A war for our times: The Spanish conflict in 21st-century perspective

September 14, 2012

Editors’ Note: Helen Graham’s The War and Its Shadow: Spain’s Civil War in Europe’s Long Twentieth Century has just been published by Sussex Academic Press. Prof. Graham and her publisher have generously allowed The Volunteer to reproduce the introduction and first chapter. (You can support ALBA by ordering the book at Powell’s, America’s largest independent bookstore. Read an interview with the author here.)

Woman standing amid rubble of buildings destroyed by Nationalist air raids, Madrid, Winter 1936/37. International Center of Photography,


Photographs [ . . . ] enact a reckoning with history that takes the measure of the residual effects of the past in the present, as well as in the future. (1)

The civil war in Spain stands at a crossroads in Europe’s “dark twentieth century”: that is, in the story of how, not so long ago, the mass killing of civilians became the brutal medium through which European societies came to terms with structure-shattering forms of change.

The Spanish conflict was all about this. But although its exterminatory dimension was sui generis – triggered by a domestic military coup – the esca­lation of the war, and of its bleak heart of extrajudicial killing, is inconceivable without the intervention of Nazi and Fascist state arsenals, which both equipped the Spanish military rebels in their “cleansing” offen­sives against civilians, while also directly bombing open cities and refugee columns of “enemies”. As chapter 1 indicates, Spain is thus doubly emblem­atic of a larger European story, in prefiguring the many other latent civil wars across the continent – dense and fraught confrontations over social identities and values, which from September 1939 onwards were, in sequence, triggered and intensified as full-scale confrontations by Nazi occupation/annexation.

Burgos mass grave, 2004 “The task to be accomplished is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past”: the photograph shows the excavation by volunteers in July 2004 of a mass grave near Villamayor de los Montes (Burgos, northern Spain) of 46 male civilians who on 24 September 1936 were extrajudi¬cially murdered by other local people, almost certainly civilian vigilantes connected to organiza¬tions of the political right. Their actions were endorsed by the new military authorities who, having made the coup of 17–18 July 1936, successfully took control in most of northern Spain.* (Photograph: Francesc Torres, 2004). * Francesc Torres, Dark is the room where we sleep (New York and Barcelona: Actar, 2007), pp. 64–5 for photograph and witness testimony and pp. 14–25 for Torres’ own acute intro¬ductory essay. The caption quote is from Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectics of Enlightenment (London: Verso Editions: 1979), p. xv.

In Europe north, south, east and west – from the Baltic to the Balkans (Greece, Serbia, Croatia), in Ukraine and France, these conflicts ran their own violent course beneath the carapace of the Third Reich’s wars of imperial conquest. This Introduction lays out a conceptual frame for these conflicts, while the rest of the book opens up the human stories of those who confronted, endured and (sometimes) survived the cataclysm in Spain.

The thousand-year Reich was defeated militarily in only six, but not so the belief in the superiority of “homogeneous nations” it had lethally inten­sified, nor the realization that war remains the most effective means of creating them. This “knowledge”, deployed both by states and other actors – which was already incubating within the war-born Francoist project in Spain – has ever since victoriously stalked wars and genocides (the line between the two constantly blurs) inside Europe and beyond. The specific economic and cultural circumstances may vary. (2) But common to all is the relationship between crisis and the resulting social fear which generates a cultural script that can justify aggression.

In Spain in July 1936 all the civilian supporters of the coup had in common an immense fear of what the future might hold for their sense of themselves and their most cherished environments. These potent fears were inextricably linked to other very tangible conflicts over the redistribution of economic and political power, but it is the melding of the two factors of fear and power which explains why the coup-makers were successful in projecting back to their supporters an image of their own fears as a myth about the intentions of “the enemy”; of how “the plan was to kill you all”, thus justifying the strongly felt need for a pre-emptive form of “defensive” and “cleansing” violent attack (see chapter 1).

Not only does the attack create its own dynamic, uncontrollable in the end even by those “victors” who most benefit from it, but it is also, almost immediately, out of date as a response to the perceived danger. The processes of change continue mutating, while the “victors” clutch at their victims. One is inevitably reminded of the elaborately constructed siege defences which appear in Sebald’s seminal novel of European memory, Austerlitz – hugely costly and evidence of subtle human ingenuity, but obso­lete even before completion. (3)

Notwithstanding the very real differences of empirical history, a strik­ingly similar mechanism to that deployed by Spain’s military rebels in 1936 worked equally well in the 1980s and early 1990s during the Yugoslav wars when a new Serbian national memory and identity was forged through precisely the same sort of mythological mobilization. Croatian nationalists fomented and deployed exactly the same kind of mythological ethnic mobi­lization for political ends, of course, and their responsibility in the wars that followed was also great. But it is the particularity of a fearful imaginary projected into war, as I outline it here, which makes the Serb case analogous with Francoism. Generated by economic fears and political uncertainty, Serban national memory solidified as a perception of existential threat which was then projected as the “murderous intentions of the enemy”. (4) There are, inevitably, many substantive differences between the Francoist case of the late 1930s and 40s and the Serbian case of the 1980s and 90s. (5) The point of thinking comparatively is not to equate these two forms of nationalism, but rather to indicate a resonant parallel that could allow us to think more deeply about the mechanisms which generated the violence in each case: once an aggressor unleashes war – whether military rebels in 1936 Spain or Serbian nationalists in Yugoslavia/Bosnia – then it engulfs everything to make its own new meanings, and in any war whose stakes are supremely about the dreamed-of post-war society and civil order, then atrocity against civilians is everywhere; every “side” acquires its perpetra­tors, is implicated in the violence.

Aggrieved Serbs cite the raids undertaken by Muslim forces around Srebrenica as a justification for the mass killing of Muslim civilians there in July 1995. But for a historian, unlike for a nationalist, the fact of Muslim war crimes cannot obviate the meaning that is embedded in the chronology of events. Bosnian Serbs, like Franco’s military rebels before them, unleashed a war which was publicly justified as a means of “resisting” a fearful fate which was first attributed to, and then inflicted upon the “enemy”, thereby reducing the opponent to the same level; forcing them to engage, making them ugly, while simultaneously positing the originating aggression as a “lasting solution”, which, in both the Francoist and Serbian cases, meant the bid to create a homogeneous national community within the territory it controlled.

It remains true of course that the ethnic dimension of the mass killing that occurred during the Yugoslav civil war of the Second World War period – whose memory was repressed under Tito’s rule, indeed was repressed as a foundational axiom of that rule – offered the Serbian nation­alist elite much collateral for incubating and intensifying popular anxieties, unresolved grief, and a sense of victimhood, as grist for their work of mytho­logical mobilization in the 1980s. (6) There was nothing of comparable scale in the arsenal of Spanish ultra-nationalists in the 1930s. But there was, nevertheless, more than enough. The iron grip of Spain’s long-lived monar­chical system (re-imposed in 1875 and in power until 1931) had been predicated on repressing directly or indirectly any political or social reform that might have fostered a process of gradual opening to a genuine consti­tutional democracy. This had as its singular – though not at all paradoxical – consequence an intense and mounting social fear among elite groups and those retainer constituencies who depended on the status quo. These fears crystallized in the rise of black propaganda, conspiracy theories and also actual “conspiracies” invented by the police in order to justify exemplary repression. All of this was probably most intense in the rural deep south, where huge landed estates and socially feudal relations of power held captive a mass of starving landless day labourers. But these fears extended also to the north and to the comfortable classes of the bigger cities, where the memory was strong of popular rebellions against military conscription (1909) and later explicitly against economic hardship and political exclu­sion – the cycle of rural risings and street warfare/violence known as the “bolshevik three years” which followed the end of the Great War. These fears may have been temporarily lulled by dictatorship in the 1920s, all the more especially as that dictatorship was floated on a European economic boom which for a time softened the edges of Spain’s underlying structural impasse. But the fears remained just under the surface, and would soon become the substance for the sociological mobilization of a new mass conservatism in 1930s Spain, as they were filtered and recast by the discourses of the Catholic, military and agrarian right under pressure of the accelerating cultural change symbolized by the coming of the democratic Second Republic in 1931. Indeed such was the power of this recasting of social fears that it effectively “prepared” socially conservative constituencies for the depradations that the Franco regime would later inflict. The sheer rapidity of the post-coup mobilization of civilian forces behind the military rebels in July 1936 is only comprehensible if one takes into account these already high levels of social and psychological “conscription” beforehand. (7)

This psychological conscription of social fear by political actors is what has driven civilian-upon-civilian massacre in the many subsequent conflicts that have “run” with Hitler’s – and Franco’s – lethal belief that killing is the most effective means of establishing a “rational political community” (see chapters 2, 3 and 6). It is a realization of this which underpins our growing sense of the enormity of what the Republican war effort once held back, in resisting the advance thrust of Nazi adventurism, with all the many wars of ethnic, cultural and political “purification” that it would unleash. The human and social costs for Spaniards of this purificatory project, in both the short and long term, are explored in the individual study in chapter 3, just as they also run through the second half of the book, in its analysis of the structural violence of the Franco regime and its enduring effects into present times; while chapter 4 explores on a broader canvas some of the most resonant forms of political, social and cultural resistance to that purifica­tory project, both as they coalesced in Spain in 1936–39, and also in the memory and legacy these have left behind in Europe and beyond, a theme that also re-emerges in the final chapter. Throughout the book I tell this bigger history through the human stories of people who felt its full force in their personal lives.

