The Complete Works of



George Orwell > Homage to Catalonia > Chapter 5

Homage to Catalonia

Chapter 5

ON the eastern side of Huesca, until late March, nothing happened--almost
literally nothing. We were twelve hundred metres from the enemy. When the
Fascists were driven back into Huesca the Republican Army troops who held this
part of the line had not been over-zealous in their advance, so that the line
formed a kind of pocket. Later it would have to be advanced--a ticklish job
under fire--but for the present the enemy might as well have been nonexistent;
our sole preoccupation was keeping warm and getting enough to eat. As a matter
of fact there were things in this period that interested me greatly, and I will
describe some of them later. But I shall be keeping nearer to the order of
events if I try here to give some account of the internal political situation on
the Government side.

At the beginning I had ignored the political side of the war, and it was only
about this time that it began to force itself upon my attention. If you are not
interested in the horrors of party politics, please skip; I am trying to keep
the political parts of this narrative in separate chapters for precisely that
purpose. But at the same time it would be quite impossible to write about the
Spanish war from a purely military angle. It was above all things a political
war. No event in it, at any rate during the first year, is intelligible unless
one has some grasp of the inter-party struggle that was going on behind the
Government lines.

When I came to Spain, and for some time afterwards, I was not only
uninterested in the political situation but unaware of it. I knew there was a
war on, but I had no notion what kind of a war. If you had asked me why I had
joined the militia I should have answered: 'To fight against Fascism,' and if
you had asked me what I was fighting for, I should have answered: 'Common
decency.' I had accepted the News Chronicle-New Statesman version of the war as
the defence of civilization against a maniacal outbreak by an army of Colonel
Blimps in the pay of Hitler. The revolutionary atmosphere of Barcelona had
attracted me deeply, but I had made no attempt to understand it. As for the
kaleidoscope of political parties and trade unions, with their tiresome names--
P.S.U.C., P.O.U.M., F.A.I., C.N.T., U.G.T., J.C.I., J.S.U., A.I.T.--they merely
exasperated me. It looked at first sight as though Spain were suffering from a
plague of initials. I knew that I was serving in something called the P.O.U.M.
(I had only joined the P.O.U.M. militia rather than any other because I happened
to arrive in Barcelona with I.L.P. papers), but I did not realize that there
were serious differences between the political parties. At Monte Pocero, when
they pointed to the position on our left and said:

'Those are the Socialists' (meaning the P.S.U.C.), I was puzzled and said:
'Aren't we all Socialists?' I thought it idiotic that people fighting for their
lives should have separate parties; my attitude always was, 'Why can't we drop
all this political nonsense and get on with the war?' This of course was the
correct' anti-Fascist' attitude which had been carefully disseminated by the
English newspapers, largely in order to prevent people from grasping the real
nature of the struggle. But in Spain, especially in Catalonia, it was an
attitude that no one could or did keep up indefinitely. Everyone, however
unwillingly, took sides sooner or later. For even if one cared nothing for the
political parties and their conflicting 'lines', it was too obvious that one's
own destiny was involved. As a militiaman one was a soldier against Franco, but
one was also a pawn in an enormous struggle that was being fought out between
two political theories. When I scrounged for firewood on the mountainside and
wondered whether this was really a war or whether the News Chronicle had made it
up, when I dodged the Communist machine-guns in the Barcelona riots, when I
finally fled from Spain with the police one jump behind me--all these things
happened to me in that particular way because I was serving in the P.O.U.M.
militia and not in the P.S.U.C. So great is the difference between two sets of

To understand the alignment on the Government side one has got to remember
how the war started. When the fighting broke out on 18 July it is probable that
every anti-Fascist in Europe felt a thrill of hope. For here at last,
apparently, was democracy standing up to Fascism. For years past the so-called
democratic countries had been surrendering to Fascism at every step. The
Japanese had been allowed to do as they liked in Manchuria. Hitler had walked
into power and proceeded to massacre political opponents of all shades.
Mussolini had bombed the Abyssinians while fifty-three nations (I think it was
fifty-three) made pious noises 'off'. But when Franco tried to overthrow a
mildly Left-wing Government the Spanish people, against all expectation, had
risen against him. It seemed--possibly it was--the turning of the tide.

But there were several points that escaped general notice. To begin with,
Franco was not strictly comparable with Hitler or Mussolini. His rising was a
military mutiny backed up by the aristocracy and the Church, and in the main,
especially at the beginning, it was an attempt not so much to impose Fascism as
to restore feudalism. This meant that Franco had against him not only the
working class but also various sections of the liberal bourgeoisie--the very
people who are the supporters of Fascism when it appears in a more modern form.
More important than this was the fact that the Spanish working class did not, as
we might conceivably do in England, resist Franco in the name of 'democracy' and
the status quo', their resistance was accompanied by--one might almost say it
consisted of--a definite revolutionary outbreak. Land was seized by the
peasants; many factories and most of the transport were seized by the trade
unions; churches were wrecked and the priests driven out or killed. The Daily
Mail, amid the cheers of the Catholic clergy, was able to represent Franco as a
patriot delivering his country from hordes of fiendish 'Reds'.

