Adolf Hitler’s determination to capture Stalingrad with the German 6th Army and a Panzer division was based on winning prestige rather than vital strategy. The decision to lay siege to Stalin’s namesake city, defended by desperate but disciplined Soviet soldiers, militia, and citizens- would cost the Fuhrer the war and ultimately the fall of the Third Reich. In the summer of 1942, Hitler diverted a significant portion of the Wehrmacht southern strike force from their destination of the vital Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus in order to cut off Red Army use of the Volga river as a supply route, which ran through Stalingrad. However, there was no other strategic importance of the city itself, rather, Hitler desired to take Stalingrad mainly because he mistakenly believed that it would be a relatively easy and substantial propaganda victory in destroying the city of the man of steel, resulting in a major boost of prestige for the Nazis and a huge loss of Soviet morale. The decisive battle of the Second World War, and possibly the bloodiest battle of human history, was based upon honor for the aggressors and brutal survival for the defenders of Stalingrad, which ended in a loss carrying consequences far exceeding Hitler’s expectations.
Historians such as Omer Bartov have cited the deep commitment to National Socialism that Nazi soldiers held leading up to the Battle of Stalingrad, which could be seen in documents such as the diary of a Nazi soldier named William Hoffman. Hoffman mentioned Hitler in every passage throughout July and August before the battle escalated into close quarters urban warfare, revealing the extent of the common Wehrmacht soldier’s indoctrination into National Socialism ideology. “The Fuhrer knows where the Russians’ weak point is… I believe the Fuhrer will carry the thing through to a successful end… The Fuhrer’s orders were read out to us. He expects victory of us… I believe that for Stalingrad the Fuhrer will decorate even me…” However, once the battle heightened in intensity, mentions of the Fuhrer became less frequent as Hoffman mainly described the fierce resistance of the Soviets, ironically attributing their resolve to fanaticism and barbarism, while seemingly forgetting that the Nazis were the aggressors in the situation. In the end Hoffman gave up hope in Hitler saving the surrounded 6th Army with reinforcements, and was not aware that the Fuhrer had forbidden the Wehrmacht from breaking the encirclement.
Many of the German soldiers eventually gave up hope and cursed the situation they were put in, but the Soviets defending Stalingrad were determined to fight until the bitter end. By late September into October, the Germans occupied nearly all of Stalingrad, and yet had to give up the advantage of artillery and their superior Luftwaffe because the Russians had entrenched themselves in positions behind Nazi lines, creating pockets of resistance too close to the Germans for them to use heavy weaponry. Anton Kuzmich Dragan, a Soviet soldier in such a position, described the fierce resolve of his comrades, as they resorted to throwing cinderblocks and trickery to fight off the Nazis while defending bombed-out buildings.
Dragan described how an anti-tank gunner, after being captured by Nazi tommy-gunners, told them false information that resulted in an ambush, “…an hour later they started to attack precisely that point where I had to put my machine-gun with its emergency belt of cartridges. This time, reckoning that we had run out of ammunition, they came impudently out of their shelter, standing up and shouting.” This was the kind of resistance that the Nazis hated, and Hoffman referred to as mobster-like, hence, Dragan’s comrade was shot in front of them for his actions. Yet it was these last-ditch efforts that allowed the Soviets to finally achieve victory, their stubbornness was apparent even when it seemed as if all hope was lost. Soon after the ambush that Dragan described, the Soviet garrison had completely run out of ammunition, and expecting imminent death, Dragan’s orderly famously carved “Rodimatsev’s gaurdsmen fought and died for their country here.” And yet, even after the building collapsed on top of them from a German tank salvo, the surviving Russians dug out of their would-be tomb and quickly decided to fight on without weapons through to their own lines.
Both the Germans and the Russians were disciplined and determined in the Battle of Stalingrad. However, dedication to Nazi ideology was defeated by the Russians’ bitter fight for survival. Dragan spoke of comradeship and the defense of one’s country in his memoir, while Hoffman was disillusioned by Nazi indoctrination and a kind of naiveté of urban warfare that resulted in him cursing the war before he perished. The Soviets on the other hand, were not deceived of the hopelessness in continuing the defense of Stalingrad, but rather, chose to fight to the end regardless of victory or loss. Although both armies were utterly exhausted, the Soviets won because they fought not for prestige but survival, and the German 6th Army was annihilated as a consequence of Hitler’s desire for maintaining honor.
