Animal Farm opens with the news that old Major, "the prize Middle White boar" (1.2), has called a meeting to share a dream that he's had. As he explains his dream to the other animals, he points out to them that "Man is the only creature that consumes without producing," and he encourages them to "work night and day, body and soul, for the over-throw of the human race" (1.9, 11). In short, he explains that men have been taking advantage of them for years, and that it is time for the tyranny of man to end. His message, boiled down to a word: "Rebellion" (1.11).
What Orwell actually gives us through old Major’s speech is a simplified version of the basic tenets of communism, which were put down by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. The basic idea of the Manifesto was that the capitalist economic system was seriously flawed. The workers never saw the products of their labor because the capitalists – the people who owned the means of production (factories, land, etc.) – claimed the profit for themselves. Marx suggested that if common workers could overthrow the capitalists and claim the means of production for themselves, then all the workers of the world could live in peace with one another.
The Manifesto famously ends "The proletarians [common workers] have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, Unite!" Old Major essentially ends his speech the same way with his final call to "Rebellion!" Yet both Marx and Old Major are better at criticizing the existing system than at proposing a new one. As we’ll see very soon, after the Rebellion, the big question becomes: now what?
The Manifesto was written during a time of widespread revolutions across Europe, though it would not take hold in Russia until roughly sixty years after its publication. Yet even as it was written, Russia was, in many ways, primed for Marx’s message. Its serfs were not emancipated until 1861 so the country had an enormous peasant class, and it was ruled over by tsars, who were often known for being out of touch with the Russian people.
In other words, the barn animals are itching to overthrow Mr. Jones.