Homage To Catalonia
- Length: 1241 words (3.5 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Homage To Catalonia
Published by Harvest books (New York) in June 1969,264 pgs
Book Review of Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell, noted writer and journalist, arrived in Barcelona, Spain in late 1936 to cover the fight against fascism. Being an avid fan of socialism, he was amazed to see the small glimpse of socialism in action. He was intrigued to say the least, of the classless society he observed there. Barcelona, Spain at this time was held under Anarchist control, and as such most of the old class society rituals were abandoned: tipping, titles, and the old divisions between rich and poor were practically gone. Everyone was equal in this new society, and most of the rich aristocrats had either fled or went into hiding. This being the truest form of socialism and brotherhood Orwell had ever before witnessed he put down his pen and took up arms. Homage to Catalonia, which Orwell later wrote after fleeing to France in 1937, gives his account as a militiaman in the P.O.U.M (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) Militia, which roughly translates to the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification. At the time this was one of the many anti-fascist factions in Spain, later he remarks joining P.O.U.M with ignorant bliss of what the difference was between any of them.
In the beginning chapters of the book he describes the day-to-day activities as a militiaman on the frontlines near Barcelona, usually these accounts of war were more comical than eventful. I most noted his accounts of the actions of the Spanish militiamen during wartime. He would often revere the Spanish for their friendliness and amiability, but he was often infuriated by their careless ignorance of war, and in the first chapter even saying the Spanish are good at many things but not at making war. He also talks about the poor ammunition and rifles they received. Usually the rifles dated back to the late 19th century and the sights, rifling, and sheer condition of the guns were so poor that it was more of a nuisance to carry than have. Before heading to the front they received hardly any training whatsoever, and most of his fellow militiamen hardly knew how to shoot a rifle. He recalls one event where he was photographing several Spaniards standing beside a machine gun that fired on him as a practical joke. Only by the luck of their horrific aim was he totally uninjured.
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New Society Barcelona Late 19th Century Talks Anarchist Journalist Fight Militia Titles Brotherhood
He talks about the position they held on the Aragon front for many months and how pathetic the situation really was, often referring to it as being boring and nothing like trench warfare in the Great War was supposedly like. The main problem of the fighting and lack thereof was the poor equipment and poor training, and sheer distance between them and their fascist enemies usually between 300-400 yards. He writes most of the injuries on the frontlines in his experience were either self-inflicted or by luck of a bullet hitting its target. He said most days you could stand straight up and walk around without fear of being shot, which of all accounts of trench warfare I have ever read would be certain suicide. I consider Orwell's true strengths to be his highly detailed accounts of the various events during his time as a militiaman, particularly the night raid against a fascist held bunker. The way he describes the firing of rifles, the clatter and explosions of bombs, the mud-soaked environment truly brings you into the trenches with him. He later almost comically describes trying to kill a fascist soldier with his bayonet, although unsuccessfully he later adds. In most of his fighting it seems Orwell was a much better writer than a fighter, with most of his attempts to actually kill someone failing.
Later after 115 days on the frontlines, Orwell receives a leave to return to Barcelona. Upon arriving in Barcelona he is struck by the changes that have occurred. On the streets he once again heard titles of servile nature being spewed from one persons mouth to another, the rich and poor clearly reappearing, and the resemblance of a class society slowly drifting back into view. Later he describes his sadness after getting dragged into street fighting caused by infighting between the communists and various anarchist factions, mostly caused by communistic led police trying to seize a telephone exchange held by anarchists in Barcelona. Finally after escaping the street fighting, he returns to the front for a short time until being shot through the throat by enemy sniper fire, which lands him in various hospitals until he is finally declared medically unfit to fight. After being declared unfit to fight, Orwell's real problems begin. Returning to Barcelona to get his military discharge papers stamped, he finds that his ignorance of joining the first anti-fascist militia he came across begins to haunt him. In Barcelona, his former unit the P.O.U.M has been fully suppressed and has sadly become the political scapegoat of Communist propaganda and all former P.O.U.M members were being rounded up and arrested. He laments at the sights of how his former comrades were being treated, but has no time to do much for them, because he is on the run as well. Finally later escaping from persecution and arrest Orwell recalls the various political proponents of this war.
Orwell discusses in great detail his disgust for the propaganda used by the communists during the war, even branding Orwell and the P.O.U.M as pro-fascist. Although clearly a lie, considering that the P.O.U.M was in some of the fiercest fighting against the fascists. He also describes how British pro-communist papers and communist propaganda papers made it almost impossible for the common foreigners to understand the real situation in Spain at this time. He accounts that nearly 90% of the information being regurgitated from paper to paper was false. It is clear to see after reading Homage to Catalonia Orwell's sympathies lie for the anarchists who favor the creation of a free classless worker's society. Although Orwell partially sided with the Communist point of view of defeating fascism first, then installing a worker's society, he later realized that the Communist agenda was to simply install a totalitarian entity of its own in place of fascism. Homage to Catalonia is a great read for anyone who enjoys learning about various political ideologies and for a clear and concise account of what happened in Spain during this time. Some of the best features of the book is its easy to read layout, commonsense language, and incredibly detailed accounts of the fighting and the war itself. It shows that if you believe in something you should fight for it with all your strength, which is something I truly admired about Orwell after reading the book. Although some of the political jargon was boring and sometimes overbearing I found that overall the book held my interest with his accounts of night raids, fighting, and various environmental elements. I would recommend before reading that someone would be educated on the events and history of this time for the sense of clarity itself and to help with some of the more highly discussed themes of government. Even after reading the book I found I had to collect my thoughts and think about the situations that occurred in the text. Overall Orwell does an excellent job of describing his time in Spain, and analyzing the various political and military components.
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