Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 24, 2007

Edward Rothstein and the Spanish Civil War

Filed under: Fascism,journalism — louisproyect @ 5:01 pm

Today’s NY Times has a rather mischievous review of a photography show on the Spanish Civil War by Edward Rothstein, a cultural critic whose neo-conservatism is usually a bit less obvious. Using the ostensible pro-Communist bias of the curators as an excuse, he comes up with some breathtakingly ignorant observations on Franco’s fascism and the struggle against it.

Edward Rothstein: doesn’t think that Franco was all that bad

Since Rothstein is a far more deft journalist than those who share his politics (Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, et al), he has a way of appearing almost Olympian as he strives for the effect of wise neutrality:

The Soviet vision of the war, of course, has the appeal of both simplicity and (partial) accuracy: Franco was indeed a ruthless tyrant whose victory led to wide-scale purges, cruel imprisonments and extensive constraints. The Western democracies were indeed slow to recognize Hitler’s threat. And without Soviet assistance, the Republic would have foundered sooner. What might have happened had the Republic been defended with a real international force?

Contrary to Mr. Rothstein, the “Western democracies” were not at all slow to recognize Hitler’s threat as long as this was understood as a threat to Bolshevism. Early on, Great Britain saw Nazism as defending the broader interests of European capitalism, even if it did have a somewhat roughneck character. In 1937, the Committee of Imperial Defense (CID) in Great Britain looked benignly on German expansion to the East. Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Minister, gave the Fuhrer fulsome praise for making his country a “bulwark against Bolshevism” that year. A year later Neville Chamberlain described England and Germany as “the two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism.”

All in all, Mr. Rothstein seems to subscribe to the myth of appeasement, a myth all too convenient for those who would view the “Western democracies” as somehow having been hoodwinked by Hitler. Suffice it to say that they knew what they were getting into when they made a pact with this devil. The only thing that finally led to their falling out was differences over who would control Poland.

The tendency for the West to give a wink and a nod to German fascism obviously had some bearing on the Spanish Civil War as well. British military historian Captain B. H. Liddell Hart wrote that “Whitehall circles were very largely pro-Franco,” with the admiralty being particularly soft on the Phalangist gorilla. (Recounted in the well-researched “In Our Time: the Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion” by Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel.) So much hatred was directed against the Reds in these circles that it hardly mattered that the Spanish Republic never intended to launch an assault on private property. The social program of the Popular Front was several degrees to the right of the New Deal in fact.

Any attack on the Spanish “idle rich” would be interpreted as an attack on civilization itself. When Italian and German intervention in Spain was discussed early in the war, the British Cabinet concluded that the Foreign Office “should in the light of the discussion adopt a policy of improving relations with Italy.” Everybody knew what this would mean, including Anthony Eden who admitted in a memorandum in December 1936: What was anticipated in August was that General Franco would make himself master of Spain largely as a consequence of help received from Italy.”

It is not surprising to discover that Mr. Rothstein, a self-avowed admirer of Winston Churchill, would share the Tory version of Spanish reality. He writes:

When a republic was established in 1931, it proved as vulnerable to revolutionary extremism as conservative reaction: land reform could mean land seizure; church reform could mean violence. Anarchism, riots and rebellion were familiar companions of the Republic’s bumbling modernity.

Students of mainstream journalism will immediately recognize the well-crafted deceits embedded in this paragraph, a talent for which no doubt assures Rothstein a permanent position at at the NY Times. “Land reform could mean land seizure”? Well, of course. How can it be otherwise? Let us recall that over 80 percent of the land in postwar Japan was seized from the monarchist gentry and turned over to the peasants, all under the watchful eyes of the US occupation forces. It was okay to seize and redistribute land in Japan at the point of a bayonet, so why not in Spain? Tragically, the land reform was far more ambitious in Japan than it ever was in Spain.

Rothstein refers ominously to church reform and violence, as if priests were the victims of anarchist violence. If they were, it should be understood that they were far more bloodthirsty than their leftist foes. Unfortunately, our intrepid friend of democracy at the NY Times ignores the issue of causality, an inconvenient matter for those disposed to Olympian neutrality. Fortunately for those anxious to know the truth, Vincent Navarro, longtime commentator on Spanish politics, can fill in the gaps:

In every village, town, and city, it was the Spanish Church hierarchy (which had called for a military coup during the Republican government) and the priests who prepared the lists of people to be executed. A primary target of the repression was teachers, considered major enemies by the Church. Its active opposition to the popular reforms by the Spanish republican governments, and its calling on the Army to rebel against the popularly elected government, explains the fury felt by large sectors of the working class, led by anarcho-syndicalists, toward the Church.

