Fighting back against partisanism

“You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? I say unto you: it is the good war that hallows any cause.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra1

Three months ago, I introduced the concept of partisanism and discussed some of the problems it causes.2 Two months ago, I described how the partisan utilizes a biased education to direct thinking and how the individual struggles to combat this partisan attack rationally.3 And last month I described tactics employed to distort information and direct it toward partisan ends.4 While I touched on why this all matters in each separate piece, I felt that a more direct discussion about this “why,” about the importance of understanding and resisting these partisan pressures, would be an appropriate way to conclude this series. To assist me, I’m going to draw heavily from George Orwell’s experiences fighting for the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, as he described in his book, Homage to Catalonia,5 and I’m hoping I can draw out lessons that we can apply to partisanism more generally in the process.

The attempted military coup in Spain by Francisco Franco and his Fascist forces triggered the Spanish Civil War in July 1936. Resisting him was a Popular Front, an alliance between groups that would have otherwise traditionally been enemies, including workers’ groups that had been strongly pushing for revolutionary changes in the country ever since the general strikes and violent clashes of 1934 and bourgeois individuals and groups who resisted these changes.6 To international observers, the July struggle announced for the first time actual resistance to Fascist power grabs and attacks on democracy, which “so-called democratic countries had been surrendering to … at every step.”7 This brought anti-Fascists from other countries to Spain to help fight for the cause, and this is why Orwell arrived in December 1936. Although he originally planned on writing newspaper articles during his stay, he was immediately moved and overwhelmed by what he witnessed in Barcelona: revolutionary ardour and a sense of real equality, of “a town where the working class was in the saddle.” And so, seeing it as “a state of affairs worth fighting for,” he ran out and joined the militia,8 soon to be shipped out to the front lines, to the Aragón front.9 A great deal of Orwell’s book portrays his time there, describing the day-to-day realities of trench warfare, focusing on some danger and fear, but more often on the discomforts, the boredom, and the growing sense of the futility he felt during his four months at the front. Though he initially didn’t care to pay any attention to the political squabbles on the Republican side of the conflict, he soon understood their importance in bringing about what he experienced fighting in Spain,10 and his assessment of the deeper, ideological battles behind this state of affairs is what we are most concerned with in this discussion.

To begin to make sense of all this, we need to explain who the groups were that held any political influence in revolutionary Spain within the alliance against the Fascists, along with the ideological differences between them. Orwell joined the militia with the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)—the small, Leftist Socialist organization—not because he understood the differences between the groups at the time, but because he arrived in Spain with Independent Labour Party (ILP) papers.11,i The other major political, Socialist organization was the much larger Partido Socialista Unificado de Cataluña (PSUC), which was the Communist, or Right-wing Socialist, group that aligned itself heavily with the USSR, grew in power substantially over the course of the conflict, and emerged the victor of this political struggle, at least at the time of Owell’s writing.ii The Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) was the Anarchists’ political group, which was comparable in size to the PSUC, and held either more or comparable power to that group at various stages of the war. The PSUC and the FAI drew a great deal of their strength from their connections to extremely large unions that controlled major industries in Spain at the time: the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), which was a collection of Socialist trade unions, and the Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT), which was a large block of Anarchist unions. The POUM lacked a similar connection to any unions and only held some degree of sway within the CNT.12,iii

As for ideological differences between the political organizations, Orwell outlines their respective positions surrounding the revolution and the war. First is that of the PSUC:

At present nothing matters except winning the war; without victory in the war all else is meaningless. Therefore this is not the moment to talk of pressing forward with the revolution. We can’t afford to alienate the peasants by forcing collectivization upon them, and we can’t afford to frighten away the middle classes who are fighting on our side. Above all for the sake of efficiency we must do away with revolutionary chaos. We must have a strong central government in place of local committees, and we must have a properly trained and fully militarized army under a unified command. Clinging on to fragments of workers’ control and parroting revolutionary phrases is worse than useless; it is not merely obstructive, but even counter-revolutionary, because it leads to divisions which can be used against us by the Fascists. At this stage we are not fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat, we are fighting for parliamentary democracy. Whoever tries to turn the civil war into a social revolution is playing into the hands of the Fascists and is in effect, if not in intention, a traitor.13

This differed sharply from the POUM’s position—differing “on every point except, of course, the importance of winning the war”:

It is nonsense to talk of opposing Fascism by bourgeois “democracy”. Bourgeois “democracy” is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to fight against Fascism on behalf of “democracy” is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment. The only real alternative to Fascism is workers’ control. If you set up any less goal than this, you will either hand the victory to Franco, or, at best, let in Fascism by the back door. Meanwhile the workers must cling to every scrap of what they have won; if they yield anything to the semi-bourgeois Government they can depend upon being cheated. The workers’ militias and police-forces must be preserved in their present form and every effort to “bourgeoisify” them must be resisted. If the workers do not control the armed forces, the armed forces will control the workers. The war and the revolution are inseparable.14

In comparison to these positions, Orwell explains that “[t]he Anarchist viewpoint is less easily defined.” However, it

differed fundamentally from the Communists [(the PSUC)] in so much that, like the POUM, they aimed at workers’ control and not a parliamentary democracy. They accepted the POUM slogan: “The war and the revolution are inseparable,” though they were less dogmatic about it.

He suggests that:

Roughly speaking, the CNT-FAI stood for: (1) Direct control over industry by the workers engaged in each industry, e.g. transport, the textile factories, etc.; (2) Government by local committees and resistance to all forms of centralized authoritarianism; (3) Uncompromising hostility to the bourgeoisie and the Church. The last point, though the least precise, was the most important.

And he goes on to explain that:

The Anarchists were the opposite of the majority of so-called revolutionaries in so much that though their principles were rather vague their hatred of privilege and injustice was perfectly genuine. Philosophically, Communism and Anarchism are poles apart. Practically – i.e. in the form of society aimed at – the difference is mainly one of emphasis, but it is quite irreconcilable. The Communist’s emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist’s on liberty and equality.15

At the time that Orwell was serving at the front, he preferred the Communist viewpoint to that of the POUM, and why he felt this way was relatively simple to understand. As he explains it: (1) “The Communists had a definite practical policy, an obviously better policy from the point of view of the common sense which looks only a few months ahead;” (2) They had much more effective propaganda than the POUM,iv which cultivated a general feeling that “the Communists … were getting on with the war while [the POUM] and the Anarchists were standing still;” and (3) There was the growing prestige that came with “[t]he Russian arms and the magnificent defense of Madrid by troops mainly under Communist control”—building another feeling that “they were the only people who looked capable of winning the war.” Though the logic behind the POUM position wasn’t lost on him, he kept to the PSUC’s viewpoint that “the one thing that mattered was to win the war.”16

Orwell didn’t have reason to question this view until he went on leave from the front and returned to Barcelona in late April 1937.v To begin with, he was startled by the disappearance of the revolutionary atmosphere in the city. He noticed that the civil population lost most of their interest in the war, and he noticed that the sense of equality that he so proudly rushed off to fight for had all but disappeared, “that the normal division of society into rich and poor, upper class and lower class, was reasserting itself.”17 And “there was an unmistakable and horrible feeling of political rivalry and hatred,” a sense that something bad was in the works, mainly due to growing animosity between the Anarchists and Communists. The PSUC at the time controlled the Generalidadvi in Catalonia and they were making obvious moves to disarm the CNT workers. Anarchists were engaging in clashes with the (Communist-controlled) police and the CNT and UGT members were taking turns murdering prominent members of the opposing union, “followed by huge, provocative funerals which were quite deliberately intended to stir up political hatred.”18 And then, at the start of May, the Government tried to take over the CNT-controlled Telephone Exchange by force, which triggered violent street fighting throughout the city that lasted several days, claiming the lives of around 400 people and injuring a thousand others.vii In the immediate aftermath of the Barcelona fighting, “six thousand Assault Guards,viii sent by sea from Valencia, arrived and took control of the town. The Government issued an order for the surrender of all arms except those held by the regular forces, and during the next few days large numbers of arms were seized.”19 The fighting was used to justify “hastening the break-up of the militias,”19 which were in the process of being taken out of the control of the trade unions and folded into the regular, Popular Army to be reconstructed along semi-bourgeois lines.20,ix And, “[i]n the Communist and pro-Communist press the entire blame for the Barcelona fighting was laid upon the POUM.”21 A bit over a month later, “the POUM was suppressed and declared an illegal organization,” and “the Communist-controlled secret police … arrested everyone connected with the POUM whom they could lay hands on, including even wounded men, hospital nurses, wives of POUM members and in some cases, even children.”x These arrests were carried out illegally, with no evidence of any wrongdoing and no trials, the prisoners languishing in jail, often incommunicado, for months and months.22

