The translator wears a uniform

Image: João NItsche


In the cultural war: the first edition of “The Animal Revolution” in Brazil

On a farm, animals rebel against their owners in search of an ideal society, which soon unfolds into a tyranny even more oppressive than that of humans. Although this story is familiar to many, it is only now becoming public that the arrival of the book the animal revolution to Brazil was directly related to the 1964 coup.

Heitor Aquino Ferreira

Born in Rio Grande do Sul in 1936, Heitor Aquino Ferreira was a typical backstage man. His trajectory on the political scene began in the 1960s, when, as a young army lieutenant, he became the personal assistant of General Golbery do Couto e Silva, leader of the conspiracy against the João Goulart government orchestrated from the Institute of Social Research and Studies ( IPÊS).

During the dictatorship, Ferreira accompanied the setting up of the National Information System (SNI), the regime's main surveillance and repression body. With passage to the reserve, he worked in the Amazon at the megalomaniac Projeto Jari and also at Petrobras. Between 1974 and 1979, he was Ernesto Geisel's private secretary and political coordinator of his government.

Aware that he was witnessing History, he wrote diaries and accumulated relevant documentation about the period, which he later handed over to his friend and journalist Elio Gaspari, supporting the well-known series of books about the dictatorship.

Fan of VCRs, Davidoff cigars, suspenders and books[I], Ferreira also worked in the publishing world and carried out several works as a translator, specializing in works of a political and social nature.

Still early in his career, his love for books led him to join a working group at IPÊS dedicated to editing, sponsoring and clandestinely distributing anti-communist publications, which also included important figures from the literary world such as Rachel de Queiroz, Augusto Frederico Schmidt and the then budding novelist José Rubem Fonseca.

During this period, he carried out his most important work as a translator, but which curiously also remained in the shadows. The first Brazilian edition of the classic A animal revolution, published in 1964 by Editora Globo sponsored by IPÊS, omitted the full name and military rank of its translator. In the book's credits, there was only a generic mention of “Heitor Ferreira”, in an attempt to hide the political and ideological intentions behind this edition.


In the translation by then Lieutenant Ferreira, George Orwell's satire had its anti-communist character reinforced and adapted to the Brazilian reality. The loaded ideological component is already noticeable in the adaptation of the original title Animal farm - a fairy story (which in a literal translation is close to “Animal farm – a fairy tale”) for “The animal revolution”, in which the use of the words “animal” (slang used by students in the 1960s) was chosen, instead of “animal”, and “revolution” (absent sense in the original), in order to refer the reader directly to the question of communism[ii]. In several passages of the text, including the word “rebellion”, which in Portuguese is close to the term “rebelião”, is translated as “revolution”. The title also shifts Orwell's emphasis from the outcome of the story – the farm now belongs to the animals – to the revolt process itself.

Ferreira also chose not to include the original subtitle of the work in the Brazilian translation (“the fairy story“) that framed it within the literary genre of the fable. Possibly this choice is due to the desire to direct the book to an adult audience, the main target of IPÊS ideological propaganda. The intention to use the book as an ideological weapon is evident in a correspondence from the lieutenant, in which he described the publication of Animal Farm as a result of the effort of the institute’s editorial group to print and forward to “friendly publishers” several works of “anti-communist democratic propaganda”[iii].

In addition to the translation, the non-textual elements point out that the edition sponsored and commissioned by IPÊS to Editora Globo aimed to intensify Orwell's criticism of the Russian Revolution and, more specifically, of Stalinism. The illustration on the cover of the second edition, signed by Vitório Gheno, has as its main element a pig drawn with thick and irregular contours, which points ahead as if giving orders to three dogs that appear in the background. The design corresponds to the plot of the story, in which rabid dogs assume the role of executing the decisions of the authoritarian pig Napoleon, the self-declared head of the farm animals, who in the author's allegory corresponds to the figure of Stalin. The red and furious eyes of the pig in the foreground give it a demonic feature that refers to the image of “evil”, with which communism was historically identified.

