“Society of Labor Clergy:” Soviet Terror Against Christians

In this important and ground-breaking interview, Maria Igorevna Degtyareva, doctoral candidate, discusses her research into the so-called, “Society of Labor Clergy” (1937), which proves how the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) falsified interrogation protocols, then condemned and sent to death innocent people, in many cases. At the same time, the fabricated case of the “Society of Labor Clergy” was used by the NKVD investigators as an exemplary one, and on its basis subsequent cases against believers were fashioned. Maria Igorevna here speaks with Inna Yurievna Fedotova, Head of the Research Department, of the Perm State Archive of Social and Political History.

Researching History

Inna Fedotova (IF): Maria Igorevna, what was it that appealed to you about this topic?

Maria Degtyareva (MD): It was just by coincidence. The area of my research interests was the history of French conservative thought. I did not imagine that I would have to engage in the study of repression. The topic came to me “as an inheritance” from my mother.

Inna Fedotova and Maria Degtyareva.

IF: Of course, we knew your mother Natalya Evgenievna. She was a long-time researcher in the collections of our archive.

MD: One of her church obedience was work in the diocesan Department of History and Canonization, connected with the collection of sources. She was a regular visitor at the Perm Archive. A person of exceptional efficiency, dedicated and reliable, her working day often ended at 10-11 pm. After returning from the archive, she would organize and put the prepared copies of documents into folders.

Mom didn’t write anything, but when selecting persons for consideration by the Commission on Canonization, she herself went through the fate of each person, every sentence, and she always regretted that so much would just sit in the repositories. It was she who drew my attention to the fact that repressions against the clergy and believers is a topic that has not been adequately studied, and yet the situation is conducive to that.

IF: What situation are you referring to?

MD: In the 1990s, a whole complex of sources was transferred from the departmental funds of law enforcement agencies for state storage at Perm Archive, including those of value to the Church – the cases of the victim priests.

All conditions for the work of historians were created in the archive, and we are grateful to the previous director of the Archive, Mikhail Gennadievich Nechaev, the current director, Sergei Vasilyevich Neganov – and all the specialists of Perm Archive for the fact that the documents were processed, put in order and placed in the electronic database. Fortunately, the archival collections are open, and restrictive measures function within the framework of Russian legislation.

IF: Was it difficult to change direction?

MD: I understood that addressing a new topic, in addition to studying the historical context of the Church, would also require some real physical effort. I was frightened by the volume of the material. I was sure that it was “not a woman’s job,” and I certainly could never do it.

IF: What made you change your attitude towards this topic?

MD: I was imperceptibly brought to it; there were no external “instructions” and “special blessings.” The well-known confessor, the elder of the Pskov-Pechersk MonasteryArchimandrite John (Krestyankin) – blessed me in due time to finish work on my doctoral dissertation.

It’s just that the course of life began to change significantly in Moscow in the early 2000s. It took time to figure it out, to understand something myself and, finally, to discover the new martyrs. A person close to me – a nun of the Novodevichy Convent – brought me to Butovo and introduced me to the history of the shooting range. After a few years, what used to be terra incognita for me became really important.

With the accession to the cathedra of Vladyka Methodius, systematic work began in our diocese to compile its history, the biographies of the confessors and new martyrs of Perm, and specialized publications for a wider audience began to appear. And, at some point, I felt that I was ready to take part in this as a historian. One of the cases requiring professional application was the Perm-Sverdlovsk case of 1937 of the so-called “Society of Labor Clergy.”

IF: How did you envision professional engagement in such work?

MD: Hagiography and source studies have somewhat different tasks. The compiler of biographies is focused on reproducing the spiritual image of the saint, the essence of his Christian service and exploit. And this is important. It is necessary to see and convey characterological traits, the “core” of the personality. However, the source text is often left behind the scenes as it were. The task of the historian is to analyze documents, correlate them with known facts and try to distinguish between the “desirable” and the real, genuine and counterfeit in the case materials.

IF: In other words, the methods of historical science allow you to reveal falsifications in the case materials?

MD: Yes, and this direction is promising.

Significance Of The Case Of “The Society Of Labor Clergy”

MD: Unfortunately, in our society, where are so opposite to what really happened, there is still the opinion that “there were no unjust sentences in the just Soviet state,” and “if they were arrested, it was not without reason.” Even in the context of the Church, I had to hear excuses from supporters of a repressive policy: “They were cutting the forest – chips fly….”

When arguments are not accepted because it is difficult to part with an idealized, familiar image of the past, documents are the only basis for dialogue. When working with them, the methods familiar to professional historians are used: comparative analysis, “cross-examination of sources,” philological analysis, paleography. When we were students, much attention was paid to the methodological aspects of work and auxiliary historical disciplines at the university.

Of course, one can confine oneself to a general statement: “The convicts were rehabilitated posthumously; numerous violations were found in the case materials by the commissions of the following years.” But places with traces of falsifications are the most impartial “witnesses.” I think this is one of the possible ways to change the attitude towards what happened in the 1920s and 1930s in our country. It is important that the rehabilitation of Christians who suffered during the years of repression should not seem to be just a consequence of the “swing of the political pendulum.”

IF: Please tell us about the features and significance of this case?

MD: The case of the Society of Labor Clergy is one of the central ones for our region, in the drama of the investigative processes of 1937–1938 – and one of the first planned “mass” cases of the period of the “great terror” in the country. Its “orbit” involved not only believers – representatives of the clergy, clergymen, children of priests – but also those who were completely outside the Church.

The “scenario framework,” developed by the Sverdlovsk and Perm investigators, put in the position of the accused people of various views, tastes and positions: believers and atheists, apolitical and partisan, “White” and “Red.”

Order No. 00447, Dated July 30, 1937

IF: How was that made possible?

MD: The case was connected with the bringing into force of the notorious operational order 00447 (of July 30, 1937) of the USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs N.I. Yezhov, “On the operation to repress former kulaks, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements,” which was approved by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, that is, it turned out to be “built-into” an operation of concerted effort to combat all those that were “suspicious” in the country (or against the so-called “crusade front against Soviet power”), and implemented on the eve of the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, scheduled for December of that year. The purpose of the “operation” was to ensure “the smooth running of the elections.”

First of all, the fears of the leadership were caused by the results of the January population census, which showed that the authority of the clergy in society was still high, and the efforts of widespread atheistic propaganda were not bringing the expected results.

Despite the fact that in the Soviet Union there was officially an organization that was given the task of destroying the Church in several “five years” spans, like the “five-year plans” in the economy – the “League of Militant Atheists” led by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. More than half of the country’s population noted in the census forms that they were believers.

The socio-political background was also unstable. The 1930s in the USSR were marked by famine, against the background of forced collectivization and numerous peasant protests against the coercion to join collective farms and the conditions created in them.

The reaction to the ruthlessness of the strategy of economic development, chosen by the Central Committee, and built on “pumping funds” from one sector of the economy to another, from agriculture to industry, through a deliberate disproportion in price policy – was criticism of the unbalanced policy by major economists and representatives of the party elite (A.V. Chayanov, N.I. Bukharin, A.I. Rykov, M.P. Tomskii).

In addition, the style of Stalin’s leadership caused a split in the highest party echelons. This is how several opposition groups replacing one another came about. An immediate consequence of this was the planned trials of the participants in the “opposition.”

Thus, the general situation filled the top management with doubts about the victorious outcome of the planned voting. In any case, in the case under consideration and similar cases in 1937, the justification for extending the investigation period, and, consequently, expanding the circle of those arrested, was the wording: “In view of the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet.”

Already in March 1937, in the Main Directorate of the NKVD of the USSR, a draft order was developed: “On the tasks of the third departments of state security directorates to combat sabotage in the national economy.” It listed the categories of the population that were suspicious of the Stalinist leadership, as it was said, as… possible “agents of foreign intelligence.” Among them – those who studied abroad, former prisoners of war, immigrants, former members of the CPSU, members of opposition parties, former “Whites” and kulaks.

And finally, on July 30, 1937, order 00447 was issued. The document indicated the categories to which the application of “special measures” was applied: former kulaks, “continuing to conduct active anti-Soviet subversive activities,” “escaping from camps and labor settlements,” “hiding from dispossession,” as well as “members of insurgent, fascist, terrorist and bandit formations who have served their sentences,” or escaped repression and “active anti-Soviet elements from the former kulaks.” The same list included “members of anti-Soviet parties”, former “Whites,” officials, “bandits and robbers,” sectarian activists, “churchmen,” and… criminals at large and held in camps.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church found themselves in such company (and with an indication of the place allotted to them in the sequence of “subversives”). This was the formal, “legal basis” for the renewal and toughening of the repressive policy towards the clergy and believers.

The listed groups were previously subdivided into “the most hostile” and “less active.” The first were subject to execution, the second – to camp imprisonment for a period of 8 to 10 years. In all regions of the country, special “quotas” or “limits” were introduced for the application of the order. From that moment, the investigation could be carried out in an expedited manner, and the determination of the fate of the accused, including in absentia, became the prerogative of the regional, republican and regional “troikas” of the NKVD.

Throughout 1937, social “purges” were carried out everywhere, but the chronological “framework” of the Perm process and its course indicate that representatives of the Sverdlovsk Directorate and the Perm department of the NKVD were among the “leaders of the great terror.”

“In The Bureau Of Partisans, In Secret”

IF: Please tell us about when and how the investigation began?

MD: Formally, several reasons were used to initiate the “investigation.” Firstly, the trial a little earlier, in January 1937, in Sverdlovsk. in the case of the underground “Trotskyist center,” was conducted as if it had a connection with Moscow. According to investigators, the members of the “Trotskyite-Zinovievist” organization were then people who held high party and administrative posts.

Since they managed to get confessions (how that was done is another matter) from the main accused – the chairman of the Sverdlovsk city executive committee, V.F. Golovin – the investigator Dmitriev was convinced that the new administrative center of the Urals was the place where the “underground anti-government rebel headquarters” was located, allegedly having its “branches” in different cities.

Thus, the old administrative center of the Urals – once the provincial one of Perm – was included in the “list of suspects” of the UNKVD of cities.
The fact is that during the Civil War, the old part of our city, unlike the working-class district – Motovilikha, rather actively supported the “Whites.” In Stalin’s own interpretation, in 1935, these events were called the “Perm catastrophe.”

And so. until the Great Patriotic War, when Perm became important as the center of the evacuation of the Union, and carried that service with dignity, Stalin could not “forgive” the city, and its status was “downgraded” to the value of a regional center, that is, Perm was in a “special category.”

And secondly, after Dmitriev gave a general directive to “intensify searches in the indicated direction,” at an operational meeting in Sverdlovsk, officers of the Perm NKVD put into circulation two “signals” [methods] that perfectly met the “job at hand.” Both signals, chronologically, diverged quite a lot from the release of order 0044, and it is obvious that at the beginning of 1937, having taken these signals out of “storage,” it was decided to use them “for reporting.”

The first method is obvious in the set of documents prepared by the sergeant of the Perm NKVD, Alikin. This was the surveillance case opened at the end of 1936 on a group of young believers, mainly from the clergy and children of priests who served in the Red Army, in the 9th battalion of the “rear guard” (in modern terms, in the “construction battalion”).

This group consisted of ten people and was portrayed as pretty ominous. Desperate “dissidents” in conscript service, as evidenced by the characteristics attached to them, not only “refused to read Soviet newspapers,” and “learned political studies only mediocrely,” but also “did not change their opinion on the religious issue:” they read the Gospel, “arranged collective readings of prayers,” observed fasts, “did not interrupt correspondence with the priest-fathers,” and during leave, without bothering to hide, visited Perm churches, and confessed and received communion. And all this – not only right in front of the rather apathetic bosses, but also while they were among their “consciously [politically] aware comrades.”

So, in 1937, after a “request” came from Sverdlovsk to take action on the report of investigator Dmitriev, an episode was recalled which led to the observation of this group. Sergeant Alikin reported that somehow in November 1935 (!), three “rear soldiers” entered the office of housing construction, of the plant named after Stalin, and one of them made an inspired speech, denouncing the mistakes of the leadership’s policy towards the peasantry and the difficult conditions of service in the Red Army for believers.

IF: And the second “signal” [method]?

MD: The second was the “classic” denunciation from a certain citizen named Borisova, who entered the NKVD also in 1935 (!). This was the denunciation at the workplace, by a neighbor in the apartment – of a watchmaker named Nechayev, who, as would be established by a KGB check in 1956, at that time was “listed as a Stakhanovite.”

The denunciation informed the NKVD that the Nechayevs were active parishioners and benefactors of Perm churches, maintained acquaintance with the clergy and bishops. The denunciation expressed “concern” about the political preferences of the watchmaker, who, according to the denouncer, was a “monarchist,” who had fled during the Civil War with the “Whites,” and after returning “sat for gold” [practiced parasitism, likely, “currency hoarding”].

The text of the statement was written with multiple errors, had a peculiar address (“In the partisan bureau, in secret”), and ended with an equally colorful stroke: “What I have signed, Borisova.” Apparently, the curiosity of the “style” of the informant was the reason that at the time of receipt the written denunciation was not taken seriously. However, in 1937, this absurdity was in demand as a “request from below,” to work out the hypothesis of action in Perm, allegedly “well-rooted since the Civil War, an underground anti-government network”.

The inability to establish the identity of the “applicant” and to question her on the merits of her charges did not interfere with the case, and on May 14, 58-year-old foreman Nechayev was arrested. Indeed, he had been on “trail” before – in 1924. he was arrested for a short period on suspicion of keeping currency.

NKVD: Alignment With Perm And Sverdlovsk

IF: Did I understand correctly that this case received some special status?

MD: You see, the investigation in Perm was opened in the spring of 1937, that is, it preceded the issuance of the July order 00447 (and it is possible that it was used to justify the “need” for such an issuance).

In any case, from the very beginning, the Nechayev case was really given the status of being “exemplary.” Perm and Sverdlovsk were then included in the number of “experimental sites,” where methods of building large-scale collective indictments were being worked out.

The falsified protocols of interrogations of those arrested in this case were sent to the Main Directorate of the NKVD, in Moscow, where they were replicated and sent to peripheral organizations as a methodological guide, a kind of “tracing paper.” That is, dozens, and perhaps hundreds of NKVD divisions throughout the country checked their work against them.

As documents of internal investigations of the NKVD in 1939 show, at operational meetings of the special department in Perm and Sverdlovsk in 1937, these protocols, already sent back from the cental headquarters with the very encouraging responses, were presented to the entire officer corps with instructions to “follow them,” and “the methods practiced in the investigation should be widely applied in practice.”

IF: Did the Perm investigators develop any special methodological processes for such work in 1937?

MD: Their “method” was distinguished not only by the abundance and variety of violations, but by a wide range of manipulations. Some of the mistakes, apparently, were caused by the usual “slovenliness,” unprofessionalism. But for the most part, these are quite deliberate falsifications. Before the algorithm, they worked out the so-called “pyramidal scheme” of building collective indictments, with the possibility of replacing “variables” according to the what was required and needed.

IF: Could you give a few examples of false information in the case materials?

MD: Yes of course. The surviving documents of the observation file of Sergeant Alikin indicate that his “informant” – a certain rationer O-v – did not in fact name the Red Army soldier who in 1935 (if you trust Alikin’s report) very carelessly “got into a conversation” in the office of the Stalin plant. On the margins of the sergeant’s report there was an inscription made in red pencil by the hand of one of the leaders: “Who? Gulyaev?”

So, the method and time of verification of this “fact” was not reflected in the case materials; that is, no additional testimony appeared regarding this crucial question of Georgy Gulyaev and his comrades, no confrontations were held. But just below, on the same page, was attached a typescript comment: “The materials available in the Perm NKVD established that in the office of Housing Construction Head, Stalin plant, on November, 1935, there came G.N. GULYAEV. with two of his comrades and carried out agitation in the presence of the rationing manager of the Stalin plant – O. Va. and others.”

Thus, the sanction of the Military Prosecutor Ural region, dated March 17, 1937, for the arrest of Georgy Gulyaev was given without any documented grounds for identifying him with the “author” of the speech which was pretty “cold” by that time.

Soon Sergeant Alikin and his handler – the head of the Perm NKVD civil defense department, captain of state security, Losos – received a very informative answer on the letterhead of the military prosecutor’s office, which contained not a “hint,” but a direct statement: “We forward the certificate and the decision with the sanction of the Prosecutor of URALVO for the arrest of GN GULYAEV. In the materials sent, the criminal crime figure was completely insufficiently identified with the activities of LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV. Therefore their arrest by the Prosecutor of the Ural region has not yet been authorized. The investigation in the case of GULYAEV needs to uncover the organized activities of both GULYAEV and LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV, and then again raise the question of their arrest. Inform about the progress of the investigation.”

In other words, there was no question of any presumption of innocence in the accompanying document. The question was not whether the “rear militia” believers were really guilty, but that their conversations and “old habits” (that is, religious views) should receive convincing political “framing.” Thus, the newly opened “case of Georgy Gulyaev” became the “cornerstone” in the foundation of the future collective indictments.

The Target Was Christians

IF: That is, it was “criminal” in the eyes of the investigators that these young people were believers?

MD: Yes exactly. The anti-Christian motive was the “core” of the Permian part of the process. And this is not new, the reason for delivering Christ into the hands of the Romans was also once the motive for “political security:” “He who calls himself King is not a friend of Caesar” (John 19:12). Christ was handed over to the pagans as a “political criminal.” From the point of view of the officers of the Perm NKVD, the group of believers in the Red Army was influenced by the “class-alien element” – the clergy, which meant it was “potentially dangerous.”

An important circumstance was the fact that the arrested “rear soldiers” attended services in Perm churches, and this opened up a new wide field of activity for the operatives – the possibility of a “total cleanup” of those who remained at large (after a large “wave” of arrests in the early 1930s under the pretext of a struggle against “opponents of continuous collectivization”) – namely, representatives of the Perm and Sverdlovsk clergy.

And one more example of the “groundlessness” of preparing the accusation, this time – in relation to the clergy. A striking argument in favor of the version of the existence of an “underground anti-government organization” in Perm under the leadership of the clergy was that when the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Father Mikhail Korovin, was arrested, an impressive list of Tikhonov-oriented believers compiled by his hand was seized. The title of the sheet indicated that members of the local parish community were included. The list included several hundred people. So, during the investigation, this document was presented as “material evidence of recruitment into an underground organization.”

Meanwhile, the investigation stubbornly did not notice either that compiling a list of such appointments in the form of a chart, indicating the personal data and actual addresses of parishioners and their relatives, would be complete absurdity from the point of view of “political conspiracy,” nor that the list included mainly elderly and very elderly people. Most were over 50 years old, the oldest of them were 80–85 years old.

At the same time, the investigation did not have any other “material evidence,” such as, leaflets, letters of a political nature, agent instructions prepared for transferring data to “foreign intelligence,” ammunition depots. Nothing but this list.

IF: Why did the investigators choose Georgy Gulyaev?

MD: It is impossible to answer this question unequivocally. In those conditions, one careless word, bravado of dissent, someone’s personal hostility was enough.

But a more serious circumstance cannot be ruled out. Before being drafted into the Red Army, Georgy Gulyaev served as subdeacon to Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), and who at that time was in the Renovationist schism. During the service, Georgy kept up a correspondence with his bishop. The rupture of Vladyka Dositheus with the “Renovationists” and his return to the bosom of the canonical church structure could be the factor that put him and the people in his circle under attack from the NKVD, which was closely patronizing the Renovationist organizations.

IF: Please explain what the “pyramid scheme” of building a case means?

MD: This is a scheme in which, with the maximum expansion of the “connections” of the accused, the alleged “general leadership” is trying to “reduce to a cone,” closing it on “unwanted” figures – as a rule, very significant.

