Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Stuart Christie answers 'Nostromo' (see post below) & defends Pro. Preston

Some thoughts on the criticisms of The Spanish Holocaust
I certainly wouldn’t have responded to this review on the Stalinist-rump/Special Branch front that is the ‘Searchlight’ website (creating an atmosphere of trust within the anti-fascist movement indeed!), but as you have run with it on Indymedia UK I felt I should add my ha’penny worth to the discussion on Paul Preston’s excellent book ‘The Spanish Holocaust’.

As Nostromo says, some cenetistas and so-called ‘anarchists’ supported the Republican government wholeheartedly (at the expense of their so-called principles and flying in the face of the Confederation’s anti-statist, anti-capitalist and anti-party political and parliamentary ethos), others opposed governmental and party political alliances and pacts in the belief that the only way to defeat fascism was to pursue the social revolution. No argument there then; the question for anarchists should be how that process was de-stabilised. My personal belief is that it was derailed and destabilised precisely because of the actions and Machiavellian manoeuvres of these ‘strategically sophisticated pragmatists who were willing and able to pursue their ideals within the context of (relatively speaking) mainstream politics’.

As for the criticisms of Paul Preston’s new book ‘The Spanish Holocaust’ — that he somehow ‘toes the Popular Front party line’ and, as one person accused him of in the Middle Aged Working Class Anarchists Facebook page, ‘Preston trots out the same old slurs about anarchists (the incontrollables) doing all the killings of fascists in the republican zone that the commies and socialists were (falsely) claiming at the time . . .’ — I posted the following response:

Unfortunately, Lewis, what you refer to as Preston’s ‘slurs’ against the anarchists is true — at least to an extent — which is a theme explored in the third volume of Farquhar McHarg’s ‘Pistoleros!’. Membership of either the CNT or the FAI (or both) during the SCW (and subsequently) did not and does not automatically endow virtue; it did, however, sometimes — certainly in the period 1936-1939— provide protection and cover for criminals, lowlifes, and fascists caught in the Republican Zone. Additionally, the power it conferred on some militants (with previously impeccable records) soon exposed their essentially authoritarian – and, occasionally – psychopathic tendencies. Their behaviour during the SCW — and after, in exile – cannot or should not in any way be condoned or excused by the fact that they described themselves as anarchists or anarcho-syndicalists. I am referring here, specifically, to Dionisio Eroles y Battlle (CNT-FAI head of the Generalitat/Barcelona police and security service 1936-1937); Aurelio Fernández Sanchez (CNT-FAI head of the Control Patrols), Manuel Escorza del Val (CNT-FAI head of the CNT-FAI Intelligence and Security Service); Justo Bueno Pérez (one of del Val’s top hitmen); Felipe Sandoval (another assassin); Jaime Riera (FAI Investigation Service), to name but a few of the more prominent ones. These people and their acolytes didn’t just target fascists, they were the unquestioning creatures of both the Catalan Regional Committee of the CNT and the National Committee of the CNT in Madrid who were targeting for assassination their own so-called ‘uncontrollables’, i.e. militants such as Antonio Ortíz (leader of the second militia column out of Barcelona and later of the 25th Army Division) and Joaquín Ascaso (of the Council of Aragón), men and women who dared to challenge or question the collaborationist and anti-anarchist policies of the ‘prominent’ leaders of the CNT committees, particularly Mariano Rodríguez Vázquez and Federica Montseny, both of whom who bear ultimate responsibility for much of what happened on their watch.

Apart from provocateurs and plants such as Bernardino Alonso, the CNT-FAI head of the Republican Ministry of War’s ‘Special Services Counter-Intelligence Brigade, who was later exposed as a Soviet asset working for Alexander Orlov, there is also the largely unaddressed and sensitive question of the huge number of ‘false anarchists’ and false anarcho-syndicalists’, fascists and rightists who affiliated to the CNT and the FAI for protection after July 19 1936 after being unexpectedly caught in the Republican Zone. These included the famous ‘Fifth Columnists’. For example, a number of Melchior Rodríguez’s cabinet (MR – the ‘Red Angel’, an anarchist and a former bullfighter with an impeccable reputation who became Director General of Prisons during the SCW — and who saved the lives of thousands of fascist prisoners — and the last Republican Mayor of Madrid) turned out to be leading fascist fifth columnists, including his driver Rufo Rubio and his Chief of Services, Juan Batista.

