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Stalinist Chekas in Barcelona

The Stalinist purge carried out against Trotskyist elements in the Republican left, early in the Civil War, came very close to claiming the life of British novelist George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, who had joined a Trotsky-affiliated militia unit when he volunteered to fight against the forces of fascism in Spain in 1936. Orwell joined the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) but soon found himself embroiled in the internecine warfare of the various factions on the Left: the POUM against the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), the CNT against the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (which was getting arms and directives from Moscow)—a stew of Stalinists, Trotskyites, and anarchists.

Orwell was wounded in May 1937, and sent to Barcelona to recuperate, by which time the political situation had more or less collapsed. His POUM affiliation put him in danger from the pro-Soviet Communists, and he left the country in June. Out of his experiences came the book Homage to Catalonia (1938).

A footnote to this is that the basement of Palau Güell was used as a cheka (the Russian word for prison or detention center) by the Stalinist faction, and it was into this dungeon that Andreu Nin, secretary-general of Barcelona’s Trotskyist faction, disappeared in 1937, never to be seen again.

Updated: 2014-05-16

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