Anarchy 5/July 19, 1936: Republic or revolution?

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July 19, 1936:
Republic or revolution?

Al­though the out­break of the Span­ish Civil War in July 1936 was fol­lowed by a far-reach­ing social re­volu­tion in the anti-Franco camp—more pro­found in some re­spects than the Bolshevik Re­volu­tion in its early stages—mil­lions of dis­cern­ing people out­side Spain were kept in ig­nor­ance, not only of its depth and range, but even of its ex­ist­ence, by virtue of a policy of du­pli­city and dis­simu­la­tion of which there is no paral­lel in history.
Burnett Bolloten
in “The Grand Camouflage

In the Preface to The Spanish Labyrinth Gerald Brenan quotes Karl Marx’s ob­ser­va­tion that the know­ledge of Span­ish his­tory in his time was al­to­gether in­ad­equate. Marx went on toex­plain that this was because his­tor­i­ans ‘in­stead of viewing the strength and re­sources of these people in pro­vin­cial and local or­gan­isa­tion have drawn at the source of their court histories’. Para­phras­ing Marx one could say that the in­ad­equacy of Mr. Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War[1] lies in the fact that he is so fas­cin­ated by the per­son­al­it­ies of politi­cians and mil­it­ary men, so carried away by con­sid­er­a­tions of mil­it­ary strategy and in­ter­na­tional polit­ical in­trigues that he more or less over­looks the chief actors—the re­volu­tion­ary workers—in a struggle that held the world’s at­ten­tion for nearly three years. The mil­it­ary in­sur­rec­tion in July 1936 would have been one more coup d’etat with which we are all only too fa­mil­iar, for the Spanish gov­ern­ment de­prived of its real source of au­thor­ity could only hope to save its skin by either arming the people or seeking to ne­go­ti­ate with the rebel gen­er­als. An in July 1936, the government of Casares Quiroga pinned its hopes on the latter. Indeed the so­cial­ist journ­al­ist Julian Zuga­za­goitia asserts[2] that Quiroga not only re­fused to arm the people but an­nounced that anyone who gave arms to the workers without his orders would be shot. Mr. Thomas writes:

  The con­sti­tu­tional means of op­pos­ing the rising thus met with failure. It did so in­ev­it­ably since the ma­jor­ity of the forces of so-

called law and order—

the Army and Civil Guard

were with the rebels … The only force cap­able of res­ist­ing the rebels was that of the trade unions and left wing parties. Yet for the Gov­ern­ment to use this force would mean that it ac­cep­ted the in­ev­it­ab­il­ity of a left-

wing re­volu­tion. It is not sur­pris­ing that a middle-

class liberal such as Casares shrank from this de­cis­ive step. But once again, at the stage that Span­ish af­fairs had reached on the night of July 18, such a step was also in­ev­it­able.  (p.141).

  1. Eyre & Spottis­woode (London 1961, 42s.)
  2. In Historia de la Guerra de Espana (Buenos Aires 1940).