Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War by Ronald
Radosh (Editor), Mary Radosh Habeck (Editor), Grigory Sevostianov (Editor).
Annals of Communism series. Yale University Press, June 2001.
Anatomy of a Fraudulent Scholarly Work:
Ronald Radosh's Spain Betrayed
Long awaited and published to rave reviews -- albeit predictably by Cold War
conservatives (Arnold Beichman) and anti-communist liberals (Christopher
Hitchens) -- Radosh's commentary on the 81 documents from the Comintern archives
in Moscow concerning its involvement in the Spanish Civil War turns out to be
notable for quite another reason: it is an utterly fraudulent work.1
2. In the course of this review-essay I'll present a lot of evidence to
substantiate this serious charge. I'll also discuss, though briefly, the major
positive reviews of the book. They are full of the same stuff. In several
instances, an innocent reader might think that the reviewers had not actually
read the documents themselves, but only Radosh's commentary. For how could
anyone compare what the Comintern documents state with what Radosh says about
them, without noticing the enormous discrepancies between the two?
3. I won't say much in this report about the documents themselves. Many
of them are fascinating and valuable, though Radosh, in his zeal to arraign the
communists, basically neglects them.
4. But one conclusion is so striking that it cannot be left unstated.
Far from showing Soviet "betrayal," these 81 documents make the Comintern, the
International Brigades, and the massive Soviet aid to Spain appear in an
extremely positive light. Reading the documents alone, and ignoring Radosh's
"commentary," any objective person will come away with tremendous respect for
the communist effort in the Spanish Civil War, not only by the Comintern and the
justly famed International Brigades, but of the Soviet Union -- or, as Radosh
says it, in his crude demonizing synecdoche, of "Moscow" and "Stalin."
5. Despite itself, Radosh's book represents something valuable: an
object lesson in the rhetorical strategies of anti-communism. Perhaps the
biggest question of all -- "Why lie, if the truth is on your side?" -- will
require a few remarks about the uses of anti-Stalinism in foreclosing any
objective understanding of the successes and failures of the communist movement.
6. Radosh's book contains so many errors and distortions that even a
much longer review could not discuss them all. Therefore, I examine the
documents in which the major "revelations" are supposedly to be found. To
identify those, I've used (a) the four-page publicity handout from Yale
University Press that accompanies the book, and (b) a number of the major
reviews favorable to this volume, from leading publications (all are listed at
the end). A few other documents were chosen because they seem to me particularly
interesting. This close examination constitutes the bulk of the review.
7. I'll also point out some examples of simple editorial incompetence.
Radosh could have provided useful summaries of long and significant documents,
or helpful and specific references to other scholarly work -- surely the duty of
a competent commentator -- but scarcely ever does.
8. At the end of the review I've included some remarks of a more general
nature about the issues raised both by these documents themselves and by
Radosh's commentary. There's a good deal that can be said by Marxists in
criticism of the Bolsheviks and the Comintern during the Stalin period -- or of
any political group, communist or not, at any period -- and in conclusion I'll
allude to one or two things with special reference to Spain. But any and all
criticism should be based on what actually happened as that can be deduced from
the best evidence available, rather than on fabrications or demonization, as
with Radosh and many other Cold-War writers, either from the Right or, not
infrequently, the so-called Left.
9. What follows is a short outline of the main ideological frameworks
for interpreting the Spanish Civil War. Some knowledge of them is essential to
an appreciation of Radosh's interpretation, the documents themselves, and the
present review. Considerations of space preclude any more detailed discussion of
the foundational texts of these frameworks. (I am planning a critique of
Orwell's influential book at a future time.)
10. The Spanish Civil War has always posed a special problem for the
kind of anti-communist who is determined to argue that the leadership of the
international Communist movement never acted out of any idealistic motives. Such
people are convinced -- at any rate, they are determined to convince others --
that all communist struggles, no matter how noble in appearance, were in
reality aimed at manipulative, cynical, authoritarian goals, ultimately far
worse than those of the capitalist exploiters they professed to oppose.
Khrushchev's portrayal of a malevolent, virtually demonic Stalin after 1956,
while it differed little from Trotsky's, was far more influential, and except in
China and Albania quickly became widely accepted within the Communist movement
itself. It was essential in smoothing the path for Trotskyist and, in terms of
Spain, Anarchist narratives, hitherto current only among tiny, marginalized
11. George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia is basically such an
account, though Orwell's superior literary ability, British patriotism during
World War II, and subsequent endorsement of mainstream Cold War ideology, gave
his work the status of a somewhat independent authority. Orwell's book remains
the main representative of these anti-communist paradigms, the only book about
the Spanish Civil War that most people ever encounter.
12. According to this interpretation, further popularized in British
director Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom (1995), Trotskyists and,
especially, Anarchists are the true revolutionaries, collectivizing the land,
ceding control of factories to the workers, and promoting egalitarian relations
generally. The Communists are portrayed as counter-revolutionaries, whose
rank-and-file think they are fighting to defeat the fascists in order that, in
the victorious bourgeois-democratic Spanish Republic, they can then initiate a
struggle for working-class revolution, but whose leadership -- Stalin -- aims in
reality at a bleak authoritarian dictatorship of the kind Trotskyists,
Anarchists, conventional capitalist anti-communists and even fascists, claimed
was the state of affairs in the USSR itself. This creates a certain tension
within the otherwise "united front" of anti-communist versions of the Spanish
Civil War, since capitalist anti-communism is normally aimed at the radical, not
the putatively conservative, nature of the communist movement.
13. The Communist version, on the other hand -- the version by far the
best supported by the evidence -- is that the "United Front Against Fascism" and
for a liberal, bourgeois-democratic (and therefore capitalist) society was the
only way to unite as many social forces as possible, including
nationalists, urban capitalists, and wealthier peasants, to defeat the fascists.
