Homage to Catalonia (George Orwell)

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RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected. I hate communism with all of my heart. I am not sympathetic to the republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine any way Orwell could have better written one of his books. Every word and sentence is perfectly crafted. What surprised me the most is that Franco wasn’t the real enemy. The background in which we find every war was the real danger. Heat. Cold. Lack of supplies. Friendly fire. Disease. To top it off, the book ends, not with Franco’s crushing victory, as would happen a few months later, but with the Communists and republicans purging the ranks. It ended with betrayal, though Orwell should have seen it coming, since the essence of communist leadership is to kill anyone who might have helped some years earlier. This book defined Orwell’s later political outlook and is key to understanding his later fiction works. Orwell was a socialist, to be sure, but he was primarily an anti-Stalinist.

Orwell fought as a militiaman in the Workers’ Party for Marxist Unification (POUM). This was only one of the Marxist and anarchist fronts fighting Franco. He notes how the militia did most of the fighting while the Army trained away from danger. The biggest problem from the POUM, as for most of Republican Spain, was the lack of decent supplies and weapons. If they got a rifle--if--it would have been an old German rifle predating WWI. Revolvers were needed for trench fighting and were almost impossible to come by. The first casualty Orwell saw was not from a Fascist bullet, but from a rifle misfiring (if it fired at all). He notes,

““In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles, and the enemy. In winter on the Zaragoza front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last.”

Truth be told, the Marxist factions never had much of a chance. Part of this was due to the nature of Marxist ideology. If we are all equal and if we are all “comrades,” then how can I as a senior officer command you to do something? I’m being serious. Orwell notes how ideological soldiers spent five minutes arguing with their superior officer. Communist militaries, to be sure, can be quite successful. They have to have what Trotsky called “The Necessity of Red Terror.” Of course, that further aggravates the problem of just how we can be equal in a communist society.

The book ends with betrayal. Various militia groups were accused of collaborating with Fascists or Trotskyites. Orwell and his wife (why would you bring your wife into the middle of a foreign civil war?!?) barely escaped.

As in all of Orwell’s works, it is filled with savage irony. We will look at a few quotes:

“The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think worth describing in detail.”

“Philosophically, Communism and Anarchism are poles apart. Practically—i.e. in the form of society aimed at—the difference is mainly one of emphasis, but it is quite irreconcilable. The Communist’s emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist’s on liberty and equality.”

“The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners are alike appalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddening unpunctuality. The one word that no foreigner can avoid learning is mañana.”

“No one I met at this time -- doctors, nurses, practicantes, or fellow-patients-- failed to assure me that a man who is hit through the neck and survives it is the luckiest creature alive. I could not help thinking that it would be even luckier not to be hit at all.”

"Fortunately this was Spain and not Germany. The Spanish secret police had some of the spirit of the Gestapo, but not much of its Competence."
 
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