For students, here the politics is explained.
For you students who have this great book imposed upon you in a syllabus, here is the best help I can give you with regard to Chapters V and XI, which are in some editions included only as Appendices.
It is interesting to note that at the outset Orwell himself was nonplussed by the alphabet soup of the political situation in Spain. At first he was at a loss when confronted with the idea of right wing communism as you probably are. It was only as he became aware that he was every bit as much in danger of being killed by the “Communists” as he was of being killed by Fascists that he became educated.
That aspect of the book is dense when one first encounters it. No doubt about it. This is not Orwell’s fault because he explains it about as clearly as it could be explained. I think the problem arises in part out of the simplistic preconceptions about the Spanish Civil War that we bring to the book even now. Orwell is still trying to get us straightened out in our thinking.
Far be it from me to sound as if I am trying to be helpful to Orwell. Nonetheless and for what it is worth, I think his explanation would have been immeasurably clearer if he had used the term “Stalinist” every time he describes the P.S.U.C. rather than “Communist.” The reason that he did not is perhaps that the term “Stalinist” was not in quite as wide a usage then as it is today.
The distinction is simply this. Stalinists placed the interests of the Soviet Union first and foremost. The ideals of socialism held a very distant second place to that. In fact it was Leon Trotsky’s view, simplistically put, that Stalinists really did not give a shit about international socialist ideals at all and in fact considered them anathema.
Therefore, when you are reading, try mentally substituting the word “Stalinist” for the word “Communist” whenever you encounter it. In those few instances where that substitution would lead to an inaccurate reading, the context will clearly tip you off.
It was in the vital interest of the Soviet Union at the time to have strong alliances with capitalist democracies for the purposes of its own defense. The Spanish Republic, the government that Franco was attempting to overthrow by military coup, was a capitalist democracy. Another capitalist democratic ally is exactly what the Stalinists wanted in Spain. They did not want a revolution, be it anarchist or socialist. It was the Stalinists who were truly defending the existing capitalist democracy.
Obviously, the Stalinsts also deeply appreciated that a Franco government in Spain would not be an ally of the Soviet Union.
Therein is where the three-way aspect of this conflict comes in. Contemporaneously, with the hostilities between the army and the established Republic, the anarchists and labor groups started a true left-wing revolution that ultimately would have done away with the Republic, a capitalist democracy. . . .and the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, by the way.
The tricky aspect of the situation arose out of grim necessity. The true left-wingers, the anarchists and labor groups who were in the midst of staging their revolution, and their enemies the Stalinists were forced into an extremely uneasy cooperative effort in fighting Franco. Had there been no Franco, the Spanish Civil War would have been a two-way conflict between the left-wing anarchists and labor groups on one side and the capitalist democratic Republic and Stalinists on the other. Maybe.
I have read these sections of the book many times in order to get this through my head, but I gladly stand ready to be corrected on any of it.
The lesson of the book, by the way, is: Pay attention to politics. Politics can get you killed.