Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately
July 20, 2006 10:48 AM   Subscribe

"I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately." – George Orwell, writing about the revolutionary war which started 70 years ago yesterday: July 19th, 1936. Also: Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War. The Visual Front: Posters of The Spanish Civil War. Photos from the Spanish Civil War. Films from the CNT (National Confederation of Labour), 1936-1938.
posted by Len (28 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, bollocks, I hit post instead of preview. I meant to include this too: For whom the bell tolled: Writers on the front line.
posted by Len at 10:52 AM on July 20, 2006


Homage to Catalonia is one of my favorite books of all time. Orwell really nails the frustrated idealism, terrible betrayals, and sense of impending doom that characterized the Spanish Civil War.
posted by xthlc at 10:58 AM on July 20, 2006


For Whom The Bell Tolls is one of my favourite books for much the same reasons xthlc seems to like Orwell's book.
posted by chunking express at 11:03 AM on July 20, 2006


Great post - especially liked The Visual Front essay and images. See also: The Spanish civil war remembered, wonderful portraits by Eammon McCabe of Britisg veterans, and interviews with 23 of the 40 surviving British people who fought in Spain.

(And funnily enough, I was just now re-reading Orwell's Why I Write.)
posted by jack_mo at 11:06 AM on July 20, 2006


Another war that failed to live up to initial expectations
posted by caddis at 11:29 AM on July 20, 2006


I second xthlc's feelings about Homage to Catalonia. I couldn't get into For Whom the Bell Tolls for some reason. Thanks for the post.
posted by Tullius at 11:36 AM on July 20, 2006


The link to the posters has been broken. There were some singularly inept explanations in there, particularly this one:

"The flag on the left, with the traditional red and yellow stripes, represents Nationalist and monarchist Spain. The one on the right, with the revolutionary colors black and red, represents Republican Spain and its various revolutionary groups. The flags almost touch each other behind the soldier in a strong representation of the power of the Falange to bring unity to Spain."

Actually, the "revolutionary" red-and-black flag isn't at all Republican, but the Falange's own...
posted by Skeptic at 11:50 AM on July 20, 2006


I'm with Tullius, any excuse to see the georgeorwell tag on the blue is a good one, IMO.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:58 AM on July 20, 2006


Thanks for the post, Len. The anarchism link is especially interesting... Although Spain was a literal hotbed of anarchism up to and through part of the war, the day to day mechanics of war had the effect of replacing the anarcho-syncalist movement with Communism as the main leftist political organization. Basically, the Communist Party (PC) was the best organized leftist movement, and was the only group able to drum up international support for the Republicans. The Lincoln Brigade, of US volunteers, was organized through the Communist Party, even though not all the volunteers were actually Communists. And seeing that Made in the USSR engraved on your rifle stock had a way of engendering affection for the country. But prior to the outbreak of civil war, the anarchism and socialism were much stronger in the region.

One major tension-creating factor in the years leading up to the war was an attempted anarchist revolution in October 1934, which was only effective in the mining region of Austrians. Currently, there's a quite a bit of popular debate about the Civil War in Spain. Recent books by Pío Moa put a reactionary spin on the war, and basically insist that the military was forced to intervene to restore social order. There's also a semi-widespread belief that Franco saved Western Europe from being overrun by evil scary communism. This is patently nonsense, if you ask me, but nor can one say that the left was completely innocent of misdoing. The reality, of course, was much more complicated than that--the left and the right both made bad political moves while in power during the Republic. Also, society was incredibly divided, there was very little support for true republicanism from either side of the political gap. It's clear to me, though, that whatever the situation that caused the Civil War, the behavior of the Francoists during and after the war is completely beyond the pale.

Sorry for the links in Spanish; to balance things out a little, here's a broadside of poems Langston Hughes wrote after visiting the US Lincoln Brigade troops in Spain. He viewed the struggle against fascism there as part of the greater struggle for equality on a global level... they were heady time.
posted by matematichica at 12:13 PM on July 20, 2006


