on 14 August 2016
I recommend to read two excellent comments posted here previously:
The Historian As Propagandist, by NeutralVINE VOICE on 1 January 2013
Preston' s ideological prepossessions, by Dr. Charles Carrollon on 17 August 2012.
I have little to add to these excellents comments.
But some readers will perhaps be interested by the perception of a Spanish born person.
I was born in Madrid in 1957, and lived there until 1974, briefly before Franco's death, before coming to France.
My father was a republican officer, catalan born in Barcelona.
He managed to be in France at the end of the civil war, but returned to Spain in 1946, with my french mother..
He was detained and investigated for 3 months. He was judged as innocent of any crimes and subsequently released.
He was able to freely create a business in Spain without any aggravation from the government due to his past as republican officer.
The book has very strong positive points, illustrating:
- The level of distrust and hate that existed in Spain, consequence of the incapacity of the upper classes to relinquish some of their privileges in order to reduce the economical hardship suffered by the lower classes, of the contempt of these upper classes towards the less fortunate, and of the never achieved agricultural reform.
- The collusion between upper classes and clergy to maintain the statu-quo.
- The voluntary, ruthless, and excessive destruction by the Nationalist side of all elements that could allow a republican resurgence after the war.
- The priority given during the war at such destruction, regardless of the suffering of the population and the economical long term consequences of infrastructure damages and shortage of skilled workers and professionals due to imprisonment or execution.
- The high number of completely unnecessary innocent victims of the repression.
But the book has several shortcomings, well explained in the readers comments referenced at the top of my text, the main criticism to be given to the book being a leftist bias that tends to distord the perception of facts.
Here after I list, in no specific order, some of my thinking of the book, based on my life in Spain, my ideological meanderings from communist sympathisant to cynically apolitical, and my many historical readings.
A) The Jew question:
The book insist on the anti-Jew position of the Nationalist side, with no nuance.
There was a dilema in the nationalistic side concerning the Jews.
Sympathisants of the German National Socialist movement wanted to have an hostile approach. School text books containing basic and ridiculously classic anti-jew propaganda, very similar to the one used by the nazis, were indeed published. These books have been used in Spanish schools, I don't know for how long and if they were widely adapted across nationalist Spain schools. I had in my hands one of these text books, presented to me by one of my Jew co-students.
But a significant part of the Falange was opposed to this anti-jew attitude. I read several articles published during the civil war in Falange journals, criticizing the the anti-jew position of the clergy and of some members of the Falange.
It is necessary to consider some facts:
- Many Jews were saved from Nazi and Vichy France prosecution when they were able to escape to Franco's Spain. There was no official policy in Spain to return to German of Vichy France authorities Jews that had managed to escape.
- The Jew population in Spain under Franco was able to pursue successful business and were in average (as in many countries thanks to their hard work and acute sense of business) on higher socially standards that other Spanish citizens.
- I had several Jew friends and acquaintances. There was no general desire to quit Franco's Spain, other than joining Israël to defend it against repeated neighbors' tentatives of invasion.
The book doesn't properly address the fact that the anti-Jew attitude of the Nationalist side was not widespread and didn't bring a general targeted specific anti-Jew repression.
B) The social question:
The book sees the nationalist side as exclusively protecting the upper social classes privileges against the justified demands of the lower social classes.
It forgets the social ideology of the Falange and the actual situation that existed in Spain under Franco's regime.
As the general fascist ideology that developed between the 2 world wars, Falange was anti-capitalist and anti-communist, and proposed a social organisation that had to ensure the well being of the majority of the population, without resorting to class war, to disorder and to attack on property rights.
The ascension of fascist, anarchist and communist idéologies were favored by the economical crisis, social inequality and the corruption of many democracies, and were often considered at the time as not so bad solutions to the problems faced by the democracies (read for exemple "L'Homme cet inconnu" of Alexis Carel) . Fascism was generally helped by the upper and middle social classes as they considered it as a less dangerous option than the other 2 extremist ideologies. It is only after the second world war that Fascism, equated to National Socialism exactions, was generally banned from the list of acceptable political solutions.
During and after the war, Falange was often in opposition to the conservatism of the upper social classes.
Falange ideology was the inspiration of Franco social laws, that although very imperfect compared to what we expect in our western social-democracies, insured some form of wealth redistribution, scolarisation and health services, never consistently achieved previously in Spain.
My mother, french national, always told me that she was admirative of the effectiveness of Franco regime to improve the living standards between 1946 when she arrived in Spain, and 1974 when we left.
