5/11/07

SPAIN IN THE LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL

If there has been an influential writer in Great Britain in the 20th century it is George Orwell, who influenced the mentality of political activists more than professional politicians. Following in the tradition of English Socialism, Orwell was libertarian, egalitarian and hostile to Stalinist communism. No person or political party was beyond criticism. “No writer can be a loyal member of a political party.” Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick defines him as “quintessentially English” and although he was an atheist, a certain protestant conscience, part of his education, appeared when it came to dealing with justice and the poor. His works, sometimes provocative, stimulate thought in his readers, as Crick remarks, to make them think, or even “think twice.”

Born in India in 1903, Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair. He was the son of an official and, according to British class distinctions, his family belonged to the ‘lower-upper middle class.’ He gained a scholarship to Eton where, because of his ideas he never felt integrated. After school, he joined the Burma police and stayed in Burma for 5 years, developing a strong antipathy towards Imperialism. When he returned to England, he adopted his pen-name and started getting involved in politics, defending the workers against injustice. Slowly moving towards Socialism, he wrote Down and out in Paris and London, a record of his life as a tramp, and The Road to Wigan Pier, his account of living with true working class people in North England. Orwell moved to the left in response to the events of the 30s, such as the Depression, the rise of Fascism and the struggles of the working class. But Orwell’s Socialism was very personal; he scorned the Soviet Union and believed that Marxism did not meet the needs of the workers because it had lost its understanding of the importance of freedom. Although he was educated at Eton, his Englishness was not upper class. He felt, as other contemporary writers did, close to the radical tradition of Blake, Shelley or Thoreau. This attitude, which had a touch of romanticism, was reflected in his easy writing style and plain way of living. Orwell just wanted to reach ordinary people and felt certain contempt for the establishment in which he was educated.

On July 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. Orwell went to Spain intending to be an observer but ended up fighting for the Republic. He carried an Independent Labour Party card and joined the POUM (Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification). “I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do.”

When Orwell arrived, Barcelona was going through a social revolution that extended to other parts of Spain, especially Aragon, where anarcho-syndicalists were strong. Orwell describes his feeling: “when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.” He also describes people walking in the streets dressed in their working clothes or militia uniforms and the buildings with the red and black anarchist flags. People saluted each other and tips in cafes were forbidden. “There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."

Fragmento de un artículo publicado en Costa de Almería News 26/10/2007.