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International Socialism, Autumn 1966


Philip Ralph



From International Socialism, No.26, Autumn 1966, p.34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Spanish Republic and the Civil War 1931-1939
Gabriel Jackson
Princeton/OUP, 100s.

There is almost nothing harder than to review a piece of liberal history, and Gabriel Jackson has written 498 pages of the stuff.

In every sense, this is a middle-of-the-road book. Jackson prefers Monarchists to Fascists, moderate Socialists to Left-Socialists, and radical Republicans to all of them.

On the surface, the author’s own political viewpoint affects only the ‘what happened?’ sections of the book. In this respect, he merits praise for the way in which he has traced the origins of the Civil War back to the rise and fall of the Second Spanish Republic, and for his carefully documented chronicle of both. For any student of Spanish politics during the years 1931-39, this book is a ‘must.’

It is not possible, however, for a socialist to congratulate Jackson on his handling of the ‘why did it happen?’ problem. Effect follows logically enough from cause, but we are offered no overall analysis. In particular, there is no attempt to integrate the economic and social background – eg the influx of foreign capital, the weakness of the middle class and the land problem – given in the first chapter into the political narrative which follows it. As a result, the outbreak of civil war in July 1936, is seen as the culmination of a series of political crises, and precious little else. In practice, the failure to attempt – let alone to provide – an adequate explantation prejudices the chronicle itself. The historian’s personal standpoint colours his selection of historical material and, in Jackson’s case, liberal leanings produce an almost total neglect of the POUM and a banal treatment of the Catalan Anarcho-Syndicalists. ‘One of the more tragic coincidences (sic) of the Spanish Revolution is the domination of Catalan Labour by its extremist wing during the 1930s’ (p.20). Worst of all, Jackson underrates,. and virtually disregards the social revolution which, especially in Catalonia, accompanied the Civil War until mid-1937. Its defeat in the face of a counter-revolutionary attack, spearheaded by the Spanish CP and the bloody ‘May Days’ of 1937, when a working class in arms confronted its opponents in the streets of Barcelona, receive the characteristic Jackson treatment. ‘Among the proletariat, the naive optimism of the revolutionary conquests of the previous August had given way to feelings of resentment and of somehow having been cheated’ (p.368).

Yet in some ways Jackson’s book is worth the effort and the money. It is less flamboyant, and more scholarly than the Civil War according to Hugh Thomas, and it covers a longer period than most works on this subject. The interested and patient reader will find a wealth of information – but precious little enlightenment.

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