For Rothstein, there is even some question whether Spain had anything to do with “international fascism”:

Was Franco’s Spain really an arm of what was called “international fascism”? Spain was neutral during World War II, and the Führer wasn’t interested in Franco’s late offer of support. Moreover, Franco’s tyrannical vision never came up to the standards set by Hitler’s mad plans or Stalin’s demonic enterprise, which is one reason Spain could easily slip into democracy after Franco’s death.

I don’t know about whether Franco could match up to Hitler, but he certainly left Mussolini in the dust. Quoting Navarro once again, “According to Edward Malefakis, professor of European history at Columbia University, for every assassination committed by Mussolini, Franco committed 10,000.”

And don’t you love the business about Spain “slipping” into democracy after Franco’s death, like a fat person exchanging a tight girdle for a nice, comfortable pair of sweats? This, of course, is an interpretation that leftist turncoat Ronald Radosh cooked up in his 2001 “Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War”, a book whose ideas clearly influence Rothstein’s. For people like Radosh and Rothstein, Franco amounts to a lesser evil to Hitler and Stalin. In a way, they are rehashing Jeane Kirkpatrick’s nonsense about the difference between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘totalitarian’ states, a difference that surely would be lost on the 200,000 victims of Phalangist terror.

8/9/1936 NY Times sets a precedent for Rothstein

It should be understood that there is some precedence in showing deference to Generalissimo Franciso Franco at the NY Times. Back on August 9th, 1936, Frank L. Kluckhohn reported from Seville that Franco “promises a liberal regime, favoring no class”, as the article heading put it. Kluckhohn goes on to explain:

Short, black-haired, somewhat round-faced and forceful, General Franco showed no signs of fatigue as be outlined with an occasional easy smile the aims of the Rebel movement, hitherto somewhat obscure. He was working in a tiny room in a palatial Seville home, dressed in a. plain tan army uniform with a soft shirt. His aides, wearing every costume from swank uniforms and red staff caps to blue denim, were busy in the magnificent rooms outside.

The Rebel chief insists that every organized force of government has deserted the Madrid leaders and that they should surrender to avoid further bloody civil war. Ho is willing to promise them safe passage out of Spain and insists the Rebel aims are “to restore peace justice and democracy with favor to no one class.”

“We propose.” he declared, “to see that long-needed social reforms are pushed forward in Spain. As far as the church is concerned, we intend to allow complete freedom of worship, but under no conditions will we permit the church to play a part in politics.

“The trouble with the present Constitution, drafted after King Alfonso left, is that it is more of a dream of what might be than a practical instrument of government. The proof is it has been suspended much of the time since it was drafted, with 30,000 political prisoners jailed and a class war that was a result of its one-sidedness.

“We started the revolt only after it had become self-evident that the government was playing into the hands of the Communists and extreme Socialists and that there was no justice for others. We wanted to halt the daily murder toll and the social disintegration o£ Spain.”

Back in the late 1980s, I first came into contact with the writings of the late John Hess, an outstanding reporter for the NY Times who had nothing in common with Rothstein, needless to say. Prompted by some typically sniveling attack on the veterans of the Spanish Civil War by the Village Voice’s Paul Berman (a Rothstein think-alike), Hess wrote the Voice to complain about Berman pissing on their grave. If Hess were alive today, I am sure that he would have had something to say about Rothstein now defecating on that same place.


  1. Proyect knocks another one out of the ballpark.

    Comment by J. Marlin — March 24, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

  2. Yes, very nice.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — March 24, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  3. Bravo!

    Comment by Steve — March 25, 2007 @ 3:04 am

  4. Ya gotta love those ad hominem diatribes and partial quotes. Fact: Franco won and kicked Frank Kluckhohn out of Spain. So much for polemics.

    Comment by R H Kluckhohn — March 25, 2007 @ 4:56 am

  5. I loved that post.

    I felt sorry for Orwell in Catalonia.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — March 25, 2007 @ 6:19 am

  6. Louis- Good article!

    Comment by Clifford — March 27, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

  7. I chatted with Milt Wolff about the article this morning and as he put it “they half quote and half understand” it. None of this is simple and trying to revise history to simple binary ones and zeros to come up with a definative version of anything is naive at best, foolishly arrogant at worst.

    Right is right, it is not a political viewpoint and wrong is wrong. Spain, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bosnia, Rwanda, Dafur…the right decisions are not and were not the easy ones.

    –Angie Dorman

    Comment by Angie Dorman — March 29, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

  8. Beautiful post.
    Angie, get real.

    Everybody, please read about where the money came to install both Hitler and Musso.
    Can anyone spell Harriman ?!?!

    Be well.

    Comment by McComber — June 20, 2007 @ 4:09 am

  9. how many Spaniards would’ve died in ww2?

    how many to leftists had they taken over in soain as they did in china and russia and cambodia and north korea and vietnam? (all murdered many humdreds of thousnads if niot milliuons of their own people.)

    franco was a savior.

    Comment by reliapundit — September 6, 2009 @ 3:26 am

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