The Clare Spark Blog

August 20, 2012

Ernest Hemingway, Carlos Baker, and the Spanish Civil War

Orwell, 1938 dust jacket

This blog is not a defense of Trotskyism. The Spanish Civil War and its treatment by literary historians is important because only the “Trotskyists” of, say, Partisan Review or The New Leader in the late 1930s nailed the Stalinists and their fellow travelers for covering up such events as the purges of the old Bolsheviks (1936 onward), and for penetrating liberal organizations devoted to cultural freedom, turning them toward statism, dialectical materialism, silencing criticism of the Soviet strategy in Spain, and joining with the “only” antifascist forces, i.e, the Comintern and its docile filmmakers, novelists, screenwriters, and other artists.

The “liberals” (who succumbed to the Popular Front during the 1930s), and who continue to opine on the course of the Spanish Civil War, leave out the Soviet-directed destruction of Jose Robles, POUM, and the Anarchists, thus passing over these atrocities but also skipping over the twists and turns of the Comintern during the 1930s and early 1940s. (Examples: from 1928 on, Communists were devastating critics of the “social fascism” of the New Deal and of Social Democracy in general; but the Popular Front was effectively in charge from 1935 onward; then the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939) reawakened the older critique of the Western democracies as really imperialists, like Hitler; but then the Nazi invasion of the S.U. reawakened the Popular Front with the American bourgeoisie in order to defend the Soviet Union and to quash isolationist sentiment.) (See Stephen Schwartz’s article on Stalinist treachery in Spain here: )

Carlos Baker’s 1969 biography of Ernest Hemingway had no problem describing Joris Ivens as a Communist filmmaker: I don’t know enough about Baker’s own political allegiances to say why. Perhaps Baker agreed with those for whom the communists were just another form of enlightened and moral liberal, maybe a bit more serious about uplifting the masses and rooting out nativism and American sympathizers with Hitler and Mussolini. Such naiveté was how communism infiltrated the New Dealers and their populist sympathizers: Only the Stalinist Left was held to be serious about fighting fascism or criticizing the Neutrality Act of the Western democracies that prevented the supplying  of arms and oil to the Spanish Loyalists. “Trotskyites,” the Comintern declared, were in league with fascism and Nazism! The Comintern-controlled Abraham Lincoln Battalion is still presented as comprised of idealistic young Americans, for instance in the atrociously slanted and mendacious HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, most of which is devoted to the Spanish Civil War, and which ignored the bloody, faction-ridden history of that crucial conflict, without any political criticism from dozens of reviewers all over the world. (For a brief review of the HBO offering, see,)

Princeton professor Carlos Baker was oblivious to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938),* a deafness that allowed him to record, without comment, that Hemingway sent his editor Maxwell Perkins as a taste of what to expect in For Whom The Bell Tolls, “Pilar’s” account of the Anarchist massacre of the “Fascists” of [Ronda]. Worse, Baker described Gustav Regler only as a friend of Hemingway’s. But Regler’s 1959 memoir The Owl of Minerva (cited by Baker) did describe a conversation with Hemingway in 1940, wherein Hemingway chastised Regler, the former political Commissar of the Twelfth International Brigade, for deserting the Communists! Having read Regler’s fascinating memoir and having quoted from his book regarding Hemingway’s feisty defense of the Communists in Spain (see I was not amazed that briefly opened Soviet archives revealed that Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in late 1940, despite his strong criticism of André Marty and Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) in his popular novel—a criticism that did enrage such American Communists as Mike Gold or the reviewer writing for The Daily Worker.

La Pasionaria

And while well-situated liberals in the most prestigious newspapers might have thought in their own minds that they were allies to “the common man,” they were in practice tolerant of their friends on the Soviet-controlled Left. After the war, these same Popular Fronters hated to be associated with (vulgar) McCarthyism, so that the identification of communist penetration of American institutions left the nailing of an American Fifth Column to the far Right. Since the Soviets had defined the Right (Big Business) as fascist, the “liberals” would characterize these “loons” as paranoid extremists, a label that persists to this day, notwithstanding the archival research of Mark Kramer, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, to  name a few.

And that is how we lost the Cold War and the struggle for hearts and minds—until the Soviet Union collapsed from within. Sadly, it was too late for the better American universities. The Popular Front had done its work and generations of Americans were disabled from seeing into the wildly successful cultural work of the Soviet Union and/or Communist China.