The Spanish Civil War has been swept under the rug as an insignificant footnote in history because of misunderstandings and oversimplifications made by scholars misled by Soviet propaganda as to why the fragmented factions of the Spanish Republic were defeated by “Nationalist” rebels led by General Francisco Franco. Reports from the international media at that time led liberals and sympathizers of democracy to believe that the war against the Spanish Fascists (Franco’s forces were given equipment and even troops by Hitler and Mussolini) was sabotaged by traitorous Anarchists. Throughout Europe, people were interested in the events, but were only exposed to news about the Spanish Civil War that was manipulated by the Soviet Union. This included Pablo Picasso, who was living in France, but originally from Barcelona, and based his renowned mural Guernica off of reports from Parisian Communist papers such as Ce soir and Figaro (Red City, Blue Period, 177). George Orwell often attested to Communist media domination in his memoir, Homage to Catalonia, “Unlike the Communists they [the other political parties] had no footing in any press outside their own country, and inside Spain they were at an immense disadvantage because the press censorship was mainly under Communist control…”(63). Meanwhile, Socialist (POUM/UGT) and Anarchist (CNT/FAI) trade unions and parties in the loosely united Popular Front government became increasingly marginalized as Soviet influence and aid grew. Historians such as Temma Kaplan, attempt to briefly summarize the political situation in Spain at the time, and often unknowingly accept Communist propaganda as historical fact, thus characterizing the Socialists, and more often the Anarchists specifically as the weak links that sabotaged the war against Franco. However, the Spanish Anarchists, who were dominant in regions such as Catalonia where they had quickly collectivized farms and factories, stood as the only substantial bulwark against Franco in the early July fighting of 1936 when the Spanish Republic barely had a standing army left to defend cities from the fast advancing Fascists.
Scholars such as Temma Kaplan have come to accept the Soviet explanation of events as truth by inadvertently repeating oversimplified Communist propaganda without digging deeper into the more complex political reality in the Spanish Republic at the time. For example, in her book on Barcelona entitled Red City, Blue Period, Kaplan stated that “republicans, Communists, and Socialists all blamed the CNT for concentrating on making a revolution in Barcelona rather than on winning the war against the fascists in Spain”(178). This broad statement did not recognize that the Communists in Madrid were not focused on winning the war as much as they were intent on curtailing already accomplished working class revolutionary goals. Such a generalization also failed to delve into the POUM and CNT reasoning on why the revolution and the war were inseparable. If, however, the Anarchists were responsible for losing the war, then why was it that the Communists first sought to accuse and persecute the POUM, a Socialist party, for supposedly aiding the Fascists by diverting war efforts, instead of the CNT? This was because the Communists, directed by Stalin, labeled the POUM as a Trotskyist organization (a prioritized enemy for Stalinists); only because one of its leaders, Nin, was formerly affiliated but then later broke with Trotsky years before. A more salient example of Kaplan’s analytical shortcomings could be seen in two passages, one which claimed that Anarchist collectives “frequently remained under the management of the old owners; it was, after all, in everyone’s interest for the factories to run smoothly”(178), a statement that was largely inaccurate, as Sam Dolgoff’s The Anarchist Collectives and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia approximated that almost three fourths of Catalonia’s factories and farms had been fully collectivized within a few months and were completely under the management of the workers.
Another passage from Red City, Blue Period bordered on inaccurate when the author not only understated the recent swelling of Communist power, but also used the misleading verb retake when describing the government seizure of a building which was run by CNT workers since the beginning of the revolution: “the ‘May Days’ were triggered when the city government, supported and perhaps instigated by the small but influential Communist party, attempted to retake the telephone and telegraph exchange from the CNT militias”(180). Regarding the “small but influential” Communists, it was apparent by May of 1937 that the Spanish Communist party was nowhere near small, due to “a vast increase in membership partly by appealing to the middle classes against the revolutionaries”(Homage to Catalonia, 63). Kaplan’s wording, whether intentional or not, implied political insinuations that belittle the power of the Spanish Communists under direct control of the Soviets, and thus under the influence of Stalin’s intentions. Such insinuations also belittle the accomplishments and efforts of the Spanish working class militias, represented by CNT, that by all accounts had unquestioningly saved the Republic from annihilation in the first few months of hostilities starting in July of 1936, regardless of their organizational efficiency afterward, “During the first two months of the war it was the Anarchists more than anyone else who had saved the situation, and much later than this the Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best fighters among the purely Spanish forces”(Homage to Catalonia, 62).