Srebrenica, 2010 Bosnia and the rest of Yugoslavia emerged from the Second World War, like many regions of Europe, as if from an apocalypse, the landscape so riddled with mass-graves that “the very earth seemed to breathe”.* The photograph shows the former battery factory-cum-UN barracks in the “safe haven” of Srebrenica, which fell to the Bosnian Serb army on 11 July 1995. From this place thou-sands of Bosnian Muslim adult male refugees were taken and killed by the conquering forces. Some were murdered in the “heat” of conquest, in the vicinity of the factory, even within the sight of Dutch UNPROFOR personnel; many more were killed during the subsequent days of “cold” operational terror in farm buildings and schools of the surrounding area. Yet more were hunted down by hundreds of Bosnian Serb soldiers-become-perpetrators in the surrounding woods as the refugees sought to reach safe territory. Of the 7,000 to 8,000 killed and buried in mass graves, thousands are still unaccounted for, and their remains lie scattered in the earth of the surrounding landscape.**(Photograph: Robert Jinks, 2010). * Milovan Djilas, Wartime (London: Secker and Warburg, 1980), p. 447. ** Figures are those of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), http://www.icty.org/x/file/Outreach/view_from_hague/jit_srebrenica_en.pdf, p. 1. By 11 July 2011, the sixteenth anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica, the remains of 4,522 people have been identified and interred. (It is policy not to inter unidentified bones.) See the Srebrenica museum site at Poto¼ari: http://www.potocarimc.ba/ and also http://srebrenica-genocide.blogspot.com/ (all accessed 11 July 2011).

Precisely because Francoism was born of a war made viable by Nazi and Fascist intervention, with a political project conceived therein as a funda­mentalist nationalism, extreme in its virulent extirpation of difference, then the major terms of analytical reference deployed here are those of the Nazi new order which Franco fervently wished to be part of. The comparisons made between Francoism and Stalinism are fewer, though no less pertinent for that, particularly in regard of a similar deployment of ideas of “work” and “sacrifice” in the conceptualization of forced labour and the prison universe (see chapter 6). In the Soviet Union, the other major example of brutal state-making during the European inter-war period, the ostensible ideological goal was to abolish nationalism. Yet the mass killing and extreme violence perpetrated by the Stalinist system retained a strong ethnic charge, targeting whole groups of “enemy peoples” during the 1930s and the Second World War. And while it was not the aim of Stalin’s regime to create a homogeneous nation state, the system (as Stalin personally) demonstrated a fearful obsession with ethnic difference. (8)

While the chapters of this book always have the fundamentalist core of nationalism in their analytical sights, none engages explicitly with the polemics about the definition of genocide, which often shed more heat than light and, certainly, could add little to what this book seeks to explain. It is, however, worth noting that, as with the fraught definitional debates around genocide, so too those surrounding related forms of mass extrajudi­cial killings as war crimes and/or crimes against humanity often suffer from a similar decontextualization, a mesmerising focus on the acts of lethal violence themselves which fail singularly to place in their proper historical context either the motives or the forms of violence. (9) This is in part a reflec­tion of how scholars themselves have co-opted legal categories, but in all cases this obliviousness to historical context (which as well as the “close­up” contemplation of the act also comprises the reduction of complex events to hackneyed myths, clichés and racist stereotypes) also conveniently others the phenomenon, thus providing alibis for “normal” societies today, and permitting the pigeonholing of the violence as “aberrant” – thus once again ignoring what is by now clearly the “elephant in the room”: that it is in such normal societies, including ones self-defined and perceived as “modern” and “civilized” where, under stress, and once specific configura­tions of crisis combine, ordinary individuals, ordinary human beings murder their neighbours. (10)

In virtually all cases too there operates a crucial intermediate phase when intense social fears are mythologized, transformed, usually by some form of political mediator (Church hierarchy, military elite or ultra-nationalist party) which may or may not itself believe in these social fears, or which believes in them to some degree, while also having other goals. This “mythological transformer” would appear to be the crucial trigger legit­imizing mass participation in murder – perhaps because there is a human, or at least a broadly trans-cultural need to rationalize violence, even if that “rationale” is a mythological one – otherwise one cannot compose a post-hoc account of the violence that allows for some kind of social reconstruction and which, crucially, allows the perpetrators to live with themselves. (11) By the same token, an international narrative – journalistic or otherwise – which deals in de-historicized categories (Spain as an exotic, “southern”, and violent culture; ancient tribal hatreds in the Balkans) or which then seizes upon the consequences of civil wars as if they were causes (Republican inte­gral “instability”, or ethnic “irreducibility” in Bosnia) also provides a crucial alibi for a certain exhausted notion of modernity itself, thus staving off the moment of recognition of its illusion of control, which would other­wise be inescapable. Knowledge of this “exhaustion” saturates the events at Srebrenica where refugees were murdered in the presence and sights of UN personnel.

Sarajevo (1993–2003) “A photograph could be the subtle light that unassumingly helps us to change things.”* The panels in the photograph contain images originally taken in September and October 1993 by the photojournalist Miquel Ruiz Avilés, including of the war-destroyed façade of the offices of the newspaper Osloboðenje in Sarajevo (right-hand side). These images were subsequently part of a travelling exhibition designed by Photographers Without Borders (http://photographerswithoutborders.net) to raise funds for relief work in the besieged Bosnian capital. Coinciding with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, exhibition visitors were invited to record their thoughts by writing on the panels. In Girona, Catalonia, one of the exhibition’s destinations, someone chose to write on the Osloboðenje panel “Ací s’acaba la nit, comença el dia” (Here the night ends and the day begins.) Also visible to the left of the Osloboðenje panel (and again on the left-hand side of the photograph) is the National Library building in Sarajevo which was destroyed by the shelling of the besieging Serb forces on the night of 25 August 1992 with the loss of 90 per cent of its books. (Photographs: Miquel Ruiz Avilés, 1993–2003). * W. Eugene Smith – a remark made by the veteran American photographer after he had documented the effects of mercury poisoning in the fishing village of Minamata (Japan) in an episode which symbolized the clash between human/ecological needs and powerful corpo¬rate interest. W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, Minamata (London: Chatto and Windus, 1975).

After Franco’s military victory in Spain, too, the international powers ignored the regime’s institutionalization of killing after 1 April 1939 in the full knowledge of its perpetration. (12) (After 1945 the western Allies would be similarly complaisant, when they approved ethnic cleansing dressed up as “population transfer” or “expulsion” in central and East Europe – a process that also involved large numbers of violent deaths, all in the name of producing ethnic homogeneity. (13)) The second half of the book examines the context in which the institutionalized killing transpired in Spain and its consequences for the history and memory of long-durée Francoism, both inside Spain and beyond. The dictatorship predicated itself as an extension of the civil war as it sought to construct a monolithic national community by violently extirpating Republican political and cultural identities – a pred­ication further intensified by the regime’s persistent rhetorical denial of this violence (the “uncivil peace”). The multiple strands of war-born Francoism’s “afterlife of violence”, both structural and psychic, still haunt Spain, long after the end of the dictatorship. This is evident in intolerant discourse and in the endurance of clientelist political modes renovated by the Franco regime and perpetuated across the democratic transition. It is also evident in a certain disdain and arrogance which inhabit the constitutional state and which take sustenance from what we might call Francoism’s still “live” field of memory. Nor have its once lethal myths yet ceased to shape European and western perceptions of Spain’s recent history: that Franco was an old-fash­ioned nationalist; that military intervention was a necessary and patriotic response to political subversion, instability and inveterate internal division in a country culturally unsuited to constitutional democracy. Indeed, rather than these myths being neutralized or defused, they may now be increasing their purchase in the wake of late-twentieth- and twenty-first-century new ultranationalist ascendancy in central and east Europe.

At Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia, the work of recuperating and identifying the victims of nationalism continues. That this offers support for family members is incontestable and amply justifies the endeavour, (14) not least because it has been hard-won, like its equivalent in Spain. But there are more ambivalent outcomes too in that the recuperation of the remains also shores up the moral credibility of an increasingly threadbare form of political and cultural “reason”, whose representatives were the very signatories of an internationally brokered peace in Bosnia in 1995 which endorsed the world view of the perpetrators (or at least prevented the anti-Serb alliance from finishing the job). In 1995 as in 1945 the normativity and desirability of ethnic homogeneity was accepted, thereby endorsing the same lethal myths of nationalism.

I omit here the “ethnic” qualifier because what emerges clearly from the study of Spain is that the murderous potential belongs to nationalism itself, without adjectival qualification. (15) From today’s vantage point it is quite clear that “ethnicity” has always been simply the most deadly of the myths in the arsenal of the “national idea”. Except there has never been anything “simple” about it, as we see today in the continuing, even increasing, capacity of its “mythological transformer” to empower the political ambitions and mass projects of an newly ascendant populist-nationalist right across Europe.


A War For Our Times: The Spanish civil war in twenty-first century perspective

The war with its flashes of gunfire has opened our eyes. The idea of political alternation has been replaced for ever by that of extermination and expulsion, which is the only valid response against an enemy which is wreaking more destruction in Spain than any ever caused by a foreign invasion. (1)

We ourselves are the War. (Freikorps diary) (2)

In Spain today the civil war, triggered nearly seventy years ago, is still “the past that has not passed away” and a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, inter­nationally renowned for his championing of human rights, is currently debarred for reasons connected to his bid to investigate the crimes of the Franco dictatorship born of that war. (3)In the UK, Garzón is better known for his bid to have another military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, extradited from Britain to answer for the forced disappearance and murder of some three thousand Chileans under his regime (1973–90). Franco was respon­sible for ten times that number of “disappeared”, as well as tens of thousands more extra- and quasi-judicial killings. Yet outside Spain there is still rela­tively little public awareness of this dimension of the war. The focus has remained instead on high politics and diplomacy: on the rapid military intervention by expansionist Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, bent on displacing Anglo-French hegemony in Europe – which turned Spain into the antechamber of continental, and ultimately, world war. (4)

But it is the long shadow of the world war which is now bringing back centre frame the most disquieting aspects of what happened in Spain. The tectonic shift in Europe since 1989 has permitted an unprecedented empirical excavation of the continental convulsion of 1939–45 (more accurately, 1938–47), and is now beginning to reveal to a broader public the stark truth already known by specialist historians – that this was a war waged predominantly upon civilians; (5) moreover millions of them were killed not by invaders and strangers, but by their own compatriots, including their own neighbours. (6)A war of intimate enemies and local massacre, then, which occurred across Europe and whose intensity derived from their being culture wars as much, if not more, than of wars of poli­tics: or, rather, they became possible as mass political conflicts by dint of their profound cultural roots. By “culture” what is meant here is the core narrative of how society is organized and how it is reciprocally explained by its inhabitants with reference to a set of collective values deemed appropriate to underpin it.

These protean conflicts were the microcosmic manifestations in daily life of “impersonal” processes of social transformation deriving ultimately from industrialization and urbanization. By the end of the nineteenth century their impact was becoming more evident, directly or indirectly, in the east, centre and south of the European continent too, an impact much acceler­ated by the effects of mass wartime mobilization – in the factories probably more than at the military front itself – during the Great War of 1914–18. This was a war which, before the event, had been envisaged by many, including among Europe’s traditional landed and imperial elites, as a “clamp” that would hold at bay, or even neutralize, the unintended social consequences of the industrial change which was already acting as a dissol­vent on older forms of social and political order. But the “event” itself was rather different to how they had imagined. The acceleration of home front labour mobilization and mass military mobilization to meet the needs of modern industrialized warfare changed the balance of power forever across the continent. Indeed from nearly a century’s distance now, we can see how much of the economic mobilization and social shift which preceded the conflict was already actively influencing what would be the war’s medium-term social and political outcomes. But, in the immediate term, the Great War produced a sort of stalemate or hung result – fatally wounding the continent’s old order of empire, elite rule, social hierarchy and deference, yet not finishing these off entirely.

In the 1920s and 30s there thus erupted a maelstrom of becoming. People were on the move physically, the demographic shift intensified by military mobilization and war work. And their ideas, their very sense of their own lives, were often on the move with them. Who should now speak through politics? (7) Which counted for more – the new political rights conceded by emerging or developing constitutional systems, or duties and notions of service deriving from an older, and rigidly hierarchical, social order? What privileges – political, economic and cultural – could wealth still command over those whose only “capital” was their newly acquired membership/citizenship of a state or nation? How might secular ideas of community coexist with religious culture and values? Especially since these latter had not, by and large, been free-floating, but rather integral to bolstering and maintaining traditional (and therefore usually hierarchical) relations in the villages or small towns in which most inhabitants of conti­nental Europe – central, east and south – still lived.

The conflicts of the European inter-war period were most saliently and predominantly ones that emerged from the meanings made by this still overwhelmingly rural majority, in which should be included the many inhabitants of provincial and market towns, in their encounter with encroaching social change – even if for many this remained a dull-rumoured one. Pre-existing economic tensions, especially where mass landlessness was present, became much more conflictive in the new atmosphere where the knowledge of mass war dead primed the emerging language of political rights. But even where no issue of landlessness obtained, the same questions loomed: how would new forms of politics, the fruit of new circumstances, address and reconfigure interests within the rural world itself? Those of the landed, with those of the ubiquitous, complex array of others of modest and middling means – whether landowning peasantry, tenant farmers, estate stewards and retainers, provincial officials, police and the broader commer­cial and service classes of the locality. A community of economic interest, even in the face of an uncertain future, was far from self-evident here, until a perception of it became solidified through a gradually emerging common set of social fears and anxieties – strongly felt, yet for quite some time also diffuse – appertaining to future social change and the threatened loss of reference points, familiar rules, the known local environment. (8) It was these that would come to underpin the “gentry pact” as a recognizable new polit­ical alliance across the states and territories of inter-war Europe between the old and landed elites and other rural/village and small-town constituencies and “imperial” service classes anchored in the pre-1914 order.

Their fears were brought into focus and crystallized as an image of the city, becoming fixed upon it as a threat and above all as a source of desta­bilization. Obviously this was not about urban centres per se, which had long existed. Nor was their configuration as alien and other about physical sepa­ration or lack of exchange, as there was a regular, indeed increasing human traffic between city and country, including of migrant workers, and inter­mediate forms of identity and indeed space were already coming into being. It was, in fact, precisely this sense of social flux, of the shifting meanings that could inhabit urban space, which explains the emergence of new fearful popular imaginaries identifying the city with the new, sometimes egali­tarian, but always destabilizing political desires taking shape within it. This is encapsulated in the social disgust, almost existential nausea, with which officers and cadets of the imperial armies (Wilhelmine or Hapsburg) described in diaries and correspondence the scenes of popular fervour and, to their eyes, the sheer aberration and mayhem of popular presence on the streets which greeted their return to the cities from the front. (9) They evoked these scenes – in Berlin, Budapest and many other towns and cities of central Europe – as an outright confrontation, embittered by the military defeat also accelerating it, between their own honourable and order-loving values and the onset of social apocalypse embodied in the masses on the streets.

