Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review : Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell

George Orwell went to Spain as a journalist to cover the ongoing revolution in 1936. Once he was in the midst of dramatic events, he decided it made more sense to join the fight against the Fascist forces which had been under the command of Franco, and aided by Hitler and Mussolini. This book, written in 1937 after he returned to England following a bullet injury in his neck that prevented further participation, deals with his personal experiences fighting alongside anti-Fascist groups. It also provides a description of significant political developments that he was aware of. Today, it represents a very important document on the war, and although it is one man's account of his involvement in a large-scale war, it manages to paint a pretty clear picture of the different positions taken by various groups and the constant internal strife, the severe betrayal, the egregious lies and false propaganda and the insidious international engagement. Even though several years have passed since the tumultuous events, the details and description are very interesting but more importantly, it brings out aspects of war and the machinery surrounding it that are usually not to be found in more standard treatments.

Reading this book after Nineteen Eighty Four, I was constantly trying to make connections with that great novel and not surprisingly, a lot of what Orwell witnessed in Spain provided the basis for the creation of the harrowing world of Airstrip One. Nonetheless, his experiences in this battleground were far more diverse than just the use of misinformation and pure fabrication to control the course of war. There are as many examples of generosity, loyalty, sacrifice,forthright honesty and goodness of spirit as there are of tragic betrayal and lies that makes this a much more pleasing narrative when compared to the bleak and hopeless environment in which Winston Smith is trapped. The book succeeds amazingly well in being able to describe how the war was perceived by the ordinary conscripts and volunteers and their valiant efforts, their ideals and their hope of a better and just future. The nature of the confrontation is itself such that in many of the instances, it is not the bullets and the explosions that everyone is most scared of, but the terrible winter and the crippling shortage of essential supplies. There are situations where people, even enemies behave in ways contrary to general expectation, and most often it is a turn to the more positive of human tendencies. Thus the book is made a lot bearable even though in the end the gaols of the idealistic revolutionary groups are sabotaged by the more cunning and powerful Communist forces.

Orwell is initially unaware of the various political factions that exist in the country and their different agendas. Not interested in political divisions or understanding their subtle variations in principles, he decides to join the P.O.U.M, a leftist revolutionary party that is one of the many organizations that have come together to fight Fascist takeover of Spain. The events leading up to the start of the war can summarized as follows: the Spanish Republican government is being besieged by the military that is led by General Franco who attempts a coup d' etat with the help of Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy. The Government is weak and unable to defend itself. In an effort to resist the spread of the Fascism in Spain, political parties of varying shades, militia groups, workers and peasants decide to launch a concerted effort to defend the government. The Communists (UGT) receive support from Communist Parties all over Europe especially USSR, under its leader Josef Stalin. The co-operation and alignment of foreign players in this struggle to fend off Fascist takeover is not decided based on any grand principles but more by constitution of military alliances and particularly the strength of relationship with Soviet Union. The agenda of the Communists here, unlike what one would imagine, can only be described as the right-wing with focus on retaining control in the hands of a few and allowing the country to kowtow the Soviet leadership. Hence, Communists are in favor of a centralized government and are not opposed to adoption of a capitalistic system. That may seem very surprising at first but as it would be become clear in just a while, the primary intention of the Communists was for the country to be a useful military and political alliance of the USSR, irrespective of what the nature of the economic or political structure that exists. In particular they are strongly opposed to the Anarchists -who represent the radical anti-Stalinist Left - and other revolutionary organizations like P.O.U.M that aim to make Spain a completely decentralized country where land, property and production is controlled by local councils and peasants and farmers exert direct control over decisions concerning their lives. The reason the Communists bitterly oppose this setup can be understood by studying the alliances, say, for example,between France and USSR. This relationship would benefit the Russians, only if France, a capitalist-imperialist country, is strong and stable, and hence the Communist Party in France would tow the line of the Russian Communists, which is essentially anti-revolutionary. We are told about how French Communists initially voiced their unwillingness to fight their German comrades, but later on made a volte-face and marched behind the tri-color , sang the national anthem and bid goodbye to their earlier protests for decolonization. The Spanish UGT was influenced by their French counterparts, and hence opposed any form of revolution by the militias. Since Britain was still quite isolated from Russian influence, the English Communist party remained somewhat ambiguous in its policies towards the Spanish situation or European Imperialism. But as it becomes amply clear later on, the Communists in England fell behind the UGT and demonized the revolutionary groups. It should also be mentioned here that Mexico supported the Republicans (i.e the united anti-fascist groups) and provided arms and ammunition to fight the Spanish Army. In fact, Mexican cartridges were regarded as a premium in comparison to their local counterparts and were reserved for use with machine guns.

