IN THE HISTORICAL consciousness of the Western world the Spanish Civil War stands out as the single example of armed resistance to the rise of Nazi-Fascist barbarism during the '30s. Between 1933 and 1939 the democratic powers either turned a blind eye or facilitated fascist conquests in Europe. But from July 1936 through March 1939, the ligitimate, elected government and the majority of the Spanish people actively resisted fascist imperialism. For this reason alone the war would be momorable, but there are several other good reasons why it made such a lasting emotional and moral impression. (1) The Republican government represented an alliance of all the liberal-left political forces in Spain: middle-class liberals, parliamentary and revolutionary socialists, Communists, Trotskyites and anarchists. (2) About 40,000 anitfascist volunteers from all over Europe and the Americas (including 3,000 Americans) fought in the Republican army, and the survivors have always indentified themselves intimately with Spain. (3) Those volunteers and most of the journalists who wrote from Spain carried home with them an admiration for that vitality, courage and candor which over the centuries have impressed foreigners traveling in Spain.
Regarding the three books under review, a summary of their subjects will illustrate a fraction of the manifold meanings of the Spanish Civil War. Dan Kurzman's Miracle of November deals with the initial resistance of Madrid, that first defeat of fascist arms which, if a different foreign policy had been adopted in Paris and London, might indeed have made Madrid "the tomb of fascism." In The Spanish Revolution, Burnett Bolloten studies the struggle between the Communist Party and the anti-Stalinist left, a struggle which resulted in the predominant influence of the Communists within the Republican zone. Louis Stein's Beyond Death and Exile deals with the fate of the refugees under French, Republican and later Vichy and German rule, and their important roles in the French Resistance and the liberation of France.
The three subjects are comparable in importance and intrinsic interest, but the Bolloten work is by far the most valuable because of the quality of its research and writing. Bolloten, who was in Spain as a newspaperman in July 1936, immediately recognized the unique character of the collectivist revolution in Catalonia. More exhaustively and analytically than anyone else, he has studied the press and pamphlet literature, and spoken and corresponded over decades directly with representatives of all social classes and political parties. Long quotations keep the book from being easy bedtime reading, but they enable the reader to judge for himself the contents of many critical documents which, outside of Boolloten's pages, are available only in a very few specialized libraries. Many of his opinions are stated abrasively and will anger partisans of one party or another. But they are buttressed by full quotations rather than by brief phrases taken out of context, and they are argued with a lucidity and honesty that must compel the respect of any reader, regardless of his political inclinations. Another great strength of this book is the author's understanding of the context. Too frequently books which deal with passionate political controversies offer a fine theoretical analysis but lack knowledge of the persons, the geography and the economic and social circumstances underlying the factional struggles. Bolloten constantly relates political pronouncements to specific experience.
Stein's work is also based on wide reading and interviewing and is carefully documented. His evident sympathy for the Republican refugees, and his moral indignation at the improvised French concentration camps of early 1939 and the Vichy government's Foreing Labor Service, lead to a repetitive pathos which may well irritate even readers who are fully sympathetic with his views. More important, Stein offers relatively little evaluation of his quoted sources. The reader often learns what the French and English press said about a particular camp, or incident with the French police, but will fail to find Stein's evaluation of the truth. Stein refers to a report by French socialists of French police attitudes toward the refugees "that excused excessive physical beatings." The reader may wonder what justification there would be for "ordinary" beatings and what the difference is between the two varieties. When he quotes a French newspaper saying that Franco was still "a prisoner of the Italians," he does not tell the reader whether this statement was factual. But I do not wish to emphasize only the weaknesses. Stein offers a moving, accurate, detailed history of the desperate emigration in January-February 1939; the vicissitudes in the improvised beach camps; the generosity and the often absurd fears of the local French population; the exploitation of Spanish labor skills by the Vichy government and in the Nazi Todt battalions; the often unacknowledged contribution of Spaniards to the French Resistance, and their bitter feelings of betrayal when the Allies in 1945-46 decided to accept the Franco regime rather than risk the instability of renewed change in Spain.
Kurzman's book is reliable in that it is consistent with the better-documented and less melodramatic accounts of the siege of Madrid. The author writes that he has exhaustively checked all claims and statements, but his bibliography simply names books and persons without giving specific references. Even granting the exhaustiveness of his research, autobiographical writings and interviews years after the event do not in any way guarantee historical truth. The author also has a conspiratorial theory of history which seems to me plain wrong.
He believes that "in a strange and momentous twist of history, the Loyalist stand in the November battle doomed the Loyalist cause," and that Stalin throughout the war gave just enough aid to keep Republican hopes alive without permitting a victory. Such an interpretation omits the Soviet concerns with the Japanese on their Siberian frontier in 1937-8, likewise the complete inability of the Soviets to open the land frontiers of France and the fact that Stalin extended new aid in January 1939. What really doomed the Loyalist cause, from a military point of view, was the hypocritical "nonintervention" policy sponsored by France and England and supinely followed by the United States.