On a grey November morning, I was allowed to leave [the barracks] for the first time . . . When I came closer to the main streets of the city, I heard wild shouting. Soon I saw a larger crowd of people, among them several soldiers in combat uniform . . . Some were wearing red armbands. Roughly twelve or fifteen of them were beating up two young officers . . . A few civilians shouted and women were screaming “beat them to death, the damned officers!” . . . I quickly approached the scene . . . [but] I didn’t get very far . . . I was already surrounded by a group of soldiers and felt the first blows . . . They took my stars and my medals for bravery as well, and the “Große Silberne” [a high military decoration] with the Kaiser’s face was thrust into the dirty street. Suddenly they left us alone . . . I spat out the blood and collected the pieces of my sabre and my decorations for bravery in the field. “Damned rabble”, I thought, “there will be a day of reckoning for you.” (10)

Similar scenes are repeatedly described, filtered through an already fear-saturated cultural script of the French revolution – and in which women out of control are notably present. This anxiety was of course precipitated by a more immediate perceived threat, the Bolshevik revolution, which as well as a new political menace, was hugely galvanizing because it crystal­lized everything the old order and its “gentry” supporters already feared socially.

Indeed one could say that most of what happens thereafter in Europe’s dark mid-twentieth century appertains directly or indirectly to this highly charged “coming to terms with the city” – unevenly, reluctantly and tacitly, a coming to terms with the heterogeneities and unorthodoxy, the sheer messiness and fracture of modern urban space and the “trouble” these signal to elites and all those other constituencies with some psychological invest­ment in the values of the gentry pact. For the old rural world under threat was not just an economic order but also a set of social and cultural values perceived as clear and “unambiguous”: tradition, religion, “simple” peasant/yeoman virtues, a politically demobilized society; women in their place, in the family home. And more even than social and cultural, these things were felt as the necessary and essential constellation for psycholog­ical well-being too. (11)

Thus it was that the gentry pact came to be constituted as an audience for radical new incarnations of conservative nationalism, which from 1917–18 spoke directly to their needs and fears. Economic uncertainty, battles over resources and the crises produced by structural change, combined with war-induced dislocation, all ratcheted up the fear and inten­sified the operation of the “mythological transformer”, defining as the “problem” all those who did not fit. Provincial townsmen and the upper echelons of larger villages joined citizen “national guards” of various kinds – whether for immediate action, as in Hungary (the white terror), or, as in 1920s Spain, became members of bodies like the Somatén as a statement of intent. (12) But everywhere such organizations defined “the national” from the outset in highly exclusive terms. Patriotism itself came rapidly to be under­stood as that which ensured social stasis on a traditionalist basis and in perpetuity. The organizations were both the manifestation of fears of change and – whether in action or embryo – a paramilitary instrument for resisting it by force by policing not only public order but also the social order. Concomitantly thus, the 1920s saw the effective expulsion and exclusion across Europe of many perceived not to “fit”: urban progressives, autodidact workers with attitude, labourers who were not prepared any longer to tug their forelock/observe due deference and the old ways. Although a minority within European populations as a whole, they were a significant one, numbering many thousands of people who left: from Finland (1918), from Hungary; Poland; Yugoslavia; Greece in the 1920s – part political exiles, part economic migrants.

Ethnicity could be a trigger in some contexts – in central Europe where this radical, ultra nationalist defence of social stasis overlapped with a popular culture of antisemitism – so for example in 1920s Poland there was a movement to mobilize ethnic Poles of the middling sort as a yeomanry guard to boycott Jewish commercial enterprises. But in numerous countries of continental Europe after the Great War a recognizably similar social and political cleansing occurred without any ethnic component – and the latter category which appears so clearly dominant in the light of subsequent events, clouds somewhat too, even in central Europe, in that the categories of Jewish people excluded often at that time mirrored the profile of non-ethnic social and political cleansing elsewhere. The “restless refugee boys” described in the discussion of the social history of the International Brigades in chapter 4, were both Jewish and not, but the reasons they left the places of their birth in the years after the Great War were very similar, whether they went from Finland or from Hungary, as in the case of the refugee from Budapest who became Robert Capa. In photographing the brigaders, he bore witness to their experience in Spain and afterwards, so “swept by roads and travelling” (see also the photo-essay in chapter 5 and the cover image of this book). (13) Capa’s photographs provoke an immediate reaction through their intense charge of human connection. His was an immense, preter ­natural talent underpinned by empathy deriving not least from an awareness that he was photographing a fate that might so easily have been his own. In all this, antisemitism was by the 1920s rather more than back­ground noise, of course; but the drive to purify and homogenize envisaged, created and targeted a greater range of human “threats” and “dangers” – those perceived as bearing social change, a protean category which was not embodied by a single ethnic group.

Of those who felt compelled to leave, some took the established, time­worn path to North America, although the USA no longer offered the relatively easy access of earlier times. Many others departed to other European countries, France especially, where wartime losses combined with a falling birth rate provoked a substantial labour shortage. But in France too exactly the same mythological transformer was soon at work, and as the international political tensions of the 1930s mounted in the face of clear Nazi expansionist intent, so too in la France profonde, among the rural and small town majority there began to appear an intransigent, quasi ethnic form of nationalism which identified as the “problem” those groups of migrant urban labour in their midst, now swelled further by later arrivals, including batches of political refugees – all of whom, as antifascists and for­eigners, were perceived as nefariously engaged in driving France into war with Germany. By the second half of 1938, and after the final collapse of Léon Blum’s last ditch (Popular Front) cabinet in April, the Daladier gov­ernment decreed a series of restrictions on foreign labourers and refugees which both played in populist terms to existing fears, while also stoking a rising xenophobia and antisemitism in France which was only in part eco­nomically motivated, and which was indeed sometimes directly at odds with the macro-requirements of the French economy and defence. (14) Accordingly naturalized citizens, especially if Jewish, were increasingly hedged about with de facto restrictions, while migrants or the naturalized returning from service in Spain as volunteer fighters with the Republic, against the Nazi-and Fascist-backed rebels, found themselves interned in camps, frequently indefinitely, by a peacetime and Republican French government.

A [….] percentage of the continent’s population had become quite accus­tomed to the thought that they were outcasts. They could be divided into two main categories: people doomed by biological accident of their race and people doomed for their metaphysical creed or rational conviction regarding the best way to organise human welfare. The latter category included the progressive elite of the intelligentsia, the middle classes and the working classes in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe. (15)

Thus wrote Arthur Koestler from his own internment in Le Vernet con­centration camp near Toulouse which was “rehabilitated” by the Daladier government to intern International Brigaders who had crossed into France with the defeated Spanish Republican army after the fall of Catalonia in February 1939. Unlike the beach internment camps, such as Argelès, St Cyprien and Le Barcarès, which were hastily set up to contain the Spanish refugees, Le Vernet, like Gurs and a small number of the other camps across the south-west, was expressly conceived as a punishment or disciplinary camp. So while those refugees in the beach camps suffered appalling condi­tions, especially at the start, through the sheer lack of basic facilities and even shelter, in Le Vernet the inmates were subjected to an explicit prison regime – which of course says much about how the French government viewed the brigaders. Later on Le Vernet was expanded to house other “undesirable” or enemy aliens, a category to which the Hungarian-born journalist and writer Koestler was deemed to belong. Unlike the more for­tunate and better connected Koestler, who spent four months in the camp, most of those incarcerated had no hope of release. Just as their counterparts in Germany had suffered “a Munich for the camps”, (16) so the inmates of Le Vernet too had their fate determined by the xenophobia which now fed appeasement. Out of a camp population of over five thousand, only a small minority (approximately fifty) would be released prior to the military col­lapse of France. Some two thousand prisoners passed eventually from French to Nazi (Gestapo) control, (17) but not before the appalling conditions in the camp, where hunger and disease were rife, had caused a rebellion of sheer desperation in April 1941. Brutally quelled by the local police, the result was also a virtual death sentence for those who were as a consequence deported to Germany or to the infamous North African work camps – these latter a space of European deportation and incarceration still largely unex­plored by historians. (18) Today all that is left of Le Vernet camp is the prison cemetery. Restored in the 1990s, it austerely commemorates the refugees and political exiles of some fifty four nationalities who endured its condi­tions – the largest single component of which were Spanish Republicans.

