This is a wonderful book by a great American historian who specializes in Spain and European fascism. In Defense of Spain offers an overview of the entire history of Spain and refutes some of the commonly held myths about this country. Unexpectedly, I discovered that I knew everything that Payne has to say about the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and the 19th century but (and this is the surprising part) I found a lot of stuff that was new to me in the part that discusses the Spanish Civil War. This is what I teach! I’m supposed to know it. But it turns out that I was taught a lot of garbage about the Civil War that I then diligently repeated. Here are some points that might seem arcane to many of you but they matter to me:
1. The election of 1936 was falsified in a pretty blatant way. This means that the whole narrative about the civil war being an insurrection of a fascist military against a “legitimate democratic government” that we are all taught to recite like parrots is bunkum. The Spanish left turned out to be incapable of accepting any democracy that didn’t give them a permanent majority. Which is not really a democracy. It really reminds me of something. Hmm, what can it possibly be?
2. Franco did not want to participate in the uprising until a prominent right-wing politician was assassinated by the Socialists. This is not to justify Franco in any way – nobody likes Franco or dictatorships – but the import of that political assassination is often minimized.
3. During WWII, Luis Carrero Blanco (the guy Franco wanted to be his successor until Carrero Blanco was assassinated by the Basque terrorists in 1973) tried hard to persuade Franco to stop stanning for Hitler like a besotted groupie that he was. “There is absolutely no moral and religious difference between Nazism and Stalinism,” Carrero Blanco implored. I didn’t know there were people so close to Franco who understood this.
4. In 1943 Franco finally officially stopped supporting Hitler because the US pressured him to do so by withdrawing petroleum supplies. This meant an immediate death to the entire Spanish economy, so Franco had to agree.
5. After 1943, Franco tried to convince Churchill to form an alliance between the UK and Spain that would oppose both Hitler and Stalin but Churchill couldn’t betray his buddy Joe.
6. This, of course, I knew but it bears repeating: Franco was not a fascist. This doesn’t mean he was a good guy. He was a brutal dictator, he had a million flaws. But his alliance with the actual Spanish fascists was unwilling and short-lived. After the war, he eviscerated those little bastards. Which, for the millionth time, does not make Franco a good guy. It’s an unfortunate reality that whenever you say that Franco was not a fascist or that the economic transformation of Spain during the dictatorship was an absolute miracle, people immediately assume that you hate democracy and support dictatorships.
7. And by the way, Franco believed in social justice and used this exact expression. Which might be among the reasons why I hate it so much.
I read the book in Spanish but I think that in English there is a close enough version titled Spain: A Unique History. I also discovered that Payne wrote a book on the Soviet involvement in the Spanish Civil War and I have requested it from the library.