Book Review: In Spain with Orwell

September 15, 2013


This article  appeared in the 35th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

At this year’s Len Crome Memorial Lecture in Manchester, a large audience listened to four speakers discuss the significance of George Orwell’s famous account of his time fighting in Spain, “Homage to Catalonia”.

His colourful description of Barcelona in the winter of 1936, with “the working class in the saddle”, his candid account of the brutal realities of warfare and, above all, his eye-witness account of the infamous in-fighting in Barcelona in May 1937, have combined to make Orwell’s account many British people’s first introduction to the Spanish Civil War.

It has also ensured that the story of the POUM (a relatively small anti-Stalinist Marxist party based mainly in Catalonia), and the support they received from their British comrades in the Independent Labour Party, has not been forgotten. However, had George Orwell not served with the POUM militia in Spain, it is questionable whether many people in Britain would have heard of the ILP volunteers. There were only 40 or so in all, the majority of whom only served in Spain for a few months. Moreover, Orwell aside, almost nothing has been written by former members of the ILP group.

Acutely conscious of this lack, IBMT Executive Committee member and historian Chris Hall has spent a considerable amount of time researching into and writing about the men and women in the ILP group. His latest publication, “In Spain with Orwell”, has just been published by Tippermuir Books. Readers should note, however, that this is not actually a fresh study, but a new edition of his earlier work, “Not Just Orwell”, first published by Warren & Pell in 2009. This, sadly, seems to have virtually disappeared from sale. It is fortunate that Tippermuir have stepped in and published this new updated edition, which adds new biographical details of many of the ILP contingent in Spain.

For those who have not read “Not Just Orwell”, Chris Hall examines the role of the Independent Labour Party in British politics, before turning to  Spain; first the POUM and then the civil war itself, where he discusses “the organisation, actions and individual members of the ILP contingent in Spain”. The book concludes with three essentially biographical chapters on the ILP volunteers. Clearly sympathetic to the ILP volunteers, the author attempts to redress what he sees as the overshadowing of their role by accounts of the British volunteers in the International Brigades and the long-standing antipathy between the two groups of veterans.

Fortunately, many of these arguments are not as fraught as they once were and both the IBMT’s Manchester event on Orwell and Chris Hall’s work on the ILP are further steps forward. Times have clearly changed and it is surely significant that a study of the ILP group in Spain has been written by a Trustee of the IBMT and dedicated “to all British and Irish anti-fascist volunteers who served in the Spanish Civil War”.
Richard Baxell’s latest book is “Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism” (Aurum Press, London, 2012, £25). He is an IBMT Trustee.


One Response to “ Book Review: In Spain with Orwell ”

  1. Tony White on September 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Thought this from ALBA would be of interest.