In Liberal-Centigrade, Vernet was the zero-point of infamy; measured in Dachau-Fahrenheit it was still 32 degrees above zero. In Vernet beating-up was a daily occurrence; in Dachau it was prolonged until death ensued.In Vernet people were killed for lack of medical attention; in Dachau they were killed on purpose. In Vernet half of the prisoners had to sleep without blankets in 20 degrees of frost; in Dachau they were put in irons and exposed to the frost. (19)

But in the very possibility of comparison, Koestler reminds us that here in France in the network of internment and “punishment camps” for brigaders and refugees that covered the landscape of Roussillon in “peace time”, the European concentration camp universe was already in existence. Le Vernet and its ilk were not as consistently dangerous as Dachau or the other “early” German camps where the law was already a dead letter. But Le Vernet or Gurs, Bourg-Madame or Bram and the many other camps, were still places in which inmates, whether they suffered and died, or suffered and survived, had already become bare life: they were excluded from all “nations” and thus devoid of both the symbolic value and rights such membership afforded. (20) In these camps too could be found the cruel­ties typical of the later concentrationary labour universe, with its arbitrary punishments, petty tyranny and pointless tasks. (21)This was the fear-induced creation – at once surreal but only too real – of a supposed “solution” to the “problem” the officers of former empires had seen on the streets of Berlin, Linz and other central European cities in 1918 – a pathology now extending across the continent and that saw itself as the re-inscription of control.

It was into this world of social fears that Hitler’s war of territorial expan­sion was unleashed. It thus equipped myriad European civil wars that were already primed. In villages and towns across the continent, “irregular wars” of many kinds erupted, waged in the name of different possible futures, upon the uncertain terrain opened up in the wake of the Great War. These European civil wars, west, east, north and south, took on a “cleansing” intransigence – just like the Nazis’ own – unsurprisingly if bleakly, as many of those driving them had long envisaged the “solution” to convulsive change as being found in the forging of “homogeneous” communities, whether ethnic, political or religious. (22) Out of these internecine clashes the socially new would emerge, although what that might mean would not be in any way properly “clear” until after the end of the much vaster – and truly “world” – war of 1939–1945 which across continental Europe constituted a brutal coming to terms with the magnitude of the supervening social change, mediated through forms of off-battlefield violence so intense and barbaric that they remain, arguably, still “unimaginable” within main­stream Western consciousness, even today. (23)

So much of this was prefigured with primal intensity in Spain, a country which, already by the end of the 1920s, no longer corresponded to the image of dormancy and demobilization generally held by outsiders and indeed by segments of Spain’s own elites too. The Great War, which Spain did not enter, but which entered it, generated accelerated industrial growth and population shift, which intensified the social and cultural rifts already evident in Spain, the accretion of several decades of uneven development. The boom years of the 1920s solidified these different worlds. Spain was no longer only the land of contrast beloved of foreign essayists and travellers of various hues – the urban sophistication and/or militant labour cultures of Barcelona, against the socially feudal starkness (“primitive beauty”) of the agrarian deep south. Now there were medium-sized coastal cities powered by trade and small scale industry, in which the burgeoning profes­sional, entrepreneurial and commercial middling strata had republicanized themselves in a bid to break through to achieve a political voice in a system that was still antiquated and exclusive.

Jaggedly at odds with them were the rural fastnesses and inward looking, socially locked-down provincial market towns of the central heartlands and northern interior, from which, not uncoincidentally, were drawn many of the believers and pilgrims for the post-1919 upsurge of religious appari­tions in the face of domestic and international flux. (24 ) (In the wake of revolutionary turmoil in Europe, the Spanish king had in May 1919 unilat­erally dedicated the country to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, unveiling the imposing statue on Madrid’s Cerro de Los Ángeles – the geographical centre of Spain. (25) In the years following 1919, town councils also erected their own Sacred Hearts, on which was inscribed “I will reign in Spain”. These were acts and words whose symbolic resonance echoed like a battle cry upon urban workers and liberal and cosmopolitan constituencies.)

What would “arm” the situation in the 1930s, however, was not Republican reforms in themselves – which after all were as much as symptom of these underlying developments as a cause – but the confluence of a broader social base for change (the aforementioned north-east sea board middling constituencies combined with organized labour in town and city) with a new regime that offered a legal and policy framework to realize that change, and a language of political rights and inclusion to justify it. Against them would be mobilized patrician conservatives, but most crucially, as earlier in (a somewhat less unevenly developed) central Europe, also the ranks of Spain’s inland rural society. This gentry pact would, in turn, legit­imize the violent action of sectors of the Spanish military, both peninsular and colonial, whose own material discontents were filtered by a driving belief in the need for social defence against a world of enemies, (26) this further sharpened by the dominant and by now strongly ideologized memory of military and imperial defeat in 1898.

Thus on 17–18 July 1936, a group of army officers rebelled against the reforming Republic in the name of a civilian coalition of forces who favoured an older, “anti-urban” social and political hierarchy which would, supposedly, guarantee their “ideal” of a static society. Saved from almost certain failure by Nazi and Fascist military intervention, and by a British inaction amounting to complicity, these army rebels, in which a colonial military elite including Franco took the lead, unleashed a conflict in which civilians became the targets of mass killing. Even in areas where there was no armed resistance to the coup, the new military authorities authorized and presided over an extermination, mainly perpetrated by civilian death squads and vigilantes, of those sectors associated with Republican change – not only those who were politically active, or who had directly benefited from the Second Republic’s land, labour and welfare reforms but also those who symbolized cultural change and thus posed a threat to old ways of being and thinking: progressive teachers, self-educated workers, “new” women. (27) Even in the areas of Spain where the military coup failed, in one crucial respect it “succeeded” fully – in that there too it unleashed extrajudicial and communal killing which, combined with the killing sanctioned by the military in the rebel zone, would make radical new meanings that changed Spain’s political landscape forever.

The killing in Republican territory, which for a time the government was powerless to oppose because the military rebellion had collapsed the instruments of public order, was perpetrated against civilian sectors consid­ered to be the natural supporters of the coup. Nearly 50,000 people were killed. (28) Many of the perpetrators believed that through these “cleansing” murders they would finally break the asphyxiating social hold of old monar­chist Spain which had lived on into the Republic, so a new world could be made – hence the particular targeting of landowners, but above all of priests. Notwithstanding the vehemence of anticlericalism that was pecu­liar to the Spanish case, the culture wars which underlay Spain’s military coup were clearly part of the broader wars of social change across Europe – with a recognizable series of flashpoints: the accelerated emergence of mass suffrage as a consequence of the Great War, demands for social welfare reform, and the redistribution of land and economic power in the country­side. Nevertheless, the unprecedented level of communal violence against priests triggered by the military coup, in which some 7,000 male religious personnel were killed, would prove devastating to the international repu­tation of the Republic.

Its causes, however, reach much further back than the Republic (b. 1931) into the long-lived Restoration monarchy (1875–1931) where tens of thou­sands of ordinary people felt the daily, pervasive presence of the Catholic Church as stifling and inimical to both their “spirit” and welfare, while its symbols reminded them daily of their political and social exclusion from the Restoration order. In many respects these people – whether or not they consciously sought to espouse secularized culture values and practices – were the direct equivalents of those who elsewhere in the villages and small towns of south and central Europe had rejected the rigidities of social hier­archy and forelock tugging. The fact that in Spain this rejection went on being manifest via anticlericalism is an indication not so much (or certainly not always) of a less politically developed awareness, as an indication of the vast and sustained power of the Catholic Church itself which still endured in the 1930s. (29) Its ecclesiastical hierarchy, a model of culturally intolerant pronouncement, operated much as in absolutist times, and had, throughout the preceding and long-lived monarchy, been content to see the Church used as a disciplinary instrument to sustain an authoritarian system in which both king and political class continued to behave as if the Great War had not occurred in Europe. It is thus the political and social context of “arrested development”, rather than any religious peculiarity of Spaniards, which explains why the pivotal battle for modernity in 1930s Spain ended by being waged over the bodies of the clergy. That the result was patho­logical is of course also true – but, in the last analysis, that too was a consequence of the political and social modes – and abuses – that had built up under the Restoration monarchy itself.

