Miracle of November: Madrid’s Epic Stand, 1936
by Dan Kurzman
Putnam’s, 352 pp., $14.95
The Spanish Revolution: The Left and the Struggle for Power During the Civil War
by Burnett Bolloten
University of North Carolina Press, 664 pp., $29.00
Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 1939-1955
by Louis Stein
Harvard University Press, 306 pp., $20.00
“The onlooker,” in the words of the English sportsman’s adage, “sees most of the game.” As a minor player in the defense of Madrid in November 1936 (a twenty-one-year-old member of the machine gun company of the Bataillon Commune de Paris, XIth International Brigade) I was at the time sublimely ignorant of most of the events described and discussed in two of the books under review.
Kurzman’s book traces the march of the Nationalist troops from Seville to Madrid and the “miracle” which occurred in early November, when, deserted by their government and written off as lost by the foreign press corps, the Madrileños stopped dead in its tracks the Franco spearhead of Foreign Legionnaires and Moroccans who were already inside the western suburbs of the city. The military and political developments of those feverish five months (July to November) are presented in a continuous narrative based on a wide and balanced selection of accounts written some at the time, some later, by the participants themselves. Bolloten’s Spanish Revolution covers the whole course of the three-year war, but its scope, as its subtitle indicates, is more limited; it is concerned with the politics of the war and in particular the Spanish Communist Party’s relentless progress from an initial position of insignificance (40,000 members before the war) to a membership of a quarter of a million and total control of the civil and military machinery of the Republic.
Bolloten’s book is a monument of historical scholarship. He was a correspondent in Spain during the war and has spent the rest of his life trying to understand what he saw there; from 1962 to 1965 he was director of research in the subject at Stanford and a large part of his unrivaled collection of source material is now deposited at the Hoover Institute. His footnotes demonstrate an awesome mastery of sources in all the languages of Europe (including Russian); the notes and bibliography alone (over 100 large pages of small print) make his work an indispensable tool for any further research on the subject and a superb analytical index will make such work easy.
The book is “a vast revision and expansion” of an earlier version (1961) which was entitled The Grand Camouflage. Its thesis, extended and buttressed by new evidence in the present edition, was that the popular reaction to the military uprising of July 1936 was in effect a spontaneous social revolution which left industry in the hands of the unions and the land in possession of the peasants. (It was soon to be collectivized under the leadership of the anarchist party and unions, the FAI and CNT, who were the real organizers of the revolution as they were of most of the undisciplined militia columns which constituted the popular army.) The “camouflage” of Bolloten’s title was the propaganda campaign of the Communist Party which attempted to convince the Western democracies that this revolution had not in fact taken place. This propaganda was …
The Spanish Anarchists: An Exchange April 16, 1981