THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: Revolution and Counterrevolution, Burnett Bolloten. eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf)

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The final, revised, edition of Burnett Bolloten’s exhaustive and indispensable, 50-year-long scholarly study of Republican/revolutionary politics in the Spanish Civil War (“The Grand Camouflage:, 1961; “The Spanish Revolution”, 1979; “The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution”, 1986), covers the entire period of the war from 1936 to 1939. Welsh-born Bolloten, initially a Communist Party fellow-traveller, was a war correspondent for United Press who witnessed at first hand the rise to power of the Stalin- and bourgeois liberal-backed Spanish Communist Party and how it successfully subverted and repressed the popular revolutionary process that resulted from the failed military-clerical-fascist pronunciamento of July 1936.

“Burnett Bolloten’s The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution is a monument of dedicated scholarship that is not likely to be replaced. The best study of the subject in any language, it merits a place beside Gerald Brenan’s The Spanish Labyrinth and Raymond Carr’s Spain, 1808-1939 as a classic in the historiography of modern Spain.” Paul Avrich, Queens College, City University of New York

BollotenSCWsmall“In smashing the Spanish revolution, the true nature of Stalinism would be fully experienced outside the USSR for the first time. Trotsky would conclude, in late 1937, that events in Spain had ‘acted to fix definitively the counter-revolutionary character of Stalinism on the international arena’. A thorough and very detailed account of the Stalinists’ role in the Civil War can be found in Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counter-Revolution. Bolloten worked as a journalist in Spain between 1936 and 1938, and his experiences there led him to break with Stalinism and dedicate his life to writing the history of the political struggle in the Republican zone. The first version of his monumental study was published in 1961 as The Grand Camouflage. The third, expanded and definitive account came out 30 years later, just after his death. Bolloten has been accused by many of being a Cold War warrior and there have been a whole series of attacks on his work by leftish historians over the years. However, Bolloten cannot be simply dismissed as an anti-Communist. The sheer volume of information, not just on the Communists but also on the role of many leading social democrats and liberals who were more than willing partners in the counter-revolution, and especially on the revolution itself, makes this book essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the events in the Republican zone during the war.

“In comparison with Bolloten’s study, most other material published in English on Stalinism and the Spanish revolution is fairly weak.  A couple of exceptions are E.H. Carr’s The Comintern and the Spanish Civil War, which is of interest, despite being unfinished, and, in particular, the chapters relating to Spain in Fernando Claudin’s The Communist Movement. Claudin was a leader of the Spanish Communist Party until his expulsion in 1964, and his demolition job on party policy during the war, along with his defence of a revolutionary strategy as the only alternative that could have won, is particularly convincing. Anyone wanting to read an unashamedly Stalinist version of events could turn to the curiously entitled, given the author’s politics, Spain: The Unfinished Revolution by Arthur H. Landis, a former member of the International Brigades, or the first volume of Spanish Communist leader Dolores Ibarruri’s (La Pasionaria) autobiography, They Shall Not Pass.

“The Spanish Socialist Party’s role in the Civil War was so inconsistent that it could be referred to in this or the previous section of this Bookwatch. The party’s right and centre were active supporters of the counter-revolutionary line of the Communist Party until many of them realised, too late, that they too were being squeezed out of power. The Socialist left, despite all its revolutionary bluster, especially before the war, proved incapable of developing an independent line and most of its leading members ended up accepting the logic of Popular Front politics. The result of this political confusion was the eventual isolation of the leader of the Socialist left, the misnamed ‘Spanish Lenin’, Francisco Largo Caballero and the conversion of some of his most vociferous supporters into, at least, fellow travellers of the Communist Party. The only book that deals specifically with the fate of the Spanish Socialists during the Civil War is Helen Graham’s solidly researched and informative Socialism and War: The Spanish Socialist Party in power and crisis, 1936–1939.” — Andy Durgan, Bookwatch: Civil War and revolution in Spain

