Friday, 13 June 2008

On Stalinism and neo-Stalinism

Bob has an excellent post up about the pseudo-leftist journal CounterPunch and the dubious politics of its editor, Alexander Cockburn. He makes some interesting links between the myopia of the old Stalinist left and the neo-Stalinism of many on the contemporary anti-war/anti-American/anti-Israel left. Bob's piece includes a fascinating historical digression on the role of pro-Soviet Communists, such as Cockburn's father Claud, in the Spanish Civil War. It made me realise how little I knew about the various factions that made up the Republican left, and how I had probably swallowed too easily the official CP line about the Trotskyism of Orwell's POUM - something that for me had always damned them by association with the Trotskyite factions (IS, SWP, et al.) of my youth. Reading Bob's post has inspired me to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the period - can anyone recommend a good book on the politics of the Spanish Republic?


Anonymous said...

When I took a class about the Spanish civil war many moons ago, I found the best book of the kind you are looking for to be Broue and Temime's "The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain". It is, it seems, out of print in English these days, though.

Altough Broue (as evidenced here: was a Trotskyist, he was also an unconventional one, and his sympathies are clearly with the POUM.

bob said...

Of the accounts written at the time, Orwell's Homage to Catalonia is probably the clearest and most accessible. With some crucial changes, it forms the basis of Ken Loach's Land and Freedom, which I loved.

Borkenau's Spanish Cockpit was another contemproary account telling the story of the Soviet terrors in the course of the war, although I can't remember if it includes the story of the POUM.

Rudolf Rocker's Tragedy of Spain, which does include the POUM story, and is written from an anarchist perspective, is both very good and available on-line at libcom:
(I notice the whole of Orwell is there too: , amonst lots of Spain stuff at )

Whatever you do, don't read any Hobsbawm: his lies are nearly as pernicious as Cockburn's!

Martin said...

Thanks for these references, Bob, I'll follow them up.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few:

Burnett Bolloten’s, “The Spanish Revolution: The Left and the Struggle for Power During the Civil War”.

For a less explicitly political take on the conflict I recommend:
Michael Seidman, “Republic of Egos: A Social History of the Spanish Civil War.”

Also have a look at Benjamin Martin’s excellent “The Agony of Modernization: Labor and Industrialization in Spain”.

You might also be interested in reading Edward E. Malefakis, “Agrarian Reform and Peasant Revolution in Spain: Origins of the Civil War”.

Orwell is an excellent writer, and I enjoy "Homage" a great deal. But, as he admits, he was incredibly unfamiliar with the political and radical history of Spain and did not understand the depth of the divisions between the various factions on the left.

To remedy this, have a look at Ronald Fraser's "Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War." Fraser interviewed individuals from all the myriad sides of the conflict.

A short history of the POUM is here:

For the anarchist perspective:

Robert Alexander "The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War" (two volumes).

Jose Peirats, "The CNT in the Spanish Revolution"

Ideological precursors:

George Essenwein, "Anarchist Ideology and the Working-Class Movement in Spain, 1868-1898" (highly recommened)

That’s a start.

Let me know if you are interested in more titles.

Martin said...

NC - Thanks for taking the time and trouble to do this - much appreciated.