All of this greatly disillusioned Orwell, and he came to mistrust the PSUC-controlled Government and the position that they consistently proclaimed, that the revolution needed to remain on hold until they won the war. And the realpolitik that hid behind the PSUC rhetoric validated this view. Power on the Republican side began to pass from the Anarchists to the Communists after the USSR began to supply arms to the Government, and this also coincided with the Government’s “swing to the Right.” Russia and Mexico were the only countries that supplied arms to the Government and, because Mexico wasn’t able to do so in large quantities, “the Russians were in a position to dictate terms.” Though Russia promoted itself as a bastion of revolution at the time, Russian policy was devoted to the defense of Russia and, given the “system of military alliances” in the service of this goal, proved to be in actuality counter-revolutionary. The most important of these alliances that impacted the Spanish situation was that of France, “a capitalist-imperialist country.” “The alliance is of little use to Russia unless French capitalism is strong, therefore Communist policy in France has got to be anti-revolutionary.” It follows that, “[i]n Spain the Communist ‘line’ was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that France, Russia’s ally, would strongly object to a revolutionary neighbour and would raise heaven and earth to prevent the liberation of Spanish Morocco.” And so, “[i]n reality it was the Communists above all others who prevented revolution in Spain.”23

But there were already at least the beginnings of a revolution in Spain:

The estates of the big pro-Fascist landlords were in many places seized by the peasants. Along with the collectivization of industry and transport there was an attempt to set up the rough beginnings of a workers’ government by means of local committees, workers’ patrols to replace the old pro-capitalist police forces, workers’ militias based on the trade unions, and so forth. … In a few places independent Anarchist communes were set up, and some of them remained in being till about a year later, when they were forcibly suppressed by the Government. In Catalonia, for the first few months, most of the actual power was in the hands of the Anarcho-Syndicalists,xi who controlled most of the key industries.

In spite of this, and for the reason outlined above, “[i]t was the Communist thesis that revolution at this stage would be fatal and that what was to be aimed at in Spain was not workers’ control, but bourgeois democracy.” “And since the revolution had got to be crushed, it greatly simplified things to pretend that no revolution had happened.” Because of this, the anti-Fascist press outside Spain—which was heavily influenced by the Communists while completely ignoring the other perspectives on the Republican side—“made it its special business to obscure” the revolutionary nature of the conflict, instead oversimplifying the issue as a war pitting “Fascism versus democracy.”24

Meanwhile, the PSUC began to make its moves. Their political opponents were held back by preventing most of the Russian arms from getting to themxii and there was a huge influx of memberships to the party, largely by attracting those from the middle class whom the more extremist groups scared off. They then worked to

recover such power as remained in the hands of the trade unions. It was done by a series of small moves – a policy of pin-pricks, as somebody called it – and on the whole very cleverly. There was no general and obvious counter-revolutionary move, and until May 1937 it was scarcely necessary to use force. The workers could always be brought to heel by an argument that is almost too obvious to need stating: “Unless you do this, that and the other we shall lose the war.” In every case, needless to say, it appeared that the thing demanded by military necessity was the surrender of something that the workers had won for themselves in 1936. But the argument could hardly fail, because to lose the war was the last thing the revolutionary parties wanted; … [t]he Anarchists, the only revolutionary party that was big enough to matter, were obliged to give way on point after point. The process of collectivization was checked, the local committees were got rid of, the workers’ patrols were abolished and the pre-war police forces, largely reinforced and very heavily armed, were restored, and various key industries which had been under the control of the trade unions were taken over by the Government (the seizure of the Barcelona Telephone Exchange, which led to the May fighting, was one incident in this process).25

But the most important step in this process in Orwell’s assessment was the redistribution of the workers’ militias into the Popular Army, because “the only guarantee that the workers could have of retaining their winnings was to keep some of the armed forces under their own control.” Though this was done “in the name of military efficiency,” “the main purpose of the change was to make sure that the Anarchists did not possess an army of their own.” This whole process “happened so swiftly that people making successive visits to Spain at intervals of a few months have declared that they seemed scarcely to be visiting the same country.”26


The PSUC’s arguments proved successful in slowly removing power from their opposing groups and, if we are to give Orwell’s analysis any credence, it becomes clear that the revolutionary groups made the mistake of taking the Communists at their word, in good faith, in the assumption that their primary goal was to win the war. Though winning the war was surely important to the PSUC, other goals appeared to be more urgent to them, goals that happened to be partisan in nature: growth of the party and totalitarian control of the country. To support this suggestion, we can turn to Orwell’s discussions that come up periodically throughout Homage to Catalonia regarding the specific demands made by the PSUC, as well as their tactics employed, where he shows not only that they were unnecessary for the war effort despite being presented as integral to victory, but also that much of what they were doing proved harmful to their own side within the greater conflict.

