Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell

Posted On: Friday - April 23rd 2021 10:17AM MST
In Topics: 
  Commies  History  Books

It seems I get enough books through mentions or recommendations here in the comments and in unz posts/comments to keep me busy enough. I believe it was a commenter on unz (but maybe here) who recommended George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia for some reading material regarding the Spanish Civil War.

Peak Stupidity did review the movie Guernica, which was set in this war, in our post 3 years back called Guernica - The Propaganda and the Movie. Who cares about the Spanish Civil War? Well, besides that I'm just interested in history, I've been told that learning about this war may give clues to how thing are/will be going in this country, as things break apart. I read Mr. Orwell's book per recommendation to note the parallels.

I've got a review to write here, but let me write this first point that, no, I don't think Homage to Catalonia fits the bill as a book that can help us in that respect. There are 2 reasons for that. Firstly, Mr. Orwell wrote this book from his experiences in one small area of Spain, in his little part of the war, and only from the first half-year or so of this ~ 3 year long conflict. The author came to Spain in late 1936 to report on the war but decided to fight in it on the "Republican"* side instead, against the "Facists"**. Rather than Homage to Catalonia, a better name for the book would have been simply Report from Catalonia.

Secondly, the reason this book doesn't help me is that it was written by a young George Orwell. This is a way of thinking that I'm not good at. While I'm reading, I always picture the author of an "important" book as someone that has wisdom, knows more than me about the subject, etc. The author wrote this book back in England after getting out of Spain in late June of 1937, and at the time of writing he knew neither the big picture nor the ending. Orwell wrote his more famous books Animal Farm and 1984 in 1945 and 1948 respectively.*** What I'm getting at is that Homage to Catalonia was written by a young foolish George Orwell, not the much wiser 8/11 year-older man who wrote the latter two.

Speaking of 1984, I suppose George Orwell already saw the Totalitarianism of the East Bloc Communist World, and the Fascism in Europe was gone. Was it those societies he was projecting into the year 1984 (OK, he was off by ~35 years)? Yet, young foolish George Orwell left England in late 1936 to go fight those Fascists, not seeing that this made him basically a Communist. Live and learn, I guess.

Before I go any further, let me just insert this first Wiki paragraph from their Spanish Civil War page for a quick background summary:
The Spanish Civil War (Spanish: Guerra Civil Española) was a civil war in Spain fought from 1936 to 1939. Republicans loyal to the left-leaning Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic, in alliance with anarchists, of the communist and syndicalist variety, fought against a revolt by the Nationalists, an alliance of Falangists, monarchists, conservatives and traditionalists, led by a military group among whom General Francisco Franco soon achieved a preponderant role. Due to the international political climate at the time, the war had many facets and was variously viewed as class struggle, a war of religion, a struggle between dictatorship and republican democracy, between revolution and counterrevolution, and between fascism and communism. According to Claude Bowers, U.S. ambassador to Spain during the war, it was the "dress rehearsal" for World War II. The Nationalists won the war, which ended in early 1939, and ruled Spain until Franco's death in November 1975.
OK, this is a book review, not a history lesson, so let me start with this: The version that I read, shown above, has a Foreword and an Introduction. Don't read the Foreword and Introduction first, no matter what you are supposed to do. They spoil the story of the book! "What the hell?, I inwardly exclaimed. I'm guessing these 2 writers were under the impression that everyone else reading this book is a literature professor or critic as they are, and we've all read it before ... or some damn thing. Who does that?! You could read them AFTERWARD, I suppose.

I will try NOT to spoil much of the story. The book is a diary, basically, of Mr. Orwell's time in this part of Spain, Barcelona and thereabouts, in the province of Catalonia, of course. This province is in the very northeast corner of Spain, bounded by the Pyrenees mountains and France to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast, the province of Aragon to the west, and, for a small stretch, the province of Valencia to the southwest. Aren't all these province names romantic sounding? I looked at a map, and you've got Castile, Navarre, Andalusia, etc. No wonder these foreigners like George Orwell (bringing his wife with him, of all things****) wanted to do this young romantic thing and fight for those romantic Spaniards against these evil Fascists, running guns and arms across the Spanish border*****

The very beginning of the book has Mr. Orwell admiring the new way of life in Barcelona, as the leftists have made everyone equal in status. No more wearing of Bourgeoisie clothing - everyone wore demin. Nobody said sir, bowed his head or tipped anyone******. Great, big damn deal. Again, George Orwell didn't call himself one, but he was basically a Commie at heart at this point in his life. This "all animals are equal" bit carried right on into his time in the militia itself. Nobody had to obey orders, exactly. They had to agree first. Mr. Orwell says this worked. I doubt that very much - ask a veteran.

Mr. Orwell left his wife in the safe (at the time) big city of Barcelona and joined a P.O.U.M. militia group on the front lines in the mountains in the Spring of 1937. This militia group was so poorly trained and equipped that the fighting was a joke at first. I don't mean that they were overwhelmed, because the Fascists didn't have a whole lot of equipment at this point either.

The front was in the mountains, with a great distance between the lines. There was just not much real fighting, with a few exceptions. (Luckily that "we are all equal" stuff mentioned above didn't matter so much.) Most of the hardship was the withstanding of the cold through the early Spring and the lack of decent food and clothing. During this period, Mr. Orwell's militia band was fighting with rifles that could have been in service in the previous century, with no modern equipment such as automatic weapons and decent grenades or mortars. The danger from the rifles was mostly to those on his own side. The author's description of all this was basically the first half of the book. That's all the personal experience of the war he encountered, in this little remote line out there in Catalonia. Compared to the whole war, with German and Italian modern fighting equipment (such as aircraft) being supplied to the Nationalists and Russian supplies to the Republicans, there was a whole lot more to it than what Orwell saw. He had to learn the rest from newspapers like everyone else, and his later experiences (see next paragraph) taught him that you're not going to easily get the truth that way.

