Thursday, March 08, 2007

Arts and Letters Daily links to this Stephen Schwartz article, which was written as a response to the Eric Hobsbawm piece (in the Guardian, of course) on the Spanish Civil War that we commented on a few days ago.

Schwartz justifiably carves up Hobsbawm's ignorance of the subject and his parroting of the Stalinist line in his piece, but he repeats his own set of clichés in praise of the non-Stalinist revolutionary left. These groups, the Socialist PSOE, the anarchist CNT-FAI and semi-Trotskyist POUM, committed as many atrocities as the Communists did, and were no more democratic. Their middle-class allies, Manuel Azaña's Republican Left and Lluís Companys's Esquerra Republicana, were also guilty of collaboration with the assorted revolutionary groups and of a good few atrocities of their own; they were not democrats, but Jacobins, believers in radical change carried out by an intellectual vanguard--that is, themselves.

Of course, Schwartz admits none of this; he and Hobsbawm are both wrong. They merely sympathize with two different factions of revolutionary leftists. Neither understands that in 1936, Spain was sharply divided between Left and Right, that the Right had some pretty good arguments in its favor, and the Left had had a disastrous record since 1931. Nor will either admit that both sides, Right and Left, committed enormous atrocities during the war and deserve equal moral condemnation, or that when forced to choose between Franco, the Communists (who quickly dominated the PSOE and the Jacobins after the July 17 coup failed), or the CNT-POUM, a lot of people chose Franco. Most of those who chose Franco were working and middle-class center to right-wingers who had sympathized with the conservative CEDA, populist Radicals, or right-Catalanist Lliga Catalana before the war. (The Basque PNV originally threw in with the Republicans in 1936, and then pretty much switched sides in 1937.)

Quotes from Schwartz's article:

Hobsbawm embodies a principle on which I and others have long written: the distinction that must be made between the war of 1936-39 as experienced by the Spanish people, and the parallel conflict fantasized by intellectuals of a leftist persuasion mainly (and now retrospectively) situated, to paraphrase Trotsky, in the Bronx of the Young Communist League. The two had and have nothing in common.

That's Schwartz's thesis statement, and it's true enough.

This band of memory-murderers have never come to grips with the fundamental lie of Stalinist propaganda, which holds that the Republicans would have won the war if they had submitted to dictation from Moscow – a claim every educated Spanish individual knows to be absurd.

Schwartz is starting to go off track here. Yes, he's right about the Stalinists, but notice his last phrase there. Actually, there's still a lot of debate among historians between three theses: A) The Republicans would have won the war if they'd submitted to direction from Moscow. B) The Republicans would have won the war if they'd told Moscow to take a hike C) There was no way the Republicans were going to win the war no matter what. Hobsbawm believes A. Schwartz believes B. I tend to go for C. The problem with A is that they pretty much did submit to Moscow after the May 1937 mini-civil war in Barcelona, and the problem with B was that the CNT, POUM, and PSOE-Communist militias never once stopped a Francoist advance. Note Schwartz's extensive use of loaded language and his appeal to the spurious authority of "every educated Spanish individual."

But the Spanish, I am glad to say, know better than Hobsbawm what happened; they understand that the war involved five main forces. On the right, the counter-revolutionary military and, outside the Basque country, traditionalist Catholics, were supported by a tiny fascist movement.

By contrast, three distinct trends appeared on the Republican side:
a) the Catalan Left, Basque nationalists, and other liberal bourgeois trends who wanted to carry out a Jacobin-style modernization;
b) the proletarian upsurge of the CNT, Socialists, and POUM;
c) the Stalinist conspiracy to create a one-party dictatorship.

Schwartz has C down pretty well. As for B, what to some is a proletarian upsurge is a murderous rampage to others. I note that the Republicans killed more people in Catalonia, some 8000, than the Francoists did, and that most of them were victims of the CNT and POUM, killed in the last six months of 1936. (The rest were victims of, mostly, the Communists during the rest of the war.) And as for A, they were weak amateurs easily dominated by the much more ruthless and effective Communists.

