Reading period: Apr–May 2018.

Homage to Catalonia. George Orwell. First published in 1938. (ebook)

The book describes struggles of the troops in the Spanish civil war and attempts to explain who the involved parties were.

Spoiler alert The text below contains details of the plot and characters.


  • he came to Barcelona, had some trainings in barracks
  • later called up into hills around Zaragoza
  • returned to city (Huesca)
  • is shot, hospitals
  • returns to Britain (as a member of denounced P.O.U.M. militia)


situation after socialist victory in Barcelona

  • social regularization
  • forbidden tipping

national stereotypes

  • English

“Englishman would rather cut his hand than admit inferiority”

“Alas! I ducked. All my life I had sworn that I would not duck the first time a bullet passed over me;”

“The whole thing seemed too absurd. I had the ineradicable English belief that’ they’ cannot arrest you unless you have broken the law.”

  • German

“Best of all was the German-made ammunition, but as this came only from prisoners and deserters there was not much of it.”

“Fortunately this was Spain and not Germany. The Spanish secret police had some of the spirit of the Gestapo, but not much of its Competence.”

contrast of outdoor equipment

“was wearing a thick vest and pants, a flannel shirt, two pull-overs, a woollen jacket, a pigskin jacket, corduroy breeches, puttees, thick socks, boots, a stout trench-coat, a muffler, lined leather gloves, and a woollen cap. Nevertheless I was shivering like a jelly.”

  • and it was not even freezing

catch 22

[discharge papers] “Even these were a danger, for they bore the seal of the 29th Division, and the police would probably know that the 29th Division was the P.O.U.M.; but without them I could be arrested as a deserter.”

Social classes, antistate?

“I have no particular love for the idealized ‘worker’ as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”

  • note the “bourgeois Communist” collocation


  • on war scarcity

“a foot of that bright red sausage which tastes of soap and gives you diarrhoea.”

“There was not even any gun oil. You greased your rifle with olive oil,”

“the unexploded shells were often reconditioned and fired back. There was said to be one old shell with a nickname of its own which travelled daily to and fro, never exploding.”

  • essentially a trench war

“at this rate it would be twenty years before I killed my first Fascist.”

“I had joined the militia in order to fight against Fascism, and as yet I had scarcely fought at all, had merely existed as a sort of passive object, doing nothing in return for my rations except to suffer from cold and lack of sleep.”

  • alternative tactics an Englishman did not see before

“The idea of trying to convert your enemy instead of shooting him!”

  • complexity of the conflict and information war

“It was the first talk I had heard of treachery or divided aims. It set up in my mind the first vague doubts about this war in which, hitherto, the rights and wrongs had seemed so beautifully simple.”

“The P.O.U.M. was declared to be no more than a gang of disguised Fascists, in the pay of Franco and Hitler, who were pressing a pseudo-revolutionary policy as a way of aiding the Fascist cause.”

  • various sides and (un)importance of naming:

“As for the kaleidoscope of political parties and trade unions, with their tiresome names — P.S.U.C., P.O.U.M., F.A.I., C.N.T., U.G.T., J.C.I., J.S.U., A.I.T. — they merely exasperated me.”

“the alignment of forces was this. On the one side the C.N.T.–F.A.I., the P.O.U.M., and a section of the Socialists, standing for workers’ control: on the other side the Right-wing Socialists, Liberals, and Communists, standing for centralized government and a militarized army.”

“no one wanted this to develop into a full-sized civil war which might mean losing the war against Franco.”

  • the first world problems

“Many of the normal motives of civilized life — snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. — had simply ceased to exist.”


  • stance of the foreign powers

“But the main reason was this: that, except for the small revolutionary groups which exist in all countries, the whole world was determined, upon preventing revolution in Spain. In particular the Communist Party, with Soviet Russia behind it, had thrown its whole weight against the revolution. It was the Communist thesis that revolution at this stage would be fatal and that what was to be aimed at in Spain was not workers’ control, but bourgeois democracy. It hardly needs pointing out why ‘liberal’ capitalist opinion took the same line. Foreign capital was heavily invested in Spain.”

  • extreme left-rightness ambiguity

“on the Government side the Communists stood not upon the extreme Left, but upon the extreme Right.”

  • economic ideologies explained

“The Communist’s emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist’s on liberty and equality.”


  • George Orwell
  • his wife
  • Levinski aka Benjamin (Polish Jew captain)

Language & style

  • humor

    “cigarettes filled with sliced liquorice-root were being sold in the streets. I tried some of these once. (A lot of people tried them once.)”

  • figurative descriptions

    “the broken furniture and torn paper that seem to be the inevitable products of revolution.”

  • aware of subjectivity

    “the bullet had gone clean through my neck.” […] “may be, though, that if you were really dying your thoughts would be quite different.”

  • sarcasm

    “No one I met at this time — doctors, nurses, practicantes, or fellow-patients — failed to assure me that a man who is hit through the neck and survives it is the luckiest creature alive. I could not help thinking that it would be even luckier not to be hit at all.”

  • authenticity, reporter

    “The long nightmare of the fighting, the noise, the lack of food and sleep, the mingled strain and boredom of sitting on the roof and wondering whether in another minute I should be shot myself or be obliged to shoot somebody else had put my nerves on edge.”


  • Orwell needn’t creating all the details of 1984 much of it was already captured in this book.
  • Telefónica company existed then.
  • The International Column is referred to as the fifth column but the term originates from nationalist supporters in the war.