Franco’s Spain – how many dead?

In a recent post, I quoted Dorian Cope claiming that two million people were killed in Franco’s Spain. TNC made the comment  below. I’m pretty innumerate myself, but I think TNC is most likely right and Cope wrong: the death toll was more like a million, it slowed down after Franco’s reign consolidated, and it should be seen alongside the (much smaller) “red terror” in which rightists were killed too, i.e. in a Civil War context and not just that of a dictatorship. I have started reading Giles Tremlett’s Ghosts of Spain, which addresses the legacy of these deaths, which I hope to post on when I’ve finished.

Where does the two million number come from? The reason I ask is the number I have read from a few secondary sources including Paul Preston and Stanley Payne that put it closer to one million killed by both sides in the conflict. Also, most of the mass killings stopped by the end of the 1940s. I know people were tortured and murdered in horrible ways, including the garrot, but the evidence suggests a slowing of the mass murder certainly by the early 1950s.

Paul Preston writes:

“The numbers of right-wingers killed in Republican Spain (after the military coup destroyed the structures of law and order and before the Republican government could rebuild them) is 37000. The number of people murdered in the Francoist zone is likely to be 150,000. The reason for doubt is that finding out is a painstaking business, village by village, and only 36 of Spain’s 50 provinces have been reasonably thoroughly investigated. Those thirty-six provinces have currently produced 98,000 known victims. However, even there it is very difficult to be sure that all the dead have been counted…

However, there were others, perhaps another 50,000, who were killed without even the simulacrum of a trial. Some were thrown alive from cliffs into the sea, or from high bridges into deep rivers…As an example, between July 1936 and December 1937, near the village of Concud in the province of Teruel, into Los pozos de Caudé, a pit six feet wide and 250 feet deep, were hurled the bodies of 1005 men and women, including adolescent boys and girls. Few of them were political militants. Their crime was simply to be considered critical of the military coup, related to someone who had fled, to have a radio or to have read liberal newspapers before the war.

This does not address the numbers killed on the battlefield and that is also a difficult issue. The most frequently cited figures tend to be between 300 and 350 thousand.”

And here is Stanley Payne:

“During the first months of the fighting most of the deaths did not come from combat on the battlefield but from political executions in the rear–the “Red” and “White” terrors. In some cases the murder of political opponents began more or less spontaneously, but from the very beginning there was always a certain degree of organization, and nearly all the killings after the first few days were carried out by organized groups. Murder of the political opposition was an almost inevitable result of conditions of revolutionary civil war and the constant incitement to violence, particularly by the left, in the years leading up to it. Fear was also a major ingredient. Both sides knew that they had reached a showdown and were eager to eliminate potential opposition before it was too late.

The Red terror began with the murder of some of the rebels as they attempted to surrender after their revolt had failed in several of the key cities. From there it broadened out to wholesale arrests, and sometimes wholesale executions, of people associated with right-wing groups or the Catholic church. In general, this was not an irrepressible outpouring of hatred by the man in the street for his “oppressors,” as it has sometimes been painted, but a semi-organized activity carried out by sections of nearly all the leftist groups. In the entire leftist zone the only organized political party that eschewed involvement in such activity were the Basque Nationalists.

Within a matter of weeks Socialist and anarcho-syndicalist leaders tried to bring such killings under control. “Control patrols” were organized in many areas and a series of revolutionary “people’s courts,” that in most cases imposed much lighter penalties, were formed to channel the repression of anti-leftists. After about six months, when a reorganized Popular Front government began to reassert authority, most of the random executions were ended, but [650] under more centralized control, political killings continued throughout the leftist zone until the end of the war.

The repression in the Nationalist zone was more centralized and much more effective. Though often carried out by right-wing civilian groups, the White terror was almost from the beginning nominally institutionalized under military courts-martial. It was also more efficient, for, being under more coordinated direction, it was concentrated against the most dangerous opposition elements. By contrast, particularly during the first six months, each Red terror group operated on its own in a frequently irrational fashion, murdering innocent people and letting some of the more dangerous go free. Moreover, one of the main targets of the Red terror was the clergy, most of whom were not engaged in overt opposition.

The toll taken by the respective terrors may never be known exactly. The left slaughtered more in the first months, but the Nationalist repression probably reached its height only after the war had ended, when punishment was exacted and vengeance wreaked on the vanquished left. The White terror may have slain 50,000, perhaps fewer, during the war. The Franco government now gives the names of 61,000 victims of the Red terror, but this is not subject to objective verification. The number of victims of the Nationalist repression, during and after the war, was undoubtedly greater than that.

Grim as the reality was, it was immediately exaggerated by both sides, eager to deepen the guilt of their adversaries and underline the sufferings of their own people. Thus the legend of the millón de muertos, which exaggerated both terrorist and battlefield deaths by approximately 200 percent, was widely accepted after the war and gave rise to a contemporary variant of the Black Legend that stressed the supposedly uniquely sanguinary propensities of the Spanish.

In fact, compared with other revolutionary civil wars of twentieth century Europe, the Spanish Civil War was not remarkably lethal, either on the battlefield or behind the lines. In Finland, in 1918, approximately 1 percent of the population was killed during and in the aftermath of a four-month civil war. (1) It took the Spanish nearly three years to destroy proportionately as many of themselves, but [651] when this occurred in Spain it was put down by foreign observers to the “innate savagery” of the Spanish.

In addition to the deaths that resulted, the twin terrors in Spain left another, equally fateful, legacy. They left a gulf of enduring hatred between opposing sectors of society that made a final resolution of the conflict much more difficult. ”

There are so many dimensions to the war, politics being the most obvious but there were divisions between religious and secular, rural and urban, issues of regional autonomy and language in Catalonia and the Basque Country, even issues of race as Franco had African troops under his command.

The anarchist Sabaté was killed in 1960, after a series of bank robberies and assassinations in support of the movement. The case of Delgado and Granados is a travesty of justice, but it should be seen in this context.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Enviado desde mi móvil LG

    Poumista escribió:

    > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ poumist posted: “In a recent post, I quoted Dorian Cope claiming that two million people were killed in Franco’s Spain. TNC made the comment  below. I’m pretty innumerate myself, but I think TNC is most likely right and Cope wrong: the death toll was more like a million, “

  2. […] Franco’s Spain – how many dead? […]

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