Foreword

The Spanish Revolution was the most unique of twentieth-century collectivist revolutions. It was the only sweeping and violent revolution to take place in a West European country and, despite the eventual growth of Communist hegemony, it was the only truly pluralist revolution, carried out by a variety of distinct, often mutually competitive and hostile, forces. It was also the only major revolution in a larger country that failed, being completely defeated and overthrown by adverse military power. For all these reasons, the Spanish Revolution has never received the attention from students of comparative revolutions that it should otherwise command. Another reason for its relative obscurity in the roster of twentieth-century revolutions is what Burnett Bolloten originally called “the grand camouflage,” the fact that it took place within a multiparty Popular Front Republican political framework, broke out only after civil war had begun, and was systematically presented by its supporters and propagandists abroad as something quite different from what it was. Ultimately, the perceived international importance of the civil war and foreign military intervention came virtually to monopolize attention.

The revolution occurred in Spain, in the broadest perspective, because of the unique historical situation of that country in the early twentieth century. During the 1930s, as for the past hundred years, Spain was both the least modernized of the larger Western European countries and civically and culturally the most advanced of the economically backward Southern (and Eastern) European countries.

Though Marx predicted the inevitability of revolution at the climax of industrialization, history has shown that modernizing societies are much more prone to severe conflict during the early and early-to-medium phases of industrialization. The low wages and extreme economic pressures of the earlier stages of industrial development, together with the concentration of masses of alienated workers in new urban environments, created potentially explosive conditions that become attenuated in the later phases of industrialization. Social rebelliousness was heightened in Spain by the simultaneous emergence of the modern agrarian problem—the demographic expansion of a large class of landless laborers and dwarfholders, mainly in the southern half of the country, whose economic situation actually declined in some respects during the slow modernization of the nineteenth century and who lived in greater real or comparative immiseration by the early twentieth century than during the final phases of the old regime.

The leftward trend of Spanish politics was at first unchecked by modern nationalism, the major mobilizing force of the right in some other countries but almost unknown in Spain save in the special regions of centrifugal micro-nationalism, where it only compounded social and political cleavage. Spain at first managed largely to avoid major international pressures on its domestic political development, staying out of the alliance system and not participating in World War I. It thus became a unique case, almost a special laboratory example, of the full range of modernization conflicts and potential sociopolitical rivalries, found then and later in other countries, but in the Spanish case little influenced or distorted by foreign war, occupation, or overt foreign pressures of any kind.

Indirect foreign influence of a sort was nonetheless a factor in the final cleavage and breakdown of the Spanish polity. This came about not through direct pressure or intervention but simply through the mutual fear of the major Spanish political actors, as the internal polarization grew, that the worst examples of foreign political extremism were being imitated in Spain and that a Spanish version of either communism or fascism might soon triumph. This fear, which was palpable on the eve of the Civil War, served psychologically to justify the direst measures to avoid falling prey to the equivalent of the worst foreign extremisms in Spanish guise, or so the militants of left and right came to believe. Thus, though not involved in international alliances and military conflict, Spain was in this way closely associated psychologically with the politics of the rest of Europe and fully prone to the worst political pressures of the period—indeed, because of the severity of internal division, prone to such pressures, even though of the Spaniards’ own making, to an exaggerated degree.

If mass revolutionary movements came to Spain somewhat late by Russian standards, their growth was not at first contested by strong central nationalism and right reactionary forces, as in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. That, in turn, led the revolutionaries to overestimate their strength, forgetting that underlying conservative social forces were nonetheless potentially stronger than in civically undeveloped Russia and that the international balance was quite different in Western Europe in the 1930s from what it had been in Eastern Europe in 1917–20. Both of these factors, the underlying strength of a partially quiescent Spanish right that was eventually mobilized by Franco and the weight of international forces, were ultimately decisive in the defeat of the Revolution.

