Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review: The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain by Pierre Broué and Emile Témime

"Those who fight revolutions halfheartedly are merely digging their own graves" - Saint Just (14)
The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain is a book split halfway: the first section is written by Pierre Broué and deals with the Spanish Revolution.  The second section is written by Emile Témime and covers military history, international negotiations and state development during the Spanish Civil War.  I found Broué's section much more interesting, both in content and stylistically, even though he doesn't delve into the exhaustive detail on the level that his German Revolution does.  What follows is a summary, mostly of part one.

Contextualizing the Spanish revolutionary experience, Broué writes, "The Spanish Revolution was not the first spark in a growing conflagration but the last flicker of a fire already extinct throughout Europe... The revolution that turned into a civil war was in the end merely a dress rehearsal for World War II." (31)

Spain's Second Republic emerged as a weak state following the overthrow of dictator Primo de Rivera.  The transition to republic did not damage the dominant power centers of church, army or economic oligarchs.  Spain lacked a bourgeoisie (with the possible exception of the Basque Country) and was primarily agricultural, with land disproportionately held by powerful landowners.  Half the population remained illiterate. (37)  In short, "In the nineteenth century, Spain lost her remaining world outposts and was in the end barely touched by the industrial and liberal revolution that succeeded in transforming the old Europe." (32)

Spain's organized political forces spanned the ideological spectrum.  The Republicans were weak and divided, owing to the lack of a bourgeoisie.  The right featured a host of divisions: the monarchist-inclined army, the Catholic CEDA under Gil Robles, the reactionary Carlist movement, the fascist Falange, etc.  Unlike other European fascists of the time, the fascists in Spain remained a marginal political element.  There were autonomist forces from the Basque Country and Catalonia which ideologically tilted away from the left but found themselves in common cause with the left after the CEDA-dominated government (which followed the liberal Republican Azaña government of 1931-33) became hostile to their separatist aims.  The petty bourgeoise's turn towards autonomism was another factor hindering the development of an authentic Spanish bourgeoisie.

The labor movement in Spain was heavily influenced by the anarcho-syndicalist tradition: "In an agricultural country where so many ties linked the industrial worker with the landless peasant and the day laborer, where peasant riots, short violent revolts, and banditry by outlaws were the time-honored form taken by popular explosions of anger and revenge, Bakunin's ideas fell on fertile ground." (54)  The CNT labor union confederation was aligned with these anarchist ideas.  The secretive, revolutionary FAI, founded later, came to dominate CNT politics, which caused tensions with less radical members. (56)  Yet Broué finds weaknesses with the militant CNT's political program: "Faced with the complexities of a modern economy and the interdependence of its different sectors, the CNT's political and economic theories seemed highly ingenuous.  Everything was simplified to an extreme by the pens of propagandists describing the idyllic 'commune' whose budding and later flowering would be made possible by militants willing to sacrifice their lives for it." (57)  The CNT-FAI's Durruti was one notable militant.

The Spanish Socialist party, the PSOE, was a more reformist political force.  Its members founded the UGT, a moderate trade union.  Like many other European socialist parties, the Spanish party split over support for the Third International, thus birthing the Spanish Communist Party, the PCE.  The PSOE frequently found its two major leaders, Caballero and Prieto, at odds.  In 1935, the CNT and UGT were of equal numerical strength at a million members each. (67)  The communists were relatively weak, with La Pasionaria as its only well-respected member. (69)  In Catalonia, the orthodox communist PSUC formed out of a merger of several communist groups.  Lastly, the POUM, dubbed "Trotskyist" by its opponents but criticized by Trotsky himself, formed a dissident communist bloc.  A constellation of these forces participated in the 1934 Asturian miner's strike, a foreshadowing of the Civil War.

The CEDA government began rolling back the reforms of the Azaña government when it took power, ushering in the bieno negro.  A left-wing coalition, the Popular Front, formed and won the elections in 1936.  This victory of the left over two years of right wing reaction, coupled with the festering wounds of 1934, plunged Spain into a revolutionary situation. (81)  Peasants seized land, churches were burnt, and strikes rocked the cities.  The PSOE found itself wavering between the pronouncements of Caballero (depending on who is writing, either the "Spanish Lenin" or "a social democrat playing at revolution" (82)) and Prieto, who controlled the party executive and was harshly critical of his agitation.  In these circumstances the Falange unleashed counterrevolutionary terror, killing leftists and workers.  The Army recognized that "the victory of the Popular Front had caused a revolutionary crisis that the moderate left-wing Republican politicians were helpless to end." (86)  Despite the conspiracy of the Army to overthrow the government being openly known, the Spanish state could do little to prevent it: "All the reproaches cast up to the government boil down to its one and only defect: its weakness.  Its only raison d' être was to endure, to lay for time in order to avoid the clash that would annihilate it." (91)