The influential Soviet controlled Communist Party grew more powerful in the government as it became more apparent that the Soviet Union was the only country that would give aid to the Spanish Republic. By the time foreign journalists such as George Orwell arrived in Spain en masse they saw the practicality in the communist agenda. Lionel Trilling elaborated on Orwell’s initial Communist leanings in his introduction to Homage to Catalonia, explaining that the inclination to the Communist response was natural since “It proposed to fight the war without any reference to any particular political idea beyond a defense of democracy from a fascist enemy. Then, when the war was won, the political and social problems would be solved, but until the war should be won, any dissension over these problems could only weaken the united front against Franco” (XX). However, unlike his contemporaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Orwell took part in the fighting directly by joining the militia because “at that time and in that atmosphere in seemed the only conceivable thing to do” (4). Orwell’s militia was an arm of the POUM, which was a relatively minor Socialist party that would later be pejoratively labeled as “Trotskyist” by the Communists. Orwell had succumb to the revolutionary fervor still emanating in Barcelona, a city that in December of 1936 was still controlled by Anarchists, and the revolution had already been implemented resulting in tangible economic and social equality throughout Catalonia. In the first few pages of Orwell’s book, he explained how all of the shops, farms and factories had been collectivized, resulting in equal pay, the elimination of classes, and a lack of ranking in the militia.
The U.S.S.R. was the only country that had supplied arms to the Republican government, because the Western democracies hoped an arms embargo would shorten the conflict: the result was the opposite. Since the Soviets had supplied arms to the Republic it was politically inconceivable for the Communists to distribute them to their rivals, the “Trotskyist” POUM and the Anarchists, for fear of having the weapons turned against them when the war was done. And so the war effort was ruined by political wrangling initiated by the Communists because entire lines of the front were neglected simply because they were under control of Socialist and Anarchist militia units. Thus, the Communist party, formerly minuscule in Spanish politics, gained a huge amount of influence in the Republican government due to the involvement of the Soviets, who were in the middle of instituting Stalin’s Great Terror against mostly imagined political enemies. The Communist growth in political power culminated in the Barcelona street-fighting in May of 1937 which was made to look in retrospect by the Communists like a failed Fascist plot in order to divert the Republic’s energy and resources away from the front, “Evidently the official version of the Barcelona fighting was already fixed upon: it was to be represented as a ‘fifth column’ Fascist rising engineered solely by the POUM” (145).
The Communists made it known to the world via papers such as The Worker, that the ‘May Days” were not the result of a Communist attack on the CNT occupied telephone exchange, but a Fascist engineered plot executed by the POUM. Yet the world was not concerned with the street-fighting in Barcelona, but rather, the Fascist bombing of the militarily unimportant Basque city of Guernica. Kaplan stated that “The world was shocked” as the Luftwaffe itself massacred the town filled with refugees by “bombing and machine-gunning civilians until some 1,600 people lay dead, with more than 800 wounded” (177). Picasso immediately reacted to the news by sketching several drawings of distorted horses, bulls and women holding dead babies in preparation for his famous masterpiece that would simply be titled after the name of the immolated town. One of these drawings features a mounted picador spearing a bull while the bull gores the horse in retaliation. Picasso could have symbolically meant for the bullfighter to represent the Republic taunting the bull, which represented the Fascists, which in turn gored the innocent horse: meaning the massacre of the innocent townspeople of Guernica. However, one could also interpret Picasso’s symbolism to apply to the fighting in Barcelona by switching symbolic roles. The picador may be seen as Franco attacking the Republic (the bull), which in turn being under control of the Communists retaliated by goring the innocent working class revolutionaries i.e. the horse (which was relatively defenseless in comparison to the armed picador). Regardless of what Picasso intended symbolically, the finished mural became a masterpiece because it captured the destruction and horror that mechanized modern warfare inflicted upon civilians.