The Spanish Civil War, within which the Revolution took place, was the most important political event in European and indeed Western affairs during the 1930s prior to the outbreak of World War II. Its importance to the world at large stemmed not so much from the domestic conflict in Spain as from the involvement and threatened involvement of major powers and equally from the manner in which the struggle was perceived in terms of the major political tensions in other countries. To supporters of the Republic, the war was normally cast as a contest between democracy and fascism, and indeed as the only forum in the Western world in which the advance of fascism was being contested at that time. Actual developments within the Republican zone were often little appreciated outside Spain. Almost as soon as the Civil War ended, attention was diverted to the general war developing in Europe, so that the Spanish conflict was viewed for years as little more than prelude or footnote to the European struggle.

Given the combination of cultural repression inside Spain during the generation that followed and the categorical lack of attention to Spanish domestic politics and history outside the country, virtually no serious study was directed toward the Spanish Civil War in the next two decades. Only after the beginning of the 1960s did a series of scholarly works appear that began to cast the Spanish struggle in accurate historical perspective and detail.

Of these new studies, the only one devoted to the politics of the Revolution in the Republican zone was Burnett Bolloten’s The Grand Camouflage,a  distant ancestor of the present work, published by Hollis and Carter (London) in 1961. This constituted a major scholarly breakthrough, presenting for the first time detailed documentation on the political struggle among the major Republican forces during the first nine months of the Civil War. It lifted the events of July 1936 to April 1937 out of the realm of propaganda and party polemics onto the plane of fully documented history, providing a detailed account of the socioeconomic and political revolution of the Anarchosyndicalists, the POUM, and the revolutionary Socialists during the initial months of the Civil War, particularly in the regions of Catalonia, Aragon, and the Levante.

A second fundamental contribution of Bolloten’s work was to document step-by-step the growth of Communist political and military power. This revealed the expansion of Communist power first in the Republican central zone and then progressively in certain others, with steadily mounting Communist influence in the army, the police, and political apparatus. If this was the dark side of Republican politics, it is all the more important that it be fully clarified. The cause of historical understanding of the Republic obviously could not have been served by any process that did not bring all major developments into the light of day, and the significance of Bolloten’s contribution lay in the fact that it was he who pioneered the task. Reconstruction and understanding of the immediate past of Spain was not merely a pedantic exercise but in fact an absolute intellectual necessity or prerequisite for the effective and enduring reestablishment of democracy in Spain. It is no exaggeration to say that Bolloten’s work was a noteworthy step in that lengthy but vital process. Thus Josep Tarradellas, first president of the restored democratic Generalitat of Catalonia, rightly called it “one of the most important books among the 15 or 20 thousand volumes that have been published on the war in Spain.”

Yet, not altogether surprisingly, The Grand Camouflage often did not gain the welcome among historical and political commentators that it deserved. The book had in fact been completed in 1952, but because it opened up an entirely new perspective that contradicted much of standard opinion, it had been rejected by numerous American publishers, including five university presses. As Raymond Carr observed in his foreword to the 1979 edition of The Spanish Revolution, “Perhaps the title was unfortunate, in itself a camouflage which hid the fact that this was the work of a dedicated scholar who had combed every available source in order to reconstruct the confused politics of Republican Spain in the Civil War.” Moreover, Hollis and Carter insisted on adding the subtitle “The Communist Conspiracy in the Spanish Civil War,” giving the mistaken impression that the book was another anti-Communist tract.

