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Post Thoughts on Francoist Historians
Created by John Eipper on 03/29/17 3:20 AM

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Thoughts on Francoist Historians (Paul Preston, -UK, 03/29/17 3:20 am)

José Ignacio Soler (29 March) writes with regard to the book by Roberto Villa and Manuel Álvarez Tardío, "I believe the book should be valued on its historical merits, its thoroughness and the credibility of its historical documentation, not on the authors' alleged political background." Indeed it should.

Here we have a book that purports to demonstrate that the elections of February 1936 that led to the victory of the Popular Front were rigged and that, in consequence, the Popular Front government was illegitimate. To this end, they have uncovered a number of examples of results being altered in favour of the left in some small towns. This, however, is far from justifying their conclusions. They have conveniently forgotten some crucial contextual points. First of all, elections in Spain traditionally (and some would say, to this day) favoured the party in government that arranged them. That was certainly the case in Spain in February 1936, where they were arranged by the notoriously corrupt Manuel Portela Valladares. This led to surprising results in his favour in the provinces of Pontevedra, La Coruña and Orense.

Villa and Álvarez Tardío have also ignored some major social realities. Outside of the major towns, the big landowners could swing elections in several ways--by withdrawing work from starving day-labourers, by offering food and/or blankets to labourers, by having thugs prevent left-wing election meetings by setting up road blocks to prevent speakers reaching the villages, on election day by stationing thugs next to the glass voting urns to make sure the votes went their way, by using the feared Civil Guard.

To give some specific examples, in the province of Granada the legal representatives of the Popular Front had been imprisoned during the elections, that armed gangs had controlled voting booths and that people had been forced at gun-point to vote for the Right. In Salamanca, results were rather more complex. All six of the victorious right-wing candidates were implicated in improperly soliciting the votes of the province's wheat-growers by offering to buy up their surplus stocks.

In the spring of 1936, the Popular Front had a majority on the committee for examining electoral validity, the Comisión de Actas. The committee acted with a punctilious legalism which, by excluding much evidence of falsification, frequently favoured the Right. In Santander, for instance, allegations of intimidation of Republicans were ignored for lack of proofs witnessed by notaries, and the rightist victory was confirmed. Other decisions went in favour of the Right in the provinces of Ciudad Real, Toledo and Ávila, for similar reasons. In Zaragoza province, evidence of intimidation aside, the results for seventy-eight villages were simply made up by the civil governor. Nevertheless, the rightist victory was approved because of a lack of legally acceptable documentary proofs.

To judge the validity of this book by authors who have made a career out of impugning the democratic Republic and justifying the Francoist military coup requires that it not be read in isolation but in the context of the dozens of local studies of elections that give a rather different picture.

JE comments:  Today in my 10 AM class I'll be delivering a one-hour quickie on the Spanish Civil War.  I've learned so much over the WAISyears from Paul Preston, Ángel Viñas, David Pike, Carmen Negrín (and others) that I don't even have to prepare!

Thank you for this critique, Paul.  A question:  did Spain in 1936 practice the "public urn" method of voting--i.e., put your ballot in the box corresponding to your preferred candidate?  Otherwise, the thugs wouldn't know how you voted.

Next, Ángel Viñas sends his response.

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