At any rate, as Orwell clarifies, the Communists would still be better than the Fascists. They would undertake some development and construction - build roads, provide education, erect hospitals and reduce the exploitation by the land-lords. On the other hand, Franco, being supported by the landlords, the rich bourgeois and the Church clergy, would return power to the same groups that impoverished the nation and marginalized the poor and caused the disillusionment with capitalism.
But, as noted above, Orwell is unfamiliar with the political intricacy that existed when he joined the fight and even when he does learn about the main groups, he seems to treat the matter with little importance. He repeatedly insists that he finds these divisions and associations quite perplexing and is quite cynical about the necessity to know anything more than the bare essentials on the topic. And yes, politics cannot be ignored in such a novel and it figures quite prominently in many places, especially towards the end of the book.

The first part of the book is devoted to the experience of fighting in the cold, wintry P.O.U.M camps at the frontline. While one would imagine the mood to be very intense considering how bloody the conflict had been in retrospect, the nature of the war and the different aspects surrounding it paints a slightly different picture. At times, it can get as removed from such intensity that some incidents begin to actually sound quite funny. To start with, the various rebel groups, and even most of the pro-Fascist troops, have a remarkably poor supply of arms and ammunition. To worsen the combat potential, much of the weapons -the rifles and machine guns for the most part- are of lamentable quality and perform unreliably. The minor accessories were also in short supply - telescopes, periscopes, wire-cutters, field glasses or even cleaning materials. Next, the preparedness level of the army was ludicrous. Most of these fighters -both volunteers and conscripts- were rooted in left-libertarian ideology who took the concept of equality and abolishment of hierarchy to extremity and insisted in treating everyone in the same manner. However, it does not take much expertise to know and understand that an army functions effectively and successfully executes complex operations only if there is some sort of structural hierarchy in the system which demands rigid discipline and obedience to authority. When this central tenet is missing, the combat force simply descends into a disorganized, amateurish, blundering mass that bungles up every plot. But naive idealism would make the P.O.U.M fighters -and to a greater extent the Anarchists - blind to such reality as it would, later on, to the cunning and devious betrayal by the Communists.

Many of the people fighting were kids - several under 15. Few received any training and at any rate, even those that did were given one that lacked the basic standards of professionalism that in the end, it possibly made no difference to their capacity to participate in a war. Practically no one was taught how to use an automatic and the familiarity and skill with the gun was so pathetic that it led to repeated incidents where people came close - and in some cases, actually did- to accidentally shooting their own men. Ironically, an equal number of deaths were averted because of the spectacularly poor Spanish marksmanship. Orwell himself would have been wounded earlier on, were it not for the woefully inaccurate firing skill of the Spanish militiamen. This must be seen in the broader context of Orwell's experience with the Spanish people in general, irrespective of their political affiliations. While not complete strangers to brutality, the fighting spirit displayed by the Spanish was comparably less aggressive, their hostility mitigated by an element of sympathy and consideration, their determination to achieve victory naturally undermined by the absence of killer instinct, and their ideology rarely overwhelmed their collective humanity. Orwell greatly admires the decency of the ordinary Spanish people. To Orwell, their easy friendliness, loyalty and ingenuity comes as a great surprise and we often encounter stark comparisons drawn between this and the attitude of the English people.
It may be cliche but there is something authentic when Orwell remarks, while observing the Spanish graciously acknowledge the French for their superior war tactics, that the English would rather have their hands chopped off rather than making such an admission. In addition, the Spanish warmly greet foreigners and strive to make their visitors feel comfortable; class-divisions are less visible and rigid in Spain as compared to their deeply entrenched presence in English society. Another curious feature is the apparent lack of religious feelings amongst the Spanish working-class and peasants. No religious customs seem to be observed and people do not invoke religious ideas and beliefs in the face of unpleasant events. There is little sanctity for the dead people as can be inferred from a graveyard that is littered with bones. The gravestones hardly ever bear religious inscriptions on them, something that strongly suggests a complete absence of faith in people. The Church was widely acknowledged a swindle by the elite and no one believed it representing anything useful. And this feature also explains why the revolutionary groups wanted to completely destroy the institutions associated with the Church as soon as they had an opportunity. (I have read elsewhere that they raped and tortured the nuns and the clergy but all of that could very well be remnants of Communist propaganda.)
Sadly though, as Orwell notes, it is this same magnanimity that made infantile groups like P.O.U.M and Anarchists hapless idealists waiting to be cruelly betrayed even before anyone of them saw it coming. In a foreboding sense, he writes,

