Hoisted from the Archives: From 2007: Your One-Stop Shop for All Your 70th Anniversary Leftist Sectarian Polemic Blogging Needs https://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/03/your_onestop_sh.html: In anticipation of the 70th anniversary of the bloody Stalinist suppression of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista in the Barcelona May Days, we are–thanks to Jacob Levy–proud to bring you the latest in sectarian Marxist polemics blogging. First, we have Eric Hobsbawm declaring that George Orwell was a Traitor to Humanity by telling the truth about what he saw in Spain:
Eric Hobsbawm: Writers supported [the Republican cause in] Spain… Hemingway, Malraux, Bernanos and virtually all the notable contemporary young British poets-Auden, Spender, Day Lewis, MacNeice did. Spain was the experience that was central to their lives between 1936 and 1939…. Polemics about the civil war [within the Left]… have never ceased since 1939. This was not so while the war was still continuing, although such incidents as the banning of the dissident Marxist Poum party and the murder of its leader Andrés Nin caused some international protest. Plainly a number of foreign volunteers… were shocked by… the behaviour of the Russians and much else…
And yet, during the war, the doubters remained silent… They did not want to give aid to the enemies of the great cause…. The exception proves the rule: George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia…. Orwell himself admitted after his return from Spain that "a number of people have said to me with varying degrees of frankness that one must not tell the truth about what is happening in Spain and the part played by the Communist Party because to do so would prejudice public opinion against the Spanish government and so aid Franco."… Only in the cold-war era did Orwell cease to be an awkward, marginal figure….
Polemics… are legitimate… only if we separate out debate on real issues from the parti pris of political sectarianism, cold-war propaganda and pure ignorance…. A serious war conducted by a government requires structure, discipline and a degree of centralisation. What characterises social revolutions like that of [Spain in] 1936 is local initiative, spontaneity, independence of, or even resistance to, higher authority…. In short, what was and remains at issue in these debates is what divided Marx and Bakunin. Polemics about the dissident Marxist Poum are irrelevant…. The conflict between libertarian enthusiasm and disciplined organisation… remains real…. Wars, however flexible the chains of command, cannot be fought, or war economies run, in a libertarian fashion. The Spanish civil war could not have been waged, let alone won, along Orwellian lines….
Moral revulsion against Stalinism and the behaviour of its agents in Spain is justified…. yet… not central to the problem of the civil war. Marx would have had to confront Bakunin even if all on the republican side had been angels…. Among those who fought for the republic as soldiers, most found Marx more relevant than Bakunin…
Second, we have a reply by Stephen Schwartz, whose affection for Eric Hobsbawm is far smaller than mine:
Eric Hobsbawm's Stalinist Homage to Catalonia: Eric Hobsbawm… political and pseudo-intellectual legacy of Stalinism… banal but repellent rehash… long-discredited clichés… fundamental lie of Stalinist propaganda, which holds that the Republicans would have won the war if they had submitted to dictation from Moscow….
Hobsbawm… contemptible exercise in pseudo-history… CNT militants in the uprising at Casas Viejas, a rural hamlet in Andalusia, in 1933…. Jerome Mintz… exposed Hobsbawm as a mendacious tourist…. “[H]is account is based primarily on a preconceived evolutionary model of political development rather than on data gathered in field research.” Mintz correctly states, “The model scales labor movements in accord with their progress toward mass parties and central authority… [Hobsbawm] explains how anarchosyndicalists were presumed to act rather than what actually took place… his evolutionary model misled him on virtually every point.”… In Spain today Mintz’s work, based on extensive and serious research and interviews, enjoys high esteem….
Hobsbawm… the Guardian in 2007… attack[s] [George] Orwell, the [Catalonian Anarchist Movement] POUM, and the general legacy of the Spanish revolution….
Three distinct trends appeared on the Republican side [of the Spanish Cvil War]:
- the Catalan Left, Basque nationalists, and other liberal bourgeois trends who wanted to carry out a Jacobin-style modernization;
- the proletarian upsurge of the CNT, Socialists, and POUM;
- the Stalinist conspiracy to create a one-party dictatorship.
Moscow tried to unite 1) with 3) to overcome 2), but 1) and 2) had more in common with each other, and the attempt failed. Stalin, however, succeeded in effectively sabotaging the Republican defense; his discreet 1938 message to Hitler indicating Soviet willingness to withdraw support for the Republic was a crucial step….
The Stalinist view of [George] Orwell put forward by… [Hobsbawm] dismisses Homage to Catalonia because it was turned down by a Soviet-lining publisher…. For Hobsbawm, Orwell is not only illegitimate because his book did not sell well, but because he was “an awkward, marginal figure.”… As to the POUM… Hobsbawm.. refers with something approaching disdain to “the murder of its leader Andrés Nin [having] caused some international protest…. Polemics about the dissident Marxist Poum are irrelevant here and, given that party’s small size and marginal role in the civil war, barely significant.”…
Andreu Nin (1892-1937) was not simply… leader of an anti-Stalinist party. He was also a respected Catalan-language journalist and the translator into Catalan of several major Russian works, including Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina. His versions of these classics are still widely known in Catalonia, and it is mainly because of them that his murder by the Stalinists has never been forgotten…. Nin's assassination was the subject of a prime-time documentary, Operació Nikolai, shown on the Catalan channel TV3 in 1992…. To kill Nin was not the same as it would have been to murder, say, the American Trotskyist Max Shachtman, but would have been more like liquidating John Dos Passos….
The role of the POUM in Catalan history was never marginal… it filled the Marxist political space in the region’s labor movement… its members included most of the original founders of the Spanish Communist party, and it embraced “minority” nationalism, i.e. Catalanism, at a time when such a position was novel in Spain and… almost unknown elsewhere in the Western European left….
Hobsbawm informs us “Wars, however flexible the chains of command, cannot be fought, or war economies run, in a libertarian fashion. The Spanish civil war could not have been waged, let alone won, along Orwellian lines.” Once again, the Stalin-nostalgia betrays his ignorance of Spanish reality…. [T]he militia units generally fought better than the militarized units…. [T]he Stalinist-controlled International Brigades and the militarized Republican soldiery with whom they were coordinated were known for incompetence in battle, desertion, and, in the case of many of the foreigners, their reassignment to special groups ordered by the Russians to kill leftist dissidents, since the Spanish would not carry out such duties….
The Spanish knew so many things that Hobsbawm will never know – and above all, they know that while Orwell’s methods might not have guaranteed the victory of the Spanish Republic, those of Stalin and his admirers assured its defeat…
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