It would be six months into the war before the Republican authorities were able to rebuild public order and put an end to this killing in their zone. By then, however, it had already reinforced a social support base for Franco among those whose families and loved ones became the victims. Nevertheless, this “Republican” violence always remained more ephemeral and less effective than the death squad vigilantism simultaneously occur­ring in rebel-held territory, precisely because there the killing was backed and authorized by an integrated military power, the new Franco regime in the making.

After Franco achieved military victory in spring 1939 – much aided by the British government’s sustained commitment to “Non-Intervention” – the genocidal dimension which had incubated in war-forged Francoism became fully apparent. Of the baseline figure of 150,000 killings – extra-judicial and judicial, based on summary military justice – for which it was responsible in the territory under direct military control between 1936 and the late 1940s, at least 20,000 were committed after the Republican mili­tary surrender in late March 1939. (30) The scale of the post-victory killing is particularly noteworthy in view of the large scale Republican exodus via Catalonia in February 1939. In a bid to create a “homogeneous” nation based on traditionalist values and social deference, both understood to be embedded in a certain “disciplinary” form of Catholicism, the regime engaged in the murder and mass imprisonment of the Republican popula­tion, as the subsequent chapters of this book will discuss.

Francoism constitutes the most significant and enduring “Western” example of how European polities, societies and “nations” of the mid twen­tieth century came to be reconstructed through violence – through the large-scale execution and mass imprisonment of compatriots. (31) If we ask how this happened, and, crucially, how it was legitimized, then to answer the question we need to place Spain in the context of a Europe-wide “poli­tics of retribution” (32)which encapsulates how brutal new states were created, through the manufacture of categories of the anti-nation, of non persons without civil rights – in short, through the creation of the “other”, whether Jews, “Untermenschen”, enemies of the people, or, in the case of Francoism, the catch-all epithet of “red”. All the rebels’ wartime political opponents were described as “red”. But the term was also applied indis­criminately to entire social constituencies – predominantly to urban and rural workers, but also to Republican-identified intellectuals and liberal professional sectors and to women who did not conform to the rigid gender norms deemed appropriate by Francoism. In sum, in post-war Spain “red” came to mean whoever the rebel victors chose so to label as a means of removing either their lives or their civil rights.

To achieve this in a way which maximized its own control, the Franco regime exhorted “ordinary Spaniards” nationwide to denounce their compa­triots’ “crimes” to military tribunals. Tens of thousands did so – out of a combination of political conviction, grief and loss, social prejudice, oppor­tunism and fear – motives often mixed within a single denouncer. Thus did the Franco regime, born of a military coup that itself triggered the killing, pose as the bringer of justice. But this was “justice turned on its head”, given the notorious lack of fit between the acts of wartime violence themselves and those denounced and tried for them – unsurprising, given no corrobo­ration was required nor any real investigative process undertaken. But matching crimes to culprits was not the real point of the exercise: tens of thousands were tried merely for their political or social alignment with the Republic. This was the Franco regime’s “fatal” moment: through its choice of legitimating strategy it mobilized a social base of perpetrators, building on their fears and losses sustained during the war, while, at the same time, it criminalized the Republican population, perpetrating an abuse of human rights on a vast scale. Worse still, the regime then kept alive these binary categories for nearly forty years, through its apartheid policies and an endlessly reiterated discourse of “martyrs and barbarians”. This is what marks Francoism apart in Europe, as the singular progeny of a seemingly never-ending war, both civil war and Cold War. The violence of its origi­nating strategy is, moreover, still “live” inside the polity and society of twenty-first century Spain, some three and a half decades after the demise of the dictator and his regime.

Helen Graham is professor of modern Spanish history at Royal Holloway, University of London. Read an interview with her here.



1 Jennifer Tucker with Tina Campt, “Entwined Practices: Engagements with Photography in Historical Inquiry”, History and Theory Theme Issue 48 (December 2009): 3.

2 Noteworthy in most cases, however, is the presence of a colonial experience – whether within European space or beyond.

3 Winfried Georg Sebald, Austerlitz (London: Penguin, 2002), pp. 22–3 (first published in the original German and in English translation in 2001).

4 By the 1980s the constituent republics of Yugoslavia were locked in battles over the distribution of revenue and resources which would eventually become constitutional issues. The waning of the Cold War had meant the end of Western readiness to allow Yugoslavia easy (or, at any rate, easier) economic terms. In 1980 the IMF imposed – as the terms of continued loans to Yugoslavia – a set of harsh “recovery” measures (dinar devaluation, real interest rates and free movement of prices). By the end of the 1980s there was high inflation and an unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent and the gap between the richer and poorer republics had increased considerably. The ensuing rows over political forms (decentralization versus more centralization) were inte­grally linked to these economic issues, with Serbia (poorer than Slovenia and Croatia, though richer than Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo) seeking to prevent decentralizing political change which, if successful augured the end of access to federal resources (i.e. cross-subsidy). Ultimately war was the Serbian nation­alist tool of choice in a bid to re-legitimize the idea of centralized power: Klejda Mulaj, Politics of Ethnic Cleansing: Nation-State Building and Provision of In/Security in Twentieth-Century Balkans (New York: Lexington Books, 2008), pp. 80–2. See also Nebojša Popov (ed.), The Road to War in Serbia: Trauma and Catharsis (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2000) and Cathie Carmichael, “Brothers, Strangers and Enemies: Ethno-Nationalism and the Demise of Communist Yugoslavia”, in Dan Stone (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Postwar European History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 546–59.

5 Not least because, for Europe, the killing fields of the earlier, mid-century wars were themselves part of a process that exorcized, or at least substantially reduced, the social fears associated with the idea of urban space/city inhabi­tants, as dangerously heterogeneous and uncontrollable. That there were some urban-rural tensions which contributed to the political crisis in Yugoslavia in the 1980s seems, nevertheless, clear: John B. Allcock, “Rural-urban differences and the break-up of Yugoslavia”, Balkanologie. Revue d’études pluridisciplinaires IV, 1–2 (December 2002): 101–22. In a different though related vein, on the discursive consequences of the war, see Xavier Bougarel, “Yugoslav Wars: The ‘revenge of the countryside’ between sociological reality and nationalist myth”, East European Quartery XXXIII, 2 (June 1999): 157–75.

6 It has been estimated that some 74 percent of the total war dead in Bosnia during the Second World War were Serb: Tomislav Duli‡, Utopias of Nation: Local Mass Killings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1941–42 (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2005), p. 321. Part of the mythological mobiliza­tion of the 1980s involved inflating the figures for Serb losses further, for example with respect to the number of Serbs killed in the Utaša concentration camp at Jasenovac (Croatia). For exhumations of Second World War dead during the 1980s and how this influenced Serbian memory, see Robert M. Hayden, “Mass Killings and Images of Genocide in Bosnia, 1941–5 and 1992–5” in Dan Stone (ed.), The Historiography of Genocide (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, [2008] 2010), pp. 487–516 and “Recounting the Dead: The Rediscovery and Redefinition of Wartime Massacres in Late- and Post-Communist Yugoslavia”, in Rubie S. Watson (ed.), Memory, History and Opposition under State Socialism (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1994), pp. 167–84.

7 Peter Anderson makes this point cogently, as well as its inevitable concomi­tant, regarding the already deeply divided nature of society in the towns and villages of the rural south. Peter Anderson, The Francoist Military Trials: Terror and Complicity, 1939–1945 (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 6, 68, 100.

8 Nicolas Werth, “The Crimes of the Stalin Regime: Outline for an Inventory and Classification”, in Dan Stone (ed.), The Historiography of Genocide, pp. 400–19; Donald Bloxham and A. Dirk Moses (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). The Stalinist system perpetrated extreme, and in practice lethal, violence against specific ethnic groups perceived to threaten state security, removing them to non border loca­tions. Whether or not this constituted state-driven ethnic cleansing is a matter of scholarly debate (certainly at the local level inter-ethnic hatreds sometimes kicked in to fuel popular involvement in the coercion). Like other forms of state-led violence in the Soviet Union, violence against ethnic groups began with the justification that it was to protect the “purity”, legitimacy, and infallibility of the revolution, but rapidly became killing for no apparently identifiable reason at all, as the work of fear took hold. This process is described by Alexander Etkind, “Post-Soviet Hauntology: Cultural Memory of the Soviet Terror”, Constellations 16, 1 (2009): 182–200, esp. 184, 185. He comments acutely, if idiosyncratically: “If the Holocaust was the construction and extermination of the Other, the Great Terror was similar to a suicide” (184).

