Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War”

Spanish WarI just reread Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War” after a lapse of many years. Thomas has the ability, rare in our times, to write histories peopled by human beings, rather than good guys and bad guys. In this book he portrays an event that is still well within living memory, but seems as remote as the middle ages. It is well worth reading, if only to recall what human beings are capable of. It was a war marked by furious ideological passions, a version in miniature of the titanic struggle between fascism and Communism that was to follow it. Especially in the beginning, but throughout the war, both sides systematically hunted down and shot any person of talent they had any reason to believe might favor the other side. Many tens of thousands of Spain’s best and brightest were squandered in this national decapitation that is such a trademark of the 20th century, mimicking the even more devastating self-immolation that reached its peak of fury in the Soviet Union at the same time, and decades later in Cambodia. Imagine what it would be like if people in a town 20 or 30 miles from yours grabbed weapons, climbed onto trucks and drove to where you live, and then began systematically going door to door, shooting down 100’s of your neighbors for the flimsiest of reasons, including pure malice and personal revenge. That’s what it was like. We forget such events at our peril. They are still quite recent, and could easily happen again.

One wonders how many of the later dictators of central and South America were “inspired” by Franco and his fascists. After all, in the end, he “won,” in the sense that his will prevailed. How many of the organizers of death squads, the “revolutionaries” who murdered and still murder whole villages, and the military thugs responsible for the “disappeared ones” learned their lessons from him? It’s ironic to consider what has become of his “victory,” paid for with the blood of so many of Spain’s most talented children.  Today she is ruled by a socialist he certainly would have shot back in July or August of ’36.  Franco posed as the defender of outraged Christianity.  Recently, I saw the Spanish film “Talk to Her,” in which one of the characters claims that those priests who don’t rape nuns are pedophiles.  The wheel of Nemesis rolls on.

There is a fine sentence in Thomas’ Epilogue that epitomizes both the war and the century:

The Spanish Civil War was the Spanish share in the tragic European breakdown of the twentieth century, in which the liberal heritage of the nineteenth century, and the sense of optimism which had lasted since the renaissance, were shattered.

Wars arouse passions, and passions spawn music. The Spanish Civil War was no exception. Here are examples from the right:

and the left:

Beating Up on Noam Chomsky

Harry’s Place takes the trouble to point out the obvious about Noam Chomsky; he never got over the 60’s, including the hatred of the United States that went along with the leftist narrative in those days. As a result, he has ended up with some strange bedfellows over the years. Pol Pot was one of the most egregious. Chomsky relativized the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, although his culpability was not as great as his enemies on the right would suggest. His apologists have done their best to sweep the affair under the rug.

Lately he’s been carrying water for another dictator; Hugo Chavez. Harry’s Place quotes a pro-Chavez blog on the occasion of his recent visit to Venezuela:

Chomsky… addressed the media and freedom of expression in the U.S. “In the United States the socio-economic system is designed so that the control over the media is in the hands of a minority who own large corporations… and the result is that the financial interests of those groups are always behind the so-called freedom of expression,” he said.

Harry’s reaction:

As Marc Cooper responded: “Yawn.” This is tired stuff, especially in the age of the Internet, which I assume Chomsky has heard of. Isn’t it time to update his “corporate media control your (but not my) mind” spiel in light of the past decade or so?

As for “so-called freedom of expression” in the US: as David points out, it is so restricted that, um, er, Chomsky was invited to address a class of philosophy students at the US Military Academy in West Point during the Bush administration, to critique the “just war” theory and the invasion of Iraq. But I suppose that was just a charade to make people think there is real freedom of expression. Or something.

Readers seeking a more intellectually consistent critique of the “evil corporations” meme may find it in the film “Team America” by the creators of “South Park.”

Speaking of strange bedfellows, I was amused to see Chomsky’s smiling face on the front page of the neo-Nazi “Deutsche National Zeitung” a few years back during a trip to Germany. Of course, they were bitching about the United States like everyone else in Germany except a few brave bloggers at the time, and duly transmogrified him into a patriotic hero of the first water. I suspect they would have perceived him in a rather different light had he been a German.