There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life - snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc -had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tinted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves,and no one owed anyone else as his master.Of course such a state of affairs could not last.

Orwell lists five essential items while he was at the front - which was basically a hilltop "position" in Zaragosa, amongst other such positions in the mountain ranges. Those are, in the following order, firewood, food, candle, tobacco and enemy. This should give a quick idea that the enemy was not the main concern amongst the militiamen at the front. During most of the day, the Fascists did not matter at all and during the night, except for the possible fear of a random bullet striking someone, the primary preoccupation was to keep warm in the extremely cold weather. The same was true about the Fascist troops across the valley at their position. The typical situation at the frontlines was radically different from the standard imagination of a fierce battle between troops during the war. There were no airplanes dropping bombs and the rifles were so obsolete and poorly designed that in most cases the shots fired from them would fail to make their way across to the enemy trenches and instead drop in the valley between them. That being the case, it would not be hard to understand that the risk posed by occasional shots fired by those who received little or no professional training is minimal and less of a bother than the freezing weather that everyone had to struggle against on all nights. The weather became almost intolerable when there was rain and many men did not have the necessary clothing to protect themselves from the biting cold. Firewood was of utmost importance and a considerable part of the time and effort was spent on gathering and storing it. The soldiers ventured into the valley and pull out the shrubs and bring it back escaping being accidentally hit by the bullets buzzing overhead. The living conditions at the frontline was abominable -there was not enough water to clean up, the men defecated in the trenches itself, there was dirt and grime everywhere around, and people slept with their clothes on lest an attack caught them floundering. Yet, Orwell was happy to receive his quota of one pack of cigarettes everyday. The matches and candles were plenty initially but their supply was severely reduced later on and they had to overcome the shortage of this all-important commodity.

While all these brave young men -many of them volunteers from various countries -were fighting for a revolution that would lead to the establishment of a classless Socialist/Anarchist society,treacherous plots were devised by the Communists, primarily the U.G.T and P.S.U.C, who in fact were assumed to be on their side and provide necessary military and political support. The Communists bitterly opposed the revolution and claimed that it was important to first have a democratic setup in the country. They argued that the revolutionary groups were hurting the cause of creating a democratic Spain by not uniting together and forming a strong alliance. However, in reality, their motives were quite different. As briefly explained earlier, the Communists followed the Russian line and wanted Spain to remain a stable capitalistic country that could be useful as a military ally to USSR. Indeed, the military aid provided by Soviet Union was contingent on such an arrangement. Britain and France indirectly backed this movement too in the hope of protecting their significant financial investments in the country. If the revolution were to take place the way the Socialists envisaged, it would result in the collectivization of production and complete dominance by trade-unions without any guarantee of repayment to foreign investors. Furthermore, the Communist Parties in both these countries adopted a stand that merely reflected the interests and ideology of the Russians. Orwell however does make it quite clear that the ordinary soldier working for the Communists was just as well-meaning as anyone in C.N.T or P.O.U.M, and was primarily involved in the war effort to defeat Franco. It was the Communist leaders and their powerful associates in Europe that were masterminding these counter-revolutionary tactics. The foreign Communist press was particularly deceitful. In the early days, they simply portrayed the revolution as misguided ideology that would lead to fracturing of the anti-Fascist forces and create unnecessary chaos. However, later on the Communist propaganda becomes a lot more insidious. They contend that the P.O.U.M's revolutionary philosophy weakening the combined battle against Fascism was not simply a result of some misguided idealism, but rather, a deliberate design. They portrayed P.O.U.M army as consisting of traitors who were secretly working with the Fascists to sabotage the Government forces. The P.O.U.M militia and everyone who worked with organizations with similar ideology were labeled as cowards, murderers, spies and Trotskyists.