The first of these is the withholding of weapons from the revolutionary parties. Large sections of the front were terribly unequipped for military engagements, such as the Aragón front where Orwell found himself, simply because of the large amount of militiamen from the revolutionary parties fighting there—exactly whom the PSUC had to keep the arms away from. This directly limited offensives, with a great example being the inability of Republican soldiers to take Huesca despite repeatedly battering the city and the heavy losses experienced when trying to do so,27 and it also indirectly harmed the efforts elsewhere. An example of the latter was the fall of Bilbao. Though the city was not on the Aragón front, the ineffectiveness of the troops there allowed Franco to divert troops away to other battles. Arguably, a stronger Aragón offensive from the Republicans could have “made Franco draw back from Bilbao, and possibly from Madrid,” in order to answer it, but such an offensive was never possible.28 But it could be argued that the Russian arms were desperately needed, and they came with conditions attached, including the need to limit the power of revolutionary groups in the process. To this suggestion, there are a few nuances worth discussing to make clear that accepting the Russian arms and the demands that came with them were not the only, or even necessarily the best, options available to the anti-Fascist side. One point of fact was that a large number of the weapons never even made it to the front, even in Communist hands, but were, rather, used to equip the police in order to control the population in “friendly” territory.29 The attempts to seize power and suppress the revolution most certainly made this a necessity, while it can be argued that weapons could have been better diverted to the war effort had the PSUC instead been trying to cooperate with, rather than harm, its allies. And the tactic employed by the PSUC to help attract bourgeois allies, downplaying the revolutionary nature of the conflict, especially in the international Communist press, served to isolate the Republican side from workers’ movements in other countries. For, by making the war “as much like an ordinary war as possible,” “it became impossible to make any large-scale appeal for working-class aid abroad.” Industrial action—“strikes and boycotts”—that workers in democratic countries had the power to engage in could have made a real difference in the Spanish War, but “[n]o such thing ever began to happen.”xiii This thereby caused the Government to become more reliant on Russian aid and, subsequently, Russian demands became harder to resist. As well, “with a non-revolutionary policy it was difficult, if not impossible, to strike at Franco’s rear.” To this, Orwell notes that:

By the summer of 1937 Franco was controlling a larger population than the Government – much larger, if one counts in the colonies – with about the same number of troops. As everyone knows, with a hostile population at your back it is impossible to keep an army in the field without an equally large army to guard your communications, suppress sabotage, etc.

Effectively, Franco could have been forced to do what the PSUC were having to do, but theoretically this could have had the potential to create an even more unstable situation, especially if they were able to bring about a rising in Morocco. But, to cause such a thing would mean “putting a revolutionary construction on the war,” which couldn’t be done due to Communist policy and Russian demands, and so “there was no real popular movement in Franco’s rear.”30,xiv

The second PSUC tactic worth discussing further is the move to restructure the militia system, to pull it into the Popular Army and away from control by the unions. “[T]he breaking-up of the militias was done in the name of military efficiency.” And while “no one denied that a thorough military reorganization was needed,” Orwell asserts that “[i]t would, however, have been quite possible to reorganize the militias and make them more efficient while keeping them under direct control of the trade unions.”26 He makes clear that “it became the fashion to decry the militias, and therefore to pretend that the faults which were due to lack of training and weapons were the result of the equalitarian system,” but, in actuality, “a newly raised draft of militia was an undisciplined mob not because the officers called the privates ‘Comrade’ but because raw troops are always an undisciplined mob.”31,xv He also expresses that “[i]n practice the democratic ‘revolutionary’ type of discipline” that was found in the militias “is more reliable than might be expected”:

In a workers’ army discipline is theoretically voluntary. It is based on class-loyalty, whereas the discipline of a bourgeois conscript army is based ultimately on fear. … In the militias the bullying and abuse that go on in an ordinary army would never have been tolerated for a moment. The normal military punishments existed, but they were only invoked for very serious offences. When a man refused to obey an order you did not immediately get him punished; you first appealed to him in the name of comradeship. Cynical people with no experience of handling men will say instantly that this would never “work”, but as a matter of fact it does “work” in the long run.

Orwell relates his experience from the front to support this assertion, for he observed that

[t]he discipline of even the worst drafts of militia visibly improved as time went on. In January the job of keeping a dozen raw recruits up to the mark almost turned my hair grey. In May for a short while I was acting-lieutenant in command of about thirty men, English and Spanish. We had all been under fire for months, and I never had the slightest difficulty in getting an order obeyed or in getting men to volunteer for a dangerous job.

