Homage to Catalonia | Study Guide

Orwell

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Homage to Catalonia | Appendixes 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Appendix 1

In the Appendixes Orwell gives his political analysis of the Spanish Civil War and of the street fighting in Barcelona in May 1937. He admits that he initially ignored "the political side of the war," and indeed the rest of Homage to Catalonia is mainly a military narrative. But the Spanish Civil War was "above all things a political war," so Orwell feels bound to address that aspect.

At first Orwell does not understand why there are so many separate parties and groups on the Republican side. "Aren't we all Socialists?" he asks. In his initial, naive understanding of the war, Orwell believed he was there "to fight against Fascism." This was the image of the Spanish Civil War promoted by the liberal newspapers Orwell read in England. Orwell was initially exasperated by the "kaleidoscope of political parties and trade unions, with their tiresome names—PSUC, POUM, FAI, CNT ... " But Orwell soon realized it was not possible to stay above the fray. The divisions of the parties and the separate decisions they made had profound effects on the militiamen: "One's own destiny was involved."

Orwell puts the uprising by General Franco in July 1936 into historical perspective. The world had recently seen military aggression from fascist or authoritarian governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Thus many people in Europe were primed to draw the line at Franco and resist him. Orwell also points out Franco had a weaker base than either Hitler or Mussolini. The initial anti-Franco resistance came mainly from the trade unions, who armed their own militias. Only people "fighting with a revolutionary intention ... fighting for something better than the status quo" could make such an effort, Orwell believes.

Revolution was the crux of the matter, the issue that split the Republican side into opposing factions. As Orwell points out, what was happening in Spain was "not merely a civil war, but the beginning of a revolution." By this he means everyday life was being reorganized along revolutionary lines: collectivizing industries so they were owned and run by workers, redistributing land to the peasants, etc. The Republican government believed the most important thing was to defeat Franco. Radical attempts to reorganize daily life along revolutionary lines would alienate the middle class and weaken support, Republicans believed. Groups allying themselves with this viewpoint included the PSUC and the PCE. On the other side, the anarchists, the POUM, and other leftist groups also thought winning the war was vitally important. However, they believed preserving capitalist democracy would mean "let[ing] in Fascism by the back door." A capitalist system with a democratic representative government is, in this viewpoint, "a centralized swindling machine," a way to continue oppressing and dominating the poor. For the Republicans it was crucial to win the war by suppressing revolution. For the anarchists and their allies, suppressing the revolution meant ultimately losing the war against fascism. There was no middle ground.

There were other, larger geopolitical issues affecting the Spanish Civil War, according to Orwell. Outside Spain, too, "the whole world," apart from some small revolutionary parties, "was determined upon preventing revolution in Spain." Many communists believed Spain had not reached the proper historical stage for communism; it was time for "bourgeois democracy" first, with revolution following at some later date. Of course "'liberal' capitalist opinion took the same line," Orwell remarks; businesses wanted to protect their investments in Spain. Additionally the Soviet Union needed its powerful bourgeois allies in Europe, such as France, to supply it with aid and weapons. Thus the communist government of the Soviet Union was threatened by the prospect of revolutionary chaos erupting in or near France. Communist parties loyal to the Soviet Union therefore had to be against revolution in Spain or France. Since the Soviet Union supplied arms to the Republican side, their policies dominated. "Prevent revolution or you get no weapons" is how Orwell summarizes the Soviet position. As well, Franco's initial uprising happened in Morocco, and Orwell feels Franco could have been effectively attacked there. But a revolution in Morocco would not have been acceptable to the other colonial powers of Europe; revolution there could have set off more demands for autonomy in the colonies.

Orwell also gives a brief history of the Spanish Civil War. At the outset, Orwell says, the government pretty much represented the working class. But with every government reshuffle, he observes, the government drifted rightward. On the one hand, the arms-supplying Soviet Union was against revolution in Spain; on the other hand Republican government believed radicalism would alienate their supporters within Spain. Thus the Republican government began trying to undermine and disarm the revolutionary parties and the trade unions. Sometimes the weapon was pressure: "Unless you do this, that, and the other we shall lose the war." Other tactics included subsuming the militias within the newly organized Popular Army. When the Republican government moved to seize the Telephone Exchange in Barcelona in May 1937, revolutionary groups saw this as the beginning of a war against them, and they responded in kind, with violence. The Republican government then followed the street fighting by declaring the POUM illegal and imprisoning its members.

These tangled alliances led to some strange situations. Communist parties stood "upon the extreme Right" in Spain, according to Orwell. Loyalty to the Soviet Union meant "official communism must be regarded, at any rate for the time being, as an anti-revolutionary force," in Orwell's opinion. Although conservative newspapers back in England were braying about the "reds" fomenting revolution in Spain, "in reality it was the communists above all others who prevented revolution in Spain." In perhaps the most mind-bending development, after the street fighting the communists and the Republican government claimed the POUM and the anarchists had been collaborating with Franco to bring about a fascist victory.

These represent Orwell's later political opinions, he says. Initially he was attracted to the communists more than to the POUM or the anarchists. "The Communists ... were getting on with the war while we [the POUM] and the Anarchists were standing still," Orwell believed at first. He also found "the revolutionary purism" of the POUM "futile." Communist propaganda about the POUM was part of what changed his mind. He saw the communists calling his comrades in arms "Fascists, traitors, murderers, cowards, spies, and so forth." He ultimately came to believe "the Communist antirevolutionary policy [is] mistaken." And yet he feels "the war was worth winning even if the revolution was lost." Stopping Franco was still worthwhile, and at the time Orwell was writing Homage to Catalonia Franco had not yet won.