For the first few months of the war Franco's real opponent was not so much
the Government as the trade unions. As soon as the rising broke out the
organized town workers replied by calling a general strike and then by demanding
--and, after a struggle, getting--arms from the public arsenals. If they had
not acted spontaneously and more or less independently it is quite conceivable
that Franco would never have been resisted. There can, of course, be no
certainty about this, but there is at least reason for thinking it. The
Government had made little or no attempt to forestall the rising, which had been
foreseen for a long time past, and when the trouble started its attitude was
weak and hesitant, so much so, indeed, that Spain had three premiers in a single
day. [Note 1, below] Moreover, the one step that could save the immediate situation,
the arming of the workers, was only taken unwillingly and in response to violent
popular clamour. However, the arms were distributed, and in the big towns of
eastern Spain the Fascists were defeated by a huge effort, mainly of the working
class, aided by some of the armed forces (Assault Guards, etc.) who had remained
loyal. It was the kind of effort that could probably only be made by people who were
fighting with a revolutionary intention--i.e. believed that they were fighting
for something better than the status quo. In the various centres of revolt it is
thought that three thousand people died in the streets in a single day. Men and
women armed only with sticks of dynamite rushed across the open squares and
stormed stone buildings held by trained soldiers with machine-guns. Machine-gun
nests that the Fascists had placed at strategic spots were smashed by rushing
taxis at them at sixty miles an hour. Even if one had heard nothing of the
seizure of the land by the peasants, the setting up of local Soviets, etc., it
would be hard to believe that the Anarchists and Socialists who were the
backbone of the resistance were doing this kind of thing for the preservation of
capitalist democracy, which especially in the Anarchist view was no more than a
centralized swindling machine.

[Note 1. Quiroga, Barrios, and Giral. The first two refused to distribute arms
to the trade unions.]

Meanwhile the workers had weapons in their hands, and at this stage they
refrained from giving them up. (Even a year later it was computed that the
Anarcho-Syndicalists in Catalonia possessed 30,000 rifles.) The estates of the
big pro-Fascist landlords were in many places seized by the peasants. Along with
the collectivization of industry and transport there was an attempt to set up
the rough beginnings of a workers' government by means of local committees,
workers' patrols to replace the old pro-capitalist police forces, workers'
militias based on the trade unions, and so forth. Of course the process was not
uniform, and it went further in Catalonia than elsewhere. There were areas where
the institutions of local government remained almost untouched, and others where
they existed side by side with revolutionary committees. In a few places
independent Anarchist communes were set up, and some of them remained in being
till about a year later, when they were forcibly suppressed by the Government.
In Catalonia, for the first few months, most of the actual power was in the
hands of the Anarcho-syndicalists, who controlled most of the key industries.
The thing that had happened in Spain was, in fact, not merely a civil war, but
the beginning of a revolution. It is this fact that the anti-Fascist press
outside Spain has made it its special business to obscure. The issue has been
narrowed down to 'Fascism versus democracy' and the revolutionary aspect
concealed as much as possible. In England, where the Press is more centralized
and the public more easily deceived than elsewhere, only two versions of the
Spanish war have had any publicity to speak of: the Right-wing version of
Christian patriots versus Bolsheviks dripping with blood, and the Left-wing
version of gentlemanly republicans quelling a military revolt. The central issue
has been successfully covered up.

There were several reasons for this. To begin with, appalling lies about
atrocities were being circulated by the pro-Fascist press, and well-meaning
propagandists undoubtedly thought that they were aiding the Spanish Government
by denying that Spain had 'gone Red'. But the main reason was this: that, except
for the small revolutionary groups which exist in all countries, the whole world
was determined, upon preventing revolution in Spain. In particular the Communist
Party, with Soviet Russia behind it, had thrown its whole weight against the
revolution. It was the Communist thesis that revolution at this stage would be
fatal and that what was to be aimed at in Spain was not workers' control, but
bourgeois democracy. It hardly needs pointing out why 'liberal' capitalist
opinion took the same line. Foreign capital was heavily invested in Spain. The
Barcelona Traction Company, for instance, represented ten millions of British
capital; and meanwhile the trade unions had seized all the transport in
Catalonia. If the revolution went forward there would be no compensation, or
very little; if the capitalist republic prevailed, foreign investments would be
safe. And since the revolution had got to be crushed, it greatly simplified
things to pretend that no revolution had happened. In this way the real
significance of every event could be covered up; every shift of power from the
trade unions to the central Government could be represented as a necessary step
in military reorganization. The situation produced was curious in the extreme.
Outside Spain few people grasped that there was a revolution; inside Spain
nobody doubted it. Even the P.S.U.C. newspapers. Communist-controlled and more
or less committed to an anti-revolutionary policy, talked about 'our glorious
revolution'. And meanwhile the Communist press in foreign countries was shouting
that there was no sign of revolution anywhere; the seizure of factories, setting
up of workers' committees, etc., had not happened--or, alternatively, had
happened, but 'had no political significance'. According to the Daily Worker (6
August 1936) those who said that the Spanish people were fighting for social
revolution, or for anything other than bourgeois democracy, were' downright
lying scoundrels'. On the other hand, Juan Lopez, a member of the Valencia
Government, declared in February 1937 that 'the Spanish people are shedding
their blood, not for the democratic Republic and its paper Constitution, but
for . . . a revolution'. So it would appear that the downright lying scoundrels
included members of the Government for which we were bidden to fight. Some of
the foreign anti-Fascist papers even descended to the pitiful lie of pretending
that churches were only attacked when they were used as Fascist fortresses.
Actually churches were pillaged everywhere and as a matter of course, because it
was perfectly well understood that the Spanish Church was part of the capitalist
racket. In six months in Spain I only saw two undamaged churches, and until
about July 1937 no churches were allowed to reopen and hold services, except for
one or two Protestant churches in Madrid.

