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George Orwell > Spilling The Spanish Beans > Essay

Spilling The Spanish Beans


The Spanish war has probably produced a richer crop of lies than any
event since the Great War of 1914-18, but I honestly doubt, in spite of
all those hecatombs of nuns who have been raped and crucified before the
eyes of DAILY MAIL reporters, whether it is the pro-Fascist newspapers
that have done the most harm. It is the left-wing papers, the NEWS
CHRONICLE and the DAILY WORKER, with their far subtler methods of
distortion, that have prevented the British public from grasping the real
nature of the struggle.

The fact which these papers have so carefully obscured is that the
Spanish Government (including the semi-autonomous Catalan Government) is
far more afraid of the revolution than of the Fascists. It is now almost
certain that the war will end with some kind of compromise, and there is
even reason to doubt whether the Government, which let Bilbao fail
without raising a finger, wishes to be too victorious; but there is no
doubt whatever about the thoroughness with which it is crushing its own
revolutionaries. For some time past a reign of terror--forcible
suppression of political parties, a stifling censorship of the press,
ceaseless espionage and mass imprisonment without trial--has been in
progress. When I left Barcelona in late June the jails were bulging;
indeed, the regular jails had long since overflowed and the prisoners
were being huddled into empty shops and any other temporary dump that
could be found for them. But the point to notice is that the people who
are in prison now are not Fascists but revolutionaries; they are there
not because their opinions are too much to the Right, but because they
are too much to the Left. And the people responsible for putting them
there are those dreadful revolutionaries at whose very name Garvin quakes
in his galoshes--the Communists.

Meanwhile the war against Franco continues, but, except for the poor
devils in the front-line trenches, nobody in Government Spain thinks of
it as the real war. The real struggle is between revolution and
counter-revolution; between the workers who are vainly trying to hold on
to a little of what they won in 1936, and the Liberal-Communist bloc who
are so successfully taking it away from them. It is unfortunate that so
few people in England have yet caught up with the fact that Communism is
now a counter-revolutionary force; that Communists everywhere are in
alliance with bourgeois reformism and using the whole of their powerful
machinery to crush or discredit any party that shows signs of
revolutionary tendencies. Hence the grotesque spectacle of Communists
assailed as wicked 'Reds' by right-wing intellectuals who are in
essential agreement with them. Mr Wyndham Lewis, for instance, ought to
love the Communists, at least temporarily. In Spain the Communist-Liberal
alliance has been almost completely victorious. Of all that the Spanish
workers won for themselves in 1936 nothing solid remains, except for a
few collective farms and a certain amount of land seized by the peasants
last year; and presumably even the peasants will be sacrificed later,
when there is no longer any need to placate them. To see how the present
situation arose, one has got to look back to the origins of the civil

Franco's bid for power differed from those of Hitler and Mussolini in
that it was a military insurrection, comparable to a foreign invasion,
and therefore had not much mass backing, though Franco has since been
trying to acquire one. Its chief supporters, apart from certain sections
of Big Business, were the land-owning aristocracy and the huge, parasitic
Church. Obviously a rising of this kind will array against it various
forces which are not in agreement on any other point. The peasant and the
worker hate feudalism and clericalism; but so does the 'liberal'
bourgeois, who is not in the least opposed to a more modern version of
Fascism, at least so long as it isn't called Fascism. The 'liberal'
bourgeois is genuinely liberal up to the point where his own interests
stop. He stands for the degree of progress implied in the phrase 'la
carrière ouverte aux talents'. For clearly he has no chance to develop in
a feudal society where the worker and the peasant are too poor to buy
goods, where industry is burdened with huge taxes to pay for bishops'
vestments, and where every lucrative job is given as a matter of course
to the friend of the catamite of the duke's illegitimate son. Hence, in
the face of such a blatant reactionary as Franco, you get for a while a
situation in which the worker and the bourgeois, in reality deadly
enemies, are fighting side by side. This uneasy alliance is known as the
Popular Front (or, in the Communist press, to give it a spuriously
democratic appeal, People's Front). It is a combination with about as
much vitality, and about as much right to exist, as a pig with two heads
or some other Barnum and Bailey monstrosity.