Appearing in 1961, the book fell victim to the passions of the Cold War. Hailed by conservatives and anti-Communists as an exposure of Communist intrigue and domination, it was vociferously denounced not merely by Communists and pro-Communists but also by some other leftists and supporters of the Republic as an effort in some fashion to impugn or besmirch the Republican cause, even though that was very far from the intent of the author or the substance of the book. Bolloten’s work in fact effectively refuted the rightist charge of a Communist plot to overthrow the Republic in 1936. It was nonetheless alleged that the author was an agent or employee of the CIA or some political force, and the book was cast in a totally misleading light in the pirated edition brought out in Barcelona by the Falangist publisher Luis de Caralt, with an introduction by Manuel Fraga Iribarne, three months after it had appeared in England. Despite Bolloten’s every effort to block publication of what he called a “hurried and bowdlerized” translation, it was released in Spain before any action could be taken. (His repudiation of this edition first appeared in the Boletín Informativo of the Centro de Documentación y Estudios [Paris, June 1963].) The situation was rectified only with the appearance of an accurately translated and legally authorized Spanish edition under the title La revolución española: Las izquierdas y la lucha por el poder (Mexico City, 1962), with a subsequent edition published by the Institute of Hispanic-American Studies at Stanford two years later.

Withal, Burnett Bolloten was not a professional scholar by training or a university professor drawing a guaranteed salary. After his early years as a United Press correspondent, he lived an independent life as a freelancer and private businessman, eventually building a secure career in California real estate during the 1950s and 1960s. Though he taught briefly as a lecturer at Stanford University from 1962 to 1965, the need to earn a living on his own greatly diminished the time available to him for scholarly work. Not only did it delay the appearance of Bolloten’s first book until 1961, but it also limited the scope of that work and made impossible its further development until after his retirement from business in the 1970s.

Only then did he have the opportunity to prepare an expanded study, which appeared in English and in Spanish in 1979 under the more appropriate title of The Spanish Revolution. This second book retained all the strengths of the first, especially its massive foundation of primary sources—which in fact has made it a reference work or source book for other historians—and its rigorous objectivity. The Spanish Revolution provided much more complete treatment of the political struggle of the first ten months of the Civil War, including the climactic conflict in Barcelona during May 1937 and the ouster of Largo Caballero, not merely expanding the scope of the earlier study but including much new material. It thus became the standard and well-nigh definitive treatment of this whole crucial problem area.

Yet there remained the political history of the second half of the Civil War, on which Bolloten had been collecting massive documentation which he had never had the leisure to prepare fully for publication. The 1980s were devoted to the final completion of this lifelong task, producing the present edition, which Bolloten finished only in the very last weeks of his long and remarkable life. The last third of the present work is totally new, dealing with the growth of Communist power—above all in the military and the police—during the balance of 1937 and well into 1938. The offensive against the POUM and other leftist dissidents (primarily cenetistas) is thoroughly treated, as are the two cabinet reorganizations of 1938. The peculiar and complex figure of Juan Negrín, ultimate wartime leader of the Republic, is more fully and carefully depicted here than in any other published work. Careful attention is given to the final phase of Republican politics, with its growth of defeatism and increasing revulsion against Communist domination. The concluding contribution of this magisterial work is to examine thoroughly the very last steps: the final controversial Communist reassignments in military commands, the role of Negrín and of the Communists in attempting a nominal policy of last-ditch resistance, and the development of the Casado conspiracy to overthrow them.

At the same time, extensive new documentation has been added to the main part of the book, made available since the broad opening and reorganization of Spanish archives. The product is thus not merely a longer and more complete work but in many respects a new and largely definitive account, the first truly thorough and accurate examination of the politics of the Spanish Revolution and the Republican zone in detail from beginning to end. It constitutes a monument of scholarship to which future students will be permanently indebted and is also a monument to the persistent endeavors of its author. Few have succeeded so well in so important and difficult an enterprise.

Equally important, Bolloten has bequeathed to future historians the enormous collection of primary and secondary material on the Spanish Civil War to which he devoted much of his life. The Bolloten Collection in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University contains 2,500 imprints (many of them rare items), 12,000 bound newspapers from the Civil War era, 10 large scrapbooks, about 125,000 frames of microfilm, over 67 boxes of manuscripts, and 2 large crates of assorted documents. This rich concentration of materials makes it one of the two or three most important sources in the world for the study of the Spanish Civil War. The legacy of Burnett Bolloten is truly an enduring one.

Stanley G. Payne

 

 

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