The Spanish Civil War and Guernica in particular reaffirmed that modern warfare’s mechanic efficiency caused the kind of massive wholesale destruction that had already been seen in World War One. George Orwell lamented at the pervading apathetic attitude of Europeans in the aftermath of the First World War because it resulted in a lack of support for the Spanish Republic in the civil war, which was categorized as a fight for democracy. This was because World War One had also been a war in the name of democracy, and Orwell believed that if the Great War had not tarnished the appeal of such a fight, that hundreds of thousands of Europeans would have rose up in their own countries in support of the Spanish Republic instead of the just tens of thousands that came to fight. This disillusionment was made even worse by the Communist propaganda and libel that fragmented the Republic and ultimately caused the fight for democracy in Spain to be in vain. Too often, people looking back at that time period take the international news reports as fact, when all of the news coming out of Spain was filtered through the Communist propaganda machine. The POUM and CNT were not under pay of the Fascists, George Orwell (who was shot through the neck by a fascist sniper on the frontlines) and the tens of thousands of Socialists and Anarchists who were casualties in the war, or, worse yet, the countless disappeared in Communist and fascist secret prisons, are proof of that.
Historians such as Temma Kaplan, although citing George Orwell as a primary source, neglect the point he emphasized in his memoir that the Communist’s position in Spain was only gained because of Soviet aid, and thus Soviet manufactured opinions did not reflect the general attitude of the Republic or the populace, but rather that the Communists allied with the middle class in order to cement power and influence. Orwell reversed his opinion that the Communists were right in postponing revolution out of practicality because Communist political persecution led him to believe, as Trilling stated, “…that the war was revolutionary or nothing, and that the people of Spain would not fight and die for a democracy which was admittedly a bourgeois democracy” (XX). Whether analyzing Orwell or Picasso, it is apparent that the Spanish Civil War was a travesty entailing widely accepted political lies and an appalling amount of human lives lost. The travesty continues to this day, as historians fail to analyze primary documents that reveal the reality of the Spanish War, and instead rely on international media accounts that had been manipulated by Communist propaganda.
Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952. Print.
Kaplan, Temma. Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso’s Barcelona. Berkeley: University of California, 1992. Print.
George Orwell developed the theme of 1984 under a shroud of dystopian totalitarianism, when the novel is really a metaphorical satire of modern class structure. The main character, Winston Smith, is a self-projection of the author as an isolated individual facing the menacing Big Brother’s totalitarian regime (Hopkinson par. 9). When the book is taken at face-value, readers and critics conclude that the theme of 1984 is a warning against communist totalitarianism and the looming threat of dystopian totalitarianism in the future. However, Orwell’s intended theme symbolically points out the inequitable class divisions in modern society, and only uses the setting of a futuristic dystopia to exaggerate his belief that the modern upper-class have complete control over the lower classes.
As early as the first two sentences, George Orwell gives a dank and isolating description of a dystopian world using simple but lurid syntax and diction “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”(Orwell 1). The “vile wind” may foreshadow the difficulties Winston will have to escape in the future, only to accept conformity in the end by letting the metaphorical “swirl of gritty dust” (conformity) overcome him in the end “… as the novel closes, Winston is alone, except for the internalized Big Brother. In Between he travels a boomerang’s course, from the solitude which leads to self-awareness to that which marks the loss of his identity.”(Lonoff 35). The individualist spirit that overcomes Winston is one thing that the totalitarian state of Oceania fears most and in order to suppress that spirit, it must be wiped out.
