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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent balanced, judicious analysis of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, 3 Mar 2013
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War In Perspective (Paperback)
This is a balanced, classic account of the Spanish Civil War from a leading British historian of Spain. It is not a narrative account and presumes you have a bit of background knowledge of the war. It is an analytical, thematic account that covers social, economic and military factors, outlining why the war broke out but also dealing with post-war years up until the mid-70s. It is free of polemical simplification and judicious and balanced in its judgments. It genuinely leaves you free to make up your own mind about the conflict.

The book makes clear that the new Spanish republic in 1931 was in a hapless position. It did not have the power to deliver social change, disappointing the left, but alarming the right with its rhetorical posturing. Spanish Republicans found themselves presiding over a backward society and economy but unable to raise sufficient tax to do anything about it (income tax levels in the early 1930s varied from one to four per cent). It raised expectations on the left that could not be met. But what it did act to change, such as challenging the hold of the Catholic Church over education, frightened the political right. There is no evidence that the Republic desired or planned to take the country in the same direction as the Soviet Union but any challenge to the Church's cultural supremacy could not be countenanced. In the years before the Civil War, the middle ground gave way from pressure to the left and to the right and sowed the seeds for the military uprising in 1936 in which Franco was a leading, if not dominant figure at its beginning.

Once the war began, contemporaries and propagandists were both convinced right was on their side. The right saw it as a crusade against godless materialism and atheism and the left saw it as modernity and progress against fascism and reaction. These were simplifications, of course. There were more than two Spains, Nationalists and Republicans, in the fight. Each side had its own divisions - on the right, the Falange, the closest thing to a Spanish fascist party, with its mixture of authoritarian politics and anti-capitalism, and Carlists unreconstructed monarchists; on the Republic's side, socialists, communists, anarchists and regional separatists. But Franco and the Nationalists were able to unite and the Republicans were not. The reasons for the failure of different parts of the Republican coalition to unite effectively in the face of an implacable foe were complex but the fact they couldn't gave their opponents the edge in the struggle. In addition, the Nationalists outfought the Republicans on the battlefield. Political unity and superior military finesse were the twin pillars of Franco's success in 1939.

It is true that the Nationalists received outside assistance from Hitler and Mussolini while the Republic - the legal government of the country - could not buy arms to defend itself and received less than unconditional assistance from the Soviet Union. But these factors have been overplayed: the Nationalists did not start out with all the best cards (their rising failed in 1936 to take most of the major cities and major industrial areas of the country) but they made up for their disadvantages while the Republicans squandered their advantages (such as air superiority) that they held at the beginning.

But while Franco won the war, he went on ultimately to lose the peace. Spain remained backward and starving in the decade after the war but the rise of a technocratic class in the 1950s inaugurated economic reform and growth, bringing social change in its wake, the sorts of changes he fought so hard to prevent. Europe's post-war economic boom and the Second Vatican Council's accommodation of the Catholic Church with modernity eased previous social tensions that had given rise to the polarizations of the 1930s that led to the Civil War. People of different persuasions - Catholics to Communists - were prepared to talk to, not kill, one another. The last couple of chapters, originally written in 1975, the very twilight of Franco's reign, are especially prescient in anticipating the role of King Juan Carlos in seeing through the process of democratization and the dismantling of the authoritarian state. In the 1970s, few, even on the political right, were inspired by the thought of modeling Spain on the 16th century kingdom of Ferdinand and Isabella. Franco had lost the battle of ideas.

This is a fascinating book with lessons not just about Spain but political and ideological conflict generally. Spaniard killed Spaniard in the 1930s because they felt that their differences were intractable. Those differences eased but did not cease to exist in the four decades after Franco's triumph. But they did not reignite a Civil War in the 1970s. They did not think these differences worth fighting and killing over. Politics finally won out. The example of 20th century Spain shows that history does not necessarily have to repeat itself - in fact, it seldomly does.
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4.0 out of 5 stars in depth and scholarly, 6 Feb 2011
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This review is from: Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War In Perspective (Paperback)
On principle never give 100% or in this case 5 stars, having been a lecturer for a large part of my life (albeit in Agriculture) as it can induce complacency! However, for a factual, in depth, summary of the events of the War, it would be hard to beat. Especially if one hasn't the stomach or patience to trawl thro' detailed accounts as in Beevor, Thomas or Preston. One cannot argue with Professor Carr's writing. After all, who am I to judge, a mere interested reader. There was everything one needs, such as references to Carlists and Agrarian issues which, I believe, are an important starting point for understanding the background to 20th/21st century attitudes.
My only real gripe would be the layout of the bibliography, which was helpful in being listed according to the chapter titles, but perhaps just needs getting used to!
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Civil War in Perspective, 10 July 2001
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This review is from: Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War In Perspective (Paperback)
Raymond Carr's succinct and elegant volume is surely recognised as the classic account of the bloody war, 'brother against brother', which established the Franco regime in Spain.
As Alistair Hennessy wrote in the New Statesman, 'readers of Raymond Carr's previous work will know what to expect: a superlative command of a wide range of sources, economy of style enlivened by occasional idiosyncrasies, a sharp eye for obscure but significant detail, an awareness of cultural nuance, a first-hand acquaintance with the country and its people.'
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Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War In Perspective
Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War In Perspective by Raymond Carr (Paperback - 20 July 2000)
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