But, after all, it was only the beginning of a revolution, not the complete
thing. Even when the workers, certainly in Catalonia and possibly elsewhere, had
the power to do so, they did not overthrow or completely replace the Government.
Obviously they could not do so when Franco was hammering at the gate and
sections of the middle class were on their side. The country was in a
transitional state that was capable either of developing in the direction of
Socialism or of reverting to an ordinary capitalist republic. The peasants had
most of the land, and they were likely to keep it, unless Franco won; all large
industries had been collectivized, but whether they remained collectivized, or
whether capitalism was reintroduced, would depend finally upon which group
gained control. At the beginning both the Central Government and the Generalite
de Cataluna (the semi-autonomous Catalan Government) could definitely be said to
represent the working class. The Government was headed by Caballero, a Left-wing
Socialist, and contained ministers representing the U.G.T. (Socialist trade
unions) and the C.N.T. (Syndicalist unions controlled by the Anarchists). The
Catalan Generalite was for a while virtually superseded by an anti-Fascist
Defence Committee [Note 2, below] consisting mainly of delegates from the trade
unions. Later the Defence Committee was dissolved and the Generalite was
reconstituted so as to represent the unions and the various Left-wing parties.
But every subsequent reshuffling of the Government was a move towards the Right.
First the P.O.U.M. was expelled from the Generalite; six months later Caballero
was replaced by the Right-wing Socialist Negrin; shortly afterwards the C.N.T.
was eliminated from the Government; then the U.G.T.; then the C.N.T. was turned
out of the Generalite; finally, a year after the outbreak of war and revolution,
there remained a Government composed entirely of Right-wing Socialists, Liberals,
and Communists.

[Note 2. Comite Central de Milicias Antifascistas.
Delegates were chosen in proportion to the membership of their organizations.
Nine delegates represented the trade unions, three the Catalan Liberal parties,
and two the various Marxist parties (P.O.U.M., Communists, and others).]

The general swing to the Right dates from about October-November 1936, when
the U.S.S.R. began to supply arms to the Government and power began to pass from
the Anarchists to the Communists. Except Russia and Mexico no country had had
the decency to come to the rescue of the Government, and Mexico, for obvious
reasons, could not supply arms in large quantities. Consequently the Russians
were in a position to dictate terms. There is very little doubt that these terms
were, in substance, 'Prevent revolution or you get no weapons', and that the
first move against the revolutionary elements, the expulsion of the P.O.U.M.
from the Catalan Generalite, was done under orders from the U.S.S.R. It has been
denied that any direct pressure was exerted by the Russian Government, but the
point is not of great importance, for the Communist parties of all countries can
be taken as carrying out Russian policy, and it is not denied that the Communist
Party was the chief mover first against the P.O.U.M., later against the
Anarchists and against Caballero's section of the Socialists, and, in general,
against a revolutionary policy. Once the U.S.S.R. had intervened the triumph of
the Communist Party was assured. To begin with, gratitude to Russia for the arms
and the fact that the Communist Party, especially since the arrival of the
International Brigades, looked capable of winning the war, immensely raised the
Communist prestige. Secondly, the Russian arms were supplied via the Communist
Party and the parties allied to them, who saw to it that as few as possible got
to their political opponents. [Note 3, below] Thirdly, by proclaiming
a non-revolutionary policy the Communists were able to gather in
all those whom the extremists had scared. It was easy, for instance, to rally
the wealthier peasants against the collectivization policy of the Anarchists.
There was an enormous growth in the membership of the party, and the influx was
largely from the middle class--shopkeepers, officials, army officers,
well-to-do peasants, etc., etc. The war was essentially a triangular struggle.
The fight against Franco had to continue, but the simultaneous aim of the
Government was to recover such power as remained in the hands of the trade
unions. It was done by a series of small moves--a policy of pin-pricks, as
somebody called it--and on the whole very cleverly. There was no general and
obvious counter-revolutionary move, and until May 1937 it was scarcely necessary
to use force. The workers could always be brought to heel by an argument that is
almost too obvious to need stating: 'Unless you do this, that, and the other we
shall lose the war.' In every case, needless to say, it appeared that the thing
demanded by military necessity was the surrender of something that the workers
had won for themselves in 1936. But the argument could hardly fail, because to
lose the war was the last thing that the revolutionary parties wanted; if the
war was lost democracy and revolution. Socialism and Anarchism, became
meaningless words. The Anarchists, the only revolutionary party that was big
enough to matter, were obliged to give way on point after point. The process of
collectivization was checked, the local committees were got rid of, the workers
patrols were abolished and the pre-war police forces, largely reinforced and
very heavily armed, were restored, and various key industries which had been
under the control of the trade unions were taken over by the Government (the
seizure of the Barcelona Telephone Exchange, which led to the May fighting, was
one incident in this process); finally, most important of all, the workers'
militias, based on the trade unions, were gradually broken up and redistributed
among the new Popular Army, a 'non-political' army on semi-bourgeois lines, with
a differential pay rate, a privileged officer-caste, etc., etc. In the special
circumstances this was the really decisive step; it happened later in Catalonia
than elsewhere because it was there that the revolutionary parties were
strongest. Obviously the only guarantee that the workers could have of retaining
their winnings was to keep some of the armed forces under their own control. As
usual, the breaking-up of the militias was done in the name of military
efficiency; and no one denied that a thorough military reorganization was
needed. It would, however, have been quite possible to reorganize the militias
and make them more efficient while keeping them under direct control of the
trade unions; the main purpose of the change was to make sure that the
Anarchists did not possess an army of their own. Moreover, the democratic spirit
of the militias made them breeding-grounds for revolutionary ideas. The
Communists were well aware of this, and inveighed ceaselessly and bitterly
against the P.O.U.M. and Anarchist principle of equal pay for all ranks. A
general 'bourgeoisification', a deliberate destruction of the equalitarian
spirit of the first few months of the revolution, was taking place. All happened
so swiftly that people making successive visits to Spain at intervals of a few
months have declared that they seemed scarcely to be visiting the same country;
what had seemed on the surface and for a brief instant to be a workers' State
was changing before one's eyes into an ordinary bourgeois republic with the
normal division into rich and poor. By the autumn of 1937 the 'Socialist' Negrin
was declaring in public speeches that 'we respect private property', and members
of the Cortes who at the beginning of the war had had to fly the country because
of their suspected Fascist sympathies were returning to Spain. The whole process
is easy to understand if one remembers that it proceeds from the temporary
alliance that Fascism, in certain forms, forces upon the bourgeois and the
worker. This alliance, known as the Popular Front, is in essential an alliance
of enemies, and it seems probable that it must always end by one partner
swallowing the other. The only unexpected feature in the Spanish situation--and
outside Spain it has caused an immense amount of misunderstanding--is that
among the parties on the Government side the Communists stood not upon the
extreme Left, but upon the extreme Right. In reality this should cause no
surprise, because the tactics of the Communist Party elsewhere, especially in
France, have made it clear that Official Communism must be regarded, at any rate
for the time being, as an anti-revolutionary force. The whole of Comintern
policy is now subordinated (excusably, considering the world situation) to the
defence of U.S.S.R., which depends upon a system of military alliances. In
particular, the U.S.S.R. is in alliance with France, a capitalist-imperialist
country. The alliance is of little use to Russia unless French capitalism is
strong, therefore Communist policy in France has got to be anti-revolutionary.
This means not only that French Communists now march behind the tricolour and
sing the Marseillaise, but, what is more important, that they have had to drop
all effective agitation in the French colonies. It is less than three years
since Thorez, the Secretary of the French Communist Party, was declaring that
the French workers would never be bamboozled into fighting against their German
comrades; [Note 4, below] he is now one of the loudest-lunged patriots
in France. The clue to the behaviour of the Communist Party in any country
is the military relation of that country, actual or potential, towards the
U.S.S.R. In England, for instance, the position is still uncertain,
hence the English Communist Party is still hostile to the National
Government, and, ostensibly, opposed to rearmament. If, however,
Great Britain enters into an alliance or military understanding with the
U.S.S.R., the English Communist, like the French Communist, will have no choice
but to become a good patriot and imperialist; there are premonitory signs of
this already. In Spain the Communist 'line' was undoubtedly influenced by the
fact that France, Russia's ally, would strongly object to a revolutionary
neighbour and would raise heaven and earth to prevent the liberation of Spanish
Morocco. The Daily Mail, with its tales of red revolution financed by Moscow,
was even more wildly wrong than usual. In reality it was the Communists above
all others who prevented revolution in Spain. Later, when the Right-wing forces
were in full control, the Communists showed themselves willing to go a great
deal further than the Liberals in hunting down the revolutionary leaders.
[Note 5, below]

[Note 3. This was why there were so few Russian arms on
the Aragon front, where the troops were predominantly Anarchist. Until April
1937 the only Russian weapon I saw--with the exception of some aeroplanes which
may or may not have been Russian--was a solitary sub-machine-gun.]

[Note 4. In the Chamber of Deputies, March 1935.]

[Note 5. For the best account of the interplay between
the parties on the Government side, see Franz Borkenau's The Spanish Cockpit.
This is by a long way the ablest book that has yet appeared on the Spanish war.]

I have tried to sketch the general course of the Spanish revolution during
its first year, because this makes it easier to understand the situation at any
given moment. But I do not want to suggest that in February I held all of the
opinions that are implied in what I have said above. To begin with, the things
that most enlightened me had not yet happened, and in any case my sympathies
were in some ways different from what they are now. This was partly because the
political side of the war bored me and I naturally reacted against the viewpoint
of which I heard most--i.e. the P.O.U.M.-I.L.P. viewpoint. The Englishmen I was
among were mostly I.L.P. members, with a few C.P. members among them, and most
of them were much better educated politically than myself. For weeks on end,
during the dull period when nothing was happening round Huesca, I found myself
in the middle of a political discussion that practically never ended. In the
draughty evil-smelling barn of the farm-house where we were billeted, in the
stuffy blackness of dug-outs, behind the parapet in the freezing midnight hours,
the conflicting party 'lines' were debated over and over. Among the Spaniards it
was the same, and most of the newspapers we saw made the inter-party feud their
chief feature. One would have had to be deaf or an imbecile not to pick up some
idea of what the various parties stood for.

From the point of view of political theory there were only three parties that
mattered, the P.S.U.C., the P.O.U.M., and the C.N.T.-F.A.I., loosely described
as the Anarchists. I take the P.S.U.C. first, as being the most important; it
was the party that finally triumphed, and even at this time it was visibly in
the ascendant.

