduction arguing for the need for free speech. He wrote a preface to the novel which can be found here. The preface included the argument that:
At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia. Every-one knows this, nearly everyone acts on it. Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable. And this nation-wide conspiracy to flatter our ally takes place, curiously enough, against a background of genuine intellectual tolerance. For though you are not allowed to criticize the Soviet government, at least you are reasonably free to criticize our own. Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin, but it is quite safe to attack Churchill, at any rate in books and periodicals…
Stalin is sacrosanct and certain aspects of his policy must not be seriously discussed. This rule has been almost universally observed since 1941, but it had operated, to a greater extent than is sometimes realized, for ten years earlier than that…You could, indeed, publish anti-Russian books, but to do so was to make sure of being ignored or misrepresented by nearly the whole of the highbrow press. Both publicly and privately you were warned that it was ‘not done’. What you said might possibly be true, but it was ‘inopportune’ and ‘played into the hands of’ this or that reactionary interest. This attitude was usually defended on the ground that the international situation, and the urgent need for an Anglo-Russian alliance, demanded it; but it was clear that this was a rationalization. The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy.
Times were different back then. It takes a very different frame of mind to think of a world in which this “nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR” exists amongst the British intellectual elite. The censorship of Animal Farm would probably not have happened in the United States, where anti-communism sentiment was much greater. Yet it happened in the same world we live in, albeit one different in surprising ways.