*[Added, August 23, 2012: A dispute has broken out in the Comments section to this blog, regarding Orwell’s intentions in his novel 1984. John Dos Passos wrote a biographical chapter on Orwell in his Century’s Ebb (1975): “Orwell’s mind was shaking loose from the Socialist dogma. He began to see history whole: ‘What is obviously happening,’ he wrote in his offhand way, ‘is the breakup of laissez-faire capitalism and of the liberal-Christian culture. Until recently the implications of this were not foreseen because it was generally imagined that Socialism could preserve and even enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are now moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships–an age in which freedom of thought will at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction.'” (p.64). Dos Passos finishes with this thought (relating how Orwell had become an invalid, afflicted with tuberculosis): “Relapses took him to hospitals. All the while he stuck with ferocious tenacity to the novel he was writing. 1984 was a bitter parable of the totalitarian world he saw developing out of German Nazism, Russian Communism, and the decay of the spirit of liberty in Britain….(65-66) I.e., Dos Passos sees the parable as the last stage of Orwell’s gradual disillusion with the libertarian promise of Socialism and Communism. The following chapter is a scathing account of the indifference of Hemingway and Gellhorn to his search for his friend Jose Robles, using fake names.]


  1. […] Although the Wikipedia entry on the Fifth Column starts its usage with the Spanish Civil War, citing Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column (1940), in effect suppressing Hemingway’s loyalty to the Soviet line that Trotskyists and Anarchists were a “fascist” Fifth Column, and secret enemies to the Spanish homeland that the Republicans and its foreign brigades were defending, the same sort of argument was deployed by Stalin in his notorious purges of the old Bolsheviks during the mid-1930s. Whether or not Ernest Hemingway transferred his loyalty to the U.S. to communist countries (first the Soviet Union, then Cuba) is hotly debated among Hemingway scholars. (For my take on the fight, see […]

    Pingback by HOMELAND and the idea of the Fifth Column « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 10, 2012 @ 8:39 pm | Reply

  2. […] Moreira is frustrated that he could only partly recruit Hemingway and Gellhorn to his own mission: “Though Hemingway was greatly impressed by Chou the man, he accepted little of what the diplomat told him. He kept Chou’s notes [on the New Fourth Army incident] but was swayed more—and history has proven this was an error in judgment—by the Kuomintang officials he met (pp.130-131).” Moreira clearly believes that the Roosevelt administration and its meddling Department of the Treasury were, in 1941, backing the wrong horse. (Morgenthau had annexed State Department turf to fight European fascism, perhaps because he is “a Jew” p.17.) Chinese Nationalists are presented as fascists and thugs throughout, echoing the CCP line and White and Jacoby’s Thunder Out of China (1946). By contrast, Chinese Communists are portrayed solely as victims of “the Kuomintang pogrom” of 1926-27 and other atrocities (pp. 129-130) including the New Fourth Route Army incident of January 7-13, 1941, in which the Nationalists “ambushed” mostly compliant Communist allies.[3]  Moreira sets the scene leading to the Hemingway-Gellhorn interview with Chou En-Lai to further this martyrology.[4] Notwithstanding the presence of a few “window-dressing” Communists permitted to surface so that journalists would transmit the impression of a working anti-Japanese united front, Chou was underground, hiding from the Nationalists in the hills of Chungking (chapter 10, p.135). The reader may infer that such leaders as Chou, the dazzling object of non-communist Gellhorn’s secret admiration and even lust (p.129), were amenable to friendly relations with the West—had the democracies lived up to their vaunted antifascism. Opposing the Kuomintang line that the CCP were “allies” of the Soviet Union (p.136), Moreira writes, “Hemingway and most other western observers were unaware of the tensions between the Soviets and Chinese Communists that would persist for decades” (pp.120-121).  The author ignores both CCP resistance and acquiescence to orders from Moscow to maintain the united front, while preparing the reader to recognize the relative independence of the CCP from Soviet direction.[5] Thousands of viewers have seen this blog by now, but it is incomprehensible without reading the links and other segments, but especially this one: […]

    Pingback by Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (2) « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 17, 2012 @ 11:09 pm | Reply

  3. Hemingway was a communist. While in communist Spain he had his head up the butt of every Soviet thug extant. Its time to lambast his secret communism.

    Comment by Jack McKay — August 30, 2012 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

    • I don’t agree. There is no record yet extant of Hemingway actually giving his control, Jacob Golos, anything useful. He supported Communists in Spain, with reservations. The appeal was their willingness to fight, while the Western democracies held their fire. Hemingway, like his entire cohort of modernist writers, was basically antiwar and romantically enraptured by Spain and its primitive appeal. It is more correct to note their populism, which is not the same as full-fledged communism.

      Comment by clarespark — August 30, 2012 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  4. Actually, I always thought ‘1984’ was talking about a military industrial complex run amok. Perpetual war leading to perpetual power for those in charge of the war. Several years after reading ‘1984’, I wondered if there was any actual war going in at all. Everything else about “reality” was manufactured and re-written by Big Brother. Why not the war as well?

