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George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia

Updated on August 19, 2010

George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia

George Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia after he returned from fighting for the Republic. He wrote it because he was greatly opposed to fascism and wanted to increase support for World War 2, and also to let people know what had really happened during the Spanish Civil War; the media had not been honest about it. The foreign press denied that there had been a revolution. The right wing newspapers said that the war was between “Christian patriots versus Bolsheviks dripping with blood”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). Left leaning papers said it was “gentlemanly republicans quelling a military revolt”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). The reason for that was the Communist Party and the USSR were against the revolution. Other countries, especially Britain, were invested heavily in Spain, and Russia wanted Britain to enter World War 2 on its side. That’s why the Soviets were adamantly against letting the revolution go forward, and supported the government’s efforts, in fact ordered the government, to suppress it. “Official Communism must be regarded… as an anti-revolutionary force”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). The result of the counter revolution was that the Republic itself became fascist, and it ultimately lost the war.

 When General Franco revolted on July 18 the Spanish working class resisted his coup, and in doing so gave hope to people all over Europe who were opposed to fascism, because that was the first time the fascists had been resisted. Anti-Fascists believed it would be the beginning of the Second World War. Franco was different from Hitler and Mussolini because he wanted to restore feudalism, which meant that the liberal bourgeoisie opposed him, when they had supported Hitler and Mussolini. However, the government had not resisted Franco at all, the only reason it continued to exist was because of the working class uprising, which had been largely organized by the unions. At first the government had denied workers access to its stores of weapons, but agreed to arm them after a violent general strike, which resulted in successful resistance to the fascists in eastern Spain. “The Spanish working class did not… resist Franco in the name of 'democracy’… their resistance was accompanied by--one might almost say it consisted of--a definite revolutionary outbreak”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). Thousands of people died in the uprising, as many as three thousand per day in the major cities. People fought so hard because they believed in what they were fighting for. “The kind of effort that could probably only be made by people who were fighting with a revolutionary intention--i.e. believed that they were fighting for something better than the status quo”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). Peasants seized land, factory workers took over the factories, and Catholic priests were exiled or killed. A workers’ government was begun that consisted of local committees, the police were replaced, and the major parties set up militias. The Anarcho-Syndicalists controlled the major industries, and had most of the power. The working class did not entirely overthrow the government because they were afraid that if they tried to the fascists would be able to take over.

In the beginning of the war the unions and political parties organized militias to fight the fascists. There was equality within the militias between the officers and soldiers; “Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality”. (Orwell, ch. 3). The militias were democratic and not hierarchical. It was an attempt to produce a model of a classless society. Later in the war the militias were called an undisciplined mob, but if they were undisciplined it was because the soldiers were new and not well trained. The militia system actually worked very well. The only thing that prevented soldiers from walking away from the front was their desire to defeat the fascists. Discipline was voluntary and based on class loyalty, rather than fear. That depended on soldiers understanding why orders had to be obeyed. The militias were poorly equipped and were not allowed to attack for political reasons. “The stagnation on the Aragon front had political causes of which I knew nothing at that time; but the purely military difficulties--quite apart from the lack of reserves of men--were obvious to anybody”. (Orwell, ch. 3). The government organized the Popular Army in the spring of 1937, and the militias were theoretically incorporated into it, but the Popular Army did not reach the front until June. The government did not adequately arm the militias because they were saving weapons for the Popular Army, and because there was a systematic counter-revolution and they did not want the working class armed.

 

 In the beginning of the war the Republic was divided into two sides; the Anarchists and left wing Communists who had defeated Franco’s coup in eastern Spain, and collectivized the industries, and the liberals and right wing socialists and communists who had been in power before the coup and remained in control of the government. At first the left had some seats in the government, but certain left-wing parties were periodically expelled until the right had complete control.

 The P.O.U.M. was a dissident communist party that had risen in opposition to Stalinism, and was one of the smaller parties. The P.O.U.M. held that fascism and bourgeois democracy were very similar; “Bourgeois "democracy" is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to fight against Fascism on behalf of "democracy" is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). The only alternative to Fascism was workers control, so the workers must keep the gains they made in the beginning of the war, including the militias. “If the workers do not control the armed forces, the armed forces will control the workers. The war and the revolution are inseparable”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). The F.A.I. (Anarchist) party represented the C.N.T. union, which had two million members. They stood for “direct control over industry by the workers engaged in each industry” (Orwell, Ch. 5), “government by local committees and resistance to all forms of centralized authoritarianism” (Orwell, Ch. 5), and “uncompromising hostility to the bourgeoisie and the Church” (Orwell, Ch. 5). If the Anarchists and the P.O.U.M. had cooperated early in the war, the war might have gone differently, but they were unable to because of their ideological differences. Later in the war they did cooperate.

