From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


from Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell.

“This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write,
and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance.
Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have
obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. 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. The Anarchists were still in
virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full
swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably
seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was
ending; but 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. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the
workers and was draped with red flags now with the red and black flag of
the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and
with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been
gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being
systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had
an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the
bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and
black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you
as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had
temporarily disappeared. Nobody said ‘Sen~or’ or ‘Don’ ort even
‘Usted’; everyone called everyone else ‘Comrade’ or ‘Thou’, and said
‘Salud!’ instead of ‘Buenos dias’. Tipping had been forbidden by law
since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was
receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy.
There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered,
and the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted
red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from
the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining
advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide
central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly
to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all
day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that
was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in
which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a
small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’
people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes,
or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer
and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some
ways I did not not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a
state of affairs worth fighting for. Also, I believed that things were
as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ State and that the
entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed or voluntarily come
over to the workers’ side; I did not realise that great numbers of
well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves
as proletarians for the time being.

Together with all this there was something of the evil atmosphere of
war. The town had a gaunt untidy look, roads and buildings were in poor
repair, the streets at night were dimly lit for fear of air-raids, the
shops were mostly shabby and half-empty. Meat was scarce and milk
practically unobtainable, there was a shortage of coal, sugar and
petrol, and a really serious shortage of bread. Even at this period the
bread-queues were often hundreds of yards long. Yet so far as one could
judge the people were contented and hopeful. There was no
unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw
very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the
gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a
feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.
Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in
the capitalist machine. In the barbers’ shops were Anarchist notices
(the barbers were mostly Anarchists) solemnly explaining that barbers
were no longer slaves. In the streets were coloured posters appealing
to prostitutes to stop being prostitutes. To anyone from the
hard-boiled, sneering civilization of the English-speaking races there
was something rather pathetic in the literalness with which these
idealistic Spaniards took the hackneyed phrase of revolution. At that
time revolutionary ballads of the naivest kind, all about the
proletarian brotherhood and the wickedness of Mussolini, were being
sold on the streets for a few centimes each. I have often seen an
illiterate militiaman buy one of these ballads, laboriously spell out
the words, and then, when he had got the hang of it, begin singing it
to an appropriate tune.”





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