According to this view, upon victory a Spanish Republic would have a strong,
organized working class which would continue the fight for progressive social
reforms and, ultimately, socialist revolution. The Communists held that to begin
a revolutionary struggle in the midst of the war against the fascist armies
would guarantee the defeat of the Republic -- a defeat which, in fact, happened.
14. A critique of the Communist view from the Left is certainly
warranted -- indeed, essential. But what passes for a "left" critique, the
Anarchist-Trotskyist version outlined above, accepts the basic premises of the
reactionary Cold War critique, to the point that it can be cited in service to
the latter, as Radosh does here. To clear the ground for a real Left critique,
it is first necessary to recover the historical truth of what did, in fact,
happen, both in the Spanish Civil War and in the Soviet Union itself. A real
Left critique of the Comintern's politics which both fully and correctly
appreciates its successes and goes beyond it to identify the main roots of its
failures, is yet to be made, despite a few promising starts which have long been
available, albeit little known (see below, and note 6).
15. Radosh's own view, as represented in his commentary in Spain
Betrayed, is contradictory. In places Radosh argues, according to the
fashion of conservative capitalist anti-communists, that the Comintern was
hiding its truly revolutionary intentions. In other passages, however, he
endorses the Orwell-Trotskyist-Anarchist view that the Communists were a
conservative force that "betrayed" the revolutionary potential in Spain. Radosh
seems untroubled by, indeed unaware of, this basic contradiction, as in the case
of the many passages in which he -- in the most generous description of his
practice -- makes flagrant and egregious errors in reading the very texts upon
which he is "commenting."
16. Document 5, a report by Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Comintern, to
the Secretariat of the ECCI (Executive Committee, Communist International) of
July 23, 1936, contains the following lines:
We should not, at the present stage, assign the task of creating soviets
and try to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat in Spain. That would
be a fatal mistake.
Radosh claims that this statement (a statement repeated in the press release)
. . . supports the contention of some scholars that the Communists
purposely disguised their true objective, social revolution. (5-6)
But it does not. It clearly states that there are "stages," the present one
being the stage of "maintaining unity with the petty bourgeoisie and the
peasants and the radical intelligentsia . . ." (11). Radosh's claim could only
be true if he gave evidence that the Communists were denying what
everyone would have expected of them -- to wish to move to another "stage," once
the fascists were defeated. Radosh gives no evidence that the Communists were
making any such claims to have abandoned the ultimate goal of a Soviet-style
revolution in Spain. So there can be no question of "disguising their true
17. It ought also to be noted that Radosh also wants it "both ways."
Sometimes he criticizes the Communists for opposing social revolution,
which the Anarchists supposedly stood for. This is Ken Loach's main contention
in Land and Freedom. But other times, as here, Radosh criticizes the
Communists for wanting social revolution but supposedly "disguising" their
18. Document 5 also offers an obvious mistranslation from the Russian.
Immediately after the lines quoted above, Radosh et al. allege that Dimitrov
wrote the following:
Therefore we must say: act in the guise of defending the Republic.
. . . (p.11; emphasis added)
In his commentary Radosh states:
The very careful use of these terms, as well as the injunction to "act
under the semblance of defending the republic," supports the contention
of some scholars that the Communists purposely disguised their true
objective, social revolution. (pp. 5-6; emphasis added)
19. Evidently Radosh is referring to a different translation of the
document than that which finally ended up in the volume, although arguably "in
the guise of" and "under the semblance of" convey much the same thing:
duplicity, dishonesty. However, there is an interesting footnote in the text of
Document 5 attached to the phrase "in the guise." That note, number 11 on page
515, reads thus: "Literally, 'under the banner.'" In other words, what Dimitrov
actually said is this:
Therefore we must say: act under the banner of defense of the
Republic. . . .
20. The question is: What does "under the banner" -- in Russian, "pod
znamenem" -- mean in Russian? The answer is: it means the opposite of what
Radosh says it means. Rather than "under the semblance" or "in the guise," it
means "in service to" or "in defense of." At exactly this time, one of the
foremost Soviet philosophical journals was titled "Pod Znamenem Marksisma":
literally, "Under the Banner of Marxism," often translated as "In Defense of
Marxism." No one would even think of translating that title as "In the Guise
of," or "Under the Semblance of," Marxism! "Under the banner of" is a military
metaphor, meaning "In the ranks of."
21. In other words, what Dimitrov actually said was:
. . . act in defense of the Republic. . . .
There must be an interesting story behind that footnote. Whoever translated
Document 5 -- Radosh tells us (p. xxxi) that there were two translators for the
Russian documents -- that person evidently knew that "in the guise" was
not the correct translation, and wanted to tell the world, even if by a
footnote, that he or she was not responsible for this particular mistranslation.
22. This is the only mistranslation from the Russian that can be
discerned in this collection, because Radosh et al. don't give us the
documents in the original languages (mostly Russian, but a few in Spanish,
German and French). This would have been easy to do -- on a book-related web
page, for example. But the way this mistranslation is treated makes one wonder
whether there may be more.
23. Radosh spends a lot of words on Documents 42 through 44 because one
of the central points of his book is that in these documents, especially
Document 42, is to be found the proof that the Communists instigated the
Barcelona uprising of May, 1937 as a pretext for violently suppressing their
24. Briefly, the context for Radosh's comments is as follows, in the
words of Helen Graham, who has written authoritatively and most recently on this
event (Graham 1999, p. 485):
On the afternoon of Monday 3 May 1937 a detachment of police attempted to
seize control of Barcelona's central telephone exchange (Telefónica) in
order to remove the anarchist militia forces present therein. . . . Those
days of social protest and rebellion have been represented in many accounts,
of which the single best known is still George Orwell's contemporary diary
account, Homage to Catalonia, recently given cinematic form in Ken
Loach's Land and Freedom. It is paradoxical, then, that the May
events remain among the least understood in the history of the civil war.
