There’s an odd little episode after Napoleon’s executions that has to do with the need to sell a pile of timber to either Mr. Frederick or Mr. Pilkington. Mr. Frederick stands in for Hitler or Nazi Germany at large, and Mr. Pilkington stands in for the United Kingdom (or perhaps the Western alliance of the UK and the USA).
Now as Napoleon is first trying to decide to whom he will sell the timber, he notices that Frederick is "the more anxious to get hold of it, but he would not offer a reasonable price" (8.6). At the time, Napoleon’s relations with Pilkington were "almost friendly" (8.7). As the animals become aware of what a threat Frederick might present, Napoleon teaches them to chant "Death to Frederick" (8.8).
Then suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, Napoleon swaps sides and sells the timber to Frederick. The other pigs claim that Napoleon only buddied up with Pilkington so that Frederick would raise his price. But Napoleon has a surprise coming. He soon learns that Frederick has given him forged money, and has gotten the timber for nothing!
What’s going on here? Well, Hitler and Stalin had long been mortal enemies. Anticommunism was a central concern of Nazi Party ideology from the very beginning, and Stalin spent much of the 1930s casting himself as a stalwart foe of fascism. Stalin nearly signed an anti-German political alliance with France and Britain (represented by Mr. Pilkington) in the late 1930s. Yet when that fell through, Stalin stunned the world by signing a non-aggression pact with Hitler instead, in August 1939. Aside from maintaining peace between Germany and the Soviet Union, the pact divided up a number of Eastern countries into German and Soviet realms of influence. Poland, for example, was slated for dismemberment, with both totalitarian regimes angling to take over half the country.
In early 1941, Stalin began to get word from his spies that Hitler was planning to break the pact, but he simply couldn’t believe that the Germans would invade Russia before fist defeating Britain. Yet in June 1941, Hitler did indeed launch Operation Barbarossa, with millions of German troops pouring suddenly into Soviet territory, starting the war on the Eastern Front.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to realize how different the world would be if Hitler had not started a war with the Soviets in June of 1941. Before launching Barbarossa, Hitler controlled most of Western Europe, and a lonely Britain looked to be on the verge of defeat. But the bloody fighting that unfolded on the Eastern Front eventually destroyed Hitler's military, leading to Germany's defeat in 1945. If Hitler had not broken the non-aggression pact, the entire landscape of our modern world might be entirely different. In short, the Axis might have won World War II.
But it didn’t. Hitler betrayed Stalin, and, as we learn in Animal Farm, "The very next morning the attack came..." (8.16).