11

I recently read an article at Foreign Policy (archived here) stating the following:

[Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom] grounds Churchill and illuminates the grim conclusions Orwell didn’t blanch at, like his dark, practical view that Spain was better off with Franco winning the civil war.

This quote sounds like Orwell eventually concluded that Spain would be better off under Franco.

I'm no expert on Orwell, but I've recently re-read Homage to Catalonia, a chronicle of Orwell's experiences in the Spanish civil war and for some reason a conservative favorite. I've also read 1984 several times, I've read a variety of his other work, and I'm currently working on Christopher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters. I've never come to the conclusion that Orwell felt Fascism would be acceptable under any circumstance. Rather, I've understood Orwell to be against totalitarianism in all its forms and to be on the side of truth and human decency. I've also understood his conclusion after his experiences fighting alongside the left in the Spanish civil war was that the Soviets were also totalitarian, but I never understood him to have come to the conclusion that the Fascists were to be preferred to the Communists.

Is there any evidence to support the assertion that I've quoted?

  • 1
    I saw the question title and was prepared to downvote it because "wtf, of course he didn't". But that's your point too, and instead I've upvoted. – Rand al'Thor Jul 2 '17 at 20:16
  • 2
    Another essay by Orwell: Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942). Nothing positive about Franco there. – Rand al'Thor Jul 2 '17 at 20:20
  • 1
    Thanks, @Randal'Thor. When I read that quote I also did a double take. The quote seems like revisionist history to me, and if it happens to be a fact about Orwell then so be it. I'm open to the truth, whatever it is. But let's see the evidence, otherwise I'm calling BS. – einnocent Jul 2 '17 at 21:51
5

Having read George Orwell's 1942 essay Looking Back on the Spanish War (tip of the hat to @Randal'Thor), it's quite difficult to imagine that Orwell ever came to the conclusion that Spain would be better off under Franco. This is because:

  • Orwell continually bashed Fascism, both in practice and principle.
  • Orwell repeatedly spoke well of the Socialist cause, even though he was very critical of Stalin's approach to the Spanish civil war.
  • Orwell specifically stated that the war was worth fighting even if it was a lost cause.

Against Fascism

Orwell in his essay specifically calls out the evil of Fascism numerous times, e.g.,

There is little question that what one may roughly call the ‘whites’ commit far more and worse atrocities than the ‘reds’.

The Reds and Whites of course refer to the left (Communists) and the right (Fascists), respectively. Orwell goes on to describe those who support Fascism (emphasis added throughout):

When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism... they are all people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical society and dread the prospect of a world of free and equal human beings.

He reiterates this in his description of what was at stake and who stood to benefit:

The hatred which the Spanish Republic excited in millionaires, dukes, cardinals, play-boys, Blimps, and what-not would in itself be enough to show one how the land lay. In essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the dividend-drawers all over the world rubbed their hands. That was the real issue; all else was froth on its surface.

Orwell's disdain for the Fascists here is clear.

Favoring Socialism

In a number of passages, Orwell speaks highly of the Socialist cause:

What are the workers struggling for? Simply for the decent life which they are more and more aware is now technically possible.

And in reference to his encounter with a rural Italian soldier fighting for the left:

When I remember — oh, how vividly! — his shabby uniform and fierce, pathetic, innocent face, the complex side-issues of the war seem to fade away and I see clearly that there was at any rate no doubt as to who was in the right. In spite of power politics and journalistic lying, the central issue of the war was the attempt of people like this to win the decent life which they knew to be their birthright.

In each passage, Orwell's clear support of Socialism is stated in the context of how its purpose is to provide the masses with a decent standard of living.

Though Orwell supports Socialism in principle, he does not spare criticism for the confounding behavior of Russia, which worked to suppress a revolution in Spain while also doing little to support those fighting the Fascists.

As to the Russians, their motives in the Spanish war are completely inscrutable... their actions are most easily explained if one assumes that they were acting on several contradictory motives. I believe that in the future we shall come to feel that Stalin's foreign policy, instead of being so diabolically clever as it is claimed to be, has been merely opportunistic and stupid.

With that in mind, Orwell's disdain for the left applies to its political strategies and not its desired ends.

In Support of the Lost Cause

Orwell states that evil must be fought and cannot be relied upon to collapse on its own.

Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don't resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does? And what instance is there of a modern industrialized state collapsing unless conquered from the outside by military force?

Note also that Orwell refers to Fascism simply as the noun evil. It's hard to imagine him acquiescing to evil, even if the cost is death.

Finally, he makes the clearest recapitulation of his support for the leftist fight in Spain:

Whether it was right, as all left-wingers in other countries undoubtedly did, to encourage the Spaniards to go on fighting when they could not win is a question hard to answer. I myself think it was right, because I believe that it is better even from the point of view of survival to fight and be conquered than to surrender without fighting.

Conclusion

There is substantial evidence to think that by 1942 -- five years after escaping Spain -- Orwell had sufficient time to reflect on whether the leftist fight against Fascism was worth it. He knew that Fascism was evil, he felt that Socialism was not, and he knew that evil had to be confronted. He must have decided that the Spanish civil war was worth the fight for the left.

  • "Orwell repeatedly spoke well of the Socialist cause, even though he was very critical of Stalin's approach to the Spanish civil war." The later part seems like a non sequitur, since Stalin didn't have anything to do with socialism. – Faheem Mitha Mar 27 '18 at 16:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.