25. Radosh takes Document 42 to be directly related to this event:
. . . we have the proof that the view held by the Communists' opponents
was essentially correct. The Spanish Communist Party, with the support and
knowledge of the Comintern and Moscow, had decided to provoke a clash, in
the full understanding that the outcome would give them precisely the
opportunity they had long been seeking. (174)
Radosh does not bother to tell us what would have been wrong with the
communists' seizing the telephone exchange from the anarchists. After all, the
government, not one of the various parties, should have been in control of the
exchange. And the assault was led by the Police Chief of Barcelona who, though a
communist, was also a government official.
26. The anarchists had clearly been prepared for such an attack for a
long time -- after all, they had a machine-gun nest in the first floor which
prevented the police from seizing the building at once. What justification did
the anarchists -- not the government, but one of the political parties in
Barcelona -- have controlling the telephone exchange in the first place?
27. The words that Radosh takes as "proof" that "the view held by the
Communists' opponents was essentially correct" -- I emphasize
"essentially" because even Radosh feels he has to qualify this statement,
evidently realizing he is on weak grounds here -- are as follows:
. . . the author of the report noted that the Communists had decided not
to wait for a crisis, but to "hasten it and, if necessary, to provoke it"
But Document 42 says nothing whatsoever about the attack on the
telephone exchange, or about any plan for confrontation with the anarchists. The
sentence quoted in part by Radosh in his commentary reads this way in full:
In a word, to go decisively and consciously to battle against Caballero
and his entire circle, consisting of some leaders of the UGT. This means not
to wait passively for a "natural" unleashing of the hidden government
crisis, but to hasten it and, if necessary, provoke it, in order to obtain a
solution for these problems. . . . The leadership of the party is more and
more coming to the conviction that with Caballero and his circle the
Republic will be defeated, despite all the conditions guaranteeing victory.
These lines do not refer at all to the attempt by the Communist Chief of
Police to take possession for the Republican government of the telephone
exchange that had been unlawfully seized and held by the anarchists, the event
that precipitated the "May Days" in Barcelona and to which Radosh tries to tie
this statement, or to any plan to incite any actions against the anarchists.
Instead, the paragraph quoted just above refers to the previous points 8 through
14 of Document 42, in which the unnamed communist author says that the PCE has
decided to take action against the Caballero government. There is nothing
whatsoever in this document that connects it with the attempt to retake the
28. Radosh's allegation -- one of the "bombshell" findings Radosh claims
to have found -- is a lie. This whole "discovery" is a complete swindle on the
unsuspecting reader. I stress this point because Radosh's supposed "discovery"
here has been so widely touted as one of the major "revelations" of these Soviet
documents. For example, the Press Release from Yale University Press that
accompanied the books publication lists seven documents and summarizes what
Radosh says they contain. The blurb on Document 42 reads:
Barcelona -- the civil war within the Civil War. The five-day
street battle in Barcelona was portrayed by Orwell in Homage to Catalonia
and by Ken Loach in the film Land and Freedom. The historical dispute
has always been: Was the anarchist reaction deliberately provoked?
Document 42 shows that the view held by the Communists' opponents was
essentially correct. The Spanish Communist Party, with the support and
knowledge of the Comintern, decided to provoke the clash. (emphasis
We should also note, in passing, the esteem in which Loach and Orwell are
held by establishment anti-Communist ideologues like Radosh, and the way in
which the echo-chamber of the "big lie" functions in the blurb above by pairing
these supposed "authorities" with the specious "facts" that Radosh is creating
29. Richard Bernstein, whose very positive review of Radosh's book
appeared in the New York Times, tacitly recognizes that Document 42 did
not prove what Radosh says it proves:
Two weeks later, the Communists, in the view of this book's editors,
did provoke the desired crisis, unleashing the Barcelona street battles that
essentially eliminated the anarchist leadership and led to the replacement
of Largo Caballero by a more malleable premier. [emphasis added]
(Bernstein makes it sound like Caballero was the leader of the anarchists; in
fact, he was head of the government and a Socialist.)
30. In the interest of good sense, I would like to make a few additional
remarks at this point.
1. The assumption, in Radosh's Commentary and in other anti-communist
accounts Radosh quotes, is that, by taking the Telephone exchange away from the
anarchists and returning it to government control, the Communists were
"provoking" the anarchists.
2. The anarchists had no business whatsoever holding the telephone exchange. The
Police Chief, besides being a communist, was also a government officer. If
removing an armed group of occupiers who have taken control of the telephone
exchange is not a legitimate matter for the police, what is?
3. Imagine if the Communists had occupied the telephone exchange, fortified
it with a machine-gun nest, interrupted government phone calls whenever they
wanted to, and then a non-Communist police chief had tried to oust them? Would
Radosh not take that as evidence that the Communists wanted to take over?
31. One of Radosh's statements about Document 43 has been cited in
several favorable reviews of his book:
As the Comintern document cited earlier revealed, Stalin had in mind a
Spanish version of the Moscow purge trials most likely to be held in
The document in question, No. 43, is a report from an anonymous source,
presumably to the Comintern. In it the informant states:
The immediate political consequences of the putsch [the anarchist attempt
to seize power -- this is the way this writer interprets the "May Days" in
Barcelona] are very great. Above all, the following one: the
Trotskyist-POUMists revealed themselves to the nation as people who belong
totally to Franco's fifth column. The people are nourishing unbelievable
animosity toward the Trotskyists. The masses are demanding energetic and
merciless repression. This is what is demanded by the masses of people of
all of Spain, Catalonia, and Barcelona. They demand complete disarmament,
arrest of the leaders, the creation of a special military tribunal for
the Trotskyists! This is what the masses demand. (196-197)
In his discussion of this document on p. 176, Radosh wrote:
In other words, the call was out for the creation in Spain of the
equivalent of the Moscow purge trials. . . .
