As the 70th Anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War is approaching this writer is reviewing some important works that militants should read in order to draw the lessons of the defeat of the Spanish revolution. The writer has been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since he was a teenager. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.
Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class revolutions after the Russian revolution Spain showed the most promise of success. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted that the political class-consciousness of the Spanish proletariat was higher than that of the Russian proletariat in 1917. Yet it failed in Spain. Mr. Fraser's oral history of the period, if only indirectly, gives some answers to the reasons for that failure.
The format Mr. Fraser has chosen, an oral history by participants from all sections of Spanish society and virtually all political parties, is an interesting way to provide those answers. His decision to emphasize the rank and file and middle-level participants as they remembered those experiences in the mid-1970's rather than the big name leaders was also a wise decision. Lapses of memory and errors by the participants over time are obvious drawbacks to this format. As is the reinforced hardening of political lines due to the suppressions of political life under Franco. Additionally, from this partisan writer's political perspective too much space was given to secondary events at the expense of actions like the May Days in Barcelona, 1937. As was the attempt to be politically too all-inclusive and even-handed which sometimes confused the issues presented. Nevertheless, this is a book that militants should read in order to get the favor of the conflict.
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Mr. Fraser's work reaches down beyond those perspectives to look at the base that actually fought the war. What he finds is the furious nature of the struggle in Spanish society between the old agrarian- based economy and the newer capitalist- based economy; the religious tensions caused by the breakup of the old agrarian society and the tensions between believers and church-burners; the struggle between centralizers and federalists which formed the core of the unresolved national questions, especially in Catalonia; the intense political struggles within the broad sections that supported both left and right, especially the role of the Stalinist police apparatus; the international ideological political factors that played a role, if not as erroneously assumed the decisive factor; and, finally, the burning personal antagonisms that in a civil war pit brother against brother, family against family, town against town, etc.. Read on.