Skeptic - was that a rare error, or is the whole posters site iffy? I read through more than half of them and it would be annoying to find out it was all bibble!
posted by jack_mo at 12:17 PM on July 20, 2006


jack_mo: Actually, the comments on the Republican posters (that is, most of them), seem accurate, if a bit superficial. Those about the couple of Nationalist posters in the exposition, on the other hand, seem almost comically ill-informed. There's one Carlist poster, for instance, cited as "Basque fascist poster". The Carlists were rabidly conservative and traditionalistic defenders of the "ancien regime", but they'd have been pretty pissed off to be mistaken for those "parvenu" fascists. Rumour has that most Carlist requetés celebrated quite noisily the fuckup of the Italian "volunteers" in Guadalajara...
Internal infighting was by no means exclusive to the Republicans, the Nationalists being a rather eclectic hotchpotch of rural Carlist traditionalists, urban middle-class Falange fascists, upper-class monarchists, big business and a few other ill-assorted bits and pieces that Franco ultimately manage to merge into the rather unwieldly-named Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista (aka "FET y de las JONS"), in what surely was his biggest and most decisive triumph of the war. But even then there was little love lost between the "red berets" (Carlists) and "blueshirts" (old Falangists). (Excuses for the wikipedia overload)
posted by Skeptic at 12:47 PM on July 20, 2006


Spanish newspaper El Mundo has a beautifully photographed and designed package on people from both sides, 70 years on. [text in Spanish]
posted by veggieboy at 1:28 PM on July 20, 2006


A few years ago I worked as the companion to an old gent who was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (Wikipedia). This was right after September 11th, and he had succumbed to a nervous breakdown, in part because he saw the resulting upcoming war and rollback of the Constitution as a negation of his life's work.

It's amazing to me how many of the Americans who were involved in the conflict are still politically active today. It's one of those things that your average high school (and college, in many cases) education barely even touches on. Thanks for the post!
posted by hermitosis at 1:38 PM on July 20, 2006


Skeptic, thanks for the correction. It's a shame the USCD is as lax as they appear to be with facts, though I should have picked up on their mistake. Oh, and also the links – plenty of good information there, Wikipedia or not.

And jack_mo, missed the McCabe portraits; cheers!

matematichica: yeah, the communism/anarchism divide is one of the things that really interested me; despite differences on plenty of fronts, the Spanish Civil War seems to be a rare example of various leftist factions coming close to bandying together for a common good, rather than just standing about and calling each other "splitters!" as the bombs rained down. And God, I really want to see Good Fight; it looks great. (I'm assuming that you can't go wrong with anything narrated by Studs Terkel ...)

On preview: veggieboy, my Spanish isn't so much awful as nonexistant, so I can't really comment on the text, but those portraits are great.
posted by Len at 1:41 PM on July 20, 2006


Skeptic: But actually, hang on. The red and black flag was the flag of the anarcho-syndicalists, and the CNT-FAI alliance; it wasn't the Falangist flag at all.
posted by Len at 1:55 PM on July 20, 2006


Len: Not that red and black flag. This red and black flag.
Anarcho-syndicalists vs. National-syndicalists. Hence the colour coincidence.
posted by Skeptic at 2:07 PM on July 20, 2006


Ah, I'm just not paying attention. Sorry for the confusion!
posted by Len at 2:10 PM on July 20, 2006


For Whom The Bell Tolls is one of my favourite books for much the same reasons xthlc seems to like Orwell's book.

For Whom The Bell Tolls is a good novel (if nowhere near as good as The Sun Also Rises), but Hemingway was fundamentally dishonest about Spain, whereas Orwell told the truth as he saw it and was one of the very few to emerge from that debacle with his honor intact.

the Spanish Civil War seems to be a rare example of various leftist factions coming close to bandying together for a common good

Isn't it pretty to think so? (since we've got Hem on the brain...) Actually, the Communists, who took their orders directly from Stalin, did their level best to wipe out the anarchists and all other dissident leftie groups.
posted by languagehat at 2:21 PM on July 20, 2006


Len: Go see The Good Fight. It's absolutely astounding. I have never seen/heard interviews with more fascinating subjects. These guys (in the gender neutral sense, there's a couple female veterans) have an enormous amount of character. There is, for instance, the one-handed piano player...

And as far as leftist unity goes, the Spanish Civil War is a classic example, but a contributing factor to the loss was disunity. There was a fair amount of infighting, culminating in a revolution within the revolution in Barcelona (known as the Levantamientos de Mayo). Following that, there was major suppression of the POUM, which was Orwell's party/group in the Civil War. These were not helpful developments.

on preview: Languagehat is pretty well right, as usual.
posted by matematichica at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2006


Yes, Homage to Catalonia is one of those rare gems: great writing, great history, all in the context of human emotions and experience.
posted by alms at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2006


Another vote for Homage. The story is compelling enough, but when layered with Orwell's own trajectory from revolutionary idealism to the realization that the Communists are selling out the Marxists and the Anarchists, it's incredily sad and angry at the same time.