It is necessary to explain that when one speaks of the P.S.U.C. 'line' one
really means the Communist Party 'line'. The P.S.U.C. (Partido Socialista
Unificado de Cataluna) was the Socialist Party of Catalonia; it had been formed
at the beginning of the war by the fusion of various Marxist parties, including
the Catalan Communist Party, but it was now entirely under Communist control and
was affiliated to the Third International. Elsewhere in Spain no formal
unification between Socialists and Communists had taken place, but the Communist
viewpoint and the Right-wing Socialist viewpoint could everywhere be regarded as
identical. Roughly speaking, the P.S.U.C. was the political organ of the U.G.T.
(Union General de Trabajadores), the Socialist trade unions. The membership of
these unions throughout Spain now numbered about a million and a half. They
contained many sections of the manual workers, but since the outbreak of war
they had also been swollen by a large influx of middle-class members, for in the
early 'revolutionary' days people of all kinds had found it useful to join
either the U.G.T. or the C.N.T. The two blocks of unions overlapped, but of the
two the C.N.T. was more definitely a working-class organization. The P.S.U.C.
was therefore a party partly of the workers and partly of the small bourgeoisie
--the shopkeepers, the officials, and the wealthier peasants.

The P.S.U.C. 'line' which was preached in the Communist and pro--Communist
press throughout the world, was approximately this:

'At present nothing matters except winning the war; without victory in the
war all else is meaningless. Therefore this is not the moment to talk of
pressing forward with the revolution. We can't afford to alienate the peasants
by forcing Collectivization upon them, and we can't afford to frighten away the
middle classes who were fighting on our side. Above all for the sake of
efficiency we must do away with revolutionary chaos. We must have a strong
central government in place of local committees, and we must have a properly
trained and fully militarized army under a unified command. Clinging on to
fragments of workers' control and parroting revolutionary phrases is worse than
useless; it is not merely obstructive, but even counterrevolutionary, because it
leads to divisions which can be used against us by the Fascists. At this stage
we are not fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat, we are fighting for
parliamentary democracy. Whoever tries to turn the civil war into a social
revolution is playing into the hands of the Fascists and is in effect, if not in
intention, a traitor.'

The P.O.U.M. 'line' differed from this on every point except, of course, the
importance of winning the war. The P.O.U.M. (Partido Obrero de Unificacion
Marxista) was one of those dissident Communist parties which have appeared in
many countries in the last few years as a result of the opposition to
'Stalinism'; i.e. to the change, real or apparent, in Communist policy. It was
made up partly of ex-Communists and partly of an earlier party, the Workers' and
Peasants' Bloc. Numerically it was a small party, [Note 6, below] with not
much influence outside Catalonia, and chiefly important because it contained an
unusually high proportion of politically conscious members. In Catalonia its
chief stronghold was Lerida. It did not represent any block of trade unions. The
P.O.U.M. militiamen were mostly C.N.T. members, but the actual party-members
generally belonged to the U.G.T. It was, however, only in the C.N.T. that the
P.O.U.M. had any influence. The P.O.U.M. 'line' was approximately this:

[Note 6. The figures for the P.O.U.M. membership are
given as: July 1936, 10,000; December 1936, 70,000; June 1937, 40,000. But these
are from P.O.U.M. sources; a hostile estimate would probably divide them by
four. The only thing one can say with any certainty about the membership of the
Spanish political parties is that every party over-estimates its own

'It is nonsense to talk of opposing Fascism by bourgeois "democracy".
Bourgeois "democracy" is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to
fight against Fascism on behalf of "democracy" is to fight against one form of
capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any
moment. The only real alternative to Fascism is workers' control. If you set up
any less goal than this, you will either hand the victory to Franco, or, at
best, let in Fascism by the back door. Meanwhile the workers must cling to every
scrap of what they have won; if they yield anything to the semi--bourgeois
Government they can depend upon being cheated. The workers' militias and
police-forces must be preserved in their present form and every effort to
"bourgeoisify" them must be resisted. If the workers do not control the armed
forces, the armed forces will control the workers. The war and the revolution
are inseparable.'

The Anarchist viewpoint is less easily defined. In any case the loose term
'Anarchists' is used to cover a multitude of people of very varying opinions.
The huge block of unions making up the C.N.T. (Confederacion Nacional de
Trabajadores), with round about two million members in all, had for its
political organ the F.A.I. (Federacion Anarquista Iberica), an actual Anarchist
organization. But even the members of the F.A.I., though always tinged, as
perhaps most Spaniards are, with the Anarchist philosophy, were not necessarily
Anarchists in the purest sense. Especially since the beginning of the war they
had moved more in the direction of ordinary Socialism, because circumstances had
forced them to take part in centralized administration and even to break all
their principles by entering the Government. Nevertheless they differed
fundamentally from the Communists in so much that, like the P.O.U.M., they aimed
at workers' control and not a parliamentary democracy. They accepted the
P.O.U.M. slogan: 'The war and the revolution are inseparable', though they were
less dogmatic about it. Roughly speaking, the C.N.T.-F.A.I. stood for: (i)
Direct control over industry by the workers engaged in each industry, e.g.
transport, the textile factories, etc.; (2) Government by local committees and
resistance to all forms of centralized authoritarianism; (3) Uncompromising
hostility to the bourgeoisie and the Church. The last point, though the least
precise, was the most important. The Anarchists were the opposite of the
majority of so-called revolutionaries in so much that though their principles
were rather vague their hatred of privilege and injustice was perfectly genuine.
Philosophically, Communism and Anarchism are poles apart. Practically--i.e. in
the form of society aimed at--the difference is mainly one of emphasis, but it
is quite irreconcilable. The Communist's emphasis is always on centralism and
efficiency, the Anarchist's on liberty and equality. Anarchism is deeply rooted
in Spain and is likely to outlive Communism when the Russian influence is
withdrawn. During the first two months of the war it was the Anarchists more
than anyone else who had saved the situation, and much later than this the
Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best
fighters among the purely Spanish forces. From about February 1937 onwards the
Anarchists and the P.O.U.M. could to some extent be lumped together. If the
Anarchists, the P.O.U.M., and the Left wing of the Socialists had had the sense
to combine at the start and press a realistic policy, the history of the war
might have been different. But in the early period, when the revolutionary
parties seemed to have the game in their hands, this was impossible. Between the
Anarchists and the Socialists there were ancient jealousies, the P.O.U.M., as
Marxists, were sceptical of Anarchism, while from the pure Anarchist standpoint
the 'Trotskyism' of the P.O.U.M. was not much preferable to the 'Stalinism' of
the Communists. Nevertheless the Communist tactics tended to drive the two
parties together. When the P.O.U.M. joined in the disastrous fighting in
Barcelona in May, it was mainly from an instinct to stand by the C.N.T., and
later, when the P.O.U.M. was suppressed, the Anarchists were the only people who
dared to raise a voice in its defence.