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 all the sleek persons in London and Paris who are writing pamphlets to prove that this boy is a Fascist in disguise. One of the horrible features of a war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people not fighting.

A lot of this negative and divisive Communist propaganda was being disseminated when the P.O.U.M militia was in the frontline naively assuming full ideological support from their Communist "allies", whatever the differences might be amongst them in terms of initiating a revolution. Supply of arms and ammunition to the Anarchists was curtailed lest they use them later for revolutionary goals. In a civil war such as this and at the time when the Fascist powers in Europe were gaining strength by the day and expanding their sphere of influence in the continent, one would have been expected that the great democracies of the world, namely Britain, United States and France would have had the foresight to come to the rescue of the Spanish Government and suppress Franco's Army. That can only be considered bad judgment even if self-interest was the primary motivation for extending military aid to foreign wars. But more unfortunately,as Orwell observes no country, aside from Mexico had the decency to back the Government in what was clearly a just cause against tyranny. All these powerhouses were eager to declare neutrality in the conflict and it was upto some of their brave citizens to join the war effort and lay their lives to contain the reach of Fascism. The external role in this civil war was largely provided by Communists all over Europe who were devotedly playing to the Soviet tune.

Back at the front in Aragon, the troops occupying the P.O.U.M position alongside Orwell launch a surprise attack on the Fascist redoubt. Crawling through the sodden ground, striving to remain noiseless, and maintaining proper communication with their fellow fighters, the group manages to take control of the Fascist parapet and kill or drive away the fascist conscripts occupying the dug-outs there. A powerful telescope is discovered at the enemy camp that would be of crucial importance in the battle but the fighters settle on a ammunition box to bring back with them alongside Fascist rifles. Despite leaving behind the telescope the ambush is considered a success in the sense that Fascists were forced to divert their troops for counter-attack from another position where they were fighting the Anarchists. Following this event, the batch of troops are substituted by a different set and they make their way back to Barcelona.

The Barcelona that Orwell returns to after being at the front for about three and a half months has had a makeover in appearance. The revolutionary spirit that once dominated the atmosphere of Spain and the surrounding philosophical principles of an equal, classless society without hierarchy or one-upmanship that had attracted so many ordinary working class people, was now gone, and in its place was the quiet, unremarkable world of established class-structure, one that separated the rich from the poor, with the privileged flaunting its wealth while the shopkeepers and workers were cringing. There was a brief period when everyone treated others as equals, irrespective of their social position or profession. Thus, waiters and flower-women refused to take tips and looked at people in the eye, revolutionary language was commonly adopted, workers addressed each other as "comrade" and there was almost no begging. But that atmosphere was to be temporary, something created by idealistic people who briefly flirted with the idea that such a thing as perfect equality is a viable scenario in society. It was at best an illusion - a suspension of disbelief - but a tempting possibility to entertain and hope for in the face of long and damning injustice and inequity.

A fat man eating quails while the children are begging for food is a disgusting sight, but you are less likely to see it when you are within sound of guns

The Popular Army had been formed by the government and all the militia factions were officially a part of it. The revolutionary sentiment was almost non-existent and it was replaced by an unspoken resignation to the reality that there was never going to be a revolution that would lead to workers' control of production, land and revenue. With little fighting going on, pessimism returned to the populace as the town slid back to normalcy. The Anarchist-Communist split was very much alive and this division seemed to predominate the thoughts and fears of the people more than threat of a battle with fascists.