 The P.S.U.C. (Communist) was entirely under control of the Third International and the Soviet Union. The P.S.U.C. was affiliated with the U.G.T. union, which had a million and a half members, many of whom were middle class and had joined in the beginning of the war. The P.S.U.C. held that the war against Franco couldn’t be won if the revolution was furthered, because it would alienate the section of the middle class that supported the Republic, and the chaos and inefficiency during the revolution would allow Franco to get an upper hand, and that made them popular with the middle class. “The Communists had gained power and a vast increase of membership partly by appealing to the middle classes against the revolutionaries” (Orwell, Ch. 5). The P.S.U.C. supported a strong central government and a unified military under central command.

 Since the P.O.U.M. was the smallest of the parties the P.S.U.C. maliciously attacked it in the newspapers, and eventually blamed it for loosing the war. They said that splitting the government forces, and was fascist. “The P.O.U.M. was declared to be no more than a gang of disguised Fascists, in the pay of Franco and Hitler, who were pressing a pseudo-revolutionary policy as a way of aiding the Fascist cause The P.O.U.M. was a 'Trotskyist' organization and 'Franco's Fifth Column'”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). Trotskyist was what the Soviet Union called all communist organizations that didn’t subscribe to all its positions, and to the Soviet communists the term became synonymous with fascism. The P.S.U.C. became increasingly powerful when the U.S.S.R. began supplying weapons to the Republic. The Communists seemed to be capable of winning the war, which increased their popularity, because they were receiving weapons from the Soviet Union, and had also been able to defend Madrid. The government began shifting to the right because of Soviet influence. “Consequently the Russians were in a position to dictate terms. There is very little doubt that these terms were, in substance, 'Prevent revolution or you get no weapons', and that the first move against the revolutionary elements… was done under orders from the U.S.S.R.” (Orwell, Ch. 5). The Soviets and the government also made sure that the other parties didn’t receive any of the weapons. The government was not only fighting the fascists, but also the other parties and unions. “The fight against Franco had to continue, but the simultaneous aim of the Government was to recover such power as remained in the hands of the trade unions”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). The other parties were gradually removed from power, and they accepted that for the most part. The revolutionary parties consented to the demands the government made on them because they were afraid of loosing the war, and “if the war was lost democracy and revolution. Socialism and Anarchism became meaningless words”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). The pre-war police were restored and industries that had been collectivized were nationalized, and the workers militias were broken up and redistributed into the Popular Army. In effect the Republic became fascist. In May 1937 the government ordered the surrender of all private weapons, and the police took over the telephone exchange, which resulted in street fighting. Soon after that the government outlawed the P.O.U.M. and imprisoned its members.

 The government’s obsession with preventing a revolution resulted in a poor effort to win the war, because the militias were not well armed, the working class of other countries was not as supportive of the war as they would have been otherwise, and the government missed an opportunity to attack Franco from the rear by encouraging Spaniards in fascist Spain to rise up against Franco, and by promising the Moors that they would give Morocco independence. Communist policy resulted in the Republic loosing the war. “The whole tendency of the Communist policy was to reduce the war to an ordinary, non-revolutionary war in which the Government was heavily handicapped. For a war of that kind has got to be won by… limitless supplies of weapons; and the Government's chief donor of weapons, the U.S.S.R., was at a great disadvantage, geographically, compared with Italy and Germany”. (Orwell, Ch. 5). Thus, by becoming increasingly fascist, the Republic allowed the fascists to win.

The war began with an incomplete revolution, and as the war went on the Republic became increasingly fascist, because the government believed that “such things as individual liberty and a truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency” (Orwell, Ch. 5), but the governments turn to the right ultimately resulted in the Republic loosing the war. Even though the Republic became fascist Orwell still believed that the war was worth fight, because a dictatorship by Franco would be infinitely worse. If the Republic won the peasants would be able to keep their lands, if Franco won “the virtual serfdom that had existed in some parts of Spain was… likely to be restored”. (Orwell, Ch. 12). The Republic would also promote education and public health. Orwell also thought fascism should be defeated just for the sake of defeating it, which was why he wrote Homage to Catalonia. “Since 1930 the Fascists had won all the victories; it was time they got a beating, it hardly mattered from whom”. (Orwell, Ch. 12).

 

Works Cited

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. 1938. http://www.georgeorwell.org/Hom age_to _Catalonia/index.html

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