Thursday, 8 March 2018

Homage to Bob Smillie in Year of Orwell?

N,V. Editor:  A few days ago Quentin Kopp, son of George Kopp the commander of the POUM military unit in the Spanish civil war, mentioned the contraversial death of Bob Smillie at the the hands of the communists when he wrote to  Tameside Trade Union Council, which is now affiliated to The ORWELL SOCIETY, to relate the following news:

'We have been informed that Barcelona wants to make 2018 the year of Orwell and will be arranging a special series of plaques, which will comemorate his time there.  Despite the political uproar in Catalonia it appears to be still going ahead. Since we received this invitation we have learned that a Spanish researcher has found the graves and a lot of the records relating to the death of Bob Smillie. We plan to incorporate taking a small scuplture to Valencia to put in the Cemetry at the same time, which will be between the 14th and 18th April.'

Below is a report in THE SCOTSMAN in 2003 about Bob Smillie and George Orwell:


It's time the Left faced up to the truth about Orwell

 Published: 01:00 Monday 23 June 2003

Read more at:

FEW people in Scotland today remember Bob Smillie, but there was a time when his political murder by Communist Party agents during the Spanish Civil War was a cause célèbre.  During his lifetime, Orwell - otherwise Eric Blair, hence the silly Guardian pun - was vilified and lied about by the left-wing establishment for denouncing communism and its British fellow travellers as totalitarian enemies.  He came in for personal attack for two reasons.  First, he had been a leftist himself and had put his life on the line fighting against Franco in Spain: he was wounded and nearly killed.  If there is one thing the Marxist left can’t abide it’s one of their own exposing where the dead bodies are buried - literally, in Smillie’s case.  Second, Orwell’s brilliant prose - spare, honest, gripping - is some of the best anti-totalitarian propaganda ever written, be it the satire of Animal Farm or the Blade Runner world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  So much so, that his works remain permanently in print and, more importantly, read.  That’s why I think Orwell, from the grave, will be proud that he is still upsetting the unthinking left.

However, it is ironic that today’s character assassination is being led by the Guardian, which Orwell singled out for praise in his Spanish Civil War memoir, Homage to Catalonia, for its exposure of the lies being spread about the democratic Spanish left during the war (they were accused of being fascists) by the manipulative communists.  Sixty-five years later, the Guardian is claiming that Orwell secretly informed on fellow writers and academics, including the Scots poet Hugh McDiarmid, whom he thought might be communist sympathisers.  And all because he was besotted by a woman called Celia Kirwan, who worked for the shady information research department at the Foreign Office.  Thus, says the Guardian, did the inventor of Big Brother turn into the monster he created (much like the liberal, free-market Manchester Guardian of Orwell’s day has become a public-sector advertising sheet).

The Guardian’s innuendo is false - which brings us back to murdered Bob Smillie.  He was the 22-year-old grandson of Robert Smillie, the leader of the Scottish miners.  The younger Smillie was a member of the radical Independent Labour Party (ILP).  Under its charismatic leader James Maxton (a hero of Gordon Brown), the ILP was resolutely pacifist.  But Franco’s attempt to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government in Spain in 1936 changed all that.  Thousands of idealistic foreign volunteers, including Orwell and Smillie (then a student at Glasgow University), went to Spain to join the International Brigades to fight fascism.  There was only one problem - the communists.  While Stalin was prepared to arm the Spanish republican government against Franco, he was not in favour of a radical Spain, lest it got in the way of his plans for an anti-Hitler alliance with France and Britain.  The Soviet secret service (NKVD), including in its ranks many foreign communist militants, effectively took over republican Spain.  Anyone on their own side who got in the way was labelled a fascist, arrested, then shot.  That included supporters of the largest left-wing party in Spain, the Anarchist CNT.  But it also included the Catalan nationalists and ordinary social democrats, whose party was forcibly merged with the communists.  When, in May 1937, the Anarchists and the POUM - the Spanish partners of the ILP - objected to all this, the communists concocted the lie that these organisations were in league with Franco, and used military force in Barcelona to suppress them.  Orwell, who had been recovering from a bullet wound in the neck, escaped to France.  But Smillie was arrested by the NKVD at the border while on his way home to conduct an anti-fascist speaking tour. He was taken to a prison in Valencia and held incommunicado despite protests from the ILP in Britain. Subsequently, the communists announced Smillie had died on 13 June, 1937, from peritonitis. His body was immediately buried before anyone could see it.

Leading ILPers, such as John McNair, who was the party’s general secretary for 20 years, believed he had been deliberately shot (as were many POUM leaders).  Maxton went to Valencia to try to find out, but to no avail - the local communist press called him a fascist too.  Whether Smillie was executed, or died of deliberate neglect, he was the first foreigner associated with the International Brigades to become a mortal victim of Stalinist repression.  He should be a Scottish hero, but decades of Stalinist propaganda in the Scottish Labour movement have buried his memory.  Smillie’s death led Orwell to break with the romantic left of his day and denounce Stalinism, and with it the closed, self-certain mentality that supports such false utopias.  As a result, he was excoriated by the left. Even today, the Guardian is happy to run a front-page story implying that one of the 20th century’s greatest writers was merely a British equivalent of Senator McCarthy, and only then because he wanted to get his leg over.  The truth is that Orwell had seen his friends murdered and, unlike lazy, middle-class intellectuals in Britain, he was prepared to defend democracy in a typically robust way. By the way, that supposedly shady Foreign Office unit was actually set up in 1948 by the Labour foreign minister Ernest Bevin to counter Soviet propaganda - there were numerous communist agents inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. Orwell was advising on who would make a poor choice as a counter-propagandist. As to his assessments, consider McDiarmid, whom Orwell calls "reliably pro-Russian". Orwell died in 1950. In 1956, as Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising and there were mass defections from the British Communist Party, McDiarmid rejoined it. Is this not all ancient history?  No: Orwell’s warning that "totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere" is still in force as long as there are those happily inventing utopias to impose on the rest of us. We need to remain robust in defending freedom, and that is done best by remembering people such as Bob Smillie.

In Spain in the past few years, there has emerged a popular movement to uncover the true facts about those who disappeared during the civil war.  The Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory wants the Spanish government to dig up and identify the corpses of the 30,000 people believed to have been executed by the fascists.  Why stop there? What about the executions in Spain by the communist secret police?  The time has come to solve the mystery of Bob Smillie’s death.  Where is he buried? Was he shot in the back of the head with a Mauser machine pistol, the method of choice of the NKVD?  Or was he just allowed to die in agony of peritonitis?  And who were the Scottish Comintern agents who informed on him?  Perhaps the Guardian has started a trend.


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