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SPAIN: Radosh, Habeck and Sevostianov

Robert Whealey reviewed Radosh, Habeck and Sevastianov, Spain Betrayed in Diplomatic History (March, 2002). Here are the parts relevant to our discussion: "Soviet Minister of Defense Klemit Voroshilov, in Moscow, handled many of the incoming military messages from Spain, as more than a third of the eighty-one published documents were addressed to him. Stalin was sent at least ten. Stalin, the real head of the Soviet Union, made one direct order to the Spanish government, on the conservative side. After the bombing of the pocket battleship "Deutschland" on 29 May 1937 (which enraged Hitler), Stalin said that the Spanish Republican air force should not bomb German or Italian vessels. Historians interested in the Spanish Civil War have seven questions about the role of the Spanish Communist Party and the Soviet officials in Spain:

  1. The growth of the membership of the Spanish Party at the expense of liberals, anarchists and socialists from July 1936 to sometime in mid 1938;
  2. The division among the Spanish Socialists;
  3. Whether the Spanish Republic ever became a satellite;
  4. Why the Republic lost,
  5. yet lasted as long as it did;
  6. What the Spanish Communists thought about "revolution," as compared to socialist, anarchist, and Trotskyist conceptions of "revolution";
  7. What destroyed, as the war ground on, the morale of the Spanish left.

Soviet agents in Spain in the Comintern, the GRU, and Foreign Ministry wrote some long dispatches. Frightened of a purge, they put in a line to satisfy every tendency. After all the twists and turns, the line that best describes Soviet policy is the slogan, "Win the war, and this means the revolution too" as quoted by the Spanish Communist, Pedro Checa. There is ample room for others to mine the eighty-one documents for facts and to interpret them differently from Checa or from Radosh.

One point clarified is the importance of the International Brigades (IB) in upholding a military balance of power. The Soviet documents back up the generally well-known story that Brigade members saved Madrid in November 1936, and played a big role at Guadalajara (March 1937). But previous historians have exaggerated the power of the Brigades and their continued presence as a potential "pretorian guard" on into 1938. "Gen. Walter" in shows that by 14 January 1938, the Spanish Popular Army had 200 Spanish brigades compared to five International Brigades.

The longest (seventy-three printed pages) and most colorful document in this collection is Doc. 60. "General Emilio Kleber," real name Manfred Stern, was a Soviet Commissar sent by the Moscow Politburo. By timely action, the internationals he commanded helped save Madrid from Franco in November 1936, after Spanish Government leaders had left the capital. Kleber's report is dated 14 December 1937, which was probably when he began composing it, after his recall from Spain. However, it apparently included diary material written at Spanish fronts. Internal evidence in the document indicates he may still have been writing after March 1938, because he mentions the Anschluss and the Sudetenland problem. He was in Spain by 15 September 1936, present at the fall of Toledo and a field commander for parts of a critical year.[4]

In November 1936, Kleber was in liaison between the Spanish Minister of Defense in Valencia and the French Communist Andre Marty, who was in charge of recruiting and arming the International Brigades in Albacete. Kleber essentially saved Madrid in November 1936, with the Spanish Communist 5th Regiment and the International Brigades. After that he fell into constant quarreling with Marty. Kleber says relations with the official Madrid Junta of Defense commander Gen. Jose Miaja were good until mid-1937.

Kleber demolishes the myth of a monolithic Stalinist, totalitarian unity. Stalin had aspirations to totalitarianism, but was nowhere near achieving it until 1939. The Spanish Socialist Minister of Navy and Air Force Indalecio Prieto (Doc.45 ) expresses the typical democratic attitude toward Communists, "For the Communist is not a human being--he's a party; he's a line." He is a person, "with the unseen committee behind his back." Kleber, in contrast, got on well with some Spanish Communists but not others. He got on better with Poles and Yugoslavs than with French. He even sometimes parried suggestions to go to this or that town or front line on suggestions made by his presumed Soviet superiors in the Military Attache's office. After his recall to Moscow in December 1937, Kleber (Stern) disappeared, shot in the 1938 purge. Others purged by Stalin included Ambassador Rosenberg, Consul Antonov-Ovseenko, General "Berzin," and Military Attache Gorev. On the other hand, Palmiro Togliatti ("Alfredo," "Ercoli", Docs. 51,62) survived to head the post World War II Communist Party of Italy. Tito of Yugoslavia, who also aided the Communist cause in the civil war, is not identified.

Very few of the eighty-one documents mention General Francisco Franco or other Nationalists. But they underline Franco's importance by discussing both the Communist and general Republican problems in establishing a chain of command from the beginning in July 1936. Few in the Nationalist Army or among Franco's Italian or German military advisors questioned the Generalissimo's final decisions. In contrast, some Communist commissars and military officers quarreled with each other and the Spaniards practically every day on a battalion and company level.

