You knew this would be left out, didn’t you?

The International Brigades by Giles Tremlett review – fighting fascism in Spain

OK:

The Spanish civil war has long been valorised by the European left, documented, debated and commemorated in incredible detail – in many thousands of books, but also in film, in song, in musical theatre, in poster exhibitions, badges and T-shirts. And while there are many tales of selfless sacrifice, solidarity and idealism, there is also much in the story that is inglorious – the boredom, unpreparedness and terrible equipment, the panic, internal arguments and betrayals, lice, accidental deaths and injuries and Franco’s eventual triumph.

So, we going to get to the Stalinist murders of the rest* of the left?

Ah, no, thought not.

*An exaggeration but not by much.

28 thoughts on “You knew this would be left out, didn’t you?”

  1. Surreptitious Evil

    Hmm, I’m not going to buy it, but I wonder at what depth it covers the Paracuellos massacres? Or even mention the inglorious participation, in the Brigades, of the later to be infamous Erich Mielke?

  2. Homage to catatonia cannot recommend it hard enough. I’d say the reason why Orwell, who fought for anarchist POUM IIRC was so prescient about communism.

  3. Franco’s victory meant that Spain avoided WW2 except for the Blue Division in Russia. I doubt that the rule of the fascists was any worse than the communists would have been.

    One may note that Spain also avoided prolonged wars of decolonisation after the war. The Spanish government promptly and sensibly dumped its overseas empire when it democratised.

    I can only conclude that those foreign governments that felt that it was senseless to waste lives and money intervening in the mess were correct.

  4. A Stalinist Spain would likely have completely changed the face of WW2. To the massive detriment of the allies.

    I see the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact still being signed, I see the USSR putting troops in Spain facing France and Gibraltar, and France having to keep troops facing Spain as a precaution. Poland and the Baltics still get carved up, France falls in 1940 even sooner than it did in reality. Possibly the USSR takes Gibraltar, changing the face of the war in North Africa completely if the Royal Navy can’t operate easily in the Med. So we’d likely have lost that.

    But would there have been Operation Barbarossa with Stalinist Spain to the West of defeated France, imposing a war on 2 fronts? If not, then basically Western Europe is screwed, and we end up with the British ability to wage war severely limited. Also, without the giddiness of the 1941 Barbarossa gains, would Germany have the hubris to declare war on the US? I suspect it would lead to a stagnation and stalemate, with the nominal allies of NS Germany and the USSR dominating their respective spheres of influence on the Continent, and the UK restricted to naval, air and limited raiding ops.

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    What’s so different about the International Brigades compared to any other army at the time:

    And while there are many tales of selfless sacrifice,

    Just like any national army, we even recognise it with medals.

    solidarity

    Its well known that soldiers fight for their mates when the shit hits the fan.

    and idealism,

    That’s soon replaced by realism, but armies still have something higher that they rally round, the regiment being the basic level but king/queen/country are still motivators.

    there is also much in the story that is inglorious –
    the boredom,

    The recruiting sergeant asked me if I read, it didn’t matter what, as he explained the army is 23 hours kicking your heels followed by 1 hour rushing around try to do everything that could have been done in the previous 23 hours.

    unpreparedness

    The British in particular specialise in this but at the start of any war its the same, no matter how well trained the force is, that’s why they talk about plans failing once the fighting starts.

    The difference is the ability of trained armies, especially their generals, to adapt. The Romans were renowned for it, adopting the phalanx and then adapting it to the maniple was a classic case. Its why great generals are usually military historians.

    and terrible equipment,

    That’s been happening for time immemorial and even the best armies have to adapt and make do with old equipment.

    the panic,

    All you can do is train, followed by more training. Idealism is not a substitute.

    internal arguments and betrayals,

    Something the left specialises in, as any cursory reading of the French and Russian revolutions would have told them.

    It may happen at the top of national armies but it only happens in the fighting ranks if they’re getting routed but usually training holds the line.

    lice,

    Personal hygiene, something drilled in to national armies and not something the left is famed for.

    accidental deaths and injuries

    Something that happens even in the best trained armies, they just know how to minimise it.

    and Franco’s eventual triumph.

    Trained and well led (or better led) armies beat rag, tag and bobtail.

    So what did we learn there? The left is more interested in internal arguments and betrayal than training and fighting a disciplined war, so nothing new really.

  6. Also missing from lefty hagiography of the time they got their shit gripped in Iberia – the especial delight they took in sexually assaulting and humiliating helpless nuns, and the murder of priests.

    I doubt that the rule of the fascists was any worse than the communists would have been.

    Understatement of the century, no?

    Francisco Franco saved his country the only way it could be saved – you can’t reason with Communists, anarchists, or “Antifa”.

    ¡Viva!

  7. @Steve +1 Franco, the chap in Portugal, Chiang Kai-shek etc all did sterling work in saving their people from communism. Sadly not enough of them in Chiang’s case. He did get a reggae riddim named after him though…

    The Nazis seem to be the only example of where fascism was worse than communism. Although had Hitler, Goebbels etc been commies, Lord knows what extra horrors they’d have unleashed.

  8. Under Franco, Spain was a nice play to visit, have a holiday, beaches, food, even buy a house and live there, do business. Leningrad on the other hand…

  9. MC – Yarp. My theory is Germans ruin everything with their autism, and Arthur Harris did nothing wrong. Dago fascism was incredibly benign compared with the alternative, it took the squareheads to make it uncool with their wacky racism.

  10. Wonky Moral Compass

    @Hallowed Be. Orwell did indeed fight with POUM but they were Marxists. The anarchists were CNT and FAI.

  11. Question. Were the Nazis, strictly speaking, fascists? Yeah. I know that’s how they’re labelled. But ideologically. Fascism seems to reject socialism whereas the Nazi ideology is more like directed socialism.

