Homage to Catalonia

by George Orwell | History |
ISBN: 0140182314 Global Overview for this book
Registered by morgaine94 of Coimbra (cidade), Coimbra Portugal on 12/11/2007
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3 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by morgaine94 from Coimbra (cidade), Coimbra Portugal on Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I've read it some years ago, in college. I remember that it is a powerfull book, but I'm no longer able to summarize the story...
So I leave here the words of somebody else:

By Jana L. Perskie "ceruleana" (New York, NY USA)
Generalissimo Francisco Franco's fascist troops invaded Spain in July 1936 in order to overthrow the newly established Republic headed by the Popular Front, (composed of liberal democrats, socialists, anarchists, trade unionists, communists and secularists). The country was basically divided into Red Spain - the Republicans, and Black Spain, represented by the landed elite, committed to a feudal system and Franco's cause, Fascists, the urban bourgeoisie, the Roman Catholic Church, and other conservative sectors. The number of casualties is only an estimate, but suggests that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people were killed. Many of these deaths, however, were not the results of military battles, but the outcome of brutal mass executions perpetrated by both sides.

During the war in Spain, approximately 38,000 non-Spanish, anti-fascist volunteers from fifty-two countries, took up arms to defend the Republican cause against Franco, who was aided by Hitler and Mussolini. Twenty-eight hundred Americans, in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, fought here alongside their Spanish and international comrades-in-arms from 1937 through 1938. These men and women believed the defense of the Republic represented the last hope of stopping the spread of international fascism. Most of the volunteers were not political, but idealists who were determined to "make Madrid the tomb of fascism." English novelist, essayist, and critic, George Orwell was one of them.

Orwell was not just a writer, he was a partisan and he was a political idealist. A revolutionary Socialist, not a Communist, he was affiliated with the Independent Labor Party (I.L.P.). Orwell originally traveled to Spain in 1937 to observe and to write, but he almost immediately enlisted in the militia as a private. At that time there were several political parties in Loyalist Spain, and each party had its own militia units, soon to be absorbed into the People's Army. Because Orwell's letters of introduction were originally from the I.L.P., which had connections to the P.O.U.M. (Workers Party of Marxist Unification - a small group of anti-Stalinists), he joined a unit of that party. Most volunteers fought Fascism under one of the Communist or Socialist banners, in a coalition effort, with the intention of working through political and social differences when the war was won. Until that time, he believed that the anti-Fascists should work together in a united front.

When Orwell arrived in Barcelona, the Anarchists were still virtually in control of Catalonia. It was the first time Orwell had ever been in a town where the working class "was in the saddle." He clearly conveys the sense of excitement of seeing the city under de facto workers' control, and the intensity of the revolutionary spirit which coursed through the people. "Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Senor' or 'Don' or even 'Usted;' everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' and Thou,' and said 'Salud' instead of 'Buenos Dias.'" It seemed like all men were equal, and there was hope in the air. "All this was queer and moving. There was much in it I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it almost immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."

After the most elementary training, Orwell spent weeks of bitter cold and hardship on the Zaragoza front, but saw little action. He was briefly hospitalized with a festering hand wound, and then returned to action - and this time there was plenty of it. Orwell's description of the fighting and conditions at the front is extraordinarily vivid and chilling. He went on leave to meet his wife in Barcelona in April, and thus was in the thick of things for the P.O.U.M. uprising. The situation in Barcelona had changed drastically since those initial days when everyone appeared on equal footing. There were startling changes in the "social atmosphere." Perhaps initially, everyone had worn overalls and shouted revolutionary slogans "as a way of saving their skins." Now, smart hotels and restaurants were once again filled with the wealthy, while food prices had jumped enormously for the working-class. The poor experienced serious and recurrent shortages. The differences between the luxuries of the "haves" and the increasing poverty of the majority became obvious. On May 3 a struggle began between the syndicalist unions and the Catalonian police force. Orwell saw the issue as a clear one: "I have no particular love for the idealized 'worker' as he appears in the bourgeois Communist's mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on." He spent three nights on the roof of a moving-picture house, watching over P.O.U.M. headquarters until troops came from Valencia, and the street fighting stopped.