The allegory that a reader would most quickly draw upon is of the government of Oceania in 1984, and Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship in World War Two(Fromm 315). There are many parallels between Big Brother and Stalin, “….Resemblances, also, to the years of Stalinist terror in Russia. The grilling of Winston Smith by the Oceania authorities, the alternation between physical beatings and sympathetic conversations, the final terrifying appearance of O’Brien, master of power…”(Howe 96) A dooming presence of totalitarianism is not just the clearest element of the book, but a powerful tool of control. The salient idea of 1984 is modern class warfare, and Orwell gives frightening glimpses of the Inner Party (the upper-class) using the totalitarian government for control over the Outer Party (middle-class) and proletariat (working-class). Big Brother’s regime cruelly exerts control paralleling that of Stalin’s control of USSR-down to the point of homologous torture techniques, but there are more obvious signs. The identical resemblance of Stalin and Big Brother’s face is a frightening juxtaposition of a warm guardian in a cold world ” …the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features.”(Orwell 1). However, although Orwell draws many similar parallels between Stalin and Big Brother, there is a quintessential difference between the two, Stalin was a man who wanted control for his own power, while Big Brother is a tool of the Inner Party in order to maintain power.
There are many different tools that the Inner-Party uses besides Big Brother to keep the lower classes under control. Newspeak, telescreens, thought police, Ministry of Love, double think, war, prostitution, alcohol, gambling, the lottery and propaganda are only some of the many tools used by the Inner party in order to keep control. The propaganda of 1984 is an interesting aspect of the plethora of tools the Inner Party uses to maintain power. “Vast strategic maneuver-perfect co-ordination-utter rout-half a million prisoners-complete demoralization-control of the whole of Africa-bring the war within measurable distance of its end-victory-greatest victory in human history…”(Orwell 296-297) This example of Oceanic propaganda is projected through a telescreen describing a victory that could be applied to the British in World War Two. Not surprisingly Orwell had experience writing this sort of rhetoric before “When all of London was fleeing for the country during the Blitz, Orwell ran the other direction and took a propaganda job in the city…”(Kafka par. 23) 1984 draws parallels between the western democracies of World War Two and Oceania, discrediting the banal Cold War theory that the novel is a warning of communist totalitarianism. Orwell’s point is that the differences between capitalistic democracies and communist dictatorships are irrelevant because both are invariably a vehicle that the most powerful group uses to maintain power “He is actually talking about a development that is taking place in Western industrial countries also, only at a slower pace than it is taking place in Russia and China”(Fromm 320). The propaganda is directly correlated with Orwell’s modern world, but Orwell’s ideas of a new language and system of thought are more frightening prophesies of futuristic ultimate suppression.
Newspeak is the new language that is developed by the inner-party to suppress any unorthodox thought. “The version in use in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak dictionary…”(“Principles of” 298) The perfect form of Newspeak is 11th edition, which does not allow any unorthodox thought to exist. Nearly no one really speaks Newspeak in 1984 but by the year 2050 it is supposed to override English in the state of Oceania (“Principles of” 298). Linguistics is an important factor of the Inner Party controlling the Outer Party and the proletariat. SImplifying words and expressions to one meaning can eliminate thoughts that are dangerous to the Party(“Principles of” 299). This concept of complete totalitarianism is another exaggeration used by Orwell in order to convince the reader of the control of the upper-class in modern society. This controlling of thought and words through speech is one of many examples of a state of controlled insanity. Newspeak is the easiest way that the Inner Party can communicate their insane views upon the lower classes as they literally would not be able to question any Party rules (Ranald Par. 1). This can distantly relate to what Orwell saw as modern linguistics (slang, vernacular) and lack of education being used to keep the lower classes in their positions in the class structure in order for the upper-class to retain power.
The theme of 1984 is a warning of totalitarianism, but the power of the state (Big Brother) is only a veil that covers the true power of the upper-class in the so-called democracies of the western world. The Inner Party is the driving force that utilizes all of the powers at their will in order to stay in control “the essential structure of society has never altered.”(Orwell 184). Orwell applies this theory of class warfare and stagnation by having Winston try to join “the brotherhood”, a secret terrorist organization that is only a ploy to get Winston caught. When Winston is tortured and re-educated in the Ministry of Love, Orwell deconstructs the human being and throws away all hope that may have been left in the novel. Orwell exaggerates all of the metaphors in his novel to coincide with the world of 1948 that he was living in. Orwell was a socialist himself, and he was exhibiting the powers of the upper-class that kept the elite in their positions throughout human history. Orwell explains in this novel that the Inner Party’s objective is to destroy the human and retain power for the elite few throughout the rest of time. Orwell sums up 1984 in a bleak statement from O’Brien while he is torturing Winston “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever.”(Orwell 267).