The arrest of Georgy Gulyaev seemed “promising,” since he led a group of investigators not only to the “rear militia” and Perm priests, but also to the episcopate … And in case of “success” – to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The investigation was extended several times. The first order to extend it was issued on May 17, 1937, the next two on July 19, 1937. But even when the main part of the case was completed, many people were involved in the process of “additional investigation,” like a “funnel”- several bishops of the canonical subordination and dozens of priests and clergy from “schisms.” In the course of an internal inspection of the KGB in 1956, it is established that in this case and “in conjunction with it” in 1937-1938. more than 50 clergymen were repressed.

At the same time, in Perm and in the Urals, an “inquiry” was carried out against people not connected with the Church – from the leaders of large enterprises and Soviet organizations to ordinary employees, workers and collective farmers. Many of them were charged with having links with the “Society of Labor Clergy,” the “Ural Rebel Headquarters,” or the “Religious and Political Center” (by the way, Muslims from the village of Koyanovo were also be taken up in the general “stream,” and charged with… “connection with Japanese intelligence”).

IF: What, in your opinion, were the motives of the investigators?

MD: First of all, they acted in pursuance of the March and July 1937 orders, that is, they carried out a “purge” according to a social and ideological principle, using denunciations of “political unreliability.” In some cases (this concerns the arrests of officers) personal motives are not excluded, for example, settling scores.

The question whether the investigators themselves considered their version to be really plausible remains open to me. Judging by the recollections of the participants in the events about the “installations” at the internal meetings of the NKVD in 1937, the initiators of this case were very much “part of the makeup.”

Having at their disposal some fragmentary data, they enthusiastically “completed” the picture, inventing not only “missing links,” but also entire “blocks.” The main motive was the desire to satisfy the expectation, to “prove oneself,” that is, career considerations. So, some investigators, for example, Radygin and Zyryanov, according to an internal inspection of the NKVD in 1939, “freely handed” 10 to 15 “confession” protocols per day!

And yet there was further responsibility – to those who drew up and signed orders for large-scale “cleansing,” giving scope to the imagination of local performers.

IF: What were those arrested accused of? What was the version of the investigation, and who developed it?

MD: In the spring of 1937, the “rear soldiers” were suspected of intending to create an organization modeled on the Petrograd Orthodox brotherhoods. Indeed, such a “network” had long operated under the guise of communal apartments. Its participants worked, like all citizens of the USSR, but at the same time lived a liturgical life, that is, they confessed, received communion, and, in addition, read the Gospel and Orthodox literature, provided assistance to those who were subjected to repression or those who had lost loved ones.

It was difficult to identify such communities. In Leningrad, they were only partially disclosed by the OGPU-NKVD. The fact that it was the example of the “Petrograd brotherhoods” that inspired these young people to imitate is indicated by the protocol of the interrogation of the Red Army soldier, Ivan Kozhevnikov.

According to the texts of the first protocols of interrogations of Georgy Gulyaev and his friend Nikolai Lebedev, the young people came up with the name “Society of Labor Clergy” for their future organization. But during internal investigation by the NKVD in 1939, some of the investigators began to falsify the protocols immediately – and so we cannot rely on their texts, from the first protocol onwards.

It is possible that someone in the “center” was worried about the possibility of repeating the “Petrograd” experience in the provinces, and this whole story from beginning to end, and the very name of the “organization” were a figment of the imagination of the “specialists.” In any case, the documents of several internal investigations of the NKVD-KGB contain direct indications that the leaders of the Perm NKVD brigade themselves invented the name for the fictional organization.

From the moment of their arrest, this case did not bode well for the accused, since the confession of “religiosity” immediately received an unambiguous interpretation – it was equated with “anti-Soviet activity.” This was the substantial part of the “confessions” of Georgy Gulyaev, Nikolai Lebedev, Ivan Kozhevnikov and their comrades.

The situation was aggravated when investigators added to this a “note of relevance” in accordance with the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. According to their version, the Perm priests, Savva Beklemyshev, Mikhail Korovin and others, arrested after the “rear militia,” were supposedly giving “instructions” to their parishioners, including those from the 9th battalion, to use completely legal (!) Conditions in accordance the Constitution of 1936 and “promoting believers in government.” And this was regarded as a “political action.”

At other times, the coming together of young believers (and even their possible discussion of the creation of a Christian community, which cannot be ruled out) could entail administrative measures, but if the case had gone to court, the terms of imprisonment would not have exceeded 5 to 7 years. In 1937, Yezhov’s “instructions” were decisive for the process.

This case acquired greater scope thanks to the leadership of the Sverdlovsk investigator, Dmitriev, and the reciprocal “creative impulse” of the representative of the Perm department of the NKVD – investigator Mozzherin. They can equally claim “authorship” in the development of a general “scenario” and are most directly related to falsifications.

Mozzherin and Dmitriev tried to give the case “conceptual completeness;” and thus the investigation simultaneously had two versions about the serious “ideological leadership of the identified organization.” The first was associated with the name of the Gomel Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), who left the “Renovationists,” and the second – with the name of the “Metropolitan of Sverdlovsk,” Mikhail Trubin, who remained one of them.

If the investigation presented Archbishop Dositheus in the role of a “resident of Polish intelligence,” then Mikhail Trubin – as “the main ideologist of the anti-Soviet crusade front” in the Urals, allegedly uniting around himself during his visits to Perm, a whole group of bishops of completely different subordination. In this group, there were two canonical ordinations: Metropolitan Peter of Sverdlovsk (Savelyev) and Archbishop of Perm Gleb (Pokrovsky), as well as Metropolitan Peter Kholmogortsev, who was in the schism.

In addition, the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin was “identified” by the officers of the Perm NKVD as being “responsible for communication” between the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the “Renovationists” and “Grigorievites” who did not recognize it… with the representatives of the AUCPB – the leaders of the “Trotskyist center.” He allegedly provided a “connection” with the former “White Guards,” the leaders of the Osoaviakhim and officers in the ranks of the Red Army, who were “charged with the duty” to provide the “terrorist insurgent organization” with weapons and ammunition.

“Terrorism”, “Espionage”, “Propaganda Of The Fascist Idea”

IF Even for a person who is not very dedicated to the history of the Church, it all looks strange. What were these assumptions based on?

MD: These are not just assumptions. In 1937, they was brought against many people as an official charge: “anti-Soviet and sabotage activities,” “propaganda of the fascist idea,” “terrorism,” “preparation of an armed uprising,” and “espionage” – “transfer of secret information about the products of Perm defense enterprises to the residents of foreign intelligence services” (Polish and Japanese).

I have already noted that the information received by Mozzherin’s group (about the periodic visits to Perm of the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin and about his meetings with the participants in the schism, as well as about the private correspondence of the “rear militia,” Georgy Gulyaev, with the Archbishop of the now Moscow Patriarchate Dosithei (Stepanov) were completely inadequate for this kind of construction.

Investigators from the Mozzherin Brigade were in a rush, and Dmitriev’s patronage seemed to ensure their privacy. And they easily attributed to Christians violation of the commandments of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, which forbid murder (Ex. 20, 13), violence (Matt. 7, 12; Rom. 12, 21), as well as – the covenants of Christ and the apostles about obedience to the authorities (Rom. 13, 1). Nor did they look back at the fact that in the history of the Orthodox Russian Church there was no case of “espionage” of canonical hierarchs of national origin in favor of foreign (moreover, Catholic) states.

Specifics Of The “Basis Of Evidence”

As for the “basis of evidence” of the charge, traces of rough work are visible in the case file, literally at every step. For example, as “evidence of the connection between Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov) and representatives of foreign intelligence services,” it was indicated that in Gomel he allegedly “maintained contact through agents” with the priest of the local church, Konstantin Andrekus, and also “was familiar with a certain archimandrite, who left for Palestine.” This, according to the interrogation protocols, was “testified” by Georgy Gulyaev. It was as if the bishop himself had “confirmed” all this information under pressure from the investigation.

However, the identity of the mysterious archimandrite was not established. As for the Gomel acquaintances of Archbishop Dositheus, who were indicated as “intermediaries” in his relations with Priest Konstantin Andrekus, some of these people, according to internal NKVD and KGB investigations in 1939 and 1956, were not identified and were not interrogated, and some, though indeed arrested in Gomel, did not testify against him.

The part about “active interaction” of the canonical church structure with representatives of the Renovationist and Gregorian schisms looks no more convincing either. If the “renovationists” who were losing their authority in the pre-war period sometimes sought communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, its position remained unchanged: unification according to the principle of political parties is impossible, it is only possible to unite through repentance to the canonical Church by the participants of schismatic movements who voluntarily severed ties with it.

It should be noted that the materials of the 1956 KGB inspection in this case contain testimonies of several witnesses that in Perm “…the renovationists had no relation to the Old Churchmen, they had no service separately;” and “all church issues were resolved separately by the Renovationists and Old Churchmen.”

And the accusation against the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Mikhail Korovin, who not only allegedly “organized a terrorist and sabotage group in his parish,” but also “became a member of the resident network,” digging up and transmitting information about defense products of Perm factories to Poland. In the “testimony” against Father Mikhail, one can find both the numbers of important sectors and the production rates at one of the closed Perm enterprises. But only an internal investigation of the NKVD in 1939 made it possible to establish that all this information was entered into the protocols of interrogation of “witnesses” personally by one of Mozzherin’s subordinates – the operative Ponosov.

Little by little, Mozzherin and Dmitriev got so into the “game” that they themselves could not bring everything to make sense. The “identified organization” turned out to be “about nine heads” (that is, 9 people were officially held in this case the status of “leader”), and this is not counting the priest Konstantin Andrekus, the “nameless” archimandrite who left for Palestine, and a group of convict Sverdlovsk party members.

At the same time, the two main versions about the “general management of the organization” were never brought to any logical agreement. That is why in 1956, during the next internal check of the case materials, KGB investigators literally knocked themselves off their feet in vain attempts to understand the system of “subordination” and establish which of the arrested, when and by whom was “recruited?”

Philological “Test”

IF: At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that it is possible to reveal falsifications in case materials using the methods of philological analysis…

MD: Indeed, lexemes – typical stylistic turns, peculiar speech “markers” – allow us to see in the interrogation protocols traces of the active participation of the “clerks” of the NKVD, unfamiliar with church vocabulary. These include ideological expressions, cliché phrases from the official press and propaganda, samples of the clerical style of those years. Obviously, a priest and a layman in the Church (and the “rear soldiers” were mostly children of priests and clergymen) could not speak such a language. If the protocols were not drawn up on record, but in the absence of the accused, the “creative gymnastics” of the sergeants and lieutenants of the NKVD, who pored over the documents, are especially noticeable. I will give a few examples as an illustration.

So, Georgy Gulyaev in one case allegedly showed that his comrade – Nikolai Lebedev (a pupil of the Makaryevsky monastery) – was going to “develop religious activities after being fired from the battalion.” In another – that “Stepanov (his bishop), on holidays often, visited the former Tsar Romanov, Nicholas,” and often conducted “politival conversations with his subdeacon,” and the priest Savva Beklemyshev “gave them instructions” to promote their delegates to the authorities in order to “pursue their counter-revolutionary agenda through these delegates.” At the same time, the “rear militia” themselves allegedly planned to contact “the leaders of the religious world in Moscow.”

Ivan Kozhevnikov, according to the text of the interrogation protocol, simply called the Perm priests, whom he knew well, “ministers of a religious cult.”

Then, there is “the praise of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other Trotskyists and Zinovievites, as real representatives of the people, fearless people and revolutionaries,” in the minutes drawn up on behalf of Christians, which were given the meaning of an independent streak in the activities of the “Society of Labor Clergy.” The work of “praising the revolutionaries” was to be carried out by the Red Army and “local priests among the civilian population.”

And there are a lot of such “markers” in the materials of this case. For greater effect, imagine someone from the current official speakers of the Patriarchate using such an expressive speech “palette.”

Results Of The “Investigation:” 37 Sentenced To Death

IF: Nevertheless, those convicted in this case received sentences of “capital punishment.” How would you comment on the discrepancy between the number of sentences and the extracts from the acts of execution [records of executions carried out]?

MD: Indeed, on August 25, 1937, by the decision of the Troika at the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk Region, orders were issued to shoot 37 people.

At the end of the 5th volume of this case, extracts from the acts on the enforcement of sentences are kept in a separate envelope. They indicate the date of the execution – August 31, 1937 – and the time – 24.00. Extracts 35. Among them there is no extract from the act of execution of Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov). There is also no extract from execution of Deacon Mikhail Bannov, who belonged to the canonical Church structure.

If documents clearly testify about Father Mikhail – he was tortured and admitted to the Perm psychiatric hospital with traces of numerous traumas, from which he died on September 5, 1937, then in the same documents the situation is somewhat more complicated for Archbishop Dositheus (in the case file he goes under his own worldly name, as Stepanov Gabriel Grigorievich).

The official response to the request of his relatives indicates that he, while serving his sentence, “died of angina on December 15, 1941.” In fact, on March 31, 1956, according to the investigation of the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Ural region, the fact of the absence of an extract from the act of execution was entered into the “register” of 12 issues requiring clarification in the 1937 investigation.

Unfortunately, checking did not resolve the issues. In the 6th volume of the case, among the documents on the investigation of abuses during the 1937 trial, there is a document under the heading:

“Heard: Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich, born in 1883, from Khodyasheva former Laishevsky district.
Resolved: to shoot. The verdict was executed on 27. VIII. 1937-“

And the signature:

“Correct – ‟23. VI. 1956, Sverdlovsk.”

According to this document, Archbishop Dosifei (Stepanov), for some reason, “was shot” 4 days before the rest of the participants in the case. The date indicated at the end of the document – June 23, 1956 – indicates that this is, indeed, not the original extract from the act. This text combines the content of two documents – the verdict of the “Troika” of the NKVD in 1937 and the missing extract from the act of execution. Thus, the question of why the original extract from the act of execution is missing in the case remains unresolved.

When the KGB of the Sverdlovsk region received a request to verify the data on Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich for the operational accounting of the First Special Department of the Police Commission of Leningrad (dated June 21, 1957) at the request of his relatives, a tiny form of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sverdlovsk region appeared in the documents, in the Volume, “Correspondence,” handwritten:

“25 / VIII – 37 convicted tr. UNKVD of the Sverdlovsk region. <…> VMN. There is no information about the execution. Def. VTR Ural VO from 30 / X – 56 solution tr. from 25 / VIII – 37 canceled for lack of corpus delicti. Arch s / d no. c / d in Moscow. sod. in the Perm prison. 12 / VII 57.”

And in the “Conclusion of this issue of August 6, 1957,” it says:

“… was arrested on August 25, 1937 under Art. — of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR by the Troika of the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk region, sentenced to a military service. ‘On August 26, 1937, the sentence was executed October 30, 1956 by ruling No. 1475 of the Military Tribunal Ural region.’”

Taking into account the discrepancy in the dates indicated and the general inconsistency of the information, it is premature to give any comments in this case.

The featured image shows, “Russian priests conveyed to judgment” by Ivan Alekseevich Vladimirov, painted in 1922.

Baron Peter Wrangel: The Last White General

I recently wrote of the Finnish Civil War, where the Whites defeated the Reds. In the twentieth century, that pattern was unfortunately the exception, with the more common result being seen in the Russian Civil War of 1918–20, where the Russian Reds defeated the Russian Whites. That struggle, though not as forgotten as the Finnish Civil War, does not loom large in modern consciousness, and books on it are rare. This volume, the recently-reprinted war memoir of Peter Wrangel, probably the most successful and certainly the most charismatic of the White generals, addresses that gap. It also carries many lessons, including about what might occur in a twenty-first-century ideological civil war in a large country.

The Whites lost for more than one reason, including poor generalship, inability to work in a unified fashion, and betrayal by the Allies, particularly Britain. We will return to all of these as seen through Wrangel’s eyes. He was a Baltic German, born in 1878 in the Russian Empire, what is now Lithuania. Trained as a mining engineer, he volunteered for Imperial service, and became a cavalry officer in the prestigious Life Guards. He fought in the Russo-Japanese War, and then all through World War I, receiving numerous decorations for bravery. This book picks up in 1916, as the war dragged on for Russia, and as the Russian elite, corrupt and clueless, shattered upon the shoals of destiny.

Wrangel’s memoir, essentially an edited war diary, was first published in 1928, the year Wrangel died, serialized in German in a White émigré magazine. Translated into English the next year by one Sophie Goulston, it fell from view, but was republished in 1957. This second edition added a preface written by Herbert Hoover, but also fell from view. It is not obvious from within the pages of this book why Hoover wrote a preface. It is because when Wrangel died, probably by poison, at only forty-nine, all his papers were sent to the new Hoover War Library, which was aggregating information about the former empires of Europe.

Apparently, to this day the Hoover Archives harbors the single largest collection pertaining to Russian émigré documents, presumably still containing all of Wrangel’s documents. (They also contain much else interesting, such as the archives of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, a sadly ineffective body.) Thus, what is now the Hoover Institution must have had a connection to Always With Honor being republished in 1957.

Until very recently, therefore, this book was functionally unavailable to the public. You could buy a copy for hundreds of dollars, if you were lucky. But as I have noted before, a new publishing house, Mystery Grove Publishing, has been doing yeoman’s work in rescuing important books with a right-of-center tilt from the deliberate obscurity into which they have been placed, and this book made their list. True, most people today are frighteningly under-educated, so no doubt sales are not in the millions. It doesn’t matter for current purposes; reading the Mystery Grove books allows our future elite to self-educate, avoiding or repairing the indoctrination the Left has used to ruin America.

Other than Always with Honor, there appears to exist only one English-language biography of Wrangel, published in 2010: The White Knight of the Black Sea, by a Dutchman, Anthony Kröner. Although it was blurbed by the Hoover Institution, suggesting an ongoing connection, Kröner’s book is obscure and nearly impossible to obtain. After chasing down leads (Twitter is sometimes good for something), I was able to order a copy from a Dutch bookstore. But it just goes to show that even today, serious, mainstream books can become functionally unavailable – it’s not just books published decades ago.

General Wrangel in his famous black chokha, for which he was given the nickname, “the Black Baron” by the Reds.

If there is a defect to this book, it is that you have to know at least the basics about Russian history from 1914 through 1918 in order to understand its contents. Wrangel wrote for an audience that was intimately familiar with that history, and makes no effort to either explain events or introduce individuals; he merely drops them, uncoated, into his own personal story. Wrangel begins in 1916, when World War I had ground on for three years, and there was great turmoil at the top of Russian society.

He saw this first hand, because for a brief time he was aide-de-camp to the Tsar, leaving to return to the front right before Rasputin was killed. Although he only touches glancingly on Russian imperial politics, Wrangel seems to blame the Tsar for not seeing how corrupt many of the men surrounding him were, and for ignoring the needs of the people. He does not offer the details of what was happening as Russia came apart, merely a sketch, along with making two key points.

First, the generals, the High Command, increasingly felt that “things could not go on as they were,” and many sought a solution that involved removing the Tsar—and not only to serve Mother Russia. “Others, again, desired a revolution for purely personal reasons, hoping to find in it scope for their ambitions, or to profit from it and settle their accounts with such of the commanders as they hated.” That is to say, a fragmenting society finds many eager to accelerate the fragmentation. Second, the people as a whole, and the upper classes in particular, acted as if everything was normal, they paid “no heed to the approaching storm.” That is to say, apparent normalcy says nothing about whether a society is about to founder.

In early 1917, after the February Revolution, Wrangel was sent back to St. Petersburg by his superior to remonstrate with the new Minister of War, Alexander Guchkov, who was promoting disorder in the Army, mostly by undermining authority through promoting “democracy” in the Army, in the form of Communist-dominated “soldiers’ committees.”

