Friday, March 11, 2005

Antony Beevor

Spanish Civil War: the enduring ideological myth that what was at stake was a struggle of "democracy versus fascism".

Among the practical benefits of IT surely the fact that one can receive the Times Literary Supplement Newsletter by e-mail should count as one of the most rewarding. In the one that popped up today, about the content of this week's TLS there's an article by Antony Beevor called "Who started the Spanish Civil War" ( I'm all excited that I'm able to post my first "link" . There: ).
Beevor, a bit of an intellectual celebrity in the UK, is a serious, Sandhurst-educated, historiographer who has been writing about Revolutionary Russia-related subjects (including "The Spanish Civil War", "Stalingrad", "Berlin, The Downfall 1945" and "The Mistery of Olga Chekova"). His article is a presentation of two recently published books on the Spanish Civil War, Prof. Stanley G. Payne's "The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union and Communism" (Yale University Press) and Daniel Kowalsky's "La Unión Soviética Y La Guerra Civil Espanola". (Barcelona: Crítica).
Now, I know it's a bit rich to be in Madrid and touch upon this very tricky subject of the Spanish Civil War. As a civil servant, working here in an official job, I should keep my mouth shut regarding certain things (I mean not blogging about it). But still, what's at stake here is the debunking of politico-ideological myths, and that, for someone who's interested in Politics and has spend some time on Bolshevik stuff, is a challenge that cannot be left unanswered.
Beevor's main point, in reviewing both books, is that there's a liberal Left version of the events (translated in the myth that the Spanish struggle was a "democracy versus fascism" thing) which cannot stand in the face of the evidence we now have, in particular after the Russian archives became accessible post-1991. As he put it, "the conflict in Spain was never a choice between liberal democracy and fascism (...). There were only two probable outcomes: a Stalinist dictatorship which had succeeded in crushing its rival allies on the Left, or the cruel regime- reactionary, military and clerical with merely superficial fascist trappings - which the victorious Franco managed to assemble".
Why is it so difficult to revisit certain assumptions? Why do we keep witnessing that powerful ideological inertia against changing old interpretations even when every single piece of the big picture falls into its respective place? Why can't we say Lenin was a Machiavellian monster, who personally instructed his followers to carry on terror tactics (although it's "safe" to say it about Stalin)? Because the "early" Russian Revolution is the fundamental romantic founding-myth of all those who lean to the Left? Why can't we say that Republican Spain was not the on the way to establish a liberal democracy, even if left alone, with no Francos in sight?
We all know and understand that truth can be painful sometimes. But that pain is needed in Politics, and for the sake of democracy. Keep Lenin statues in central squares all over the country, defend him at all costs against the facts excavated by serious historical research, and you will never have democracy in Russia.
Whenever Bolshevik tactics and the "Second 1917 Revolution" model were used (like in 1934 in Spain, or in 1975, for a brief period, in Portugal, for that matter) democracy was never going to be the end result.

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