The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, And Revenge, by Paul Preston
It is a hard thing to find a good book on the Spanish Civil War. There is an oft-repeated saw that history is written by the winners, but in the case of the Spanish Civil War, that is certainly not the case. Indeed, might be said that history is written by the whiners, and that would explain the sort of people who write history on subjects where they have an ideological ax to grind not based on the reality of the situation. And that is certainly the case when one reads about the Spanish Civil War from those who are trying to re-fight the ideological battles of the 1930’s over and over again. Indeed, it is probably not a stretch to say that the vast majority of works on the Spanish Civil War have about as much historical worth as the Lost Cause-centered books that are often written about the American Civil War. In both cases the losers have wanted to reverse the verdict of history and paint their opponents as being horrible and wicked and themselves as being unjustly snuffed out of existence, with nonexistent sympathy as far as I am concerned as a reader.
This book is a bit more than 300 pages of written material and it begins with acknowledgements, a list of plates, a map of Spain, and a preface that gives its perspective. The author provides an introduction about the Civil War 70 years on and why the subject should be studied now. This leads to a leftist perspective of Spain’s divided society in the period before 1931 (1), when the second Republic was established in Spain. The next two chapters look at the back and forth between a period of leftist ascendancy (2) and then Conservative reaction, which is framed in a much more negative way (3) before the narrow election of a leftist coalition led to a military coup that became a Civil War when it failed to immediately take over the cities of Spain (4). The author gives the usual leftist whine about being betrayed by the neutrality of the Great Powers (5), spends an entire chapter talking about the epic siege of Madrid (6), and then spends two chapters examining reaction and terror (7) and revolution and terror (8) on both sides, with a clear bias towards minimizing leftist violence and exaggerating rightist violence. The book then ends with a discussion of the gradual attritional defeat of the leftists (9) as well as Franco’s peace (10), which managed to preserve Spain safe through World War II and in hostility to the Soviet Union in the Cold War that followed, after which there is a discussion of principal characters, a glossary, a list of abbreviations, a bibliographical essay, and an index.
This particular book offers a consistently partisan guide to the Spanish Civil War that is a bit longer than the usual work but no more accomplished. It seems baffling to me that the partisans of the leftist Spanish Republic would seek to use their division as a way of gaining sympathy from others. Despite having the support of the Soviet Union and control of the government, the conflict between socialists, anarchists, and Communists appears to have doomed the Loyalist side to failure. A divided house cannot stand–this is by no means a new insight, not even when it comes to civil wars. That said, having a divided house is not something to get pity or sympathy for when your enemies are able to deal with their potential divisions and nevertheless stay unified and focused on the goal of a war–to win. Likewise, it is a bit rich for the author to claim like so many do that the right is to be blamed for atrocities against leftists but that the leftists are to be let off the hook because such violence was “spontaneous.” This sort of self-serving illogic only further discredits leftists in the eyes of those who disagree with them and unfortunately find themselves reading such books as this one.