To the Editors:
In his review [“Spain and the Communists,” NYR, April 10, 2003], Raymond Carr noted that “sometime in late September” Stalin decided to supply armaments to the Spanish republic. We can now date this decision precisely. On September 6, 1936, Stalin, on leave in Sochi, sent a ciphered telegram to Kaganovich, his deputy in Moscow, which read:
It would be good to sell Mexico 50 SBs [fast bombers], for Mexico to immediately resell to Spain. It would also be possible to select 20 of our good airmen to carry out military functions in Spain and also teach Spanish airmen to fly SBs. It would also be good to sell 20 thousand rifles by the same route, a thousand machine guns and about 20 million bullets. All we need to know is the dimensions.
On September 17, his further telegram to Kaganovich and Molotov also indicated that he was already thinking of the need to collaborate with the Spanish anarchists:
Relations with Mexico should be immediately restored. I propose the appointment of Antonov-Ovseenko as consul in Barcelona. He knows military matters. He is also able to work with the anarchists.
On September 29 the Politburo decided to begin to supply arms to Spain. In a telegram of October 11, Kaganovich pointed out to Stalin that Prime Minister Caballero had not been informed about the deliveries, and Stalin immediately approved Kaganovich’s proposal to inform him via military attaché Gorev “officially but secretly [konspirativno].” During October fifty tanks, thirty SBs, and some artillery were delivered in five ships.
These documents were recently published from the Russian archives in Stalin– Kaganovich: Perepiska, 1931–1936, which is to appear in an English-language edition (published in the Yale series) shortly.
Centre for Russian and East European Studies
University of Birmingham
May 13, 2004