In this Appendix, separate from the rest of the narrative, Orwell dissects the dynamics of Spanish party politics. He argues that, beyond military considerations, the Spanish Civil War is at its heart a political war, characterized by inter-party infighting.
This Appendix constitutes Orwell’s reckoning with his initially misguided understanding of the war, which he had seen as a simple fight between good (democratic) and evil (Fascist) forces.
When he first arrived in Spain, Orwell was unaware of the complexity of Spanish politics. He had joined the war to fight against Fascism in the name of what he calls “common decency.” While he was fascinated by the revolutionary atmosphere in Barcelona, he did not try to understand its historical ramifications. Rather, the myriad parties and trade unions gave him the feeling that Spain was unnecessarily divided in its fight against Franco. He joined the POUM without realizing that there were serious differences between the different leftwing parties that formed the Republican coalition.
Orwell’s reasons for joining the Republican coalition in Spain are rather vague. He claims to defend a supposedly universal moral concept, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that his ideas of morality and acceptable behavior are biased—affected by his own upbringing, class, and nationality. His belief in a universal moral code ultimately blinds him to the specific human and political complexity on the ground in Spain.
Later, Orwell realized that his perspective had largely been shaped by what he had read in English newspapers, which promulgated a simple, anti-Fascist attitude. The press ignored the fact that the underlying struggle was not necessarily a fight against the Fascists, but a fight for power within the Spanish left. Orwell argues that the series of events he lived through in Spain, from his boredom at the front to his escape from the country, were the direct result of his belonging to the POUM. Had he been part of a Communist unit, he would have had an entirely different experience of the Spanish Civil War.
Orwell’s ignorance of the political divisions within the Spanish left means that he ended up joining the POUM out of sheer luck, without realizing the full implications of such a choice. Implicitly, he admits that he could been an anti-POUM supporter had he joined the Communists. This emphasizes the highly subjective and, more importantly, accidental nature of much of what defines his perspective.
Orwell argues that while many people saw the beginning of the Spanish Civil War as a brave attempt to stop the wave of Fascism sweeping through Europe, Fascism in Spain cannot in fact be compared to Fascism in other parts of Europe. First of all, while in other countries Fascist leaders were generally backed by the bourgeoisie, in Spain Franco alienated both the working class and members of the bourgeoisie. Secondly, the working class did not resist Franco in the name of democracy. Rather, their fight was part of a true revolutionary movement, aimed at establishing political and economic power for the working class. The energy liberated by revolutionary hopes, aimed at upturning the capitalist system, was the true driver of anti-Fascist rebellion. It was only through the power of trade unions and the arming of workers, Orwell argues, that Franco’s military force was initially resisted.
Orwell re-examines his belief that fighting against Fascism in Spain would have international consequences, capable of protecting democracy in other parts of Europe. Democracy, he explains, was not the goal of the anti-Fascist camp in Spain. Rather, the anti-Fascists in Spain wanted something that existed nowhere else: working-class control of society. The Spanish Civil War, thus, is not just another example of the progression of Fascism through Europe, but, rather, an isolated event, unique in character.
Once workers were armed, they refused to give up their weapons. Peasants seized big estates, industries were collectivized, and workers attempted to create autonomous militias separate from the capitalist police. These revolutionary events, however, were mostly hidden in the foreign press. In so doing, international news effectively concealed the issue of revolution that lay at the heart of the conflict.
Workers saw the anti-Fascist fight as being in alignment with the complete overturning of many of society’s institutions, demonstrating that their goal was two-fold: to defeat the Fascists and to create a new society. By refusing to talk about the revolution, the foreign press thus produced a version of the conflict that was entirely partial.
Orwell argues that the main reason for this press concealment was that the entire world opposed revolution in Spain. The USSR, following Communist principles, believed that at this stage revolution would fail and, therefore, decided that the Spanish revolution had to be crushed. Other capitalist countries, convinced that their economic investments in Spain would lose all value if revolutionaries gained political power, adopted the same approach. As a result, in order to discredit the Spanish revolution, foreign powers actively denied that any revolution was taking place at all. In Spain, by contrast, everyone knew that the revolution was a central issue in the war.
Orwell argues that the Civil War was not only fought within the boundaries of Spain. Rather, it was a conflict that also involved international actors whose political and economic influence impacted the course of the conflict. The press was not a neutral commentator on the war, but a powerful tool that reflected and deepened partisanship.
The revolution never became fully developed. While at the beginning the Spanish Government defended working-class interests, over time it began to shift to the right. When the USSR began to supply weapons to the Spanish Communist Party, political power shifted away from the Anarchists to the Communists. As a result, the anti-revolution Communists were able to prevent working-class control from advancing any further.
The Republican Government’s gradually increasing anti-revolutionary attitude was the result of foreign support, proving that the fight in Spain was indeed being fought abroad as much as on local territory. The Communists’ anti-revolutionary attitude proved more important than their belief in democracy, showing, once again, that democracy was not the central issue in this conflict.