So, roughly speaking, the alignment of forces was this. On the one side the
C.N.T.-F.A.I., the P.O.U.M., and a section of the Socialists, standing for
workers' control: on the other side the Right-wing Socialists, Liberals, and
Communists, standing for centralized government and a militarized army.

It is easy to see why, at this time, I preferred the Communist viewpoint to
that of the P.O.U.M. The Communists had a definite practical policy, an
obviously better policy from the point of view of the common sense which looks
only a few months ahead. And certainly the day-to-day policy of the P.O.U.M.,
their propaganda and so forth, was unspeakably bad; it must have been so, or
they would have been able to attract a bigger mass-following. What clinched
everything was that the Communists--so it seemed to me--were getting on with
the war while we and the Anarchists were standing still. This was the general
feeling at the time. The Communists had gained power and a vast increase of
membership partly by appealing to the middle classes against the
revolutionaries, but partly also because they were the only people who looked
capable of winning the war. The Russian arms and the magnificent defence of
Madrid by troops mainly under Communist control had made the Communists the
heroes of Spain. As someone put it, every Russian aeroplane that flew over our
heads was Communist propaganda. The revolutionary purism of the P.O.U.M., though
I saw its logic, seemed to me rather futile. After all, the one thing that
mattered was to win the war.

Meanwhile there was the diabolical inter-party feud that was going on in the
newspapers, in pamphlets, on posters, in books--everywhere. At this time the
newspapers I saw most often were the P.O.U.M. papers La Batalla and Adelante,
and their ceaseless carping against the 'counter-revolutionary' P.S.U.C. struck
me as priggish and tiresome. Later, when I studied the P.S.U.C. and Communist
press more closely, I realized that the P.O.U.M. were almost blameless compared
with their adversaries. Apart from anything else, they had much smaller
opportunities. Unlike the Communists, they had no footing in any press outside
their own country, and inside Spain they were at an immense disadvantage because
the press censorship was mainly under Communist control, which meant that the
P.O.U.M. papers were liable to be suppressed or fined if they said anything
damaging. It is also fair to the P.O.U.M. to say that though they might preach
endless sermons on revolution and quote Lenin ad nauseam, they did not usually
indulge in personal libel. Also they kept their polemics mainly to newspaper
articles. Their large coloured posters, designed for a wider public (posters are
important in Spain, with its large illiterate population), did not attack rival
parties, but were simply anti--Fascist or abstractedly revolutionary; so were
the songs the militiamen sang. The Communist attacks were quite a different
matter. I shall have to deal with some of these later in this book. Here I can
only give a brief indication of the Communist line of attack.

On the surface the quarrel between the Communists and the P.O.U.M. was one of
tactics. The P.O.U.M. was for immediate revolution, the Communists not. So far
so good; there was much to be said on both sides. Further, the Communists
contended that the P.O.U.M. propaganda divided and weakened the Government
forces and thus endangered the war; again, though finally I do not agree, a good
case could be made out for this. But here the peculiarity of Communist tactics
came in. Tentatively at first, then more loudly, they began to assert that the
P.O.U.M. was splitting the Government forces not by bad judgement but by
deliberate design. The P.O.U.M. was declared to be no more than a gang of
disguised Fascists, in the pay of Franco and Hitler, who were pressing a
pseudo-revolutionary policy as a way of aiding the Fascist cause. The P.O.U.M.
was a 'Trotskyist' organization and 'Franco's Fifth Column'. This implied that
scores of thousands of working-class people, including eight or ten thousand
soldiers who were freezing in the front-line trenches and hundreds of foreigners
who had come to Spain to fight against Fascism, often sacrificing their
livelihood and their nationality by doing so, were simply traitors in the pay of
the enemy. And this story was spread all over Spain by means of posters, etc.,
and repeated over and over in the Communist and pro-Communist press of the whole
world. I could fill half a dozen books with quotations if I chose to collect