After ten days back at the front Orwell received a near lethal neck wound. By the time he left the hospital he had lost his voice and all movement in his right hand. Warned by friends that the P.O.U.M. had been suppressed, and many members jailed, Orwell escaped to France with his wife. He began to write "Homage To Catalonia" shortly thereafter. It is a most inspiring and eloquent account of his time fighting with the militia during the Spanish Civil War, not just from a soldiers perspective, but as an eye-witness to one of the most significant events of the 20th century. It first appeared in 1938, but was coldly received by the left-wing intelligentsia, who regarded Communists as heroes of the war. In Orwell's lifetime "Homage to Catalonia" sold only about fifty copies a year.

Many became disillusioned with communism in Spain, but kept silent fearing to harm the Loyalist cause. Orwell's take on the Communist's/Stalin's political machinations, and the overriding priority of the USSR to strengthen Soviet foreign policy, may appear obvious today, but those who put their lives on the line in Spain were much more naive. "The whole of Comintern policy is now subordinated (excusably, considering the world situation) to the defense of the USSR." History now documents the Communist betrayal as far more terrible than Orwell conceived. He became an enemy of Soviet style communism as a consequence of his experiences in Spain, and advocated the English brand of socialism. There is an excellent Introduction in this edition by Lionel Trilling which discusses, to some extent, the political wheeling and dealing that occurred on the Republican side: how the Communist Party allied itself with right wing socialists and liberals to crush the P.O.U.M., with the standard Party line that anyone to the left of them were Trotskyists and therefore "fascist traitors."

This is a masterpiece which brings history to life. For a truly intense portrait of the period, you can do what I did, which was to read Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" with "Homage To Catalonia," back-to-back. My highest recommendations!

P.S.: reserved to ElHurricane VirtualBookBox

Journal Entry 2 by morgaine94 from Coimbra (cidade), Coimbra Portugal on Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Sent today to Conto.
Hope you like it!

Journal Entry 3 by wingcontowing from Lisboa (city), Lisboa (distrito) Portugal on Thursday, January 17, 2008
Here it is now!
I had never heard of this work from Orwell before but I got seriously curious while reading your JE, morgaine94. Thanks a lot for sharing!

Journal Entry 4 by wingcontowing from Lisboa (city), Lisboa (distrito) Portugal on Monday, December 29, 2008
In 1936, originally intending merely to report on the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, George Orwell found himself embroiled as a participant - as a member of the POUM - “Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista” (meaning Workers' Party of Marxist Unity). Fighting against the Fascists, Orwell's account of life in the trenches - with a "democratic army" composed of men with no ranks, no titles, and often no weapons - is painfully vivid and frequently comic.

But because of morgaine's overwhelming entry above, I won't loose myself in descriptions of the book and its interest, just wanting to say what it felt like to read it.

Because it was written contemporaneously, Orwell assumes that his audience is familiar with what tensions were building up in the world to lead Spain to revolution and Civil War, but the nuances of political systems of 70 years ago are murky at best and even Orwell just tries to understand the complicated realities of political power struggles as the politics become tangled. As he says several times himself, no writing on this war should ever be taken as 'The Truth', since so much of what happened was distorted by the leaders and press of the day. Besides, there were so many factions active in Spain at the time with an alphabet soup of acronyms, one really needs to get to the appendixes to try and keep it more or less straight...

What surprised me most about the book was the humour in it and I must say I was one step from laughing out loud at times! From a global point of view I liked it a lot, especially because this men writes astonishingly well and not for the knowledge on the theme that I ended up with, for I’m afraid I really didn’t.

Journal Entry 5 by wingcontowing at Wandlitz, Brandenburg Germany on Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Released 9 yrs ago (5/20/2009 UTC) at Wandlitz, Brandenburg Germany

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A surprise, apologizing rabck, to go with another Orwell, this one from a trade.

Hope you like it!

Journal Entry 6 by lola-negri from Wandlitz, Brandenburg Germany on Saturday, May 23, 2009
woohoo, a surprise book - thank you so much, conto! can't wait to start reading ... i hope you enjoy reading your trade book, too!

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