Madrid’s communist mayoress, surrounded by her Leninist sidekicks, has been taking down all street signs that had anything to do with anti-communist historical figures as if the whole galaxy were at stake. This is no trifling matter, because it embodies, once again, the hatred and resentment constantly boiling in Spain’s radical left, obsessed as it is with events that took place almost a century ago, a rare breed when compared to other European left-wing parties. Just to put things in perspective, the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) is as removed from us in time in 2016 as the end of the Spanish Empire and the Cuban War of Independence (1898) were to Ronald Reagan’s first victory in 1980.
It is true, of course, that the death toll in the Civil War was not limited to the battlefield; both sides committed massive killing in the rear. The most serious historians (R. Salas, S. Payne, H. Thomas, etc.) estimate that the Republican faction committed anywhere between 60,000 and 75,000 killings. These victims include those of the Catholic genocide: 7,000 priests, monks and nuns were slaughtered, many of them sadistically tortured before finally being put to death. As British historian Hugh Thomas put it, “never before in the history of Europe, and possibly, the world, has such a vicious hatred of religion been manifested”. In fact it is estimated that up to one third of the people killed by the Republican faction were murdered just because of their religious faith (or even for having been once seen coming out of a church, for instance).
The other side, the Nationalist faction, was responsible for the murder of between 35,000 and 50,000 persons. Additionally, during the six years following the end of the Spanish Civil War, a further 25,000-30.000 were tried, sentenced to death, and executed: the victors’ “exercise of repression”. Briefly put: it was horrible. The innocent victims of one side were honored, while those belonging to the other side were not. But, as a Spanish historian correctly pointed out, “we (Spaniards) all have much to be ashamed of and very little to reproach”. The fact that Spain’s hard left is still stoking the fire of hatred as if the Republican faction had committed no atrocities at all and as if those responsible for the Nationalists’ crimes were still alive clearly belongs to the field of psychiatry.
Also, for a long time, many have defended the legend that the Second Spanish Republic (1931-36) was a period of wondrous democratic development, a time of freedom, peace and progress suddenly cut short. The fact is, the Second Spanish Republic was anything but that. A few weeks after its first government was formed in 1931, a huge wave of anti-Catholic violence burned down over a hundred convents and churches all over Spain, resulting in the loss of lives. The left-wing government allowed the riots to take place and forbade the police and other law enforcement bodies from getting involved.
In 1933, new elections were held and the left lost control of the government. Part of the left did not accept the results and, together with Catalonian separatists, tried to overthrow the system in the Asturias revolt. This uprising, known as “la Revolucion de Asturias”, resulted in 1,400 fatalities. This coup failed because the Army stepped in.
In 1936, new elections were once again held. This time the left returned to power. On July 13th of that same year, before the war and thus in the “normalcy” of the Second Republic, a group of Assault Guards (guardias de asalto), the heavy reserve force of the urban police of Spain at the time, led by two of radical socialist leader and former minister Indalecio Prieto’s bodyguards, went to the house of my great-uncle, opposition leader parliamentarian José Calvo-Sotelo. They drove official vans, faces uncovered, identified themselves as officers of the law to the watchmen guarding the building, marched up the stairs, threatened with throwing down the door if it wasn’t opened, and took Calvo-Sotelo with them, allegedly to interrogate him. Neither the inviolability of the dwelling – the Assault Guards had no warrant – nor parliamentary immunity mattered, because in the II Republic, neither rights nor laws mattered.
Calvo-Sotelo only just had time to bid his wife and four small children farewell before being dragged into the patrol car. Barely two blocks from his house he was shot in the back of the head: he did not even leave the car. According to American historian Stanley Payne, “never before in the history of Western parliamentary regimes had the leader of the opposition been first kidnapped and then killed by the police”. What is most telling about this assassination, perpetrated within the “normalcy” of a purportedly democratic regime, is that it was openly committed by uniformed, easily identifiable officers of the law and in the presence of more than enough witnesses: the killers assumed they could act with total impunity, and they were right.
How did the Republican government react? It protected the perpetrators. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to posit that this was a crime designed to provoke a reaction that could be easily crushed, legitimizing an ensuing communist revolution as a sort of continuation to the Asturias revolt, only this time, backed by the power of those in government. As a matter of fact, Winston Churchill wrote that what was going on in Spain in 1936 (prior to the war) was “a communist revolution in full swing”. This is the truth of the “wondrous” Second Republic: a period devoid of freedom (the media were subject to censorship, editors were sent to jail and Spain’s leading right wing newspaper was suspended from printing for over three months); it was a period devoid of peace (there was a bloody left-wing revolution, riots, shootouts and street fights were commonplace, and the government did not believe in the rule of law); and it was a period devoid of progress (per capita income was lower in 1936 than in 1931 and unemployment rose every year).
It is inconceivable that the same Socialist Party that in the 1980s never looked back and ruled, with its ups and downs, like any other group of social democrats, now turns around and, with laws such as the Historical Memory Law (Zapatero-Rajoy), aims to define itself as the heir of a left that back then was far more Stalinist than democratic.
But I must add that there were also heart-warming examples of mutual support between Spaniards of opposed ideologies. Let me tell you a true story: my grandfather, railway engineer Fernando del Pino, a conservative and a practicing Catholic, was trapped in Madrid, which stayed in the hands of the Republican Faction throughout the Spanish Civil War. He was separated from his wife and four children for the duration, and survived two arrests. On one occasion he was convinced his end was imminent, but he was saved from prison in extremis by his doorman, Mariano Villaplana. Don Mariano, who was an old time socialist, card-carrying member of UGT since 1907 (the trade union linked to the Socialist Party), vehemently answered before the feared Republican militiamen for “comrade” Del Pino.
Towards the end of the War, Don Mariano, in order to avoid starvation, got himself employment delivering food for the sinister Military Information Service, SIM, a kind of communist Gestapo created by inspiration of the Soviet KGB (NKVD at the time) that chiefly arrested and tortured people and made “subversives” disappear. Once the conquering army marched into Madrid, the fact of having been a member of the SIM was as good as a death sentence. Despite never once having participated in any kind of violent undertaking, Don Mariano was put in shackles and locked up, waiting for his end to come
But at that juncture my grandfather, with great resolve, was able to have Don Mariano’s death sentence commuted. After some time in jail, the prisoner was released and returned by train to Madrid to find my grandfather on the platform. Together they walked back to Don Mariano’s former job as doorman.
For 40 years, the Francoist dictatorship told its biased version of history. For the next 40 years, after regaining political freedom, the social democrat politically correctness has told its equally biased version instead of striving for objectivity. I sincerely believe that we’ve had enough deceitfulness. Truth always makes us freer. Let’s accept the truth of our history, learn its lessons and, all of us together, stride towards a better future. It’s time.