George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

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37.

John McNair, New Leader (London)

6 May 1938, p. 7

John McNair (1887-1968), Independent Labour Party representative in Barcelona 1936-7, General Secretary of the ILP 1939-55, biographer of ILP leader James Maxton. The New Leader was the organ of the ILP.

We have waited long for such a book as George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. There have been many books written on the Spanish Civil War, but none containing so many living, first-hand experiences as this.

The writer is not a propagandist. So far as I know, he is a member of no political party. Probably because of this he has demonstrated the age-old truth that art does not need artifice, and that a writer’s job is to express in honesty and sincerity the realities of a situation as he sees and experiences them.

In the first fifty pages he tells us all about the discomfort and the comradeship of the P. O. U. M. Workers’ Militia. He discovered the discomfort first and the comradeship later. Indeed, this is not surprising as the average Briton takes many things for granted which the Spanish workers and peasants have never known. The fact which stands out clearly is the inherent decency and simplicity of the Spanish worker:—

A Spaniard’s generosity, in the ordinary sense of the word, is at times almost embarrassing. If you ask him for a cigarette he will force the whole packet on you. And beyond this, there is generosity in a deeper sense, a real largeness of spirit, which I have met with again and again in the most unpromising circumstances.

This was the raw material out of which sprang the Workers’ Militia, which saved Spain from Fascism in the early days, which defended Madrid with unparalleled heroism, and which was laying the foundations of the Workers’ State. The value of the Workers’ Militia as a revolutionary fighting force was not realised by George

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