He's flat wrong about the Right, though. In the January 1936 election that put the Popular Front in power, more than 4,000,000 people voted for the Right, mostly for the CEDA. Several hundred thousand more voted for what have been called Center parties, including the PNV. (Some 4,700,000 people voted for the Popular Front parties.) Not all of them were traditionalist Catholics, and even if they were, that does not mean they should be dismissed. They were simply people who did not believe that a revolution was a good idea, farmers, shopkeepers, skilled workers, professionals, and a good few manual workers.

The Right challenged the fairness of that election, by the way. ("The second round runoff contests were held at the end of the month under leftist supervision and considerable pressure from the leftist street mob." --Stanley Payne. After the Right won in Granada and Cuenca, the results in those provinces were invalidated by the Left.)

As for the army, the whole problem was that it was not united behind the July 17 coup. If it had been, there would have been virtually no resistance to the coup, and it would likely have gone smoothly with little bloodshed. But the army was divided about half-and-half between Right and Left, though most of the good units (the Legion and the Regulars) were under Rightist control. If the Left hadn't had some of the army. along with some of the Civil Guard and all of the Storm Troopers (the Republic's own police force), they'd have had nothing whatever to resist the coup.

Moscow tried to unite a) with c) to overcome b), but a) and b) had more in common with each other, and the attempt failed. Stalin, however, succeeded in effectively sabotaging the Republican defense; his discreet 1938 message to Hitler indicating Soviet willingness to withdraw support for the Republic was a crucial step.

No. A and C did unite under Moscow's leadership after May 1937, and B was crushed. Also, Stalin didn't sabotage the Republic so much as he used it for his own purposes. He would have been more than happy to see the Communists win in Spain, but he certainly wasn't willing to invest the money and take the necessary risks to do so.

As to the POUM, it is in discussing this phenomenon that Hobsbawm reveals the extent of his obliviousness about the Spanish civil war. He refers with something approaching disdain to “the murder of its leader Andrés Nin [having] caused some international protest.” In reality, as is well-known in Spain today, protests over the brutal murder of Andreu Nin were commoner in Catalonia than outside Spain, and the Catalan Stalinists never overcame the ignominy the crime brought down upon them.

Yes, Nin was brutally murdered by Comintern agents after the POUM was crushed in May 1937. The problem is that he and his Leninist-Trotskyist POUM were a gang of brutal murderers themselves, who had no qualms about shedding innocent blood to make the revolution. Note how Schwartz keeps going on and on about conventional wisdom in Spain and citing it as an authority.

In 1945, a faction of the POUM formed the Moviment Socialista de Catalunya, which helped organize a Stalinist-free Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC) that was joined by other prominent POUM members in 1976. The PSC happens to govern Catalonia today. The outstanding historical figure of the post-Franco Catalan Socialists, Pasqual Maragall, served as an extremely popular mayor of Barcelona and president of the Catalan regional Generalitat, and has written and spoken vividly about the relevance of the POUM for modern Catalan politics.

Oh, come on. Today's PSC is run by José Montilla, the exact opposite of a fiery revolutionary. The PSC has absolutely nothing to do with the POUM. Pasqual Maragall a POUMista? It is to laugh. The PSC is a moderate European social democratic party, much like in Germany or Italy.

The Spanish people fought for three years, in a libertarian fashion – not limited to the CNT and POUM militias, but also in the militia formations of the Esquerra, the PSOE, and the Basque Nationalists, alongside the “traditional” Republican military units to which the Stalinists were so attached. As the Spanish today know very well, the militia units generally fought better than the militarized units. In particular, the Stalinist-controlled International Brigades and the militarized Republican soldiery with whom they were coordinated were known for incompetence in battle, desertion, and, in the case of many of the foreigners, their reassignment to special groups ordered by the Russians to kill leftist dissidents, since the Spanish would not carry out such duties.

Schwartz has gone round the bend into his own myth-making. 1) The Spanish people? Including the half of them who supported Franco? 2) The militias were lousy. They never won a battle. 3) The Republican Army and the International Brigades were pretty lousy too, and the only important battle they won was when they stopped Franco at the gates of Madrid in December 1936. They did, however, hold out for two more years after that lone victory. 4) I have never before read that "the Spanish would not carry out such duties" as forming firing squads. Plenty of people on all sides served in firing squads, of course, since probably more people were murdered behind the lines in the Civil War than were killed in combat.

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