Journalists and others who had “bourgeois army” ideas were quick to disparage the militia system, but they were also quick to forget “that the militias had to hold the line while the Popular Army was training in the rear.” And he adds that

it is a tribute to the strength of “revolutionary” discipline that the militias stayed in the field at all. For until about June 1937 there was nothing to keep them there, except class loyalty. Individual deserters could be shot – were shot, occasionally – but if a thousand men had decided to walk out of the line together there was no force to stop them. A conscript army in the same circumstances – with its battle-police removed – would have melted away. Yet the militias held the line, though God knows they won very few victories, and even individual desertions were not common.32,xvi

The third PSUC tactic to discuss is the demonization of the POUM, leading to its eventual suppression. Though this became simpler after the Barcelona fighting,xvii the Communist press was already well underway maligning and libelling them by that time. Initially, “the Communists contended that the POUM propaganda divided and weakened the Government forces and thus endangered the war,” but then Communist attacks on the POUM underwent a significant change:

Tentatively at first, then more loudly, they began to assert that the POUM was splitting the Government forces not by bad judgment but by deliberate design. The POUM was declared to be no more than a gang of disguised Fascists, in the pay of Franco and Hitler, who were pressing a pseudo-revolutionary policy as a way of aiding the Fascist cause.33,xviii

While Orwell dedicates a significant part of his book refuting the accusations of this nature put forward by the press at the time,xix his major criticism of this tactic is relatively simple and straightforward: “It was a deliberate blow at the morale not only of the POUM militia, but of any others who happened to be near them; for it is not encouraging to be told that the troops next to you in the line are traitors.” He makes clear that “[h]ad the Government not been virtually under Communist control it would never have permitted a thing of this kind to be circulated in wartime,” and that “those responsible for it must be held to have put political spite before anti-Fascist unity.”34


It has been argued that some of these things were the fault of other parties, especially with regard to the Barcelona street fighting, which “was made the excuse for bringing Catalonia under the direct control of Valencia, for hastening the break-up of the militias, and for the suppression of the POUM,” as well as for other rightward shifts of the Government. It was also said that the fighting by the CNT workers caused the confiscation of both their weapons and the industries they previously controlled, but recall that all of these processes were already underway beforehand. As Orwell explains:

Since the previous year direct power had been gradually manoeuvred out of the hands of the syndicates, and the general movement was away from working-class control and towards centralized control, leading on to State capitalism or, possibly, towards the reintroduction of private capitalism.

It’s possible that fighting in this case wasn’t helpful, but cooperating was similarly unhelpful. Unlike their members, the CNT leaders attempted to cooperate with the Government when they attempted to seize the CNT-controlled industry. For this, in the immediate aftermath “they were praised for their loyalty but were levered out of both the Government and the Generalidad as soon as the opportunity arose.” Though Orwell doesn’t have great advice to give as to the correct course to take in such a situation, he does hope that resistance at least served to slow the process down. And he observes:

A year after the outbreak of war the Catalan workers had lost much of their power, but their position was still comparatively favourable. It might have been much less so if they had made it clear that they would lie down under no matter what provocation. There are occasions when it pays better to fight and be beaten than not to fight at all.35

Though Orwell still maintained some hope for the working-class cause more generally—leaving Spain believing more than ever in the good possible in a Socialist system, wishing more than ever before to see Socialism established36—after understanding what the Communists were attempting on the Republican side, after understanding what a Republican victory would truly mean, he held no illusions about the immediate, grim future for the Spanish people:

As for the newspaper talk about this being a “war for democracy”, it was plain eyewash. No one in his senses supposed that there was any hope of democracy, even as we understand it in England or France, in a country so divided and exhausted as Spain would be when the war was over. It would have to be a dictatorship, and it was clear that the chance of a working-class dictatorship had passed. That meant that the general movement would be in the direction of some kind of Fascism. Fascism called, no doubt, by some politer name, and – because this was Spain – more human and less efficient than the German or Italian varieties.37


In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell lays bare a very real case where a group was able to convincingly hide partisan goals behind rhetoric promoting such goals as being truly selfless, for the greater good, to such an effective extent that it made it appear rational to its opponents that they should give up power and suspend their principles in the service of a “common” goal. As I’ve suggested in the past few months,2-4 asking individuals to suspend principles to order to support partisan goals should be considered typical practice of the partisan. Orwell’s experience should help us understand a number of important considerations in relation to this. For one, it’s important to be skeptical of any “selfless” rhetoric employed by anyone exhibiting partisan loyalties—meaning anyone, really. The crucial step when confronted by this is to consider whether there is a reasonable perspective that can be understood in which the demand being made is explained by a partisan goal rather than the “selfless” goal evoked—and this is especially necessary if the demand involves a one-sided sacrifice, where the asker doesn’t stand to lose anything in the process.