Arriving in St. Petersburg (after having on the train thrashed a man with a red ribbon for insulting a woman), he was appalled to see the widespread disorder and profusion of Communist paraphernalia, most of all red ribbons and flags. Although officers not wearing a “red rag” were often attacked, Wrangel, all 6’ 7” of him, refused, and seems somewhat surprised nobody bothered him. Wrangel’s aim was to strengthen the Provisional Government’s hand against the expanding power of the “soviets,” that is, groups organized to seize power by the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and the Socialist Revolutionaries, but he discovered the truth for himself – the Provisional Government was utterly incompetent.

Wrangel in passing mentions meeting General Baron Mannerheim on a train, who was leaving St. Petersburg after the ascendancy of the Provisional Government, as Wrangel himself was returning to Petersburg. In fact, Wrangel’s career bears more than passing parallels to those of the Finnish hero. Both were born on the outskirts of the Empire and ably served the Tsar, then fought his enemies after he abdicated. Like Mannerheim, Wrangel was extremely competent and decisive. And both had little patience for politicians, less for bureaucrats, and struggled to balance political imperatives with military dictates. Mannerheim won his struggle against Communism, at least his first one, though, and Wrangel lost.

He describes, from a ground-level view, the struggle between the Provisional Government and the new Petrograd Soviet, including how the Bolsheviks, subsidized by Germany, rapidly expanded their power. It wasn’t just money—they seized whatever property they wanted to use, and the Provisional Government took no action against them.

The new government was eager to suppress the conservative press, but never bothered the left-wing press, which was openly treasonous. Sounds familiar. Guchkov, who had rejected Wrangel’s pleas, was replaced as Minister of War by Alexander Kerensky, and Wrangel went back to the front in June 1917, in what is now Ukraine, as part of Kerensky’s major summer offensive, which he hoped would unify the Russians.

It did not; the unrest Wrangel witnessed in St. Petersburg was merely the run-up to the “July Days,” where the Bolsheviks attempted to seize power and were defeated, but unwisely were not slaughtered. The commander-in-chief of the army, Lavr Kornilov, whom Wrangel knew, assaulted the Petrograd Soviet, in what may or may not have been a coup attempt against the Provisional Government. This failed, strengthening the Soviet.

The October Revolution soon followed, and Kornilov, escaping prison, went on to create the Volunteer Army, the largest military grouping of the Whites. Meanwhile, Wrangel had been discharged by the Provisional Government—he was, no doubt justifiably, regarded as completely politically unreliable. Thus, he went with his wife and four children to Yalta, in the Crimea, where he had a home.

Soon enough, though, war came to him. The postwar events in southern Russia are enormously complex. It was not just the struggle of the Reds to establish power, opposed by the gradually coalescing Whites, but also involved many other players, such as the Ukrainian Parliament, seeking independence but willing to cooperate with the Whites, seeing the Reds as joint enemies, and various Cossack groups, generally hostile to the Reds but desirous of managing their own affairs.

For the Whites, whose internal interactions often featured disunity, one point of unity was opposition to breaking up Russia. Thus, a constant challenge was how to fight side-by-side with groups opposed to maintaining the Russian Empire, or who wanted some degree of independence within the Empire. With the Cossacks, federation was a possibility, given history and their own organization; with the Ukrainians, not so much (as we see even today, though I know little about the modern specifics).

Wrangel joined the Volunteer Army, soon commanded by Anton Denikin. In Wrangel’s telling, much of the blame for ultimate White failure lies on Denikin, whom he faults for bad leadership and terrible strategic decisions, most of all requiring a premature march by all White forces on Moscow, in 1919. “We wanted to do too much and make ourselves master of every position at once, and we [succeeded] only in weakening ourselves and so becoming powerless.”

Wrangel also faults squabbling among the Whites, corruption among their leaders, and a lack of discipline among the men. He admits that “requisitioning” is necessary, but gives constant pained descriptions of how many White officers of all ranks simply engaged in organized looting for personal advantage, turning the Army into “a collection of tradesmen and profiteers.”

He also faults Denikin for inflexibility in coming to terms with the Cossacks and the Ukrainians. His relations with Denikin were further soured by third-party agitation for Wrangel to supplant Denikin. “As is usual in such cases, as one man was more and more discredited, another became dearer and dearer to the people. Unfortunately, this other was myself.”

One of Wrangel’s chief talents appears to have been as a judge of men. I cannot say if his portrait of Denikin is accurate, but it comports with what history I know, and the results Denikin achieved. Nearly every other important person with whom Wrangel meets is judged and given an incisive summary (and Wrangel admits where he made errors, as well).

Thus, in passing, Wrangel mentions that Captain Baron Ungern Stenberg, or simply ‘the Baron,’ as his troops called him, was more complex and interesting. He was of the type that is invaluable in wartime and impossible in times of peace.” This talent to judge men is completely invaluable in a Man of Destiny and completely inborn (though it can be polished with training); it also seems nonexistent in today’s American political leaders, perhaps because they have come to rely on money and the media to achieve their ends, rather than on forming a cohesive and dedicated group of men with the same objectives, on whom they can rely.

The main White armies, including the Volunteer Army, were largely defeated by early 1920. Again, this is an area I am not expert in, and one that does not have a lot of historiography directed at it, although I have ordered what appear to be the two main scholarly works on it, by Peter Kenez, written forty years ago. I don’t know why this is, though certainly most histories of Russia, or of the Russian Revolution, cover the Civil War to some degree. Wrangel then went into exile in Constantinople, and thus ends Part I of his memoir.

But by April 1920, he was back, after Denikin resigned and the remaining military commanders asked Wrangel to be Commander-in-Chief of the remnants of the Whites. Part II narrates two difficult tasks Wrangel had—trying to reverse military defeat while achieving political renewal. His hope was that if he could achieve both, and establish stable White rule in Taurida (the Russian province composed of Crimea and “mainland” Russia north of it, including parts of Ukraine and the Kuban), that could form the “healthy nucleus” of a new Russia. From there, they could ultimately completely defeat the Bolsheviks and rebuild a new version of old Russia.

To win militarily, Wrangel had to reconstruct the shattered White forces, gather new men, and not only resist, but push back, the Reds, most of all from the rich agricultural land of northern Taurida. To win politically, he had to satisfy multiple constituencies—the Army, of course, but also the peasants, terrified of the Reds but desirous of land reform, and the middle classes, mostly also terrified of the Reds but many still holding, stupidly, to non-Communist leftism and hoping for the return of something like the Provisional Government. He had to run a government, as well, with too few competent bureaucrats. These intertwined tasks were monumental (and the strain, combined with the morale crusher of ultimate failure, may, in fact, account for Wrangel’s early death, rather than poison).

To head the government, he recruited Alexander Krivoshein, who had been Minister of Agriculture under Pyotr Stolypin. Krivoshein had a reputation as being competent, fair, and focused on a good deal for the smallholding peasant. His choice was not random—agriculture was everything to Wrangel in his time in Crimea and the Taurida Governate, since not only was solving the political question of land ownership paramount, agricultural exports were critical to obtaining any supplies from abroad, since foreign governments had abandoned the Whites, and nobody would loan them any money, assuming (reasonably) they had zero chance of repayment.

Wrangel promptly issued proclamations not only ordering land reform, but rejecting the earlier White insistence that national minorities abandon all traces of their own nationalisms. His explicit goal was to create the new, improved Russia (he insisted that his was the “Russian Army,” and the Reds merely contemptible “Bolshevists”). Wrangel himself was a monarchist, but he saw the old monarchy was spent, and something new was needed.

For land reform, Wrangel quickly implemented a policy whereby any peasant could buy, over time, the land he farmed, with compensation to the landowners. Decisions were decentralized, with safeguards to prevent either capture by the landowners, or stealing from the landowners. Wrangel wanted, after the disorders caused by war and revolution, to “reinstate the hard-working peasants and set them up on their land again, to weld them together and rally them to the defence of order and national principles.”

Thus, the rural proletariat, wage laborers, would not necessarily receive free land, though they too could purchase land if not currently farmed. It seems like a good system, and crucially, one that recognized that returning to the old system, which had led them all to this pass, was not an option. It never is.

Wrangel was a hard but just man, and a stickler for order and discipline. In June of 1917, when sent back to the front and waiting for the arrival of the division he commanded, other troops in the town (Stanislavov), retreating ahead of the Reds, pillaged widely and engaged in a pogrom. Wrangel put the disorder down with floggings and executions.

Early in the Civil War, he needed to replenish his ranks, and he had captured a sizeable number of Reds. “I ordered three hundred and seventy of the Bolshevists to line up. They were all officers and non-commissioned officers, and I had them shot on the spot. Then I told the rest that they too deserved death, but that I had let those who had misled them take the responsibility for their treason, because I wanted to give them a chance to atone for their crime and prove their loyalty to their country.” No surprise, everyone volunteered, and Wrangel says they became among his best troops. (Elsewhere he notes that later in the war most Red troops were conscripts, and eager to join the Whites. And he faults Denikin for not taking a more capacious approach to recruiting Red prisoners, or those who had treated with the Bolsheviks earlier in the war).

Every several pages, Wrangel notes some execution in passing – for example, of some railroad employees bribed to carry passengers rather than munitions, “I had these three employees court-martialed, and they were hanged the same day.” (Later, though, he stopped public executions, on the basis that “In view of the prevailing callousness, public executions no longer served to intimidate, they merely aggravated the existing state of moral apathy”). Of course, executions are only a small part of the mountains of corpses that appear in this book. Civil war is a brutal taskmaster; nobody should forget this.

Military victory was not to be. Wrangel did get a breathing space as the Russians fought the Poles in 1919 and 1920. The British government had abandoned him, and in fact pressured him to end the war on Red terms equivalent to unconditional surrender. The English, opportunists all, wanted to reopen trade with Russia, and David Lloyd George wanted to pander to those of the British working classes who saw in Bolshevism their own possible, supposedly bright, future.

Wrangel views this betrayal with bitterness, and he views Lloyd George with the greatest contempt – although he gave interviews to British and other foreign newspapers, trying hard to shore up support. But the French found it convenient to offer support, including de facto recognition, in order to assist the Poles. However, when the Poles beat back the Red menace, the French withdrew support, and the Reds were able to concentrate their forces on the southern front, dooming the Whites. Nonetheless, Wrangel organized and conducted one last major offensive; it was defeated by the Reds, who thereupon advanced through Taurida towards the Crimea.

Wrangel and everyone else in the Crimea knew what this meant for most of the population. Therefore, moving heaven and earth, Wrangel organized a massive boatlift, such that anyone who desired to go into exile could, though he made no promises of the future. After himself checking all the ports of embarkation, Wrangel was the last White to step off the shore, on November 14, 1920, ending the dream of Red defeat, at least for the next seventy years.

He himself accompanied the diaspora of the Army, at first initially in Greece and Turkey, then mostly forced out of those places by the English, who wanted the Army disbanded, because the Reds wanted it disbanded. Many moved to Serbia or Yugoslavia. Wrangel notes how he tried to get the Army transferred to Hungary, which had itself just suffered under, then defeated, a Red dictatorship and terror, but the French stopped the transfer, because “anti-Bolshevist intrigues [were] contrary to the true interests of Hungary and of the civilized world.” Typical. He himself lived for several years in Belgrade, heading up an organization he praises and of which he expects great things in a speech given in 1927, attached as the last chapter, the “General Union of Old Soldiers of Russia.”

The truth was much more bitter, as it always is for defeated émigrés, a topic about which I know something, for my grandfather was a Hungarian émigré, who fled Communism in 1945 (and as it happens, I am currently helping edit his own war diary for private, family use). The men were forced to earn their bread any way they could in their new countries, in the Russians’ case, usually by hard manual labor such as mining. Wrangel ends with a lament for this, tempered by the hope “But we are confident the hour of recognition is at hand.” He was wrong. In 1927, Wrangel reluctantly handed over control of the General Union to a Romanov grand duke, and moved to Brussels to return to mining engineering. He died within eighteen months.

I find it hard to get a handle on the last generation of the Russian ruling class. My father was a professor of Russian history, so I was exposed to thought about Russia growing up, but perhaps one has to be embedded in Russia to really understand. Was their time just up? Is it the nature of all civilizations that the ruling class eventually becomes unable to overcome a crisis? Wrangel’s focus, where and when he ruled, suggests that some in the ruling class were capable of reforming their society.

Now, the word “reform” today has a bad odor; like “dialogue,” it is simply a cant word of the Left, used to ease the forcing of their program on an unwilling and unreceptive audience. But it is the nature of all human institutions, because they are human, that they come to require legitimate reform. And it is also in the nature of all human institutions to resist that reform. I suspect there is no way out but to break the society and remake it, which is always a dangerous roll of the dice.

So what does Wrangel’s story say of civil war in America, which more than a few people think is looming? Well, the Whites as a whole certainly show what not to do in a civil war. Other than that, it is often supposed that given the intermixing of Red and Blue America, old-fashioned territory-based civil war is impossible here. (We really need to flip those monikers, so the descendants of the Bolsheviks, today’s “Blue America,” get called what they really are).

The Russian Civil War disproves this. In truth, most people just want to keep their heads down, and will hew to the line of whoever controls the land where they live. Also, complete armies can arise nearly overnight, formed from fragments of an older army, or just organically. Perhaps occupying territory adverse to the occupiers would be harder in America, particularly in heavily-armed Red America (notably, both the Reds and Wrangel made civilians give up their weapons in the areas they controlled).

But maybe even Red America would bow to an occupying force – after all, people here have accepted without revolt the arbitrary and oppressive diktats, issued by modern commissars, tied to the Wuhan Plague. In fact, in other countries, notably recently the Netherlands, they have showed far more resistance. I am just not sure how much resistance Red America would offer an occupying force.

But I am sure that most of all, as Wrangel’s career shows, it’s all about the leadership. I suspect that if Red America perceived the costs of the insane reactions to the Wuhan Plague as higher, and if they had a leader around whom to coalesce, something could be done. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true, but much more true, of the inevitable final ideological clash looming in America. Let’s hope we find that leader soon.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The featured image shows, “Baron Petr Nikolaievitch Wrangel, by G.M Nedovizi.

Russia, Europe: Past and Present – A Conversation With Andrzej Nowak

This month, we are greatly honored to present this interview with Professor Andrzej Nowak, a Polish historian and a public intellectual. He is a professor at the Institute of History, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, and is the head of the Comparative Imperial Studies Section at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Professor Nowak has lectured as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Harvard University, Rice University, the University of Virginia, University of Cambridge, and University College, London. He is also a recipient of the Order of the White Eagle – Poland’s highest order.

He is the author of over 30 books, among them a multivolume history of Poland, Między nieładem a niewolą. Krótka historia myśli politycznej (Between Disorder and Captivity. A Short History of Political Ideas), Metamorfozy Imperium Rosyjskiego: 1721-1921 (Metamorphoses of Russian Empire), and History and Geopolitics: A Contest for Eastern Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe.

He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Thirty years ago, when we met, you were a scholar of Russia. You had published several books on the topic. They drew the attention of Andrzej Walicki and Richard Pipes, two well-known experts on Russian history. Now you are writing about the history of Poland. Thus far you have written four out of ten intended volumes. Could you briefly describe your intellectual trajectory? What made you leave Russian history?

Andrzej Nowak (AN): Indeed, my research interests began with an analysis of the concept of the multiplicity of civilizations by Nikolay Danilevsky, a contemporary of Dostoevsky, an ideologue of Russian Pan-Slavism. That was forty years ago.

In recent years, however, I have returned to the history of Russian imperial thought. In 2018, I published an extensive volume of studies on the manifestations of this thought in Russian culture, from the time of Peter the Great to the formation of the group of so-called Eurasianists during the First World War. I am still interested in Russian topics. Not only because it is fascinating in itself, but also because of its numerous connections with the history of Poland to the present day. For Russia, over the centuries, Poland has been the first obstacle on the way to Europe, leading to its subordination.

Marx expressed it succinctly in 1863, when he wrote that “the rebuilding of Poland meant the annihilation of (imperial) Russia, the cancellation of the Russian candidate for world rule” (“Wiederherstellung Polens ist die Vernichtung Rußlands, (die) Rußlands Absetzung von seiner Kandidatur zur Weltherrschaft”). The issue of neighboring Russia and its geopolitical significance has been my concern for a long time; and it is precisely the historical Russian-Polish relations and the comparison of two political cultures that have developed so differently in the two countries.

When it comes to the multi-volume history of Poland, for me it is an attempt to reread the specificity of Polish political culture, its rootedness in the European republican tradition (this issue has been discovered in recent years by such outstanding scholars as Quentin Skinner and Martin van Gelderen).

Queen Maria Clementina Sobieska, wife of James III, painted by Antonio David, c. 1722-3. Private collection, reprinted with permission.

But has anyone pointed out that the term “Polish citizen” – civis Polonis – appears for the first time in a document from the mid-12th century? I found out about it while writing the first volume of my synthesis. Now that I am on volume five, which covers the 17th century, I wonder about the crisis of the republican system, as well as the geopolitical conditions of its duration (wars with Russia, Protestant Sweden, and Islamic Turkey).

Such issues give me a lot of intellectual pleasure – and also because they allow me to look at the present day, for example, of the European Union, from the point of view of the longest lasting union in the history of Europe: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1385-1795). Why did this union end up being partitioned by its imperial neighbors? How did they use the mechanisms of republican freedom (veto, applied in the Polish parliamentary system until 1791)? These are not just historical issues. In each case, like a shadow, being a neighbor to Russia brings back the problem of the empire.

ZJ: Russia is fascinating. One reason is Russian literature: Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekov, Gogol, Pasternak, Bulgakov, and, above all, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. No nation, I dare say, can claim to have so many outstanding writers. Yet Dostoevsky stands out among them. He is not just a great writer but a great thinker; one of the most insightful critics of Modernity.

If you want to understand the cultural malaise of the West in the 20th century, you turn to Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset and Dostoevsky. “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” lays out all the fundamental problems of political and social organization. It is a real tour de force of political theory, which, matches only Plato’s considerations in The Republic. Chapters 7 and 8 of Notes from Underground, on the other hand, is an unsurpassed analysis of the dangers of the nascent scientific mentality, the danger of which was described in the 1950s by Jacques Ellul in his The Technological Society. Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, turned Notes into his Brave New World (1932) – which describes a soft totalitarianism, the world which we seem to be building.

On the one hand, Dostoevsky is a great prophet, who saw the future of the West, a future where the scientific mentality dominated everything and discredited the Past (tradition, religion, hierarchy, custom, history); and, on the other hand, Dostoevsky is the Russian sui generis. He is suspicious of the West, Western ideas, Western Christianity, and, let me add, who passionately dislikes the Poles for Poland’s Western orientation and Catholicism.

Czeslaw Milosz saw Dostoevsky as someone from a backward country, who realized the danger that Western ideas posed, which were flooding Russia at the beginning of the 19th century. Dostoevsky’s literary output is a short history of modern Europe. Do you agree with Milosz? And what is your attitude toward Dostoevsky?

AN: The term “backward country” of course implies that there are “progressive” countries which are the yardstick for the rest of the world. Such an attitude was adopted by Dostoevsky himself, fascinated by the ideas of Saint-Simon and Fourier, which he got to know in the circle of the young intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. The death sentence he was given for participating in this circle, and then exile, certainly came as a shock.

When, after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, the so-called “progressive countries” – Great Britain, France and Sardinia, saw a liberal “thaw” in domestic politics, so that Dostoevsky was no longer enthusiastic about following “progress.” He quickly saw that liberalism and the so-called the utopian socialism, which fascinated him earlier, had a common source. And it is a poisoned source – the belief that man can build a paradise on earth on his own, and that the West is close to this paradise; and countries such as Russia should intensely imitate the West, so that one day they may find themselves at least in the vestibule of this paradise.

Imitation of the West will end in the revolution of nihilism, the foretelling of which Dostoevsky already noticed in Russia. He described them in the form of two generations in Demons: the older generation – “rotten” liberals and the younger generation – radical revolutionists.