In any serious emergency the contradiction implied in the Popular Front
is bound to make itself felt. For even when the worker and the bourgeois
are both fighting against Fascism, they are not fighting for the same
things; the bourgeois is fighting for bourgeois democracy, i.e.
capitalism, the worker, in so far as he understands the issue, for
Socialism. And in the early days of the revolution the Spanish workers
understood the issue very well. In the areas where Fascism was defeated
they did not content themselves with driving the rebellious troops out of
the towns; they also took the opportunity of seizing land and factories
and setting up the rough beginnings of a workers' government by means of
local committees, workers' militias, police forces, and so forth. They
made the mistake, however (possibly because most of the active
revolutionaries were Anarchists with a mistrust of all parliaments), of
leaving the Republican Government in nominal control. And, in spite of
various changes in personnel, every subsequent Government had been of
approximately the same bourgeois-reformist character. At the beginning
this seemed not to matter, because the Government, especially in
Catalonia, was almost powerless and the bourgeoisie had to lie low or
even (this was still happening when I reached Spain in December) to
disguise themselves as workers. Later, as power slipped from the hands of
the Anarchists into the hands of the Communists and right-wing
Socialists, the Government was able to reassert itself, the bourgeoisie
came out of hiding and the old division of society into rich and poor
reappeared, not much modified. Henceforward every move, except a few
dictated by military emergency, was directed towards undoing the work of
the first few months of revolution. Out of the many illustrations I could
choose, I will cite only one, the breaking-up of the old workers'
militias, which were organized on a genuinely democratic system, with
officers and men receiving the same pay and mingling on terms of complete
equality, and the substitution of the Popular Army (once again, in
Communist jargon, 'People's Army'), modelled as far as possible on an
ordinary bourgeois army, with a privileged officer-caste, immense
differences of pay, etc. etc. Needless to say, this is given out as a
military necessity, and almost certainly it does make for military
efficiency, at least for a short period. But the undoubted purpose of the
change was to strike a blow at equalitarianism. In every department the
same policy has been followed, with the result that only a year after the
outbreak of war and revolution you get what is in effect an ordinary
bourgeois State, with, in addition, a reign of terror to preserve the
status quo.

This process would probably have gone less far if the struggle could have
taken place without foreign interference. But the military weakness of
the Government made this impossible. In the face of France's foreign
mercenaries they were obliged to turn to Russia for help, and though the
quantity of arms sup--plied by Russia has been greatly exaggerated (in my
first three months in Spain I saw only one Russian weapon, a solitary
machine-gun), the mere fact of their arrival brought the Communists into
power. To begin with, the Russian aeroplanes and guns, and the good
military qualities of the international Brigades (not necessarily
Communist but under Communist control), immensely raised the Communist
prestige. But, more important, since Russia and Mexico were the only
countries openly supplying arms, the Russians were able not only to get
money for their weapons, but to extort terms as well. Put in their
crudest form, the terms were: 'Crush the revolution or you get no more
arms.' The reason usually given for the Russian attitude is that if
Russia appeared to be abetting the revolution, the Franco-Soviet pact
(and the hoped-for alliance with Great Britain) would be imperilled; it
may be, also, that the spectacle of a genuine revolution in Spain would
rouse unwanted echoes in Russia. The Communists, of course, deny that any
direct pressure has been exerted by the Russian Government. But this,
even if true, is hardly relevant, for the Communist Parties of all
countries can be taken as carrying out Russian policy; and it is certain
that the Spanish Communist Party, plus the right-wing Socialists whom
they control, plus the Communist press of the whole world, have used all
their immense and ever-increasing influence upon the side of

In the first half of this article I suggested that the real struggle in
Spain, on the Government side, has been between revolution and
counter-revolution; that the Government, though anxious enough to avoid
being beaten by Franco, has been even more anxious to undo the
revolutionary changes with which the outbreak of war was accompanied.

Any Communist would reject this suggestion as mistaken or wilfully
dishonest. He would tell you that it is nonsense to talk of the Spanish
Government crushing the revolution, because the revolution never
happened; and that our job at present is to defeat Fascism and defend
democracy. And in this connexion it is most important to see just how the
Communist anti-revolutionary propaganda works. It is a mistake to think
that this has no relevance in England, where the Communist Party is small
and comparatively weak. We shall see its relevance quickly enough if
England enters into an alliance with the U.S.S.R.; or perhaps even
earlier, for the influence of the Communist Party is bound to increase--
visibly is increasing--as more and more of the capitalist class realize
that latter-day Communism is playing their game.

Broadly speaking, Communist propaganda depends upon terrifying people
with the (quite real) horrors of Fascism. It also involves pretending--
not in so many words, but by implication--that Fascism has nothing to do
with capitalism. Fascism is just a kind of meaningless wickedness, an
aberration, 'mass sadism', the sort of thing that would happen if you
suddenly let loose an asylumful of homicidal maniacs. Present Fascism in
this form, and you can mobilize public opinion against it, at any rate
for a while, without provoking any revolutionary movement. You can oppose
Fascism by bourgeois 'democracy, meaning capitalism. But meanwhile you
have got to get rid of the troublesome person who points out that Fascism
and bourgeois 'democracy' are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You do it at the
beginning by calling him an impracticable visionary. You tell him that he
is confusing the issue, that he is splitting the anti-Fascist forces,
that this is not the moment for revolutionary phrase-mongering, that for
the moment we have got to fight against Fascism without inquiring too
closely what we are fighting for. Later, if he still refuses to shut up,
you change your tune and call him a traitor. More exactly, you call him a