"In other words" (why not use the same words?) "the call was out for" can
only mean one thing: Radosh assumes that our unnamed informant, writing to
the Comintern in Moscow, is speaking for someone other than himself. But this
assumption is invalid. This document does not mean that any "call is out." So
far as we know, it's the opinion of the writer alone. After all, he's reporting
to the Comintern. If the PCE, or Soviet advisers, had "put out the call" for a
Moscow-style purge trial, he would have said so, for why hide it to the
Comintern? And if Stalin had expressed interest in a Spanish "purge
trial," surely this writer would have said so as well.
32. Document 44 is a report to the Comintern sent to Marshal Voroshilov,
Commissar (Minister) of Defense of the USSR and the man whose office oversaw
military equipment and material aid for the Spanish Republic, by a certain
"Goratsy," whom Radosh, in another failure of his editorial responsibility, does
not further identify. Radosh accuses the Comintern of lying to itself, in
that it states the communist belief
that the "uprising" carried out by "the extremist wing [of the
anarchists] in the block with the POUM" was prepared in advance over a "long
period of time." (177) [This refers to the "May Days" in Barcelona -- GF].
33. A few considerations are in order:
1. How does Radosh know that this is false? He has not proven it.
Furthermore, Radosh has already claimed that, in Document 42, he has evidence
that the Comintern itself planned the Barcelona uprising, whereas here
the Comintern reporter blames the uprising on the Anarchists. Why would the
Comintern lie to itself? If the Comintern had successfully provoked this
confrontation, as Radosh claims, why wouldn't they be gloating over their
success? Instead, they blame it on the anarchists, even in private
communications within the Comintern. (206)
2. The document itself claims that the uprising was unexpected by the
Communists. Once again: if it had been not only expected, but in fact
"provoked," as Radosh would have it, why would this not be noted, with pride, as
a successful operation?
34. Here a Spanish Communist in Moscow is writing to the Communist Party
Radosh: ". . . the imperative tone taken by Moscow made it clear that
there was little room for argument or maneuver by the small and relatively
powerless PCE . . . (1-2).
Doc. 1: "After considering the alarming situation in connection with the
Fascist conspiracy in SPAIN, we advise you: -- . . . Please let us
know your opinions on our proposals." (7,9; emphasis added)
Conclusion: This document is not "imperative" in tone. Radosh is simply
trying to make "Moscow" appear dictatorial and high-handed. The text will not
support that interpretation, so he simply puts it into his commentary.
35. I put "Moscow" in quotation marks because this message, while
certainly sent from the city of Moscow, was sent by a Spanish Communist,
"Dios Major," who signed the document. Why doesn't Radosh mention this, saying
only that "Moscow" sent it? Perhaps because to say that one Spanish Communist is
"advising" other Spanish Communists does not support the impression -- which
Radosh evidently wants to give -- that the Bolsheviks, Stalin, the Politburo, or
whatever "Moscow" usually conveys, was trying to say anything to anybody. It
appears that through metonymy, a linguistic trope in which "Moscow" represents
any Communist leader, anywhere, allows Radosh to reduce all Communist leaders to
"Moscow," and "Moscow" to "Stalin." Demonize Stalin, then, and all Communist
leadership is automatically demonized as well.
36. Radosh gives other invidious readings of Document 1, but is rather
vague about it. I'll mention only one more example.
37. Document 1 reads, in part:
4. It is necessary to take preventative measures with the greatest
urgency against the putchist attempts of the anarchists, behind which the
hand of the Fascists is hidden.
The worst one could say about this piece of analysis -- given, we recall, by
one Spanish Communist to others, all of whom had extensive experience with the
Spanish anarchists and hated them just as the anarchists, in turn, hated the
communists -- is that it was rhetorical over-statement to say that "the hand of
the Fascists is hidden behind" the anarchists' attempts at seizing power.
38. But here is what Radosh himself says about the anarchists:
Throughout the conflict, Soviet and Comintern advisers would decry the
'subversive' activities of the anarchists, and particularly their refusal
to curtail revolutionary activities or to allow the formation of a
regular, disciplined army. (3, emphasis added)
Radosh admits that the anarchists took this attitude towards the army. Yet
how could the Fascists -- who certainly had "a regular, disciplined army" --
ever be defeated unless the Republic had one too? Guerrilla warfare -- what Mao
Tse-tung and Vo Nguyen Giap later refined into the doctrine of "People's War" --
is very important. But no theoretician of guerrilla or people's war ever
suggested that a war could be won without "a regular, disciplined army."
39. In refusing to form such an army the anarchists played directly into
the hands of the Fascists. Yet even while admitting this, Radosh attacks the
Communists for stating the obvious: that this played into the Fascists' hands.
Elsewhere, in passages Radosh does not comment on, the Communists expressed the
view that Fascist agents chose to infiltrate the Anarchists precisely for this
40. Radosh's Commentary continues:
The demand to establish a single union also stemmed from a new
understanding of how to construct a socialist state: not through open
revolution, but through the absorption of independent unions or parties into
a single entity controlled by the Communists.
Radosh gives no evidence to support this statement at all. He certainly can't
cite Document 1, the document he is supposedly elucidating, because in it Dios
Mayor proposes that
the C.G.T. (U.) [the Communist-led union movement] ought to propose to
C.N.T. [the Socialist-led union movement] the immediately construction in
the center and locally of joint committees to fight against the Fascist
insurgents and to prepare the unification of the syndicates.
. . . At the same time you must establish broad social legislation, with
extensive rights reserved in the unified C.G.T. . . .