Appendix 2

Orwell begins by remarking on how horrible it is "to enter into the details of inter-party polemics; it is like diving into a cesspool." He urges readers to skip this part if they want to. But he feels he must "try and establish the truth" about the street fighting in Barcelona in May 1937.

Starting with the background to the May fighting, Orwell reveals the government took a provocative action: it ordered the "surrender [of] all private weapons." At the same time the government decided to "build up a heavily-armed 'non-political' police force from which trade union members were to be excluded." Together these two measures seemed aimed at lessening the power of the revolutionary parties on the Republican side, particularly the CNT, the confederation of anarcho-syndicalist unions. After these measures were announced, people felt a direct attack on the CNT would be the government's next move. When the Assault Guards moved against the CNT-held Telephone Exchange, anarchists believed the outright war against them had begun, and they responded in kind, with gunfire.

Orwell also reveals the POUM leadership initially hesitated in Barcelona in May. This part of the appendix is not Orwell's eyewitness account; he was not in touch with the POUM leadership, he says. But people who were tell Orwell the POUM leaders were reluctant about the street fighting. The POUM "had never been in favor of insurrection until the war against Franco was won." And yet when workers were fighting in the streets, the leadership believed the POUM had a duty to fight alongside them.

Neither side—not the government, not the anarchists—really wanted the fight, according to Orwell. This might seem illogical; how could both parties be fighting on the defensive? But Orwell produces evidence that neither side had planned for the street fighting. For example, neither side brought reinforcements into the city beforehand, and the food ran short within days. A planned attack would have been better coordinated, Orwell claims. "The seizure of the Telephone Exchange was simply the match that fired an already existing bomb," Orwell concludes.

In the rest of the appendix, Orwell reprints passages from journalistic accounts of the street fighting from the communist press. The communist version "was published all over the world," says Orwell, and that is why he must show its inconsistencies and falsehoods.

Orwell also examines "the foreign capitalist newspapers" and finds they "laid the blame for the fighting on the Anarchists." But a few foreign newspapers also "followed the Communist line," blaming the POUM. Once again Orwell finds "no evidence was produced in support of this accusation; the thing was simply asserted with an air of authority." He also points out the militias stayed loyal to the Republican cause; even as they were being denigrated in Barcelona, they were fighting and dying at Huesca. Orwell concludes by lamenting the communist practice of debilitating their enemies by making wild accusations. The war was not yet concluded at the time Orwell wrote the book; he saw the infighting as a distraction from the war. "Libel settles nothing," he remarks.

Analysis

In the tense run-up to the street fighting in Barcelona, Orwell is unquestioningly loyal to the POUM and its aims. Orwell does not much care for communist sloganeering about "the idealized 'worker,'" but when in Chapter 9 he sees " an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman," he does not hesitate. He sides with the worker; in this case, with the CNT members at the Telephone Exchange. Therefore it is surprising to find Orwell so even-handed in the appendixes as he describes the strategies and actions of the government, the POUM, and the anarchists. Although he defends the POUM against the government's slanderous charge of collaboration with fascism, he admits there were mistakes on both sides. He also modulates his accusations against the government, showing it is possible the government did not plot the street fighting ahead of time. Nonetheless, Orwell remains convinced the actions against the POUM were part of a larger strategy, on the part of the government, to consolidate power and eliminate rivals.

In the Appendixes Orwell also reveals he had no deep, politically motivated bond with the POUM. He joined up with them because he had papers from the ILP, the International Labour Party, a British workers' party, and the ILP was associated with the POUM. He has already revealed in the narrative that he was thinking of going over to join communists, hoping he might see more action and be of more service. Thus it is already clear Orwell put no great stock in the differences within the "kaleidoscope of political parties and trade unions, with their tiresome names." But what might surprise readers, who have followed Orwell through the bitter days of May in Barcelona, is that he was initially much more drawn to the communists than to either the anarchists or the POUM. "The Communists ... were getting on with the war while we [the POUM] and the Anarchists were standing still," Orwell believed at first. He also found the POUM's "revolutionary purism" grating, but he admits he may have been a bit of a contrarian: "I naturally reacted against the viewpoint of which I heard most—i.e. the POUM-ILP viewpoint."

The Appendixes are remarkable for the light they shed on a number of intractable differences in the Spanish Civil War. When analyzed, the aims of the POUM and the anarchists, on one side, and the Republican government on the other, are thoroughly incompatible. The government wants to win the war against Franco and prop up Spain's representative government and capitalist economy. The anarchists wanted to win the war against Franco too, but in their minds parliamentary democracy and ceding workers' control added up to losing the war, because they add up to continued oppression of workers. (Here Orwell reveals the POUM was not equally committed to revolution; it "had never been in favor of insurrection until the war against Franco was won.") This intractable difference over revolution split the Popular Front; in Orwell's analysis, it had to end badly. Popular front is the strategy of uniting radical and reformist left-wing parties to fight fascism. Orwell points out it is doomed because it is an "an alliance of enemies," and so it likely "must always end by one partner swallowing the other."

Given these intractable differences, it may surprise readers that Orwell can remain so even-handed. Although he realizes now the Spanish Civil War was also a political war for power in Spain, he nonetheless preserves something of his idealized initial view of the war. He is aware of what losing the revolution means: continued oppression of workers in Spain, givebacks and reversals in newly collectivized industries, and most likely a fascist or at least dictatorial communist government in power at the end of the war. Nonetheless, Orwell still finds part of the communist line acceptable: "But, finally, the war was worth winning even if the revolution was lost."

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