    Comment by Faddking — August 23, 2012 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

  5. Regarding the BBC as “somewhat Orwellian still”, the following article in “The Scottish Review” today notes that the BBC is refusing a request that a statue of Orwell be erected outside their new premises in London:

    – Roger Sandilands

    Comment by Roger Sandilands — August 23, 2012 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  6. Orwell wrote in a letter that “the scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to empahsize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, *if not fought against*, could triumph anywhere.” This is the last line of the same (partially existent, partially lost) letter from which Conservapedia (for those who don’t know, an online encyclopedia that seeks to compete with/challenge Wikipedia) quotes the first sentence in its article on _1984_, which I in turn quoted yesterday. The letter is to Francis A. Henson of the United Automobile Workers (“Part of a letter, since lost, written on 16 June 1949 by Orwell to Francis A. Henson of the United Automobile Workers answering questions about _Nineteen Eighty-Four_. Excerpts from the letter were published in “Life”, 25 July 1949, and the “New York Times Book Review”, 31 July 1949; the following an amalgam of these”:

    “My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralised economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily *will* arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it *could* arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emhasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, *if not fought against*, could triumph anywhere.” (_The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, IN FRONT OF YOUR NOSE 1945-1950, IV_, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, p. 302).

    So since Orwell says that a “centralised enonomy” is “liable” to frightening “perversions” he IS saying that the party of his own allegiance MIGHT become a dis-topian force. I’m sorry, I’ll take his precise formulation here over any speculation but what he ‘really’ thought but was frightened to say The book does seem largely about the Soviet Union; for instance the material about “Goldstein” (Trotsky).

    Comment by Stephen Baraban — August 22, 2012 @ 9:41 pm | Reply

  7. One need not go to anything more left-wing than the “conservapedia” to find the following quote by Orwell: “My recent novel [Nineteen Eighty-Four] is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions … which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism”. For further insights into Orwell’s attitudes at the time he was composing 1984, one might read William Empson’s essay on his conversations with Orwell in his book _Argufying_ (or some such neologic title–I hope I ‘m remembering right). But carry on with your erudite writings that are so above any particular ideology, you say.

    Comment by Stephen Baraban — August 21, 2012 @ 9:41 pm | Reply

    • Then why did Orwell call the ruling party Ingsoc (English Socialism)? Do you believe that if he was projecting long term effects of social democracy in his novel, that he would admit it to anyone, after his horrifying experience in Spain? Do you honestly believe that there are no authoritarian aspects to social democracy? I know at least one social democratic sociologist who forthrightly describes the Democratic Party and its Continental analogs as “authoritarian”. For the influences on Orwell, including James Burnham, see
      But see this defense of Orwell as a “democratic socialist” as described in a left-wing journal that has no problem with the term “totalitarianism”: (I object to any term that conflates distinct societies such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.) The recommended article viewed Orwell as first a “Tory Anarchist.”

      Comment by clarespark — August 21, 2012 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

  8. Hemingway and Orwell met briefly in liberated Paris and Hemingway left a demeaning account of Orwell as a ridiculous paranoid, always armed with a pistol and looking over his shoulder for imaginary Russian agents. I used to fear there was some truth in Hemingway’s memoir, so this post and your other posts on Hemingway have restored my faith in Orwell.
    For anyone here who hasn’t read it Homage To Catalonia is a wonderful account of the Spanish Civil War, and astonishingly readable when it describes Marxist politics.

    Comment by Caedmon — August 21, 2012 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

    • It is worth mentioning that Orwell’s 1984 was read on Pacifica radio station KPFK as a comment on 20th century America, not as a prophecy of what would ensue under the British Labour Party. (Some believe that 1984 is about the Soviets.) It was ANIMAL FARM that referred to the Soviet Union, whereas 1984 is a prescient account of social democracy and its future in Britain. To those unfamiliar with Pacifica, it was created by social democrats and has the same authoritarian set of practices described by Orwell in his most famous book. This view of mine is disputed by another reader. I do not recall where I got the impression that Orwell was writing about social democracy in Britain, but it is buried there somewhere in my memory bank.

      Comment by clarespark — August 21, 2012 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

      • One of Orwell’s influences in writing 1984 was his experiences of working for the BBC. Room 101 is a BBC in-joke, and Broadcasting House itself is somewhat “Orwellian” still. I would broadly agree that 1984 is not an allegory, or an “it could happen here” work of sci-fi, but a prediction of the way British society was going in the post-war world, and by no means a wildly paranoid or entirely mistaken one.

        Comment by Caedmon — August 22, 2012 @ 7:51 am

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