The capital Madrid erupted in strikes and violence, with both right-wing and left-wing forces street fighting as well as CGT and UGT members clashing over the direction of the strikes.  The murders of prominent individuals José del Castillo and Calvo Sotelo prompted funerals that "were like the final parade before the battle" of the Civil War. (96)  The Army's uprising began in Morocco, led by Franco and Mola.  (Here Broué adopts a curiously racist tone: "The Moroccan troops, the Moors, were recruited from the mountain people of the Riff.  They were fearsome warriors, savages unaffected by propaganda who were concerned only with fighting and pillage..." (98))  The government was in crisis, and authority passed from Quiroga, who was in denial about the whole coup affair, to Barrio, who failed to reach a deal with the rebel generals, to Giral, who formally dissolved the army and distributed arms to workers. (102)  By July 20, 1936, a few days after the uprising, the rebels controlled a minority of Spain's territory.  "The pronouncamiento had failed.  The Civil War had begun." (118)

Revolution swept over Republican Spain, as it became "the scene of a revolution that the Generals had meant to forestall but had in the end provoked." (122)  The Red Terror that ensued counted class enemies, such as the Church, as victims as well as those who happened to be on the wrong end of personal vendettas.  Gradually parties and unions gained control of the situation and began to "organize" the repression. (125)  In Catalonia the CGT, FAI, UGT, PSUC and POUM formed the Antifascist Militias Committee (but also left Companys in formal control of the Catalan Generalitat), which became the governing body of the region.  Other revolutionary governments took control in other regions of Spain.  In the Basque Country, with its bourgeoisie and Catholic sympathies, a non-revolutionary government was formed. (139)  The most pressing task for Republican forces was to form an army to combat the rebels.  Various political groups formed militias for the task, each militia stamped with the ideology of its own leadership.  The communist Fifth Regiment marched in ranks while the CNT's marched along "in total -- and deliberate -- disarray." (143)  The hastily-assembled forces often had no training and no idea how to handle weapons.  During this time the Giral government "did not govern, but it was still in existence," (147) passing decrees that were already fiat accompli.

With regard to revolutionary accomplishments, Broué remarks, "It would take an entire book to describe the extraordinary variety of solutions adopted by the Spanish workers to put an end to 'the exploitation of man by man.'" (152)  Solutions to, for instance, wage disparities fluctuated between keeping the existing hierarchy in place and instituting a uniform wage. (156)  Collectivization took place under a process that was part voluntary, part compulsory. (157)  Views on these subjects are quite partisan, and Broué concludes, "The truth must obviously lie somewhere between [an Anarchist's] rose-tinted Libertarian paradise and the black Anarchist hell depicted by [Communist newspapers]." (161-2)  Broué writes, "Collectivization of land [did not] lead to a satisfactory and coherent system of production... The revolution, at first so vigorous in the countryside, seemed to be bogging down there for lack of real leadership." (164-5)  He notes that there was no equivalent of the Russian Revolution's Decree on Land in Spain.  Unfortunately, the "Anarchist egalitarian fantasy" (162) came up against concrete problems of the government, such as access to credit, among other economic problems (no doubt exacerbated by wartime conditions).  In the end, Broué says, "The great weakness of the Spanish workers' revolutionary gains was, even more than their improvised character, their incompleteness." (170)

Mola believed that the coup was doomed to fail given the limited success of the initial push. (172) However, the disorganization, inexperience and lack of coordination of the Republican militias made his task easier: "[The Republican militiamen each] seemed to be fighting his own war without caring what was going on in the next province." (175)  The Nationalist terror in provinces under their control, in contrast to the spontaneous Republican terror, was organized and justified by all, including the highest Church authorities. (183)  The terror was a double-edged sword, however, inspiring those fleeing from it or who would potentially be its victims to harden their resolve to fight against the Nationalists.

The Committees ruling Republican areas were not real soviets; rather, they were merely collections of the leaders of already-existing institutions, and their delegates were not formally answerable to their constituency. (189) Whether these committees would supplant the anemic government structures or vice versa continued to be an open question.  Another important strategic decision the Republicans faced was whether to pursue the revolution or the war.  The international context factored into this calculation: the most likely supporters of the Republicans (Stalin's Russia, perhaps Western democracies such as Britain and Blum's France) would not intervene to buttress a revolutionary movement.

In a move which decisively impacted these questions, Caballero formed a new Popular Front government (a move which Prieto had been advocating for some time) which had the benefits of both support from the trade unions and an air of respectability and legality by incorporating Republican elements.  Since the trade unions joined (or in the CNT's case, supported) the government, the Antifascist Militias Committee was dissolved.  The formation of the new government essentially "implied the abandonment of the organizations of revolutionary power." (203)  Regional governments, before relatively autonomous, quickly joined the new government.  Later, even the CNT joined the government, noting the grave domestic and international situation!  "In the ordeal of the struggle for power," comments Broué, "the Anarchist leaders adopted the language of the most reformist social democrats." (208)  The government's new course had its intended effect on foreign aid, as Soviet arms began arriving shortly thereafter.