41. Dios Mayor is proposing that the Communists call for unified action
and a unified trade union organization. Radosh suggests that there is something
underhanded about calling for unification: the Communists want to "absorb
independent unions into a single entity controlled by the Communists." But there
is no suggestion of this in the document itself. I would note also Radosh's
concept of "absorption" here is standard anticommunist rhetoric. Other parties
might "win a political struggle" for leadership of an organization, but
communists only "control" -- never "lead" -- and "absorb," with connotations of
"suffocation," "snuffing out independence."3
42. One might say, "Well, Radosh hates Communism, so for Radosh the
communists can never do anything right." But it's more than that. For Radosh, if
a non-communist makes a good proposal -- say, trade union unity -- that is good;
whereas when Communists do the same thing, it's bad. That's because, for Radosh,
communists never do anything honestly; their "dishonesty" is a given.
43. The interesting thing is that Radosh, using the documents his
collaborators have selected, cannot demonstrate "dishonesty" on the part of the
communists. An honest researcher would consider the possibility that, if the
evidence at hand did not suggest the communists were "dishonest," it just may
possibly be because the communists were not dishonest.
44. Radosh confesses that the previous document, no. 78, "suggests that
he [Negrín] enjoyed a degree of autonomy from Communist control" (497). Radosh
further acknowledges that even some anti-communist scholars of the SCW believe
Negrín was "a more independent figure." Radosh stresses that Document 79, a
report by Marchenko, a Soviet and a Comintern representative, to Litvinov
(Soviet Foreign Minister) and Voroshilov,
. . . makes it clear that the Spaniard's views of politics closely
coincided with the Soviets', while the similarities between his vision for
postwar Spain and that of the Soviet Union are striking This document
suggests that if the Republicans had won the Civil War, Spain would have
been very different from the nation that existed before 18 July 1936 and
very close to the post-World War II "people's democracies" of Europe.
This is false. Document 79 itself reveals that Marchenko was not supportive
at all of Negrín's outline of what a post-war Spanish Republic might look like:
I reacted in a very reserved way to Negrín's idea and drew his attention
to the difficulties and complications that the organization of a new party
would cause. . . . If there are military successes, he can begin the
formation of "his" united-Spanish political party, with the participation
of the Communists if they will allow it, and without the Communists (and
that means against them) if they refuse. (499; emphasis added).
The post-WWII "people's democracies" of Eastern Europe were (a) propped up by
the presence of the Red Army; (b) directly on the borders of the USSR; and (c)
governed by Communist Parties (or communist-socialist united parties) run
frankly by pro-Soviet communists. Negrín's conception of a post-war Spanish
Republic is very different from the post-war pro-Soviet regimes of Eastern
Europe, sharing no essential similarity with them at all. Yet the allegation
that a post-war Republic would have been forced into the mould of the post-WWII
Eastern European regimes is, supposedly, one of the major "discoveries" of this
collection of documents. This document alone shows that this claim of Radosh's
is without foundation.
45. This is an important report by Palmiro Togliatti, head Comintern
representative in Spain, to Dimitrov in Moscow. It is of great interest, and
Radosh can find nothing to say about it that is at all negative. He makes false
statements about its contents, however.
46. For example, Radosh writes:
Togliatti's reports of are special importance. It is clear that,
unlike other apparatchiks, Togliatti was extremely candid and forthright
in his observations. (370, emphasis added)
But Radosh gives not a single example of these "other apparatchiks,"
supposedly not-candid and not-forthright. Since Togliatti was later the head of
the Italian Communist Party and a major leader of the Comintern, it does not
seem to have hurt his reputation to have been "extremely candid and forthright."
47. Note, too, Radosh's use of a Russian term for an official of the
Italian Communist Party. Radosh would never refer to an official of the
Spanish Socialist party as an "apparatchik." The point here is to give the
impression, by whatever means possible, that "Moscow" controls everything.
48. Radosh's discussion of this report contains several outright lies,
including one that is very blatant -- always provided that one actually reads
the document itself. Radosh states:
At the same time, in Catalonia, Togliatti called for a policy of
reinforcing the moderation of the Popular Front, rather than demagogic
appeals to a revolution-minded populace. If the anarchists tried to move
toward open revolt and stage a coup, he advised one solution only: "We will
finally do away with them." (emphasis added)
Here is the passage (390):
As for the anarchists, on this question, in my opinion, we have not
merely hesitated, but made absolutely real mistakes in our tactics
[Togliatti is referring to methods of political struggle -- GF.] On the role
from Barcelona to Valencia, I posed the question to the comrades
accompanying me. Their opinion was very simple: the anarchists have
lost all influence, in Barcelona (!) there is not even one anarchist worker,
we are waiting until they organize a second putsch, and we will finally do
away with them [emphasis added].
So this attitude is not that of Togliatti, but of some "comrades." Here is
what Togliatti wrote about this attitude; this passage begins immediately after
This opinion is very widespread in the party, in particular in Catalonia,
and when we stick to such an idea, it is impossible to carry out a policy
of rapprochement with the anarchist masses and differentiation of their
leaders. (390; emphasis added)
Radosh attributed to Togliatti the very views that Togliatti cites in
order to strongly oppose them!
49. Again, Radosh writes:
While publicly advocating attempts at cooperation with opposition
anarchists, Togliatti noted that their leaders were "scum, closely tied to
Caballero," and had to be fought via "large-scale action from below." (371)
It is clear from the context of p. 390 -- see the emphasis in the quotation
above -- that the "large-scale action from below" that Togliatti hoped for was
action by the "anarchist masses," as he stated in the passage quoted
above, which alone can lead to "differentiation of their leaders." In other
words, Togliatti proposed relying on a democratic plan -- winning over
the anarchist masses to replace or repudiate their own leadership. Communist
authors show appreciation for the political instincts of the anarchist
rank-and-file many times in these documents; it is the anarchist leadership
they see as the stumbling blocks to effective unity against Franco.
