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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol 23 4 dec 2001 (Page 5)

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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol 23 4 dec 2001
THE VOLUNTEER, December 2001 5
Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in
the Spanish Civil War
Edited by Ronald Radosh, Mary R.
Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov, Yale
University Press, $35.
This is the second in a two-part
series. See the September 2001
issue of
The Volunteer for the
beginning of this series.
By Paul Preston
he Spanish Civil War that broke
out when army officers rebelled
on the evening of July 17, 1936,
was, in its origins, a series of Spanish
wars­between landless laborers and
big landlords, between industrial
workers and industrialists, between
regional nationalists and military cen-
tralists, between anti-clerical atheists
and Catholics.
In the first hours of the war, there
was reason to believe that the legally
elected Republican government could
defeat the military insurrection. The
Republic controlled the nation's gold
and currency reserves, the most
advanced industrial cities, and the
areas of the most prosperous export
agriculture. Prime Minister José Giral
immediately turned to Spain's normal
supplier of arms, France, for help.
Meanwhile, spontaneous work-
ing-class militias had emerged to
resist the military rebels. They were
poorly armed and untrained but, in
peninsular Spain, they faced unwilling
conscripts. The elements of the Spanish
army that could make all the differ-
ence, the ruthless colonial Army of
Africa, was blockaded in Morocco by
the Republican fleet, in the hands of the
left-wing crews who had mutinied
against their right-wing officers.
The relatively favorable prospects
of the Republic were, however, soon
overturned. By sheer force of person-
ality, General Franco in Morocco
managed to convince Nazi business-
men and the Italian military attaché
that, if only he could get his troops
across the Straits of Gibraltar, he could
quickly win the war and would
become a faithful acolyte of Hitler and
Mussolini. The message was transmit-
ted to Rome via the military attaché's
reports and to Hitler personally via a
complex chain whereby Franco's con-
tact, Johannes Bernhardt, made
contact with Ernst Wilhelm Bohle of
the Nazi Auslandorganization, Bohle
with Hitler's lieutenant, Rudolf Hess,
and Hess with the Führer himself.
The Spanish Civil War becomes
Perceiving that the events in Spain
offered a unique opportunity to desta-
bilise the international order and
undermine the hegemony of Britain
and France, Hitler decided on July 25
to send the necessary transport air-
craft. Mussolini delayed a little longer
until he was absolutely sure that
France would not be helping the
Republic, making his decision proba-
bly on July 27.
By the beginning of August,
German and Italian aircraft had begun
the great airlift of the Army of Africa
to Seville. Within 10 days, therefore,
what was happening in Spain had
ceased to be a Spanish war. It had
become an international conflict tak-
ing place on Spanish soil.
In one way or another, there were
seven powers, of varying scales,
involved in determining the outcome
of the Spanish Civil War. Portugal,
Germany, and Italy aided Franco from
the earliest days. German aid would
never go beyond the limits of the
highly efficacious high-tech air forces
of the Condor Legion, while Italian
participation, to the chagrin of many
Italian regular army generals, would
escalate massively in terms of both
men and equipment. Britain and the
United States remained neutral.
France, inhibited by its own internal
tensions, was never wholeheartedly
behind the Republic but did send a
certain amount of aid.
The Soviet Union's immediate
response to the events in Spain was a
mixture of horror and embarrassment.
The principal objective of Soviet poli-
cy at the time was to secure an alliance
with the Western powers against the
Third Reich. This objective was likely
to be undermined by the revolution
that broke out in Spain as a response
to the collapse of the apparatus of the
State that was the immediate conse-
quence of the military uprising. The
Kremlin did not want any suggestion
of a Russian-sponsored revolution to
complicate its efforts to ingratiate
itself with London and Paris. That was
one of the reasons for the adoption of
the policy of Popular Front at the VII
Congress of the Comintern in 1935.
The suggestion that Communists
should collaborate with their erstwhile
enemies, Socialists and middle-class
liberals, against fascism was the coun-
terpart of the Soviet Union's own
quest for allies among the bourgeois
states. It was only the alarming evi-
dence of the sheer efficacy of
international fascist intervention on
the rebels' side, with Franco's columns
racing towards Madrid, which com-
pelled the Kremlin to take a decisive
role, a decision that seems to have
been definitively taken towards the
end of September 1936.
Much of the story of the crucial,
indeed determinant, international
S p a i n B e t r a y e d ?
The editors do not mention that the Republic was forced into
its relationship with the Soviet Union because of the Western
powers' policy of non-intervention, which denied Spain its
rights in international law.
Continued on page 7

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