Esteemed Beasts
The Economist, 23 July 1988



WHEN George Orwell called Animal Farm "the only one of my books I really sweated over", did he protest too much? Mr Igor Zakharov, a Moscow book, hound, thinks he may have done. He has turned up another story in which farmyard animals revolt against man, defeat him, and try unsuccessfully to run their own affairs; but this is "The Animal Riot", written in 1879-80 by Nikolai Kostomarov, an obscure Russian historian.

Mr Zakharov remembered Kostomarov when "Animal Farm" was published recently in a Lithuanian magazine. This was its first publication in the Soviet Union, although the book is well enough known there. Orwell's thinly veiled fable of the corruption of power in general and the shortcomings of Marxism in particular is treated, by Russians, as a non-specific satire on bureaucracy everywhere. Now they may have the extra reassurance of believing they thought it up first.

Had Orwell read Kostomarov? The two works have remarkable parallels. From Kostomarov, a speech by the Bull:

Brother bulls, sisters and cow-wives. Esteemed beasts worthy of a better destiny than the one which inexplicably befell you and made you a slave of tyrant Man! ... The hour has come to cast of vile slavery and take revenge for all our ancestors tormented by work, starved and fed repulsive feed, who collapsed dead under whips and heavy carts, who were killed at slaughterhouses and torn to pieces by our tormentors. Rally with hooves and horns.

From Orwell, a speech by the Major, an old boar (usually read as Lenin):

Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let's face it: our lives are miserable, laborious and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength ... Why do we then continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings. There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word-Man.

Kostomarov's story was published for the only time after the February 1917 revolution. "Animal Farm" was published in 1945. Their comparative ages may mean little. Animal fables, after all, go back as far as Aesop. Orwell freely admitted his admiration of Swift, and "Gulliver" undoubtedly lurks in the genealogy too. But Moscow News, which reported the find in its issue of June 26th, is not content with one Russian forebear for the tale. Are there not stirrings of "Animal Farm", it asks, in Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed"?





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