The same observations were made earlier by poets of the Polish Romantic emigration: Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński. The latter, in the drama “the Undivine Comedy” of 1833, presented exactly the vision of total revolution as a rebellion against God, as Dostoevsky had done 40 years later. The difference is that for Krasiński, the criticism of the revolution and of the preceding evolution of Western civilization is an “internal” criticism – he mourns this crisis because it is his civilization. He would like to save it, like Joseph de Maistre; he would like the Polish nobility to support the collapsing dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with their sabers.

Maria Clementina Sobieska. Private collection, reprinted with permission.

Polish Romantic thinkers imagined that Poland could play the role of the last defender of the European classical and Christian moral tradition against the forces of decay.

On the other hand, Dostoevsky, along with a large part of the Russian intellectual elite, took a different perspective: the crisis arises from the very essence of the West, from the rebellion of the West (that is, Catholicism) against the only true faith that has been preserved by the Orthodox Church. This is the perspective of the criticism of the West that continues in Russian thought right up to Solzhenitsyn and contemporary ideologues of Putin’s era. There are also great Russian writers who refer to this tradition today, especially Zachar Prilepin, a contemporary Dostoevsky.

ZJ: However, one can raise the following argument: Poland, as a country, disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795. Polish nobility turned Poland into “a country for sale,” because they invented a political system that made the Polish state (and the regal power) weak. Its downfall was predicted by King Sobieski.

The idea that the Polish nobles can “support the collapsing dome” is – pardon me – a piece of rhetoric, which inscribes itself well within the context of the post-French Revolution world, but it misses the point. How could de Maistre think that one could entrust the fate of Christianity, Catholicism to the people who could not even manage the political affairs of their own country? If one looks for defense of Catholicism or Christianity, a better place than de Maistre, in my opinion, is Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianity and Constant essays on religion.

Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski in coronation robes, by Marcello Bacciarelli (1764).

AN: Sorry for the misunderstanding. The vision of the Polish nobility supporting the collapsing dome of St. Peter was written by Zygmunt Krasiński, a Polish Romantic conservative. Yes, he was inspired by de Maistre’s political philosophy, but this was a vision of Krasiński, not of a Savoyard reactionary.

De Maistre saw, for a time, in tsarist Russia the hope of saving the European tradition, until he realized how much revolutionary fuel was in Russia itself. Krasiński’s vision assumed that the Polish nobility most consistently represented the traditions of Roman republicanism, combined with Latin Christianity. As a conservative, however, he considered original sin as the cause of the contamination of all worldly endeavors and projects. That is why he saw in the attitude of defending the traditions of European Christianity a heroic but futile act. Poland’s act is to defend a struggling Christian Europe desperately to the end, just as it fought desperately for the independence of the lost (also through its own fault) Poland. But she will win this fight alone. Only Providence can win this fight. We have a duty to fight; we have no guarantee of victory.

It seems to me that this attitude is absent both in Chateaubriand and in Constant. Their “bland,” more melancholic and cultural view of Christianity presents it as a beautiful adventure of the European past, which may be saved as a kind of museum monument in the modern world. Krasiński, on the other hand, sees the issue of Catholic Europe as a fundamental existential, dramatic choice – against “this world” created by the triumph of liberalism and capitalism.

This is a completely different kind of romanticism than the ethos found in Chateaubriand. I think more realistic – at least from today’s perspective. This does not mean, however, that I believe that “Polish nobility” or Poland simply had some unique opportunities to save tradition.

Poland itself is part of the European community of fate. People who consider themselves in some sense heirs of Krasiński, but also of John Paul II and Saint Faustina (a Polish nun who initiated the world cult of God’s Mercy), must look for those Germans who feel spiritual communion with Pope Ratzinger, those Italians who understand one’s identity in the spirit of the Catholic tradition; Spaniards who still know who Miguel de Unamuno was; the French who understand the choice of Pascal and Antoine de Saint-Exupery; The English who have in their spiritual heritage Thomas More, Cardinal John Henry Newman, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Chesterton. We are all in one boat and we will drown together, or we will keep on going together. We will reach the shore as Providence decides. We have a duty to row, in spite of those who want to sink our boat now.

ZJ: But the fate of a nation, unless we understand it in Oedipian sense, is not sealed. Fate of countries lies either in having a strong culture which gives a people a specific national identity – different from others – or strong political institutions capable of sustaining that culture.

Poland is a unique example. After more than eight centuries, it disappeared from the map of Europe at the very end of 18th century. What happened was more a result of the malfunctioning of political institutions than a lack of national identity, which, let us recall, was forged in the historical process since 966 AD, when Poland became a Christian country. Poland had elected kings and a republican system of government, which led to political weakness.

If you look at the American debate (the so-called The Federalist Papers) how such a new political system should work, the Founding Fathers (Madison and Hamilton) thought of the legislative process as an attempt to reconcile the conflicting interests that take place in a society at large. Representatives of the states are supposed to represent the general attitude of the people they represent; they do not have a mandate to act or vote in a predetermined way. They are not delegates!

The Polish republican experiment was exactly the opposite. It was based on, first, the unanimity principle and, second, the “imperative mandate.” What the result of it was that the Polish Diet was prevented from being a deliberative assembly, like the English House of Commons around the same period.

As Willmoore Kendall, the translator of Rousseau’s The Government of Poland wrote, “Because of the former [liberum veto], it was improbable that any decision could be taken; because of the latter [the imperative mandate], minds were already made up, so why deliberate?”

Such a system left virtually no room for strong central government – the elected king – to govern effectively. The king was stripped of the power to govern, whereas the nobility could claim to enjoy “Golden Liberty.” But this liberty could be had only at the expense of the weak State and submission of the vast part of the population.

The American Founding Fathers, on the other hand, worked on the assumption that the people are free to participate, and the role of the government is to mitigate the conflicts. To prevent anarchy, or impotence of the government, the State – the federal government – had to have considerable power. Polish liberum veto, which made it possible for one person to veto the majority decision, was the opposite of the majority principle.

Can you very briefly explain how such a system came about? Were there any serious political thinkers – like Grotius, Hobbes, Locke – behind it? Or was it something that was spontaneously generated during the historical process?

AN: The system was modeled on a Roman one that lasted only a little longer. And it was not Grotius, Hobbes, or Locke who supported the creation of this system, but much more “serious thinkers” – Aristotle and Cicero first of all.

The founders of Polish republicanism modeled themselves on their works above all. They believed, somewhat anachronistically, that in the sixteenth or seventeenth century their republicanism could exist between Moscow – the “third Rome”- the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Protestant military monarchy of the Swedes, the Commonwealth, i.e. the republic – as in Cicero or Aristotle (monarchia mixta), with the Polish nobility as equals, the Seym (the parliament) as a concilium plebis, the senate as the senate, and the king as an elected consul or princeps.

This is how Jan Zamoyski, influential co-founder of this system, imagined an extremely influential co-founder of this system. Zamoyski authored the Latin treatise on the Roman Senate, and was at the same time chancellor and hetman of the Republic of Poland at the end of the 16th century. He was the author of the concept of the free election of a king, in which every noble had an equal voting right. Thus, theoretically, it had the right to vote, active and passive(!), with several hundred thousand citizens of the Republic of Poland (in practice, the election of the king came from 10 to 40 thousand).

The right of veto was to secure the union with Lithuania. Lithuania was smaller than the Polish part of the union; it could always vote in the Sejm. Thanks to the right of veto, the Lithuanians could feel safer as a political minority. For the first time, a single veto, i.e., the vote of one deputy, broke the deliberations of the Seym only in 1652, that is, after a very long earlier period of efficient functioning of the Seym. The election instruction of the sejmik (imperative mandate), which elected a deputy to the Seym, was to guarantee the voting power of the local government.

There is no place here to analyze this system in detail, which was much more complex and effective (for at least 200 years) than the caricatures that Bodin or Montesquieu created on the basis of their ignorance and arrogance, or the ideological enemies of republican freedom, such as, Hobbes or Locke.

Let me refer you to the already available serious studies of this system, which can be found in English with Marc van Gelderen, Quentin Skinner, Anna Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, Edward Opaliński or Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves, as well as the latest monograph by Richard Butterwick, published by Yale UP. (Light and Flame), which perfectly analyzes what you are asking about: the crisis of the Rzeczpospolita/Res Publica system in the 18th century and its repair in the legislation of the Great Seym in 1788-1792.

ZJ: I want to return to Russia, and explore a bit more the Dostoevsky question. As we said, he was Russian, Orthodox Christian, skeptical of science, which he thought was dangerous for man’s understanding of himself as a man endowed with free will, and thus responsible for his actions. As Dostoevsky observes in Notes, the belief that man’s behavior can be “tabulated and calculated” spells out the end of mankind.

Dostoyevsky understood that scientific thinking was bound to see man as a machine, whose life will be organized by the scientific state. This is the premise of Huxley’s “brave new world,” and, let me stress it, our world. We are daily bombarded by phrases such as “A new study shows…” “New research demonstrates…” Such phrases take away from us the power of making decisions about our individual lives.

Would you agree that for historical reasons, which brought Russia closer to Europe, early 19th century Russia became a focal point of Western civilization, where the problems of the modern West shone with much brighter intensity than in Western Europe. Nowhere – not in London, Paris, Berlin or even Warsaw – writers or philosophers reacted so intensely, as did Dostoevsky, at the thought of where the West was heading.

AN: But all that fascination with Russia, the “depth” of the Russian soul, which 20th century Western European writers discovered in Dostoevsky, can also be found in the great literature of Romantic Europe: in Adam Mickiewicz, Zygmunt Krasiński, but also in Shelley, Keats, and even earlier at Byron. The terrifying pattern of a “brave new world” can be found in the practical idea of the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.

To illustrate the relationship between the vision of horror, which Western thought was able to perfectly design, and the implementation of this vision, which was possible (for some time) only outside the West, e.g., in the authoritarian system of Russia, let me recall the history of the Panopticon. Jeremy Bentham had a brother, Samuel. Together they created a project of perfect supervision of imperfect humanity. They named it the Panopticon. They created it in Krzyczew (today on the eastern border of Belarus), which was occupied by Catherine II during the first partition of Poland.

Samuel Bentham found employment, like many world reform enthusiasts, in imperial Russia. Krzyczew and several thousand surrounding square versts taken from Lithuanian owners was given by the empress to her favorite Prince Grigory Potemkin. It was for him that the English engineer invented a new factory in the fall of 1786: a building with such a system of corridors and mirrors to be able to observe all its employees from one place. It was not about disciplining simple peasants in the area, but about supervising overseers brought in from England. To have control over every movement of those who are to act as “intelligence,” “professionals,” “elite.” This is the starting idea of the Panopticon.

Jeremy Bentham, who visited his brother in Krzyczew in 1787, was fascinated. He took up his idea and turned it into a project of an ideal prison, under the same name. He was ready to develop other applications of the same idea – apart from prisons and factories, also for hospitals and schools. See and supervise everyone without interruption. The prison inspector, playing this role, could, according to a utilitarian concept, combine business with pleasure: invite guests to his gallery, from which one could admire what the supervised do at any one time. Big Brother watches, controls and provides entertainment.

A union of perfect supervision, with the ideal of social transparency was to make life happy and safe (I recommend the movie The Circle from 2017, which shows perfectly how it works – and therefore destroyed by “right” criticism). Minimum pain, maximum pleasure. In England, the idea of the Bentham brothers was not realized – at least during their lifetime. In Russia, the younger brother did not manage to bring complete the factory: Potemkin sold Krzyczew in 1787 and set out to prepare the way for Catherine II’s triumphal journey from St. Petersburg to the Black Sea.

Samuel Bentham busied himself with the construction of Potemkin villages along the route. He returned to the idea of the Panopticon in 1806, when commissioned by Tsar Alexander I, he built such a school in St. Petersburg. A perfect prison according to the model of the Bentham brothers, including the US and Cuba, was only constructed with the use of electronic surveillance bracelets in Amsterdam, the capital of post-modern utility and pleasure (drugs plus euthanasia), in 2006.

ZJ: Dostoevsky’s suspicion of the West appears to be a distinguishing feature of the Russian mentality. But suspicion can translate itself into a political posture that one country assumes vis-à-vis other countries or civilizations. Suspicion can also produce a mentality which has a sense of its own of mission. Russia, like America, believes that it has a historical mission. Marquis de Custine, a French aristocrat who visited Russia, even prophesized that that the fate of the 20th century would be decided by Russia and America.

Let me quote here the 15th century letter by Philotheus of Pskov, which he wrote to the Grand Duke Basil III of Moscow: “The Church of Old Rome fell because of its heresy; the gates of the Second Rome, Constantinople, have been hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the New Rome, shines brighter than the Sun in the whole Universe… Two Romes have fallen, but the Third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be.”

If you take the message of the letter to be an expression of a mind-set, there is Putin’s rule today, in that he sees nothing wrong with 74 years of Communist rule in Russia; he pours tears over the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster of the 20th century. Russia’s aggressive posturing under Putin appears to be more than lack of civility, or even cynicism of a former KGB agent. Russia in Putin’s mind continues to be a country with a historical mission.

Arnold Toynbee, who used this letter in a chapter on Russia in his Civilization on Trial (1948), wrote: “In thus assuming the Byzantine heritage deliberately and self-consciously, the Russians were taking over, among other things, the traditional Byzantine attitude towards the West; and this has had a profound effect on Russia’s own attitude towards the West, not only before the Revolution of 1917 but after it.”

Ultimately, it would appear that today’s world expresses the ideas that go back to the sources of our civilizations: Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Christianity, Eastern and Western Roman Empires, two different sets of political culture, political institutions. We find the echo of it in Dostoevsky too, in “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” in his criticism of Caesaro-papism, don’t we?

AN: Russia is born with a sense of a threat to its civilizational identity; it defends itself against the specter of political and spiritual colonization. This is how the fundamental idea of Russia is formed: Moscow – the Third Rome. Ruthenia linked its identity with Byzantium, with the Orthodox center of civilization. In 988, at the time of Vladimir the Great’s choice of state religion for Kievan Rus, this Byzantine center seemed to be an unchallenged alternative to “Latin” identity. In the 15th century, this center collapsed.

Orthodox civilization was then the basis of identity of only one sovereign political center: Moscow. Triumphant “Latin” pressed on it from the West, and Islam from the South. If Moscow dies, all civilization will die. Civilizational violence threatens the Orthodox world primarily from the West, from the “Latin” side. Byzantium itself succumbed to the West’s temptation just before the fall, accepting the ecclesiastical union in Florence (Moscow rejects this temptation). However, at stake in this game is not only defense against civilizational violence. The fate of the world is at stake, since it is about defending not so much one civilization as such, but the only true religion and its place in the world. Philotheus, the monk of the Pskov monastery of Eleazar, writes about it, puts this thought into words and presents it as an ideal-mission addressed to the power of the Moscow principality.

Easter Procession in the Region of Kursk, by Ilya Repin, panted ca. 1880-1883.

Laid out for the first time in a message to Grand Duke Vasilii III (around 1514-1521) and elaborated in letters in the years following, the idea of Moscow – Rome III – became the best known and most frequently updated concept of Russia’s special mission from the 19th to the 21st century. Thanks to this, Philotheus can be considered the first intellectual in the history of Russia. He is not an official writing for the state.

He is, in a sense, a man from the margins (Pskov had only just joined Moscow in 1510), passionately experiencing public affairs, the affairs of his spiritual and political community and seeking to rescue it in the face of a new great “civilizational” challenge. He seeks this rescue in the sphere of ideas and suggests it to the authorities. He does not appear as an unconditional servant of this authority, but shows its immense responsibility to protect the great idea it reveals.

Philotheus also shows examples of the betrayal of this idea by the state power – in Rome I and in Rome II (Byzantium) – and the punishment of the inevitable fall that the government’s betrayal of the ideal entails. Philotheus teaches authority: “let him know… let him remember….” He sets the condition: “If you will arrange your empire well – you will be a son of light and an inhabitant of upper Jerusalem, and, as I wrote above, so now I say: beware and note that all Christian empires have joined in yours, that two Romes have fallen and the third is standing. There will be no fourth. Contrary to the widespread interpretation of this text, it seems that it is not an unequivocal expression of faith that Moscow will always remain Rome III, that it will certainly bear the burden of this responsibility. Moscow is also threatened with the “Sodom sin,” an internal apostasy warned against by the voice of a 16th-century “intellectual.”

The Soul of the Russian People, by Mikhail Nesterov, painted in 1916.

Philotheus only states that Moscow has no one to replace it, in its great mission to save the truth and the world. If it collapses – Rome will certainly not exist; there will be no more truth and justice in the world. That is why Moscow must not be allowed to fall! This is the pathos of the mission assigned by Philotheus to the Orthodox empire, and thus the pathos of his own, “first intelligence” of the mission.

Combined with Moscow’s heritage of Rome – empire, strength, and Jerusalem – is the heritage of the spirit. And against the world in which “lies in evil.” In practice, to the ”Latin” and Western world, which in the 16th century, after an internal split connected with the Reformation, and which entered the phase of great colonial expansion and became an obvious source of the problem of modernization and, at the same time, Moscow gives models and techniques for solving it. Russia needs to strengthen its empire to save its spiritual identity from the threat from the West, and thus maintain the ability to salvage/save/liberate the whole world. This is how the thought of Philoteus is read by some in intellectual circles and is not without influence on contemporary public opinion in Russia.

ZJ: Hostility, mutual suspicion between the Russians and the Poles is well known. The Polish see Russians as aggressors, the country that dismembered Poland in the 18th century, that erased the Dutchy of Warsaw in the 19th century. The Poles fought the Russians in the 1919-1920 war, after Poland regained statehood in 1918, after 123 years. Finally, it was Soviet Russia which imposed communist rule on Poland after WWII. This is only a handful of historical events that shape the attitude of the Poles toward Russia. Putin’s hostile attitude toward Poland today can be seen as the continuation of “the old story.”

However, looking at Polish-Russian relationships in a long historical perspective, one can see a different picture. If one takes into account the Polish conquest of most of White Russia and the Ukraine – in the 17th century Polish forces came close to Moscow, but were driven out. Russia can see itself not as aggressor but as a victim of Western aggression, of Western or Latin Christianity against the true Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox Church. If you add to it Napoleon’s Russian adventure, then the German invasion, the feeling of victimhood gets more augmented. One could say, Russia’s imperial posture was never motivated by the desire to dominate others but was a defensive posture, a posture that Russia had to assume to save herself and her Orthodox faith. Can such an argument on behalf of Russia be made?

AN: Yes, Russia has for centuries justified its expansion with the need to obtain a “security buffer” that would protect it against aggressive neighbors from the East and West. When Moscow began its expansion in the 15th century, it occupied a territory the size of the state of Utah. She “felt” threatened by her neighbors, such as the Tver principality or the republic of Novgorod – she absorbed these neighbors.

Then she “felt” threatened by subsequent neighbors. In the West, it was Lithuania, which was joined in the 14th century by many small principalities of Kievan Rus (today’s Ukraine and Belarus), emerging from the rule of the Mongolian Golden Horde. Moscow then announced the ideology of “collecting Ruthenian lands” (which had never belonged to Moscow before).

Poland did not make any conquest of the lands of Belarus or Ukraine, but entered into a dynastic union with Lithuania in 1385 – and on this basis (the marriage of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jagiełło with the Queen of Poland, Jadwiga), a state union was established, which for four hundred years united Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including the lands of today’s Belarus and Ukraine.

During these four hundred years, Moscow had been waging a series of wars in which it had finally taken all these territories, except for a small scrap of former Russia which was occupied by Austria as a result of the partitions of Poland.

On the Kulikovo Field, by Pavel Ryzhenko, painted in 2005.

