On this day: 23rd June 1937 – George Orwell Flees Spain

23rd June 1937 – George Orwell Flees Spain

“Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me.” – George Orwell

George Orwell arrived in Spain in December 1936 to observe and write about the Spanish Civil War. Almost immediately, he traded in his pen for a gun to serve as a voluntary soldier against Franco’s Nationalist Fascists. Six months later, after a bullet in his neck nearly killed him, and another anti-Fascist faction that was supposed to be fighting on the same side as him became an even greater and dangerous enemy than the fascists, he and his wife Eileen were forced to flee for their lives. Seventy-[three] years ago today on 23rd June 1937, they crossed the border into France and safety.

On June 18th, Spanish Communists had entered Eileen’s hotel room. She was working in Barcelona as a clerical worker for the ILP. Several of Orwell’s papers were confiscated, but the most incriminating stayed hidden under a mattress. Orwell was in no shape to continue fighting, and had received word of the arrests of some of his closest POUM comrades; he knew that he and his wife would have to escape Spain. He obtained his discharge papers and a visa from the British consulate, entering France with Eileen on June 23rd.

With the couple as they escaped was Stafford Cottman, the youngest member of the ILP Contingent of the POUM militia, the man on whom the central character of Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom is most closely based. He recalled: “I was asked to go along to their headquarters and I met Bob Edwards was its leader…. At headquarters we were all interviewed by Bob and a couple of others. They asked you simple things like why you wanted to go to Spain. The idea was to find out whether you did have a sort of principle or whether it was pure adventure.”

Gordon Bowker writes:

As ever on returning home, Orwell was overcome by the beauty of the countryside and the civilised quality of English life. But, after the events of the past six months, the paradise of Southern England, ‘the sleekest landscape in the world’, had taken on a new significance. It now seemed to him a country of sleepers unaware of the impending nightmare. Earthquakes, famines and revolutions happened elsewhere, the smoke and misery of industrial towns were out of sight and far away…

It soon became apparent that English POUMists were not altogether beyond the long arm of the Stalinists. When Stafford Cottman arrived back in Bristol his home was picketed by a group of Young Communists with banners denouncing him as ‘an enemy of the working class’, and people going in and out were questioned. When Orwell heard about this he got Lawrence to drive him to Bristol where they organised a protest in defence of the young rebel. ‘What a show!’ he wrote. ‘To think that we started off as heroic defenders of democracy and only six months later were Trotsky-Fascists sneaking over the border with the police at our heels.’ He was clearly shocked that Communist attacks on people with POUM connections had been taken up back in England. After all, he even more than Cottman was a prime target of Communist spite.

Bonus link: Steve Wadham: Orwell’s crystal chandelier.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Poumista,

    Your link does not work. You should update.

  2. Yup, link not working and I want to read the rest!

    Get to it!

    • Hmm. I scheduled this when I found it, and the original blog seems to have gone off line. I’ll work out what to do.

      • OK. I looked and looked, and the blog is dead. So, I stitched something else together.

  3. […] Archivalien unter „Sozialistika“ und im Download-Archiv … Poumista erinnert an George Orwells Flucht aus Spanien 1937 undd an seine Geburt vor 107 Jahren, eine webseite erinnert an den vor 65 Jahren verstorbenen […]


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