One Man's War in Spain : Trickery, Treachery and Thievery By Joaquín Pérez Navarro

This is a book that Paul Preston should have read and taken notice of. In his recent monumental ‘Spanish Holocaust’ he details graphically the atrocities carried out by Franco and his fascist friends during the Spanish Civil War. He also removes a veil over the terror on the republican side of the lines, particularly of the paseos and checas organised by republican, communist and anarchist militias. Much of this is truly shocking and should make us all aware that merely because someone calls themselves, or is called, an anarchist that they necessarily understand anarchism or live up to its principles and goals.

Preston’s book is undeniably biased against anarchists in many ways, but its greatest sin is that of omission. Joaquín Pérez Navarro puts right that sin in this volume, where his own memoirs and diatribes, against what he sees as the counter-revolutionaries of the C.N.T. and F.A.I. Leadership, is combined with a number of documents from other individuals and groups. Some of this will be news to many. That the republican administrators usually refrained from tackling potential army mutineers early on, that they refused to distribute arms to the workers and that they subsequently resisted and reversed as many of the revolutionary achievements gained by the people in the first days of the Civil War as they could – this is widely known. Less well known is the extent to which they submitted to the communist demands for supremacy almost from the word ‘go’, and certainly after they had foolishly allowed Spain’s gold reserves be looked after by Stalin’s Russia.

Secret prisons were established by the communists with connivance of the authorities. Sometimes fascists would be the ones who were locked up, tortured and shot. Sometimes it was anarchists, members of the P.O.U.M. or foreigners of an unorthodox revolutionary persuasion. The militias were also a target, being forced to undergo militarisation, with all the consequent ills of disaffection, desertion and internal power struggles and rivalries. ‘Political’ leaders were re-assigned and replaced with communist stooges or other fellow-travellers. Troublesome militants vanished or were repeatedly sent on dangerous missions. Formerly anarchist units were denied arms and ordered into battle under-equipped and badly-led. This was all utter madness, and of a keeping with the paranoid mindset of leader of the U.S.S.R. That this lunacy was enabled and encouraged by the Spanish government beggars belief, and that the government contained anarchist ministers from the C.N.T. and F.A.I. would be hard to credit were it not so undeniably true.

The tale does not end there. Corruption by Negrín’s appointees meant that arms deals went astray and large amounts of money ended up in the hands of officials whose loyalty was only too suspect. The forces of ‘law and order’ in the rear were well-armed and well-fed, in stark contrast to many of those fighting in the front lines, and whilst the militiamen risked their lives for the revolution, Lister and other communists were attacking and dismantling collectives in the rear, both agricultural and industrial. Thanks to George Orwell and ‘Homage to Catalonia’, the May Days in Barcelona are well-known and well-documented but even he was not aware of the scale of the assassinations and murders carried out by the government forces during those times.

Joaquín Pérez did not like Negrín or his collaborators and this is very apparent in this book. He cannot let any opportunity pass to heap scorn and insult on those he disagrees with and this becomes a bit wearying after a while. Once we have learnt that these people are vile, treacherous, power-hungry, corrupt, noxious, rotten, bloodthirsty, craven, self-interested and the like, we do not need to be told the same over and over again. In part this effect is because this is a collection of a number of memoirs, together with an interview and other documents. They were not written with the intent of being published as one volume and if taken individually they can be seen as the polemical contemporary works which they were, intended to influence events at specific historical times.

The documents at the end of the book are among the most interesting, containing as they do testaments from other militants and some corroboration of the allegations of torture chambers, secret prisons, dodgy arms deals and the murders of anarchists and others. With the demise of the Soviet Union it might seem less important to expose the crimes of Communist Parties, but such forces still exist in this world and other similar mentalities still rule over the minds of too many men and women. Perhaps this book might serve as a starting point for someone, somewhere, to thoroughly uncover the full gory detail of the real red terror in republican Spain, the terror directed at those very same people who had initially defeated the fascist rising in July of 1936, the rank and file of the C.N.T. the working-class masses of Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid and the peasantry of Aragon and the Levante.


Published by Christiebooks, 2013. ISBN 9781873976623