On 3rd MAy 1937, the Civil Guards launched a surprised assault on the Telephone Exchange in Barcelona that had been controlled by the CNT. The Civil Guards were nothing more than a peacetime police force that acted as a strongarm bodyguard protecting the ruling elite. Taking over the Telephone Exchange was part of the strategic manoeuvre to weaken the militia forces and arrogate power by winning control of all industries and organizations that were under the supervision of Anarchists. As the news of this event broke throughout the town, it caused panic and confusion as both sides - Government/Civil Guards on one side and Anarchists/POUM on the other- were entering into an armed confrontation on the streets and buildings in the town. Shots rang out, bullets flew in all directions, troops ran to occupy positions on rooftops, wielding guns and guarding buildings, each of which were predominantly occupied by members of a single political party.

The rival groups were randomly firing at every other suspected individual on the street leading to complete chaos as people were holed up in buildings for protection. Orwell finds himself running between different hotels and cafes in this tumultuous setting, sometimes being dragged along by fellow militiamen and at other times to find out if his wife was safe (she was staying in a different place). The chaotic street fighting is a real tragedy and renders so much of the effort, the spirit and the sacrifices of people futile. It is truly disillusioning and depressing ;instead of facing a battle with the real enemies (Fascists), here there were troops firing - and killing some and wounding others -at each other barely aware of the reasons for targeting the "opponents". These events seem to quieten down the next day as Civil Guards are asked by the government to be more cautionary in using weapons and firing at Anarchists but nonetheless the fear and mutual suspicion was still quite strong and the troops were still camped on rooftops prepared for any offensive fire.

Throughout the fighting I never made the "correct" analysis of the situation that was so glibly made by journalists sitting thousands of miles away.What I was chiefly thinking about was not the rights and wrongs of this miserable internecine scrap, but the discomfort and boredom of sitting day and night on that intolerable roof, and the hunger which was growing worse and worse- for none of us had a proper meal since Monday (this was Thursday)

Things were returning to normal even when the CNT members were completely overpowered as the Telephone Exchange was wrested out of their control by Civil Guards. Even at other important strategic Anarchist holdings, the government forces had moved in and had taken charge. Simply put, the city came under the mercy of the government and its armed guards and troops. In addition to such assaults, many of the remaining Anarchists retreated from their barricades because of food shortage. Adding insult to the injury, the government passed a law requiring all organizations to surrender their arms as the civil guards go around ensuring that the law is duly enforced. Debilitating the militia even further, the Anarchist press was censored while the Communist publications continued to run wildly fabricated stories of CNT/POUM treachery. The Anarchists desire to hold on to their arms was "interpreted" by the Communists and the foreign press as a disloyal and selfish action. They claimed that the weapons were badly needed at the Aragon front although it was clear that both Communists and revolutionaries had stashed weapons that they would use for reasons other than fighting the main fascist enemies.

At this point, the feeling and mood in Barcelona was one of deep distrust- distrust for everyone around be that friends, fellow soldiers, associates, comrades, it made no difference. Nobody could foresee who would turn out to be a spy - there can be people working for any of the groups including fascists, communists, foreign governments - and denounce them to their ideological enemy. Meanwhile the CNT feared that there would be a foreign intervention if the internal strife went too far -indeed there were two British warships that had moved into the harbor as the fighting intensified with the proclaimed aim of "protecting British interests" but there was little doubt that it was to crush any massive uprising by the working class.

The POUM was decried as "Franco's fifth column" and as Trotskyists who were loyal to the Fascists. The outbreak of the conflict at the Telephone Exchange was described as an insurrection by the Anarchists. The gross misrepresentations of the events by the Communist press was systematic, ubiquitous and invariable - spinning facts to the degree that the roles of the various parties involved were reversed : the Telephone Exchange, the Daily Worker stated for example, was being held by the Government workers until being seized by the CNT forces in a surprise uprising. Never mind the fact that the same story was turned around a couple of days later without any mention of retraction or correction of the previous account. Also forget about the blatant contradictions in the descriptions and statements: inflammatory leaflets were the cause of the Anarchist uprising according to one release, but in another report, it was argued that these same leaflets were issued following the attack - it was a consequence. The newspapers did not care to maintain basic consistency in even stating the day the actual attack took place. In fact, the propaganda program was so obsessive that the Communists, either out of poor judgment or indifference, were giving away vital military secrets that could compromise their war effort while benefiting the Fascists. These included details about the strategy, the preparedness and the number of troops at the front and other tactical information that could be crucial to outcome of the war. (Orwell mentions in a footnote about the relative accuracy and neutrality of coverage in the Manchester Guardian,a newspaper known today simply as The Guardian. Incidentally, amongst all the regular newspapers I have come across in the English language, I find The Guardian most balanced and objective in coverage and detail.)