Another important consideration that comes from this work is what results when one abandons one’s principles. Partisan demands appear to gain credence through a suggestion of a “temporary” nature of a sacrifice, or through a sort of “stepping-stone” argument, that a kind of undesired step is necessary to arrive at a desired goal. The problem with such arguments is that abandoning principles to reach a goal appears to bring about an unprincipled end. In this way, the “temporary” relinquishing of a principle can prove to be permanent, as we saw in Orwell’s account. In this case, those who held such principles that were “temporarily” relinquished were no longer in a position to recover them once they gave them up. As for the “stepping-stone” idea, if you relinquish your principles for a “temporary” tactical consideration, it’s quite possible that the new “necessities” that replace the original principles during the “step” become established or entrenched, and so the original principles that were sought after become unobtainable after a certain point.xx

But some compromise and some sacrifice should be expected from time to time. The important lesson Orwell teaches in this respect is that some sacrifices and compromises promoted as “necessities” are nothing of the sort. It becomes important to assess the demands to understand how much truth lies behind their purported “necessity,” but this is unfortunately where the partisan is in his element. As we’ve discussed previously, the partisan biases information and directs the thought of the individual toward partisan goals. As such, it can be difficult for one with a partisan education—once again, everyone—to make a reasonable assessment here, but it’s still worthwhile to learn and grow and try.

All of this relates to the contemporary situation in pharmacy, to provide a more specific example. In pharmacy, partisan voices have been effective in masking partisan goals with benevolent rhetoric. Employee pharmacists seem to understand this—or at least that something’s wrong—on some level, as they have been very clear that they feel at risk of burnout and that they don’t feel adequately supported to be able to actually do what they feel they should be doing to properly serve their patients, reporting especially on understaffing as a major issue.xxi On top of this, practitioners have expressed to me their disappointment that they aren’t able to do what they were told they would be doing when they were being educated, using medication expertise to support their patients through the provision of high-quality information and the solving of complex drug-therapy problems. Instead, some seem to feel like unthinking cogs in a pill-dispensing machine, while others feel like they’re nothing but vaccinators, this latter feeling coming to a head at the height of the pandemic. What seems clear to me is that we lost what we value in this profession, that we have become convinced that personal sacrifices, including sacrifices of our principles, were both necessities and necessary stepping-stones for the good of our patients and our profession. And now we may be in a place where we lack the power and the understanding to recover our values.

Once again, this doesn’t only relate to pharmacy.xxii If we want to live with the principles we value and if we want to create a better world, it’s imperative that we learn the strategies of the partisan and that we work to resist partisan pressures, that we learn how to prevent them from clouding our judgment and from contaminating our mental processes. Without resistance, partisans stand to erode everything we care about until nothing remains except shades of what we cared for, of what we believed in.


i. “Orwell went to Spain under the auspices of the ILP (Independent Labour Party), once a powerful force within the [British] Labour Party but by 1936 reduced to a small opposition group. The ILP recommendation took him to Barcelona instead of Madrid, and so into the heart of the sectarian struggles that played a part in destroying the Republican cause.”38

ii. We obviously now know that nobody on the Republican side emerged a winner, as Franco was eventually victorious. However, this conflict was far from over when Orwell wrote this book.

iii. I’ll elaborate at least a bit to give better context about these groups here. The PSUC was the Socialist Party of Catalonia. Though I describe the PSUC as a group of Right-wing Socialists, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. However, it came under Communist control and moved progressively rightward over the course of the conflict. PSUC was the political organ of the UGT, which was the group of Socialist trade unions, whose membership throughout Spain numbered 1.5 million. Though manual workers were represented in the UGT, sections of the middle class joined it after the outbreak of the war, “in the early ‘revolutionary’ days [when] people of all kinds had found it useful to join either the UGT or the CNT,” the latter of which remained a working-class organization. As such, the PSUC was a party composed of workers and the small-bourgeoisie. In comparison, the POUM was an extremely small group, consisting of 70,000 members maximum at any stage of the revolution and the war—though even this is likely an overestimate. It was composed of Communist dissidents, parallel to similar groups that started in other countries in opposition to Stalinism. The group didn’t hold much influence outside Catalonia, but it remained influential there because of its high proportion of politically conscious members. As stated above, it did not represent any block of trade unions. The CNT was a huge block of unions with around 2 million members and the FAI was its political organ. The FAI was a legitimate Anarchist organization whereas, while the CNT was described as an Anarchist organization, Orwell expresses that “the loose term ‘Anarchists’ is used to cover a multitude of people of very varying opinions” in their case.12

