The Spanish Civil War in Literature

By Janet Pérez; Wendell Aycock | Go to book overview

The Writing of History: Authors
Meet on the Soviet-Spanish Border

Peter I. Barta

Three authors who went to Spain during the Civil War—Arthur Koestler (a Hungarian-born British writer), Mate Zalka (a Hungarian-born writer who became a Soviet citizen), and Mikhail Koltsov (Soviet-Russian writer)—were connected with both the International Brigades and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Each of them gained considerable prominence in the East or in the West, but, significantly, not in both. Koestler is all but unknown in Eastern Europe, while Zalka and Koltsov are not well known in the West. Their writings voice certain explicitly ideological discourses that are regulated by the culture in which they circulate.1 For the West, the Soviet works appear as propaganda; for the East, the whole Koestler oeuvre was, until recently, regarded as provocatively anti-Soviet because of the writer's ideological shift in the years after he wrote the Spanish Testament.

The texts produced by these, and other, writers in the Spanish Civil War resulted in a historical portrait. All writing is rooted in ideology, but the degree of explicitness varies. Koltsov's, Zalka's and Koestler's works, like most literature about the period, are clearly “partisan” and, as regards general historical awareness of the Spanish Civil War, this confirms what Orwell, somewhat pessimistically, predicts in Homage to Catalonia: “Future historians will have nothing to go upon except a mass of accusations and party propaganda” (141).

The focus in this study on ideology, rather than on the person of the writer, is justified by the greater significance of the author-function than that of the author. The individual texts under discussion are mere paroles of the langue of an ideological discourse. In the works of the Soviet authors, and in Koestler's Spanish Testament, the first-person voice is generated from an ideological matrix with which

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