The betrayal reached its zenith in June 1937 when the POUM was declared as a full-fledged illegal organization by the government and all suspected members of the party were rounded up and flung into jail without the slightest concern for any due process. The Communists concocted a dramatic tale of how the entire group as a Fascist Plot designed to undermine and subvert the government forces.The charges leveled against POUM were ludicrous, such as claims that militiamen were in radio contact with Franco or in communication with the Nazi regime. Anyone rejecting the Communist policy from a left-wing perspective was conveniently condemned as Trotskyist -the implied meaning being treachery and a possible link with Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy. That this was full blown lies is apparent from the mere observation that these troops were still in jail for long after they were arrested, something that was impossible had they found any evidence of such subversive collaboration with the Fascists. In fact when an independent international delegation was went to Spain later on to investigate the role of the POUM in the conflict, the diplomats did not uncover any evidence to support any of these outlandish allegations. This admission of the innocence of POUM was in fact was made by the some of Spanish Government leaders, including the Minister of National Defence and Minister of Justice.

As appalling as the Communist backstabbing may sound, it is nothing particularly unexpected for this uniquely disgusting political ideology to denounce its detractors as traitors. Orwell point out for example that while today opponents are attacked as "trotskyist-fascist", a few years ago "Social-fascists" would have been the derogatory term of choice. But these critics and skeptics are not permanent nor does the official Communist line have any qualms about consistency (much like it does not have any principles). So such treacherous "social-fascists" like members of the British Labour Party were claimed to be behind a planned military invasion of USSR but this same Labour Party has now automatically morphed into a natural ally that English Communist Party members are trying to get into.

After the POUM is outlawed, Orwell again volunteers to go to the front in Huesca although his affiliation is not very clear. He mentions that he has been moved into a more structured pay commission that the militiamen were forced to accept abandoning their earlier stance of complete equality for all soldiers.
It is here though in the trenches of the battlefield that Orwell gets shot by a sniper that puts an end to his volunteering effort to fight Fascism in Spain. His recollection of the experience of getting shot straight through the neck is quite unusual in that he explains everything in a clear and objective manner. More amazingly, true to his style, even a dramatic personal incident like this one does not alter his perspective on his role in the war as merely a soldier fighting for a greater cause and coming close to death not unlike so many other brave individuals. In life, it so often happens that we are preoccupied with our self-importance. We like to think that our world view is unique and accurate, that our feelings deserve respect,that our concerns are serious and genuine and our opinions and ideas, important and insightful. In all of our thoughts and involvements, we feel the need to project our intellectual abilities. We obsess over what we like and what we don't and we make a big deal about the little ups and downs in life. What a stirring contrast it is when someone who is now considered as one of the most important authors in the 20th century, describes a bullet making a clean pass through his throat in the most ordinary way one can imagine -without ever drawing unnecessary attention to himself. I have never regarded myself as a fan of modesty of any kind -not at the conscious level at least- but his experiences in Spain- particularly this incident- evokes immense admiration. In his engaging introduction to the copy I hold, Lionel Trilling writes:

Orwell takes his place with these men as a figure. In one degree or another they are geniuses, and he is not - if we ask what it is that he stands for, what he is a figure of, the answer is: the virtue if not being a genius, of fronting the world with nothing more than one's simple, direct, undeceived intelligence and a respect for the powers one does have, and the work one undertakes to do.