Spain economy under Franco was not only preserving the privileges of the upper classes, but also promoting the generalization of the middle class. Economy was often aimed at the production of goods that could be afforded by a majority (domestic appliances, small cars, housing, food, transportation and leisure activities...).
The economy and actual, although relative, freedom that existed in Spain during all the Franco regime must be compared, not only to what was enjoyed in the Western social democracies, but to the ones (or absence of ones) that were prevalent in the countries where a socialist so-called popular democracy was applied in Eastern Europe.
I knew several refugies from Eastern Europe that considered Franco's Spain as an absolute paradise compared to the countries they were able to escape. And they choose Spain rather than other European democracies, because they knew they were protected from the reach of the communists.
And although difficult to believe, free speech in private was more achievable in Franco's Spain than in France. Being a communist moderate sympathisant, I was able to calmly and constructively voice my opinion and exchange views on several subjects with members of the Falange without fear of aggression or contempt. In France, when young I was flabbergasted by the dogmatism of my fellow communists and environmentalist colleges, and presently I am astounded at the permanent control that I have to maintain when speaking with others in order to avoid the wrath of the prevalent soft leftism of many of my fellow citizens, control that I had never to maintain in Spain.
C) The Republic:
The book considers that the Spanish Republican government did all what they could to prevent unrest and destruction of property and cultural heritage.
Even without denying that the government intention was such prevention, the level of policial assassination and unrest illustrate the ineffectiveness of the gouvernement.
Reading other historians, one can question the willingness of the "Frente Popular" to prosecute its sympathisants, achieving therefore a biased justice (the one that I am perceiving now in France, where free rein is given to the political clientele of the gouvernement when ridiculously harsh repression is exacted against its opposants).
The book does a good job of describing the political climate of the second Spanish republic, but curiously, doesn't reach the obvious conclusion of such description: a democratic republic never had a chance as the majority of politically active Spaniards wanted something else (return to a constitutional monarchy or anarchist communism).
The book considers that the menace of an anarchist revolution was vastly exaggerated by the Nationalists who used this as the excuse for an unjustified attack on the republic. But the book gives many examples of the reality of such menace, and perfectly valid justifications for the willingness of desperately poor people to participate to this revolution.
The book gives the impression that there was a democratic republic after 1936. Although it shows the progressively great influence of the Soviet Union on the Republic, it minimises the implications of such influence. The book sides with the progressive shifting of the republic toward a communist centralized government, as a necessary solution to the war situation. The repression towards former allies considered as internal ennemies (troskists, anarchists, and generally anything considered by Stalinists as political enemies) is mentioned, sometime at length for individual cases, but not as a general trend that shaped the policy of the republic during the 2 last years of the war, where a significant amount of war personnel and material was distracted from the front against the nationalists to be used to maintain the grip of the communists on the republic against the internal ennemies. On this subject, one can read the imperfect and biased but very interesting "Por que perdimos la guerra" written briefly after the end of the war by the anarchist Diego Abad De Santillán.
Bear in mind that my father is a catalan from Barcelona speaking catalan.
The book presents Cataluña as a victim of a terrifying Nationalist repression.
There is a right of the peoples to define their own destinies. Countries are built on mythologies.
Since the war of succession of Spain, some sections of catalan inteligencia have consistently built the mythology needed for the creation of an independent Catalan state, state that has never existed in the past.
The unwise attitude of the Spanish central government mainly under the Bourbon kings, somehow under the Franco dictature, and presently under the conservative government, has fueled some resentment towards castillan Spain.
But the catalan inteligencia has actively contributed to this resentment with the help of manipulative distorsion of facts.
- Cataluña is presented as a completely independent state that has existed in the past. It didn't. Al thought the main component, Cataluña was part of the real of Aragon.
- Cataluña is presented as the victim of a savage repression during the whole of the Franco's dictature. Considering that at the death of Franco Cataluña was the most prosperous region of Spain, that assumption is questionable.
- The catalan language is presented as being completely and savagely forbidden by Madrid governments. Considering that at the death of Franco, most of the catalan population was able to speak catalan, this is questionable. Furthermore, under Franco catalan as a private language was not forbidden, catalan could be used in contracts and considered as valid by Spanish juridictions for local contracts of small value (compare this to the situation in France, where local languages are not usable for anything legal), catalan literature was officially part of the Spanish high school curriculum (I was never presented with Occitan literature by the french high school curriculum that I followed in parallel with the Spanish one), catalan was occasionally used on newspapers, and my father openly spoke catalan with his catalan colleagues without fear of any repression.
In conclusion, an interesting but biased book, that has the merit to describe the situation that brought an inevitable war, and to document the savagery of a blind repression.