Saturday, 25 July 2015

Controversial review by Sam King

NOBODY has written about the Spanish Civil War quite like Paul Preston. He is the 'go to' historian in both English and Spanish.  Preston’s ‘The Spanish Civil War’ is already the definitive book for any antifascist who wants to understand the tragedy that was the fall of Spanish Republic. Throughout his substantial cannon of work he has eloquently portrayed the sacrifices that men and women from across the world made to fight Franco’s brutal fascist regime and the shadowy and sinister support he received from Hitler and Mussolini, that was criminally ignored by the rest of Europe.

‘The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain’ is Preston’s tour de force and possibly even surpasses his unparalleled biography of Franco to become his most important contribution to our understanding of 20th century Spain. As ever, Preston has sought to re tell the events, massacres and heroism through the eyes and memories of the lives of those who suffered most. The tragic tales of men and women who took up arms against a military machine that wanted to crush all vestiges of democracy, humanity and secularism.

The primary premise of this 700 page work is that Franco’s belief in a Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy resulted in a conscious and systematic attempt to eradicate all Republicans. Preston places the figure of murdered Republicans as high as 200,000 which certainly justifies his use of the term Holocaust. Franco’s fanaticism even allowed the Nazis to test drop their bombs on the Spanish people. To its shame, the outside world refused to come to their aid.

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.

A large section of the book is given over to Preston’s meticulous research, testament that he has laboured harder and more thoroughly than others that may draw their own or different conclusions. It is often said that in wars, the victors get to write the history. It is the case that of the Spanish Civil War, the victors’ have nothing palatable worth remembering, celebrating or commemorating.  Preston has often said that he has spent his life fighting Franco.  Those who continue to try and apologise for Franco now have their work really cut out as The Spanish Holocaust unquestionably delivers a blow to Franco’s reputation that it will be hard to overcome.

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