And many people have forgotten that he took a bullet through the neck for his ideals, unlike the "true" Revolutionaries back in England who criticized everything he did for the rest of his career as lacking authenticity.

Of course, their names have mostly been forgotten.

(But you might want to check out Down and Out in Paris and London first for the full-on Orwell autobiographical experience. Oh, the life of a plongeur. . . .)
posted by bardic at 2:51 PM on July 20, 2006


languagehat (& also matematichica): Oh, yes, it's always pretty to think so, even when the reality ends up not matching the ideals. Especially when the reallity doesn't match up to the ideals. But yes, it all went pretty sour pretty quickly; any sort of unity seemed to be over by the dying months of 1936. If only they could have held on for a little longer before splintering, it might have worked.

Blame my idealism – and my continued optimism about a socialist future – on my hardcore left-wing parents naming me after Trotsky ...
posted by Len at 2:52 PM on July 20, 2006


pardon the slight derail,but any post about the Spanish civil war brings this up in my mind.
In an Oct. 25, 1984 Scripps-Howard interview, Reagan justified US mercenaries fighting for the contras by pointing out that "nothing was done legally about the formation of a brigade of Americans in the Spanish Civil War"--a reference to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, that fought against Franco--and added that they had been "in the opinions of most Americans, fighting on the wrong side."
posted by hortense at 8:52 PM on July 20, 2006


Both Primo de Rivera and Franco died on November 20th (Primo de Rivera in 1936; Franco in 1975), so that day is kind of a big day in what remains of Spain's fascist community.

Last November 20th, when I was studying in Madrid, some friends and I went up to Valle de los Caidos, where Franco is entombed. It consists mostly of a huge cross on a mountain, overlooking Madrid in the valley. Inside the mountain is a cavernous basilica devoted to the memory of those who "fell for God and Spain." The whole thing was built by Republican prisoners in the wake of the Civil War.

Anyways, the place, which is already pretty creepy, is rendered more so come November 20th. Apparently we missed the 4,000-person strong mass held earlier that day with Franco's daughter. However, enormous masses of roses in Falangist colors lay on both tombs. People encircled each tomb. Some were yuppies wearing red-and-yellow scarves. Others were the sort that might have looked anarcho-punk in another setting, taking snapshots of one another as they saluted Franco's grave. And still others were elderly sympathizers who said prayers as they stood in the cathedral. What struck us were not the elderly (among the people of a certain age I knew in Spain, it was both common and acceptable to occasionally speak wistfully of Franco's regime) but the young people gathered there to celebrate the man.

[photos mine, hope that isn't a problem]
posted by anjamu at 11:01 PM on July 20, 2006


I found this poem in this paper on the international brigades and wept:
The long collection speech is done
And now the felt hat goes
From hand to hand its solemn way
Among the restless rows.

In purse and pocket, fingers feel
And count the coins by touch.
Minds ponder what they can afford
And hesitate—how much?

In that brief, jostled moment when
The battered hat arrives
Try, brother, to remember that
Some men put in their lives.

Paul Ryan,
American International Brigades veteran
The thought that neither I, nor my children, will ever be able to volunteer for such a cause – that the US will always be on the side of the fascists, and actively seek to destroy 'terrorists' fighting for freedom anywhere, is so goddamn sad I could cry all night.
posted by blasdelf at 1:37 AM on July 21, 2006


I haven't read 'Homage to Catalonia' so I just went to look it up on my local library's online catalogue - they've got it shelved under 'fiction'...
posted by altolinguistic at 4:34 AM on July 21, 2006


One more vote for "Homage." Fantastic book.
posted by Atreides at 4:58 AM on July 21, 2006


Good book, "Homage to Catalonia". Can't stand Hemingway in any format.

Can't belive no one has mentioned the film "Land and Freedom", which is loosely based on Orwell. Bit of a tear-jerker, but not bad.
posted by QIbHom at 1:31 PM on July 22, 2006


« Older Cthulhu: The Movie....  |  Today's... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments