Previous posts in this discussion:
PostMurder of Giacomo Matteotti, 1924: Was Mussolini Involved? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 02/07/18 3:47 am)
I read with great interest the post of our friend Ángel Viñas, 3 February, about the fate of General Balmes.
Angel is a fine gentleman and a great historian. Maybe can also provide the final word on the fishy deaths of General Emilio Mola and why not General Sanjurjo. As I have stated before, I have no fondness for Franco but only for Josè Antonio Primo de Rivera.
Despite the above, however, I strongly believe that Mussolini never ordered the killing of Giacomo Matteotti, one of the leaders of the greatly reduced opposition, which founded a new Socialist Party after being expelled from the official Socialist Party. Matteotti was killed on 10 June 1924 by five extremist fascists whose leader was Amerigo Dumini, originally an US citizen. During the abduction, which was apparently intended only to be a beating, Matteotti put up strong resistance. One of the gang members stabbed him with a knife, killing him.
On 12 July Dumini and his accomplices were arrested and sent to jail. He remained in jail for a short time before a general amnesty in 1926.
After his release, he was arrested again in 1927 for transporting arms. He was detained again in 1932 and sent to the "confino" on the Tremiti islands. During the war Dumini was in Libya. He was taken prisoner by British Forces, who considered him a spy and sent him to the firing squad. He received 17 (seventeen) bullets but survived and escaped to Italy. During the RSI he was again arrested, then released. He began buying arms from the partisans, which were supplied by air by the Allies, and resold them to the RSI forces, always in need of arms.
In 1945 Dumini was again arrested by the new Italy and sentenced to life imprisonment, but he was released in 1956 under a new amnesty.
Mussolini was not behind such a man, as he was a crazy lone wolf who may even have been in cahoots with the monarchists. (Never forget that in Italy the king was the official head of state.) The monarchists wanted to cover up the scandal of the agreement with Sinclair Oil, in which the Crown was involved. Matteotti had drawn much attention to the scandal. Shortly after, Mussolini cancelled the accord.
The Socialist leader Carlo Silvestri at first believed Mussolini to be responsible for the murder, but then was convinced that he was innocent. He even became a friend of Mussolini during the RSI and, in agreement with Mussolini, tried to arrange a peaceful transfer of power on April 1945 from the RSI to the Socialist Party. But the bloodthirsty Reds made this impossible. Silvestri strongly defended Mussolini during the new trial of Dumini.& Company.
The great historian De Felice excluded Mussolini from involvement in the Matteotti murder. Matteotti's own son Matteo also believed the King was behind the assassination, not Mussolini.
Poor Matteotti was a corpse thrown at the feet of Mussolini, who after his triumph in the elections of 6 April 1924 with the 65% of the votes was planning to form a new government that included several socialist leaders such as Altobelli, Calda (director of the socialist newspaper Il Lavoro), the Union leader De Ambris (see the Carta del Carnaro at Fiume) and hopefully Amendola. This government was unacceptable to the King, the communists and the extreme socialists and fascists.
By the way, Casa Pound will participate throughout Italy in the elections next 4 March.
JE comments: That Dumini was as resilient as a cockroach. How did the British let him escape with 17 bullet holes? Didn't they check the body after shooting him? There's a dark film to be made here.
Eugenio, the (English) Wikipedia article on Matteotti says that Mussolini made the deal with Sinclair Oil, and Matteotti was leading the protest against signing away Italy's oil. Is this interpretation incorrect--or more precisely, "politically correct"?
Matteotti Murder, 1924
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
02/08/18 3:45 AM)
I thank Eugenio Battaglia (7 February) for his words of praise.
I do not claim to be an expert on the Matteotti case. I coincided with Professor Mauro Canali at the University of Copenhagen a few years ago. At that time his book Il delitto Matteotti was all the rage. If I remember him correctly, he stated that no direct order from Mussolini that Matteotti should be killed has ever been found. However, a lot of indirect documentary evidence points to the very strong possibility that this was indeed the case.
I do not claim to have found Franco's direct order for the assassination of Gen Balmes. Usually these kinds of instructions are not given in writing. That Hitler engineered the Night of Long Knives is beyond any doubt. I am however not aware that the instructions for the killings were previously given in writing. However he personally took responsibility later on because it was the right thing to do.
JE comments: Right thing to do? Hitler? Or am I misunderstanding?
Hitler's Legitimization of the Night of the Long Knives
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
02/09/18 12:57 PM)
In reply to John E' s query about Hitler and the killings during the Night of the Long Knives, I should like to say that I translated from memory the justification given by Hitler later on. It is one of the best-known quotations relating to the Nazi dictatorship. It was contained in a law published in the official Gazette. It had one article only: "Die zur Niederschlagung hoch- und landesverräterischer Angriffe am 30. Juni, 1. und 2. Juli 1934 vollzogenen Maßnahmen sind als Staatsnotwehr rechtens."
This is to say, the measures were made "legal" a posteriori. It was a matter of self-defense of the State. Franco and other generals (Mola, Queipo de Llano) provided for these kinds of measures by using a part of the Law of 1878 or so, which set the foundations for the Army´s activities (Ley Constitutiva del Ejército). By 1936 it had been in fact abolished. As good Catholics as Hitler himself, they needed some kind of "legal" camouflage.
JE comments: "Good Catholic" is said in jest, correct, Ángel? After his childhood, was Hitler ever a practicing Catholic, even superficially?
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
02/11/18 10:44 AM)
Regarding the interesting WAIS discussion on the turning points of WWII, two things came to mind:
Besides our inflection point discussion, what would be the "tipping point" of the war? How many were there?
Second, was Hitler a Catholic? In fact he might have been in 1937, as this little-known picture shows him coming out of church in an apparently pious, merciful and humble attitude.
JE comments: Is it possible to grasp "merciful" from a photograph? Does anyone know the backstory of this image? I would guess it was staged. Note the cross emerging, conveniently, from the Fuhrer's head.
I've found sources that place the photo at the Marine church in Wilhelmshaven. John Heelan has studied the history of photography. John?
Hitler's Catholicism and Hitler's Pope
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
02/14/18 3:05 AM)
In commenting on a photo of Hitler coming out of a Catholic church in Wilhelmshaven, John E asked me on February 11th, "Is it possible to grasp 'merciful' from a photograph?"
Of course, my statement about Hitler's "apparently pious, merciful and humble attitude" was purely sarcastic. It is obvious he was not humble or merciful for the matter.
On another topic, I respect Ángel Viña's reputation as a historian. However, sometimes his comments do not seem to be objective when referring the Spanish war and its protagonists. When Ángel sarcastically mentioned (11 February) the "splendid examples of the fervor of Ecclesia militante" in Spain during or after the Civil War, he might be right, but he might also have mentioned examples of the thousands of fervent crimes and assassinations of "bad priests, nuns or Catholic believers" by some Republican factions and infamous figures of the Spanish war and around the world in the 20th century.
The previous comment makes me think of another reflection. There are plenty of documents showing the intimate relation and complicity between the Catholic Church and the Nazi and Franco regimes; that is evident. I remember a book, El papa de Hitler (Hitler's Pope), by John Cornwell (1999), in which Pope Pius XII is shown to be directly responsible for being a passive and indifferent accomplice of the Nazi regime.
I suppose this was not the first time a religious ideology has merged with a political ideology in order to achieve their respective supremacy. I am thinking, for instance, of the roles of the Catholic church and the monarchies in the Middle Ages in the Western world, or the current Islamic regimes in which political and legal norms are intimately fused with religious beliefs.
In this regard, the modern concept of the secular state in most advanced societies, with no specific religious denominations, seems to be preferable, although many philosophers argue that a balanced fusion between religious morality, concerning personal rules of good and bad, and secular ethics, the legal differentiation of right and wrong, is always necessary. Otherwise, an eventual moral relaxation, laxity or decadency of society may occur.
JE comments: Institutional religion fused with political ideology: hasn't this been the rule of civilization since, well, civilization itself? The secular state of the last two centuries is just a blip on history's radar.
We've determined many times on WAIS that both sides carried out atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, although the Francoist forces certainly "won" the body count. In any case, Ángel Viñas was addressing only the topic of killings carried out under the banner of Catholicism.
Is Historical Objectivity Possible?
(Nigel Jones, -UK
02/15/18 4:21 AM)
José Ignacio Soler's post of February 14th raises an important and interesting question--viz. How far it is possible for historians to be "objective" in their interpretation of historic events?
I agree with José that Ángel Viñas and other WAIS posters on the Spanish Civil War are very keen to point out the iniquities of the Nationalists and the subsequent crimes of the Franco regime, but are far less vocal, if not completely silent, on the equivalent crimes of the Republic.
I recall no discussions on WAIS on the mass killing of clergy which José Ignacio cites, nor on the Paracuellos massacres in Madrid, in which between 1,000-4,000 Madrid citizens were slaughtered in a crime against humanity for which the evil Communist Santiago Carrillo was at least partly responsible.
Nor have I read much discussion about the Stalinist takeover of the Republic, against which Colonel Casado successfully revolted in Madrid in March 1939, nor any acknowledgement of the obvious fact that a Stalinist Spain would have been at least as murderous and oppressive as the Franco regime.
I would respectfully suggest that all this implies that pure objectivity in historical inquiry is impossible. However much we pretend otherwise, we are all prisoners of our political and other prejudices, and we should have the honesty to admit that fact, so that our books, articles etc. can be read with the appropriate health warning.
JE comments: I entered Paracuellos in the WAIS search engine, and came up with 32 hits. Most pointedly, Ángel Viñas specifically mentioned the "dark sides of the Republic" (including Paracuellos) his 2007 announcement of the second book of his Civil War trilogy, El escudo de la República. WAISer Boris Volodarsky has also published an entire book on Alexander Orlov, the Soviet agent largely responsible for Paracuellos.
I do agree with Nigel Jones about historical objectivity being an illusion. Might the only solution be the "health warning" Nigel proposes? Should there be a "solution"? Often, the most readable and memorable works of history are those with a strong narrative thesis.
Historical Objectivity and the Dark Sides of the Spanish Republic
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
02/16/18 4:18 AM)
I reply with alacrity to Nigel Jones's comments (February 15th) about my work and the iniquities carried out in Republican territory during the Spanish Civil War.
As any other historian, I choose the subjects I wish to investigate. Republican violence and subservience to Moscow diktats are two subjects pro-Franco historiography has emphasized since 1936. It goes on and on and on doing the same. Attempts to provide a less Manichaean approach were made by foreign scholars, whose work was generally prohibited in Franco's Spain.
Let me illustrate, if I may use this expression, Nigel:
1) Francoist and Republican violence have become the most vibrant chapters in today's Spanish historiography. Two directions are apparent. The most substantive deals with the former, totally obscured or ignored during the Franco years. The second tries to change the Francoist focus and interpretation. Paul Preston´s book on The Spanish Holocaust provides an excellent synthesis.
2) I devoted a whole chapter to Paracuellos in my book El escudo de la República, and squarely put the blame on Communist and Anarchist motivations. I haven't exonerated other political forces. By the way, Nigel should check his sources. Although there is a discussion about the number of victims at Paracuellos, 4000 is--literally--a bloody exaggeration.
3) El escudo is part of a whole tetralogy (the last volume written with Fernando Hernández Sánchez). Therein I have dealt with the SCW in its European frame. Pride of place was given to the relationship with the USSR. I based my argument on Soviet, British, French, German, and Spanish (both Francoist and Republican) materials directly out of the relevant public and occasionally private archives. I don't know any other author, Spanish or foreign, who has based his argument on such a variety of sources.
4) The last volume, El desplome de la República, [The Collapse of the Republic] deals with the alleged Stalinist attempt which Col. Casado´s coup was supposed to prevent. It's solidly based on Communist material, both Soviet and Spanish, critically examined and contextualized. Col. Casado was a liar and fell victim of a clever plot designed by Franco. My guess is that British Intelligence had a hand in providing help to Casado in writing his fallacious memoirs.
5) Since I´m ready to acknowledge my faults and Unzulänglichkeiten, I see no reason to proceed otherwise with other historians who are more indebted to their own ideologies than to a never-ending search for a true-to-document reconstruction of the past. Since in much of the English-language historiography on the SCW anticommunism is de rigueur, Nigel won't be surprised if some well-known English-language historians have been criticized in my work.
6) I´m a bit surprised at Nigel´s counterfactual conclusion. We objectively know how murderous the Franco side was in the Civil War and how murderous the Franco regime remained, in particular in the 1940s. Facts are facts. We also objectively know that the period of Republican repression which no author I know has ever denied was limited in time. Once the Government´s authority was restored, repression was channeled through the proper judicial instances. I take advantage of this occasion to recommend that Nigel not miss the forthcoming book by José Luis Martín Ramos, Guerra y revolución en Cataluña, given that in Catalonia the "red terror" was displayed a bit longer.
7) In general, I would recommend that WAISers see Hispania Nova, Nº 1 Extraordinario. Año 2015:
It contains an overview of many of the myths propagated about Franco and Francoism by a couple of US/Spanish authors claiming to have written an objective biography of Franco.
Although I´m rather busy promoting my new book on the first murder by Franco, and writing complementary posts in my blog (www.angelvinas.es) I´m more than happy to answer any questions arising out of the present message. Only the Lord knows the truth...
JE comments: Best of success with your latest, Ángel! You are a seasoned veteran of the book road show, but it still must be exciting every time.
Here's today's German lesson: Unzulänglichkeiten: inadequacies. They (inadequacies) sound much more impressive in German.
- A "Stalinist Spain" Was Never a Possibility (Paul Preston, -UK 02/17/18 5:45 AM)
The Spanish Civil War is an incredibly complicated subject with a bibliography of around 30,000 titles, the mastery of which requires years of specialisation. Nevertheless, the Spanish Civil War is a subject on which people who have read the flimsiest smattering of this bibliography, let alone done any archival work, feel entitled to make categorical statements.
In the present debate, the position of José Ignacio Soler and Nigel Jones (15 February) is that "Ángel Viñas and other WAIS posters on the Spanish Civil War are very keen to point out the iniquities of the Nationalists and the subsequent crimes of the Franco regime, but are far less vocal, if not completely silent, on the equivalent crimes of the Republic."
To begin with, that is a far from value-free statement. It is possible to talk of the "the iniquities of the Nationalists and the subsequent crimes of the Franco regime" precisely because the atrocities committed during the war and after were deliberate instruments of Francoist policy. It is not possible to talk of "the equivalent crimes of the Republic," because there were none, in the sense of "deliberate instruments of policy."
Of course, there were crimes committed within the Republic by anarchists, common criminals, Socialists and Communists. They amounted to around one-third of the number of crimes committed by the Francoists. I deal with this in considerable detail in my book The Spanish Holocaust, which I think Nigel has read. I have also written an intensely critical biography of Santiago Carrillo, the leader for decades of the Spanish Communist Party. In all my work, I have tried to see the good and bad on both sides, but overall doing so makes me as critical of Franco as their research has made colleagues like Ian Kershaw or Richard Evans critical of Hitler.
Nigel writes: "Nor have I read much discussion about the Stalinist takeover of the Republic, against which Colonel Casado successfully revolted in Madrid in March 1939, nor any acknowledgement of the obvious fact that a Stalinist Spain would have been at least as murderous and oppressive as the Franco regime." I cannot remember every contribution I have made to WAIS over the years. I may be mistaken, but I thought that I had written something on WAIS about Casado. I have certainly written a book about his activities: The Last Days of the Spanish Republic (2016), in which I demonstrate that he was a Francoist fifth-columnist who betrayed his many anti-Communist allies. It is not in fact the case that there was a "Stalinist takeover of the Republic," and what motivated Casado was to secure his own future after Franco's inevitable victory.
Nigel is absolutely right that "a Stalinist Spain would have been at least as murderous and oppressive as the Franco regime." However, to suggest that "a Stalinist Spain" might have existed is completely counter-factual. The only way that the Republic could have won the war would have been if British and French policy had been different and had supported the democratic Republic's rights at international law to defend itself. If that had been done, the Republic would never have had to turn to Moscow for aid and Stalin could have avoided the embarrassment of having to provide it and concentrate instead on fostering his alliance with France.
JE comments: The most detailed post on the Casado coup in the WAIS archives is from Ángel Viñas, 2013:
As far back as 2006, Paul Preston asked this simple question: if the Spanish Republic was in the hands (or nearly in the hands) of the Stalinists, why was Casado able to overthrow it in three days?
(So glad to hear from Paul for the first time in 2018. All the best to you, Paul, for a healthy and productive year.)
Thoughts on the Counterfactual of a "Stalinist Spain"
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
02/18/18 7:21 AM)
Returning to Nigel Jones's post on the Spanish Civil War (15 February), it hardly makes sense to try to add anything after Paul Preston's excellent comment of the 17th.
Indeed, in all Paul's books, especially those written in the past ten years or so, such as The Spanish Holocaust (2012), The Last Stalinist (2014), The Last Days of the Spanish Republic (2016) and the new updated edition of The Spanish Civil War (2016), the author seeks to present a very balanced picture, taking into account all possible pros and contras and typically trying "to see the good and bad on both sides."
In my own books El caso Orlov (Barcelona, 2013) and Stalin's Agent (Oxford, 2015), I hardly even mention Franco's repression. Rather, I fully concentrate on the activities of the Soviet side both in Moscow and in Spain in relation to the war. With facts and plenty of archival documents, I show that there had never been "Stalinist takeover of the Republic" and, what is more important, no "Stalinisation of Spain" was even possible for a variety of reasons.
Thus, we are coming to the next important issue raised by Nigel, whether "a Stalinist Spain would have been at least as murderous and oppressive as the Franco regime." To this question, unlike Paul, I would say, "I do not know but doubt it very much." But, as Paul correctly notes, to suggest that "a Stalinist Spain" might have existed is completely counterfactual and any speculation about what it would have been is counterproductive. First of all, the fact is there was no Stalinist Spain before or during the SCW. Another fact is that all so-called communist countries were different. If we take Bulgaria, East Germany, Albania and Yugoslavia even before Stalin's death, we shall see that they were all authoritarian with a strong ideological commitment but hardly "as murderous and oppressive as the Franco regime." We can probably compare Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR before 22 June 1941, but after Khrushchev succeeded Stalin as the leader of the Soviet Union, one can certainly not call the Soviet regime murderous and oppressive, despite all its drawbacks and excesses.
Now from past to present, on 1 March there's a seminar at the LSE's Cañada Blanch Centre, "Spaniards in the NKVD and the murder of Trotsky: A Reassessment" with Paul Preston and yours truly. Nigel Jones confirmed that he would also attend. It will be interesting to continue our discussion there.
JE comments: A WAIS mini-summit on a fascinating topic. I know the conversation will be lively. Boris, Nigel, Paul: please send a report.
Post Unpublished - please check back later
Was Khrushchev's Regime Murderous and Oppressive?
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
02/28/18 4:31 AM)
It can be daunting to discuss history in WAIS with so many great historians. But I was struck by Boris Volodarsky's recent post where he wrote: "after Khrushchev succeeded Stalin as the leader of the Soviet Union, one can certainly not call the Soviet regime murderous and oppressive" (February 18th).
I am surprised that Boris claims the Soviet regime was not oppressive and murderous after Stalin´s death in 1953.
Boris also mentioned that "no Stalinization of Spain" was possible; I tend to agree with him though I am not aware of his reason for claiming this. I guess it is because of the political opposition of the Western countries and cultural and religious traditions in Spain, all of which would have made this event highly difficult.
Of course it is hard for me to present evidence and documentation to argue against Boris's claims that the Soviet regime was not "oppressive and murderous"; however I dare to question it by recalling the infamous gulags, the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, people opposing the regime from annexed territories, and the political leaders, intellectuals, scientists and artists persecuted, imprisoned, exiled or even executed. Thousands of them were prosecuted for supposedly psychiatric reasons, or the persecution and executions of Jewish intellectuals, scientists, and artists ("The night of the murdered poets," August 1952). Apparently they all occurred after the WWI and continued after Stalin's death.
Only a few victims' names come to mind, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Solomon Mijoels, Vladímir Bukovski, Andrei Sakharov, Peretz Markish, David Bergelson, Itzik Feffer, Leib Kwitko, David Holstein.
I do not know for certain, but the number of prisoners in the gulags, since 1941, is said to have been close to 2 million, according to the Nicolas Werth papers. Of course the gulags also contained common criminals, but a great number were political and intellectuals prisoners.
By these arguments, shouldn't we call the Soviet regime "murderous and oppressive"?
JE comments: Boris Volodarsky was talking about the Khrushchev years. How active were the gulags after, say, 1956? By any measure, Khrushchev was a pussycat compared to Stalin. (Who wasn't a pussycat compared to Stalin?) Solzhenitsyn, for example, was rehabilitated after 1956.
Soviet Regime Post-1953 Was Not "Murderous and Oppressive"
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
03/01/18 4:29 AM)
With JE's permission, I shall answer José Ignacio Soler's questions of 28 February:
1. No, since the death of Stalin on 5 March 1953, the Soviet Union and then Russia have been very far from being "murderous and oppressive." However, as I have said in my previous post, there were excesses but we can discuss this topic forever.
2. The "Stalinization of Spain" was not possible because (a) Stalin did not want it; (b) the Politburo did not want it; (c) Spain did not want it. Nobody wanted it, except perhaps a few crazy fanatical communists on both sides whose opinion did not matter. There were other factors like, for example, the Red Army was too far away and the international situation was unfavourable, but the first three reasons are enough.
3. The Gulag. It was actually a directorate under the NKVD. In Western literature, it also somehow stands for forced-labour camps. According to Nicolas Werth quoted by José, the mortality rate in the Soviet forced-labour camps reaching 20% in 1942-3. It dropped to about 1-3% at the beginning of the 1950s.
--Alexander Solzhenitsyn was arrested in February 1945. From March 1953 he had lived in Kazakhstan. During Khrushchev's tenure, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, as I well remember, was studied in schools. In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature but did not want to go to Stockholm to collect his prize because he was afraid that he would not be permitted to come back to his beloved Russia. Expelled in 1974, lived very well in the West, returned to Russia in 1990 and continued to live very well. Was a friend of Putin.
--Solomon Mikhoels, my father's teacher and colleague, was murdered in January 1948.
--Vladimir Bukovsky, who I know rather well personally, a famous Soviet dissident, has been living for several decades in Cambridge, UK; recently accused by the Crown Prosecutors of collecting paedophilic pornography for 15 years...
--Andrey Sakharov, a designer of Soviet thermonuclear weapons, Nobel Prize for Peace in 1975, sent to internal exile in Gorky in 1979. Before and after lived extremely well.
--Peretz Markish, David Bergelson, Itzik Feffer, Leib Kvitko: all shot during the so-called Night of the Murdered Poets in August 1952.
I know of several David Holsteins. Who exactly do you mean?
José, I hope I have answered your queries.
JE comments: Boris, what can you tell us about the Solzhenitsyn-Putin relationship? I don't recall ever reading or hearing about it. Did Putin exploit Solzhenitsyn's Russian chauvinism for his own political program?
Best of luck today with your LSE lecture! I look forward to hearing about it.
Oppression, Repression, and the Post-Stalin USSR
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
03/01/18 7:34 AM)
On 1 March, Boris Volodarsky wrote about the character of the Soviet regime after the death of Stalin.
I would just like to write a word or two of support for his views, while trying to reconcile them with the views of some other WAISers. Of course, as everyone knows, Soviet citizens did not enjoy the civil rights and personal freedom which we cherish in the West, and which we--rightly, I think--consider fundamental to a civilized society. It is true that Soviet citizens were persecuted for their opinions, and, most importantly from the point of view of the average citizen, were not allowed to travel freely. Media of all kind were subject to strict censorship. Furthermore, the deeply socialist organization of the economy all but eliminated economic freedom and criminalized entrepreneurship. Many of us consider a regime with those features to be "oppressive," and I certainly agree.
However, there was a huge liberalization in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin, which ended the mass, largely random arrests and killings, and general terrorism of the population practiced by the regime, something which Soviet people sometimes call "repressiya"--repression, something different from "oppression." I think this is where Boris and some of the rest of us don't understand each other. From the Western point of view, these are indistinguishable shades of gray; but for Soviet people, the liberalization after the death of Stalin really transformed practical daily life into something which most people did not consider to be so bad.
I have posted about it before, but if you ask a number of former Soviet people (and not just Russians, but Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Georgians, etc.) what they think about Communism, and what their life was like during Soviet times, the majority of them (according to my experience) will say (1) "it was a horrible, oppressive system and thank God we're rid of it and those bastards [Communists]"; and, almost in the same breath: (2) "oh, we were so much happier then."
A lot of Western people think, based on absorbing a lifetime of Cold War propaganda, that Soviet people all felt unhappy and oppressed and just couldn't wait to shake off their chains and live just like the rest of us. But the reality was more complex than that. In fact, I think, most Soviet people were more or less satisfied with the system, other than the absence of freedom to travel (which several opinion polls have confirmed to have been that unfreedom which really galled Soviet people). What led to the collapse of the Soviet system was not people's demand for more freedom, but rather, the economic collapse of the late 1980s, which led to a literal bankruptcy of the Soviet Union.
As to Putin and Solzhenitsyn--I posted on this in 2008:
JE comments: Gosh, that was ten years ago. I strongly recommend Cameron's posts above, especially regarding Cameron's characterization of Solzhenitsyn as a "crank"--but (mostly) in a good way.
Solzhenitsyn, Maleter...and an Indictment of the Russians
(Istvan Simon, USA
03/07/18 1:53 AM)
I largely agree with Cameron Sawyer's post of March 1 on post-Stalin Russia, and I re-read and much appreciated his 2008 comments on Solzhenitsyn.
I agree with Cameron that Solzhenitsyn was a crank, an eternal critic. My views on him reflect closely the article written by Khrushchev's granddaughter commenting on Solzhenitsyn's death, "The Prophet and the Commissars":
I view not only Solzhenitsyn but much of contemporary Russian society the same way as Nina Khrushcheva does. For me it is an indictment of today's Russia that Putin remains so popular.
If I were a Russian, I may have embraced Putin immediately after he came to power. For I view his first term in office favorably, and I think that overall it was good for Russia. But the little dictator in him as well as the corrupt politician soon came to the surface in his subsequent terms in office, both as President, and then in the musical chairs game of him being Prime Minister under Medvedev and then the comedy of him being "elected" as president again. I have no doubt that he will be "re-elected" once again this year. The disqualification of a genuine opponent like Novotny makes the Russian "democracy" strangely similar to the "democracy" in Iran.
I would like to make a generalization of Russia which I think is also similar to what occurs in China. Both Russians and Chinese never experienced freedom in their long distinguished history. So I think that perhaps due to this fact, that they always lived under despots of one color or another, makes them uncomfortable with freedom.
Solzhenytsyn's stay in the United States is a perfect example of this. In America he was like a fish out of water, profoundly uncomfortable. His criticisms of the United States are in my opinion deeply demeaning to Solzhenytsyn, and characterize him as someone ungrateful for the hospitality he received in this country when he most needed it. One cannot say the same about his friend and fellow exile Mstislav Rostropovich. He, while never ceasing to be a Russian at heart, embraced this country, and in turn was loved and embraced by the United States, and contributed in marvelous ways to the cultural life of our country as the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra.
It is not that Solzhenytsyn could not criticize American consumerism or the supposedly spiritual emptiness he identified in our country. I may have agreed with part of this criticism if done in more temperate terms. But I dare say that as the hermit that he was in the United States he could not possibly have understood this vast country much at all. There is no spiritual emptiness in the United States, nor the decadence that he and Putin see in the West. There is freedom, a freedom I cherish, that allows you to live your life as you see fit, be it as the empty hyper-consumer he criticized, or in an Amish community that refuses to drive cars or have telephones. Alexander Solzhenytsyn never ever understood the greatness of America that allows both of these communities to co-exist in relative harmony.
One also should to criticize Solzhenytsyn for his craving of religion and the role that he thought it should have in society, for his craving for authoritarianism, for his lack of appreciation of freedom, and for his lack of enthusiasm for democracy. So Nina Khrushcheva got it just right in my view. He was both a Prophet to be admired, and a cranky malcontent to be despised.
I would like to also address Boris Volodarsky's comments on my compatriot Pál Maléter. I did not mention his past sins, whatever they may have been, because (a) I was not aware of them, but even if I were, (b) because they are irrelevant in view of his role in the Hungarian Revolution of October 1956. He was a Colonel in the Hungarian Army, so obviously he could not have risen to such a rank if he had not served the Communists. But that does not make him an opportunist, but merely a human being who was not a saint. He was also undoubtedly a hero of great courage and integrity in the Hungarian Revolution, and I am fairly sure that he will be forever remembered by history and Hungarians as a principled martyr of freedom.
Colonel Pál Maléter was ordered to put down the people that revolted in Hungary against their communist oppressors, to shoot them as dogs, and he courageously refused to do so, defied his orders and joined the revolution with his troops. This is an act of great courage and should be applauded and admired forever, not minimized much less excoriated as Boris did in his post. His subsequent actions, after the Soviet Union shamelessly invaded Hungary with a massive military force, were also heroic and highly honorable. His illegal arrest--yes, Boris, it was treacherous and illegal--speaks ill of the Russians who did so, and does honor Maléter as a fearless courageous hero. There is no possible excuse for the Russian actions. They were vile and disgraceful. The Russians did not have a right to be in Hungary as an armed force in the first place, but even if they were, in an act of brute force, they were still bound by international laws, so their arrest of Maléter was an act of dishonorable treachery.
So, Boris hardly ever addressed my criticisms of Russia by besmirching Maléter. Changing the subject, if I may say so, is not WAISworthy response. I have no objection that Boris bring up past sins of Pál Maléter if he wishes to do so, but they cannot exonerate the Russians of their treachery in Hungary.
JE comments: I'll second Istvan Simon's question: how can the Russian people's apparent support for Putin be anything but an indictment of their character? I say this with the triple caveat that 1) some of my best friends are Russian, all of whom are of excellent character, and some (not all) of them admire Putin; 2) the "cannot handle freedom/democracy" argument smacks of condescension; and yes, 3) look at the log in our own eyes, with the current occupant of the White House.
Speaking of Vladimir Vladimirovich, is he up to his old poisoning tricks? There's been an incident outside a UK supermarket. Boris Volodarsky will explain later today.
- Soviet Union Post-1953, Revisited: A Murderous and Oppressive Regime? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 03/04/18 4:02 AM)
I must sincerely thank Boris Volodarsky (March 1st) for his comments about the non-"murderous and oppressive" Soviet Union after Stalin death and the unlikely Stalinization of Spain.
I have no doubt about Boris's latter point, but I still question Boris's appraisal of the Soviet Union. As Boris says, we could discuss this topic forever.
Maybe the USSR was not as murderous after Stalin's death as during his regime, but we would have to scrutinize the metrics of counting murders and victims to compare the regimes. The question is not whether it was murderous or not.
Regarding the statement about the post-1953 Soviet Union being "oppressive" or not, I definitely do not agree with Boris. First, out of ideological principle, I do not believe there has been in recent history a Communist or centralized socialist regime that has not been oppressive in the political, economic or social spheres. It is a basic trait of communist ideology and praxis.
Finally, I was a child during the 1950s and the '60s, but I remember witnessing the political control of the Soviets over their citizens, their economic activities, and their social life. It is also difficult to forget the oppression of the countries behind the so-called Iron Curtain--Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc.--and the Soviets' violent military reactions to their attempts at reform.
In conclusion, it is very difficult to accept that the Soviet Union was not "murderous and oppressive" for many years after Stalin´s death.
JE comments: One powerful "litmus test" of the Soviet regime was its restriction on travel. (Cameron Sawyer recently pointed this out as the biggest inconvenience of life in the USSR.) Oppressive regimes of the right rarely prevent their citizens from traveling abroad.
I have a question for the WAISitudes: what was the least oppressive Communist regime of the 1970s and '80s? Hungary? Yugoslavia? A case could probably be made for Poland, too.
- Soviet Regime Post-1953 *Was* "Murderous and Oppressive" (Istvan Simon, USA 03/01/18 5:11 AM)
I have to agree with José Ignacio Soler (28 February), who disputed Boris Volodarsky's statement that the Soviet Union after Stalin was supposedly no longer murderous and oppressive. Of course it was, even though the oppression under Khrushchev may have been less extreme than it had been under Stalin.
Need I remind Boris that Hungary was invaded in 1956 and that Pál Maléter was taken prisoner by the Russians, against international law, taken to the Soviet Union, and subsequently murdered? So was Imre Nagy, who had taken refuge at the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest, lived there for several years, promised and given a written safe conduct so he would leave, yet arrested when he did and also murdered? Under what International law can the Soviet Union arrest the leaders of Hungary in 1956, take them to the Soviet Union and murder them? What about Alexander Dubček in 1968, who did not even overthrow communism, but was simply a leader who tried "socialism with a human face"? The Soviet Union interfered in the internal affairs of all Eastern Europe's oppressed countries, and imposed a state of terror, treachery and repression decades after Stalin's death.
There were of course many Russian victims of Khruhschev and company as well. How about Mstislav Rostropovich, perhaps the greatest cellist of the 20th century, who was not allowed to perform in major venues in the Soviet Union, or to leave and perform abroad, and instead was harassed constantly for his dissent, until the regime decided that exiling him would be less onerous than to continue his persecution? Shostakovich, Boris Pasternak, all the greats mentioned by José Ignacio? What about Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoes in the UN?
Like Rostopovich, Sviatoslav Richter was much admired as possibly the greatest pianist of the Soviet era. He too was harassed. In a documentary shortly before his death, he described how he was being followed both inside the Soviet Union and abroad by the regime's agents.
In a moving documentary, Rostropovich years later recalled how celebrated violinist David Oistrakh had walked with him in a park and had told him: "Slava, I admire your integrity and courage, a courage I do not have. I can't forget the terror I felt in Odessa, when they banged on the doors at 3 am in our building, and as I was trembling huddled with my wife and little son, waiting to be arrested in our apartment, the relief that they took a neighbor instead. I love you Slava, but tomorrow you will read my denunciation of you in the newspapers that I was asked to sign."
Oh yes, the Soviet regime was murderous and oppressive to the end.
JE comments: Istvan Simon reminds us that few Hungarians would find the Khrushchev regime anything but "murderous and oppressive." One metric is to compare the USSR after 1953 against Stalinism; another is to compare it to international standards of human rights. (I know, I know: the US track record during those years wasn't so stellar either. Look no further than overthrowing Arbenz in Guatemala, McCarthyism, Jim Crow...)
Pal Maleter, Patriot or Opportunist?
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
03/04/18 3:37 AM)
If Istvan Simon wants to discuss the life and death of Pál Maléter, his service with the Nazi troops, his membership in the Communist party, his special GRU training for covert subversive operations, his mass executions and his 'unlawful' arrest after he changed sides for the third or fourth time, I shall be ready to do it. I wonder why Istvan doesn't mention Imre Nagy and Miklós Gimes, who were executed together with Maléter.
JE comments: Istvan did mention Nagy in his post of March 1st--specifically how Nagy was coaxed out of the Yugoslavian embassy with a promise of safe passage, and then arrested and executed.
Maléter did serve under many different flags. How is he remembered in Hungary today?
- Shostakovich, Pasternak, Rostropovich: Living it Up (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 03/06/18 8:54 AM)
Responding to Istvan Simon's post (March 1st), I am sorry to say this is a fruitless discussion. To compare Khrushchev's regime, commonly known as "Thaw," with that of Stalin, Hitler or Franco is non-productive. For starters, I will simply quote from Wikipedia: "Krushchev's Thaw refers to the period from the early 1950s to the early 1960s when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were relaxed, and millions of Soviet political prisoners were released from Gulag labor camps due to Nikita Khrushchev's policies of de-Stalinization and peaceful coexistence with other nations."
The Soviet Union at that period intervened in Hungary (1956)? That means that at that very time the United States probably behaved like a teddy bear? Should I perhaps remind you of the Vietnam War? Or better perhaps Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Agent Orange, Napalm and other products of "True Western Democracy"? Should I mention Operation Mongoose and the extraordinary 638 attempts to kill the President of Cuba? Should I write about Guatemala, Chile and other places? JE also added McCarthyism. Should I mention all progressive people by names who had suffered from it?
Here are the names from Istvan's list:
--Dmitri Shostakovich: member of the Supreme Soviet of Russia (1947-62) and then the USSR (1962 until his death), that is, a lifetime MP in the Soviet parliament with a very high pay and plenty of perks. Shostakovich first fell from the official favour in 1936 because he was a friend of Marshal Tukhachevsky, which meant a lot when Tukhachevsky was at the very top: women, best wines and restaurants, best sanatoriums, best dachas, best travels--all free of charge. Tukhachevsky was shot but nothing happened to Shostakovich. The second time Shostakovich fell out of favor was in 1948 and, imagine, he even had some of his privileges withdrawn. According to Wikipedia, "for Shostakovich, the loss of money was perhaps the largest blow." To restore his status Shostakovich composed the cantata "Song of the Forests" praising Stalin as the "great gardener." Nabokov immediately responded that Shostakovich was "not a free man, but an obedient tool of his government." After Stalin's death he married his second wife, a Komsomol (Young Communist League) activist and in 1960 joined the Communist party. Shostakovich's awards include three Orders of Lenin, one Golden Medal of the Hero of Socialist Labour plus a great number of other high Soviet decorations. He quietly died in his bed in August 1975.
--Boris Pasternak: Aged 51 when the war in Russia began, he had been kept deep in the rear until the war's end; good life, good food, plenty of women, a wonderful dacha in the best place near Moscow. His world-famous Doktor Zhivago (nothing special, to my taste) was completed in 1956, Nobel Prize for Literature awarded in 1958. And now from Wikipedia again: "The issue of whether or not the CIA had a hand in creating the international controversy that led to Pasternak's winning the Nobel Prize was definitively settled on 11 April 2014 when the US Central Intelligence Agency released 'nearly 100 declassified documents' confirming that it had, in fact, undertaken a massive propaganda campaign to influence the Nobel Prize committee to consider Zhivago for the award, starting as early as 12 December 1957: 'Dr. Zhivago should be published in a maximum number of foreign editions, for maximum free world discussion and acclaim and consideration for such honour as the Nobel prize' [sic]. In order to turn Pasternak's novel into an international bestseller worthy of consideration for the Nobel Prize, the CIA purchased thousands of copies of the novel as they came off the presses throughout Europe. When in the summer of 1958 the Dutch publishing house of Mouton brought out an edition of Zhivago, the CIA secretly arranged to 'obtain first thousand copies of the book off the press and of these send 500 copies to the Brussels Fair' (i.e., the World Fair held that summer in Brussels, Belgium)." Pasternak died in his dacha in Peredelkino in May 1960. He got his dacha free of charge; its today's price is about 6 million dollars.
--Mstislav Rostropovich: he voluntarily left the USSR with all his family in 1974 and settled in the USA. One of the richest men in Soviet art and music. Several fantastic properties in Paris, a great private art collection, buried in the most prestigious Moscow's Novodevichie cemetery near Boris Yeltsin. Rostropovich's awards list covers three pages.
Does it make sense to continue?
What I really do not like are those Cold War propaganda issues: what about Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoes in the UN New York headquarters? Nothing, really. And what about Frau Merkel waiting for four hours until President Putin receives her in the Kremlin? And what about Berlusconi, Schröder, Prodi, Gusenbauer, Blair, Lord Bell and others working for the Soviet dictators? And what about Putin keeping Her Majesty the Queen of England waiting for 14 minutes before their meeting in 2003?
Below a piece to entertain yourself:
JE comments: I never knew about the CIA Pasternak conspiracy. Fascinating. And I agree with Boris Volodarsky about Dr Z: it's not that great of a novel. (Now I can't get "Somewhere My Love" out of my head.) For twentieth-century Russian historical fiction, I much prefer Sholokhov's Quiet Don series.
Regarding Putin forcing world leaders to wait, wasn't that one of Stalin's trademarks as well? I do know that the Vozhd' was fond of rousing his underlings from their beds for meetings in the middle of the night.
Shostakovich, Pasternak, Rostropovich: They Did NOT Live It Up
(Istvan Simon, USA
03/09/18 3:59 AM)
This is a response to Boris Volodarsky's latest reply to me (March 6th).
be justifiably bitter about Russia, for I witnessed what Russia did in
Hungary in 1956. But I am not bitter about Russia. I love Russia,
and I love many Russians, who are my friends.
I do not generalize the disgraceful behavior of the Soviet Union
under Khrushchev in Hungary and later in Czechoslovakia under
Brezhnev to all Russians or to Russia as a whole. I admire much about
Russia, from Russian science to the arts. So please relax, Boris, and
try to answer the criticisms I direct at Russia, which are all very
well deserved in my opinion, not as a personal attack on you, nor as
an attack on Russia as a whole. Do not answer criticism of Russia by
attacking any other country. It is irrelevant for the argument, and
changing the subject cannot justify what Russia has done wrong.
Now back to Russia with more specific answers.
Dmitri Shostakovich: What difference does it make that Shostakovich
was an MP from 1947, well-paid or whatever? The fact is that his
music was denounced as decadent in Pravda, and he had to withdraw his
Fourth Symphony as a result of it. He had to change his composition
style to a more conservative approach that allowed him to return to
the "good" side of the regime, the "approved," "socialist" side, so he
could get all those perks that Boris talks about. This is a defense of
Soviet Russia? I don't think so. This is just changing the subject.
Boris Pasternak: Once again, in my view Boris Volodarsky gives a lot of
interesting but ultimately irrelevant facts. None of it matters,
because none of it hides once again the central issue of why I cited
Pasternak in the first place: the fact that under the Soviet Union
the arts were supposed to be subservient to the State, to serve a
"social" purpose as defined by the regime. This is the central issue,
and none of the considerations made by Boris addresses this truth. By
the way, I knew Suzana Pasternak personally, who ended up as a
student in the same school I attended in Brazil.
Mstislav Rostropovich: This is perhaps the worst of Boris's "answers"
to my post. It starts out with an error: that Rostropovich left
voluntarily. No he did not, Boris. He was forced out by a relentless
political persecution by a regime gone mad. It was not that
Rostropovich desired to live in the West; he did not. If he had wanted
to, he could have defected at any time when he was in the good graces
of the Soviet government, when he could travel to give concerts in the
West, where he became a legendary cellist much before he got in
trouble with the Soviet regime, for inviting Solzhenitsyn, who had
fallen into disfavor of the regime, to live in his home. He was
shamelessly persecuted for this. That Rostropovich received many
honors, and riches, so what? He obviously deserved it, as the greatest
cellist of the 20th century.
Why is Boris unable to acknowledge
unvarnished the awful truths about his ex-country?
JE comments: It's hard to acknowledge the unvarnished, alas, although Istvan Simon has several times given a shellacking to his Brazilian homeland. (I don't recall Istvan ever criticizing Hungary, however, or especially Israel.) The "and you are lynching Negroes" response has a long rhetorical tradition in Russia, and old habits die hard. I should stress to Istvan that I started these salvoes when I said the United States had its own warts in the 1950s with the Arbenz overthrow, McCarthyism, and Jim Crow.
The Volodarsky-Simon polemic raises a valuable question: which do you prefer, freedom or luxury? All but the very noblest among us would probably opt for the latter. I've never had to make the choice.
- Historical Objectivity Again...and a Difficult Choice (Nigel Jones, -UK 02/21/18 10:52 AM)
I am genuinely grateful to Ángel Viñas and Paul Preston for their thorough and honest answers to my query on whether historical objectivity is possible, particularly relating to the Spanish Civil War.
I respect the work of these two preeminent historians of the Spanish Civil War enormously, and in Paul's case I think I have read and profited from all his books on the subject.
Notwithstanding all that, I stick to my beliefs that the Spanish Republic in 1936 was in a state of intolerable violence and murderous anarchy--in which, for example, the leader of the Parliamentary opposition was hauled from his bed by Government police agents and murdered--and that the Army was fully justified in rising to restore order.
Spain's tragedy, in my view, was that the rising was only half successful. This led to brutal and bloody civil war in which the two sides were obliged to seek support from the twin totalitarian ideologies: Soviet Communism on one hand, and Fascism and Nazism on the other.
This resulted inevitably in the Nationalists taking on a Fascist character, and the Republic falling under the sway of Stalinism.
I know that Colonel Casado's coup is anathema to the Left, but he did not act alone: he was supported by moderate Socialists and Anarchists, both of whom saw clearly that the Stalinists had taken over the key positions in what remained of the Republic.
If Casado was a Franco agent, as Ángel alleges, surely he would have been rewarded for his efforts by the Generalissimo? Instead of a Dukedom however, he went into voluntary exile in Venezuela for two decades, only returning to Spain in 1961.
But returning to my original question, the answers given by both Paul and Angel confirm my original suspicion: that historical objectivity is impossible, and that the work of historians is inevitably informed by their own prejudices.
I certainly do not except myself from this judgement. I am a small-c conservative and loathe both Fascism and Communism. But if asked to choose whether I would have preferred to live in Francoist Spain or Stalinist eastern Europe, having experienced both societies in the 1970s, I would unhesitatingly have plumped for the former. It is, to coin a phrase, a no-brainer. Fortunately I did not have to make that choice.
JE comments: Franco's Spain, from the 1960s, was a more amusing place than the grim and dour Socialist East Bloc, but this perhaps has less to do with politics than with culture and geography. Would anyone in WAISworld pick, say, East Germany over Francoist Spain?
There Was No Danger of a Stalinist Spain
(Carmen Negrin, -France
02/23/18 2:53 AM)
Obviously it is for Paul Preston and Ángel Viñas to respond again to Nigel Jones (21 February) if they so wish, but I will add my little grain of salt.
We are talking here about objectivity.
Nigel says that today, retrospectively, he still prefers Franco's Spain to a supposed Stalinist Republic.
I would point out that Mola had spelled out very early and very clearly his concept of an ideal fascist Spain, before the coup. His texts are historical objective facts.
Yagüe, Quiepo de Llano, and Franco's lust for murder was also very clear before the coup. After 1934, Franco in particular was sent as far away as possible from the mainland. This is also a historical fact.
I find it difficult to believe that any civilized person could approve today of the doings of such a group of persons and, even more so, pretend that they could or, worse, did bring law and order. I was going to make a comparison with Trump, but I will skip that.
As for the Stalinist side of the Republic, we have already been through this several times, so I will only reiterate that, from my personal knowledge of a number of its Republican leader(s), there was no risk that Spain would ever become Stalinist in their hands. This was of course a very useful and recurrent argument used by Franco and his followers, but it remains a hypothesis.
Stalin became an ally of the Republic, just like he did of the USA during WWII, and that didn't put the US at risk of Stalinism. De Gaulle had communists in his government but was never accused of being Stalinist or falling in the hands of the PCF.
It is easy to criticize obvious dramatic excesses such as Paracuellos (which was not in line with the government's instructions--another fact) and to omit Sevilla, Bilbao, la Carretera de Málaga, Guernica and so on; on the Republican side law and order was installed (dans la mesure du possible), in the midst of the war and in spite of it, at a relatively early stage (1937), while murder, including of civilians, was encouraged on the rebel side, before, during and long after the war.
Paul's book, The Spanish Holocaust, provides numbers in as much as they are available (facts). Talking about Sotelo and omitting the fact that the Falangistas did everything in their power to provoke disorder prior to the war is not objective history.
It is also a fact that Franco got the support of Mussolini before the war, as well as of Hitler from the very beginning. Without their help, the coup could not have taken place or succeeded. It is also a fact that the Russians (Soviets) didn't get involved until much later and in a very different proportion. Moreover, this only happened because of the so-called Non-Intervention of the Democrat nations (facts).
Had the French, or the British or the Americans, helped the democratically elected and legal government, the USSR would not have been in the picture: I would say that the "democratic" non-intervention was totally unfair, cynical, etc., but it is an objective fact that it was simply unbalanced and benefited the rebels.
As far as Casado was concerned, Ángel or Paul can of course say much more than I can, but I will only recall that as Nigel says, he returned to Spain before the amnesties and "with blood on his hands," since he was a republican military and yet nothing happened to him (fact). This is not bad, considering that he envisaged Franco's post and that Franco did not appreciate sharing power. Casado probably got his military pension back before all the others had it reinstated.
The moderate Socialists joining Casado were in particular Besteiro who was very ill, against the war from the beginning, and ended up simply being a traitor like Casado and quite a few others.
The main problem of the Republic was the lack of solidarity and foresight of too many of their leaders, including Azaña and Prieto. But it was also a lack of foresight, selfishness, and fear of Hitler from the part of the Democratic countries.
The omission of facts is also a lack of objectivity.
Last but not least, of course Franco's Spain was a much jollier place to be in--for some--in particular for the tourists who could get wonderful service at wonderful prices! For others, there was fear, censorship or happy ignorance. For instance, not even knowing that they had been stolen from murdered parents to be given away or sold to some infertile fascist.
Spain is still impregnated by national-Catholic Francoism, and is a country where privileges are still part of the normal. The recent burial of the daughter of Franco is a mere example. She was buried inside a church (forbidden since 1983 by the Vatican) and in the city (forbidden since Carlos III). None of this bothered or bothers Spain's neighbors, as long as they can still go and enjoy the monuments and the sun or make interesting investments.
JE comments: Saved from Stalinism (and its New World corollary, Saved from Castroism) has justified many a right-wing coup. It would be interesting to assemble a list. Franco must have been the first, as Stalinism was still in its relative infancy in 1936. To this we should add Chile in 1973, Argentina in '76, Indonesia in '65...
Carmen Negrín literally grew up with this history, and adds a valuable perspective to our discussion. A question: from what we know of the Soviet perspective, did Stalin ever express an interest in the Stalinization of Spain?
Did Stalin Ever Seek to Establish a "Stalinist Spain"? What About a Hispanic Russia?
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
02/24/18 6:50 AM)
In his comment to Carmen Negrin's post of 23 February, JE asked: "from what we know of the Soviet perspective, did Stalin ever express an interest in the Stalinization of Spain?"
I shall simply say no, to the best of my knowledge there exists no document (public or secret speech, instruction to the NKVD, Politburo or anything else) that can prove Stalin's interest in the "Stalinization" of Spain. On the contrary, and that will partly be a topic of my LSE lecture on 1 March, what Stalin was really careful to avoid was a possible "Spanification" of the Soviet Union.
One of the factors influencing Stalin's foreign policy was the war in Spain that convinced him that Western democracies--England and France--were incapable and unwilling of standing up to Germany. It quickly became clear that the policy of non-intervention made no sense, so Stalin decided to enter the war in support of Spanish Republicans fighting the "fascists." In my books, I go into considerable detail explaining why Stalin made such a decision.
After an initial period of caution, the Soviet Union intervened. Newly available documents from the Soviet archives confirm that at the initial period of war Stalin was deeply involved in Spanish affairs. All currently available evidence clearly shows that after analysing information coming from Spain via diplomatic, Comintern, NKVD and especially RU (future GRU) channels, Stalin believed Republican defeats during the first months were caused by saboteurs in the ranks. That was also the war that had given us the concept of the "fifth column"--the term that quickly became embedded in the Soviet leaders' political lexicon and still remains in active use these days.
In early February 1937, top Soviet representatives in Spain received a telegram asserting that a series of failures at the front had been directly caused by treachery: "Make use of these facts, discuss them observing caution with the best of the Republican commanders... so that they may demand... an immediate investigation of the surrender of Málaga, a purge of Franco agents and saboteurs from the army headquarters."
War in Spain and repression in the USSR escalated in parallel. During the spring and summer of 1937, the urgent call to expose spies and forestall political treason became the basis of merciless repression against the saboteurs and foreign agents within the most powerful Soviet institutions--the Central Committee, NKVD and the Red Army. On 2 June 1937, Stalin explained to the members of the NKO's Military Council: "They wanted to turn the USSR into another Spain." The NKVD station's and Soviet military advisers' reports of treachery and anarchy in Spain were an important component of the propaganda campaign to "intensify vigilance" and fight against "enemies of the people" within the USSR.
In May, June and July 1937, Soviet newspapers were filled with articles about arrests of German spies in Madrid and of Trotskyite uprisings in Barcelona, as well as of the fall of the Basque capital brought about by treacherous officers in the Basque army. The Spanish police and its counterintelligence services and the Soviet secret police each worked to crush their own "fifth column." In the USSR, the first victims of the Great Terror were veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
For the fellow members of the Politburo and the Central Committee, Stalin had logical and convincing arguments: like in Spain, the young Soviet government had many internal enemies who might be keeping a low profile at the moment but were ready to leap into action as soon as there was a chance; covert and overt members of the opposition were surely eager to take revenge after their defeat, humiliation and persecution; finally, there were many who would dream of following the Spanish example and launch another civil war against the regime especially in anticipation of an imminent war with a foreign enemy.
Stalin, observing the situation in Spain, became convinced of the need to purge the homeland in the interests of military readiness. As one Russian historian has observed, "the Spanish Civil War was bringing to the fore a familiar assortment of ills, including anarchy, guerrilla warfare, sabotage, a drifting and ambiguous line dividing the front from the rear, and all manner of treachery." This should have been avoided by all means.
JE comments: Boris Volodarsky reminds us of Stalin's profound paranoia. We see this now in pathological terms, but how could he have been absolutely certain, during the Spanish conflict, that a Franco would not emerge in his own midst? The Hispanization of the USSR, indeed.
Stalin's Fear of a "Franco" in His Midst
(John Heelan, -UK
02/25/18 4:28 AM)
When responding to Boris Volodarsky on February 24th, JE asked, "How could [Stalin] have been absolutely certain, [at time of the] Spanish conflict, that a Franco would not emerge in his own midst?
By purging potential rivals like Kirov, Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1936, Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov in 1938 and Trotsky in 1940--as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army and 7 leading generals who were shot in 1937.
In 1938-39, all the admirals and half the Army's officers were executed or imprisoned. In the same period of time thousands of religious leaders were imprisoned while churches were closed. The purges affected not only those who openly opposed Stalin, but ordinary people too. During Stalin's rule of the country, over 20 million people were sent to labor camps, where nearly half of them died.
JE comments: From time to time, it's sobering to review Stalin's grim Roll of Death. I've studied my fair share of Soviet history, but I could never distinguish between Zinoviev and Kamenev. History will forever pair them up, like Abbott and Costello, Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates, Trinidad and Tobago...
Z and K were both born in 1883 and died on the same day: August 25th, 1936. (This was just over a month after Franco's rebellion.) I had forgotten, until a Wikipeek, that K was the brother-in-law of the hated Trotsky.
Boris Volodarsky speculated that Stalin's purges of his military brass were inspired by his need to eliminate all potential Francos. The timing is convincing--sort of. Stalin was a purge virtuoso before the Caudillo ever left his barracks. Did Stalin need any "help" to unleash his paranoia?
Stalin's Fear of Spain's Revolutionary Elan; Revisiting the Casado Coup
(Paul Preston, -UK
02/25/18 3:54 PM)
Just to clarify what Boris Volodarsky was talking about (I dare do so on the basis of many conversations with him over the years and, of course, reading his books)--the worry for Stalin was not that a Franco would appear in his midst; it was that the image of the revolutionary élan shown by the Spanish resistance to the military coup might lead the Russian populace to question the repressive methods of his dictatorship.
There are parts of Nigel Jones's post (25 February) with which I agree and others with which I don't. For me, having written a book on the Casado coup (The Last Days of the Spanish Republic), the most questionable is the assertion "It is a 'fact' that--contrary to Carmen Negrín's claims--the Stalinist Communist party of Spain had gained a commanding position in the Spanish Republic's political and military hierarchy in the course of the Civil War, which is why Casado launched his coup against them, and why that coup was supported by moderate Socialists like Besteiro and Anarchists like Mena."
The Communists had significant importance in part of the Spanish Republic Army, but not in the army of the Centre which was largely controlled by Casado. The basic reason why he launched his coup was not to overthrow a Communist-dominated government but rather to secure his own future with Franco. His constant contacts with the Francoist Fifth Column and secret service had led him to believe that, for making the coup, he and other senior military figures involved would keep their pensions and maybe even their ranks. They were soon disabused as soon as Franco got what he wanted, which was the collapse of the Republic. Negrín was not prepared to participate in a civil war within the civil war and the hierarchy of the Communist Party took the same line. Both went into exile on 6 March 1939, the day after the coup. Communists in Madrid were outraged and fought Casado but were defeated within a week.
So much for the Stalinist dictatorship in Spain. As for Casado's supporters, he had told each of the groups a different tale. Besteiro was led to believe by Casado and his own Fifth Column contacts that, after Franco's victory, there would be a benevolent regime. He was enlightened by his own imprisonment during which he died a particularly cruel death, from untreated septicaemia. Other Socialists, the supporters of Largo Caballero, were out for revenge against Negrín for having displaced their utterly incompetent idol in May 1937.
As for the anarchists, the group that linked up with Casado were anything but moderate. Cipriano Mera was the most moderate of them but overall, Mera included, they were killers to a man, the men who had organised the checas in Madrid. They claimed to want to be rid of Negrín because they regarded him as an incompetent defeatist and instead promised a major renewal of the war effort once he was overthrown. They did nothing about that just as none of them, soldiers, anarchists or Socialists, did anything to ensure the evacuation of Republicans (to which Negrín devoted himself when he left Spain). The anarchists in question sped in luxury limousines to Gandía where they (not including Mera) and Casado were taken by the Royal Navy to a Britain which took very few refugees but did accept these anarchist killers.
JE comments: Thank you for clearing up my misunderstanding, Paul. Regarding the Casado coup, it's clear that when the Republic was in its death throes, opportunism never faltered.
Negrin, Casado, and a Correction
(Paul Preston, -UK
02/26/18 5:24 AM)
I have just noticed a dreadful howler in the final line of my post of February 25th.
Where I wrote, "The anarchists in question sped in luxury limousines to Gandía where they (not including Mera) and Negrín were taken by the Royal Navy to a Britain which took very few refugees but did accept these anarchist killers," I should have written, "The anarchists in question sped in luxury limousines to Gandía where they (not including Mera) and Casado were taken by the Royal Navy to a Britain which took very few refugees but did accept these anarchist killers."
Negrín had long since been in exile in France.
I should also have mentioned that the reason why the "heroic anti-communist" view of Casado prevails in more general surveys of the Spanish Civil War is that the his falsified memoirs have been the principal source used. They have now been totally debunked by Ángel Viñas, myself and others.
JE comments: Something seemed off-kilter when I posted the original. Happy to make the correction, Paul. A followup: how exactly were Casado's memoirs debunked? This must have involved exhaustive cross-referencing and the search for contradicting testimony. Casado's lot is typical of the turncoat: despised by all sides.
Spanish Civil War: Sundry Topics
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
02/28/18 2:42 PM)
I´m so sorry I've missed the recent WAIS exchange on the Spanish Civil War. I was ill before going to Somerset and have been after my return to Brussels. Yesterday I had ample opportunity to compare the treatment patients receive at A&E [Accident and Emergency, the US equivalent of Emergency Room--JE] yards in one Brussels hospital near home and the horror pictures broadcast almost nightly by the BBC on British A&E conditions.
I have a great workload to go through, but I cannot resist the temptation to say a few words. If and when I feel better I´ll return to some topics.
1. Casado's debunking: His memoirs at the end of the war, The Last Days of Madrid, were published immediately in English. Casado had no English. They were translated. His MS in Spanish is available at the Avila Military Archives. It was kept by his aide-de-camp who remained in England to the end of his days and made a small fortune in the restaurant business. He also kept his correspondence with Casado after WWII. I think I was the first historian to access that material. One must compare his early memoirs with the latest version, written in the 1960s in Madrid, with a view to supporting Francoist interpretations in the hope of getting some money. He was broke. It´s a pitiful and sorry story. British Intelligence (possibly MI6) helped him with The Last Days and was instrumental in getting him to Latin America after WWII. Casado seems to have been offered some position in London but for reasons unknown he never took it. It was possibly in connection with the work of the infamous International Research Dept at the FO, where other anticommunist luminaries also served. All this is explained in the book I wrote with Fernando Hernández Sánchez, El desplome de la República, and in an article published in English in a journal and in book format.
2. Sovietization of the Republican Government: As Carmen Negrín and Paul Preston have pointed out this was the major justification for the coup. Nigel Jones is a bit behind the times. The Spanish Right nowadays puts the emphasis on other more intemporal subjects: the alleged state of anarchy in the spring of 1936 and the Sovietization of the Socialist party (which is still in existence and therefore the enemy to do battle with). It was always a fallacy. It crops up in the three volumes of my study on the Republic at war and in the Desplome. I would like Nigel Jones et al. to give me their sources for their absurd allegations. They don´t need to refer to Sir Antony Beevor or Prof. Stanley G. Payne. I´m familiar with their writings.
3. Moscow Gold: I debunked the Francoist myth in 1976 in a book immediately suppressed by the Spanish Government of the time, although my research was Government-approved. After the elections of June 1977 my sponsor, Professor Enrique Fuentes Quintana, was appointed Deputy PM and Minister for the Economy. Lo and behold! The book was immediately released. A completely refurbished, and more politically minded, edition was published in 1979, El oro de Moscú. The gold has pride of place in my trilogy. I expand on this in chapter II of Las armas y el oro, where I narrate the strange story of how the Franco dictatorship dealt with this issue. Very few people mention in this connection the "Paris gold." As I demonstrated in 1976, almost a quarter of gold reserves were sold to the Banque de France. By the way, the "fraternal" third French Republic scrounged the Spanish one. It´s called Realpolitik.
4. Finances: On several occasions I have dealt with the Republican and Francoist external financing of the SCW. Last time in chapter IV of Las armas y el oro. Always on the basis of archival evidence. The late Professor José Angel Sánchez Asiain wrote a whole book on the domestic and international sides of the war. I'm not aware it has made any impression on international bibliography.
Nothing helps. I have come to the conclusion that the SCW has become prey to the culture wars nowadays raging in Spain. In general, right-wing historians are leading a combat de retardement. Historiographic research is however not on their side. They simply appeal to emotions. They cannot stomach the fact that the bunch of lies which Franco built during his dictatorship has been crumbling ever since Spanish archives became more or less open and a new generation came to the fore.
Sebastiaan Faber once called me "warrior historian." Well, I'm proud of it. No respite for the wicked.
JE comments: Wicked or not, you must rest and get better, Ángel! WAIS needs you hale and hearty. And tell us, how was your experience in the Brussels hospital?
I should read your Oro de Moscú, Ángel, but permit me a naive question (I'm sure others will have it too): what exactly was the Francoist myth about the gold reserves? Is the orthodox view, that Moscow deceived the Republic and stole its gold, off the mark?
Spanish Civil War and Objectivity, Revisited
(Nigel Jones, -UK
03/02/18 7:15 AM)
In response to Ángel Viñas (28 February), we return to my original proposition: No one can be objective when writing about history.
Ángel imagines that he can dispose of me and others who dispute his pro-communist version of the Spanish Civil War by merely reeling off a list of his books. But others have written other books.
Burnett Bolloten, for example, who Ángel does not mention, not only witnessed the outbreak of the war, but was himself a communist who saw the light later. He spent years in careful research, interviewed those who had taken part in the war, and came to conclusions similar to my own: Viz. that the Communists took over the Spanish Republic and had they won would have installed a Stalinist dictatorship even worse than that of Franco.
Ángel gives his pro-communist game away when he calls the IRD department of the British Foreign Office "infamous." Why? The IRD was set up to combat communism in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when Stalinism threatened to sweep over Europe and was a clear and present danger to democracy. It was a fairly innocuous propaganda and intelligence outfit and got information from, among others, George Orwell, who himself--like Bolloten but unlike Ángel--had witnessed the communist takeover at first hand. The experience informed those great masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984, as well as Homage to Catalonia.
It is a mystery to me why anyone should choose in the 21st century to support communism--a theory that failed in the 20th at the cost of one hundred million lives. To get an idea of what Spain would have been like had the Republicans won, look at Cuba or Venezuela. The idea that it would have been a nice liberal multi-party democracy is for the birds.
JE comments: The battle lines are clearly drawn. I will add that I've never interpreted Ángel Viñas's views as "pro-communist." Rather, he has argued that the whole "Franco or Stalinism" option was a false dichotomy, propagated by Franco's apologists and PR machine.
Burnett Bolloten's Anti-Communism
(Paul Preston, -UK
03/02/18 4:38 PM)
In response to Nigel Jones (2 March), I knew Burnett Bolloten quite well. I believe that he would have been open to considering more recent research on Casado and the end of the war. Most of his work was done in the 1940s before financial necessity pushed him into the world of real estate in California. He was not aware of the recent debunking of Casado.
He told me that his move to anti-communism was occasioned because Spanish Communists in Mexico tried to get him involved in the operations to murder Trotsky. Once he refused, he felt himself to be in danger.
JE comments: This is captivating, cloak-and-dagger stuff. (If only Ramón Mercader had also gone into real estate.)
Bolloten was a pre-Internet WAISer (he died in 1987), according to this 1999 Paul Preston-Ronald Hilton post:
Here's Prof. H's intimate portrait of Bolloten, also from 1999:
- Spanish Republic on the Verge of Stalinism? (Henry Levin, USA 03/03/18 5:56 AM)
Nigel Jones (2 March) needs to explain his version of how the Spanish Republic was Stalinist or about to become Stalinist.
I reviewed much of the literature of our members and was a colleague and personal friend of Bolloten at Stanford. We know of the Russian intervention on the side of the Republic and the highly recognized discipline of the Communists within the Republic "coalition" within a fractious and disputed Republican coalition.
Russia was the only important supporter of the Republicans for reasons that have little to do with goodness or humanitarianism, but the Communists were not loved with other groups in the Republic. Even if the Republicans would have won, internecine and regional conflicts would have persisted rather than a Communist takeover.
What am I missing?
JE comments: Henry Levin identifies the only strength of the Communists--organization, organization, organization. They had no tolerance of fractionalism, which was in abundant supply in the Spanish Republic. Interestingly, assumptions such as Nigel Jones's, that Franco was the only force that kept Spain from falling into the abyss of Stalinism, tacitly acknowledge the Party's malevolent competence.
Next, Ángel Viñas responds to Nigel Jones.
- I Was Never a "Fellow Traveler" (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/03/18 8:57 AM)
Well, that Nigel Jones calls me "pro-communist" is ignoring the totality of my work. Let me pinpoint that I've mentioned Bolloten many times. I generally disagree with him. I also met him in California. Looking at his correspondence with Gorkin he comes across as an old opinionated former "fellow traveler." To underscore: I've never in my life been a "fellow traveler." I learned what a Communist dictatorship was when I was a student in Berlin.
Bolloten's book is a great work. Unfortunately it's highly biased and has very little anchorage in documentary evidence. As a former journalist, he attached too much importance to obscure newspapers. He seems to have ignored the dictum that in a war the first victim is the truth. He also seems to have ignored G. Orwell´s ulterior recantations during WWII, although he never was willing to revise his utterly misguided book on Catalonia. I recommend that Nigel should read Paul Preston´s article on the subject.
And what is that supposed Communist takeover Nigel refers to? A figment of the imagination. Please do care to read something serious on the matter. For example, the books by Fernando Hernández Sánchez. Or Boris Volodarsky. They are based on hard evidence, not on imaginative constructions.
Finally, I´m not aware that Orwell experienced any Communist takeover at first hand. Was he present in Eastern Europe after 1945/47? If so, it´s new to me.
And I insist on calling the IRD "infamous," although I admit that other people may call it a freedom-fighting organisation.
JE comments: One thing I never had the chance to ask you, Ángel: on which side of the Berlin Wall were you located in your student days?
Memories of the Berlin Wall
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
03/05/18 2:28 AM)
The Berlin Wall (die Mauer) was set up on 13 August 1961. I was doing a summer course at Freiburg Universität. I saw on TV what was happening and I immediately booked a train to Berlin. When we crossed the GDR the coach was empty. I stayed in Berlin for a couple of days. I found it so interesting that I decided to go on and study in Berlin. I got a scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) and arrived in Berlin in September 1963. I studied Political Economy, Politics, and Contemporary History at the Free University in the American Sector.
I was very curious about Eastern Germany and used to cross over almost every week. I was able to see a great deal of Bertolt Brecht´s theater repertoire at the Berliner Ensemble. I made some friends. I traveled throughout the GDR. I never had any problems with the police. I cannot exhibit a Stasi file like Timothy Garton Ash. I bought masses of books (most of which have gone to the library of the Diplomatic School, Madrid), fell in and out of love and in general had a great time.
When I came back to Madrid many of my friends had joined the underground PCE. I was invited to join. I declined. I had seen the really existing socialism at work. They answered that this was not what the PCE had in mind for Spain. Fine, I said, but the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church whether in Spain or in Argentina or in Poland. Not a very clever answer but I was 24 or 25 and had other things to do. I applied for a UK scholarship to study the centrally planned economies. Glasgow University accepted me. Professor Alec Nove was a great historian of the Soviet economy and a great man. I enjoyed his course greatly. Unfortunately I fell seriously ill, was treated very well by the NHS and preferred to return to Madrid. One of the best decisions in my life. In 1968 I traveled throughout the Eastern bloc extensively. I left Prague just a few days before the Russians arrived.
As things happen in the Foreign Service I was never asked to do anything on Germany after a three-year stint at the Spanish Embassy in Bonn.
I have fond memories of Berlin but I wouldn't have liked to live in the GDR.
JE comments: Many WAISers write history, others witness it. Ángel Viñas has done both. Of course, Ángel, we'd love to know more about your visit to Prague during the legendary spring of '68. (Wasn't that the original "Spring"?)
Berlin Wall, A Film, and a Grand Coalition
(Patrick Mears, -Germany
03/06/18 4:14 AM)
I very much enjoyed reading Ángel Viñas's post about his stay in Berlin in the 1960s after the Wall was hurriedly constructed on August 13, 1961.
Since moving to Heidelberg in July 2014 (and even before), I have spent quite some time in Berlin and, like Ángel in 1961, have remained attracted to the city. In fact, my wife, a travel journalist, just left this morning for Berlin in order to attend during this week the ITB-Berlin Congress at the Messe Berlin. This annual event is advertised as the "World's Leading Travel Trade Show."
Like Ángel, I enjoy greatly Brecht's plays and the "musicals," if one can call them that, that he composed with Kurt Weill. I am happy to report that the Berliner Ensemble is still going strong in the old East Berlin and performs Brecht's works on a regular basis. https://www.berliner-ensemble.de/spielplan .
There are relatively few, extended lengths of the Wall still standing, but what is still there is worth viewing, along with the Stasi Museum http://www.stasimuseum.de/en/enindex.htm and the German Historical Museum on the Unter den Linden https://www.dhm.de/en.html .
Staying with the DDR theme of this correspondence, my wife and I attended yesterday the Heidelberg premiere of the new German film, Das Schweigende Klassenzimmer, which recounts (with some dramatization) the true story of a two-minute, silent protest demonstration by a class of Abitur-seeking students in an East German school near East Berlin. Not unexpectedly, the East German state bureaucracy in response hammers the students, treating them as class enemies with predictable results. As the uncle of one of the students in the film warns the protesting group, the state treats "free thinkers as enemies of the state." This film, directed by Lars Kraume (who also directed the political thriller, The State Against Fritz Bauer, and who appeared yesterday in Heidelberg to present the film and answer questions from the audience), is well worth watching if it comes to any nearby "WAISer Cinema." I hope that it is translated into English due to the immediacy of the film's political message.
Finally, as probably most of you know, the two major German political parties, the CDU and the SPD, have now formally agreed to enter into a Grand Coalition ("Gro-Ko" here for short) to govern Germany. This coalition will likely be a "make-or-break" event for the SPD, which captured only 20% of the popular vote in the last Bundestag election. The SPD's popularity, according to a recent poll, has since shrunk by four percentage points. The SPD party-member vote on whether to approve the party's entry into Gro-Ko passed yesterday, but only by 66% to 34%. The "Yes" vote yesterday was about 10% less than the prior party-member vote on the same issue after the 2013 Bundestag election. Party critics of Gro-Ko were represented primarily by the SPD Young Socialist group ("Jusos"), who argued with substantial force that being in a coalition with Merkel's party will only blunt the SPD's efforts to resuscitate the party's spirit and increase its membership.
JE comments: Two intriguing recommendations, Pat. The film Das Schweigende Klassenzimmer has come to the English-speaking world as The Silent Revolution, not The Silent Classroom, which in these parts would frighten away cinema-goers I'll also be sure to visit the Stasi museum the next time I'm in Berlin. This may be soon: actor son and world citizen Martin often talks about relocating to the German capital, which has become a major center for theater (in English, too).
- Prague Spring and Other "Springs": from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/06/18 7:37 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
Like JE, I too would like to hear more of Ángel Viñas's experiences in Prague
just before the Russian intervention.
And John's question about Prague Spring
possibly being modern history's first "spring" parses a panorama,
rich with tragedy and irony, leading up through Fukuyama's End of History,
the euphoria about ending war by creating democracies, the South
American disappointment with Chávez and Brazilian corruption, and
the summary in the phrase "nation-building" (I was in Kosovo in 2000
when it was called the largest UN mission in the world, soon to be
superseded by nation-building in East Timor).
Then came the bizarre
chaos of Cheney/Bush, when former neocon scoffers at nation-building
became enthusiastic and incredibly failed apostles of it, if it served
whatever it was they were aiming for.
And then of course up to the confusing tragedy of Hillary Clinton
and all the facets of "Arab Spring"--with now (who would have
thought?) the Russians tacitly (or loudly?) offering their muscular
strongman alternative to the frustrations of democratic
transplantation. JE's question nicely captures a world.
JE comments: History seems to be taking a rest from nation-building. Problem is, there are many nations out there that were dismantled but never rebuilt.
"Incredibly failed apostles of nation-building": Gary Moore is no slouch when it comes to capturing (encapsulating) a world. How is East Timor doing, by the way? Q: What was the first new sovereign nation of the 21st century? A: Already answered it.
- Memories of East Berlin (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/07/18 2:36 PM)
The latest WAIS exchange on Berlin brought back some memories.
The first time I was there for a meeting, the hotel was on the West side. The Wall was down, so a friend and I walked about 10 miles down the Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate and toured East Berlin. The difference between the two sides of the still-standing parts of the Wall were amazing. The houses in the East looked run down, the stores looked small and decrepit, the people looked stern and worried about something.
There was one thing that was impressive: the government buildings looked well-kept and imposing. The statue of Karl Marx was still standing. I remember buying a VOPO steel helmet for my son. The thing must have waited 20 pounds and I wore it and carried it all the way back to the hotel.
JE comments: A VOPO (Volks Polizei) helmet is one of the lasting images of the GDR. Perhaps only Ampelmann (traffic-light man) is more universally remembered. (And the latter, unlike the former, is fondly remembered.)
I just learned that the VOPO design actually dates from the WWII-era Wehrmacht (1942), although it was never adopted to replace the coal-scuttle Stahlhelm.
- Did Orwell Witness any Communist Takeover? (Nigel Jones, -UK 03/05/18 2:54 AM)
This is going to be my positively last post on this subject, as there is no point in labouring my points further. To me it is so blindingly obvious what happened in Spain in 1936-39 that to deny it is to deny reality itself.
To answer Ángel Viñas's question, the Communist takeover that Orwell witnessed were the May days in Barcelona in 1937, resulting in the destruction of POUM, the downplaying of the Anarchists, and Communist persecution which saw Orwell, a loyal, brave and idealistic socialist, fleeing for his life. Other left-wingers such as Nin were not so lucky.
From then on, the Stalinists and their puppets were in the Spanish Republican saddle and any chance of a democratic Spain went down the swanee.
The Communist apologists can "diss" Casado and Besteiro as "traitors," but they did not act alone. Those who rose with them were as sick as they were of the Communist domination of the Republic in its final days.
And Ángel can "diss" Burnett Bolloten too: sadly he is not around to answer back.
The one positive thing, I suppose, to come out of the mess were Orwell's superb books exposing the grim reality of Communism which, I venture to suggest, will still be read long after all books on the Spanish Civil War have been forgotten. Enough said, I think.
JE comments: Regardless of one's take on the upheavals in Catalonia in 1937, they were unstable and tumultuous times, far from the static totalitarian Oceania in 1984. How much of Orwell's "inspiration" for 1984 and Animal Farm can we attribute to his SCW experiences?
"Down the swanee"--the philologist in me had to investigate. We Americans have the river (Suwannee), but don't use the expression. It means "down the drain." Are the online sources correct, Nigel, that in UK English the swanee/swanny is a sewer or drain?
Fun fact: Stephen Foster never saw the river he immortalized in his iconic song.
Deficiencies of Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia"
(Paul Preston, -UK
03/06/18 6:41 AM)
I thought that I had sent Nigel Jones off-list my long article about the deficiencies of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. In the light of his post of March 5th, I must assume that I didn't. Anyway, for any WAISers who might be interested, it was published as Paul Preston (2017): "Lights and Shadows in George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia," Bulletin of Spanish Studies.
Basically, by dint of considerable research into the context of Orwell's brief stay in Spain and of reading his many letters and articles during and after the writing of the book, what it demonstrates is as follows. His eye-witness accounts of what he actually saw, in the trenches of a fairly quiet front in Aragón and on the streets of Barcelona during the events of May 1937, constitute superb reporting. His political conclusions are highly questionable for a variety of reasons. He was in Spain only from January to June 1937, so to draw conclusions about a Communist take-over nearly two years before the end of the war was rather precipitate. Moreover, his views were coloured by the fact that his information, beyond what he actually witnessed, came from anarchists and Trotskyists who were opposed to the need of the Republican government, backed by liberal Republicans, Socialists and Communists, for a centralised war effort. In private, he acknowledged this, writing to Frank Jellinek on 20 December 1938: "Actually I've given a more sympathetic account of the POUM ‘line' than I actually felt, because I always told them they were wrong and refused to join the party. But I had to put it as sympathetically as possible, because it has had no hearing in the capitalist press and nothing but libels in the left-wing press."
There is ample evidence in the article that, in 1937, Orwell's interpretative views were based on ignorance. This is made clear in the revised views that he expressed in his long article "Looking Back on the Spanish War," written in 1942 and first published in a truncated form in New Road (June 1943).
As for Casado, as I tried to make clear in a recent post and do so in great detail in my book The Last Days of the Spanish Republic, the motley crew who joined up with him had a variety of motivations for which anti-Communism was a convenient label. I had a fascinating meeting last week with a brilliant young Spanish scholar, Carlos Piriz, whose research into the Fifth Column demonstrates how the Francoist secret services were grooming elements, like Besteiro and Casado and many others, to collaborate.
Anyway, everyone has a right to their views. It's just that, on the Spanish Civil War, some of us base them on arduous research.
JE comments: The URL above requires a sign-in. Those of us with academic access can link up via JStor or equivalent.
I'd love to learn more about Piriz's research, Paul, especially concerning the carrots and sticks employed by the Francoist agents.
- The Potential Stalinization of Spain and "Facts" (Nigel Jones, -UK 02/25/18 5:06 AM)
As I think WAISers on both sides of the Spanish debate have agreed, objectivity or impartiality in historical discussion is impossible, so for Carmen Negrín to put the word "fact" after her partial assertions is practically meaningless, particularly as so many of her "facts" are historically inaccurate.
So let me correct them.
It is a "fact" that--contrary to Carmen's claims--the Stalinist Communist party of Spain had gained a commanding position in the Spanish Republic's political and military hierarchy in the course of the Civil War, which is why Casado launched his coup against them, and why that coup was supported by moderate Socialists like Besteiro and Anarchists like Mena. Had the Republic won the war, therefore, a Stalinist Spain not only could have been the result, it surely would have been. (Let us not forget that Stalin from 1939-41 was an ally of one Adolf Hitler.) Fact.
The reason for that is that Stalin's Russia was the Republic's main military backer, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. Fact.
Earlier in the Civil War Madrid was saved for the Republic by the arrival of the International Brigades--an outfit raised and wholly controlled by the Comintern, which was of course in turn completely controlled from Moscow. Fact.
The Republic's internal security was in the hands of Stalin's secret police, the NKVD, enabling the purge of Trotskyist and other anti-Stalinist elements like the POUM, whose leader Andreu Nin was tortured to death by them. Fact.
For Carmen to brush the atrocity of the Paracuellos massacres under the carpet because, according to her, "it was not in line with government instructions," is inexcusable. (Though I am sure that it must have been of great comfort to the victims as they were shot to know that their murders were not in line with government instructions.) Nevertheless they happened, organised by the slavish Stalinist Santiago Carrillo. Fact.
I understand Carmen's filial loyalty to her grandfather Juan Negrín, but the fact remains that however loathsome the Franco regime was, it was far preferable to a Stalinist Spain which would have made the repression by Franco look like a stroll in the park by comparison.
JE comments: Yessir, the positions in this discussion are clearly drawn. Death, taxes, and WAISly disagreement on the Spanish Civil War are undeniable facts. I would add just one more fact here: Francoist systematic repression did occur--after the war, too. Whatever horror a Stalinist Spain might have unleashed post-1939 requires two assumptions: that Stalinization would have happened, and second, that it would have fully emulated Stalin's methods.
Facts, the Potential Stalinization of Spain, and a Vintage Ronald Hilton Post
(Carmen Negrin, -France
02/26/18 3:57 PM)
The fact that there were a minority of communists in the Spanish Republican government, coming from the "Spanish Communist Party"--not from the "Stalinist Communist Party of Spain," as Nigel Jones re-baptized it in his post of February 25th--does not make the government a Communist government. Facts, facts, facts!
Nigel obviously knows it was a coalition government, which also included other political groups, including anarchists, who don't seem to provoke the same fear in Nigel, although they did cause a few headaches to the Republicans and others!
As for Casado's motivations, I wouldn't venture in saying what they were. Some have come to the conclusion that he was simply paid to have motivations. What I can say as a fact, is that Casado's first published self-justifying memoirs were in English, edited in the UK, and yet he didn't speak English. He promoted the very convenient British theory--thank you Eden, thank you Chamberlain--which coincided with Franco's version.
Note that shortly after the war began, the British tried to find legal ways to recognize Franco's regime. There are exchanges of letters between British authorities and Franco's people on this matter in the National Archives in Alcalá de Henares (facts).
This so-called risk of Stalinization was a good justification for the original coup and later on for the promotion of the Non-Intervention and finally for the second coup. And of course, years later, during the Cold War, again it was a convenient argument, widely promoted, giving all the non-intervening countries a good conscience.
It might be more objective to read or listen to what the people in charge had to say about how they envisaged the future, rather than to invent a possible future. The thirteen points are a starting point. I don't think it can objectively be considered communist propaganda.
When mentioning Mena, I suppose Nigel refers to Cipriano Mera, the anarcosindicalista? By definition an anarchist doesn't necessarily follow the government's views. One can also wonder why, in the middle of such massive post-war killing, Mera who was made prisoner in '42 and condemned to death, but was not shot like so many others. His fate strangely recalls Casado's.
I did mention treason, lack of solidarity and lack of vision among a number of Republican authorities.
I think it was Boris Volodarsky who explained very clearly Stalin's lack of interest in Spain. By mid 1938, his support to Spain had highly decreased. No more "piper payer"!
As it is well known (and can be found in my grandfather's archives), it is factual that Stalin's only promised loan was never carried out. The ambassador Pascua had to beg for arms. He left Moscow on April 11 '38, and little happened after his departure. He was transferred to Paris, which had become a higher priority for Spain, because exile was already underway.
As for the obviousness of Spain becoming Stalinist if the Republic had won, because in 1939 Stalin had become an ally of Hitler (and I add: who was an ally of Franco), exact quote from Nigel: "Had the Republic won the war, therefore, a Stalinist Spain not only could have been the result, it surely would have been. (Let us not forget that Stalin from 1939-41 was an ally of one Adolf Hitler.) Fact." Please explain, Nigel. I really don't follow the logic.
Concerning the International Brigades, certainly the Soviet Communist Party had a role in making the decision, but it was mainly the French PC who was involved in their organization, and not all those joining their ranks were communists, Malraux and Michael Foot to give just two examples. The brigades "participated" in different battles; they were not in charge. The French brigades had between 48 and 56 per cent of Communists and they were the largest group of volunteers. And again as was mentioned in another post, most of them were killed or imprisoned upon their return to their countries, in particular to the USSR. In addition, they were dissolved by the Republican government in '38, again confirming that they did not have the power to decide. Facts.
As for Nin, I don't see how an unlawful killing by the NKVD is a proof that all the security was in Soviet hands. I am glad to note in passing, that at least there is some progress here, because a few years ago, his murder was directly attributed to my grandfather, who had just become Prime Minister.
How can you justify the coup with the argument of the Stalinization of Spain, when months before the elections, and after previous unsuccessful intents, with a right-wing government in place, with no communists in the government yet, Mola and his acolytes were already organizing the coup?
I am not pushing Paracuellos under the carpet, far from that. That is why I mentioned it. I am just saying that it was not in line with the Republican government's orders which were to send the prisoners to Valencia. I was simply trying to point out that in one case the policy was to try and prevent killings, obviously not always successfully, and on the other side the instructions were to "kill as much as you can," while taking power and when in power.
I wish that Nigel would show the same empathy for the Republican victims as he does for those of Paracuellos, who were mainly prisoners for rebellion, not meant to die, and not just innocent children or wives of x, y, z, as were many of the Republican victims.
I don't think the disagreement between Nigel and me is related to the objectivity of facts. I think it simply has to do with the will to question or not certain acquired concepts. It reminds me of this (US) Republican militant recently questioned by CNN about the Russian interference in the elections. Even if the FBI, the CIA, or whoever "proves" to her that the messages she forwarded came from the Russians, she will simply not "believe" it and call it fake news.
JE comments: I was also unclear on Nigel's Hitler analogy. On its flimsy paper at least, wouldn't Stalin therefore have been an ally of... Franco?
This morning I was leafing through some vintage WAIS posts, and came across this Ronald Hilton essay on interpreting history vis-à-vis the Spanish Civil War. The date is February 10, 2000. It's well worth a click. More than 18 years later, the SCW rages on!
- Why Spain Could Never Have Become Stalinist (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/07/18 2:25 AM)
I'm feeling better and I'd like to dwell on Nigel Jones's post of February 25 about the alleged Stalinization of Spain. I won' t repeat the arguments made by Paul Preston (February 26), Carmen Negrín (23 and 27 February) and Boris Volodarsky (February 24). I agree with them.
Instead I'm going to submit to Nigel (and the whole WAISdom) a number of points. I´ll challenge him to compare my explanations with those he might find in Bolloten's book. I give my word of honor that I haven't looked at it. Nor at any other book. My intention is to disprove Nigel's statements on the dangers of Spain becoming a Soviet satellite. In a follow-up post I´ll deal with Nigel's views on the Raj and his statements about objectivity and impartiality.
1. At the beginning of September 1936 there was a very important change of Government in Republican Spain. Largo Caballero (Socialist) became PM. His cabinet was composed of Left Republicans, Socialists, Catalans, Basques and two Communists. Stalin opposed the participation of the latter and defended the remaining of Giral (Left Republican) as PM. He was at that time debating with himself as to whether and how he should help the Republic. No major initiative had been taken except the establishment of a Soviet Embassy. Bilateral diplomatic relations went back to 1934.
Both the Socialists and the local Communists prevailed. A united front against the assault of Fascism (Germany, Italy and Portugal were already helping Franco) was deemed to be an absolute necessity. Stalin was overruled.
2. Nevertheless Stalin decided to intervene directly with Soviet advisors and war materiel at the end of September. In December Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov explained to Largo Caballero that the Republic should align itself with the bourgeois (i.e. democratic) powers and refrain from collectivizations and other left-leaning measures.
Largo Caballero's response was the least conciliatory and diplomatic possible. The whole episode has been usually interpreted as an attempt by the USSR to manipulate the Republican Government. This isn't supported by any evidence, although the Soviet Ambassador had not shown much diplomatic dexterity. He was subsequently withdrawn and shot.
3. At the beginning of February of 1937 Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov had a long interview with the Spanish Ambassador Marcelino Pascua. They patiently explained to him that the USSR was prepared to go on helping the Republic although from a second rank. The Republic's natural allies were the bourgeois powers. They detailed a lot of recommendations in the same vein.
Largo Caballero in his memoirs misrepresented the whole episode. He bitterly criticized Pascua for having gone to Valencia to report in person with all speed without asking for permission to travel. No comment. Subsequent Soviet policies were predicated upon those recommendations.
As far as I know the only document about this important episode was drafted by Pascua. No reference has been found so far in Russian archives.
4. Stalin was of the opinion that the Cortes didn´t reflect the political realities of the war. The Government needed to enlarge its parliamentary basis. He therefore recommended that elections be held so as to present a more democratic image abroad.
The Republicans and the Communists demurred (the latter with all due caution). The outcome would have increased the number of Communist MP and that wasn't a good signal. Stalin conceded.
5. Between November 1937 and October 1938, the critical period of the war, Stalin drastically diminished Soviet war supplies to the Republic. This was perceived by the Francoist, the French, the British and the Italians and bitterly resented by the Republicans.
Question to Nigel: how would he explain this fact if Stalin was supposed to be hell-bent on Sovietizing Spain?
Explanation: the second Chinese-Japanese war had broken out and the Japanese were dangerously near the Soviet frontier. Confronted with a clear and present danger in the Far East, Stalin came to help the Chinese Nationalists (not the Communists) and diminished his aid to Spain. He stayed this course in spite of pleas by his military, diplomats and party comrades.
6. After the Republican defeat in Aragon (end of winter 1938) Stalin suggested that the Communist Ministers should be withdrawn so as to project the image of a purely Republican Government fighting for Spanish independence against Fascism.
Negrín forcefully objected for several weeks through Pascua. Thanks to Togliatti´s intervention (unknown to him) Stalin abandoned his view. One Communist minister remained until the end of the war.
7. Nigel might be surprised to learn that the idea of amalgamating Socialists and Communists originated with Prieto (a Socialist). It was certainly short-lived. The long-lasting discussions led nowhere. In 1937 a Republican delegation went to Moscow on the anniversary of the October revolution. The leader, a Socialist, told Stalin in no uncertain terms that no amalgamation was possible. Stalin accepted it.
8. After the infamous Munich agreement, Negrín asked for military assistance. Contrary to what is usually stated, Stalin complied with this request. He had found no replacement yet for a new strategy. It took him several months to perceive that Hitler's wish to come to an arrangement with the USSR was seriously meant. This is a very hotly debated issue but of less importance to the evolution of the war. Abundant Soviet supplies arrived too late and most of them didn't cross the French border.
9. Upon the Republican defeat Stalin ordered an in-depth investigation into the reasons why the war had been lost. Stalin´s wishes weren't to be tampered with. The report was dutifully prepared on the basis of partial reports by Communist politicians and military. It remained unknown until Fernando Hernández Sánchez and yours truly published it, with the preparatory work, and analyzed the summary at length.
Question to Nigel: has he ever read the final report and the partial ones? They are rather interesting and my assumption is that at that time one had to have considerable guts to to tell Stalin lies.
10. During the war the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) considerably expanded. Does Nigel know that one of the reasons, not the only one obviously, was because the PSOE stopped all new affiliations? They were very worried about the "ideological purity" of the incoming members. When the Socialists changed track the growth of the PCE had taken traction but it was and remained a colossus on clay feet. I recommend Nigel to read Guerra y revolución by Fernando Hernández.
The Stalinization of the PCE didn't occur during the war. It happened in the exile after the war. Even a fervent and practising Catholic like Gen. Vicente Rojo played with the idea of joining the PCE. Negrín opposed it. He wouldn´t accept that his chief of staff became a Communist.
Has Nigel ever wondered why a professional officer of the highest rank like Rojo would have considered the possibility of joining the PCE? If he doesn't know how to answer this simple question I'd surmise he doesn't understand anything about the SCW.
Now a mere conjecture: in 1945 the Red Army was all over Eastern Europe and the Soviet grab soon encompassed the future satellites. Did Stalin ever try to Sovietize Italy, France or Belgium in spite of the massive political presence of Communist parties? He never tried it in neighboring Finland. What might have happened in far-away Spain where the power projection of the Red Army could not reach? Apart from this, how could we know what a Republican Spain might have done in support of the Allies? We know that Franco did very little.
My conclusion is that, from a purely historic point of view, democratic Spaniards have very few reasons to thank the Western Allies. If thanks are due, perhaps then to those that in their hour of need came to help them risking life and limb.
Boris Volodarsky might like to pitch in here.
JE comments: This post from Ángel Viñas arrived prior to his comment on Berlin in the early Wall days, but I published them out of order.
My takeaway from the above is that Stalin could have projected much more power in Spain, but chose not to due to political opportunism overriding ideology, and (more importantly) Stalin's priority of staying in power and checking the Japanese in the East. Are there any indications, Ángel, that Stalin did not want to anger his frenemy-to-be, Hitler, by fighting him via proxy in Spain? (Granted, the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was signed in August 1939, while the Civil War had ended in April.)
Imagine receiving the following cable via diplomatic post: You are to be recalled [and by implication, shot]. How many of Stalin's ambassadors got this grim message?
Did Stalin Attempt to Take Over Italy?
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
03/08/18 6:00 PM)
In his detailed post of 7 March, Ángel Viñas stated: "Did Stalin ever try to Sovietize Italy? He never tried it."
Clearly our friend Ángel did not live in Italy immediately after the collapse of the RSI in April 1945; otherwise he would not have written the above.
The great majority of the partisans, the communist Garibaldi Brigades, fought to install a Soviet republic in Italy (and give Istria, Fiume, Dalmatia, and neighboring regions to Tito), They had a red star in the center of their flag. Their idol was "Baffone" (big mustache) Stalin. Their military leaders were experienced ex-fighters in the Spanish Civil War whom the good Mussolini spared and sent on vacation "exile" on little islands, now among Italy's best tourist destinations.
The only reasons why a Soviet republic was not installed was due to the agreement at Yalta and the presence of Anglo-American troops. Furthermore Stalin could see what was happening in Greece.
Of course there were people ready and armed to fight against the Communists. For instance a friend of mine (now an elderly priest) with many others, but they would have been outnumbered.
To terrorize the people, the partisans committed horrible crimes. To mention just one: young girls considered hostile or suspected of involvement with the RSI were raped repeatedly and blown up with a hand grenade in the vagina.
Until 1980 the USSR continued to send money to the Communist Party in the hope that it could reach power within the democratic system. Not to be outdone, the CIA gave money to the anticommunist parties.
I hope that Ángel will forgive me if (together with Nigel Jones) I stick to the idea that Stalin tried to Sovietize any country, including Spain, that he realistically and without great problems could.
JE comments: We know that Stalin did his darndest to bring Greece into satellite orbit, but was thwarted in that country's brutal civil war. But why didn't he attempt the same thing, say, in Finland? Or Austria? Finland, practically next door to Leningrad/St Petersburg, especially has always puzzled me.
- Historical Objectivity and Historical Impartiality; The Raj (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/17/18 6:32 AM)
I am always delighted in trying to give an answer to Nigel Jones´s questions to me, but I now realise that, lost in the Spanish Civil War labyrinth, I never attempted to reply to his general question of February 15th:
How far is it possible for historians to be "objective" in their interpretations?
My own answer is that one should be strictly clear about the all-important distinction between objectivity and impartiality.
Objectivity means for me: 1) applying rigorous methods of analysis, contextualisation and criticism to all kinds of evidence bearing on the subject of research; 2) impartiality has a moral connotation. It doesn't mean not taking sides, because one cannot for instance equalise democracy and dictatorship. Impartiality implies the need for the historian to be clear about his/her position and acknowledging it freely vis-à-vis his/her readers.
History writing always depends on perspectives conditioned by circumstances such as class, philosophy, ideology, nationality, time of writing, and the societal environment in which he/she is active. What present historians write today will certainly differ from what other historians will write in the future. History is always a selective reconstruction of the past and by definition a dynamic process.
I have looked for Nigel´s name in the British Library catalog and found seven or eight books dealing with English and German subjects basically. The same applies to articles (many in The Spectator, which brings hard Tory resonances to my untutored mind). In Mr Google´s precious search engine there are many references under "Nigel Jones+Spain" to historical and ornithological tours, and two reviews of English/American books dealing with Spanish matters. I gladly assume that Nigel knows a lot about Spain although without any widely recognisable research or academic credentials on the country.
I would like to invite Nigel to illuminate WAISers about a topic which has recently (Brexit obliging) come to the fore. What is his take about the history of the Raj? What does he think of the work of some distinguished British historians such as Niall Ferguson or Lawrence James? My understanding is that their books, for instance, Empire or Raj respectively, have sold very well. However, they have also found an number of critics. Since the Raj crumbled seventy years ago, British historians have now been able to write objectively and dispassionately about it. Not to speak of the long-past days of the East India Company in the 18th and 19th centuries. What is the outcome of all those efforts in Nigel´s opinion?
My view is that the Raj provides a unique possibility of comparison between the historical record for the British empire and, for instance, the Spanish one. As a way of marking time until I devise a new project, I´m reading a bit about British contributions to empire-building, because I´m curious about the direction the Brexit discussion in the UK is taking.
JE comments: Yes, this would be a fresh new WAIS topic--and one (always welcome) that could teach me a lot.
Ángel Viñas sees comparisons between Spanish colonization in the New World and the British empire in India. Typically the compare/contrast exercise is between the Anglo "North" and the Spanish "South" America. But might India, with the superposition of a European hegemon upon a complex and sophisticated society, be a more apt analogy for Spain and the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, etc?
An Appraisal of the Raj: British Imperialism in India
(Nigel Jones, -UK
02/19/18 3:17 AM)
Thanks again to Ángel Viñas (18 February) for his questions on my views of the British Empire and the Raj.
Ángel is also curious about my Spanish connections, which I will endeavour to answer first.
I first became aware of the Spanish Civil War at age 11, when I read Hugh Thomas's classic history. After that I read anything on the subject that I could get my hands on (in English) and also made my first trips to Spain in my teens. I particularly remember Fraser's Blood of Spain, accounts of the Alcázar siege, Gerald Brenan's books and Ian Gibson's work on Lorca.
I was especially drawn to the latter, as my mother had a holiday home in Almuñécar and I was able to explore the 'Lorca country' around Granada on foot. In fact, my mother died and is buried there. That is why I was drawn to Spain, but no more so than other European countries where I also have strong personal links: France, Germany, Austria and Italy.
Ángel is correct in surmising that I am not academically qualified or tenured. I am that dangerous beast: an autodidact!
As to my views on the British Empire in India. I have to say at the outset that this is not a subject that I am particularly expert in, as my focus has chiefly been on Europe. I suppose that I am fascinated that this small maritime country was able to impose domination over a diverse sub-continent through at first the East India Company, and then after the "Indian Mutiny" of the 1850s via direct rule.
Like Hitler, who adored the movie Lives of a Bengal Lancer, I am astonished (he was envious) that the Raj was successfully maintained for so long with relatively few troops by policies of divide and rule. It may not be PC to say so, but I am also proud of the positive aspects of the Raj: Railways, Parliamentary democracy, the English language, abolition of suttee...and of course cricket. Imperialism is wrong in principle, but in comparison with others, British rule was pretty benign. It would be difficult to maintain, for example, that the lives of Africans in former British-ruled states there such as Nigeria are better in quality today than they were under British rule when they clearly are not. Which is not the same as saying that we had any right to be there in the first place!
Of the two historians that Angel mentions, Lawrence James and Niall Ferguson, I have read their works and have also met them, though I don't know them well. James is an Englishman resident in Scotland, and Ferguson is a native Scot now teaching at Harvard. Both are Tory Unionists (i.e., they oppose Scottish independence); James is an embittered Remainer on Brexit; while Ferguson (who is an opportunist) was a Remainer and is now a Brexiteer! James is a more solid historian, and Ferguson a more adventurous one who likes to draw attention by embracing eye-catching (but sometimes incorrect) ideas which he writes about brilliantly.
Two other contemporary British historians of India who should be mentioned are William Dalrymple and Patrick French. Both are lapsed Catholics who seem to have sought compensation for their lost Faith by "going native" in India where they both live. They haven't much good to say for the Raj, but if it wasn't for the legacy of Empire I doubt that either would live there cheaply with Indian servants as they do!
The main legacy of the Raj for Britain today is the increasing demographic minority of Britons in the UK who themselves are immigrants from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, or are the children and grandchildren of such migrants. They are the reason why fish and chips have been replaced as England's favourite national dish by chicken tikka marsala.
Finally, if I can correct Ángel on one tiny English cultural detail. The Spectator magazine where I once worked and still contribute, is far from High Tory as he thinks. It is mildly conservative, but of a very liberal hue, and welcomes regular writers of all political shades. In my humble opinion it is far and away the best political and cultural weekly around. The nearest US equivalent, I suppose, would be The New Yorker.
JE comments: It doesn't sound PC, but I'd be interested in a WAIS discussion on "going native." It's a fascinating concept, evocative of Conrad's Kurtz, and strikes me as a singularly British invention. (Kurtz was a mixture of French, English, and I believe Austrian, but bear with me.) "Going native" is a form of assimilation, but the suggestion is that the latter is a good thing, practiced by immigrants from less fortunate lands.
There were many examples of "going native" during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, most notably Gonzalo Guerrero, who lived among the Mayans and became a military leader against the Spaniards, and the 16th-century castaway Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who wandered eight years around "Florida" (really Texas), and became the first European to write a book about the lands of the present-day United States.
"Going Native" Throughout History
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
02/22/18 4:15 AM)
I am sure this concept of "going native" is not "a singularly British invention," as JE wrote. (See Nigel Jones, February 19th.)
Probably it is universal and started a long time ago. Is it not what David did when he lived and worked with Pharaoh? How about Marco Polo and Kublai Khan?
Also I don't care if it is PC or not, but a good friend and research partner of mine use to tell everyone that "Tor is very funny, because everywhere (country) we went, within a week or so he would start looking like the natives." He was probably right, because the beauty of traveling the world is to learn and absorb the good local customs, their ways of living, etc. It makes the experience much richer.
Many times the situation gets difficult. For example, in my visits to China I always "went native" with my Chinese friends and partners. However, the government used to frown on close relations between locals and foreigners. The government wanted to control you, know where you were, so they would give me a chauffeured car and a guide whenever I wanted to go somewhere. So the first step to going native had to be to evade the offer for a variety of reasons and "stay home."
JE comments: "Going native" in just one week has to be a record! But is the quest for authentic cultural experiences when traveling the same as going native? The latter suggests a loss of identity, or the embrace of a new, hybrid one. Many WAISers reside in a country other than their homeland, including Tor Guimaraes (born in Brazil). Tor, would you say you've "gone native" in Tennessee?
- Historical Objectivity Again (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 02/19/18 12:36 PM)
I could not agree more with Nigel Jones in his post of February 15th, that "pure objectivity in historical inquiry is impossible."
In fact, this very same subject was tackled approximately one year ago when I was questioned by Ángel Viñas and Carmen Negrín about the credibility of a book because it was written by supposedly "rightist" authors.
I responded at the time that "I do not believe that historians should be free of doctrines, ideologies, or intellectual bias... to interpret historical facts." I added that "in principle, this personal burden should not necessarily disqualify any historian's work."
John E accurately remarked that "the most honest approach... for a historian... is to state explicitly one's political beliefs." This is pretty much the same as Nigel Jones's call to "honestly admit this fact."
JE comments: Aren't we all on the same page here? Recall Ángel Viñas's distinction between historical objectivity and historical impartiality. Can we go further, and argue that partiality is convincing (and not hollow ideology) only when it contains a degree of objectivity?
- Catholicism of Hitler, Franco, Queipo (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/12/18 3:09 AM)
Catholic Hitler, Franco, Mola. Queipo...
Yes, John, my comments of February 9th were meant in jest, although there are differences of course.
Hitler pursued the development of Germanic Christians, more Germanic than Christian; Franco sought refuge in the tender arms of the Church which provided him with invaluable support; Mola sought solace in bombing the Catholic Basques and Queipo, well, Queipo killed, and killed, and killed "bad Communists."
All of them splendid examples of the fervor of Ecclesia militante.
JE comments: Hitler (alas) is one of the most written-about lives in human history. Is there a definitive study of his religious beliefs? The popular understanding is of Hitler as a Germanic neo-Pagan. Didn't he say that religion is for weaklings, or something to the effect?
Nazism and Christianity
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
02/13/18 7:15 AM)
When someone tells me s(he) belongs to a particular religion, it means very little to me. After many years of observation, I concluded that only the person's behavior tells the truth about a person's religion.
In the case of Hitler and the Nazis, their religion was paganism and Germanic mythology. Apparently Himmler was the high priest in charge of reviving any myths of racial superiority and heroism. They were stretching, begging, and stealing anything legitimate to support their crazy philosophy. They adopted Wagner as their musical hero, bastardized Friedrich Nietzsche's theory about the ubermensch to support their own.
One thing is for sure, they had nothing to do with Christianity and actually got in trouble with the German people early on when they were tried to eliminate Christian doctrine from the German education system.
JE comments: For his part, wasn't Goebbels a practicing Catholic until the end? Legend has it that in an earlier life, he "almost" became a priest.
- Historical Objectivity Again (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 02/19/18 12:36 PM)
- "Going Native" Throughout History (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/22/18 4:15 AM)
- Historical Objectivity and Historical Impartiality; The Raj (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/17/18 6:32 AM)
- Why Spain Could Never Have Become Stalinist (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/07/18 2:25 AM)
- The Potential Stalinization of Spain and "Facts" (Nigel Jones, -UK 02/25/18 5:06 AM)
- Prague Spring and Other "Springs": from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/06/18 7:37 AM)
- Berlin Wall, A Film, and a Grand Coalition (Patrick Mears, -Germany 03/06/18 4:14 AM)
- Spanish Republic on the Verge of Stalinism? (Henry Levin, USA 03/03/18 5:56 AM)
- Burnett Bolloten's Anti-Communism (Paul Preston, -UK 03/02/18 4:38 PM)
- Spanish Civil War and Objectivity, Revisited (Nigel Jones, -UK 03/02/18 7:15 AM)
- Spanish Civil War: Sundry Topics (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/28/18 2:42 PM)
- Negrin, Casado, and a Correction (Paul Preston, -UK 02/26/18 5:24 AM)
- Stalin's Fear of Spain's Revolutionary Elan; Revisiting the Casado Coup (Paul Preston, -UK 02/25/18 3:54 PM)
- Stalin's Fear of a "Franco" in His Midst (John Heelan, -UK 02/25/18 4:28 AM)
- Did Stalin Ever Seek to Establish a "Stalinist Spain"? What About a Hispanic Russia? (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 02/24/18 6:50 AM)
- Historical Objectivity Again...and a Difficult Choice (Nigel Jones, -UK 02/21/18 10:52 AM)
- Shostakovich, Pasternak, Rostropovich: Living it Up (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 03/06/18 8:54 AM)
- Soviet Union Post-1953, Revisited: A Murderous and Oppressive Regime? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 03/04/18 4:02 AM)
- Solzhenitsyn, Maleter...and an Indictment of the Russians (Istvan Simon, USA 03/07/18 1:53 AM)
- Oppression, Repression, and the Post-Stalin USSR (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/01/18 7:34 AM)
- Soviet Regime Post-1953 Was Not "Murderous and Oppressive" (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 03/01/18 4:29 AM)
- Post Unpublished - please check back later
- A "Stalinist Spain" Was Never a Possibility (Paul Preston, -UK 02/17/18 5:45 AM)
- Historical Objectivity and the Dark Sides of the Spanish Republic (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/16/18 4:18 AM)
- Is Historical Objectivity Possible? (Nigel Jones, -UK 02/15/18 4:21 AM)
- Hitler's Catholicism and Hitler's Pope (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 02/14/18 3:05 AM)
- Hitler's Catholicism (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 02/11/18 10:44 AM)
- Hitler's Legitimization of the Night of the Long Knives (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/09/18 12:57 PM)