At the same time, in the East, Moscow “felt” threatened by the remnants of the Mongolian Golden Horde, the Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberian khanates – and conquered them militarily in half a century (1550-1600).

Then, of course, it was “threatened” again by successive neighbors, small khanates, in Central Asia – it took them all by the mid-19th century. It also reached China at the end of the 17th century. And she felt “threatened” by China. However, it has not managed to permanently remove this threat, that is, to conquer China.

In the South, Russia “felt,” from the 16th century, “threatened” by Turkey and Persia, so it began to conquer their possessions, including Transcaucasia – Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as the Crimean Khanate on the Black Sea. It has not yet conquered Turkey itself (although that was the goal of Russian policy from the end of the 18th century). But she still “feels” threatened by Turkey. After the partition of Poland, under Catherine II at the end of the 18th century, Russia became a neighbor of Prussia. Of course, she “felt” threatened by the power of Germany united by Prussia in the times of Bismarck.

If we adopt such a logic of a threat that justifies defensive conquests only. Then let us note that from the 15th century to the end of the 18th century, Russia conquered on average about 60,000 square kilometers each year, combined territories of Maryland and Massachusetts. Each year, Russia was enlarging its territory in this way for over 300 years!

Stalin, in the name of this logic, persuaded Roosevelt to agree in Tehran and Yalta to give Russia (the Soviet Union) a “security buffer” covering all of Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and including half of Berlin and Vienna. Of course, he still could not “feel” safe. Russia’s security can only mean to bring the whole of Eurasia under its control, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

You can accept this reasoning only if you see in it an analogy to the American “Manifest Destiny.” But it is worth asking the opinion of the inhabitants of all the countries that first Moscow, then imperial Russia, and finally the Soviet Union, conquered in the name of Russia’s “sense of security” and the right to “self-defense.”

ZJ: Let us talk about 1989, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Eastern European countries rushed to join the EU. Russia, on the other hand, is where it always was. For the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, the citizens of the Baltic states – Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia (former Soviet “republics”) – the motivation was not just economic but cultural above all. One could hear the language of “returning to Europe” after decades of the culturally foreign rule. What prevented Russia from getting closer to Europe after the collapse of Communism?

AN: We need to remember, Russia has formed its political and cultural identity as an Orthodox empire, in contrast, often, against Latin, that is, Catholic Europe. Under Mongol rule for two and a half centuries, it was, as it were, forcibly opened to Asia. Since the 15th century, Moscow, pursuing a policy of “collecting Ruthenian lands,” entered into intense diplomatic and trade relations with European powers: the Habsburg Empire, and the England of Elizabeth, in order to geopolitically surround its immediate neighbors.

However, Russia did not participate in the spiritual life of Europe, in the crucial period of the Renaissance. Only from the Baroque, actually from the end of the 17th century, does Russia interact with the intellectual currents animating European culture. At that time, however, Russia had already made a great march in the opposite direction to the former Asian steppe empires – from the Western end of the Great Steppe, over the Black Sea, it reached the Pacific; in the 17th century it began to border China, Korea, followed by Japan.

Such a geopolitically enlarged Russia could no longer enter Europe, “fit” in it. The intellectual challenge, often fascinatingly analyzed by Russian writers and ideologues, is not “Russia in Europe,” but “Russia and Europe.” Space – prostor – history and religion make up a deeply rooted political culture in Russia. Together they create a “mental map” on which the memory of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, Pushkin’s poems or Dostoevsky’s novels is not “evidence” of Russia’s Europeanness, but a reason for imperial pride, along with the equally grateful memory of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Stalin.

ZJ: Let me go back one more time to 1989. One thing one notices is that the 1989 European dream in Eastern European countries is gone, and to some, the dream became a nightmare. Brexit is the prime example of that. The British sentiment can be said to be this – we did not sign up for that. We did not think our sovereignty would be limited to such an extent. This is what one hears in Budapest and Warsaw.

Recently, I asked a Polish politician – what do you think of a Polish Brexit? To my surprise, he said: “Nothing would make me happier.” Let me stress – this is not a view prevalent among Poles, most of them like where they are. But there is a considerable segment of Polish society which considers it as a serious intellectual option. The reason is the sovereignty of the Polish or Hungarian state, which EU crushes – the sovereignty that Poland was deprived of, first by partition and then the Soviet rule. It should not surprise anyone why Poles (but also others) are sensitive about a bunch of Euro-bureaucrats deciding their fate. You cannot be yourself – English, Polish, French, Italian – you must be a “European,” which means being a total abstraction.

A few months ago, I saw a headline in a major Polish newspaper: “EU must defend its citizens in Poland.” The article concerned so called minorities. According to the liberal Polish newspaper, they are EU citizens and therefore, Polish laws are violations of their rights as EU citizens. One wants to repeat after Bentham, it is nonsense on stilts, yet it is the de facto European reality. Was the post-communist dream false, or did the West change in the last 30 years?

AN: Both. The expectations of the intellectual opposition in Poland towards the West were certainly exaggerated. The image of the “free world” depicted in our imagination in contrast to the gray and openly oppressive world of the “Communist camp” was idealized.

At the same time, however, it must be remembered that the West in 1989 was still the West, politically represented by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and above all – John Paul II was in Rome. Back then in Europe they referred to the so-called founding fathers of the European Union, to their Christian-democratic roots: Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman.

Marxism, after the obvious failure of this ideology in the countries under its authority, seemed finished, at least from our perspective. In 2020, you can see how Marxist inspiration fills the longest shelves with philosophy and politics in bookstores in Paris and London. As it dominates universities in Western Europe and our part of Europe, described in a postcolonial way as “new” (“new” democracies, “new” Europe, etc.), it actually follows these trends in a way that perfectly confirms the mechanisms described by some theorists of postcolonial studies.

However, part of the “intellectual layer,” and many so-called ordinary people, in countries with a strong historical and cultural identity of their own, such as Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic, still keep the memory of the real experience of enslavement by the Communist logocracy, from which today comes the political correctness that dominates in the West and is imposed on us. That is why this new enslavement, this time coming from the West, is met with some resistance here.

However, fears of the real neo-imperialism of Putin’s Russia do not allow countries, such as Poland or Lithuania, to suddenly cut off from the European community, even in its present, disastrous shape. We can try to change Europe, stop this fatal process from within. This is what worries the Brussels, Parisian and Berlin political and intellectual elites. They ascribe to themselves the role of teacher and therapist for a “backward,” “sick” part of Europe (here the most frequently mentioned are Hungary and Poland).

In fact, I see in this attitude also a deep fear that the attitude of the elites currently ruling in Poland and Hungary, in matters of culture, customs, understanding of the European tradition – may turn out to be attractive to many Germans, French, Italians, and Spaniards – who do not necessarily want to run after the “bright future” promised by European progress officials. Many European people are looking to defend their common sense against ideological madness. Some people recall that Europe has always been rich because of its diversity and not of top-down centralization, and not by exchanging arguments about the good life, development models, and not by imposing “just the right approach.”

ZJ: What you have said makes me think of a famous sentence from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859): “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting the end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate to find one.”

Unlike democracy, despotism or autocracy, with which we associate the Orient and Russia, is not a political system or a theory of government. Rather, it is mode of governing a people. As a specialist on Russia, can you say that Mill’s words apply well to the state of Russian society at that time? In other words, is autocracy a system of government – the only force that could guarantee social and political order?

AN: I would disagree. Aleksander Wat, a Polish futurist poet who passed through nearly 20 prisons of Stalinist Russia during World War II, once gave a very good definition of the Soviet system – the absolute concentration of absolute power on an absolutely large area. An alternative to despotism (i.e., centralism) may be federalism – the development of regional self-government in a territorially large state.

Let me remind you that until the beginning of the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian state was larger in terms of territory than Moscow and until the partitions (in 1772) it was the second largest state on the European continent. And it was on such a large area that a system of decentralized authority was created, based on local self-government (district councils), which functioned well from at least the 15th to the 17th century.

As is known in the United States, this system continues. In Moscow, they also showed possibilities of developing a system of representation of the society several times: at the beginning of the 17th century, in the form of the so-called “earthly councils.” The movement of local, that is, earthly self-government, became strong again at the end of the 19th century – this is the self-government in which people like Chekhov and the heroes of his plays could find their place.

The defenders of despotism as the only recipe for the problems of the great state refer to one argument above all: if we do not have a tsar and we do not listen to him – then we will lose the empire. Putin successfully appealed to this argument after the last great experience of the crisis of the empire, which also coincided with the revival of Russian self-government – in 1991.

Ultimately, the dilemma faced by the supporters of this power for Russians (and not only for them) is – either size (grandezza as Machiavelli would say), or freedom – a liberta. You want greatness, give up your (republican, self-governing) freedom. At the same time, a new tone appears in this argumentation – state despotism (meaning the lack of civil self-government) can be reconciled with liberalism – economic and the right to privacy.

In the Russian philosophical tradition of Slavicism, there is such a contrast – the state is a heavy-duty power – and society willingly gives its burden to the people of power, and itself enjoys non-political freedom. And this is probably not only the Russian tradition, but the constantly reviving temptation to organize political life without citizens. There is only the state (and its guardians) – and on the other end – individual consumers.

ZJ: Could one say the same thing about China, and the Chinese leaders’ rhetoric that we have been hearing for about 20 years – that what China fears the most is anarchy. Ergo, the Chinese Communist Party is the sole guardian of social order; and since anarchy is worse than anything, despotism or autocracy is a legitimate way of governing the population. Some 15 years ago, Boris Johnson wrote a piece for the Spectator, where he accepted this view about anarchy in China, which makes me think that Chinese rhetoric works. Today Johnson is Prime minister, and what he thinks can translate into his country’s foreign policy.

AN: China has just adopted the model I outlined at the end of the answer to the previous question. Does this mean that it is the only model that suits the Chinese? After an intense indoctrination lasting for generations, one can get this impression. The Chinese from Hong Kong have a different opinion, however.

Please allow me to express my opinion on Prime Minister Johnson’s view and on Mill’s remark earlier cited. Well, I see them as a reflection of the imperial-colonial tradition, especially strong in the English (later also American) elites. Outside of Great Britain, and maybe even outside the club, which brings together the elite from Eton and Oxbridge, there are actually no gentlemen. There are barbarians all around – at least to the East of Germany are surely the habitats of barbaria. The barbarians living there can be cannibals, if that suits them, we – gentlemen from the club – will not hinder trading with them.

The most cynical example of this attitude I found in the liberal prime minister, David Lloyd George, who in 1920, when he initiated political negotiations with Lenin, said that he did not care about the political principles of these barbarians, let them even have the Mikado – it is their business, as long as they kill other barbarians (this is what Lloyd George meant about the Armia Czerowna – the Red Army – which at that moment was storming Warsaw). And let them get together as they please – this is their freedom. And this is our liberalism that we will not impose our political standards on them. We must reach an agreement with them, if they are so strong that without them it is impossible to establish a global order. This is a specific combination of liberalism (à la Lloyd George) and imperial Realpolitik.

In America, this is the approach of many – formerly Henry Kissinger, now John Mearsheimer. For me, this is a very short-sighted doctrine of appeasement – the false hope that aggressive despotism will feed on victims only from the circle of “barbarians.” Eventually, however, comes the moment when the “barbarians” start eating the gentlemen. Such is the logic of despotic empires. It is perfectly summarized by the saying of Bezborodko, Chancellor of Catherine II – what does not grow, rots. The despotic empire must continue to expand – otherwise it risks imploding. And they know this very well not only in Russia, but also in China. It is good that this has also been remembered in London and Chicago.

ZJ: Now that the Democrat Biden has become president of the United States, we will have a different foreign policy. If you were on the team of Russia advisers to the president, what would you say should be the US policy vis-à-vis Russia?

AN: President Biden will have other advisers. I can only express some concerns based on the historical experience with the presidents of the United States, who over the past three decades came from the Democratic Party and represented a left-liberal ideology. They were, let me remind you, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama.

The former started with dreams of a “reset” with Russia. Fortunately, Russia was so weak during this period that it could not take advantage of this policy. The disaster happened under Obama, who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria on his hands. His complete irresponsibility led to an escalation of the civil war and to the re-installing of Putin’s Russia as a key player in the Middle East.

Obama also made a significant gesture to Putin – he resigned from the project adopted by the previous administration (Bush Jr.) to install the so-called anti-missile shield in Poland. President Obama announced his decision to withdraw from this project, which was indeed very irritating to Putin and which strengthened the sense of security for Poland and the entire region of Central and Eastern Europe, on September 17, 2009. It was exactly the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

Putin may have felt invited to a new expansion – and he tried it in Ukraine. At that time, however, President Obama was probably instructed by people who knew the rules of world security better than him – and there was a certain reaction to the aggression in Crimea, and then in the Donbas.

What am I afraid of? That under the slogan of the fight for a “brave new world,” led again by liberal America, the US president will not recognize that it is not good stigmatizing smaller countries that do not accept this ideology and handing them over to Russia as “pariahs of the democratic order.” It does not have to be democratic or liberal, but it is very important to this vision of “restoring order” that it be fulfilled by restoring its former zone of domination (Ukraine? Maybe Poland? Maybe most of Central and Eastern Europe?).

In short, I am afraid of combining the slogans of the ideological “crusade” (actually, anti-crusade) inside the so-called Western community, understood as a community of LGBTQ+ rights and unlimited abortion – with a practical policy of the so-called realism in relations with non-Western empires such as Russia. The costs of such a policy would be paid primarily by the countries of the inter-imperial border, such as Poland, Lithuania, or – on the border with China – Korea and Taiwan.

ZJ: Given what you said about Russia and China, it seems to me to be only proper to invoke here two Frenchmen. In the 1830, they embarked on long trips in two different directions – Alexis de Tocqueville went to America; Marquis de Custine went to Russia.

Not much was known about the two countries. Before Tocqueville published his book, there were, I believe, only three or four books about America. Tocqueville’s and his young companion Beaumont’s books were the first ones to offer an exhaustive view of both the country and, above all, American democracy.

De Custine, on the other hand, was looking for an alternative to democracy. For Custine, in the words of Robin Buss, the English translator and editor of his Letters, “democracy meant mob rule and the dictatorship of public opinion, through rabble-rousing speeches and the press.” Encouraged by his friend Balzac and the Polish Count Ignacy Gurowski, he set out for Russia.

The fruit of his visit is Russia (1839), or The Letters from Russia.
By today’s standards, Tocqueville’s book is an international bestseller, and everyone who wants to understand democracy must read it. Given its success in the 20th century, the popularity of Tocqueville’s work is not surprising. However, the 21st century is different.

The rise of China with its autocratic style of government should be of concern to everyone. Russian democracy is a democracy in name only; for all intents and purposes it is a mild form of old autocracy. The difference between it and China is that the Chinese rulers do not hide their contempt for democracy, Xi Jing Ping openly says that the system is a failure. Both leaders share two things – the respective countries’ tradition of autocratic rule (strengthened in the 20th century by the experience of Communism) and the belief that only autocratic rule is capable of preventing a country from sliding into anarchy.

Would you agree that given democracy’s current performance in America and Europe, there is every reason to read de Custine’s account.

AN: People knew quite a lot about Russia in France before de Custine. Let us recall, for example, that the French Grand Army visited Russia in 1812, and two years later France was “returned” by the Russian army (Normandy was a Russian occupation zone for two years). A lot of arguments have already been gathered, both on the side of Russophobia and Russophilia.

The first French treaty stigmatizing the Russian political system as oriental despotism was published in 1771. It was written by Abbé Chappe d’Auteroche who visited Siberia (voluntarily), and Catherine II herself replied to him with a two-volume refutation of his arguments (I write about it at length in my recent book, entitled, Metamorphoses of the Russian Empire 1721-1921). This work, published immediately in French under the title Antidote and translated into English, was not only the defense of Russia’s right to the name of a European power, but also the justification of the autocracy.

As I argue in this book, in such a huge country as Russia, another form of power would lead to disintegration. The Russian system is not despotic, but a noble, enlightened absolutism, motivated by concern for the greatness of the state and the welfare of its subjects. So much for Catherine the Great. And it is so today, until the time of Putin’s apologists.

These arguments excellently convinced the French elite (and not only them). After all, Montesquieu said the same – this is why we should refer to de Custine’s work, because it helps us understand that the nature of the Russian despotic system is not autocracy itself, but above all lies, systematic, omnipresent, gradually disturbing cognitive abilities. The lie of the subjects against the authorities, the lie of the authorities against the subjects, and the systematic lie of the power of the Empire against its foreign partners.

No partner is actually a partner; each one is treated as an enemy to be deceived and manipulated. The KGB school, from which most of Russia’s current political elite hails, has raised this ability to lie to an incomparably higher degree than was possible in the days of Nicholas I and de Custine.

The contradiction of the various “narratives” that this Russian rule presents about itself is staggering. For the right wing, Putin is to be the “eschaton” of the Christian order, the last defender of the Cross against neo-paganism and Islam. For the Left (the propaganda of the Russia Today television station is addressed to this audience) – the last tough opponent of hated America, to some extent heir to Lenin’s Russia. For Western businessmen – a model of a good business partner. And so on. Whoever reads de Custine will understand the genesis of these narratives.

ZJ: Russia is not the only country that created national myths, such as the Third Rome. Other nations have this tendency too: Rule Britannia, the City on the Hill, the Third Reich, and many, many others.

The Poles – very much like the French – are obsessed with national history. They created a myth which is not about ruling the world but saving the Western World from barbarian onslaught. It is the myth of the antemurale chirstianitatis, the Bulwark of Christianity. The origin of it is not Polish. As far as I know, it was coined in 15th century, during the papacy of Pius II. It was Skadenberg, an Albanian Nobleman, who coined the term, which meant that Albania (and Croatia) was Italy’s Christian bulwark against the Ottoman Empire. Poles adopted it; it functions in Poland, but in Poland it means more than the fight against the Muslims or infidels at the battle of Vienna on September 11 (!) 1683, where the Poles defeated the Turks.
It is understood as antemurale against the East, Orient, the oriental despotism. It includes Russia as a barbarian force as well. Given the Christian (Orthodox) nature of Russia, is this historical vision justified; and using it against Eastern Orthodoxy, are we not in danger of creating a false historical imagination?

AN: I do not know if Poles are “obsessed” with national history. I have a different impression when I look at the youth which is protesting today in the streets of Polish cities with the most vulgar words, to emphasize their hatred for the Catholic Church, Christian tradition and the historical identity of Poland.

Let me make a comment on this issue. It is difficult, for example, for Belgium to be “obsessed” with its history, since it was created as a completely artificial state entity less than 200 years ago. It is difficult for Germany to express “obsession with history,” that is pride in its tradition, for obvious reasons. Simply put, nations have different histories, of different lengths, and different intensity as to how this history is experienced by social groups of different sizes. No one matches China in this respect. When you compare Poles with Jews, the Jews will undoubtedly turn out to be a nation much more “obsessed with their history.”

And now about the “bulwark of Christianity.” Again – a complete misunderstanding. The idea of a bulwark appears in Polish history in 1241 – during the great Mongol invasion. After the conquest of Ruthenia (Kievan Rus’ or Ruthenia!!! – not Russia), the Mongols moved to Hungary and Poland. On April 9, 1241, the prince of Poland, Henry the Pious blocked the way of the Mongols near Legnica. He led about 7000 – 8000 Polish and German knights, including 36 Templars. The prince was killed, the battle was lost, but the Mongols, having suffered heavy losses (similar to the parallel battle fought in Hungary), turned back.

