Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Orwell’s account of his participation in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans has quite rightly achieved the status of a classic.   Orwell pitched up in Barcelona as a journalist intending to cover the war.  In the event he got carried away by the atmosphere of the time and ended up signing up to fight at the front.  It must have been some atmosphere.  Orwell describes it as a formative experience that made him really believe in socialism, something he had done only intellectually before.

As luck would have it he ended up joining an anarchist militia.  This led to him getting involved not only in the fighting against the fascists, but also in the internal struggles within the republic.  He gained from this a hearty dislike of the Communists and of thier leaders in Moscow.  This was to come out in later works.  It is quite likely he would have reached the same conclusions in any case -many on the left at the time were doing their best to distance themselves from the authoritarian version that Lennin had unleashed on the world in 1917, but Orwell’s dislike of Communism was deep rooted and visceral largely as a result of his experiences fighting in Spain both literally and metaphorically.

The ironic thing is that while the political machinations which form such a large part of the book form a really good record of what was going on at the time, for Orwell himself they were a nuiscance.  He wanted to write about what he saw and had a much more descriptive book in mind.  I think he wanted to do something a lot more along the lines of reportage like Zola might have done.  But by getting involved with a particular side in the conflict he lost his objectivity.  It must have been frustrating for him, but I think most people who have ever written anything are well aware that things don’t always turn out the way you intend them.   As it is, Homage to Catalonia is worth reading for its literary merit and for the insight it gives as an eye witness account of a particular period of history.  It is a pity for Orwell that that wasn’t what he wanted to write, but I am glad he actually did.

 

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