iv. And the PSUC had the advantage of being in control of press censorship. As a result, after the Barcelona fighting, “PSUC papers were uncensored and were publishing inflammatory articles demanding suppression of the POUM,” while La Batalla, the paper published by the POUM, “was censored until the front page was completely blank.”39

v. And Orwell makes very clear in his text that he didn’t hold most of the views that he expressed at the time of writing while he was in the midst of everything. It wasn’t until he witnessed certain enlightening events even later on, and then afterwards, when he was safely away from Spain, that he was able to really stop and formulate his thoughts about everything he’d been through.40

vi. The more local, semi-autonomous government, somewhat equivalent to a State government, from what I can understand, as opposed to the equivalent to a Federal institution when Orwell refers to the Government, though he was never explicit about this.

vii. Orwell explains that these were the official numbers given, but cautions that there was no real way to verify them and that they were plausibly an over exaggeration.41 He also provides the numbers that were given in the Communist Press, which were much higher: 900 dead and 2500 wounded.42

viii. Heavily armed police officers.

ix. Within the Anarchist and POUM militias, there was a strong revolutionary atmosphere and attempts at equality among militiamen:

General and private, peasant and militiaman … met as equals; everyone drew the same pay, wore the same clothes, ate the same food and called everyone else “thou” and “comrade”; there was no boss-class, no menial-class, no beggars, no prostitutes, no lawyers, no priests, no boot-licking, no cap-touching.43

Bringing the militias into the Popular Army served, in part, to do away with these “breeding-grounds for revolutionary ideas,” by way of reinstating soldiers with “a differential pay rate, a privileged officer-caste, etc. etc.”26

x. While Orwell doesn’t elaborate on this, I presume his mention of children being arrested relates to witnessing that “[b]oys of fifteen were being brought up for enlistment by their parents,”44 or from having to deal with “boys in their teens”—even encountering “children as young as eleven or twelve”—at the front.45

xi. Unionized Anarchists, effectively—though this is something of an oversimplification.

xii. Though this was true of the Russian arms, the practice of withholding weapons from revolutionary groups by the Government preceded any Russian influence. From the outbreak of the war, the trade unions were the first to stand up against Franco, before any Government resistance. “As soon as the rising broke out the organized town workers replied by calling a general strike and then demanding – and, after a struggle, getting – arms from the public arsenals.” And “the one step that could save the immediate situation, the arming of the workers, was only taken unwillingly and in response to violent popular clamour.” The situation leading up to this became so unstable “that Spain had three premiers in a single day”—the first two being forced to resign after each “refused to distribute arms to the trade unions.”46

xiii. Orwell points to disjointed and changing Communist propaganda that made Labour and Communist leaders believe that such industrial action was “unthinkable” in this conflict, “so long as they were also shouting at the tops of their voices that ‘red’ Spain was not ‘red’ ”:

Since 1914-1918 “war for democracy” has had a sinister sound. For years past the Communists themselves had been teaching the militant workers in all countries that “democracy” was a polite name for capitalism. To say first “Democracy is a swindle”, and then “Fight for democracy!” is not good tactics.28

xiv. “The best strategic opportunity of the war was flung away in the vain hope of placating French and British capitalism.”47

xv. “[I]n the circumstances the militias could not have been much better than they were. A modern mechanized army does not spring up out of the ground, and if the Government had waited until it had trained troops at its disposal, Franco would never have been resisted.”48

xvi. Orwell also details some of the dishonesty showcased by the PSUC to convince the public of the necessity of folding the militias into the Popular Army. In the lead up to the Barcelona fighting,

the entire armed forces had theoretically been incorporated in the Popular Army, and the militias were, on paper, reconstructed along Popular Army lines. … The divisions were made up of “mixed brigades”, which were supposed to consist partly of Popular Army troops and partly of militia. But the only changes that had actually taken place were changes of name. … Until June very few Popular Army troops reached the Aragón front, and in consequence the militias were able to retain their separate structure and their special character. But on every wall the Government agents had stencilled: “We need a Popular Army,” and over the radio and in the Communist Press there was a ceaseless and sometimes very malignant jibing against the militias, who were described as ill-trained, undisciplined, etc. etc.; the Popular Army was always described as “heroic”. From much of this propaganda you would have derived the impression that there was something disgraceful in having gone to the front voluntarily and something praise-worthy in waiting to be conscripted. For the time being, however, the militias were holding the line while the Popular Army was training in the rear, and this fact had to be advertised as little as possible. … The fact that the militia troops were also, on paper, Popular Army troops, was skilfully used in the Press propaganda. Any credit that happened to be going was automatically handed to the Popular Army, while all blame was reserved for the militias. It sometimes happened that the same troops were praised in one capacity and blamed in the other.49