Who was primarily in charge in the Republican government? The Spanish Fifth Regiment in Madrid? The general staff in Valencia? The Prime Minister of the Spanish cabinet? Various Spanish leaders in Barcelona? The union militias of the Socialist UGT, the anarchist CNT, the Central Committee of the Spanish Communist Party, Marty in Albacete with the International Brigades, or the Soviet Military Attache? What authority did Comintern and military men, sent by Moscow, have over the Spanish operation? Those questions were never decided from July 1936 to March 1939. What happened is that too much time was wasted stabbing others in the back, missing orders, stealing equipment, placing battalions in reserve, not understanding the basic languages of the operations (Spanish, French, Russian) and committing a dozen other errors. The Spanish parties and Soviet agents also spent too much time spying on one another. Incompetence was confused with subversion by spies, provocateurs, wreckers, and saboteurs.

Did the Republicans eventually lose through incompetence, or sabotage, or the ideological fixations of half dozen tendencies? Who in the CNT or the UGT or the Republican Left were secret party communists or Trokskyists? Did it make any difference by 1939? It is well known that the Socialist Party was badly divided in July 1936 between the revolutionary faction and the reformist faction. What the Soviet documents show is that the Socialist problem was only the tip of an iceberg.

Anglo-American historians occasionally have suggested that Juan Negrin, Prime Minister of Republican Spain from May 1937 to March 1939, was either a puppet of Moscow or a secret Soviet agent. One tidbit of information from "Kleber" (Doc. 60) about Negrin, which partly explains his puzzle, is that the Socialist doctor from the Canary Islands had a Russian wife (p.326). The Soviet documents indicate that he was trapped by his situation. Surrender to Franco meant execution. Fleeing to France meant cowardice and charges of fascist sympathies. Staying in office offered an ever-diminishing chance that the Republic and his own life could be spared by a twist of international diplomacy. He tried to be a smooth vacillating healer in a split cabinet. He tried to negotiate between the anti-communist Largo's UGT, the CNT unions and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE). Yet the PCE through its ties to Moscow eventually assumed the power of rationing military supplies bought and paid for in advance by the Spanish since September 1936.[6] Negrin also was quite sensitive to French politics and wanted the Soviets to go slow in pressuring the French Popular Front to the left, for fear of forcing the Radical Socialists to move to the right (Doc.79). The USSR was fighting for the Popular Front, so worked to keep Socialists, both Largo and later Negrin, in office as long as possible.

A Communist coup would have meant open repudiation of the democratic Republic, and probably an early recognition of Franco in Washington, London and Paris and an early end of the Spanish War. When the war was over, Negrin fled to France and later Britain, not the USSR.

The major enemy of the Communists within the Popular Front coalition, both Spanish and foreign, was General Jose Asensio. After the fall of Malaga in February 1937, the Soviets were convinced he was a secret agent of Franco sabotaging the Popular Front. The Soviet Military Attache was suspicious of him as early as 1936. Louis Fischer, American journalist and Popular Front sympathizer who helped at the International Brigades base at Albacete in the fall of 1936, agreed with the Soviets that Asensio's loyalty was in question (Doc. 30). The Soviets could not openly expose Asensio, because Premier Largo Caballero leaned on him for military advice. Largo needed Asensio to protect him from the PCE.

It is well-known that Stalin's paranoia led to a curtailing of the influence of the party with Trotskyist tendencies, the POUM, in May 1937. Soviet Ambassador Marcel Rosenberg on 30 September 1936 charged the POUM as "provocateurs" (Doc. 13). It is noteworthy that as early as 22 July 1936, the Comintern Agent Codovilla (Argentinean) reported together with Jose Diaz, who headed the Spanish Communist Party.

The title Spain Betrayed creates many ambiguities. It is vital to identify and date the charges. The complex reality was that many were betraying many others. Franco betrayed the constitution and the liberal government in July 1936. Communists betrayed Prime Minister Largo Caballero in 1937, socialist Prieto betrayed the anarchists, the CNT union anarchists betrayed the political FAI, Spanish Communists betrayed Comintern officials and vice versa, French comrades betrayed German comrades in the International Brigades, etc. What this generation needs to know is, what were the Soviets trying to do in Spain?"

My comment: The last question is the key to our discussion. The review stresses the infighting among individuals and groups. It is hard to see the wood for the trees. After the defeat of the republic, individuals, groups and countries accused others of being responsible. One significant detail: we cannot take documents at face value: For example, as Robert Whealey points out, Russians slanted their reports so as not to jeopardize their relations with Moscow. Even so, many of the leading Russians involved were purged. What a system!!! "The slogan, "Win the war, and this means the revolution too" suggests that Moscow's real aim was to win the war and than bring about revolution. This is the crux of our argument.

Ronald Hilton - 7/27/02