50. In addition to Togliatti, another Soviet adviser, Antonov-Ovseenko
comes across very well in these documents. Radosh seriously distorts Document
22. Antonov-Ovseenko wrote:
The PSUC repeatedly proposed to the government that weapons at the rear
[i.e. in areas not involved in battle] be seized and put at the disposal of
the government. (p. 80)
Radosh calls this "Communist attempts to seize all the weapons at the rear
(and thus to disarm the anarchists)" (p. 71). In reality, the PSUC (the Unified
Socialist Party) -- not just the communists, who were only a part of the
PSUC -- was proposing that armed men should be at the front fighting the
war, and that arms were needed at the front, not in the rear. Orwell himself
complains time and again about the obsolete, broken, and useless arms available
to his own unit at the front, and that even these arms were in short supply. If,
as Radosh suggests here, the armed anarchists were all in the rear, what were
they doing there? If armed communists had been "all in the rear," would
Radosh not think this sinister?
51. In Document 21 Antonov-Ovseenko quotes an informant, "X," who told
him that the anarchists were carrying out mass executions in Catalonia and that
they had executed 40 priests.
X. told me . . . [t]hree days ago, the government seriously clashed with
the anarchists: the CNT seized a priest. . . . The priest pointed out
another 101 members of his order who had hidden themselves in different
places. They [the anarchists] agreed to free all 102 men for three hundred
thousand francs. All 102 appeared, but when the money had been handed
over, the anarchists shot forty of them. (76-7; emphasis added).
52. Radosh does not condemn the anarchists at this point for shooting
the priests. Nor does he suggest that this charge against the anarchists is
false (p. 71). Imagine if the communists had been executing up to 50 people a
day, as "X" told Antonov-Ovseenko -- would Radosh have let this pass without
criticism? Rather, such a document would have been featured as a major find, one
of the most important documents in the book. Yet when anarchists are alleged to
be committing mass murder, and Communists are opposed to it, Radosh scarcely
mentions the matter, and certainly does not praise the Communists for stopping
such massacres. This illustrates one of the central weaknesses in Radosh's
commentary: he is, in fact, not much interested in these documents except
insofar as they can be used to show the communists as "bad."
53. A strongly positive review of the Radosh book in First Things
states baldly: "Although leftist atrocities against the Church, including the
execution of thousands of nuns and priests, were widespread, they are nowhere
mentioned in these documents." In his rush to provide Radosh with another
positive review, this anonymous reviewer in a right-wing, "pro-religion" journal
clearly never read even Radosh's own commentary, much less the documents
54. This is a report by Dimitrov, head of the Comintern, to Marshal
Voroshilov. Radosh makes many false statements about the contents of this
14-page report. For example, Radosh states that "the writer [of the report] came
to the stunning conclusion that the war and revolution "cannot end successfully
if the Communist party does not take power into its own hands." (212). In fact,
Dimitrov explicitly refuses to endorse the idea that the only way to
victory is if the Communist party takes power.
The influence of the party is growing more and more among the masses, and
chiefly among the soldiers; the conviction is growing among them that the
war and the popular revolution cannot end successfully if the Communist
party does not take power into its own hands. Who knows, that idea may
indeed be correct. (232; emphasis added)
Arnold Beichman's review makes the same inaccurate statement: "It is sad to
read these Soviet archives and read the words of a Soviet agent to the
Comintern's Georgi Dimitrov: 'The war cannot end successfully if the Communist
Party does not take power in its own hands.'"
55. In fact, this is a very interesting statement, especially coming
from Dimitrov, famous since the Seventh Comintern Congress in 1935 for
championing the concept of the Communist International's abandoning its
independent advocacy of socialist revolution in order to make possible "united
fronts" with all anti-fascist parties, as in Spain. The Spanish Communists, with
the support of the Comintern, were struggling hard to make the United Front in
Spain work. Here Dimitrov shows that he himself has doubts about it. The
documents published in this volume could indeed provide much evidence for an
argument that it was precisely the insistence on a United Front with the Spanish
socialists and Anarchists that doomed the Republic. A competent commentary
should have discussed this issue.
56. This long report by General Walter (a Polish communist general whose
real name was Karol Svershevsky) is of special interest since it includes the
longest discussion of the International Brigades among the documents in this
volume. These pages give Radosh a chance to slander not only the Soviets, but
the members of the International Brigades as well, and he tries his best to do
so by ignoring positive statements made about the Brigadistas in the documents
at hand, while emphasizing the criticisms made about some of them.
57. Radosh begins with the following statement:
By early 1938, the international units were important to the Soviets and
the Comintern only as a means of scoring points in the propaganda war and as
bargaining chips in negotiations with the other great powers. (431)
Radosh continues immediately with the words, "Nowhere is this more clearly
shown than in the series of documents that follow." However, nowhere in these
documents is the statement above documented in the least.
58. Walter shows admirable frankness in discussing both strengths and
weaknesses within the Brigades. Radosh ignores the strengths and distorts
Walter's words about the weaknesses.
59. For example, Radosh generalizes Walter's criticism of some
Brigadistas, that they thought themselves superior to the Spanish, and implies
Walter said it was true of all Brigadistas. (431)
In Sverchevsky's words, they [the international soldiers] believed they
had come to Spain to save it from the fascists. This viewpoint had led
directly to their superior attitude toward the Spanish, whom they treated
like second-class citizens. (431)
60. In reality, Walter's remark is a general one, critical of an
ideological attitude to be found in the Brigades (438). The words "second-class
citizens" are never used. Rather, Walter's incisive political criticism is
directed towards a shallow understanding of internationalism among many
Brigadistas, as illustrated in the following passage:
It seems to me that the fundamental reason for, and primary source of,
our troubles lies, first and foremost, in a deeply rooted conviction which
stubbornly refuses to die that we, the internationalists, are only
"helping," that we "save" and "are saving" Spain, which, they say, without
us would not have escaped the fate of Abyssinia. This harmful theory
prevents the German and Italian comrades from seeing the silhouettes of
"Junkers" and "Fiats" in the fascist air force; they forget that here, on
Spanish soil, they are fighting with arms in hand, that is, in the most
effective and revolutionary way, first and foremost against their own enemy,
which has already oppressed their own countries and peoples for many years.
