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Agey George

Prof. Minni Sawhney

1701801

0204 Germanic and Romance Studies (Spanish)

April 2018

In What Ways Can Homage to Catalonia Be Considered a Text About Catalan Nationalism?

George Orwell moved to Spain initially to write newspaper articles, but when he arrived

in Barcelona, in late December 1936, he came to "a town where the working class was in the

saddle" and immediately “recognized it as a state of affairs worth fighting for" (Orwell). The

ongoing Spanish Civil War radiated an atmosphere where “above all, there was a belief in the

revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and

classless freedom” (Orwell). Orwell thought this ideal was worth risking his life and preserve the

purity of the Catalonian microcosm, immediately joined the POUM militia amidst the chaos of

social disruption.

Homage to Catalonia is Orwell's most patriotic book, aptly representing the “loyalty to a

foreign cause”. Orwell's commitment is not a simple one; in fact, the book is a record of the

development of his loyalties, and of the “motives behind the war in the ironic context of the

futilities of such a war” (Lutman). It has granted Orwell a posthumous victory that gradually

made his testimony ( initially maligned and despised as he derided Western journalists

(capitalists and socialists) for suppressing and distorting news about the Republican cause) the

most respected and widely read account of the Spanish Civil War. Spain becomes space of

literary imaginations, converted into the chronotope of a time and a country inhabited by simple,
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generous people who fight their maximum to free themselves from the oppressor and strive to

create a society that is egalitarian, supportive, free and fraternal.

Homage to Catalonia effortlessly dramatizes universal emotions and reflects on timeless

problems involving power and control, demonstrating Orwell’s faith in a more equitable social

order and, above all, his faith in humanity. Orwell's brings out the sincerity in the resolve of

common men who collectively work to establish a political base founded upon democratic

socialism and to oppose the threat of Stalin's totalitarianism, which he saw darken the skies of

Spain in 1937. The whole experience left him “with no less but more belief in the decency of

human beings” (Orwell). It captures all the numerous dimensions of warfare and the state of

affairs that dictate lives at such a period including life's agony, exaltation and vitality. His earlier

sympathy for the deprived lower classes had grown into a commitment to political action.

When regarding the title of the book, we have to keep in mind that the 'homage' in

Homage to Catalonia has a lot more to do with the representation, revival and reconstruction of

the universal sentiments of nationalism and the idea of freedom showcasing the struggles and

beauty that it entails along with the political and literary - artistic - evolution of the author. At the

same time, it questions the abusive war propaganda that works in the shadows and practically

controls the entire combat operation in an illicit manner through manipulative subterfuge and

misrepresentation. The book, therefore, deals less directly with a specific will “to exalt the

language, the culture or the history of the little homeland of Catalonia discovered by a foreign

traveller” bearing no notable “references to the Catalan language nor to the fet diferencial that

underwrites Catalan affirmations of national identity” (Berga).


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Orwell showed tremendous resistance against the most perverse '-isms' whirlpooling

around the twentieth century remaining true to him precocious anti-imperialist, antifascist and

anti-Stalinist self.

He presents a careful rendering of the changing loyalties and interpersonal relationships

and the sources of disruption along with the system of values that this implied in Spain, lastly

linking these aspects to the political nature of the war.An outstanding feature of the Homage is

“its freedom from political obscurantism” (Aceituno) because its message goes beyond the

idealization of the POUM (Working Party of Marxist Unification) and beyond the description of

the “political controversy and the mob of parties and sub-parties” (Aceituno).

Orwell’s novel validates itself with a grander scope by presenting various aspects of the

Spanish Civil War that are very much relevant even in the contemporary times. Homage to

Catalonia is the mouthpiece that reverberates Orwell’s “solitary figure, eccentric perhaps,

phlegmatically combative and generous, marching taller than all the rest” (Beger) connecting the

episodes separated by vast time lapse through his work that talked about the common struggles

of every war- political, psychological and physical.

The novel was not merely designed to touch the hearts of committed or

uncommitted Socialists, of those concrete historical entities who experienced the

optimism of 1936 and the defeat of 1939. The contemporary is someone or

something, not just existing at the same time, but at an equivalent historical

moment. This book is a ‘homage’ to the human potential to overcome the timeless

problem of alienation. The word ‘homage’ contains Orwell’s vulnerability

rewritten as “faith in mankind, in the human ability to struggle, to salvage

civilization” (Aceituno).
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Not only does did book account Orwell's detailed experiences in the Spanish Civil War

both as a Republican volunteer and as a political observer but also served as a platform for

advancing the virtues of socialist, egalitarian political organization. For Orwell, the sole reason

to actually fight was the cause of equality that was brought about by the revolution. In

revolutionary Barcelona, he says, “there was no boss-class, no menial class, no beggars, no

prostitutes, no lawyers, no priests, no boot-licking, no cap-touching. I was breathing the air of

equality ...and I was simple enough to imagine that it existed all over Spain” (Orwell).

