As spring advances and the days grow hotter, Orwell notices the pleasant transformation of the world around him and goes out in the evening to hunt game birds with a net. He describes the group of Andalusians that is stationed next to them at the front. Catalans look down upon men from Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain, and Orwell does indeed find that they are ignorant. The majority of them are illiterate and, most importantly, seem unaware of which party they belong to. However, they are unusually skillful at rolling cigarettes.
The battle recedes to the background and Orwell is soon immersed again in the daily activities of survival and life in the countryside. The Catalans’ hostility toward the Andalusians’ marks a cultural rift within Orwell’s own camp—a divide which he, as a foreigner, would never had suspected. The Andalusians’ political ignorance is striking to Orwell. It shows that he is beginning to understand the political relevance of this conflict beyond purely military considerations.
Orwell’s main memories from this period are of heavy loads carried under the sun, crumbling uniforms, and mosquitoes and rats. Nothing happens except occasional fire from snipers and the sound of attacks on the other side of Huesca. The Anarchists are losing ground in their attacks on Huesca and it seems unlikely that the town is going to fall after all.
Once again, Orwell is stuck in the daily rhythms of a soldier’s life outside of battle. The historical events happening near Huesca do not affect his group. Rather, he and his company seem entirely detached from the historical course of the war.
Orwell feels that his time in the war is the most useless period in his entire life. While he had joined the war for the noble cause of fighting Fascism, he realizes that all he has done as a soldier is endure the cold and lack of sleep. In retrospect, however, Orwell recognizes that this period was perhaps not as fruitless as he thought at the time, for it provided him with knowledge and experiences that he could never have obtained in any other way.
Orwell realizes that his subjective impressions in the moment do not convey the entire truth of his experience in Spain. It is only when he views his time as a militiaman through the lens of his entire personal life that he can draw meaning from it. Unlike what Orwell had expected before coming to Spain, the importance of his involvement in the war lay neither in his own actions, nor in his capacity to influence the historical course of events, but in the personal change it effected in him.
What was most striking about the experience of fighting with the POUM, Orwell reflects, is that he was completely secluded from the outside world. The militia system had the unique characteristic of bringing together men who shared the same political beliefs, which only served to heighten revolutionary sentiment in the troops. However ordinary they might have seemed to him at the time, the revolutionary ideals that Orwell was confronted with during his time in the POUM were in fact rare in Western European countries at the time. Overall, thanks to this immersion in a self-contained, revolutionary group, Orwell feels that he was able to experience the true essence of Socialism, where ambition, hierarchies, and class divisions disappear in favor of equality among all men. However transient such an experience might have been, it was powerful enough to leave a strong mark in Orwell’s mind.
Orwell realizes that his experience in the POUM was neither representative of Spain as a whole, nor of most forms of Socialism. In being politically self-contained, his militia was in many ways an artificial creation, a political experiment that worked because all its participants shared the same political convictions. This was a crucial factor in making social equality a reality within the POUM. As such, it is apparent to him that social equality is less likely to succeed in real life, where people are usually more socially and politically diverse.
While Orwell knows that many critics consider Socialism a disguise for ordinary power-grabbing, the very impulse that drives capitalism, his personal experience opened his eyes to another possibility. In the militias, hope and trust, not ruthless ambition, were predominant, therefore establishing a powerful atmosphere of equality. This experience convinced Orwell that a classless society is not an impossible dream but, rather, a goal that it is possible for humanity to achieve. Instead of disillusioning him, his time in the POUM only heightened his desire to see Socialism applied in real life.
Orwell rejects cynical descriptions of Socialism as a disguised form of capitalism. His own experience teaches him that humanity can be moved by solidarity and trust as much as by materialism. At the same time, Orwell does not address the extraordinary circumstances in which he experienced Socialism. Specifically, in times of war, solidarity and trust might be a more logical response than in ordinary civilian life, when individuals are not united by a common sense of danger.
At the time, Orwell was too busy worrying about everyday survival to become aware of the ideological convictions that were slowly growing in him. Upon looking back, he realizes that such a period was unique in his life. It remains a sacred memory, imbued with the peculiar sights and sounds of war, however dreary or exhausting they might have been in the moment. Orwell proceeds to recount a few anecdotes that remain particularly vivid in his mind: a moment of warm companionship with Kopp; the suddenness of a shell attack on his position; the sound of men on both sides singing as dawn rises over no-man’s-land.
Orwell’s impressionistic memories of such an extraordinary time also affect his political convictions. This suggests that emotions, as well as the sense of being personally involved in a large-scale project, play an important role in shaping an individual’s political and economic view of the world. In Orwell’s narrative, everyday experiences play a more powerful role than theoretical arguments in shaping his views.
On April 25, Orwell, desperate for the comforts of civilized life, finally leaves the line. From Monflorite, he heads back to Barcelona and arrives there in the afternoon the next day. From then on, Orwell announces ominously, “the trouble began.”
However much Orwell might declare his support for a leftwing coalition that defends the working class, he remains attached to his ordinary desires for comfort, such as escaping the problems of war.