Wednesday, May 01, 2024

In Spain in 1937 and 1938, many thousands of Leftists of all descriptions, were executed or tortured to death in Communist prisons (one who escaped was George Orwell)

On this day, VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM DAY (spasiba to Tovarich Glenn Reynolds), and in view of Ed Driscoll's thorough post over at Instapundit on George Orwell and his Spanish War period (gracias por los Instavínculos, compañeros Ed Driscoll y Sarah Hoyt), I would like to take the opportunity to add to the discussion by quoting from Paul Johnson's history of the 20th century, from which there is much to learn, not least the appalling truth about the "Republican" camp during the Spanish Civil War. 

Tom Wolfe is quoted as saying that, with the publication of the Venona transcripts, “it turns out that “the Loyalists secretly called in the Soviets at the very outset of hostilities—and if they’d won, Spain would have been the first Soviet puppet state!”

True enough. But according to Modern Times (A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1990s), Paul Johnson points out that while the war lasted, this was already the case: the Kremlin's Soviet NKVD (forerunner of the KGB), not the Spanish, were in fact already in charge of the country (or of that part held by the so-called Loyalists).

Behind [Prime Minister Juan] Negrin's complaisant ignorance, the Communists — that is, Stalin's secret police — took over Republican Spain.  The result was one of the major political tragedies of the century

Among the things the reader learns from Chapter Nine (The High Noon of Aggression) is that during

the rest of 1937 and well into 1938, many thousands of POUM members, and indeed other Leftists of all descriptions, were executed or tortured to death in Communist prisons.  They included a large number of foreigners  …  Among those … who managed to escape were Orwell and Willy Brandt, the future German Chancellor


Andrès Nin, the POUM leader [was] the model for Orwell's hero Goldstein in Nineteen Eighty-Four

Although "Germany, Russia and Italy [all] had gangster dictatorships", ironically,

On the whole, European Communists were safer in their own fascist homelands than in the 'Socialist mother-country'.  Roy Medvedev, the independent Soviet Marxist historian, noted:  "It is a terrible paradox that most European Communist leaders and activists who lived in the USSR perished, while most of those who were in prison in their native lands in 1937-8 survived.' 

 … The purge coincided with Stalin's massacre of his own party in Russia, and it bore all the marks of his methods [what with] the former Barcelona convent of St Ursula [becoming] known as 'the Dachau of Republican Spain'

 … It was one of Spain's many misfortunes at this time that her … Civil War coincided with the climax of Stalin's great terror 

 … Stalin was having his leading agents killed all over the world in 1937-8.  And, as in Russia, virtually all the creatures who helped him to take over the Left in Spain, and then to terrorize it, were murdered in turn       

And, perhaps as interesting is the group, the circle of intellectuals, that Orwell also managed to "escape" from:

… Throughout the Spanish war, Stalinism was assisted not only by superb public relations but by naivety, gullibility and, it must also be said, the mendacity and corruption of Western intellectuals

 … The intellectuals of the Left did not want to know the objective truth; they were unwilling for their illusions to be shattered.  Many of them treated 'the Party' with abject subservience

 … The attempt by Western intellectuals to defend Stalinism involved them in a process of self-corruption which transferred to them, and so to their countries, which their writings helped to shape, some of the moral decay inherent in totalitarianism itself, especially its denial of individual responsibility for good or ill
More generally, from Paul Johnson's previous chapter (Chapter Eight), The Devils, we learn the many ways in which the autocrats of the left (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc…) and of the right (Hitler, Mussolini, Pétain, etc…) inspired, complemented, and even conspired with, one another:

 … the way in which the pursuit of Utopia leads the tiny handful of men in power abruptly to assault a society many centuries in the making, to treat men like ants and to stamp on their nest

 … It was Stalin who pointed the way to Hitler

 … Under the influence of Stalin, the German CP made no real distinction between the Social Democrats ('Social Fascists') and Hitler.  Their leader, Ernst Thälmann, told the Reichstag on 11 February 1930 that fascism was already in power in Germany, when the head of the government was a Social Democrat

 … Like Lenin he [Hitler] was a gnostic

 … From the end of 1936 to the second half of 1938, Stalin struck at every group in the regime  …        He had been in secret negotiations with Hitler since 1935.  The following year he persuaded the Nazi government to concoct forged evidence of secret contacts between the Soviet army commander, Marshal Tukhachevsky, and Hitler's generals; it was done by the Gestapo and transmitted by one of its agents

One of my very first posts on the internet, 20 years ago or more, was about Chile's Allende and Pinochet, but used the Spanish Civil War to make a significant point:

Again and again, the truth eventually reveals how the sequels "of arrests, death, torture, and exile" are often worse under would-be leftist authoritarian régimes than under rightist ones. Stalin, of course, killed far more people than Hitler did, and a … best-seller (Checas de Madrid by César Vidal) teaches that the Spanish Republicans ran a series of sinister detention centers patterned on the Soviet Checas, which savagely tortured and often slaughtered its prisoners, without the slightest hint of legality; the dead and disappeared in the province of Madrid alone were, in only a couple of years, almost four times as numerous as the victims over 17 years of none other than… Chile's Pinochet (almost 12,000 in Madrid versus some 3,000 in Chile). In the Miami Herald, Carlos Alberto Montaner added that before going after alleged criminals abroad, such Europeans as Judge Baltasar Garzón would perhaps do better to start bringing their own killers (both left and right) to justice.

The main post on Paul Johnson's Modern Times (A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1990s) — with many more excerpts from the 780-page book — is here:

• "Hitler remained to the end a socialist"; the Führer "was totally irreligious and" wanted to hang the Pope in St Peter's Square

Bottom: The trailer for Land and Freedom, Ken Loach's pro-Republican film but with a handful of scenes critical of the Soviet presence in Spain