Editor Globo

In addition to carrying out the translation of the work, Ferreira was responsible for conducting the negotiation for the publication of the book with the director of Editora Globo, in Porto Alegre, with whom he had friendship ties. The publisher was offered a collaboration agreement that included the purchase of a certain number of copies by IPÊS in case the book ended up in bookstores.

In addition to the sales guarantee, Globo was also able to reduce publishing costs by benefiting from the partnership established between the Brazilian institute and the United States Information Agency (USIA). The diplomatic agency of the US government had a project to stimulate the production and circulation of publications in the countries of the so-called “third world”, which offered local publishers a list of original texts in English, for which they ceded the copyright and translation free of charge. .

But this help was certainly not disinterested. The bibliography subsidized by the USIA, as well as its cultural policies in general, served the purposes of foreign policy and the cultural dispute outlined by the US government within the scope of the Cold War. Between 1962 and 1964 at least 20 books listed and subsidized by the US agency were distributed by IPÊS, all of them with an anti-communist bias.

Both USIA and IPÊS had the practice of omitting their names from the publications' credits, which were released as if they were projects exclusively idealized and carried out by the publishers. This clandestine action strategy made it difficult for a long time to identify the true funding network behind this set of publications.

animal farm

Written during World War II and published in 1945, animal farm caused controversy at the time for its scathing criticism of Stalin's regime, then an important ally of the Western powers in the fight against Nazi-fascism. Orwell's critical perspective on the course of the 1917 Revolution was born from his experience as a combatant in the Spanish Civil War, when he witnessed the Soviets' persecution of republicans who did not align with Marxist orthodoxy. From then on, he defined himself as a democratic socialist, although his political trajectory was probably more contradictory. Documents made public in the 1990s indicate that the writer would have reported intellectuals who sympathized with communism to the British government[iv].

Due to his broad critique of totalitarianism, Orwell's work was the subject of dispute during the Cold War period, being captured by both the left and right imagination. In Brazil, the trajectory of the first edition of animal farm it was inserted in a context of intense political polarization and became an example of the strategy of appropriation and decontextualization of criticisms of the Soviet government coming from the “non-aligned” left for the purposes of anti-communist ideological propaganda.

For almost 60 years, the translation carried out by the military Heitor Aquino Ferreira was the only version of the work existing in Brazil and passed through the hands of millions of young readers through successive re-editions. In 2007, the Army Library (BIBLIEx) published its own, reinforcing the appreciation of the Brazilian military for Orwellian literature. On the other hand, recently some publishers have been preparing unpublished translations and debating the meanings acquired by the book since its launch.

In January of next year, when Orwell's work will enter the public domain, the animal revolution will come out with new translations by several publishers, such as Globo Livros, Novo Século and LP&M.[v]  Now in 2020, Companhia das Letras launches a translation by Paulo Henriques Britto with a title much closer to the original: the animal farm. The option seems in line with our own times and sounds almost like historical reparation. But equally relevant was the publisher's decision to keep in the catalogue, alongside the special edition, Ferreira's old translation with the consecrated title. Since the book is an object full of meanings – which go far beyond the author's intentions – providing new reading possibilities while critically debating the past is always a more interesting path.

*Camila Alvarez Djurovic is a Master's student in Economic History at USP.

Originally published in Glac Editions.


[I] Hector's slow fall. This is, São Paulo, 12 Oct. 1983. Ana Lagôa Archive – UFSCar.

[ii] CARVALHO, CH Animal Farm by George Orwell: translation and manipulation during the military dictatorship in Brazil. 2002. Monograph (Bachelor of Letters) – Institute of Human Sciences and Letters, Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Juiz de Fora, 2002, p. 83.

[iii] FERREIRA, HA Letter to Sônia Seganfredo, 25 Oct. 1962. IPES Fund – National Archive, Rio de Janeiro.

[iv] OPPENHEIMER, Walter. George Orwell denounced 38 intellectuals. Folha de S. Paul, São Paulo, 23 June. 2003.

[v] GABRIEL, Ruan de Sousa. 'The animal revolution' changes title in new translations, getting closer to the original. The State of S. Paul, São Paulo, 31st of Oct. 2020.

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