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Bunk, Brian D., 1968-; Pack, Sasha D.; Scott, Carl-Gustaf (ed.) / Nation and conflict in modern Spain: essays in honor of Stanley G. Payne

Esenwein. George Richard
The Cold War and the Spanish Civil War: the impact of politics on historiography,   pp. 175-189 ff.

Page 182

end of Homage to Catalonia: 
... I hope the account I have given is not too misleading. I believe that
on such 
an issue as this no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult
to be certain 
about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes, and consciously
unconsciously everyone is a partisan. In case I have not said this somewhere
in the book I will say it now: beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of
fact, and 
the distortion inevitably caused by having seen only one corner of events.
beware of exactly the same things when you read any other book on this period
the Spanish war."' 
Having said this, the question is: How reliable is Orwell's eyewitness testimony?
The answer 
to this query demands far more space than we can devote to it here. Suffice
it to say that 
much of what Orwell records in Homage to Catalonia, mutatis mutandis, has
been corrobo- 
rated by other eyewitnesses who were on the anti-Communist left. For example,
his account 
of the May events corresponds closely to versions that appeared in contemporary
publications such as The May Events (Agustin Souchy) and in the personal
testimonies of 
other first-hand observers like the ILP representative John McNair, the future
head of the 
Federal Republic of Germany Willy Brandt, and Lois Cusick, a left-wing activist
who had 
come to Spain to participate in the revolutionary movement with her husband
Charles Orr. 
Scholars like Bolloten, who in assessing the significance of the May events
in his writings has 
drawn upon a wide range of documents, and the POUMist historian Victor Alba,
also sup- 
port Orwell's recollection of events during these disturbances. 
By citing the various documented writings that corroborate Orwell's version
of the 
May events, I am not suggesting that scholars should ignore the shortcomings
of Homage 
to Catalonia. There can be no doubt that Orwell's account of what he witnessed
in Spain is 
flawed by his imperfect understanding of what was, for him, a mostly foreign
political and 
cultural environment. As Stradling and others have pointed out, Orwell's
ignorance of the 
Spanish political scene caused him to make numerous mistakes, including,
among others, 
misspelling Generalitat and confusing the Guardias de Asalto with the Guardia
Civil. It is 
also true that his recollections of the political battles that were raging
behind the lines were 
colored by his sympathies for the revolutionary left. However, given the
general state of 
confusion that reigned during the May events and in view of the polarized
political context 
in which this episode occurred, none of this is surprising. But, if the historian
should exercise 
caution in reading the first-hand accounts by Orwell and the pro-revolutionary
elements, he 
or she must also take into account that there are no other contemporary sources
that offer a 
more accurate and unbiased assessment of the May events. In fact, in light
of what we now 
know, it is clear that the pro-Communist and pro-government sources relating
to this con- 
flict offer an equally if not more distorted view of the May events than
those of their political 
rivals on the left. Significantly, Orwell's critics never feel the need to
address this side of the 
evidence equation in their critique of Homage to Catalonia. Thus, like so
many other docu- 
mentary sources relating to the Civil War, Orwell's eyewitness testimony
is problematic. 

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