And what is a Trotskyist? This terrible word--in Spain at this moment
you can be thrown into jail and kept there indefinitely, without trial,
on the mere rumour that you are a Trotskyist--is only beginning to be
bandied to and fro in England. We shall be hearing more of it later. The
word 'Trotskyist' (or 'Trotsky-Fascist') is generally used to mean a
disguised Fascist who poses as an ultra-revolutionary in order to split
the left-wing forces. But it derives its peculiar power from the fact
that it means three separate things. It can mean one who, like Trotsky,
wished for world revolution; or a member of the actual organization of
which Trotsky is head (the only legitimate use of the word); or the
disguised Fascist already mentioned. The three meanings can be telescoped
one into the other at will. Meaning No. I may or may not carry with it
meaning No. 2, and meaning No. 2 almost invariably carries with it
meaning No. 3. Thus: 'XY has been heard to speak favourably of world
revolution; therefore he is a Trotskyist; therefore he is a Fascist.' In
Spain, to some extent even in England, ANYONE professing revolutionary
Socialism (i.e. professing the things the Communist Party professed until
a few years ago) is under suspicion of being a Trotskyist in the pay of
Franco or Hitler.

The accusation is a very subtle one, because in any given case, unless
one happened to know the contrary, it might be true. A Fascist spy
probably WOULD disguise himself as a revolutionary. In Spain, everyone
whose opinions are to the Left of those of the Communist Party is sooner
or later discovered to be a Trotskyist or, at least, a traitor. At the
beginning of the war the POUM, an opposition Communist party roughly
corresponding to the English ILP., was an accepted party and supplied a
minister to the Catalan Government, later it was expelled from the
Government; then it was denounced as Trotskyist; then it was suppressed,
every member that the police could lay their hands on being flung into

Until a few months ago the Anarcho-Syndicalists were described as
'working loyally' beside the Communists. Then the Anarcho-Syndicalists
were levered out of the Government; then it appeared that they were not
working so loyally; now they are in the process of becoming traitors.
After that will come the turn of the left-wing Socialists. Caballero, the
left-wing Socialist ex-premier, until May 1937 the idol of the Communist
press, is already in outer darkness, a Trotskyist and 'enemy of the
people'. And so the game continues. The logical end is a régime in which
every opposition party and newspaper is suppressed and every dissentient
of any importance is in jail. Of course, such a régime will be Fascism.
It will not be the same as the fascism Franco would impose, it will even
be better than Franco's fascism to the extent of being worth fighting
for, but it will be Fascism. Only, being operated by Communists and
Liberals, it will be called something different.

Meanwhile, can the war be won? The Communist influence has been against
revolutionary chaos and has therefore, apart from the Russian aid, tended
to produce greater military efficiency. If the Anarchists saved the
Government from August to October 1936, the Communists have saved it from
October onwards. But in organizing the defence they have succeeded in
killing enthusiasm (inside Spain, not outside). They made a militarized
conscript army possible, but they also made it necessary. It is
significant that as early as January of this year voluntary recruiting
had practically ceased. A revolutionary army can sometimes win by
enthusiasm, but a conscript army has got to win with weapons, and it is
unlikely that the Government will ever have a large preponderance of arms
unless France intervenes or unless Germany and Italy decide to make off
with the Spanish colonies and leave Franco in the lurch. On the whole, a
deadlock seems the likeliest thing.

And does the Government seriously intend to win? It does not intend to
lose, that is certain. On the other hand, an outright victory, with
Franco in flight and the Germans and Italians driven into the sea, would
raise difficult problems, some of them too obvious to need mentioning.
There is no real evidence and one can only judge by the event, but I
suspect that what the Government is playing for is a compromise that
would leave the war situation essentially in being. All prophecies are
wrong, therefore this one will be wrong, but I will take a chance and say
that though the war may end quite soon or may drag on for years, it will
end with Spain divided up, either by actual frontiers or into economic
zones. Of course, such a compromise might be claimed as a victory by
either side, or by both.

All that I have said in this article would seem entirely commonplace in
Spain, or even in France. Yet in England, in spite of the intense
interest the Spanish war has aroused, there are very few people who have
even heard of the enormous struggle that is going on behind the
Government lines. Of course, this is no accident. There has been a quite
deliberate conspiracy (I could give detailed instances) to prevent the
Spanish situation from being understood. People who ought to know better
have lent themselves to the deception on the ground that if you tell the
truth about Spain it will be used as Fascist propaganda.

It is easy to see where such cowardice leads. If the British public had
been given a truthful account of the Spanish war they would have had an
opportunity of learning what Fascism is and how it can be combated. As it
is, the News Chronicle version of Fascism as a kind of homicidal mania
peculiar to Colonel Blimps bombinating in the economic void has been
established more firmly than ever. And thus we are one step nearer to the
great war 'against Fascism' (cf. 1914, 'against militarism') which will
allow Fascism, British variety, to be slipped over our necks during the
first week.

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