Saturday, July 22, 2006
“I believe that libels and press--campaigns of this kind, and the habits of mind they indicate, are capable of doing the most deadly damage to the anti-Fascist cause.” Reading Homage to Catalonia was an incredible eye-opener for me and my understanding of the Spanish Civil War. I haven't read any proper historical text of the war, the most detail I have gotten was from novels and in the biography of Dr. Norman Bethune, who developed a mobile blood transfusion station while helping the Communists.
Most of the accounts of the war that we have seen were sympathetic to the Communist faction of the Government side in the struggle against Franco's revolution. The divided character of the government forces, made up of rival leftist political parties and the government, was not in the interest of the narrative of the time, of a struggle against encroaching fascism, that the UK and France and the U.S.S.R. wished to be accepted.
The most striking part of the dynamic of the relationship between the U.S.S.R.-backed Communists and the native-born anarchist and Marxist resistance movements which originally gought back Franco's attack was that the Communists were the most stridently counter-revolutionary force in Spain, directly on the side of the government. The speed that a revolutionary force becomes a force for the status quo is astounding. The system of military alliances in Europe meant that Stalin's U.S.S.R. was better off with a strong, capitalist Western Europe than a chaotic one in the midst of revolutionary workers' uprisings. Orwell, by chance of where he landed when he arrived in Spain, ended up being one of the few foreign witnesses to the conflict between revolutionary and communist forces, as well as having seen what real worker revolution looked like in the Andalusian region of Spain, where even ccommon forms of speech such as "senor" and "usted" fell into disuse in favour of genuine, non-ironic use of "comrade" among all previously divided classes.
In fact, watching the way the communists used propaganda and their channels to foreign press to control the narrative of the war is, for me, an even more compelling illustration of the power of information than 1984 was. Not only because it was real and not a science-fiction novel, but also because of the more interesting narrative of trench-warfare that the historical account is wrapped in, and his expression of actual fleeting hope at the site of what a real worker's revolution might look like, only to acknowledge the ultimate futility of the dream against entrenched greed and human nature.
Authors who have fought in real wars seem to be the most capable of exploring the darkest capabilities of humans in power that I've read.
I can't do the looming warning Orwell gives in Homage to Catalonia justice here, go read it. It's a short enough read that you can polish it off in a couple of hours, but as a foreshadowing of Orwell's vision of the power of information control, it's very chilling.