Although the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 was followed by a far-reaching social revolution in the anti-Franco camp—more profound in some respects than the Bolshevik Revolution in its early stages—millions of discerning people outside Spain were kept in ignorance, not only of its depth and range, but even of its existence, by virtue of a policy of duplicity and dissimulation of which there is no parallel in history.
—BURNETT BOLLOTEN, in “The Grand Camouflage”.
IN THE PREFACE TO The Spanish Labyrinth Gerald Brenan quotes Karl Marx’s observation that the knowledge of Spanish history in his time was altogether inadequate. Marx went on the explain that this was because historians ‘instead of viewing the strength and resources of these people in their provincial and local organisation have drawn at the source of their court histories’. Paraphrasing Marx one could say that the inadequacy of Mr. Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War 1 lies in the fact that he is so fascinated by the personalities of politicians and military men, so carried away by considerations of military strategy and international political intrigues that he more or less overlooks the chief actors—the revolutionary workers—in a struggle that held the world’s attention for nearly three years. The military insurrection in July 1936 would have been one more coup d’état with which we are all only too familiar, for the Spanish government deprived of its real source of authority could only hope to save its skin by either arming the people or seeking to negotiate with the rebel generals. And in July 1936, the government of Casares Quiroga pinned its hopes on the latter. Indeed the socialist journalist Julian Zugazagoitia asserts2 that Quiroga not only refused to arm the people but also announced that anyone who gave arms to the workers without his orders would be shot. Mr. Thomas writes:
Antonio Martín Escudero, better known by the derogatory nickname “El Cojo de Málaga” (‘The Malaga Gimp’), was born in Belvis de Monroy (Cáceres). He was the son of Celestino Martín Muñoz, farmer, and Ascensión Escudero Jara, “her sex being her trade”. Both were 26 years old at the time Antonio was born. The limp from which he suffered was due to a wound sustained during the revolutionary events of Tragic Week in Barcelona (1909). Other sources put the limp down to osteitis.
As a smuggler he, along with Cosme Paules, specialised in the smuggling of weapons across the border for the CNT’s defence groups. By 1922 he and Paules were regular active collaborators with the Los Solidarios group to which they belonged. Between 1924 and 1934 Antonio was in exile in France. He ran a tiny little shoe repair stand in a yard adjacent to an Auvergne coal-yard on the Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris. In 1927, being resident in Aubervilliers, he had a daughter by the name of Florida Martín Sanmartín (she outlived him after he was killed in 1937): The mother’s name is not known to us. In Aubervilliers he worked, first, in construction and later in a garage.
Agustín Guillamón INSURECCIÓN Las sangrientas jornadas del 3 al 7 de mayo de 1937. Hambre y violencia en la Barcelona revolucionaria /INSURRECTION. The Bloody Events of 3 to 7 May 1937. Hunger and Violence in Revolutionary Barcelona (Ediciones Descontrol, Barcelona 2017, 512 pages, 15 euro)
INSURECCIÓN offers a brand new account of the Events of May 1937, one that is highly original and substantially different from that offered by academic historians thus far. Its main feature is that it is built on rigorous archival research and on interviews carried out with some of the protagonists. It is not a book of books, which is to say, the usual rehash made up of clippings and facts lifted from other books which commercial publishers habitually offer us, but a full and sometimes startling and comprehensive account of what occurred during the bloody period between 3 and 7 May, told from the vantage point of the rebels involved and on the basis of rigorous and incontrovertible documentary evidence.
It contains many previously unknown elements that will. no doubt, be re-hashed and inevitably misconstrued in the plagiaristic cut-and-paste world of academia.
” … With the UK’s Foreign Recruitment Act making enlistment in a foreign army illegal, the British authorities became increasingly rigorous in their attempts to enforce non-intervention and implement the law, so Brigaders were recruited discretely through the Communist Party network by local cadres and ‘Spanish Aid Committee‘ organisers who took it on themselves to vet all volunteers, especially non-party members. Politically, around sixty per cent of the Scottish IB volunteers were paid-up CPGB members with twenty per cent or so drawn from the Labour Party, with, perhaps, a scattering of ILP, Scottish Socialist Partyor Scottish Workers‘ Republican Party members. The remaining twenty per cent claimed to have no formal political allegiances. These figures were more or less the same for the whole of the British Battalion the the XVth International Brigade, although it’s impossible to say how many of the 110 Labour Party members were also — as Lewis Clive was — covert CP members. The British Battalion appears to have had at least seven ILP volunteers which to me was unusual given that the ILP line was close to that of the CNT defence committees: that the social revolution was inseparable from the war. It was for this reason that most of the 175 ILPers who fought in Spain did so with the anarcho-syndicalist militias or, like George Orwell, with the anti-Stalinist Marxist POUM. Few British workers had passports in those days so the usual practice was for the volunteers to make their way across the Channel on special weekend returns — which didn’t require passports — and then travel down to Spain with the help of the efficient and well-disciplined French Communist Party— and the French authorities mostly turning a blind eye. The first batch of foreign volunteers to arrive in Spain in the autumn of I936 were obliged to surrender their passports to the ‘Foreigners’ Bureau of the Catalan Communist Party, the PSUC, then controlled by the NKVD, Stalin‘s secret police. Later the International Brigade established its own ‘Control and Security Service’ headed by Alexander Orlov, chief of NKVD operations in Spain. Their passports were never returned and were used in covert NKVD and GRU clandestine operations. There was also an IB ‘Cadre Commission‘ set up in Albacete in February 1937 to monitor and assess the ‘trustworthiness’ of volunteers and to expose ‘fascist’ spies and ‘Trotskyist-anarchist provocateurs. A cadre report on the British Battalion, for example, listed 363 British volunteers, half of them CPers, and described forty-one them as ‘cadres’, 142 as reliable, and I33 — of whom forty were Party members — as ‘weak or bad’…”