Is the conflict in Syria the new Spanish civil war?

As reported in the ALBA veterans magazine, Barry Rubin is the latest commentator to suggest that Syria is the Spanish civil war of our time, a contention contested from the right by Daniel Larison. Already in March, veteran journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave had made the same point: Is Syria 2011 the same as Spain 1936

And a fortnight ago, the great human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell tweeted “#Homs & #Houla are the #Guernica of our era. Fascist-style bombing by killer”. That point too was made by the nutty LaRouchite pseudo-historian Webster Griffin Tarpley in an interview with the propaganda outlet of another totalitarian regime, Press TV:

It is also beginning to resemble the Spanish civil war, I think, of Guernica, the bombing of this little town in the Basque country by German Nazi and Italian fascist aviation that killed about a thousand people. This time it is Guernica but undercover; it is a stealth Guernica that has been imposed and I think it is important for people in the world that are interested in truth to trumpet this from their house tops.

One blogger, Trenchant Observer, writes:

An image from the Spanish civil war, Pablo Picasso’s painting “Guérnica”, may express the terror which confronts the Syrian people. Ironically, a tapestry based on that painting, which symbolizes the horrors of war (see above), adorned the entrance to the Security Council chambers until Colin Powell insisted that it be removed before his press conferences justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is now on loan to a gallery in England, pending “remodeling” at the U.N.

So should the “international right of protection” be forgotten at Homs, just as constitutional government was left to shift for itself in the 1930s in Spain?

And, of course, the same points were made about Libya last year – see e.g. here and here.

Is there any justification in the comparison?


Well, the problem is that the people making these comparisons (not Barry Rubin, though, by the way) tend to remember Spain as a two-sided struggle between Bad fascism and Good freedom. The Right Thing to do was to sign up in the International Brigade and for democratic nations to arm the Republicans. In this analogy, the Right Thing must be to become foreign fighters in the Free Syrian Army or at least to arm it.

In fact, though, the Spanish war was at least three-sided: Rubin mentions a “coalition of democrats both social democratic and liberal; communal nationalists [e.g. Catalan]; anarchists, Communists, and independent Marxists”, but of course this coalition was a tense one, with Communists (including the International Brigade) killing anarchists, democrats and independent Marxists at the same time as they were fighting fascism. In fact, though, this is the real situation in Syria, with Assad’s fascist regime challenged by democrats and “communal nationalists” (Kurds, Druze, etc) and the left – but also by the right-wing brotherhood and a small current of jihadi Islamists who make Franco look benign.

So, I don’t know what the Poumist position on Syria should be, but I think it is actually helpful to think about it.

Published in: on June 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. it’s been a while since i gave up trying to remember who hated whom, but on the face of it the equation of syria today with spain then seems impossible for the reasons you and larison mention. also i think of it in propaganda terms: who is trying to wear what mantle? would the types in the US who have been loudest about intervention (GOP, christian millenialists, likudniks) really want to equate the anti-assads, and associate themselves, with the coalition (however fractious) of CP, POUM, etc?

    btw i never expected to see larison linked here.

  2. Where were all these articles when Iraq was descending into civil war? If Assad’s regime is to deplored for its Baathist totalitarianism, why not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?

    After Saddam’s military forces were quickly defeated, the country was caught up in an intense sectarian conflict that included political and religious dimensions.

    On the political side, supporters of a newly independent democratic regime both indigenous and exogenous (imperialist, in the leftist rhetoric of today) against holdouts of the old dictatorship (Bathists), al-Qaeda, and all manner of foreign fighters struggling to bring the government down.

    Regarding religion, an enduring discrimination against Shia Muslims by a Sunni minority which under Baathist regimes was institutionalized in many different ways. This opened the door for Iranian influence when the Baathist state was destroyed.

    In the sense that the Spanish Revolution/Civil War is remembered as the first conflict in WWII, I suspect that the war in Iraq will be remembered for setting off a chain of events in the region.

  3. Your description of the civil war was very misleading. The CNT was explicitly Anarcho-Syndicalist. While the Anarchists may have only been 5% of the general population, not only was that a far cry more than the total number of native Marxists or Communists of all stripes.

    While the Anarchists were in truth a minority, the fact of the matter is that it was a genuine Anarchist uprising filling the void of the failed leftist government against the fascists. The failed government offered to hand over all political power to the CNT, and 85% of the population were behaving LIKE Anarchists regardless of whether they were previously liberals or socialists.

    Did other ‘sides’ exist? Sure. There were explicitly Marxist militias. They had virtually no political power though. The Anarchists and the CNT were facilitating the organization of society and there was no Marxist party vanguard to be found who had any authority over anything.

    Mentioning the Anarchists as a little blip as you rattle off several factions seems dishonest to me. The Anarchists were by far the most influential and important group in that conflict, other than the failed state and the fascist coup.

    “Republicans”….pfft. Only in the sense that Proudhon called himself a Republican, but not even in the same sense that the IRA uses the term.

  4. Typo, :not only was that a far cry more than the total number of native Marxists or Communists of all stripes [but they were the central organizers of the resistance].

  5. “85% of the population were behaving LIKE Anarchists regardless of whether they were previously liberals or socialists.”

    In Catalonia? Spain as a whole? Evidence?

    From my reading, the majority of the population were simply trying to survive. Have you read Seidman’s work?

  6. […] Is the conflict in Syria the new Spanish civil war? […]

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