Source: Review, The New International, New York, Vol. 5 No. 3, March 1939, p. 94.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.
By André Malraux
511 pages New York. Random House. $3.
Like his novels of the Chinese revolution, The Conquerors and Man’s Fate, Malraux’s Spanish book is less a novel than a fictionalized chronicle of the historical events. But with this great difference: in the Chinese novels the artist and observer put down what his trained eyes saw, with the result that he told far more than he knew: the strangling of the Chinese revolution by the Stalinist bureaucrats was unfolded before us. When the Stalinists told the workers to surrender their arms to their executioners; when the Stalinists turned the revolutionary terrorists over to the bourgeoisie—Malraux recorded such incidents indelibly. Despite his defense of the Stalinists against the Trotskyists in articles, therefore, his novels constituted an indictment of the Stalinist strategy in China.
The present “novel”, a chronicle of the early months of the Spanish civil war, dealing with events in which the Stalinists conducted themselves a thousand-fold more vilely than in China in 1925–1927, reveals that Malraux has thoroughly divested himself of the role of artist and observer. The events are carefully sifted, not by aesthetic criteria, but by the standards of the GPU. Nothing is permitted to appear which indicates the actual class forces in the Spanish struggle. Of the seizure of the factories by the workers’ committees in July 1936; the collectives organized by the peasants’ committees; the workers’ organization of the militias; the network of workers’ and peasants’ committees which were the real rulers of Spain during those early months; the great controversy whether the proletariat should go on to complete the socialist revolution or turn back to collaboration with the “liberal” bourgeoisie, as the Stalinists insisted, in order to get the Anglo-French aid which never came—in a word, of the real issues of the Spanish civil war, there is not a hint in this nook.
These omissions are supplemented by deliberate falsifications. The book opens in Madrid for one purpose: to give the reader the false impression that the fascists were first defeated here; the actual issue was first decided by the CNT workers in Barcelona July 19, 1936 when, refused arms by the government, the masses nevertheless by sheer numbers and heroism, conquered the revolting troops. Only then, with the workers triumphant and in power in Catalonia, did the government at Madrid agree to arm the workers. Malraux’s “poetic license” enables him in the first paragraph of his book to say that “the government had decided to arm the people”. When Malraux does turn to the Barcelona events, he has the effrontery to describe the fighting workers as “the forces of the Popular Front” (p. 20); they were, of course, the CNT and POUM workers who were not dragged into the Popular Front by their leaders until months later and whose freedom from the Popular Front government enabled them to act independently and in spite of the Popular Front government in saving Catalonia on July 19.
It is a matter of historical record that the struggle in the Barcelona streets was entirely in the hands of the workers; the government leaders were nowhere to be seen; such police as remained loyal played an extremely minor role. But in Malraux’s book the historical record is perverted to justify the Stalinist subordination of the workers to the Popular Front government. Incredibly, the most famous event in the Barcelona fighting—the storming of the Atarazanas barracks by the masses under the leadership of the two most outstanding anarchist leaders, Ascaso and Durruti (Ascaso was killed in the battle)—receives one line in this book, and that in the form of a radio report, while pages are devoted to the exploits of the Barcelona police!
The completely fraudulent character of this book is revealed by this incident, among others:
Colonel Ximenes [commander of the Barcelona police] was in charge of the whole district, and for the last few hours the heads of the local organizations had been coming to get instructions from him ...
Puig (anarchist leader) entered ...
“Where can we be of the most use?” he asked. “I’ve a thousand men.”
“Nowhere; all’s well for the moment. But they’ll be trying to get out of the barracks—from Atarazana anyhow. You’d better stay around for half an hour; you men may come in very handy any moment.” (p. 29.)
Only a corrupt, consciously dishonest agent, could have written these lines. The CNT was master of Barcelona in those hours; a CNT leader no more thought of asking Ximenes for orders than he would have asked the fascist generals.
The real relationship of forces may be indicated by the discreet statement of the bourgeois Esquerra leader, Jaime Miravittles, explaining why the CNT-controlled militia committee was established:
The Central Committee of Militias was born two or three days after the [subversive] movement, in the absence of any regular public force and when there was no army in Barcelona. For another thing, there were no longer any Civil or Assault Guards. For all of them had fought so arduously, united with the forces of the people, that now they formed part of the same mass and had remained mixed up> with it. In these circumstances, weeks went by without it being possible to reunite and regroup the dispersed forces of the Assault and Civil Guards. (Heraldo de Madrid, Sept. 4, 1936)
One could confront every page of this utterly dishonest book with the documented facts. This hook is not a novel at all, but a piece of dirty work for the GPU.
Last updated on: 21 August 2015