Letters from Barcelona

9780230527393A book I want to read: Letters from Barcelona: An American Woman in Revolution and Civil War edited by Gerd-Rainer Horn, letters by American socialist Lois Orr and some by her husband Charles Orr.

Letters from Barcelona provides a unique insight into the mentality and actions of an entire generation of socialist activists caught up in the maelstrom of cataclysmic events in interwar Europe. Based on carefully chosen representative selections from the copious letters sent by the young protagonist to family and friends in the United States, the atmosphere described in these letters vividly recreates the challenges, the hopes and the disappointments associated with living in Barcelona in the first year of the Catalan Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. These letters reconstruct the vibrant atmosphere of the campaign for a self-managed socialist society, stymied and ultimately crushed by the twin challenges of fascist and Stalinist dictatorships. The primary documents are placed into a larger context by the editor’s introductory remarks on the nature of the Catalan Revolution and the place of Lois Orr’s writings in the emerging literature on women’s autobiographies.

A splendid review by Jeremy Harding in the LRB. Review by Reiner Tosstorff in Against the Current. Review by Andy Durgan in International Socialism.

Durgan writes:

Both were radicalised by their experience. While Charles joined the POUM, Lois became increasing sympathetic to the Trotskyists, in particular the dissident US Revolutionary Workers League led by Hugo Oehler. Both would later be active in Max Shachtman’s Workers’ Party.

In Spain, the Orrs were close to George Orwell and especially to his partner Eileen O’Shaughnessy. The Orrs took over the editing of News and Notes, the POUM’s English-language newspaper, from the poet Mary Low. As Agustín Guillamón notes, the Orrs exemplified that interesting feature of the internationalists in Spain: the revolutionary partnership, along with Mary Low and Juan Brea, Kurt and Katia Landau, Hippolytus and Mika Etchebehere, Pavel and Clara Thalmann (Ensner) Thalmann, and Nicola Di Bartolomeo and Virginia Gervasini (plus, I guess, Orwell and O’Shaughnessy).

More links: Stubby Wikipedia articles on Lois Orr and Charles Orr. The Charles Orr papers at IISH.


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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i was about to mention the LRB review, but i see you saw it.
    great site, i have it bookmarked, a little too ecumenical maybe, but i’m not complaining.

  2. Thank you Petey. Which particular corners of the left would you prefer me to concentrate on and which to avoid, in order to temper my ecumenicalness? (Not a rhetorical question: am genuinely curious!)

  3. well you give more space to trots than i would, is about the whole of my ‘issue’. but as i say, it’s not much of an issue.

    • oh, and the american socialist voter link. er …

  4. Good answer Petey. I’m afraid I have a Trot post or two coming up, but balanced with a fair amount of anarchism, left communism, centrism and democratic socialism!

    ASV is a weird site isn’t it, but its “Worldwide” section http://www.americansocialistvoter.org/socialismworldwide.htm is quite a good resource on international developments, and its list of American socialist parties down the right hand side is also useful!

  5. […] the repression of the working class in the Islamic Republic of Iran. So, in the spirit of ecumenicism, I have been spending time at his website, and am dedicating this special edition of From the […]

  6. For me the evil that underlay the Stalinist regime was not its murder of men like Nin, but the manner in which they killed. I’m trying to get through Beevor’s Spanish Civil War (he has since written a new account) and the torture he went through is mind-boggling.

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