Another small example is that of the Toledan village of Miguel Esteban in which, after the war, the Guardia Civil reported that membership of the local CNT unions ‘consisted mainly of right-wingers’ (elementos de derecha). Another indication that these were ‘false anarchists’ was the fact that after Franco’s victory they were neither arrested nor their property seized as happened with other Republicans. The village of Miguel Esteban wasn’t the only one in which fascists and rightists sought cover by affiliating to the CNT. Workers in the villages of La Mancha tended to be affiliated to the UGT, PSOE, PCE, FNTT or the FETT so it would have been easier for rightists to claim to have been harbouring CNT sympathies — if only to explain their previous lack of involvement in socialist or Communist Party activities.

As for Paul Preston’s so-called ‘toe-ing the Popular Front party line’, I certainly don’t believe that to be the case. He is a man of integrity — who tells it as he sees it — and an exceptionally meticulous and stimulating historian (whether one agrees with his analysis or not) who has dedicated his academic career and much of his personal life to exposing the brutal and vicious nature of Francoism, the Franco regime and its consequences. I should also add that it was Paul Preston who organised much of the funding for the publication, in English, of Peirats’s three volume ‘The CNT in the Spanish Revolution’. It was also Paul Preston who arranged the Spanish translation and publication of my own book, ‘We, the anarchists…’, into Spanish. Hardly the actions of someone who is obsessively ‘anti-anarchist’.


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Anonymous said...

Paul Preston's book must be very uncomfortable reading for many people of an anarchist persuasion, whether they agree with involvement in politics or not.If the reader considers things like human decency and fairness to be cornerstones of anarchist belief, then they can only hope that things like 'The Death Brigade' were the exception rather than the rule. Even so, as someone said, it's easy to be reasonable when you have a comfortable life.
It seems to me that Prof. Preston has gone to great lengths to remain even-handed with regard to 'The Left' in Spain. His book holds up a very broad mirror, and some people will not like what they see.

Anonymous said...

Sam King in his review of Paul Preston's book on the Hope not Hate website, writes:
'Over the many years that Preston has written on Spain, he was always drawn the conclusion that those that followed the "Popular Front", an undertaking to defeat fascism before undertaking a revolution was the correct line. Perhaps because of this Anarchists will enjoy this book the least as Preston makes it clear that the Anarchist CNT were as anti the Republic as the fascists, viewing it as a bourgeoisie government. Their continual attempts to destabilise the Republic played right into the hands of the right wing.'

To his credit Preston makes it clear what line he is pushing and he puts work in to find the evidence to support that angle. Readers must judge if he is right and, as Orwell said approach any angle with caution.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Pro. Preston's book is the best thing since sliced bread for the anarchists. It puts them where they belong at the centre of the debate on the Spanish Civil War. After the war in the 1940s and 50s, the anarchists were largely edited out of the picture or dismissed by the liberal/ communist historians. Chomsky later challenged this slipshod academic approach in his essay 'Objectivity and liberal scholarship', a comment on the then current history of the Spanish war by Gabriel Jackson. Today, with more balanced histories available like that by the military historian Antony Beevor on the Spanish Civil War, Professor Preston has had to deal with anarchists and their trade union, the CNT, head on and try to undermine some of the other accounts. This can only benefit the pursuit of the truth, when many people in this country still have a very poor grasp of the Spanish Civil War, Spanish anarchism and Spanish trade unions, like the CNT.

bammy said...

A member of the International Brigade Memorial Trust emailed me the following comment:
'Thanks for the Stuart Christie review. I am with you on that one I don't think Mr Preston sees Spanish Anarchists in any good light.'