French "volunteers" do not always notice the direct connection between
Franco, De la Roque, and Doriot; they forget . . . that their vital
interests lie in preventing a fascist sentinel from looming on the last
border, the Pyrenees. The Poles do not completely comprehend that every one
of their victories here is a direct blow against the Pilsudski gang, which
has turned their country into a prison for the people. . . . (438)
61. Walter is unsparingly frank in his criticisms of the shortcomings of
the Brigades. His analysis appears to be a model of honest criticism, including
much criticism of the performance of communists. But Walter's report also
contains the highest praise for the Brigades (for example, see the first three
paragraphs, p. 436). Typically, Radosh's commentary is utterly one-sided; he
mentions many of Walter's critical comments, but not a single one of the
62. In his extremely positive review, Schwartz is more shameless yet in
quoting some of Walter's frank criticisms of the political problems in the
Brigades as though they were characteristic. Radosh and Schwartz are of the same
kidney; see Radosh's praise of Schwartz on p. xxv.
Schwartz: "Anti-Semitism was a serious problem among these "progressive"
Document 70: "It is true that even then there were more than enough petty
squabbling and strong antagonisms in the international units. The
francophobia was most transparently obvious . . . anti-Semitism flourished
(and indeed it still has not been completely extinguished). . . . (448)
Schwartz: "Above all, the International Brigades possessed transport,
food, and other supplies far in excess of their Spanish counterparts, with
whom they resolutely refused to 'share their wealth.'"
Document 70: "The English and American soldiers not long ago were smoking
'Lucky Strikes,' not paying attention to the Spanish fighters next to them,
who had spent days looking for a few shreds of tobacco. The
internationalists receive frequent packages from home but are very rarely
willing to share them with their Spanish comrades." (453)
Schwartz: "International Brigade officers accounted exactly for
the numbers of foreigners killed and wounded in battle, but 'never knew of
the casualties of the Spanish personnel.'" [emphasis added]
Document 70: "Richard, the commander of the 11th Brigade, reporting on
the casualties suffered by the brigade at Brunete and Saragossa, always gave
the exact number of dead and wounded and frequently even the names of the
internationalists. But he never knew the casualties of the Spanish
In this case, Schwartz transformed the behavior of one commander, in
one battle -- behavior that the Communist general Walter was holding up
for criticism -- as typical of "International Brigade officers" generally.
(Schwartz gives no page numbers, so verifying his dishonest quotations is a
63. Neither Radosh nor Schwartz put Walter's criticisms of the Brigades
into context. But Walter does. In addition to high praise for the International
Brigades' heroism and importance in the war (see pp. 436 and 459) Walter
explains the difficult problems of overcoming national chauvinism, racism and
distrust among nationalities:
The International Brigades and units were created literally within the
course of one or two days from those volunteers who were on hand at the time
. . . there were subunits that contains dozens of nationalities all of these
were people who were absolutely unacquainted, not accustomed to one another,
and right off found themselves in a battle. If you add to this the extremely
acute shortage of political workers, the lack of qualified military cadres,
and a whole number of other needs, then the weaknesses and the solution to
this problem (adequate at that time) are not surprising. (448)
Schwartz: "According to Walter, the International Brigades, inspired by
slogans of worldwide unity against Fascism, were plagued by a 'petty,
disgusting, foul squabble about the superiority of one nationality over
another. . . . Everyone was superior to the French, but even they were
superior to the Spanish, who were receiving our aid and allowing us to fight
against our own national and class enemies on their soil.'"
Immediately preceding the passage quoted by Schwartz (449) occurs the
following passage (Document 70):
The great, very exalted, and revolutionary objective, armed struggle with
fascism, united everyone, and for its sake Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews,
and representatives of the world's numerous nationalities, including blacks,
Japanese, and Chinese, had to agree among themselves, found a common
language, suffered the same adversities, sacrificed their lives, died
heroes, and were filled with the very same hatred for the common enemy.
But at the very same time as the volunteers were unifying, this petty,
disgusting, foul squabble about the superiority of one nationality over
another was going on. . . ." (448-9)
64. At a time when every army in the world except communist-led
armies were organized along officially racist lines (and some, like the
Israeli army, are officially racist even today), this struggle for
internationalism inspired millions around the world. Yet the venomous Schwartz
sees the racist attitudes among Brigadistas as "the most shocking element of the
picture, especially for those who for sixty years have witnessed the Lincoln
veterans preening themselves for their antifascist virtue" (emphasis added).
The International Brigades set a standard for anti-racism and internationalism
that has never been equaled before or since. Schwartz's insult is simply a
measure of his contempt for such values.
Conclusion: Why Lie If You Have the Truth On Your Side?
65. The flagrant inadequacy of Radosh's discussion of these very
important and fascinating documents itself would fatally mar any work with
scholarly pretensions. But there is a deeper problem with Radosh's work. It is
not merely that Radosh fails to comment accurately on the documents he publishes
(Habeck did most of the translations; Sevostianov did the archival work in
Moscow). More than that: Radosh actually lies, time and again, about the
contents of documents which readers can study themselves a few pages after his
66. Radosh is one of a small number of former Communist Party members
who, once they realized that the Soviet-led world Communist movement no longer
championed an egalitarian, non-exploitative world and was not the answer to
human liberation, simply decided that the other side must, therefore, have been
right all along and became uncritical supporters of American capitalism and
imperialism. Anyone familiar with Radosh's history -- any reader of his
autobiography, Commies and the many reviews of it -- might expect to find
a lot of anti-communist prejudice -- for example, giving a document the most
anti-communist possible interpretation whenever there was any ambiguity.