Equality is the essence of revolutionary socialism, and against that equality, he finds little

of value in the bourgeois world. His sense of nationalism works very differently compared to the

commercialised and false consciousness that often defines such an idealogy. Orwell displays

spontaneous clarity while choosing sides in the battle for the telephone exchange as soon as he is

able to interpret the fight as a struggle between the police and the workers. “I have no particular

love for the idealized 'worker' as he appears in the bourgeois Communist's mind, but when I see

an actual, flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not

have to ask myself which side I am on” (Orwell).

Orwell's decision to fight, his commitment to the working class makes him an important

figure for the left, yet he steers clear of the extremist version of Stalinism upheld by the various

Communist parties of that time which work with hidden motives that have nothing to do with

their party philosophy. His union of political radicalism with a cultural conservatism is

exemplary and applicable even in today’s political anatomy. Though he grows out of his naïve

idealism and evolves into a more pragmatic thinker, Orwell still stands for what he believes with

a duly respectable conviction. Thus the book has none of the “frantic self-accusation, paranoid

egotism, flight from reason, and inside-out authoritarianism of the typical ‘convert’ literature”,
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rather it is a “straightforward, manly account with none of the trappings of the reformed drunk”

(Parry).

The tone of Homage to Catalonia does convey a special moral authority, a note of sanity

and balance unusual and valuable. Orwell maintains his integrity by trying his best to remain true

to his experiences and opinions throughout the narration, even though he was a firsthand witness

to all the happenings he repeatedly insists on his own limitations of perception in understanding

the situation.

I have tried to write objectively about the Barcelona fighting, though obviously,

one cannot be completely objective on a question of this kind. One is practically

obliged to take sides, and it must be clear enough which side I am on. Again, I

must inevitably have made mistakes of fact, not only here but in other parts of this

narrative...I warn everyone against my bias, and I warn everyone against my

mistakes. Still, I have done my best, to be honest. (Orwell)

As in so many of the things he wrote, Orwell was swimming against the vulgarly obvious

current of the misrepresented history. Yet he writes about these experiences without melodrama

and with a minimum of rhetorical manipulation. His description of the events including the

stagnant struggles of the time he spent at the front and the conflicts in Barcelona in the battle for

the telephone exchange between the Communists and the Anarchist-Trotskyists- one feels that he

is attempting to convey what happened, what he saw and experienced, as honestly and

straightforwardly as possible. Orwell does not simply strike a pose of an understatement to bring

out his military valour; what he conveys is rather an effort to be as honest as possible, neither

exaggerating nor trivializing his war experience.


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The months he spent at the front line “formed a kind of interregnum in [his] life, quite

different from anything that had gone before and perhaps from anything that is to come, and they

taught [him] things that [he] could not have learned in any other way” (Orwell). His writing

swears by the fact that there was a true revolution in Spain which, although temporary, “lasted

long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it” (Orwell). He states his own

limitations, but nevertheless “does not retract the validity of the moral judgments he makes”

(Seaton)- when he counters the propaganda stories where the POUM-Anarchist were crucified

and labelled as traitors under the fascist pay. But all these sentiments are contrasted with the

world of party politics away from the front.

When Orwell first set foot in Barcelona, he was convinced he was going to take part in a

war 'against Fascism', as somebody has finally stood up against the fascist beast. But then,

immediately, “the denouncer of those obfuscations of political language designed to blur

elemental truths, felt disconcerted to read the jumble of acronyms confusingly referring to

different factional supporters of the same cause: PSUC, POUM, FAI, CNT, UGT …the

kaleidoscope of ugly names 'exasperated' him” (Berga).He himself, having learned that in that

war the letters on your party card could become a matter of life or death, felt the moral obligation

to 'dive into the cesspool' and soon this war was not simple- black and white -fight between the

Fascists and the Republic Government.

