- Matilda Murday: “Those Who Cannot Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It”
- Andrew Coates: Islamic State, fascism, totalitarianism and evil
- PartnershipBlog: Stop The War is exactly the problem
Michael Petrou, author of a book about the working-class Canadians who went to Spain to fight against Franco’s fascist uprising in the 1930s, makes a telling point about the parallels between that war and the current civil war in Syria. It has to do with what Petrou calls “the fallacy of non-intervention.”
That was the policy adopted by the democracies — including Canada — in 1936, when the Spanish general Francisco Franco, backed by his allies Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, launched a rebellion against Spain’s democratically elected government that eventually toppled it and enslaved the country.
We said it was a Spanish conflict, a civil war, and should be decided by the Spaniards. It wasn’t. The democracies might not have intervened, but other powers did. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany picked one side; Stalinist Soviet Union picked the other.
When the war began, the Communists were a minor force within Spain’s republican coalition. Then Spain’s presumed democratic friends deserted it, while the Soviet Union sent weapons and men. Soviet and Spanish Communist power consequently grew. By 1937, the Soviet NKVD and its Spanish allies ran secret jails in Madrid where they murdered political opponents from amongst their supposed anti-fascist comrades.
And in Barcelona too. Those who have read George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) will be familiar with that ugly chapter of the Spanish civil war.
Which brings us to Syria. It’s been two years, some 80,000 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of displaced. What began as a democratic uprising has become a civil war. Those against doing anything about it have cycled through various arguments, all of which miss a basic point. Non-intervention isn’t an option, because intervention is already happening. Saying you’re against intervention in Syria is like standing in the middle of a blizzard and saying you’re against snow.
- Does Spain’s History Provide a Lesson in Syria’s Civil War? (rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Syria: The Spanish Civil War All Over Again (pjmedia.com)
- Homage to Latakia: Comparing Syria and the Spanish Civil War (macleans.ca)
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?
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.