Well, a lot has changed since the 60’s. The Soviet Union has fallen, Communism has collapsed, and Islamism, of all things, has rushed in to fill the vacuum. I won’t get too worried about Chomsky unless he starts wearing a turban. For that matter, I’ll always have a tiny soft spot in my heart for him. After all, at least he had enough common sense to give the behaviorists a parting kick on their way out the door.


Trotsky as Cassandra: The End of the Marxist Dream

Trotsky was the best and brightest, and probably also the most readable, of the old Bolsheviks. He was also the Cassandra of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Here’s what he had to say about the historical fate of Communism in “In Defense of Marxism,” a collection of his letters and articles published shortly after he was murdered by Stalin in 1940.

“If, however, it is conceded that the present war (WWII) will provoke not revolution but a decline of the proletariat, then there remains another alternative: the further decay of monopoly capitalism, its further fusion with the state and the replacement of democracy wherever it still remained by a totalitarian regime. The inability of the proletariat to take into its hands the leadership of society could actually lead under these conditions to the growth of a new exploiting class from the Bonapartist fascist bureaucracy. This would be, according to all indications, a regime of decline, signalizing the eclipse of civilisation.”

“Then it would be necessary in retrospect to establish that in its fundamental traits the present USSR was the precursor of a new exploiting regime on an international scale.”

“If (this) prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class. However onerous this perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia.”

Too bad Mao, Castro, Pol Pot,, didn’t listen to him. It would have saved us all a lot of grief.

Milovan Djilas, one of the great political thinkers of the 20th century, wrote a postscript for Trotsky in his seminal work on Communism, “The New Class.” An excerpt:



“The movement of the new class toward power comes as a result of the efforts of the proletariat and the poor. These are the masses upon which the party or the new class must lean and with which its interests are most closely allied. This is true until the new class finally establishes its power and authority. Over and above this, the new class is interested in the proletariat and the poor only to the extent necessary for developing production and for maintaining in subjugation the most aggressive and rebellious social forces.”

Those who would elevate the likes of Chavez and Zelaya to the rank of great heroes of democracy should take note and think again.

Trotsky and Djilas are both well worth reading. Djilas, in particular, is one of the most brilliant and under-appreciated thinkers of the last hundred years. See, for example, in addition to “The New Class,” works such as “Land Without Justice” and “Wartime.” You can find them on eBay, Amazon, Barnesandnoble, etc.


Hugo Chavez, Lenin, and “What is to be Done”

simon_bolivarVenezuela’s most recent political embarrassment, Hugo Chavez, wants to present Obama with one of Lenin’s tomes at their next meeting. Apparently he’s been in a Rip van Winkle like slumber for the last 20 years, and no one has bothered to inform him about the demise of Lenin’s reputation along with the very bad joke he played on the Russian people known as Communism. Well, the right wing in the US worked itself into a furious lather when the Prez had the common decency to shake Chavez’ hand, so here’s a golden opportunity for him to redeem himself. An appropriate return gift comes to mind. How about “Lenin’s Tomb,” by David Remnick, or Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” or Medvedev’s “Let History Judge.” If he prefers a more subtle touch, he might give him something by Trotsky, a Bolshevik writer one can actually read without being bored to tears, or, if his tastes run to one-up-manship, perhaps a copy of the original “What is to be Done.”

The blogosphere has apparently already tired of Chavez’ antics. MSNBC, Fox, and the rest of the major news outlets picked up on this story, but, other than a few mentions here and there, bloggers are giving it the ho-hum treatment. It’s hard to blame them.

South America can never seem to catch a break. One never hears anything about her leaders unless they are abject, tyrannical, imbecile, or as in the case of Chavez, all three. Well, Venezuela has produced better men than Chavez in the past. No doubt she will in the future as well.