At that point, the Government was moved by two separate goals: the need to fight Franco and the need to regain control of the trade unions so that the revolution would end. The Government took various steps to weaken the power of the Anarchists and the working class. Collectivization was halted, the police re-armed, and key working-class-controlled industries taken over. Most importantly, the revolutionary militias were incorporated into the non-political Popular Army, which did not follow the militias’ revolutionary principles of social equality. Unlike in other countries, therefore, where Communist Parties belong to the extreme Left, the Spanish Communist Party was the most conservative, anti-revolutionary force within the leftwing Government.
Following Communist principles, the Republican Government was the most important actor in weakening its own coalition by alienating the leftist, revolutionary parties that made up the anti-Fascist camp. In so doing, the Government implicitly signaled that crushing the working class was a more pressing goal than defeating the Fascist enemy. In its attempts to bring an end to the revolution, the Government could even be seen as siding with the Fascists on the issues of working-class control and democratic principles, proving that the Fascist and anti-Fascist camps perhaps had more in common than Orwell had initially imagined.
Orwell proceeds to summarize the ideologies of the parties within the Spanish Left. On one side, the Spanish Communist Party believed that the revolution would alienate both the peasants and the middle class, and that revolutionary goals should be discarded in favor military efficiency. On the other side, both the POUM and the Anarchists believed that maintaining the status quo of parliamentary democracy was as harmful to the workers as capitalism and Fascism. They trusted that the only real alternative to Fascism was working-class control and that pressing the revolution forward was the only way to win the fight against Fascism.
The Spanish leftwing parties are divided on the issue of revolution and war. The anti-revolution camp believes that revolution is an obstacle to winning the war, whereas the pro-revolution camp believes that the war against Fascism cannot be won without the revolution. Both camps define democracy in different ways. Pro-revolutionary groups believe that democracy should be participatory, giving political voice to the weakest, whereas anti-revolutionary groups are satisfied with a more conservative vision of democracy as a representative system, in which the lower classes do not necessarily have a voice.
Initially, Orwell agreed with the Communists that fighting for the revolution was less important than winning the war. He was exasperated by the constant inter-party fighting that he read in leftwing Spanish newspapers on both sides. Over time, though his ideas changed, as he realized that the Communists were actively weakening the Government coalition. When the Communists accused the POUM not only of weakening the war effort by pushing the revolution forward but of deliberate collaboration with the enemy, they discredited the POUM and, in so doing, divided the anti-Fascist coalition.
While the Communist ideology initially seemed more practical, Orwell realized that, in practice, its attitude was not to win the war with the other political members of the Republican coalition, but to win the war without them, so that the revolution would be completely crushed. This position made little practical sense, for it ended up weakening the leftwing coalition and, therefore, lowering the Communists’ chances of winning the war.
Orwell was disgusted by this pro-Communist narrative. He realized that much of that propaganda was disseminated by journalists and politicians who were not actually fighting in the war and who, therefore, were ignorant of what actually went on in the conflict. In general, Orwell was disillusioned to realize that the leftwing press was just as full of lies and bitter accusations as rightwing newspapers. The result of the interparty journalistic disputes was that leftwing newspapers ended up writing more bitterly against their leftist political rivals than against Fascism. When the Communists began to take power away from workers and to throw revolutionaries in jail, Orwell also realized that the Communists were not actually in favor of supporting the working class.
Orwell argues that his firsthand experience of the conflict was more valuable than the opinions of people who wrote about the war from afar and who, often, were more motivated by political motives than by a respect for democracy and truth. This judgment is valid both for journalists and for Communist Party leaders. Orwell realizes that the Communists actively hindered the democratic process by refusing to tolerate dissent, disregarding standards of transparency and truth-telling, and eliminating certain actors from the political process based on their beliefs.
Orwell also argued that, from a practical perspective, revolutionary goals could have drawn more supporters to the Republican side. Had more people abroad known about the revolution in Spain, they might have been willing to leave their country to fight in defense of the working class, as Orwell and his companions did. The same might be true within Spain itself. Had the Government emphasized its support of working-class control, workers fighting on Franco’s side might have been more willing to desert and fight on the Republican side. The national and international effort to weaken public knowledge of the Spanish revolution was therefore detrimental to the anti-Fascist cause. The POUM and the Anarchists’ idea that the revolution and the war were inseparable was, for these practical reasons, less absurd than it initially appeared.
Orwell initially respected the Communist ideology because he believed that launching a revolution could in fact draw crucial resources away from the greater fight against the Fascists. However, he argues that the loss of local resources in the local revolutionary effort could have been compensated by the arrival of resources from other parts of the world. Looking at the conflict as a purely Spanish affair was therefore a mistaken approach. It was important to consider the role of international actors in order to understand the true dynamics at play in this war.
At the beginning of his time in Spain, however, Orwell was not aware of these facts, and would gladly have exchanged his boredom as a POUM militiaman for greater action in a Communist unit. Unlike the Communists, who tended to attack anyone who did not follow party guidelines, the POUM were tolerant of Orwell’s desire to join Communist troops and allowed him to express this idea freely without ostracizing him for this decision or pressuring him to join the party.
In retrospect, Orwell realizes that his enlistment with the POUM was a stroke of luck. The democratic values he saw at work in the revolutionary militia would have been unthinkable within the Communist party. His feelings of boredom and frustration in the moment ultimately proved far less important than the lessons he drew from the POUM’s ideology.