The mood in Latin Europe at that time was truly apocalyptic. The fear of the Mongols as invaders from a completely different, completely alien world, as if of an invasion of the Martians, paralyzed the will of defense in many, but fired the imagination of no fewer people in the Latin West. Part of the Jewish communities scattered around the cities of the Reich were very excited about the news of the mysterious approaching Mongols. The Jews waited for liberation in the year of 5000 (1240/1241), which was exactly at this time on their calendar. There were also those who expected such liberation to come from the hands of the Mongols. In fact, some even saw in Genghis Khan the Messiah, the son of David.

After the defeat in Legnica, the echoes quickly reached even out to Frankfurt am Main, where the local Jews in May opposed with unprecedented audacity the baptism of one of their fellow believers who had freely chosen Christianity. It ended on May 24 with a terrible pogrom, which brought upon the Jews the fear of the Frankfurters and rumors of favoring the wild invaders from the East by the followers of Moses. The threatened rulers, including the Hungarian king Béla IV, the Czech king Wenceslaus I, Prince Frederick of Austria, and the emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen himself, in letters, called for defense against the Mongols.

This was the context in which in Poland, Henryk the Pious, Legnica appeared, the heroic but lost fight on the Eastern fringes of the empire and Latin Europe. And this was the beginning of not only a myth, but a practical experience, the last (thus far) military act which, in Poland, is considered as having stopped the invasion of Central Europe by the Bolshevik Red Army in the summer of 1920, in the Battle of Warsaw. Legnica 1241 was most often mentioned in the journalism of the time. Will new experiences be added to this in the 21st century? I do not know, but I do not rule it out.

ZJ: Allow me to finish this conversation with a question which has been on my mind for many years. At the beginning of the 1990s, Poles coined the word “lustracja” (from the word “lustro,” mirror) which means “mirroring.” It is a made-up term that describes the process of making former communists, State apparatchiks, secret agents and collaborators accountable for their participation in building socialism.
In the post-communist societies people who did not support socialism, who suffered, who were persecuted or prevented from social advancement felt it necessary to expose those who upheld the system, who held power at the expense of the people who refused to participate in the Great Lie.

It was a form of showing the former commies and collaborators that their participation in the system was simply a matter of human indecency.

Unlike Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Russia have never undergone such a process – no moral or legal punishment for the former communists and collaborators. The old communists and collaborators, KGB agents, like Putin, became the lords of the New Russia. No such thing would be imaginable in Soviet satellite countries.

In your expert opinion, first, how significant has been the lack of “lustration” for the moral health of Russia, and, second, did the Russians realize what Communism did to Russia?

AN: The importance of this issue was best described by James Billington, an outstanding scholar of Russian thought and culture, in his book Russia in Search of Itself. Let me quote a key excerpt from the summary of this book: “There are essentially four ways that a nation can move beyond the fact of massive complicity in unprecedented evil. 1. Remove the problem from public consciousness. 2. Transfer the burden of evil to others. 3 . Evade the problem of evil in society by creating a noble personal philosophy for an elite. 4. Overcome evil by accepting the redemptive power of innocent suffering.”

This book was published in 2004. In 2020, it can be said that the official policy of remembrance in Putin’s Russia is a combination of the first two attitudes. The attitude most consistent with the Christian, Orthodox tradition, listed as the fourth in this list, has been marginalized.

As early as 2004, Billington was able to accurately pinpoint the cause of this state of affairs: “What is missing for this fact to open up broader redemptive possibilities for the Russian people is accountability, or even searching self-scrutiny, on the part of the Church itself.”

I am sorry to note that the lack of full accountability in a part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Poland, for the cooperative spying of a small minority of priests with the communist police system in 1945-1989, also brings poisoned fruit into my country, Poland.

ZJ: Do you see any similarities between this and participating in all kinds of PC projects today – which is all morally questionable? Many people in the West, especially in academia, sold themselves to the Devil for the same reason that communists of old did. They are willing to justify today’s injustice in the name of future benefits. I am afraid, they, like the former commies will wake up from their dream of the better world, where all are equal and happy – very disappointed.

AN: Conformism, the lack of civil courage, is the most important, established and widespread feature of academia, at least in the humanities and social sciences. The ideology of “emancipation,” which today is the main instrument of the degradation of these areas, works – in my opinion – on a slightly different principle than you presented in your question.

In fact, under the lofty slogans of redressing past wrongs (towards women, animals, sexual minorities, and countries once colonized), professors of sociology, English studies, philosophy, political science, history and similar fields (displaced by new, more politically correct combinations) are ruthlessly fighting for their particular, current interests – for survival in a ruthless struggle. Survival of the fittest – this is the reality of this essentially amoral struggle, in which the stakes are a professorship, appearing on television, or the role of a social media star – and the alternative is the loss of a job, or experience of attacks by the media and environmental campaigns.

Adapt to the ideology currently imposed by the big media and their disposers – this is the method of survival. This is how the cultural revolution unfolds, more and more like the one that swept through China under Mao Zedong. Anyone who does not want the media and groups of students manipulated by it – to put on a “hat of shame” (as was done in China) – must join in stigmatizing colleagues who are still defending themselves against such degradation.

There is no labor camp waiting for them yet, but it is becoming more and more real to hand over those who still have the courage to think “incorrectly” to therapy, into the hands of therapists who will, anyway, remove “wrong” thoughts, concepts, and memories from their defiant heads. .

Probably no one has described the attitudes of intellectuals subjected to terror and the temptation to justify their cowardice better than the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz in his book, The Captive Mind. It is a book written in 1951 about the Polish intelligentsia conquered by the Stalinist diamat (dialectical materialism). This is also a book about the situation today at American and European universities. It is worth reading again.”

ZJ: Thank you, Dr. Nowak for this enlightening conversation.

The image shows, “Introduction of Christianity in Poland,” by Jan Matejko, painted in 1889.

Why Is The Sacré-Coeur Basilica Hated?

The Sacré-Coeur, that is, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is one of the most emblematic places in Paris and in all of France. It is the second most visited monument each year in the French capital with more than 10 million visitors. But this historical monument was never officially regarded as a historical monument, despite the fact that it was erected more than a century ago.

On October 13, the Ministry of Culture and the regional commission for heritage and architecture of Ile- de-France, the region that includes Paris, finally decided to register this church as a historical monument. It was begun in 1875, completed in 1923 and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacré Coeur Paris, interior.

The reactions to this administrative decision have not been long in coming. And the furious criticisms of this decision to protect this well-known church, in fact, hide an important anti-Catholic component, especially from the Masonic and Communist sectors.

A Church Of Atonement

The deep animosity that this basilica arouses among these sectors is because of what it represents: An expiatory church in the face of the defeat by Prussia. Months later, the Paris Commune arose in 1871, which caused thousands of deaths and was responsible for the murder of dozens of people, including many clergymen and Catholics. With these painful events, the expiation of so many crimes also had its place among those who wished to build this church.

[The Paris “Commune” and its proposed method of government, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat, gave rise to the terms, “communism” and “communist”].

Thereafter, and for decades, the Sacré-Coeur has been a target; and as recently as 2017 a popular initiative registered a petition in the Paris City Council with the aim of demolishing this church that “insults the memory of the Paris Commune.” Obviously, the petition went nowhere, but it did show the hatred that the Left and Freemasonry both have towards a church that crowns Paris on Montmartre and where the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has not been interrupted for a second in 135 years, neither in times of war nor of epidemics.

According to the Ministry of Culture, it is because of “a misreading of history” that the Church of the Sacred Heart had not yet been declared a historical monument. And according to its critics there is a reason why that had not been done.

Attacks By Freemasons, Communists and Socialists

Philippe Foussier, former Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, protested on Twitter against the classification of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre as a historical monument, calling for a “discrediting.” In his opinion, this decision is “an insult to the 30,000 dead of the commune.”

This violent revolutionary process is an icon and a reference point for Communists, as it already was for Marx himself. And to this day it remains a symbol for the French and international Left.

Ian Brossat, leader of the Paris Communists, has sworn, on several occasions, to dismantle the Sacré Coeur and replace it with a “space of solidarity.”

Further, the socialist Lionel Jospin, former prime minister of France and former presidential candidate, when asked in 2017, which monument would he destroy if it had the power to do so, answered without hesitation – the Sacred Heart of Paris, as he said it is a symbol of “obscurantism, bad taste and the reactionary.”

Father Jacques Benoist, one of the leading experts on the Montmartre basilica, explains that the accusation of “reactionary” that is thrown at the Basilica comes from the Communist Party. And this is confirmed by the Communist senator Pierre Ouzoulias, who affirms that the Sacre Coeur “is not a monument like any other,” but created to “expiate the crimes of the Commune.”

The Reasons For This Hatred

For the religious, the official text of the consecration, engraved on a marble plaque placed in the corridor of the Sacred Heart around 1914, bears witness to these crimes. Here one cam read phrases, such as, “amend our sins,” “obtain the infinite mercy of the Lord,” “forgive our faults,” or “put an end to the misfortunes of France.” The Communards are not mentioned, although this event was certainly in the minds of the builders of the church – however, its construction had been decided upon six months before the Communard revolts.

The crimes themselves are indisputable. In fact, the church was erected in the same place where on May 26, 1871, 49 hostages were massacred, including 10 clergymen, by an angry mob. And this act was not isolated. Then came the government repression at the hands of Adolphe Thiers, which ended the commune. “The communists have not forgotten this, who, under the influence of Marx and then Lenin, integrated this event, turned it into a myth, in their collective memory”, explains Father Jacques Benoist. Thus, speaking of expiation for the crimes of the Commune is something that quickly inflames the French Communists.

As for the accusation that the Sacred Heart of Paris is a symbol of “obscurantism,” Father Benoist is surprised by the declarations of the Masonic leader because “those who were in charge of France, from the beginning of the 1870s, were really your [Masonic] spiritual ancestors. There were two types of Republicans: the Blues and the Reds. The Blues, Thiers and Gambetta. Where the Masonic influence was powerful was the bourgeois republic, which feared the Reds, the extreme Left. In 1871, the first massacred the second.”

The Real Origin Of The Basilica

It must be borne in mind that according to the history of Montmartre, the hill where the Sacré Coeur was built, was always a religious place. It was first a druidic place; later, the Romans erected a temple dedicated to Mars and Mercury; and, later, numerous Christian buildings were built there. Moreover, the very name of Montmartre derives from “Mount of Martyrdoms.”

In 1559, a fire destroyed a Benedictine abbey located on top of this Parisian hill, but the religious presence remained. And in 1794, the last abbess, Mother Marie-Louise Montmorency-Laval, bravely climbed the steps of the guillotine. The link, therefore, between Atonement, National Vow, and Mount of Martyrdom was clear.

And so, in order to offer a public penance, to atone for the historical sins of France and to counteract the impending apostasy, the great desire of Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury was the construction of a church on the hill, to illuminate Paris and act as a point of reference for the distracted and indifferent citizens of the 19th century metropolis.

Translated from the original Spanish version by N. Dass.

The image shows the Sacré Coeur Basilica.

Miguel de Unamuno vs. Alejandro Amenábar

After two box office successes, The Sea Inside and The Others, followed by two commercial failures, Agora and Regression, and a series of advertising films, notably for La Loteria Nacional, the Spanish director of Chilean origin, Alejandro Amenábar, returns in cinematographic news with a feature film about the start of the Spanish Civil War. While at War (in French release, Letter to Franco), is a film well put together and remarkably well-served by the performance of the main actor, Karra Elejalde, but whose crippling defect is to claim to be based on works of serious historians when it is pure fiction.

Centered on the figure of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), an illustrious Basque-Spanish philosopher, linguist, poet and playwright of the Generation of 98, whom some consider to be the most significant Spanish intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, the film strives to show that the rector of the University of Salamanca was unable to understand the military coup of July 18, 1936 correctly, that he lacked foresight, and that he did not understand the real intentions of the insurgents.

According to Amenábar, Unamuno was saved in extremis for posterity, thanks to his late realization and then enormous courage during the critical speech against the national camp given at the Paraninfo (large amphitheater) of the University of Salamanca, in front of Brigadier-General Millán-Astray, the famed founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, a war cripple (one-eyed, one-armed and lame), and a luminary among university and military officials.

The incident occurred on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza (a day marking “Hispanity”), a holiday that commemorates the discovery of America and the birth of the new cultural identity born from the fusion of indigenous peoples of the New World and peoples of Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was, it should be remembered, the first author to suggest using the word “Hispanity” (Hispanitatem) in an article entitled, “Sobre la argentinidad,” published by La Nación de Buenos Aires, March 11, 1910.

The highlight of the film is obviously the mythical version of the incident when the philosopher and the general met. Amenábar largely, if not almost exclusively, bases his view on the Biography of Miguel de Unamuno that the French Hispanists, Colette and Jean-Claude Rabaté, published in 2009 at Taurus (a publishing house which is part of the Santillana Group, itself close to the newspaper El País, one of the most loyal supporters of the PSOE governments).

From their account of Unamuno’s speech, Amenábar retains, adds or moves a few sentences, no doubt in the name of artistic freedom. According to the two French Hispanists on whose work the film is based, Unamuno declared on this occasion: “We talked about international war in defense of Western Christian civilization; a civilization that I have defended myself on many occasions. But today it is only an ‘uncivil’ war … (between the supporters of fascism and bolshevism, Amenábar here adds).”

Directly referring to the words of one of the speakers, the professor of literature, Francisco Maldonado, Unamuno also said: “I take it personally when it is assumed that the explosion against the Basque and Catalans qualifies as anti -Spain; with such reasoning they could also say the same thing about us… Spain is nothing more than a madhouse.”

Foaming with rage, in particular after Unamuno’s allusion to the Filipino national hero, José Rizal, against whom General Millán-Astray had fought in his youth, the founder of the Spanish Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) got up, shouting “Long live death! Death to intellectuals!”

And, ever-unflappable, the old philosopher replied at once: “Here, it is the temple of intelligence and I am its high priest. You desecrate this sacred place. You may win because you have the necessary brute force, but you will not win. To convince, you have to persuade, and to persuade you need something you don’t have for the fight: reason and being right… I have said what I came to say!”

This admirable and courageous speech in the film, however, is pure literary invention. Obviously, Amenábar did not bother to read a small footnote included in the book by Rabatés, which says the following: “There is no written or engraved record of this famous exchange. We took the liberty of reconstructing Unamuno’s possible speech from notes scribbled by him.”

The primary source is about thirty words feverishly penciled by the philosopher on the back of an envelope: “international war; western Christian civilization, independence, overcoming and convincing, hatred and compassion, Rice Rizal, concave and convex, struggle, unity, Catalans and Basques, language imperialism, hate intelligence which is critical, which is examination and differentiation, investigative curiosity and not being inquisitive.”

If Amenábar had been more rigorous and better informed, he would have compared the mythical version with the most balanced testimonies of the academic personalities then present. There could also have been a warning before the credits. The personalities present in the audience, such as the writer, José Maria Pemán; the deputy of the Republic, future Minister of Education of Franco, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez; the jurist and political theorist, Eugenio Vegas Latapié; the psychiatrist, José Pérez-López Villamil; and the vice-rector, Esteban Madruga, along with the writers, journalists and historians, well-known throughout Spain, such as, Emilio Salcedo, Ximenéz de Sandoval, Víctor Ruiz de Albéniz, Alfonso Lazo, Luis E. Togores and Guillermo Rocafort, to name a few. All of them stressed the fallacious character of the remarks put in the mouth of Unamuno.

But it is even more regrettable that Amenábar did not deem it useful to refer to the final works of the librarian of the University of Salamanca, Severiano Delgado Cruz, published in 2019, under the title, Arqueología de un mito: el acto del 12 October in el paraninfo de la Universidad de Salamanca. And all the more so since the main Spanish media (including the newspapers ABC and El País in their editions of May 7-8 and May 27, 2018) have largely echoed the filmmaker.

At the end of a long and patient research, Severiano Delgado Cruz was able to clearly affirm that Millán-Astray never said, “Death to the intellectuals” – but rather, “Muera la intelectualidad traidora” (Death to traitorous intellectualism) and that Miguel de Unamuno, who focused his brief speech on compassion, did not answer him in such an indignant and haughty tone.

It was, according to Delgado, a mundane exchange, followed by the usual uproar that accompanied speeches of the 1930s during which people were easily fired up. There was no solemn retort or arms brandished to threaten the rector. “The meeting was dissolved in the midst of shouts and bluster.” Nor were there “the cries of harsh severity” of Francoism, such as, “Arriba España,” (“Spain over all”), “España, grande” (Greater Spain), and “España, libre” (Free Spain). Millán-Astray asked the old professor to go out on Madame Franco’s arm (and not by taking her hand as in the film).

The philosopher and Carmen Polo Franco, accompanied by Mgr Pla y Deniel, Bishop of Salamanca, and three soldiers from the general’s personal guard, then headed for the door. Before getting into the official car, in which Madame Franco was already seated, Unamuno shook hands with Millán-Astray and the two men took leave of one another. (A photo published in El Adelanto de Salamanca dated of October 13, 1936 attests to this fact).

It also appears that Unamuno did not attach any particular importance to this incident because he did not change his routine. As usual, after his meal, he went to the “Casino” for coffee. And it was then that members and adherents of this cultural club – civilians and not soldiers – insulted and booed him.

The legend of the “Paraninfo Incident” came into being, as Delgado demonstrates, in 1941, when Luis Portillo wrote a fictional narrative entitled, “Unamuno’s Last Lecture,” for the London magazine, Horizons. This young teacher from Salamanca, who was employed by the BBC, had worked in Valencia on behalf of the Information Office of the Government of the Spanish Republic.

In his literary recreation, Portillo voluntarily emphasized Millán-Astray’s brutality towards Unamuno, extolling the dignified and courageous attitude of the intellectual, who dared to oppose the infamous military leader. But the myth did not really take hold until later, when Portillo’s account was taken up, uncritically, by historian, Hugh Thomas, in his world-famous book, The Spanish Civil War / La guerre de Espagne (1961).

Unamuno’s enormous international prestige protected him from any repressive or coercive measures. But the brief quarrel was not without consequences. The Municipal Corporation of Salamanca met the same day to propose that his duties as a municipal councillor be terminated. On October 16, the Governing Council of the University of Salamanca asked for his dismissal from the rectorate. General Franco announced his dismissal on October 22.

Ironically, Unamuno had also been successively dismissed from the vice-rectorate for antimonarchism and insults to the king in 1924, then appointed rector by the Republic, then dismissed again by the Popular Front government for joining the national uprising (this was the purge of university professors ordered by the decree of 23 August 1936 by Manuel Azaña) – and then finally he was quickly reappointed by the National Defense Committee, but again dismissed on October 16.

The institutional vacuum having been created around him, Unamuno, whose precarious health became increasingly shaky, then lived on as a recluse, until his death on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

At the end of the film, Amenábar suggests that after his acquiescence, even his “redemption,” the old philosopher at last and finally distanced himself from the National Movement, fiercely criticizing the actions of the military and their right-wing civilian supporters. But Amenábar’s expeditious conclusion has nothing to do with historical truth.

The initial enthusiasm of Unamuno for the insurgent camp clearly cooled in the light of information that reached him about the repression exerted in the rear-guard, which was ultimately quite similar to that which occurred in the camp of the Popular Front. Especially since close friends, like Casto Prieto, Republican mayor of Salamanca; José Manso, Socialist deputy; or Atilano Coco, Protestant pastor and mason, had been victims.

But that said, with a spirit that was free, independent, stubborn, rebellious, fond of justice and reason, eager to reconcile progress with the best of tradition, Unamuno continued to oppose, head-on, the government of the Popular Front (and not to the Republic). He criticized very severely the extrajudicial executions of the two camps, the curse of los (h)unos y los (h)otros (the Huns and the [H]others, i.e., both sides), the lack of compassion of the parties of the Right.