9 For a discussion of the need to historicize in order to make further intellectual advances in the comparative study of genocides, see Donald Bloxham and A. Dirk Moses, “Editor’s Introduction: Changing Themes in the Study of Genocide”, in Bloxham and Moses (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies, pp. 1–15.

10 See Christian Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth-Century World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), passim, for a strong argument along these same lines and extending to a refusal to use the term “genocide”.

11 It remains of course to explain why violence is the outcome at some moments but not others – on this see Willem Schinkel, Aspects of Violence: A Critical Theory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

12 British Consular reports on the repression in Madrid in the early 1940s were regularly dispatched to London. Michael Richards, A Time of Silence: Civil War and the Culture of Repression in Franco’s Spain, 1936–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 43, n. 140; Peter Anderson, The Francoist Military Trials, pp. 1–2, 110. Cf. Mark Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe’s Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1998), p. 100, for how only the outbreak of war itself in 1939 prevented the planned visit to Dachau concen­tration camp by the head of Scotland Yard, Sir Norman Kendal, in order to study “contemporary policing methods”.

13 Aside from the vast flight/expulsion of ethnic Germans from numerous coun­tries (between 12 and 13 million people), there were also other forms of ethnic cleansing, including 90,000 ethnic Hungarians from Czechoslovakia and 73,000 Slovaks from Hungary. 2 million Poles were expelled from Soviet-occupied Poland, and, in retaliation, 700,000 Ukrainians from South-East Poland. An overview in Mazower, Dark Continent, pp. 219–22 and Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (London: Heinemann, 2005), pp. 22–8.

14 Although the process of identification produces its own ethical dilemmas. See the anthropological study by Sarah E. Wagner, To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

15 As Mark Mazower has indicated, what post-1945 ethnic cleansing through “population transfer” ultimately delivered, notwithstanding a significant Soviet input, was a “Western” political vision in that it allowed the realization of Wilsonian ideals dating back to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, turning “Versailles’s dreams of national homogeneity into realities”: Dark Continent, p. 222. The German expulsions from post-liberation regimes in Czechoslov­akia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary were also undertaken as deliberate nationalist policy as much as in retaliation for the depradations inflicted by the Third Reich.

1 A War for Our Times

1 Extract from a broadcast made over Radio Jerez on 24 July 1936 by the monarchist intellectual, José María Pemán, and published in Arengas y crónicas de guerra (Cádiz: Establecimientos Cerón, 1937), pp. 12–13. The reference to “political alternation” is to the monarchist system of “turno pacifico” whereby two establishment political parties managed the interests of elite groups and excluded the rest of the population from political representation. It was essen­tially this system (or, strictly speaking, a return to this system) that the Second Republic supplanted in April 1931.

2 Cited in Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies (vol. 1, Women, Floods, Bodies, History), (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. x.

3 For a cogent current affairs analysis in English of this dimension of the Garzón controversy, see http://iberosphere.com/2011/04/spain-news-2550/2550 (accessed 30 June 2011). While the Garzón affair is densely layered, and with a strong admixture of personal enmity and many barbed strands which make is less easily reducible to a progressive/humanitarian versus authoritarian script, it is nevertheless true that the very fact that state authorities have felt able to suspend and seek the prosecution of a judge for attempting to uncover and record crimes against humanity, is indicative of the repeated failure in Spain to enact any process, legal or cultural, akin to what formal denazification, despite all its flaws and failings both qualitative and quantitative, constituted elsewhere in western Europe. The recent resurgence of ultra­nationalism in other areas of Europe – especially central Europe (where a reductionist denazification, flawed in a different way, and coupled with a fierce anti-communism, allowed the preservation of any number of unpalatable nationalist myths) – has played an important part in this “loss of shame” on the part of conservative, and sometimes still avowedly Francoist, sectors within Spain’s state apparatus. This is discussed further in chapter 7.

4 Amongst the most recent work on this see especially Ángel Viñas’s magiste­rial trilogy (La soledad de la República; El escudo de la República; El honor de la República (Barcelona: Crítica, 2006–9), based on an exhaustive use of Spanish, British, German, Italian and especially new Russian sources, but, sadly, like so much of the new Spanish historiography on the civil war, unavailable in English.

5 Comparative figures for Second World War deaths in Europe in Judt, Postwar,p. 18. In Europe 19 million non-combatant civilians were killed during the Second World War, which was more than half the total European war dead (figures exclude deaths from natural causes 1939–1945). The number of civilian war dead exceeded military losses in the USSR, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. Only in the UK and Germany did military losses significantly outnumber civilian ones. UNICEF in 1995 estimated civilian deaths in the First World War at 14 percent, in the Second World War at 67 percent and by the wars of the 1990s worldwide at 90 percent. While the latter figure has been contested, arguments over statistical methodology cannot gainsay the stark truth that modern warfare is everywhere increasingly waged against civilians.

6 For an acute analysis which also resonates strongly with the Spanish experi­ence, Omer Bartov, “Eastern Europe as the Site of Genocide”, Journal of Modern History 80 (September 2008): 557–93, esp. 570–73. See also Jan T. Gross, Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) which shows how, without any real involve­ment of the German occupying forces, the ordinary citizens of this small Polish town murdered their Jewish counterparts, face-to-face and in particularly cruel ways, often also spurred by the prospect of personal gain. In all of Europe’s civil wars, including Spain’s (see chapter 3), a mix of motives was frequently to be found, or more accurately, emerging ideological categories became fused with longstanding public prejudices and private desires of various kinds in a process of reciprocal legitimation. Much of what is, in many places, assimilated to brutal “new orders” remains differentiable from their ideological cores – while, for all this, never ceasing to be an integral part of the “really existing new order” – indeed the very reason why it could come to exist in the first place: cf. John Connolly, “The Uses of Volksgemeinschaft: Letters to the NSDAP Kreisleitung Eisenach, 1939–1940”, Journal of Modern History 68, 4 (1996): 899–930.

7 Cf. here too Martin Conway and Peter Romijn (eds), The War for Legitimacy in Politics and Culture 1936–1946 (Oxford: Berg, 2008), although the focus here is really on the Second World War years and immediate run up.

8 Anxieties such as these underlie a worried letter sent in 1925 to the Polish avant-garde poet W¼adyslaw Broniewski by his Catholic grandmother back in his hometown of Plock. Never happy with her grandson since he had left the army, and unimpressed by his poetic calls to build a new world, upon reading his latest poems she wrote, “I wept bitterly . . . I know that you have little faith, but that you would blaspheme against sanctities . . . that I never expected. It’s true that people in Plock told me that you were ‘very progres­sive’, but I had understood that differently.” Marci Shore, Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation’s Life and Death in Marxism 1918–1968 (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 46. In a darker vein, such anxieties also form a deadly subtext in Michael Haneke’s film about “order”, repression, fear and loathing in a Protestant village in Northern Germany on the eve of the Great War, The White Ribbon (Austria/Germany, 2009).

9 Robert Gerwarth, “The Central European Counter-Revolution: Paramilitary Violence in Germany, Austria and Hungary after the Great War”, Past and Present 200 (2008): 175–209.

10 Excerpt recalling a confrontation in Linz in 1918 from the memoirs of aristo­cratic officer and future Austrian Heimwehr leader Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, published 1937 and cited in translation in Gerwarth, “The Central European Counter-Revolution”: 188–9.

11 A dimension evident in Margaret Yourcenar’s 1939 novel Coup de Grâce and brought out to perfection in the 1976 Volker Schlöndorff/Margarethe von Trotta filmic version, Der Fangschuss. Set on the “lost borders of Europe”, concretely in Latvia during the final stages of the civil wars of 1919–20 triggered by the Russian Revolution, it explores what the end of the old polit­ical order meant psychologically and erotically for those with a great investment in it. Yourcenar’s focus is on the character of a Prussian officer, Erich von Lhomond, who has returned from Berlin to the region of Kratovice, where he spent his childhood, to defend in border skirmishes there what he implicitly acknowledges is already a lost cause – i.e. the old pre 1914 polit­ical/imperial and social order. In the film he is a depiction of a man who is losing all his certainties and whose psychological and gender order is crum­bling too. Interestingly, though unsurprisingly, the 1970s film is much less sympathetic to the character than is the original novel, and precisely because he seems totally (congenitally) incapable of change. Ultimately a film about border crossing, there are so many borders at issue in it – territorial, historical, cultural, of ways of life and social class; of friendship/love, gender; the safe psychological limits of identity. Both novel and film concur in that crossing borders is vital, but that the human cost of social change is also immense.

