Orwell and Spanish Civil War historiographyLet us try our strengths and whether we can avoid a flame war. This is definitely the thread one is tempted to follow but will not because it may degenerate into one: the serious debate on the Spanish Civil War is inextricable linked with the Stalin-Trotsky debate.
I am not in favor of waging it on this list (and, worse yet, our Absolute Despot Louis Pr the Ist and Only has already banned the subject), but I feel I cannot shut up at a few basic things on this issue. A paradigmatic Hobson's choice. My relationship with the Civil War in Spain is very deep, however, not to contribute at least a few things. So that I have to send at least this, my _only_ message on the Spanish Civil war.
So that, let it well out and I hope I am not offending anyone too much.
I knew knew many Spanish exiles personally (of almost every political creed, none of the POUM, who so far as I know were exterminated almost to the last person, or did not come to Argentina). As an Argentine leftish boy of the sixties and seventies, I lived their history as of my own: during the 30s, the Spanish Civil War had had the deepest impact on a country where local politics was irrepresentative and corrupt to the marrow, where large fractions of the adult population were either Spanish or Italian, and where great war heroes as Buenaventura Durruti had had an important political role before they went back to Spain and fought against Franco. By the sixties, you could hardly be a Leftist in Argentina if you did not know, at least, some lines of the Civil War songs.
I will broach three themes: a) a source for the history of the Spanish Civil War, b) Orwell, c) bias.
a) There is a very good (Trotskyist, but not sectarian, finely worked) book by Pierre Broue, it was written by the early sixties and its name is _Revolution and war in Spain_, I think.
b) Orwell has been recently found to have worked for the British secret services, true. This, however, speaks more in praise of those services than against Orwell. Graham Greene and other first-rate intellectuals were recruited by them, on various occassions (if I am not wrong, even E.H. Carr, for example), and many English Communists supported the imperialist policies of Churchill because they were "democratic". When one thinks of these things, one understands Bill Bartlett's paranoia against bourgeois state and even shares it (no offence, Bill). That is the way a well managed bourgeois imperialist state works.
As to Orwell, his story is told in the film by Loach: he entered the war independently, and _after what he saw_ he emerged fiercely anti-Stalinist. Orwell was an anarchist, and the Stalinist policies against Catalonian Anarchists and the POUM would have been more than revolting for many of those who are now labelling Orwell a "police informer".
Stalin suffocated the Spanish revolution, he used the Spanish people as a pawn in a struggle that he did not want to take place. When the bravest representatives of that people (Catalonian Anarchists: like it we Marxists or not, this is the truth) rose in rage at the back stabbing, he put the fiercest Inquisition in motion. He did not want Spain to trigger a revolutionary wave in Western Europe (remember, it was the 30s), and he waged a "theoretical" battle by means of policemen and pro-bourgeois or conservative precinct heads.
Additionally, envoys of the Communist International put a further gross portion of hatred into the pot: Vittorio Codovilla, the head of the Argentine Communist Party for long decades (will have many things to tell on this man on my impending mails re: Argentine left), is said to have been an active torturer during the Spanish War, and nobody has ever denied it. Codovilla was a Stalinist of Italian origin who never learnt to speak Spanish fluently enough. But he knew how to torture a prisoner. The climate all this helped build up cannot be easily described in words.
Since Stalin backed the bourgeois regime ("first win the war, then do revolution") it was logic that he wanted to stop the Anarchists and POUM in their moves towards socialization of the estates, etc. He had all the right to do this, and his cause could have been arguable. What can NOT be accepted is the "method" he resorted to. These methods couldn't but end with complete demoralization of the Republican side, and they did. Power comes from the rifle, as Mao used to say, but he added: the rifle is in the hands of the soldier across the lines, win him for our cause! Stalin thought it could be that the guns in the hands of the policemen may bring in the same final result.
Now, this is the backcloth of Orwell's being a "police informer" during WWII and afterwards. The very Communists in England, if we look at this honestly, considered the British were fighting a justifiable war (after the invasion to Russia, and before the Molotov-Ribbentropp agreement, of course). So that why blame Orwell, a "pure olive oil" individualist and a man who could not disengage of the causes he considered just and correct, because after he saw the Stalinist secret services torture and kill some of the best Spanish revolutionaries, he decided to work for the British services against the enemies of "democracy"? Things are quite complex, this is the truth.
In fact, some things happened worse than Orwell's working for the British Intelligence: there were even Spanish Anarchists who -out of hate for whom they could not but define as the murderer of their revolution- joined the Division Azul (the symbolic military group sent by Franco to help Hitler in Russia). I cannot but lay all the responsabilities for this true tragedy at the Stalinists' doors. When one remembers that only twenty years earlier, Lenin on the eve of the October revolution cherished dreams of working together with Anarchists once the Western Revolution had laid the foundations for a republic of workers to exist, on ean measure the enormity of this policy displayed in Spain...
c) It is hard to actually imagine an "unbiased" account of that tragedy, since we still owe ourselves an "unbiased" account of the 20th. century. I am sending this mail with the only purpose of stressing that, whoever was right in the polemic as to which were the best means to win the war in Spain, the responsibilities that fall upon the Stalinist group run along different tracks: those of demoralizing the Republican camp through a full-handed attack against workers' and peasants' revolutionary democracy. This is what Loach shows, and he is true to what actually took place in Catalonia.
Only after we all accept _this_ shall we be able to deliver an "unbiased" history of the Spanish Revolution. Up to then, bias is a matter of political honesty. Because the questions posed by the Spanish War, and the tasks these brave Iberians took to them to accomplish, are still either unanswered or unaccomplished. It is difficult to be "unbiased" when you are telling a story that is biting on your own present the way the Spanish Revolution bites on ours.