Jan-Maat's Reviews > Homage to Catalonia and Looking Back on the Spanish War

Homage to Catalonia and Looking Back on the Spanish War by George Orwell
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bookshelves: 20th-century, autobiography-memoir, iberia, politics-and-polemic
Read 2 times. Last read March 24, 2019 to March 25, 2019.

"The fact is that every war suffers a kind of progressive degradation with every month that it continues, because such things as individual liberty & a truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency" (p.172)

The opening chapters in particular lead me to imagine Basil Fawlty going abroad, or possibly the travel programmes of my youth, the accommodation is terrible, the way the food and wine are served is unhygienic, everything is disorganised and late, the Spaniards don't even speak Spanish, and with the fascists 700 metres away can you even call it a war? No, it is "a comic opera with the occasional death" (p.34) as he is told.

His comment on a Jewish-Polish officer is that he speaks terrible English, for some curious reason I imagine that when inevitable Orwell was made a corporal that he spent most of his time teaching his men to speak English rather than Catalan.

Then after establishing an image of himself as fusty Englishman abroad and war as pantomime (no uniforms, terrible old rifles, awful ammunition, no maps, no artillery, no field glasses) he then looks at the broader political picture explaining the war as one of Revolution against fascism, in which the Communists pushed for fighting the war first and then having a revolution after - this approach was aiming to reassure the international community - while the Anarchists wanted to see the revolution accomplished first. Orwell explains how he began by backing the Communists in this regard but over time shifted to the Anarchist position believing it alone had the potential for weakening Franco by inspiring revolt in fascist held territories. In the Communist backed crushing of the Anarchists in Catalonia as a viable political force one can see the origins of Animal Farm.

In the middle of the book he is caught up in street fighting in Barcelona which leads into a discussion of its misrepresentation in the press on political grounds before he returns to the front where he gets shot. The food in the hospitals is plentiful and rich, but the classic complaint of an English tourist to southern Europe too greasy, food culture is changing even in Britain, a contemporary might instead praise the artisanal quality of such food and its regional authenticity, but back then it was just considered greasy.

In contrast to Laurie Lee's A moment of war Orwell was not repeatedly arrested as a suspected spy, this was because he enter affiliated with the Independent Labour Party which itself was linked to the P.O.U.M. militia - an anarchist grouping. His account of fighting and non-fighting is impressionistic and fascinating, cold, hunger, and lack of sleep are more pressing dangers than bombs and bullets. Pretty much everything in Spain to his eyes is execrable (view spoiler) apart from the people who he pretty much universally likes and admires.

The Spanish Civil war still seems to be in progress on various (non-military) fronts if not exactly raging, aside front that I think in several of Orwelll's comments you can see the roots of 1984 and Animal farm.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 13, 2011 – Shelved
March 24, 2019 – Started Reading
March 25, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Just saw the exhibit Myths and Monsters at the Art Museum of Baltimore. https://artbma.org/
It does a fine job chronicling how the Surrealists brought out the horrors of this period.


message 2: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat HBalikov wrote: "Just saw the exhibit Myths and Monsters at the Art Museum of Baltimore. https://artbma.org/
It does a fine job chronicling how the Surrealists brought out the horrors of this period."

wow, sounds like that was quite some exhibition!


message 3: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Jan-Maat wrote: "HBalikov wrote: "Just saw the exhibit Myths and Monsters at the Art Museum of Baltimore. https://artbma.org/
It does a fine job chronicling how the Surrealists brought out the horrors of this perio..."


It was well worth the 5 hours travel to see it!


message 4: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat HBalikov wrote: "It was well worth the 5 hours travel to see it!
."


thank goodness for that!


Kevin The P.O.U.M were semi-Trotskyist organisation, not Anarchist. There were opposed to the Communist agenda of collaboration, and stood for land collectivisation amongst other progressive aspects, which did happen before the Russian Comintern and advisors and military equipment over the the Republicans. The Anarchists were the CNT/FAI; both groupings were eventually eliminated by the CP.


message 6: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Kevin wrote: "The P.O.U.M were semi-Trotskyist organisation, not Anarchist. There were opposed to the Communist agenda of collaboration, and stood for land collectivisation amongst other progressive aspects, whi..."

ok, thanks - I notice though that in this book that Orwell is explicit that the label Trotskyist was used in a pejorative sense by organisations opposed to the POUM, so I am not sure that they would have self identified as even semi-Trotskyist, though no doubt there may have been some overlap in their positions and views held by Trotsky at some point


Kevin Jan-Maat wrote: "Kevin wrote: "The P.O.U.M were semi-Trotskyist organisation, not Anarchist. There were opposed to the Communist agenda of collaboration, and stood for land collectivisation amongst other progressiv..."

I believe Andres Nin, the leader of the POUM was captured by the Stalinists and was executed. Then the May Days in Barcelona in 1937 happened (which Orwell was present at), and after both the CNT/FAI and POUM who fought against the CP were outlawed. It did as you stated lead to Orwells later, more political works such as Animal Farm and 1984. It disillusioned him against Soviet 'Communism', more specifically totalitarianism, including that of the West as much as Russia.


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