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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol 23 4 dec 2001 (Page 7)

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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol 23 4 dec 2001
THE VOLUNTEER, December 2001 7
dimension of the Spanish Civil War
can be studied in the published collec-
tions of the diplomatic documents of
the various powers. There exist com-
prehensive selections of the relevant
documents from the foreign ministries
of France, Britain, Germany, Portugal,
and the United States. The Italian
diplomatic documents are in the pro-
cess of being published and currently
cover the period up to April 1938.
Moreover, official military histories of
both Italian and German intervention
in Spain exist.
The big gap remains the interven-
tion of the Soviet Union. Since that
intervention was not just diplomatic,
but involved the Soviet military
authorities, intelligence agencies, and
the Comintern, with its crucial role in
the organization of the International
Brigades, the need for reliable docu-
mentation is self-evident. That being
the case, the publication of a substan-
tial collection of documents from the
Moscow archives is to be welcomed
The selection of documents print-
ed by Professors Radosh, Habeck and
Sevostianov contains a mass of utterly
fascinating material. To be sure, as the
editors themselves admit, the docu-
ments do not present "startling new
revelations but rather the more com-
plete understanding of Soviet and
Comintern participation in the war
and the politics of the Spanish
Republic." Nevertheless, historians
will be in their debt for the light cast
by many of the reports sent by Soviet
and Comintern agents to Moscow on
such issues as the chaotic state of the
Second Republic in the wake of the
collapse of the State machinery, the
shock of the Russian advisers when
confronted by the military disorgani-
zation of the left-wing forces, or the
problems faced by the International
Brigades in terms of poor equipment
and excess periods at the front. Many
of these documents present valuable
new details to help us understand the
day-to-day problems of the Republic
at war.
Some claims not supported
What these documents do not do,
however, is sustain some of the claims
made about them in the running edi-
torial commentary that accompanies
them. They do not show, for instance,
that the Soviet Union was less con-
cerned with the immediate struggle
against fascism than with establish-
ing a regime in Spain along the lines
of the so-called Peoples' Democracies
imposed in Poland, Hungary, East
Germany, and Czechoslovakia dur-
ing the Cold War. The Soviet Union
pursued its own interests in
Spain­just as the Germans, the
Italians, the Portuguese, the French,
the British, and even the Americans
did. That is how a nation's foreign
policy works.
It would have been odd if Soviet
agents did not hope that, eventually, it
would be possible to make a Soviet
revolution in Spain. However, there is
nothing in the documents to sustain
the editors' claim that "in exchange
for military aid, Stalin demanded the
transformation of the Republic into a
prototype for the so-called People's
Democracies of post-war Eastern and
Central Europe." (p.xvii). It would
have been extraordinary if Stalin had
done so--not only because such
regimes were the fruit of the second
world war, but also because such a
project would have run counter to the
basic objectives of Soviet foreign poli-
cy at the time.
Similarly, the editors' commen-
tary suggests that the International
Brigades did not reflect any sponta-
neous response on the part of leftists,
Communists or otherwise, to the
threat of fascism but that the volun-
teers were merely Soviet lackeys. This
is not a new notion, of course.
Francoist historiography has always
argued this.
Twenty years ago, the American
scholar R. Dan Richardson claimed
that the volunteers "were, from begin-
ning to end, an integral part of that
interlocking directorate which was the
Soviet-Comintern apparatus in Spain."
This argument seems to think that the
Soviet involvement in the organization
of the Brigades was incompatible with
their purpose being to fight fascism. In
fact, many volunteers reacted sponta-
neously to German and Italian
intervention and Soviet intervention
was also a reaction to that.
There can be no doubt that the
International Brigades were better
organized than they might otherwise
have been because the Comintern pro-
vided a vital structure and leadership,
but the fact remains that they were
still based on volunteers and were
still fighting fascism. Forty percent of
British brigaders, for instance, joined
the Communist Party either in order
to facilitate their passage to Spain or
else when they got there­not
because they were the lackeys of
Stalin, but because it let them do
what they wanted to do, which was
to fight fascism.
The assumption that the principal
objective of Soviet policy was the
establishment of a "popular democra-
cy" and anti-fascism was just a façade
to hide this aim ignores the fact that
the principal immediate aim of Soviet
Spain Betrayed?
Continued from page 5
...there is nothing in the documents to sustain the editors'
claim that "in exchange for military aid, Stalin demanded the
transformation of the Republic into a prototype for the so-
called People's Democracies of post-war Eastern and Central
Continued on page 8

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