Returning to the actual incident, Orwell explains that being shot felt like an explosion around him, something akin to a lightning strike with no awareness of pain but a sense of numbness and a dazed feeling. It had to pointed out to him that he was actually shot and it was only a brief while later that the horrible sense of pain came to overwhelm him and oddly enough, it was felt first in his arms. Despite this ghastly injury, he notes, almost glibly, that he has no resentment for the sniper who got him and would in fact congratulate the soldier on his shot while recognizing that he[Orwell] would have done the same thing had he been in the sniper's place.

He is carried in a stretcher to an ambulance that takes him to a temporary medical facility from where he is transported to Barbasto in an incredibly bumpy journey. About another half dozen trips to various hospitals and medical centers, where he silently witnessed all varieties of dreadful wounds on fellow inmates like smashed rib cages and collar bones, and followed by an additional 2 months of rest, Orwell recovers to reasonable health and miraculously he has his voice back -something that most doctors had ruled impossible. Unfit to continue fighting, he returns to Barcelona in the hope of finally leaving the country and going home.

The situation in Barcelona is a depressing one, with armed men roaming the streets, ubiquitous occurrence of arbitrary arrests, and a perpetual sound of machine gun fires heard all around. A this stage, the Communists have full control over the city and CNT/POUM militiamen - even those who had former ties with these groups -were being jailed without any charges or consideration of a fair trial. In order to leave the POUM without being considered a deserter, Orwell needs to be declared unfit first and then obtain the discharge papers from POUM headquarters. While this may sound like a straightforward affair, Orwell had to stop by a dozen hospitals to get his documents in order to be free to leave. No sooner does he return to Barcelona than his wife hurriedly warns him that he was now in real danger of being arrested - since he had served in the POUM militia before. The news of this inexplicable situation in Barcelona was something that Orwell cannot bring himself to accept - he had done nothing to hurt the cause of the anti-fascist resistance. Now, it was necessary to remain on close alert and protect himself from being discovered. Lying low was not an easy choice- any hotel or inn in Barcelona required its staff to report about new visitors to the place ; several waiters in restaurants were also familiar with militiamen faces and they could easily give away the identity inadvertently in the presence of Civil Guards or other Government troops.

Elsewhere POUM leader Andreas Nin was arrested and thrown to jail where he was believed to have been later killed by the secret police - this incident was concealed from the public by the Communists who provided vague and sometimes conflicting information on Nin's condition.[He was actually tortured and murdered by the Soviet Secret police] In another event Bob Smilie, one of the young men that Orwell knew from fighting in the front, was now known to have died in prison from medical complication. Orwell recalls Smilie as being a "tough lad" who was able to withstand the rigors of winter better than most of the other militiamen and his prison death is suggestive of the terrible conditions in which the Spanish jails were maintained. A student who left Glasgow University to join the revolutionary forces, Smilie's death was truly symbolic of the genuine tragedy of the conflict - the Communist betrayal.

But what angers one about a death like this is its utter pointlessness. To be killed in the battle- yes, that is what one expects; but to be flung into jail. not even for any imaginary offence, but simply owing to dull blind spite, and then left to die in solitude- that is a different matter.

Despite the horrible events which has left Orwell with evil memories of Spain, he belabors to point out that he has few bad memories of Spaniards. It would appear, according to him, that even if Franco were to ascend to power, the military dictatorship would not be the as brutal and repressive as in other countries[something that was partly borne out to be true]. Spaniards hardly possessed the efficiency or the ruthlessness to impose the kind of totalitarian nightmare that was possible in Nazi Germany or Stalinist USSR. The Communist secret police, while displaying some of the spirit of the Gestapo had little of the same competency or aggression.

In his last few days in Spain, Orwell tries unsuccessfully to free George Kopp, the Belgian volunteer who was Orwell's superior officer while fighting on the Aragon front. Kopp was arrested while carrying a letter to a government official and as usual, no charges were filed for the incarceration. Orwell explains the situation to the assistant of the colonel (the government official in question) and manages to get the letter back - which should have served as a proof that Kopp was serving the government- but it turns out that this new evidence was insufficient to secure his release[Kopp survives somehow despite interrogation and torture by Soviet Secret Police after which he settles in England].

On that defeated note, Orwell, along with his wife and two other British militiamen, leave Spain and after a short stop in France return to London.

(Fascists had full control of the country by 1939 when General Franco came to power).

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