67. But even a wary reader would also expect at least a couple of real
"revelations" of communist deviousness, dishonesty, double-dealing, some kind of
"betrayal" -- something that would at least partially substantiate the
claims of Radosh, and of those who reviewed his book positively. Even the wary
reader would be unprepared for the extent of Radosh's dishonesty. Not a single
of Radosh's allegations of Comintern or Soviet trechery is born out by the
documents he himself publishes and comments on.
68. Is Radosh deliberately lying about the documents on which he's
commenting? Is he hoping that his only readers will be like-mindedly
anti-communist drones that will simply take his word at face value? Or that
those who notice his mendacity will be ignored or marginalized? Some of the
distortions in the commentary are so blatant that one cannot account for them in
any other way.
69. Yet I think that dishonesty and incompetence cannot provide the
whole answer. On a deeper level, Radosh's anti-communism, and specifically his
allegiance to the demonization of Stalin, seems to produce a kind of tunnel
vision that imposes a systematic distortion on everything he sees or reads.
70. Radosh mentions the name of Stalin dozens of times, although none of
his documents were written by Stalin or are under his name, and only a few were
sent to him. For Radosh, the word "Stalin" no longer denotes an individual, but
is a synecdochal signifier for -- depending on the circumstance -- the
Comintern, the Soviet political leadership, or even any Communist, anywhere.
Like a kind of mirror-image of the "cult of personality" that existed from about
1930 until Stalin's death in 1953, Radosh too attributes all the initiative and
agency of all communists to Stalin alone. A more radical reductionism can
scarcely be imagined, and is all the more noteworthy since Radosh seems entirely
oblivious to his own practice here. It never occurs to him to justify it
theoretically, historically, or in any way at all.
71. This ideological distortion is more serious because more pervasive.
Many who think of themselves as "liberal" or even "left" share with Radosh a
kind of reflexive assumption that, whenever "Stalin" -- read, the Comintern --
seems to have been acting according to its professed motives of
supporting the exploited and oppressed around the world, it must really have
been acting out of selfish motives which, if not obvious, are simply cleverly
72. I hope that readers of this review will be inspired to read Radosh's
book and see for themselves. In view, however, of the inaccurate and misleading
nature of Radosh's commentary there is only one way to read this book:
ignore Radosh's commentary entirely. Read the documents themselves, and only
them, very carefully.
after doing that should you read Radosh's commentary. But every time Radosh
makes any kind of assertion about any document, go to that document, find
the relevant passage, and note what the document really says.
Often this is not easy to do. Radosh does not include page numbers to the
passages of the documents when he gives his comments or summaries. Often he will
write things like "As we have seen . . ." ( p. 502); "Nowhere is this more
clearly shown than in the series of documents that follow . . ." (p. 431); "The
documentary evidence, as we have shown . . ." (p. 372). Here the job of finding
the passage in question can take quite a long time. It's always worth taking the
time, though, because what one usually discovers is that that NO previous
document has shown anything of the kind.
73. Radosh reminds us that one of the main stumbling blocks for Marxists
is the figure of Stalin. Stalin has been demonized -- by Trotsky and those who
have relied on Trotsky; by some Soviet émigrés, also imitators of Trotsky, in
the main; and by Khrushchev and those who have been accustomed to believe that
Khrushchev's so-called "revelations" about Stalin were true. As Robert Thurston
has written, the demonized "Stalin" is "a powerful cultural construct in
scholarship, film, popular works, etc. The difficulty is to try to get past that
construction as best we can." (Thurston, 2000). Radosh has not even tried.
74. As Roger Pethybridge, a well-known British Sovietologist, commented
If one considers all the well-known biographies of Stalin, a common
feature emerges: the volumes are a quite accurate reflection of biographical
method current at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the
twentieth centuries, when historical biographies dwelt on so-called "good"
and "bad" kings. The personality who reigned appeared to dominate not only
the political but the social and economic life of his kingdom, so that by a
sneeze or a yawn he could magically change the whole socioeconomic pattern
of his reign. This method of historical biography has long been discounted
in the treatment of authoritarian rule in earlier history. It has also been
discarded with regard to the study of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, it still
remains as a specter from the past in the study of Soviet personalities in
high politics. (Pethybridge, 1976).
75. Since the end of the Soviet Union, many formerly secret Comintern
and Bolshevik documents have been published, with more coming out all the time.
Like the Comintern documents in Radosh's book, most of them contradict the
widely-propagated, and widely-believed, horror stories about the history of the
Communist movement during the Stalin years.5
76. It's up to us all of us who recognize the desperate need for a truly
classless, egalitarian society to learn from the successes and failures of our
predecessors, including, especially, the Bolsheviks during the time of Stalin's
leadership. But in order to do this, we must first convince ourselves that we do
not already know these things.
77. For example, many of the Comintern documents in this collection
support the suggestion made by some on the Left that the United Front Against
Fascism was doomed from the outset, even as a tactic in fighting fascism.6
For no matter how devotedly the communists supported only bourgeois democratic
goals, many capitalist forces refused to co-operate with them, in effect
preferring to risk a fascist victory rather than take their chances in a liberal
capitalist state with a strongly organized working class and peasantry under
communist leadership. The subsequent fate of the communist parties of Western
Europe and the USA after World War II, who were viciously attacked by the
capitalists despite their adherence to a reform-oriented, non-revolutionary
program, further suggests that the united front strategy was wishful thinking.
78. That is, we have to be ready and willing to question the Cold-War,
Trotskyist, and Khrushchevite versions of this history, and "do it all again,"
so we can actually begin to understand what really happened.7
79. If that's what we're about -- and I think we should be -- then
Radosh's book can help us, by reminding us not to be like him.