Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Spanish Civil War Themed Walking Tour - Guided by Leftists

Plaque denoting the precise point where Catalan anti-Stalinist Communist (and George Orwell mentor)
Andreu Nin "disappeared" in 1937
One of the best things a tourist can do in a new city is sign up for one of those "walking tours."  Often they are ostensibly free, although the guides work for tips.  Sometimes there is a modest fee.  But, either way, they are interesting and informative way to see a new city and learn a little about the sights you are seeing.

I signed up for a walking tour of Barcelona.  We met at the Plaça de Catalunya at the top of the Rambla for the walking tour.

Katherine was our guide.

But given that Barcelona is something of an ordinary type tourist destination, I felt compelled to take a more "offbeat" walking tour.  I booked a walking tour in which I would learn more about the Spanish Civil War.  It gets better.  And the walk/tour would be conducted from a left wing perspective.  And I knew that and was looking forward to it.  You know this isn't going to be your standard tourist introduction to all the great photo stops around town when you are told that you'll recognize your guide because she will be the one carrying a copy of George Orwell's "Homage To Catalonia," which I totally now want to read.

So the first Kodak photo spot was this, the monument to Francesc Macià, the father of the movement for an independent Catalonia (in its anglicized form, Catalunya in the Catalan language).  Macià died in 1933 before the Spanish Civil War started, but at a time when the Spanish Republic was falling apart, cleaving into a proto-fascist, pro-clerical side and a leftist pro-Republican side.  The forces on the right had the military, with its only battle-hardened regimen being based in northern Morocco.

The left was divided into four groups:  (1) the CNT, an anarchist party of trade unionists -- think the I.W.W., the Wobblies, only with the membership levels of the AFL-CIO in the New Deal era, (2) POUM, the anti-Stalinist (Trotskyite) Communists, (3) the ERC, the Catalan social democrats, the PSUC, the pro-Stalinist Communists.  Yes, as a political conservative, I totally love the fact that the name of the Stalinist party, the Partido Socialista  Unificado de Catalunya, was PSUC.  P-Suck.  The CNT and POUM were pro-revolution.  The social democrat ERC was anti-revolution, pro-evolution into a liberal democratic state.  Strangely enough, because Stalin was trying to become more "respectable" and he had somewhat temporarily renounced fomenting international Communist revolution as a policy goal, Stalin's P-SUCK was anti-revolution.

But, even while learning of this dark, violent and little-discussed era of Spanish history, I can still look at, and photograph, statuary of pretty horses.

 We took a walk down La Rambla.  This is a "walking" tour, not a "standing in place getting a history lecture" tour.  (Although there was a lot of that.)  (And I liked it.)

This is the hotel in which George Orwell stayed when he came down from London through France to join the fighting.

And which faction did Orwell join?  This was one of the main surprises of the tour.  He joined POUM.  Communists, but anti-Stalin Communists.

We then walked into the maze of streets that is Barcelona's Barrio Gótico.

We reached the church of Santa Maria del Pi (St. Mary of the Pines).  The church was completely destroyed and burned during this time by the anti-clerical CNT.  The revolutionary forces in Barcelona at this time were decidedly anti-Catholic Church.

The Catalan Wobblies in charge renamed many sights in Barcelona.  This plaza beside Santa Maria del Pi was renamed from Plaza de Sant Josep Oriol to Plaça del militia desconegut.  Franco returned the original name to this square and, years later, after Franco's death, the original renaming "sign" was found under a board.

A short distance later is this small plaque embedded in the pavement, honoring the 42 persons, mostly schoolchildren, who were killed in this square during Italian bombing of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.  The enhanced death toll was the result of "double bombing" the civilian population.  This meant a round of bombs were dropped first.  Then, when the "first responders" arrived on the scene, another round of bombing would commence.

The Franco troops said it was anarchists and Stalinists killing priests in this square, but the damage clearly resembled bombing.  So this plaque is controversial.

Germany and Italy directly intervened on the side of Franco's fascists, with Italy supplying air support in the form of massive bombing of the civil population (think Guernica).  England and France did not want to get involved.  This was the era of appeasement (somewhat defensible given how World War I started).  I thought they were more involved, but that's only because of volunteers coming from these countries.  So the only ally for the anti-fascist Republicans?  Stalin's USSR.  Stalin sold arms to the Spanish government, but he did not send troops.

This caused the cleavage on the left.  Stalin ordered that the anti-Stalinist POUM be purged from the anti-fascist side.  Orwell worked as a sniper protecting POUM headquarters during his second stint in Barcelona.  He was stationed at the top of this building, across from POUM headquarters, which was the hotel in which he had stayed when he first arrived in Barcelona.

But then the tour took a very surrealistic turn.

We are having a very serious discussion on how all of this led to Orwell becoming disillusioned with the totalitarians on the left as well as the totalitarians on the right.  But it also is a holiday in Barcelona, the day of La Mercè.  There are small parades all through the Barrio Gótico.

With these giant various kings and queens of Aragon parading through the streets.

See that one?  He looked disturbing like the Burger King.

That's our tour guide, by the way, with the blue book on her head.  So we are trying to have a discussion on how a worker-led revolution in 1937 Barcelona failed due to the duplicity of Stalinist Communists and giant, over-sized pantomime kings and queens of Aragon are parading by.

Accompanied by bagpipe music.

It was truly a vacation experience I will never forget.  For so many reasons.

The End.

No comments:

Post a Comment