The author of ‘Homage to Catalonia’ did not grasp the wider context and provided a partial, partisan version. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, , available at Book Depository with free delivery worldwide. HOMENATGE A CATALUNYA by George Orwell, , available at Book Depository with free delivery worldwide.
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U nleashed on 17 July by a military coup against the democratically elected government of the Second Republic, the Spanish civil war was a rehearsal for the second world war.
The British, French and American governments stood aside and permitted General Francisco Franco, with the substantial aid of Hitler and Mussolini, to defeat the republic. Eighty years ago this week, the Ramblas of Barcelona echoed with gunfire. Herbert Matthews, the great New York Times correspondent, summed up the consequent problem: An eyewitness account of two fragments of the war, the book presents two priceless pieces of reportage: Homage to Catalonia belongs in any list of important books on the Spanish civil war.
He clearly knew nothing of its origins or of the social crisis behind the Barcelona clashes. In none of his writings does he mention having any prior acquaintance with Spain or ever reading a book in Spanish about the war or anything else. Perhaps he was not so unworldly. Maybe he was uncomfortable with the association. He wrote to a friend in December It seems irresponsible, given that he admitted that, prior to the May events, he was trying to transfer from the Poum to the International Brigades.
That meant that he sympathised with the view of socialists, liberal republicans and communists that an effective war effort required state control of the economy and the mass mobilisation of a modern army. He was in the Poum only because he had been rejected by Harry Pollitt, the secretary-general of the British Communist party.
So he arrived in Barcelona with Independent Labour party credentials. He acknowledged this in his essay Looking Back on the Spanish War: To nationalise factories, demolish churches, and issue revolutionary manifestos would not have made the armies more efficient. There, he and his group carried out acts of banditry, atrocities against the clergy and the extortion of people crossing into France. At the end of April, he was killed at the small town of Bellver in a clash with local people determined to end his reign of terror.
In Barcelona, social and political hostilities had been mounting for some months. The tension that Orwell encountered when he arrived in April was not the result of communist malevolence but of economic and social distress.
The Catalan population had been swollen by the arrival ofrefugees. Until Decemberwhen the CNT had controlled the supply ministry, the anarchist solution had been to requisition food in the countrysid.
HOMENATGE A CATALUNYA
As farmers hoarded stocks to sell on the black market, this provoked shortages and inflation. Then the PSUC took over the supply portfolio and implemented a more market-based approach.
This infuriated the anarchists but did not solve the problem. There were bread riots in Barcelona, and armed clashes for control of food stores between anarchists bomenatge the PSUC. That conflict was just one aspect of a much more serious one. To secure Russian arms deliveries, the Poum leader, Andreu Nin, was removed in a cabinet reshuffle on 16 December.
However, hostility to the anti-Stalinist left was not just about pandering to the Russians.
Homage to Catalonia : George Orwell :
Many Catalan anarchists were not committed to the war effort. In mid-March, several hundred anarchists who had opposed the militarisation of the militias abandoned the front and took their weapons to the Catalan capital.
The revolutionaries had 60, rifles in Barcelona. They refused either to give them up or to go to the front themselves s fight. It was only a matter of time before outright conflict would break out.
Orwell, given his homenatgf position in a Poum militia, saw none of this. As clashes w more hommenatge in Barcelona, the Generalitat prohibited the traditional May Day rallies, which was perceived as a provocation by the CNT rank and file. In early May the crisis exploded. In the wake of deteriorating conditions and police heavy-handedness, catalunga of the CNT — supported by the Poum — confronted the forces of the Generalitat and the PSUC. Then they would have to fight both the central republican government and the Francoists.
Accordingly, with the approval of the anarchist ministers, decisive police reinforcements from the government in Valencia began to arrive on 7 May. Hundreds of CNT and Poum militants were arrested, although the needs of the war industries limited the scale of the repression.
Initial revolutionary achievements were steadily dismantled. Back in London, in Julyhe wrote: His ignorance of the wider picture while in Spain was forgivable. Instructions left before his death for a later edition ignored his acceptance of the need for a unified war effort in Spain. It is nomenatge if the Orwell of Animal FarmNineteen Eighty-Four and the lister of suspect fellow-travellers for the Foreign Office thought that he should let it stand as another nail in the communist coffin, despite its distortion of the Spanish situation.
Paul Preston is a professor at the London School of Economics and the foremost historian on the period. Topics History books The Observer.