Orwell elucidates how wars are driven by a complex matrix of propaganda comprising of

internal differences, hidden agendas and insidious motives where parties and other political

organizations become devious and unscrupulous while scratching the others’ backs for selfish

gains. He talks about the ‘visual fascism’ in Barcelona which crushing Orwell’s spirit through its

pervasive and damaging agency. It also contributed to the arousal of faulty prejudices and false
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knowledge about the various events surrounding the warfare. Previously shocked by the absence

of beggars in the streets, now Orwell saw “outside the delicatessen shops at the top of the

Ramblas gangs of barefooted children were always waiting to swarm round anyone who came

out and clamour for scraps of food” (Orwell). He saw “a window full of pastries at staggering

prices” (Orwell) and, finally, “a cartoon representing the POUM as a figure slipping off a mask

marked with the hammer and sickle and revealing a hideous, maniacal face marked with the

swastika” (Orwell). At this point, Orwell implies that he badly needed to go back to his POUM

unit on the Huesca Front, where “all or nearly all of the vicious hatreds of the political parties

evaporated” (Orwell). (Aceituno)

With the benefit of hindsight, Orwell traces the ironies of the situation, where the “events

of the war and the revolution become increasingly divorced from what the fight is about”

(Lutman). In Spain, Orwell found Communist influence gaining inequitable dominance over

other Marxist alliances. Due to “the arms embargo policy of the democracies, Russia was the

important source of military material” and ammunition. Adopting the anti-revolutionary stance,

Russia preferred choking all hopes of a Republican victory, rather than allowing arms to go to

‘unreliable’ commands. Therefore the Communist slogans turned conservative and anti-

revolutionary: join with middle-class groups, win the war-on paper, seemed more appealing and

portrayed as the peaceful and sensible choice of action. What was left unsaid was the underlying

violent suppression of the radical Anarchists and Left Socialists along with an international

campaign of lying and slander. As the Republican Minister of the Interior said in a notable

understatement, "We have received aid from Russia and have had to permit certain actions which

we did not like” (Orwell). The POUM, now considered to be Franco’s fifth column, had been

outlawed and its members “accused of being in Fascist pay” (Orwell).


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Orwell’s physical wounds had been healed, but his ideological pain increased. The

banning of the POUM meant the betrayal of all the more utopian and humanitarian aims of the

Spanish Left. The communist propaganda involved grave accusations on the pro-revolutionary

parties, naming them as pro-fascists who used the pretence of the social revolution to actually

betray Spain with the Fascists. The charges had no proofs or evidence to back them up and were

a typical example of fear mongering and brainwashing of the public by taking advantage of their

ignorance and abusing the status quo power to suppress of POUM and the subsequently the

revolution. Mostly undertaken through press/print media (newspapers and posters), it worked by

fueling the false ideological prejudices on the domestic and international front. War became an

actual racket, simply controlled and directed by obscure agents of the powers of Stalinism and

Fascism.

This ceaseless confrontation between the sinister ideologies of the political world and the

genuine human values of the front are beautifully shown by Orwell. He is convinced, from his

own experiences during the fighting between the P.O.U.M., Anarchists, Socialists and

Communists (May 1937 Barcelona), P.O.U.M. and the Anarchist rank and file did attack the

Socialists and Communists” and preferred to stay at defence positions (Grant).

The cause of his actions is not simply an anti-fascist political position, a loyalty

expressed in an almost instinctive reaction to situations and events. After what he has lived

through, Orwell can write with the conviction of the 'rebels with a cause' and with the passion,

perhaps inevitably caustic and slightly desperate, of those who recognize themselves as

defenders of a 'lost cause'. The two militia boys who come to the hospital and give Orwell all

their tobacco ration; the times at the front with the Spaniards of the POUM army, the experience

of finding Major Kopp’s letter with the Colonel’s secretary or even the simple handshake he had
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with an Italian militiaman are few of the many instances that symbolize the interpersonal

relationship within a common community that Orwell valued so much. Beyond the divisions

created by political sentiments, Orwell tends to uphold the merits of humanity and compassion

among the human race acting as a major facet of Orwell's patriotism where politics translated

into terms of common humanity.

The comparison of what he actually bore witness to in that politically tensed atmosphere

and contradictory sweeping statements made and published about it by party funded journalists is

juxtaposed with his idealistic expectations which stood in contrast with the ignominious reality

of the war. “This comes out in the book despite the betrayal, and it is basically a loyalty to the

community of men of action as opposed to the political pamphleteers behind the front” (Lutman).

