‘Blinded by anti-communism’
Writing in the October newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, Helen Graham, professor of contemporary Spanish history at Royal Holloway, University of London, offers various criticisms of Antony Beevor’s “The Battle for Spain” of which the primary one is her accusation that this history is distorted by Beevor’s distate for the comrades. “Relentless anti-communism,” is her verdict.
“In the end the Cold War view of the Spanish Republic is an imperialist one,” she states. But Beevor offers neither a Cold War view nor an imperialist view. He merely strips the varnish off the myths and reveals that the Communists played a pretty disgusting game in Spain. (He makes no apologies for the Francoists, either.) But this even-handed approach will not do for Dr Graham. She notes the “quite fundamental differences between the Francoist and Republican political projects” which she claims “are pretty much empiracally verifiable.” This is an odd formulation. Who can know if a Republican victory would have been followed by a bloodbath on the scale of the one ordered by Franco. It might have been lesser, or worse. Nobody can doubt the taste of the commissars for slaying their enemies.
Dr Graham’s review is oddly self-contradictory. She says the book’s “real value” lies in its military analysis. Yet she comes to the defence of the Republican chief of staff Vincente Rojo, trashed by Beevor as a military adventurer. Rojo was certainly quick to throw away the lives of his men in wild adventures. Yet Dr Graham defends operations like the Ebro offensive as “vital to projecting an image of military vitality and political will.” Frankly, this is an utterly bizarre assessment of a commander who marched ill-equipped men up exposed hills to be shredded by nationalist bombers and artillery, opening the gates of Barcelona in the process.
I know nothing of Dr Graham’s politics but perhaps she protests too much. The excuse that the republic was done in by shortages of material is neither novel nor sufficient explanation for the catalogue of Republican military failures. She complains of Beevor’s lack of interest in non-intervention. But this seems a red herring to me. If the Republicans were ill-equipped it was Stalin who was to blame. Having taken the Republic’s gold, he supplied his clients with scrap metal.
To write off Beevor as a Cold War historian does not do justice to his work and imputes to him an ideology for which there is no evidence (and Dr Graham supplies none). It was always going to be the case that Beevor’s work would unsettle the custodians of the sacred flame. To them, Beevor’s crime seems to be telling it like it was.
My kinsman Morris Miller was killed in the Ebro offensive. His story is here.