Caballero's government immediately subordinated revolutionary aims in favor of winning the war.  It instituted legal reforms, rebuilt the police force, and militarized the militias (Durruti, for his part, demanded a single, unified command (219)).  Collectivization was "checked and then halted." (225)  Anarchists that didn't take kindly to their own organizations' members entry into the government put up armed resistance to the new status quo at times, discrediting their movement.  The Communist Party, which for its part strongly supported Republican law, order and property, had superior organization and was linked to the flow of foreign arms, grew quickly in popularity: "After September 1936... the Communist party and the PSUC became a dominant factor in the political life of Spain." (229)  Beyond the fight against Franco, the Communists in essence opposed the Revolution itself.  The tenor of the situation in Spain had changed; one foreign volunteer wrote, "The war in Spain, bereft of any new faith of any idea of social change, and of any revolutionary grandeur... remains a terrible question of life or death but is no longer a war in affirmation of a new regime and a new humanity." (235-6)

With Nationalist forces closing in on Madrid, the Caballero government fled the city and placed its defense in the hands of General Miaja.  Under Miaja's reign, his junta became "as a result of its language and its methods, a genuinely revolutionary government." (245)  The Communist Party effectively controlled the Junta, so Madrid's defense put their honor on the line.  "Never again," Broué notices, "during the whole of the Spanish Civil War, did the Communists join the fight with such ferocity.  Never again did the Russians repeat the efforts they made for Madrid in November 1936." (245)  The International Brigades arrived just in time to shore up Madrid's defense, and La Pasionaria's cry of No Pararán! rang throughout Madrid's streets.  Durruti was killed in the battle, likely by one of his own men, perhaps deliberately. (250)  [1] In the end, the Republicans prevailed in battle: "It was the first victory by the proletarians over the Fascist armies." (260)

The government continued its rightward drift after the victories at Madrid and Guadalajara.  Caballero chose, contrary to his supposed proletarian internationalism, to forego supporting Moroccan independence for fear of angering foreign powers, failing to take an opportunity to strike at the heart of Franco's forces. (267)  The continuing encroachment of Communists and the USSR on Spanish policy caused Caballero to react indignantly, leading the Soviets to identify him as an obstacle to their plans.  In response to Communist machinations, Caballero dissolved the Communist-controlled Madrid Junta, a "virtual declaration of war on the Communist party." (274)  Caballero subsequently could not put his offensive war plans into action for lack of Soviet support.  Caballero continued to function as a moderator between left factions that were gradually drawing apart; one historian commented: "He wanted neither the militia nor the regular army; he wanted neither the old bureaucracy nor the new revolutionary structure; he wanted neither guerrilla warfare nor trench warfare.  He promised the Communists general mobilization and a fortification plan, and the Anarchists revolutionary war; in the event he did neither." (281)

The Barcelona May Days saw these tensions between left factions explode.  After days of scuffles between factions, the police (led by a PSUC member) surrounded the telephone exchange, which was guarded by a CNT militia, and attempted to take it over.  The ensuing fighting left hundreds dead.  Broué chalks up the controversy to being "one more stage in the restoration of the state" (286) and concludes that "The May days sounded the knell of the Revolution and heralded political defeat for all and death for some of the revolutionary leaders." (288)  One immediate consequence of the May Days was an end of Catalan autonomy; a later one was the resignation of Caballero from the government.

Negrín formed a new government that was praised by Western democracies as responsible, but denounced by the FAI.  The Communists exerted their power under the new regime, persecuting their POUM enemies in the manner of Stalin's purges (which were taking place concurrently).  The POUM was dissolved and its leader, Nin, was murdered.  Caballero was forced out of his position at the head of the UGT, never to feature again in Spanish public life.  A ban on all opposition and criticism was instituted and a political police force, the SIM, created.  Winston Churchill, among other Westerners, praised the new developments.  The revolution had been crushed and the state was now "respectable," but the Spanish Republicans were just as internationally isolated as ever. (315)

This is where Part One leaves off and Part Two begins.  The later opens with a hypothesis about how the Spanish Civil War forged the alliances that would square off during the Second World War. (315)  Later, Témime discusses why the bombing of Guernica was found so appalling at the time: Guernica was the religious (Catholic) capital of the Basque provinces -- inflaming especially French opinion -- and the incident had an international aspect to it, as it could be blamed on the Germans. (395)  Témime argues that Franco's Spain was not fascist: it didn't have any social achievements to boast of, nor any grand vision or territorial ambitions. (459)  Lastly, he details the fall of Barcelona and, finally, Madrid.

[1] Broué recalls one touching anecdote in which captured Italian Fascist forces are amazed to see their supposedly bloodthirsty "Red" captors of the Garibaldi Brigade sharing their rations with them in an act of brotherhood.  The Garibaldi Brigade had been, while simultaneously fighting, attempting to propagandize the opposing forces by, for instance, throwing leaflets weighted with rocks to the other side instead of grenades. (260)