But, contrary to what Amenábar suggests, Unamuno supported, justified and legitimized the National uprising until his death. His interviews, letters and other documents after October 12, 1936 leave no room for doubt (see in particular the interviews with Jérôme Tharaud and Katzantzakis on October 20 and 21; then with Norenzo Giusso, on November 21; the letter to his translator, Maria Garelli, on November 21; the interview with Armando Boaventura at the end of December; or, the last lines of El resentimiento tragíco de la vida (the Tragic Bitterness of Life), written three days before his death, which are notes that should not be confused with his famous book, Tragic Sense of Life).

The press favorable to the Popular Front poured out torrents of insults against Unamuno. He was for them the “mad, bilious, cynical, inhuman, mean, impostor, and great traitor,” and even, the “spiritual inspirer of fascism.” The question was nevertheless perfectly clear to the old rector – it was “a struggle between civilization and anarchy… not a war between liberalism and fascism, but between Christian civilization and anarchy. What has to be saved in Spain is Western Christian civilization and national independence.”

Shortly before dying, he described “the red hordes” as “pathological phenomena, criminals and former criminals,” as “ferocious beasts,” who conspired “the barbarity of the Popular Front.” He said, “Franco is a good man and a great general.” He prophesied, “internal or external exile which awaited many intelligent and pure-hearted Spaniards.” And he admitted “his discouragement… I am disgusted with being a man.”

He went on to explain: “In this critical moment of suffering in Spain, I know that I must follow the soldiers. They are the only ones who will bring us order… I have not turned into a Rightist. Pay no attention to what is said. I have not betrayed the cause of freedom. But for the moment, it is absolutely essential that order be restored. After that, I can quickly rise up and get back into the fight for freedom. No, no, I am neither fascist nor Bolshevik. I am a loner.”

There are so many other errors or untruths in While at War, which deserve to be corrected. Here are some of the more egregious:

  1. The red and gold flag of the Spanish monarchy is associated with “fascism,” while the red, yellow and purple flag of the Republic is associated with “democracy.” In reality, in Salamanca, as in most regions of Spain, the insurgents left the barracks waving the tricolor of the Republic (except in Pamplona and Vitoria). The red and yellow flag became the official flag of the National zone only later, under decisive pressure from monarchical, Carlist and Alphonsine circles, and by decree of the National Defense Council of August 29, 1936.
  2. At the start of the film, an officer declares a state of war “with the help of God” which is quite incredible. In the National camp, the combat did not initially have its religious character of a crusade. That only happened after the failed military coup, when civilians mobilized on both sides, and transformed the into a civil war.
  3. Millán-Astray praises a Franco who is supposed to have had the luck to dodge all bullets during the African campaign. That is just ridiculous and grossly ignorant. Franco was seriously injured in the abdomen during a bayonet charge in June 1916. He was picked up from the ground and saved by a Moroccan soldier from corps of “regulars;” and for several days, his death was considered almost certain by his comrades in arms. Astray, who was a hothead and a fanatical patriot, was probably not as uneducated as they say. He wrote the prologue to the Spanish edition of Inazo Nitobé’s Bushido and collected most of the essential samurai precepts to write a code of the legionnaires.
  4. It is not clear if Unamuno gave 5,000 pesetas to finance the coup. The question is not clear.
  5. At Paraninfo, Unamuno was not seated at the far right of the conference table but in the center because he presided over the gathering as rector with Madame Franco and the Catalan bishop on his right and Pla y Deniel to his left.
  6. It was not the daughters of Unamuno who were present in the large amphitheater but his son, Rafael.
  7. The ambiguity of the connection between the Falangists and Unamuno is completely overlooked. The Falangists, rightly or wrongly, believed that the regenerationist theses of Unamuno were close to their own ideas. But the film prefers to emphasize the confrontations between members of the Falange and Unamuno, rather than to show the subtle connections that existed between them. Unamuno severely criticized the “fascism” of the National Trade Unionists or Falangistas and their repressive actions during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, he always held in high esteem the head and founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was then incarcerated in Alicante (whom he called “a privileged brain; may be the most promising in contemporary Europe,” in a letter to Lisandro de la Torre, August 1936). On February 10, 1935, Unamuno even received José Antonio at his home and went with him to that celebrated Falangist meeting held the same day in Salamanca. Some authors are also of the opinion that the controversies raised by this assistance caused him to be deprived of the Nobel Prize for literature the following year. On December 31, 1936, a young Falangist, Bartolomé Aragon, while visiting the old master, received his last words, his last sigh and who then informed the family of his death. It was also a Falangist intellectual, Victor de la Serna, who organized the funeral vigil at the University’s Paraninfo (because, despite his dismissal, Unamuno was considered by them to have died in the exercise of his office). Finally, during the burial, the coffin was carried by four Falangists.

I understand that these facts are embarrassing for the image of the philosopher that Amenábar wants to give. The filmmaker is convinced that the Spanish Civil War can be reduced to the Democrats’ struggle against fascism, to the people’s struggle against the army, the church and the bank – an interpretation which, after all, is not very different from that of the Komintern of the 1930s. Everyone is of course free to have their opinions.

But was the Spanish Popular Front really democratic? Therein lies the heart of the problem. In truth, in Spain in 1936, no one believed in liberal democracy. And certainly not the Lefts. The revolutionary myth, which was shared by the entire Left, was that of the armed struggle. Liberal democracy was seen by the Bolshevized Socialist Party (whose leader, Largo Caballero, was the “Spanish Lenin” for the socialist youth), by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends – “popular democracy,” or the socialist state. The liberal-Jacobin Left, secularist, dogmatic and sectarian, dominated by the personality of Manuel Azaña, had engaged in the Socialist uprising of October 1934 (against the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux, whose moderate party was supported by the a large number of Freemasons) – and it did not believe in democracy either.

It is not surprising therefore that the most prestigious Spanish intellectuals of the time, liberals and democrats, such as, Gregorio Marañon, José Ortega y Gasset and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the “founding fathers of the Republic,” who had founded, in 1931, the “Agrupación al servicio de la República” (a group of intellectuals who defended the Republic), rallied, like Unamuno, to the cause of the National camp.

In conclusion, being a supporter of a politically correct globalism, representative of a technically successful cinema but always more predictable and more conformist, Amenábar declared, during the presentation of his film, that he also wanted to refer to the present and call the attention of the viewers to the dangers of the resurgence of extremism, fascism and populism.

I bet that Miguel de Unamuno, both Basque and Spanish, a Christian philosopher, a liberal, democrat and a man with a big heart, would have called for more measure, nuance, rationality and mutual respect. He could thus have given Amenábar a few lines from his Tragic Sense of Life: “Every individual in a people who conspires to break the spiritual unity and continuity of that people tends to destroy it and to destroy himself as a part of that people… for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am—that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that—no! Anything rather than that!”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Don Miguel de Unamuno (with a View of Salamanca), by J. Solana, painted ca. 1935-1936.

Under cover of Anti-Francoism, They Are Revising History

For the past fifteen years or so, the use of history for political ends has become the indelible mark of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the cryptocommunist far Left (today united under the acronym, Podemos Izquierda Unida). The same talking-points are always mentioned by the political authorities and the mainstream media: the Francoist repression” (or White Repression), and the repression of the Left during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. On the other hand, a careful examination reveals the repression of the Right by the Left. But for the Left – it is said – only “mourning” was done under the dictatorship.

Over the years, the memorialist ideology of the Spanish Left has steadily grown. History, which bizarrely, is said to be dominated by the Right, has become suspect. It has been replaced by “historical and democratic memory.” Based on individual and subjective memories, it is not concerned with explaining and understanding, but with selecting, condemning and denouncing.

Forgiveness and Dialogue – All That Is Finished

In the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship, from 1976 to 1982, two principles animated “the spirit of democratic transition:” Reciprocal forgiveness and dialogue between government and opposition. It was not a question of forgetting the past, but of overcoming it and looking resolutely to the future. There was then, as the authorities are pleased to say today, “no voluntary amnesia,” nor “a pact of silence.”

On the contrary, the democratic transition was based on a perfect awareness of the failures of the past and on the will to overcome them. It was not a question of imposing silence on historians and journalists, but of letting them debate, and refusing to allow politicians to take up the subject for their partisan struggles. There was therefore no oversight; but, on the contrary, a particular attention was paid to history, which led to an impressive number of publications, the likes of which doubtless had never been seen.

But from the 1990s onwards, and in particular after the 1993 election campaign, the attitude of the Socialist Party changed. A neo-Socialist and post-Marxist cultural tidal wave soon overwhelmed Spain. The Manichean history of the first years of Franco’s regime, which was believed to be permanently buried with him, has resurfaced, but in another form. With José Luis Zapatero’s Historical Memory Law of 2007, new impetus was given to the arguments of the “Memoria histórica” and a real atmosphere of pre-civil war gradually settled upon the country.

Memorial Amnesia

In December 2008, the Socialist parliamentary group presented to Parliament a new bill to reform and amplify the 2007 law. In its first draft, this bill provided for a Truth Commission (sic!), composed of eleven designated members by Parliament to tell the historical truth. It also provided for fines of up to 150,000 euros, prison terms for up to 4 years, destruction of published works and the dismissal of teachers found guilty for up to ten years. Luckily, this undemocratic monstrosity has been overhauled and to-date it is a new, “softer” draft that is waiting to be examined and voted on by parliamentarians.

Contrary to what the title of a Parisian evening newspaper recently asserted, it is not the ban on the cult of Franco that divides Spain, but the definition or the meaning that the new memorial bill gives to “the apology of Francoism.” It is indeed peculiar and disturbing to see parties of the Left, which have become amnesiac, presenting a supposedly democratic bill which is basically only a step towards the establishment of a kind of soft Sovietism. It is mind-boggling to see left-wing parties claiming to be part of the Second Republic and democracy also forgetting or camouflaging their own historical memory.

The Crimes Of The Left

How can we forget that portion of the Left’s responsibility in the origin of the Civil War, when the revolutionary myth of armed struggle was shared by all the Left?

How can we forget that liberal democracy was seen, by the Bolshevized Socialist Party, by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends: “Popular democracy” or the socialist state?

How can we forget the use of massive political violence by the Socialist Party during the October 1934 putsch, or coup d’état against the Liberal-Centrist government of the radical, Alejandro Lerroux, whose party was fueled by Freemasons?

How can we forget that during the elections of the Popular Front, in February 1936, 50 seats on the Right were invalidated and systematically granted to the Left, so that it could have a majority?

How can we forget that the President of the Republic, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, considered too conservative, was dismissed “in violation of the constitution,” after a real “parliamentary coup d’état,” according to his own words?

How can we forget the terror on the street (more than 300 dead in three months), the marginalization and exclusion of the parliamentary opposition in June?

Abuses In Both Camps

How can we forget that the atrocities and extrajudicial executions were as terrible and numerous in one camp as in the other? How can we forget that the founding fathers of the Republic, the intellectuals Marañon, Perez de Ayala, Ortega y Gasset, or even Unamuno – the evil that happened him, according to Alejandro Amenábar – the true liberals and democrats of the time, opposed the Popular Front and chose the National camp?

Why spread the idea that, since the beginning of the establishment of democracy, the Spaniards have been unable to overcome the past, that the Transition has been cowardice, and that the Right continues, for the most part, to be Francoist?

Why delegitimize the democratization of Spain and undermine the 1978 Constitution? Why not finally let the dead bury the dead permanently? In 1547, after having captured the city of Wittenberg, Charles V visited the tomb of the man who had been his harshest enemy, Martin Luther. Some advisers suggested that he burn the remains of the “heretic.” Magnanimously the emperor replied: “He found his judge. I make war on the living, not on the dead.”

The 1978 Constitution Flouted

The Civil War historian cannot subscribe to a litany of hate, revenge and demolition. He knows very well that we must not confuse the origins and antecedents of the Civil War with the coup d’état of July 18, 1936, nor the Civil War with Franco’s dictatorship; that all these are very different facts; and that, as such, they can be judged and interpreted in very different ways.

By confusing everything, mixing everything up, we condemn ourselves to not understanding anything. Suitably, article 16 of the 1978 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, ideological freedom and freedom of worship and religious belief, without any other possible restrictions than those derived from the maintenance of public order, protected by law.

Hopefully, parliamentarians will remember it when examining and voting on this new bill, which is so anti-democratic and obscurantist, so radically incompatible with what the “values of the European Union” are or should be.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a child’s drawing, at the back of which is this inscription in the child’s own hand: “his scene shows a bombing in my town, Port-Bou. María Dolores Sanz, age 13.” Drawing ca. 1936-1938.



The Siege Of The Alcazar: Myth And History

When Brigadier General Federico Fuentes Gomez de Salazar died on January 15, 2018, just before he could celebrate his 100th birthday, he was the last surviving defender of the Alcazar of Toledo. His remains were deposited, according to his will, in the crypt of the Alcazar, where he had been the director of the museum for nearly twenty years.

Who does not know the epic story of the defense of the Alcazar of Toledo? As soon as the uprising began, Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte, military commander of Toledo Square, joined the movement. On July 22, unable to confront the opposing troops that General Riquelme sent from Madrid, Moscardó and his men took refuge in the Alcazar.

They were joined by a group of civilian volunteers (including Federico Fuentes who was then seventeen years old), and by the families of many defenders. A total of 1203 combatants, including 107 volunteer civilians (60 young Falangist activists, 5 Carlists, 8 monarchists, 15 right-wing independents and 1 radical who would take on the most dangerous missions under Captain Vela and who would suffer the heaviest losses), along with 564 non-combatants (mostly women and children).

Very quickly, surrounded by much larger numbers, they were bombarded without respite by artillery and enemy airplanes. But all to no avail! The Alcazar resisted and did not surrender. One by one, the multiple assaults were driven back. Two powerful mines shattered most of the walls, but when the assailants jumped through, certain of victory, the survivors sprang from the ruins and repelled the onslaught again and again.

In two months of terrible fighting, from July 21 to September 27, 1936, only 35 men deserted, who were largely worried about the fate of their families, whom they wanted to join at all costs.

Of all the dramatic episodes of the siege of the Alcazar, the best known is that of the telephone conversation of Moscardó with his son, Luis. Arrested in Toledo on 23 July by far-left militiamen, Luis was threatened with being shot if his father and the Alcazar did not surrender. The few brief phrases the two men exchanged quickly go around the world:

Luis: Dad!
Moscardó: What’s going on with you, my son?
Luis: Nothing, at all… they say they will shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender. But don’t worry about me.
Moscardó: If it is true commend your soul to God, shout Long live Spain, and you will be a hero who died for her. Goodbye my son, a big kiss, with much love!
Luis: Goodbye Dad, a big kiss, with much love!
Moscardó: You can all spare yourself the waiting for end of the deadline and start shooting, my son. The Alcazar will never surrender!

The threat would be carried out, not on the same day, as the ABC newspaper in Seville said at the time (a mistake reproduced in France by Henri Massis and Robert Brasillach, in the first version of their book The Cadets of the Alcazar, published in 1936), but actually a month later. Luis was shot in Toledo on August 23, along with eighty other inmates.

Taken with the other prisoners to the Puerta del Cambron, he was executed at the foot of the wall of the imperial city. All along the way, clutching his rosary, the condemned man prayed in a low voice. About his son, Moscardó later wrote: “He twice shouted, ‘Long live Spain! Long live Spain! Arise, Spain!’ and fell before the Marxist rifles, for God and for the Fatherland.”

The colonel learned of the tragic death of his two sons José and Luis (one in Barcelona, the other in Toledo), on the day of the liberation of the Alcazar (September 28, 1936). Asked years later, he said: “That moment was so hard and so cruel that I felt my legs crumble under me… this was the price of my glory. I will never be able to feel the slightest pride for an act that my children have paid so much for!”

Though well established, the facts have always and largely been disputed by the historiography favorable to the Popular Front. The “symbol of Francoist hagiography” could not fail to provoke controversy.

The first critical version was conceived by the American historian, Herbert Matthews. In his book, The Yoke and the Arrows (1957), based on various testimonies, including that of the painter, Quintanilla, Matthews questioned the essence of this episode, believing that “the story was too good to be true.” He claimed that Luis Moscardó was a 19-year-old soldier who died in Madrid, while defending the Montaña barracks; that telephone communication was impossible because the line was cut; and that finally the refugee women and children were just hostages.

Authors that came after him, claimed that Moscardó had not dared to surrender because his own comrades-in-arms would have shot him. Others added that under no circumstances did the Republicans intend to carry out their threat.

Finally, some authors went so far as to suggest that Luis was a coward and that his father would have liked to have him shot. These aspersions and slanders would have not deserved attention had the version imagined by Matthews not itself been taken up by historians and journalists, such as, Hugh Thomas (1961), Vilanova (1963), Southworth (1963), Cabanellas (1973), Nourry (1976), or more recently Preston (1994) and Herreros (1995).

But in 1997, in their book, El Alcázar de Toledo. Final de una polémica (Madrid, Actas, 1997), historians Alfonso Bullon de Mendoza and Luis Eugenio Togores, have gathered sufficient evidence to silence the controversy. Luis was actually 24-years old and not 19. He was not in the military, since he had done his military service four years earlier. He was not in Madrid, but in Toledo.

His mother had begged him not to join his father and not to leave her alone. He was arrested on July 23rd, imprisoned with his younger brother, Carmelo, and shot on August 23rd. The phone line was not cut. It was controlled by the militiamen who occupied the Toledo telephone exchange. They could connect or disconnect, as they pleased. Five officers, present in Moscardó’s office, had witnessed the scene. One of Colonel Moscardó’s officers, Commander Cirujano, immediately left the office to gather and inform all the defenders.

In a 2010 interview with ABC, General Fuentes said, “I can testify to the veracity of this conversation in which the colonel sent his son to his death. There is also the telephone operator, a young soldier, who listened in and later recounted the conversation. I was next to the office with several people – a cadet, my brother and my cousins. But we could of course hear that Moscardó…”

In the Toledo Provincial Deputation Building, where Luis Moscardó was being held, there was another prisoner who also testified. This was Luis Moreno Nieto, who was later a ABC correspondent for nearly fifty years. Moreno Nieto reported that he saw Luis come out really upset. His statement would be corroborated by two other people present in the presidential office of the deputation – the caretaker and the telephone operator.

In fact, Cándido Cabellos, lawyer, head of the Toledo militias, and the “republican” intermediary of the commander of the Alcazar, had several militiamen around him, four of whom testified after the Civil War. As to the possibility that non-combatant civilians were hostages, it is simply a non-starter. Of the 564, 16 were in fact prisoners who were never used as bargaining chips. We have the exact list of the names of the besieged, who were all decorated with the Laureate Cross of San Fernando.

In a recent biography of Franco, the historian and polemicist Paul Preston, close to the Spanish Socialist Party, also persists in denouncing the alleged hostage-taking and criticizing the “apocryphal legend” of the telephone conversation. No doubt he did not bother to read the few honest and edifying testimonies that appear in the archives of Moscardó, and which is given below:

Here is first an excerpt from Matthews’s letter to the widow of General Moscardó, dated September 20, 1960:

“Dear Madam, I am writing to you at the suggestion of some friends who informed me that the passage in my book, The Yoke and the Arrows, which refers to the Alcazar has pained you and your family. I regret this and I beg you and your family to accept my most sincere apologies… I am convinced, having read the arguments of Manuel Aznar and discussed this case with trustworthy people, that I was completely wrong. I am preparing a revised edition of my book … and I can assure you that the chapter on the Alcazar will no longer be included.”

On June 25, 1960, the historian, Hugh Thomas, who had also given credit to Matthews’s version, also retracted. He wrote a letter, published in The New Statements (then reproduced in the ABC of June 29, 1960), which read: “After a full search… I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong… I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the members of the Moscardó family, in particular to the general’s widow, Doña Maria Moscardó.”