Yet, revisiting a text from the past is not only a question of analyzing its historical

significance within a specific context. It is also a question of assigning new

meanings to its past cosmic vision as we can always find political, ethical and

intellectual motivations for reading the past. These motivations give rise to the

‘presentification’ of past texts. In this sense, Orwell’s fight for the Spanish

Republic can be also interpreted as a fight against the timeless problem of

alienation. (Aceituno)

With the benefit of hindsight, we are able to perceive with a historical compassion- the

vehement struggles that devastated the land of Spain in the middle of last century, providing us

with a sense of communal and personal unity with the distant past far across time and space.

Orwell knew that the war was not restricted to the physical pane of fighting with bombs and

ammunition but a greater part is played through the writings that mostly try to surpass truths,

recreating whitewashed versions of histories that suit their needs.


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Homage to Catalonia is a salutary reminder that working class in Spain-as indeed in

other countries-feel a sort of impatience with the present social order that goes deeper than

political theories. Orwell was aware that he “ had been in contact with something strange and

valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism,

where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug”

(Orwell). The “resistance of the Spanish people is not due to propaganda alone-Communist or

otherwise- but to a sense of injustice and a desire to change their former conditions that have

spontaneously inspired the politically uneducated as well as the politically conscious” (Grant).

The humanistic value of the book resides in Orwell’s vindication of the sanctity of

his revolutionary ideals: the awareness of our vulnerable condition must not lead

to the destruction of our inner beliefs. In Spain, he discovered the valuable things

that were hidden under physical, emotional and ideological discomfort. It is

obvious that the novel presents some specific political conclusions: his

experiences in Spain, for instance, made his socialism a living faith. Orwell

discovered that Socialism can be stripped of its illusions and still survive. He

came to consider socialism as a miraculous fusion of elements which his

vulnerability had previously rejected as irreconcilable: power and decency,

intelligence and altruism, expertise and humility. (Aceituno)

Homage to Catalonia as a literary work acquired a humanistic significance- the teleology was

relevant to the contemporary times and the message was understood and received across the

imaginary boundaries. The themes of the book earnestly redefined the ideas of nationalism and

patriotism that were earlier limited by countless boundaries and prejudices, the transformation of

ideological vulnerability into a state of humanist resistance by creating tolerance towards fellow
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beings along with an acute awareness of individual rights. Orwell’s work is also a ‘combative’ in

nature- powerful enough bring changes to regressive perspectives through the literary depiction

of his nonconformity. He reiterated “the necessity of being ideologically alive, as pertinent an

issue today as it was during the time of his own personal homage” (Aceituno). Orwell’s courage

as a humanist lies in his insistence on facing the vacuum created by hypocrisy and power-

worship, relying on human decency. He wrote Homage to Catalonia to defend “people who

represent courage, humaneness and decency against those who would slander and misrepresent

them for political or personal advantage” (Aceituno).

Orwell affirms that the physical and political experiences strengthened, 'against all the

odds', his deepest convictions, lending a definitive political direction to his work as a writer.

Breaking the temporal limits set by the context of the Spanish Civil War, the book retains its

significance in our present milieu. Homage to Catalonia was not only written the people fought

against the unethical usurpation in the Spanish Civil War but for everyone who has faith in the

revolutionary social order -founded on equality and freedom for all. The nationalist sentiments

have been reevaluated by adding the much-needed dimensions of humanity, liberality and

forbearance to it. Orwell upholds the humanitarian values that resist the notorious vices that

plague the distressing historical conditions of warfare and the need for their sustenance to create

a better world.
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Bibliography

Aceituno, Yolanda Caballero. "Homage to Catalonia Revisited: From Vulnerability to

Resistance." Odisea (2005): 29-42.

Berga, Miquel. "George Orwell in his Centenary Year A Catalan Perspective." The Annual Joan

Gili Memorial Lecture. Cardiff: The Anglo Catalan Society, Hallamshire Publications

Ltd, 2002.

Grant, Helen F. "Review: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell." International Affairs (1938):

728.

Lutman, Stephen. "Orwell's Patriotism ." Journal of Contemporary History (1967): 148-159.

Mitchell, Roger. "Orwell's Fiction by Robert A. Lee." The Modern Language Journal (1971):

484-85.

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Mariner Books, 2015.

Parry, Huge J. "Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell." The Annals of the American Academy

of Political and Social Science (1952): 219-220.

Seaton, James. "Trilling's Homage to Catalonia." Salmagundi (1992): 142-156.