Animal Farm and the Russian Revolution

Animal Farm is based on the Russian Revolution and what subsequently happened in the USSR. As such, some of the key figures in the book are based on actual people.


Karl Marx was a philosopher and writer who developed the idea of communism, the notion that the working class will rise up and seize control, creating a classless society where wealth is shared. In the novel, he is represented by the wise and benevolent pig Old Major.


Tsar Nicholas II ruled Russia at the time of the revolution in 1917. He was nicknamed Bloody Nicholas for ruthless massacres like Bloody Sunday. In the novel Animal Farm, Tsar Nicholas II is represented by the drunk and brutal Farmer Jones.


Leon Trotsky was a key figure in the Russian Revolution. After the death of Vladmir Lenin, who was leader of the communist party, there was a leadership struggle between Trotsky and Stalin. Defeated, Trotsky lived the rest of his life in exile. In the novel, Trotsky is represented by the pig Snowball.


Joseph Stalin was a brutal dictator who ruled the USSR between 1922 and 1952. It is estimated that his brutal reign caused the death of several million people. In the novel Animal Farm, Stalin is represented by the ruthless pig Napoleon.

Political Systems

Animal Farm is also a much more interesting book if you have a basic understanding of different types of political systems.

Democracy. A system of government where the people elect officials who represent them in parliament. Examples include Australia, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States of America.

Totalitarianism. A system of government where there is a single party. No elections are held and the government maintains control of the people through propaganda, the use of military strength, violence, terror and mass surveillance. Totalitarian governments often have a strong and charismatic leader. Examples include the USSR, Nazi Germany, North Korea.

Socialism. A political and economic idea which says that the means of production, such as factories and farms, should be owned by the people and profits shared equally.

Communism. A revolutionary socialist movement where the exploited working class will rise up and take control, creating a socialist society where the people own the means of production and wealth is distributed evenly.

Dictatorship. A system of government that is ruled by one person. There is usually very little freedom. Examples include Nazi Germany, North Korea.

Left and Right Politics

You’ll often hear people talking about a ‘left wing politician’ or a ‘right wing writer’. Left and right politics is a way of thinking about two dominant but very different ways of thinking about how we should organise society. The diagram below shows how these opposing sides of politics think about society, the economy and families.

Who was George Orwell?

George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984, is renowned for his commentary on politics and society. These novels have become important cautionary tales about how power can be abused. Do a little research on George Orwell and answer the following questions:

  1. Where was Orwell born? What nationality was he?
  2. What was his real name? Why did he write under the pen name George Orwell?
  3. What were Orwell’s political beliefs? What role did he play in the Spanish Civil War?
  4. What does the phrase ‘Big Brother’ mean? What does the word ‘Orwellian’ mean?
  5. What were Orwell’s six rules for writing?

Bonus Question: Summarise Orwell’s advice for making a good cup of tea.