This, then, was what they were saying about us: we were Trotskyists,
Fascists, traitors, murderers, cowards, spies, and so forth. I admit it was not
pleasant, especially when one thought of some of the people who were responsible
for it. It is not a nice thing to see a Spanish boy of fifteen carried down the
line on a stretcher, with a dazed white face looking out from among the
blankets, and to think of the sleek persons in London and Paris who are writing
pamphlets to prove that this boy is a Fascist in disguise. One of the most
horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and
lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. The P.S.U.C.
militiamen whom I knew in the line, the Communists from the International
Brigade whom I met from time to time, never called me a Trotskyist or a traitor;
they left that kind of thing to the journalists in the rear. The people who
wrote pamphlets against us and vilified us in the newspapers all remained safe
at home, or at worst in the newspaper offices of Valencia, hundreds of miles
from the bullets and the mud. And apart from the libels of the inter-party feud,
all the usual war-stuff, the tub-thumping, the heroics, the vilification of the
enemy--all these were done, as usual, by people who were not fighting and who
in many cases would have run a hundred miles sooner than fight. One of the
dreariest effects of this war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is
every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right. [Note 7, below] I do
earnestly feel that on our side--the Government side--this war was different
from ordinary, imperialistic wars; but from the nature of the war-propaganda you
would never have guessed it. The fighting had barely started when the newspapers
of the Right and Left dived simultaneously into the same cesspool of abuse. We
all remember the Daily Mail's poster: 'REDS CRUCIFY NUNS', while to the Daily
Worker Franco's Foreign Legion was 'composed of murderers, white-slavers,
dope-fiends, and the offal of every European country'. As late as October 1937
the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the
bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr
Arthur Bryant was declaring that 'the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman's
legs' was 'a commonplace' in Loyalist Spain. The people who write that kind of
stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for
fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the
journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line
trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to
me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when
the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a
jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

[Note 7. I should like to make an exception of the Manchester Guardian.
In connexion with this book I have had to go through the files of a good many
English papers. Of our larger papers, the Manchester Guardian is the only one
that leaves me with an increased respect for its honesty.]

As far as the journalistic part of it went, this war was a racket like all
other wars. But there was this difference, that whereas the journalists usually
reserve their most murderous invective for the enemy, in this case, as time went
on, the Communists and the P.O.U.M. came to write more bitterly about one
another than about the Fascists. Nevertheless at the time I could not bring
myself to take it very seriously. The inter-party feud was annoying and even
disgusting, but it appeared to me as a domestic squabble. I did not believe that
it would alter anything or that there was any really irreconcilable difference
of policy. I grasped that the Communists and Liberals had set their faces
against allowing the revolution to go forward; I did not grasp that they might
be capable of swinging it back.

There was a good reason for this. All this time I was at the front, and at
the front the social and political atmosphere did not change. I had left
Barcelona in early January and I did not go on leave till late April; and all
this time--indeed, till later--in the strip of Aragon controlled by Anarchist
and P.O.U.M. troops, the same conditions persisted, at least outwardly. The
revolutionary atmosphere remained as I had first known it. General and private,
peasant and militiaman, still met as equals; everyone drew the same pay, wore
the same clothes, ate the same food, and called everyone else 'thou' and
'comrade'; there was no boss-class, no menial-class, no beggars, no prostitutes,
no lawyers, no priests, no boot-licking, no cap-touching. I was breathing the
air of equality, and I was simple enough to imagine that it existed all over
Spain. I did not realize that more or less by chance I was isolated among the
most revolutionary section of the Spanish working class.

So, when my more politically educated comrades told me that one could not
take a purely military attitude towards the war, and that the choice lay between
revolution and Fascism, I was inclined to laugh at them. On the whole I accepted
the Communist viewpoint, which boiled down to saying: 'We can't talk of
revolution till we've won the war', and not the P.O.U.M. viewpoint, which boiled
down to saying: 'We must go forward or we shall go back.' When later on I
decided that the P.O.U.M. were right, or at any rate righter than the
Communists, it was not altogether upon a point of theory. On paper the Communist
case was a good one; the trouble was that their actual behaviour made it
difficult to believe that they were advancing it in good faith. The
often-repeated slogan: 'The war first and the revolution afterwards', though
devoutly believed in by the average P.S.U.C. militiaman, who honestly thought
that the revolution could continue when the war had been won, was eyewash. The
thing for which the Communists were working was not to postpone the Spanish
revolution till a more suitable time, but to make sure that it never happened.
This became more and more obvious as time went on, as power was twisted more and
more out of working-class hands, and as more and more revolutionaries of every
shade were flung into jail. Every move was made in the name of military
necessity, because this pretext was, so to speak, ready-made, but the effect was
to drive the workers back from an advantageous position and into a position in
which, when the war was over, they would find it impossible to resist the
reintroduction of capitalism. Please notice that I am saying nothing against the
rank-and-file Communists, least of all against the thousands of Communists who
died heroically round Madrid. But those were not the men who were directing
party policy. As for the people higher up, it is inconceivable that they were
not acting with their eyes open.

But, finally, the war was worth winning even if the revolution was lost. And
in the end I came to doubt whether, in the long run, the Communist policy made
for victory. Very few people seem to have reflected that a different policy
might be appropriate at different periods of the war. The Anarchists probably
saved the situation in the first two months, but they were incapable of
organizing resistance beyond a certain point; the Communists probably saved the
situation in October-December, but to win the war outright was a different
matter. In England the Communist war-policy has been accepted without question,
because very few criticisms of it have been allowed to get into print and
because its general line--do away with revolutionary chaos, speed up
production, militarize the army--sounds realistic and efficient. It is worth
pointing out its inherent weakness.

