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Post Deficiencies of Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia"
Created by John Eipper on 03/06/18 6:41 AM

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Deficiencies of Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" (Paul Preston, UK, 03/06/18 6:41 am)

I thought that I had sent Nigel Jones off-list my long article about the deficiencies of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. In the light of his post of March 5th, I must assume that I didn't. Anyway, for any WAISers who might be interested, it was published as Paul Preston (2017): "Lights and Shadows in George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia," Bulletin of Spanish Studies.


Basically, by dint of considerable research into the context of Orwell's brief stay in Spain and of reading his many letters and articles during and after the writing of the book, what it demonstrates is as follows. His eye-witness accounts of what he actually saw, in the trenches of a fairly quiet front in Aragón and on the streets of Barcelona during the events of May 1937, constitute superb reporting. His political conclusions are highly questionable for a variety of reasons. He was in Spain only from January to June 1937, so to draw conclusions about a Communist take-over nearly two years before the end of the war was rather precipitate. Moreover, his views were coloured by the fact that his information, beyond what he actually witnessed, came from anarchists and Trotskyists who were opposed to the need of the Republican government, backed by liberal Republicans, Socialists and Communists, for a centralised war effort. In private, he acknowledged this, writing to Frank Jellinek on 20 December 1938: "Actually I've given a more sympathetic account of the POUM ‘line' than I actually felt, because I always told them they were wrong and refused to join the party. But I had to put it as sympathetically as possible, because it has had no hearing in the capitalist press and nothing but libels in the left-wing press."

There is ample evidence in the article that, in 1937, Orwell's interpretative views were based on ignorance. This is made clear in the revised views that he expressed in his long article "Looking Back on the Spanish War," written in 1942 and first published in a truncated form in New Road (June 1943).

As for Casado, as I tried to make clear in a recent post and do so in great detail in my book The Last Days of the Spanish Republic, the motley crew who joined up with him had a variety of motivations for which anti-Communism was a convenient label. I had a fascinating meeting last week with a brilliant young Spanish scholar, Carlos Piriz, whose research into the Fifth Column demonstrates how the Francoist secret services were grooming elements, like Besteiro and Casado and many others, to collaborate.

Anyway, everyone has a right to their views. It's just that, on the Spanish Civil War, some of us base them on arduous research.

JE comments:  The URL above requires a sign-in.  Those of us with academic access can link up via JStor or equivalent.

I'd love to learn more about Piriz's research, Paul, especially concerning the carrots and sticks employed by the Francoist agents.

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