Tuesday, 26 June 2012

George Orwell's letter to a Northern lass

Can a Fascist have a case?

TO me there always seems to be a contrast between how Spaniards and Catalans view the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, and how others interpret it.  Particularly, I feel this at events in this country of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, where one often experiences a  romanticising of what Orwell once called the 'Spanish War'.  Somehow such occasions come over as museum pieces of a bygone age in terms on the Spain of today, and British anarchist meetings on this subject are often little better.  What seems to be going on here is that a historical narrative is being imposed that lacks a sociological or anthropological context. 
At the Paul Preston event on the 28th, April, at the Manchester People's History Museum (see earlier posting below), I questioned the claim that life in Spain had been unbearable in the 1960s and 1970s under General Franco, because I was living and working as an electrician for Casa Such in Denia and delivering bottles of Butano gas to the villages of Cabo San Antonio in Alicante.  It was not easy being a family living on a weekly wage of 750 pesetas but I would not say it was unbearable.  For the ordinary Spaniard in the 1960s, life and material conditions were tolerable in 1963 and getting better, the only thing is that for political opponents of the Spanish regime one would read in the foreign press of arrests and executions being carried out.  Both Professor Paul Preston and his colleague Helen Graham at the Manchester People's History Museum, in answer to my query, accepted that life in Spain in the 1960s and 70s, was vastly better than in the 1940s and 1950s but claimed that a shadow of fear was still hanging over the Spaniards.

Their argument however remains, that Franco was a monster like the other regimes committed to Fascism in the 1930s, Hitler and Mussolini.  Paul Preston is anxious that Franco mustn't be let off by the historians, and he feels that he has had too good a press as a benevolent dictator.

Yet, it is as well to note that the Spaniards and Catalans don't always welcome commemoration dedicated to the International Brigades; Colm Tóibín in his book 'Homage to Barcelona' (1990) writes:  'In October 1988 a statute of David and Goliath was unveiled in the outskirts of the city (Barcelona) to commemorate the International Brigades who fought on the Republican side in the Civil War, on the fiftieth anniversary of their departure from Spain.'  Both the Catalan Government and the local authorities were not keen to host the event.  In the end the socialist Mayor of Barcelona, Pasqual Maragall, spoke in Catalan and French and then in English, he talked of the need for reconciliation in his country and of the need not to humiliate the other side:  'They too had their ideals,' he said in English.  The novelist Colm Tóibín writes that there was a stunned silence among the foreign veterans.

Do Fascists have ideals? 

On August 1st, 1937, George Orwell wrote to Amy Charlesworth, from Flixton, near Manchester, answering her query about the Spanish rebels and the Fascists.  I will quote his reply at length because it offers a clear incite into why some Spaniards may have supported the rebels:
'You asked about the situation in Spain, and whether the rebels had not a case.  I should not say that the rebels had no case, unless you believe that it is always wrong to rebel against a legally-established government, which in practice nobody does.  Roughly speaking I should say that the rebels stand for two things that are more or less contradictory - for of course Franco's side, like the Government side, consists of various parties who frequently quarrel bitterly among themselves.  They stand on the one hand for an earlier form of society, feudalism, the Roman Catholic Church and so forth, and on the other hand for Fascism, which means an immensely regimented and centralised form of government, with certain features in common with Socialism, in that it means suppression of a good deal of private property and private enterprise, but always ultimately in the interest of bigger capitalists, and therefore completely unsocialistic.  I am wholeheartedly against both these ideas, but it is fair to say that a case can be made out for both of them  Some Catholic writers such as Chesterton, Christopher Dawson etc., can make out a very appealing though not logically convincing case for a more primitive form of society.  I would not say that there is any case for Fascism itself, but I do think there is a case for many individual Fascists....  Roughly speaking I would say the Fascism has appeal for certain simple and decent people who genuinely want to see justice done to the working class and do not grasp that they are being used as tools by the big capitalists.  It would be absurd to imagine that every man on Franco's side is a demon...'

I got my first job in Spain by applying to the local office of the Falangist (Fascist) sindicato in June 1963, a Senor Paris was the functionary and he directed me to the Casa Such on the Calle Real (main Street) in Denia.  By the 1960s, according Gerald Brennan in his book 'The Face of Spain', the supporters of the right-wing in Spain had begun to moderate their behaviour simply because economic conditions had improved and there were by that time opportunities for successful speculation in real estate especially on the Costa's and in the tourist areas.

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