George Orwell wrote the manuscript in 1943 and 1944 subsequent to his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, which he described in Homage to Catalonia (1938). In the preface of a 1947 Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, he explained how escaping the communist purges in Spain taught him "how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries". This motivated Orwell to expose and strongly condemn what he saw as the Stalinist corruption of the original socialist ideals.
Immediately prior to his writing, Orwell had quit the BBC. He was also upset about a booklet for propagandists the Ministry of Information had put out. The booklet included instructions on how to quell ideological fears of the Soviet Union, such as directions to claim that the Red Terror was a figment of Nazi imagination.
In the preface, Orwell also described the source of the idea of setting the book on a farm:
...I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.
Efforts to find a publisher
Orwell initially encountered difficulty getting the manuscript published, largely due to fears that the book might upset the alliance between Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Four publishers refused; one had initially accepted the work but declined it after consulting the Ministry of Information. Eventually, Secker and Warburg published the first edition in 1945.
During the Second World War, it became clear to Orwell that anti-Soviet literature was not something which most major publishing houses would touch — including his regular publisher Gollancz. He also submitted the manuscript to Faber and Faber, where the poet T. S. Eliot (who was a director of the firm) rejected it; Eliot wrote back to Orwell praising the book's "good writing" and "fundamental integrity", but declared that they would only accept it for publication if they had some sympathy for the viewpoint "which I take to be generally Trotskyite". Eliot said he found the view "not convincing", and contended that the pigs were made out to be the best to run the farm; he posited that someone might argue "what was needed.. was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs". Orwell let André Deutsch, who was working for Nicholson & Watson in 1944, read the typescript, and Deutsch was convinced that Nicholson & Watson would want to publish it; however, they did not, and "lectured Orwell on what they perceived to be errors in Animal Farm." In his London Letter on 17 April 1944 for Partisan Review, Orwell wrote that it was "now next door to impossible to get anything overtly anti-Russian printed. Anti-Russian books do appear, but mostly from Catholic publishing firms and always from a religious or frankly reactionary angle."
The publisher Jonathan Cape, who had initially accepted Animal Farm, subsequently rejected the book after an official at the British Ministry of Information warned him off — although the civil servant who it is assumed gave the order was later found to be a Soviet spy. Writing to Leonard Moore, a partner in the literary agency of Christy & Moore, publisher Jonathan Cape explained that the decision had been taken on the advice of a senior official in the Ministry of Information. Such flagrant anti-Soviet bias was unacceptable, and the choice of pigs as the dominant class was thought to be especially offensive. It may reasonably be assumed that the 'important official' was a man named Peter Smollett, who was later unmasked as a Soviet agent. Orwell was suspicious of Smollett/Smolka, and he would be one of the names Orwell included in his list of Crypto-Communists and Fellow-Travellers sent to the Information Research Department in 1949. Born Hans Peter Smolka in Vienna in 1912, he came to Britain in 1933 as an NKVD agent with the codename 'Abo', became a naturalised British subject in 1938, changed his name, and after the outbreak of World War II joined the Ministry of Information where he organised pro-Soviet propaganda, working with Kim Philby in 1943-45. Smollett's family have rejected the accusation that he was a spy. The publisher wrote to Orwell, saying:
If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators [Lenin and Stalin], that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships.
Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.
Frederic Warburg also faced pressures against publication, even from people in his own office and from his wife Pamela, who felt that it was not the moment for ingratitude towards Stalin and the heroic Red Army, which had played a major part in defeating Hitler. A Russian translation was printed in the paper Posev, and in giving permission for a Russian translation of Animal Farm, Orwell refused in advance all royalties. A translation in Ukrainian, which was produced in Germany, was confiscated in large part by the American wartime authorities and handed over to the Soviet repatriation commission.
In October 1945, Orwell wrote to Frederic Warburg expressing interest in pursuing the possibility that the political cartoonist David Low might illustrate Animal Farm. Low had written a letter saying that he had had "a good time with ANIMAL FARM - an excellent bit of satire - it would illustrate perfectly." Nothing came of this, and a trial issue produced by Secker & Warburg in 1956 illustrated by John Driver was abandoned, but the Folio Society published an edition in 1984 illustrated by Quentin Blake and an edition illustrated by the cartoonist Ralph Steadman was published by Secker & Warburg in 1995 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first edition of Animal Farm.
"The Freedom of the Press"
Orwell originally wrote a preface complaining about British self-censorship and how the British people were suppressing criticism of the USSR, their World War II ally. "The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.... Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact." Although the first edition allowed space for the preface, it was not included, and as of June 2009 it has not been published with most editions of the book.
Secker and Warburg published the first edition of Animal Farm in 1945 without any introduction. However, the publisher had provided space for a preface in the author's proof composited from the manuscript. For reasons unknown, no preface was supplied, and all the page numbers needed to be redone at the last minute.
Years later, in 1972, Ian Angus found the original typescript titled "The Freedom of the Press", and Bernard Crick published it, together with his own introduction, in The Times Literary Supplement on 15 September 1972 as "How the essay came to be written". Orwell's essay criticised British self-censorship by the press, specifically the suppression of unflattering descriptions of Stalin and the Soviet government. The same essay also appeared in the Italian 1976 Animal Farm edition, with another introduction by Crick, claiming to be the first edition with the preface. Other publishers were still declining to publish it.