In order to check every revolutionary tendency and make the war as much like
an ordinary war as possible, it became necessary to throw away the strategic
opportunities that actually existed. I have described how we were armed, or not
armed, on the Aragon front. There is very little doubt that arms were
deliberately withheld lest too many of them should get into the hands of the
Anarchists, who would afterwards use them for a revolutionary purpose;
consequently the big Aragon offensive which would have made Franco draw back
from Bilbao, and possibly from Madrid, never happened. But this was
comparatively a small matter. What was more important was that once the war had
been narrowed down to a 'war for democracy' it became impossible to make any
large-scale appeal for working-class aid abroad. If we face facts we must admit
that the working class of the world has regarded the Spanish war with
detachment. Tens of thousands of individuals came to fight, but the tens of
millions behind them remained apathetic. During the first year of the war the
entire British public is thought to have subscribed to various 'aid Spain' funds
about a quarter of a million pounds--probably less than half of what they spend
in a single week on going to the pictures. The way in which the working class in
the democratic countries could really have helped her Spanish comrades was by
industrial action--strikes and boycotts. No such thing ever even began to
happen. The Labour and Communist leaders everywhere declared that it was
unthinkable; and no doubt they were right, so long as they were also shouting at
the tops of their voices that' red' Spain was not 'red'. Since 1914-18 'war for
democracy' has had a sinister sound. For years past the Communists themselves
had been teaching the militant workers in all countries that 'democracy' was a
polite name for capitalism. To say first 'Democracy is a swindle', and then
'Fight for democracy!' is not good tactics. If, with the huge prestige of Soviet
Russia behind them, they had appealed to the workers of the world in the name
not of 'democratic Spain', but of 'revolutionary Spain', it is hard to believe
that they would not have got a response.

But what was most important of all, with a non-revolutionary policy it was
difficult, if not impossible, to strike at Franco's rear. By the summer of 1937
Franco was controlling a larger population than the Government--much larger, if
one counts in the colonies--with about the same number of troops. As everyone
knows, with a hostile population at your back it is impossible to keep an army
in the field without an equally large army to guard your communications,
suppress sabotage, etc. Obviously, therefore, there was no real popular movement
in Franco's rear. It was inconceivable that the people in his territory, at any
rate the town-workers and the poorer peasants, liked or wanted Franco, but with
every swing to the Right the Government's superiority became less apparent. What
clinches everything is the case of Morocco. Why was there no rising in Morocco?
Franco was trying to set up an infamous dictatorship, and the Moors actually
preferred him to the Popular Front Government! The palpable truth is that no
attempt was made to foment a rising in Morocco, because to do so would have
meant putting a revolutionary construction on the war. The first necessity, to
convince the Moors of the Government's good faith, would have been to proclaim
Morocco liberated. And we can imagine how pleased the French would have been by
that! The best strategic opportunity of the war was flung away in the vain hope
of placating French and British capitalism. The whole tendency of the Communist
policy was to reduce the war to an ordinary, non-revolutionary war in which the
Government was heavily handicapped. For a war of that kind has got to be won by
mechanical means, i.e. ultimately, by limitless supplies of weapons; and the
Government's chief donor of weapons, the U.S.S.R., was at a great disadvantage,
geographically, compared with Italy and Germany. Perhaps the P.O.U.M. and
Anarchist slogan: 'The war and the revolution are inseparable', was less
visionary than it sounds.

I have given my reasons for thinking that the Communist anti--revolutionary
policy was mistaken, but so far as its effect upon the war goes I do not hope
that my judgement is right. A thousand times I hope that it is wrong. I would
wish to see this war won by any means whatever. And of course we cannot tell yet
what may happen. The Government may swing to the Left again, the Moors may
revolt of their own accord, England may decide to buy Italy out, the war may be
won by straightforward military means--there is no knowing. I let the above
opinions stand, and time will show how far I am right or wrong.

But in February 193^ I did not see things quite in this light. I was sick of
the inaction on the Aragon front and chiefly conscious that I had not done my
fair share of the fighting. I used to think of the recruiting poster in
Barcelona which demanded accusingly of passers-by: 'What have you done for
democracy ?' and feel that I could only answer:' I have drawn my rations.' When
I joined the militia I had promised myself to kill one Fascist--after all, if
each of us killed one they would soon be extinct--and I had killed nobody yet,
had hardly had the chance to do so. And of course I wanted to go to Madrid.
Everyone in the army, whatever his political opinions, always wanted to go to
Madrid. This would probably mean exchanging into the International Column, for
the P.O.U.M. had now very few troops at Madrid and the Anarchists not so many as

For the present, of course, one had to stay in the line, but I told everyone
that when we went on leave I should, if possible, exchange into the
International Column, which meant putting myself under Communist control.
Various people tried to dissuade me, but no one attempted to interfere. It is
fair to say that there was very little heresy-hunting in the P.O.U.M., perhaps
not enough, considering their special circumstances; short of being a
pro-Fascist no one was penalized for holding the wrong political opinions. I
spent much of my time in the militia in bitterly criticizing the P.O.U.M.
'line', but I never got into trouble for it. There was not even any pressure
upon one to become a political member of the party, though I think the majority
of the militiamen did so. I myself never joined the party--for which
afterwards, when the P.O.U.M. was suppressed, I was rather sorry.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

  • Other Authors:    
> Charles Darwin
> Charles Dickens
> Mark Twain
> William Shakespeare

George Orwell. Copyright 2003,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.