12 On the Somatén Nacional, Alejandro Quiroga, Making Spaniards. Primo de Rivera and the Nationalization of the Masses, 1923–30 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 146–64; Eduardo González Calleja and Fernando Rey Reguillo, La defensa armada contra la revolución. Una historia de las “guardias cívicas” en la España del siglo XX (Madrid: CSIC, 1995); Eduardo González Calleja, “La defensa armada del ‘orden social’ durante la Dictadura de Primo de Rivera (1923–1930)”, in J.L. García Delgado (ed.), España entre dos siglos (1875–1931). Continuidad y cambio (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1991), pp. 64–108. See also Eduardo González Calleja, El Máuser y el sufragio: Orden público, subver­sión y violencia política en la crisis de la Restauración (1917–1931), (Madrid: CSIC, 1999), passim.

13 Jane Durán, “Where did they go?”, in Silences from the Spanish Civil War (London: Enitharmon Press, 2002), p. 49. The poem is cited more fully in the epigraph to chapter 5. On Robert Capa, see Richard Whelan, Robert Capa: a biography (London: Faber, 1985) and Anne Makepeace’s 2003 documentary Robert Capa: In Love and War.

14 Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum: France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis 1933–1942 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); Arthur Koestler, Scum of the Earth (London: Eland, 2006), pp. 45–52 [first published 1941]); Rahma Harouni, “Le débat autour du statut des étrangers dans les années 1930”, Mouvement Social 188 (1999): 61–71. A similar picture – of xenophobia and antisemitism at odds with macro-economic need – could also be drawn for Romania.

15 Koestler, Scum of the Earth, p. 93.

16 Robert Antelme, The Human Race (Northwestern Evanston, Illinois: The Marlboro Press, 1998), pp. 14–15 (first published as L’espèce humaine [Paris: Editions Gallimar, 1957]).

17 “What a find for Himmler’s black-clothed men! Three hundred thousand pounds of democratic flesh, all labelled, alive and only slightly damaged”, Koestler, Scum of the Earth, p. 140. As is well known, Le Vernet also became a holding camp of the Jewish deportation. In all, by the time the camp closed in 1944, some 40,000 people had been imprisoned there (mainly men, but also some women and children) – the final camp population being deported in June 1944 to Dachau and Mauthausen.

18 Carlos Jiménez Margalejo, Memorias de un refugiado español en el Norte de África, 1939–1956 (Madrid, Fundación Largo Caballero/Ediciones Cinca, 2008); Cipriano Mera, Guerra, exilio y cárcel de un anarcosindicalista (Paris: Ruedo Ibérico, 1976).

19 Koestler, Scum of the Earth, p. 94.

20 The term “bare life” is Giorgio Agamben’s (Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998 esp. pp. 126–35); and see chapter 6 (Franco’s Prisons) below. The history of these French concentration camps (and also of beach internment camps such as Argelès, St Cyprien and le Barcarès) remains on the outer margins, especially in the historiography avail­able in English, although see Francie Cate-Arries, Spanish Culture behind Barbed Wire: Memory and Representation of the French Concentration Camps 1939–1945 (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2004) and Scott Soo, The Routes to Exile: Spanish Civil War Refugees and their Hosts in South-Western France (University of Wales Press, 2011) and “Putting memory to work: A compar­ative study of three associations dedicated to the memory of the Spanish republican exile in France” in Henrice Altink and Sharif Gemie (eds), At the Border: Margins and Peripheries in Modern France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007). There is work in French on the beach internment camps, notably by Geneviève Dreyfus-Armand and also a doctoral thesis currently in train in Perpignan on the use of the French camps as an exercise in “social cleansing”. See also Sharif Gemie, “The Ballad of Bourg-Madame: Memory, Exile and the Spanish Republican Refugees of the Retirada of 1939”, International Review of Social History 51 (2006): 1–40; Assumpta Montellà, La Maternitat d’Elne: Bressols dels exiliats (Barcelona: Ara Llibres, 2005) and the short documentary on Rivesaltes made by Helena Michie, with Sylvia Ruth Gutman, who was interned there as a child, Le dernier jour au camp du Rivesaltes (France, 2008). In view of the fact that this history is a difficult one for French republican memory to absorb, it is not surprising that only in the twenty-first century, and partly as a result of cross-border Catalan initiatives, has there been any concerted or official effort to commemorate the sites of the retirada. In some cases too one notes the presence of a difficult memory in the elisions within the camp memo­rial texts which tend to brush over the fact of their having existed prior to May 1940. In the cemetery of Le Vernet – all that is left of the camp, and whose restoration began earlier, in the 1990s – are commemorated the more than fifty nationalities of refugee and political exile who were interned (and many buried) in the camp. There are two memorial plaques in the cemetery, one of which records the original uses of le Vernet and gives the foundational date of 1939. The mayor of Le Vernet in 2009 was brought as a small child from Barcelona by female relatives after the fall of Catalonia in February 1939. His male family had died in the war in Spain, his grandmother died in Le Vernet camp (interview with author, 2 September 2009).

21 Koestler, Scum of the Earth, pp. 96, 100, 101, 102, 124–5. Spanish Republican memoirs of the French camps also strongly convey how the brutality of xeno­phobic officialdom, the harshness of the camp’s physical routine and (in the case of the beach camps especially) the natural elements, all combined to strip away the identity of those incarcerated, while a normal life for others existed in very close proximity, just beyond the barbed wire and guards. See the (textual and pictorial) collective testimony in N. Molins i Fábrega and Josep Bartolí, Campos de concentración, 1939–194 . . . (Mexico City: Iberia, 1944),p. 117, and for relevant illustrations by Bartolí, Francie Cate-Arries, Spanish Culture Behind Barbed Wire, pp. 58, 59, 76, 110.

22 Dan Stone, “The ‘Final Solution’: A German or European Project?” in his Histories of the Holocaust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 13–63; Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation 1941–1944 (Yale University Press, 2001) and Mark Mazower (ed.), After the War was Over: Reconstructing the family, nation, and state in Greece, 1943–1960 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). Tomislav DuliÙ, Utopias of Nation: Local Mass Killing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1941–42.

23 This sculpting of new social and political order through the exercise of extreme violence is the central concern of Mark Mazower’s pivotal study, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, whose title indicates the connection he traces between the forms of earlier colonial violence visited by Europeans upon the subject peoples of their empires, and the “violence come home” which they then, in the 1930s and 40s, visit upon each other. See also Amir Weiner, Landscaping the Human Garden (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).

24 William A. Christian Jr., Moving Crucifixes in Modern Spain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992) is a social historical and anthropological study of a number of such occurrences from 1919. Also on Catholic popular movements in northern Spain in times of social and political change, Julio de la Cueva, “The Stick and the Candle: Clericals and Anticlericals in Northern Spain, 1898–1913”, European History Quarterly 26, 2 (1996): 241–65.

25 See chapter 2 below (photograph and caption) for the destruction of the statue by Republican militia in August 1936.

26 Ian Gibson, La represión nacionalista de Granada en 1936 y la muerte de Federico García Lorca (Paris: Ruedo Ibérico, 1971), p. 103; Antonio Bahamonde, Un año con Queipo: Memorias de un nacionalista (Barcelona: Ediciones Españolas, 1938), p. 113.

27 The larger historical picture is elucidated in chapter 2 and chapter 3 tells one story of a “new woman” and the human cost of this bid to halt change.

28 Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust. Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain (London: HarperCollins, 2012), p. 281.

29 Julián Casanova, The Spanish Republic and the Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). For more on the question of the Church, Catholicism and anticlerical violence, see chapter 2.

30 Preston, The Spanish Holocaust, pp. xi, xviii.

31 For Greece, which in some important respects was comparable, see Mazower, After the War was Over.

32 István Deák, Jan T. Gross and Tony Judt (eds), The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).


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