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The Outbreak of the Civil War From The Wife of Gerald Brenan
George Orwell travelled to Barcelona in 1936 to report on a civil war. When he arrived, he decided the best way to help would be fight for the cause. He enlisted and was sent to the front. A 100 days later, he was wanted as a fascist spy and pursued out of the country by the communists. This remarkable story is the subject of 1984 and the Spanish Civil War - narrated and written by Paul Read,
What steps should we take to initiate real change and is it even possible? Orwell asked back in 1937, his croaking and bullet damaged voice echoes still unanswered from the past. "Is it even possible," he said - "to ever create fundamental changes by democratic methods alone?”
When George Orwell set out for Barcelona at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war he did so as a simple reporter. Yet when he arrived, he found himself to be a soldier. He spent just seven days training in Barcelona, before moving to the Aragón front, from December 1936 until June 1937. There, Orwell found himself in the trenches alongside the militia known as the POUM: Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista. THE POUM was a small party, with not much influence outside Catalonia, but it contained a high proportion of politically conscious members.
Over the next 115 days Orwell would experience rather than just report on the tragedy of war. Unlike other correspondents he would become politicised not though theory but through action. Yet his reports were largely ignored by the English Press, and would remain so for most of his life.
Orwell was eventually shot in the throat and it was during his recuperation that he found himself away from the battle lines and in Barcelona as the Stalinist led Communist party provoked an all out assault on the POUM headquarters, arresting its leaders, holding show trials against those that had given their lives and their last breath to aiding the Spanish Republican Government.
On 13 July 1937 a deposition was presented to the Tribunal for Espionage & High Treason, Valencia, charging Orwell and his wife with 'rabid Trotskyism' and being agents of the POUM. An order went our for their arrest.
Such a betrayal by the left against the left was only possible in Orwell's view because of the nature of what he called “the ‘folded’ lies - lies that clever people would tell themselves to safeguard their points of view.
“One of the dreariest effects of this war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right”
Mini Orwell Slide-show
He was therefore to dedicate the rest of his life to exposing the “intellectual dishonesty of the left” in 3 majorly important fields: Imperialism, Fascism and Stalinism.
His work thereafter would be to try and dismantle the Folded lies of the the Stalinist left. His experience of watching a party one day be firing alongside you, and the next day be firing at you, left him bitter memories, but fuelled his writings and finally was to feature strongly in his later work. One day the POUM is your ally, the next your enemy. Truth is whatever the authorities say it is. 'Blackwhite was the term Orwell would later use: the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.'
This tendency was reinforced by his observation of the left wing press in England to create battles that had never existed, create heroes from soldiers that had never fought and create fictional victims - to justify an attitude or short term lie. These Folded Lies would find their way into his later work of Animal Farm and 1984.
HOMAGE TO CATALONIA
Orwells account of this Revolutionary energy at the beginning of the civil war in Barcelona and its ultimate Betrayal are depicted in precise detail in Homage to Catalonia and despite its global popularity today…only 1500 copies were printed in his lifetime, of which perhaps only about 900 sold before he died. It was a book condemned by the intellectual dishonesty of the time. The slavery to Stalinism and the hostility of the left wing press to criticism from another left perspective - traits that still plight the democratic left - effectively banished the book for decades.
Victor Gollancz, who had published Orwell’s first five books, rejected Homage to Catalonia, believing, as did many people on the Left, that 'everything should be sacrificed in order to preserve a common front against the rise of Fascism.'
The book was finally published on 25 April 1938 but sales were poor. A second edition was printed for the Uniform Edition in February 1951. But it would not be published in the United States until February 1952.”
But what of Spain, what had Orwell to say of the country he fought for, the country he had to flee from and the country he had to witness fall beneath the boot of fascism.
“The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners alike are appalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddening unpunctuality”
It is a laughable stereotype were it not for the grave circumstances in which it arose. But Orwell was not just an observer of people, he befreiended many and was touched by those he fought alongside…
“I have the most evil memories of Spain, - he said - but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards. I only twice remember even being seriously angry with a Spaniard, and on each occasion, when I look back, I believe I was in the wrong myself. They have, there is no doubt, a generosity, a species of nobility, that do not really belong to the twentieth century”
His writing will be remembered for this persepective, this honesty whereby his devotion to truth was too important to put aside, even under the pressure of war.
It has been often quoted that - 'In the long run a harmful truth is better than a useful lie'. - Perhaps the Spain we live in today would do well to remember this as exposures of corruption and lies clash with the claims of honesty and transparency by political leaders.
Orwell matters today because he alone amongst the commentators on the civil war - through circumstance and honesty - witnessed the underlying struggles that defeated the Spanish revolution. Not the Civil war, nor the defence of a fragile democracy, but the Spanish revolution. Men will fight without arms and without resources for a cause that they carry in their hearts. But if they are called to merely defend the privileges of the existing classes, they will soon lose spirt and hope.
READ THE FULL STORY
Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here - Forgotten Stories From Spain
Find out More about the ebook and audio
Forgotten Stories From Spain Book HERE
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