George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

HOMAGE TO CATALONIA

1938 (1st American edition 1952)


35.

Unsigned notice, Times Literary Supplement

30 April 1938, p. 286

Mr Orwell arrived in Catalonia in December, 1936, six months after the outbreak of the civil war, with the vague intention of doing some journalism; but instead he enlisted in the militia, took part in the trench warfare around Huesca, was wounded, and after some disheartening experiences in the internal rising in Barcelona in May, 1937, was compelled to flee the country.

The special interest of Mr Orwell’s book derives from the fact that he did not enlist in an International Brigade but joined the militia organized by the P. O. U. M. (Workers Party of Marxist Unity), a small Catalan political party, commonly though not entirely accurately described as Trotskyist, and loosely linked with the Anarcho-Syndicalists. Although the war was well under way when the author went to the front, the fighting was of a decidedly amateurish kind. Discipline did not exist in the militia; ‘if a man disliked an order he would step out of the ranks and argue fiercely with the officer. ’ The training given to the youthful recruits from the back streets of Barcelona consisted of old-fashioned parade-ground drill. There were no machine guns available for the purposes of demonstration and scarcely any rifles. In his five months at the front the author, although promoted to be a corporal, saw little active fighting. The grenades were unreliable, the rifles antique, bayonets at first non-existent, the trenches and water filthy, the front stagnant and the direction of operations, to say the least, uncoordinated.

When Mr Orwell returned to Barcelona from this unfruitful piece of trench life in April, 1937, he was surprised to discover that the

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