Moses the Raven is a paradox to many of the other animals. When the pigs first begin to educate the other animals about Animalism, their hardest struggle is to “counteract the lies put about by Moses, the tame raven” (2.8). Moses is the Joneses favorite pet, and he is a very clever talker. He tells the animals about a mysterious country called “Sugarcandy Mountain” that gives them hope that one day their labor and suffering will come to an end (2.8).
During the Rebellion, Moses goes flying away after Mrs. Jones and disappears for a number of years. Yet he returns after the Battle of the Windmill, and once again begins spreading the myth of Sugarcandy Mountain. The other animals are confused because the pigs “declared contemptuously that his stories about Sugarcandy Mountain were lies, and yet they allowed him to remain on the farm, not working, with an allowance of a gill of beer a day” (4.7). It’s clear that the pigs think that Moses is a fake, but they also recognize that he is somehow useful to them.
So what’s the deal with this clever raven? Moses represents the Russian Orthodox Church, which was very closely aligned with the tsars of Russia up through Nicholas II. After the Bolshevik Revolution in October of 1917, the separation of church and state was declared for the first time in Russian history. The Bolsheviks proclaimed something like freedom of the press, saying that anyone could profess their religious or anti-religious opinions. The Church, as we see when Moses goes flying after the Joneses, was out of luck.
During the Russian Civil War, the Church’s bad luck continued when it sided with the White Army, the combination of various anti-Bolshevik groups that lost the war in 1922. After that, things became even more difficult. Under Stalin, the Soviets actually carried out a program against religious orthodoxy. Many priests were executed as part of the Stalinist "purges," and in other places churches were defiled. (See "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more on Stalin's "purges.")
Aside from the fact that the Church seemed to wind up right in the middle of mass national hysteria, the communist message is often interpreted as being anti-religious. By breaking apart the churches, the goal of the Stalinists was to replace religion with secular rationalism. In other words, reason and science were supposed to rule the day, and religion was seen as obsolete.
Karl Marx famously referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses.” In other words, he thought of religion as a drug that kept workers calm so that capitalists could take advantage of them. It is this initial prejudice that the most faithful of the Animalists carry over in Animal Farm. Moses is spreading “lies” that allow the farm animals to be exploited.
It’s not surprising that as conditions worsen under Napoleon, then, he once again sees a need for Moses. When Stalin was attempting to drum up patriotic support for the war effort against Germany in 1941, he once again re-instituted the Church; he began to see how it could assist a totalitarian leader.
When Moses returns, it’s easy to be fiercely cynical (as Benjamin would be) and simply scoff. Now that Napoleon and his dogs have become the oppressors, they once again see a need for the raven to go on and on about Sugarcandy Mountain, and they’re all too happy to buy him off for “a gill of beer a day” (9.8).
Yet it’s worth remembering that Marx’s famous line continues. He writes that religion is not only “the opiate of the masses,” it is a “heart in a heartless world.”