xvii. Because the POUM fought on the side of the CNT workers and it offered support in La Batalla—urging workers to stay at the barricades erected across Barcelona—even as the CNT leadership was urging everyone to stop fighting and “Solidaridad Obrera, the Anarchist paper, repudiated” the POUM’s position, “the POUM leaders made it easy for the Communist press to say afterwards that the fighting was a kind of insurrection engineered solely by the POUM.”50

xviii. The most egregious of all the anti-POUM propaganda, in Orwell’s assessment, was “the malignant cartoon which was widely circulated, first in Madrid and later in Barcelona, representing the POUM as slipping off a mask marked with the hammer and sickle and revealing a face marked with the swastika.”34

xix. Orwell employs almost the entirety of Appendix II in the edition I read for this task.51

xx. Recall from last month that the editor of Canadian Pharmacists Journal (CPJ) overtly explained actively encouraging this sort of process in the Change Management chapter he coauthored.4,52

xxi. Refer to my previous essays for most of the discussion of this, especially within the last two.3,4 As for burnout and understaffing, refer to my discussion last month of the preliminary results of the Canadian Pharmacist’s Association’s Pharmacy Workforce Wellness data collected, alongside CPJ’s partisan interpretation of such data.53-55

xxii. I suspect that we can apply these lessons to better understand wage stagnation for average North American workers, for example. While I hope readers can consider this further, I most certainly lack the space to expand on this here.


  1. Nietzsche F. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Books, 1978, p. 47.
  2. Kosoris A. “On Partisanism.” (13 May 2023.)
  3. Kosoris A. “Darkness at Noon and Partisan Control of Thought.” (10 Jun 2023.)
  4. Kosoris A. “Partisan Control of Information: A Look at Pharmacy Practice Research.” (8 Jul 2023.)
  5. Orwell G. Homage to Catalonia. Penguin Books, 2000.
  6. Ibid., p. 206.
  7. Ibid., pp. 198-199.
  8. Ibid., pp. 2-4.
  9. Ibid., p. 12.
  10. Ibid., pp. 197-198.
  11. Ibid., p. 198.
  12. Ibid., pp. 208-211.
  13. Ibid., p. 209.
  14. Ibid., pp. 209-210.
  15. Ibid., pp. 210-211.
  16. Ibid., pp. 212-213.
  17. Ibid., pp. 93-95.
  18. Ibid., pp. 103-104.
  19. Ibid., pp. 223-224.
  20. Ibid., p. 205.
  21. Ibid., p. 232.
  22. Ibid., pp. 244-245.
  23. Ibid., pp. 204-207.
  24. Ibid., pp. 200-202.
  25. Ibid., pp. 204-205.
  26. Ibid., pp. 205-206.
  27. Ibid., p. 48.
  28. Ibid., p. 218.
  29. Ibid., pp. 131-132.
  30. Ibid., pp. 218-219.
  31. Ibid., p. 28, emphasis his.
  32. Ibid., pp. 28-30.
  33. Ibid., pp. 213-214.
  34. Ibid., p. 242.
  35. Ibid., pp. 224-227.
  36. Ibid., pp. 87-89.
  37. Ibid., p. 139.
  38. Ibid., p. vi.
  39. Ibid., pp. 132-133.
  40. Ibid., pp. 193-195, 208.
  41. Ibid., p. 224.
  42. Ibid., pp. 238-239.
  43. Ibid., p. 216.
  44. Ibid., p. 11.
  45. Ibid., p. 26.
  46. Ibid., pp. 199-200.
  47. Ibid., p. 219.
  48. Ibid., p. 28.
  49. Ibid., pp. 97-98.
  50. Ibid., p. 227.
  51. Ibid., pp. 222-250.
  52. Rosenthal M, Hall KW, Tsuyuki RT. (2015). Change Management. In KW Hindmarsh (Ed.), Pharmacy Management in Canada (pp. 91-98). Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy.
  53. Paes D. CPhA launches Pharmacy Workforce Wellness initiative. Can Pharm J (Ott) 2022;155(2):85.
  54. Gysel SC, Watson KE, Tsuyuki RT. Appropriate staffing for pharmacists’ full scope of practice. Can Pharm J (Ott) 2022;155(3):137-138.
  55. Tsuyuki RT, Hamarneh YN. Are pharmacists really “well placed”? Can Pharm J (Ott) 2022;155(4):185-186.