Monday, April 30, 2012
Pro. Preston Shoves Critic Aside at GERNIKA 75 CONFERENCE
'I don't want to pull rank,' said historian Pro. Paul Preston, at the People's History Museum in Manchester last Saturday, 'but I have been researching the Spanish Civil War for 40 years.' He was speaking at the Gernika 75 Conference to promote his new book 'The Spanish Holocaust', after he had elbowed a critical questioner, Barry Woodling, aside. Mr Woodling, an anarchist, had just challenged Professor Preston's interpretation of some aspects of the Spanish Civil War, particularly his criticism of George Orwell, the role of the Spanish anarchists and the Professor's curious claim that the Spanish Civil War didn't begin on the 18th, July 1936, but really began later that year when the Republican Government had properly established its standing army. This last claim by Pro. Preston provoked Mr. Woodling, who asked if the Professor had heard of the militias, Durruti or the Durruti Column? After this the Professor pounced on the microphone shoving Mr. Woodling aside and delivering further retorts critical of Durruti, Orwell and the anarchists. Despite Professor Preston's brusque intervention Barry Woodling got significant applause when he was later able to finish his points, and a later speaker was to say to Pro. Preston: your 40 years in the business of Spain and the Spanish Civil War doesn't give you the right to shove a speaker aside.
This issue of backdating the start of the Spanish Civil War to later in 1936 is interesting and perhaps not surprising given that Professor Preston, according to one of his former students, has 'his bread buttered by the Communist Party and the International Brigade Memorial Trust'. Perhaps this is unkind to Professor Preston, but no more so than those who go around accusing the historian Antony Beevor of being a 'Cold War warrior'. The real problem of these professional historians creating a gap to the start of the Spanish Civil War is that it presents us with an all too typical patronising analysis of the Spaniards and their own struggle against Fascism. Let's not forget that it was the Spaniards themselves who put up the first serious opposition to the march of Fascism in Europe before the International Brigade and foreign intervention was ever considered. Noam Chomsky in his essay 'Objectivity & liberal scholarship' (circa 1960s) had much to say about this arrogance of the earlier generations of professional historians with regard to the Spanish Civil War.