  12. Fascism: strong, autocratic central control of a private economy.

    Yes, the 3rd Reich was fascist.

    What set the Nazis apart was demonisation of the opposition, and, as Steve said, wacky racism.

  13. Paraphrasing John leCarre, Germany as a nation tends to over organize, abroad that passes for efficiency.

  14. Gamecock,

    “What set the Nazis apart was demonisation of the opposition, and, as Steve said, wacky racism.”

    But we’ve really no idea what the commies in Germany would have done if they’d won. Fascism, socialism, lefty, righty politics all adapts to the surroundings.

    It’s not like Germany were uniquely bad to the Jews. Sure, Poland in the 1930s wasn’t rounding them up and putting them in gas chambers, but riots against Jews, quotas at universities, bans on government work, trade union restrictions on Jews being doctors or lawyers all existed. It wasn’t a whole lot different to the time of the Nuremberg laws. Jesse Owens said he was better treated in Germany which had no segregation for blacks in hotels, and he returned home to be snubbed by FDR.

    And how much of the population of Europe stood up when the Cohens was being taken away by the SS? People just got on with their lives as the bodies were being burned. I know there’s some fear in that, but I can’t help but wonder how many people were glad they were gone.

  15. @Gamecock
    “Fascism: strong, autocratic central control of a private economy.

    Yes, the 3rd Reich was fascist. ”

    Yes. That was what they ended up with. But was that the original aim?

  16. Were the Nazis, strictly speaking, fascists?

    Fascism is an offshoot of socialism. Mussolini was a leading member of the Socialist International before he figured out that if socialism was ever going to work, it needed the corporations onside – and inside the central planning committees. Nazism (National Socialism) extended that with the mythology and übermensch stuff, and therefore the untermensch leading to blaming their failures on the Jews, etc.

  17. Everything for the NHS

    Nothing against the NHS

    Nothing outside the NHS

    Isn’t that fascism? Rhoda is confused.

  18. I always failed to see how the Republic lost when it had Gary Cooper an Ingrid Bergman fighting for it. POUM was the kind of Trotskyite party and was right royally fucked over by the Stalinist PCE.

    Fascism took many forms in interwar Europe, but the inspiration was always Mussolini’s Italy. It was believed that Benny had solved the problem of having a capitalist economy run by central planning (the formation of corporations that passed orders to the private companies) and was a palatable alternative to the war communism of Lenin’s Russia. The ideology was lost in translation in certain places ( eg Spain, Hungary and Romania ) where it was just a cover for authoritarian government but was enthusiastically embraced in Austria by Dollfuss in 1932 who was convinced that it was the only solution to the Alpine Republic’s economic and political ills and by Salazar in Portugal. What of course no one realised was that Italy ( then as now) was busily cooking the books and was actually broke.

  19. Wonky Moral – ah yes, non stalin marxists. And they end up fighting each other in Barcelona whilst the war against Franco was still going on. Crazy and bloody lucky to come out of it alive.

  20. @jgh Franco’s international brigades by Christopher Othen covers off the flip side of foreigners fighting for Spain
    Also Thorns of memory by Peter Kemp who fought with the Carlists despite being a ‘Prod’ then went on to serve with SOE in the Balkans
    As to

  21. …as to guardianista Tremlett’s latest I’ll probably buy it and digest with a soupçon of skepticism

  22. ‘Poland in the 1930s wasn’t rounding them up and putting them in gas chambers’

    Neither were the Germans. They didn’t start gassing Jews until 1940.

    Concentration camps were not originally set up for industrial murder. That they became such gives people a bias against them.

  23. So Much For Subtlety

    MC October 3, 2020 at 11:40 am – “The Nazis seem to be the only example of where fascism was worse than communism.”

    I disagree. I think that Communism was always worse than any form of Fascism – even the Nazis. Put simply, the Nazis would have run out of Jews a long time before the Communists ran out of Kulaks.

    Or to put it in more practical terms, because the Soviet Union won WW2 with Western aid, China became Communist and they killed about ten times more people than the Nazis – about the same as the whole of WW2. If the West had fought with the Nazis against Moscow, those people would have lived.

    Bloke on M4 October 3, 2020 at 1:59 pm – “Jesse Owens said he was better treated in Germany which had no segregation for blacks in hotels, and he returned home to be snubbed by FDR.”

    Because they did not have enough Blacks to make it an issue.

    “And how much of the population of Europe stood up when the Cohens was being taken away by the SS?”

    A reasonable number. A lot of Danes. A large number of Poles – not that it does them any good because the memory of Polish attitudes is so deep no one will ever forgive them and so always try to smear the Poles as somehow responsible. The Bulgarians and Hungarians in the beginning.

  24. “If the West had fought with the Nazis against Moscow, those people would have lived.”

    I’ve wrestled with that for 50 years. From my remote view, I can’t comprehend Americans siding with the Russians and not the Germans. Many of us, including me, have some German blood.

    I rationalize two reasons.

    1. The First World War was fresh enough in people’s memories to still believe the wartime propaganda from then. Germans mean, bad people. The Hun.

    2. The Great Depression in America had given many people an acceptance of communism (including my parents). When you are starving, you can see the rationality of taking from people who have and giving it to you.

    At the beginning of the war, the wacky racial stuff hadn’t devolved into industrial murder. We loath the Nazis for what they did, but in the early years it hadn’t happened, yet. Note that FDR put Japanese Americans in concentration camps, too.

    One of the German Big Mistakes was their treatment of the people in Belarus and Ukraine. They could have entered as liberators, and not conquerors. Which forced them to deal with rear guard actions throughout the war. The German treatment of the Slavs was perfectly in line with their racial beliefs.

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