The death last week of Michael O’Riordan (1917 - 2006), former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland and veteran of the Spanish Civil War has been widely reported in the media, with many tributes paid to his fight against fascism in Spain. The Republican side on which he fought included the powerful communist and anarchist factions and was supported militarily by Stalin’s Russia.
In the 1920's & 30's many idealistic young people in the West had joined the communist party, unaware of the repressive totalitarian reality of Russia and later communist states. It's worth remembering that in September 1939, 6 months after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Germans and Russians carved up Poland between them - the Russians invading from the east, 2 weeks after the German invasion from the west. In November 1939 Russia followed this by launching an unprovoked invasion of Finland. In spring 1940, the Russia murdered approx. 25,000 Polish prisioners, mainly army officers, professionals and academics, in an effort to wipe out the Polish ruling classes. That was a full year before they themselves were attacked by the Germans in 1941.
On the other side of the equation is General Franco and his fascist regime, which ruled Spain till his death in 1975. The Nationalist side was supported by Germany, whose Condor Legion was responsible for the bombing of Guernica, immortalised in Picasso's painting.
People routinely talk of fascism and Franco in the same breath as Nazi Germany. Yet this is quite misleading as Mussolini was not anywhere near the Hitler league and nor was Franco. The extreme form of fascism which emerged in Germany under the Nazis was off the scale for most supporters of fascist philosophy, which was enjoying wide support throughout Europe at that time. Sadly, anti-semitism had been rife in Europe for centuries and was not at all confined to supporters of facsism. For example, UK fascist leader Oswald Mosley could have successfully run for mayor of Limerick.
When France surrendered to Germany in June 1940, 15 months after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Franco did not join the Axis powers even though, at that point in time, it would have seemed like an ideal opportunity to join the winning side without having to engage in any actual fighting.
The Spanish Civil War was a bloody affair with atrocities routinely committed by both sides. The revenge killing of prisoners was a regular practice on both sides, many old scores were settled when towns and cities fell to either side. Liberals now attribute all the blame to Franco's Nationalist side, but the Republican's were not far behind. Almost 7,000 catholic clergy, including 283 nuns, are recorded* as being murdered by the Republican side. This anti-clerical pogrom, mainly the work of the marxist POUM and the Anarchists, began with the election of the "Popular Front" centre/left government in February 1936. Indeed, the failure of that government to stop the looting and burning of catholic churches and monasteries and the murder of clerics was one of the major factors which triggered the civil war. The former "establishment" became fearful that they were seeing the emergence of a full-scale revolution and the tumbrils would be coming for them too unless they took pre-emptive action.
All of which leads me an obvious question: from the end of the civil war in 1939 to Franco’s death in 1975, how did the lives and liberties of ordinary Spanish citizens compare with those enjoyed by their counterparts in the Soviet Union in the same period?
Could it just possible that, for the Spanish people, the right side actually won?
This "musing" should be provocative but isn't intended to promote fascism as an acceptable political ideology. There is no certainty that the communists would have attained a political ascendancy in Spain, but Poland and Finland provide proof that aggressive expansionism was on the Soviet agenda even before the outbreak of WWII. There are far too many liberal commentators who look back at the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War through rose-tinted spectacles and whose own musings on the topic go unchallenged.
* Source: Historia de la Persecución Religiosa en Espana (1936-1939) by Antonio Montero Moreno
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