As Mr. Orwell went back to Barcelona for leave, he encountered an increasing mini civil war within his Republican side (full of Anarchists and Communists). Things got dicey for his P.O.U.M. group. There were lots of different factions, this P.O.U.M., being just one, all of them supposedly fighting against the Fascists together, that were against each other in this confusing, violent time in Barcelona. The author has a couple of Appendices, originally having been chapters in the book, with the complicated political factions described. It will remind the reader very much of the Monty Python scene in The Life of Brian regarding the People's Front of Judea, the Judean People's Front, or was that the Popular Front, Reg? (Did the Monty Python guys possibly have this sort of thing in mind?)

One thing that may be, after all, a parallel in that Spanish Civil War to modern America is that bit with the "splitters". All those factions of malcontents, Commies, Anarchists, what-have-you, they were all against traditional Spain and those evil Fascists. Yet one group of them was rounding up other groups, putting them in jail, and shooting them (including a few of Mr. Orwell's close ex-patriate Brit comrades-in-arms and a Belgian guy). As with the Steve Sailer-dubbed "Coalition of the Fringes", they could only stick together when they focused on their hate of the traditional society. Here, the author had spent 4 months on the front line, as it was, cold and hungry, fighting these Fascists, yet he had to live like a wanted man in Barcelona due to these other Fascist-fighters! George Orwell and his wife were barely able to escape this madness in Barcelona with their lives, making it to France, and later to England, where he could write Homage to Catalonia in peace.

There are big differences between the sides in America's ever-increasingly-hot civil war and the Spanish hot war of 3/4 a century ago. As in current America, the government is on the side of the Commies and Anarchists. In 1936-39 Spain, however, the opposing side still had most of the institutions of society, such as the important Churches. In America, the entire Establishment is part of the enemy now.

The Spanish Nationalists had external help from the German and Italian Fascists. The Republican side had help from Russia (but, of course) and, apparently, Mexico. Traditional Americans have no more establishment institutions and no external help from anywhere. Nope, Trump was not the new Franco, not as if that's the guy we really need anyway. We are completely on our own.

As for George Orwell and this book Homage to Catalonia, he accrued some wisdom over the years. This book was written before then. One can learn a few details about the Spanish Civil War and the activities in Catalonia, sure. Otherwise, it was written by a young foolish romantic who didn't know squat about the world. I give it 2 thumbs down.

PS: The word "Homage" in this book's title does bring up one point that Mr. Orwell brought up a few times. He really liked the personality of the Spaniards, with no political angle involved. He brought up their general goodness and one scene he particularly remembered as an example. As the opposing "Guards" (of some sort, don't have the book on me now) did a search of Orwell and wife's apartment bedroom for any contraband. They tore up everything else but would not rouse Mrs. Orwell out of the bed to do something like check under the mattress for, say, guns or the like! No matter how much they saw him as an enemy, they had this general civility - of course, that works out as the opposite of efficiency in this case - they were Spaniards, not Germans.

* There were anything but real Republicans, but since they fought on the side of the then-current government of that particular Spanish "Republic", that was their appellation.

** Yes, there were the Fascists, such as Franco himself, but both sides of the war were comprised of varied factions. On the Nationalist side, beside the Fascists, there were the Clergy, traditional Spaniards in general, and general anti-Communists.

*** I've read the latter book twice, once per assignment in High School (I wonder if it's even ALLOWED now, much less ASSIGNED) and once about 15 years back. I've got to admit I have not read Animal Farm, so I suppose I'll get to that soon.

**** Sure, I guess some antifa guy from Chicago might bring his fat-ass purple-haired girlfriend up to Kenosha for some rioting, but then would he really care that much if she got backed over by a police cruiser?

***** Yes, big Al Stewart History Rock genre fan over here. This is the part from On the Border - not to be confused with the Eagles song with the same name - it's much different but also a good one:

The fishing boats go out across the evening water,
smuggling guns and arms across the Spanish border.
The wind whips up the waves so loud.
The ghost moon sails among the clouds,
and turns the rifles into silver on the border.

I know, guns ARE arms, but give this songwriter a break.

****** Got a great story on the tipping thing regarding China. Coming up...

Saturday - April 24th 2021 5:33PM MST
PS: Mr. Ganderson, I never learned anything about the Spanish Civil War in High School (possibly not because the teacher didn't teach it). It was like a pre-season scrimmage for WWII, at least for the Germans and the Soviets, with both sides having a chance to "practice" and test out weapons and tactics.

I want to learn more about it, so I'll try to find a better book.

Yep, you encouraged me to see Al Stewart before. I don't know if I can get anyone else in the family to attend if he comes anywhere near me.
Friday - April 23rd 2021 1:04PM MST
It’s been a long time since I read Homage to Catalonia, but I got from it that Orwell’s disillusionment with the Commies began in Spain.

As far as the Spanish Civil War was concerned, the bad guys won, the worse guys lost.

If life opens up and our betters allow live music again, go see Al Stewart. He won’t be around for too much longer, and he puts on a great show.
Friday - April 23rd 2021 11:17AM MST
PS: It's on the way, Mr. Blanc.
Friday - April 23rd 2021 11:04AM MST
PS You must read AF. It has perhaps lost a bit of its relevance now that the USSR is fast receding in the rear-view mirror, but it is still one of the great political satires, perhaps the greatest. It’s short; you can probably read it in an evening.
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