John Saville


Putting the record straight

(February 1999)

From Socialist Review, No.227, February 1999.
Copyright © Socialist Review
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is generally agreed that a book review should offer a summary of the main arguments or survey, and then a commentary on its contents. Sam Ashman (January SR) reviews two books. The first I have not read, but the second, Arms for Spain by Gerald Howson, is presented in a distorted fashion.

Howson’s book is the most thorough analysis of the workings of the Non-Intervention Agreement of 1936 whereby the Spanish Republican government was denied the purchase of arms on the open market.

Howson has trawled the archives of Britain, France and the United States as well as Russia and Spain. He establishes that Non-Intervention played a more important part in the defeat of the Republic than has been normally accepted and, above all, he provides additional information on the British government, led first by Baldwin and then by Chamberlain.

It would be difficult for the ordinary reader to guess these matters from Ashman’s review, for they are not mentioned. Howson has a lot of detail on the part played by the Soviet Union, and it is this that Ashman writes about. The Soviet Union sent arms to Spain, but not in the quantity sometimes assumed, and behaved disgracefully in the matter of the exchange rate, set against the Spanish gold reserves which Moscow was holding.

We obviously need the whole story, but it happened to be the British government which was the driving force in the maintenance of the agreement.

What Ashman does not appreciate is that she has temporarily joined the great bulk of contemporary historians who are so busy applying whitewash to the record of the ruling groups in Britain throughout the 20th century.


John Saville

Last updated on 4 July 2010