He [George Orwell] was in the Poum only because he had been rejected by Harry Pollitt, the secretary-general of the British Communist party. So he arrived in Barcelona with Independent Labour party credentials. Taken to the Poum’s Lenin barracks in the Gran Vía, he was welcomed because of his literary celebrity. Orwell was not popular among fellow British militiamen, who, like Pollitt, resented his “cut-glass Eton accent”. One said he disliked the “supercilious bastard” on sight: “He really didn’t like the workers.” He had been exhilarated to find “a town where the working class was in the saddle”, but the collectivist experiments of autumn 1936 had not created a war machine. The May events were about removing revolutionary obstacles to the war’s efficient conduct. He acknowledged this in his 1942 essay Looking Back on the Spanish War: “The Trotskyist thesis that the war could have been won if the revolution had not been sabotaged was probably false. To nationalise factories, demolish churches, and issue revolutionary manifestos would not have made the armies more efficient. The fascists won because they were the stronger; they had modern arms and the others hadn’t.”Leer el artículo completo aquí
However, in his book he expressed pro-revolutionary views based on ignorance of the damaging impact on the republic’s international image of the atrocities committed against priests, landowners and merchants in Lérida by the Poum and in eastern Aragón by anarchist columns from Barcelona. For instance, he completely misunderstood the notorious case of Antonio Martín Escudero, an anarchist smuggler who controlled the area of the French-Catalan Pyrenean frontier known as La Cerdanya. There, he and his group carried out acts of banditry, atrocities against the clergy and the extortion of people crossing into France. At the end of April, he was killed at the small town of Bellver in a clash with local people determined to end his reign of terror. Orwell accepts the anarchist version that portrayed Martín as a martyr murdered by forces of the Generalitat.
In Barcelona, social and political hostilities had been mounting for some months. The tension that Orwell encountered when he arrived in April was not the result of communist malevolence but of economic and social distress. The Catalan population had been swollen by the arrival of 300,000 refugees. The strain of housing and feeding a 40% increase in Barcelona’s population had embittered existing conflicts. Until December 1936, when the CNT had controlled the supply ministry, the anarchist solution had been to requisition food in the countrysid. As farmers hoarded stocks to sell on the black market, this provoked shortages and inflation. Then the PSUC took over the supply portfolio and implemented a more market-based approach. This infuriated the anarchists but did not solve the problem. There were bread riots in Barcelona, and armed clashes for control of food stores between anarchists and the PSUC. | PAUL PRESTON