In another letter, dated June 15, 1983, the French journalist from Le Figaro, Philippe Nourry, also author of a book on Franco, wrote the following words: “I am sorry indeed to have made this mistake concerning the reality of the telephone conversation between Colonel Moscardó and his son Luis. I understand that it must be very painful for the Colonel’s family to find that doubt continues to hang over this glorious and dramatic episode of the Civil War. Certainly, the extract from the notebooks, which you have just sent me, obviously provides irrefutable proof of the truth of the facts.”

The author of the anti-Alcazar legend, Herbert Matthews, kept his word. In the revised edition of his book, he writes: “There is no doubt that the conversation took place, that the father had to suffer this agony and that his son bravely faced death.” Then he concluded bluntly: “Everything was really according to the best and worst of the Spanish tradition.”

In the new Alcazar Army Museum in Toledo, Colonel Moscardó’s office remains one of the main attractions, although one can no longer listen to the moving but fictive reproduction of the historical conversation between father and son. Interviewed by the ABC in 2010, at the inauguration of the museum, General Federico Fuentes concluded with a lump in his throat and wet eyes: “A civil war is the worst thing that can ever happen.”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a scene from the siege and defense of the Alcazar.

This article was translated from the French by N. Dass.

A Child Of The Spanish Civil War

Understanding the Spanish Civil War means knowing that it was “a mixture of vanity and sacrifice, clownery and heroism,” wrote Arthur Koestler in his autobiography, The Invisible Writing. It was a fratricidal war between fellow citizens and friends, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters. The examples speak for themselves. Thus, the brothers Manuel and Antonio Machado, whose literary output had previously been joint, clashed over ideological reasons – one was in the anti-communist, pro-national camp, the other was a member of the Association of Friends of the Soviet Union and sympathized with the United Socialist Youth.

Buenaventura Durruti, the anarchist leader who died under obscure circumstances, most likely a victim of the Communists, opposed his younger brother Marciano Pedro Durruti, who was a Falangist. Constancia de la Mora Maura, aristocrat and member of the Communist Party, whose husband, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros, was the commander-in-chief of the Republican Air Force, clashed with her sister, Marichu de la Mora, writer, journalist, personal friend of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and one of the founders of the Women’s Section. It was a total war, in fact, between left-wing totalitarians and right-wing authoritarians.

In the Spain of 1936, there were no more democrats. Hatred and bigotry infected both sides. But respect for others, nobility and generosity sometimes transcended divisions.

Here is the moving testimony of José Ataz, a young “hijo de rojo” (Son of the Reds), who experienced the horrors of a fratricidal war and the terrible privations of the immediate post-war period. His is a very human true story, which alone allows us to understand the complexity of this terrible historical event, which was commemorated in 2006. A story that does not judge, that does not say good or bad, that does not pursue demonization, or discriminated between the pure and the impure – but which contributes honestly and modestly to the search for truth and sincere reconciliation.

In August 1936, José, an eight-year-old boy, witnessed an excruciating scene that marked him forever. His father, Joaquin Ataz Hernandez, Secretary of the UGT railwaymen’s union in Murcia, and provincial leader of the PSOE, had just been appointed by his party to sit on the Special People’s Court of Murcia. The People’s Courts were created at the end of August, 1936, by decree of the government. They were composed of seventeen judges, fourteen of whom were appointed by the parties and trade unions of the Popular Front (left-wing liberal-Jacobins, socialists, communists, Trotskyists and anarchists). On September 11, the People’s Court of Murcia sat for the first time.

Of the twenty-seven people tried that day, ten were sentenced to death, eight to life imprisonment; the others were given heavy prison sentences. Among those sentenced to death were the parish priest, Don Sotero Gonzalez Lerma and the Murcia’s provincial chief of the Falange, Federico Servet Clemencín.

Joaquin Ataz Hernandez voted the death penalty for the young Falangist leader. The order he received from his party could not be argued – the “fascist” had to be executed. “My father had known Federico since he was a child,” says José. “They were not friends, but they liked each other and respected each other. Also, just after the sentence, he approached to say: “Federico, I really regret …” but before he could add another word, Federico interrupted him: “Don’t worry about it, I would have done the same with you, give me a cigarette!”

Two days later, very early, on the morning of Sunday September 13, several trucks full of men and women awoke José. It was rumored that the Government wanted to pardon the condemned, and the crowd in turmoil, demanded “justice.” In a state of dismay, the civilian governor ordered the executions be hastily carried. The furious crowd soon entered the prison courtyard and came upon the corpses.

The bodies were desecrated and mutilated mercilessly. In the middle of the morning, little José, who played in the street, saw and heard the vociferous populace. Overexcited men and women seemed to be pulling a strange load with ropes. With all the curiosity and agility of his age, José got close – and he was seized with dread. In front of him law a bloodied body, which had been turned into shreds for being dragged along the pavement. None of the viragos present prevented him from witnessing the scene. No one came to his aid when he vomited and fell unconscious to the ground.

As soon as he recovered, he ran to his parents’ house crying. His mother consoled him. How can such acts of savagery be even tolerated, she asked her husband in disgust? The father could not answer as his shame was great. At this moment, they did not know that it was the body of the parish priest, Don Sotero Gonzalez Lerma, who had been horribly mutilated, dragged through the streets and hanged from a lamppost of the façade of his church, where a militiaman triumphantly cut off his ear and demanded that a tavern-keeper serve it well grilled with a glass of wine.

Soon thereafter, Joaquin Ataz Hernandez resigned from the People’s Court. At the end of April 1937, he was appointed head of the Prison Corps, and not long after he became head of the Totana labor camp (Murcia), where nearly two-thousand political prisoners (those sentenced to life imprisonment, or thirty years’ imprisonment) served their sentences in very difficult but nevertheless humane conditions. On April 1, 1939, bells rang and firecrackers burst. José and his two brothers saw their father, unflappable, calmly combing his hair, while their mother sobbed: “Don’t worry the children, the war is over, but I have to leave for a few days on the road.” The few days would turn into years.

Under the seal of secrecy, José learned from his mother that his father had managed to embark on a journey to Mexico. To survive, the little boy had to work. He was, by turns, a kitchen boy, and apprentice carpenter, storekeeper and baker. He finally and enthusiastically returned to school. In class, all children knew the political background of each family, but no one said a word.

In October, 1942, during a civics course, José by chance heard his teacher explain that José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of the Falange, and sentenced to death by a People’s Court and executed in November 1936, “considered that the birth of socialism was right.” These words, in the mouth of an adversary, seemed so unusual that José immersed himself in reading the Complete Works of the founder of the Falange. When he finished, he was both excited and convinced.

José now faced a serious internal crisis. Was he betraying the ideals for which his father fought so honestly throughout his life? Luckily, José was able to discuss everything with his father. For some time now, he had known that his father was not exiled to Mexico but was living in hiding with his own parents.

Without further hesitation, José visited him and made him read the speeches and testament of José Antonio. “I was frankly asking him about the problem in my own conscience,” he said, “and he answered me with all the generosity and nobility I expected of him: “Listen, my son, I have no moral authority to advise you in a realm, where I have done things, rightly or wrongly, for which you must suffer all kinds of privations and know hunger. A single person can follow his ideals to the very end, without limits. But a man who has a wife and children has no right to compromise the survival of his family. Do what your heart dictates, but always make sure you don’t compromise others by your decisions. Hear me good, Pepe, always act with honesty and consistency!”

His conscience finally free, and “having obtained the permission of the only man whose authority I recognized over my own person,” added José, “I joined the Youth Front and I could finally wear my first blueshirt.” Head of Century of the Youth Front, he then began studying law and was appointed head of the SEU (official student union) of the university district of Murcia.

At the end of 1948, José’s father, who had lived cloistered for more than nine years, decided to leave his hiding place. He took the first train to Madrid. Thanks to the grateful friendship of people he helped during the war, he found work. For two and a half years, he was employed in an electric lamp shop in the Puerta del Sol, then in a canning factory, without ever being worried. But, one day in October 1951, his son José, then a candidate senior officer cadet in a regiment of Seville, learns that his father had been arrested, a victim of the denunciation of an employee dismissed for embezzlement.

José had to do everything possible to help his father. In the spring of 1952, a War Council was convened. Many witnesses took the stand. All pointed out that the conduct of the accused during the war was beyond reproach. Among them were some who even owed him their lives, as was the case with the professor of commercial law at the University of Murcia, Salvador Martinez-Moya, who was undersecretary of justice in the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux. Unyielding, the prosecutor asked for the death penalty. The jury withdrew and deliberated for many long minutes. When they reconvened, the president pronounced the sentence: The accused was sentenced to thirty-years in prison – but because of the various remissions of sentence and pardons granted, he was immediately released.

After completing his studies, José joined the law firm of Don Salvador Martinez-Moya, who was a key witness in his father’s trial. As chance would have it, he was joined in the firm by the eldest son of Federico Servet, the provincial leader of the Falange whose death his own father had voted for. “I got along very well with Ramon,” José wrote. “We never talked about our fathers, but we knew the tragic relationship they had had. Ramon was very disappointed to see that Spain was moving away from what his father had dreamed of. Finally, he went to Mexico and we lost touch with each other.”

Intelligent and hard-working, José held various positions in the administration. It was the beginning of a meteoric rise. In 1964, the Under-Secretary of State for Finance called on him. Ten years later, he was Deputy Director General of the Department of Finance.

In 2006, at the age of eighty, José Ataz Hernandez (1927-2011) wanted to bear witness above all.

Here are his own words: “Neither I nor my brothers (one of whom is now a socialist), have ever had to reconcile with anyone because no one was ever against us. On the contrary, we have experienced in many cases, both discreet and anonymous, generosity and greatness of soul, which would be inconceivable today. An example: at my father’s funeral, Manolo Servet was present. Manolo was a friend of mine from the Youth Front, and my brother Joaquin’s workmate. He was the second son of Federico, the young provincial chief of the Falange of Murcia who had been sentenced to death with the participation of my father. When he approached me to offer his condolences and give me a hug, I had to make a superhuman effort not to start crying…”

[Testimony of José Ataz collected by Arnaud Imatz].

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The image shows a poster from the Spanish Civil War, with the famous slogan, “They Will Not Pass!”

Melchor Rodriguez: The Red Angel Of The Spanish Civil War

Relations between Anarchists and Marxist Socialists have always been marked by mistrust, suspicion, even hostility and hatred. In Spain, during the nearly three years of Civil War (1936-1939), they took a particularly dramatic turn. The rivalry between the two revolutionary currents quickly led to an open struggle that culminated in a small civil war within the Civil War.

In a somewhat schematic way, the choice between them may be summed up in this way. Either start the revolution right away, proceed immediately to collectivization, while making war. This solution was the preference of anarchists, Marxist-Leninists of the POUM and some of the trade unionists of the socialist UGT.

Or, on the contrary, temporarily favor the “sacred union” with the bourgeois left, so not to frighten the fellow-travelers, and especially the democracies, and first to win the war and postpone the social revolution. This a view was that of the Stalinist communists and their allies, the majority of the socialists.

This dispute, almost intractable, was temporarily settled by arms, to the advantage of the communists and their fellow-travelers. The bloody days of Barcelona (May 3-8, 1937) resulted in more than 500 deaths and 1,500 injuries.

But the anarchists never accepted communist rule. Nearly two years later, with the help of their social democratic, Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist allies, they took revenge in extremis. On the eve of the victory of the Francoist troops in March 1939, 150,000 soldiers, controlled by the CNT and led by Cipriano Mera, revolted and prevailed against the Communist Army Corps I, II and III.

After violent fighting, which claimed several thousand lives, the anarchists ensured the success of the coup against the pro-Stalinist government of the socialist Juan Negrín. Once the communists and their fellow-travelers were finally routed, and faced with increasing pressure from the National troops, the National Defense Council, composed of General Miaja, Colonel Casado, the Social Democrat Besteiro and seven other anarchist and anti-communist leaders, resolved to sign the surrender of the Republican camp.

One cannot understand the avatars of the Spanish People’s Front during the Civil War, without taking into account this fierce libertarian opposition to social-Marxist domination. In fact, once the republican, democratic and moderate left was completely whipped and marginalized, anarchists and anarcho-unionists were the only bulwark against despotism and Stalinist terror.

Examples of clashes and skirmishes between leaders, activists and sympathizers of the two major components of the revolutionary left abound. There is one, as emblematic as it is little known, which is particularly worth recalling. This is the conflict between the anarchist Melchor Rodriguez Garcia and the Secretary-General of the United Socialist Youth, responsible for public order in the Madrid Defence Committee (later secretary general of the PCE and co-founder of Eurocommunism), the Stalinist Santiago Carrillo.

Melchor Rodriguez Against Communist Terror

In early November 1936, in the midst of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez was appointed Inspector General of Prisons by the People’s Front government. As such, he would work to prevent escapes but also prevent attacks and lynchings of detainees.

For some time now, communist militiamen and the Unified Socialist Youth (who were born on April 1, 1936, with the merger of the Communist Youth and the Socialist Youth) had made a habit of “visiting” Madrid’s jails. The pretext was to evacuate prisoners from the besieged capital to safety.

In reality, once the distant suburbs were reached, in the name of “popular justice: and “revolution,” the “fascist” enemies were ruthlessly liquidated. Faced with the indignant protests of foreign embassies, the authorities of the Popular Front finally got worried. This situation could no longer be tolerated.

Melchor Rodriguez was 43 years old when he took up his position as General Directorate of Prisons. A staunch anarcho-unionist, affiliated with the CNT and a member of the FAI, he was known for his courage, idealism and anti-communism. For three months, he successfully opposed the policy of terror, defended by communist leaders, and stopped the wave of crimes.

The Mass Graves of Santiago Carrillo

Melchor was born in Seville in 1893 to a working-class family of three children. He had been raised by his mother, an Andalusian woman who made a hard living as a cigar maker and seamstress. At the age of thirteen, he was already working as a boilermaker. Dreaming of becoming a bullfighter, he set out on an adventure on the roads of Spain as a teenager. Injured in the arena, in 1918, he had to give up his dream for good.

He was then found working as a metal worker in Madrid. Affiliated with the CNT, of which he was one of the representatives in the capital, his political and trade union activities were multiplying. From 1932, he was responsible for organizing aid to anarchist prisoners jailed by the Republic.

Appointed head of the prison administration in early November 1936, four months after the outbreak of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez immediately saw his authority challenged by the Communists. Believing that he did not have the means to act, he resigned. Political assassinations then increased in intensity.

In Paracuellos, a village a few kilometers from Madrid, and in the surrounding area, in just over a month, nearly five thousand people were shot and buried in huge mass graves. All members and supporters of right-wing parties or “national forces” (radicals, Christian Democrats, Liberal-Conservatives, Agrarians, Nationalists, Monarchists and Falangists) were indiscriminately suspected of supporting the uprising.

Many victims had committed only one “crime” – attending a Catholic college, or belonging to a family of doctors or lawyers. The direct culprits of these appalling massacres are now known. They were the Socialist MP Margarita Nelken, the Director General of Security, the radical socialist, Manuel Muñoz, the Minister of the Interior, the socialist Angel Galarza, and, above all, the Secretary General of the Socialist and Communist Youth, Santiago Carrillo.

For decades, Santiago Carrillo vehemently denied any involvement in the Paracuellos massacre, systematically calling his accusers slanderers, fascist agents or Neo-Francoists historians. But his direct responsibility can no longer be seriously questioned. It was established by several irrefutable documents and testimonies: the statements of Melchor Rodriguez, the letter of July 30, 1937 from Dimitrov, head of the Komintern, to Voroshilov, informing him that Carrillo “gave the order to shoot,” the report of Dr. Henny, representative of the Red Cross, and the damning testimony of the Consul of Norway, Felix Schlayer, whose edifying memoir, which remained incomprehensibly in oblivion for sixty-ten years, was published under the title, Matanzas: en el Madrid republicano.

Santiago Carrillo, during the Civil War, was not the defender of democratic values, celebrated and honored today by the socialist media and much of the radical left. Santiago Carrillo was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the Autonomous University of Madrid on March 16, 2005, for his role in the Civil War and the democratic transition. To this day, Melchor Rodriguez’s life remains covered by the mantle of oblivion.

On the contrary, his Chekist methods and procedures make him one among those responsible for the most appalling populicide ever committed during the Spanish War. If there were a humanist and a true democrat at the time, it was certainly not the Stalinist in charge of the Public Order in Madrid – but, on the contrary, one of his fiercest opponents, strangely unknown and ignored, the anarchist, Melchor Rodriguez Garcia. A brief return to the facts makes this obvious.

On December 4, 1936, the government of the Popular Front confirmed the first appointment of Melchor Rodriguez. Full powers were granted to him by the Minister of Justice, Garcia Oliver, an anarchist like him.

Once appointed special delegate to the Directorate General of Prisons, neither Stalin’s envoys, General Gorev and diplomat Mikhail Kolstov, nor their allies, namely, the delegate to the Public Order, Santiago Carrillo or his collaborator, José Cazorla Maure, nor any other of their communist acolytes, could do anything against Melchor Rodriguez. In his eyes, there was no doubt that all these men “have disgraced the Republic.”

On 24 December, Carrillo lost his duties as a delegate to the Public Order. For three weeks, Melchor Rodriguez’s energetic action, often carried out at the risk of his own life, was decisive in stopping the massacres. Between December 4, 1936 and March 1, 1937, when the new government presided over by the pro-Stalinist socialist, Juan Negrín removed it, Madrid’s prisons were secured.

The most remarkable episode of Melchor Rodriguez’s life is undoubtedly the one that took place on December 8, 1936. After the bombing of Alcala airport, more than two hundred militiamen, furious, decided to take revenge on their hostages.

When the cells were forced, the “Red Angel,” a nickname he acquired on this occasion, intervened: “Before killing one of these prisoners, you will have to get past me!” He saved nearly 1000 people that day. The Member of Parliament for the CEDA (Confederation of Autonomous Rights), Alberto Martin Artajo, the Falangist leader, Raimundo Fernandez Cuesta and the future Commander-in-Chief of the Division Azul and Secretary-General of the Movimiento, Agustín Muñoz Grandes, owed him their lives.

Many would never forgive him for his humanist and generous attitude, which was unusual among his co-members of the FAI. For the communists, he was the “traitor,” “the agent of the fifth column,” the “cryptofascist.” In March 1939, in the capital besieged by Franco’s army, communist troops and those of their socialist allies were crushed by forces controlled by the CNT. Anarchists and Social Democrats prevailed just on the eve of the ceasefire.

The new National Defence Committee appointed Melchor Rodriguez as head of Madrid’s mayoralty. Faced with the advance of the national columns, there was a stampede. But the “Red Angel” refused to run away and remained at his post until the end. Judged and condemned by a Franco war council in November 1939, the numerous testimonies that were forthcoming, including that of General Muñoz Grandes, led to his release a year and a half later.

In the aftermath of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez lived very modestly. An employee of an insurance company, he refused the economic aid offered to him. Intractable, he died true to his anarchist convictions. One day in 1973, he was found lying near his home, unconscious on the ground, with head injuries.

He was rushed to Francisco Franco Hospital. A friend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alberto Martin Artajo, who had esteemed and admired him for more than thirty years, immediately went to his bedside. The two men, whom so many things separated, spoke one last time.

The funeral took place in the presence of Francoist ministers, anarchist activists and survivors of the November and December 1936 massacres. On the coffin an anarchist flag and a crucifix were placed. Prayers rang out, followed by the anarchist anthem: “Negras tormentas agitan los aires.” The “Red Angel,” a symbol of national reconciliation, now rests in peace.

Is Reconciliation Still On The Agenda?

Many are surprised that the memory of Melchor Rodriguez, “the Spanish Schindler,” as some say, has not yet been officially honoured by democratic Spain and even (why not?) by the European Parliament. After all, the representatives of the majority of the political groups of the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who for the most part have no idea what happened in Spain for more than a century, had not approved the March 17, 2006 resolution, at the instigation of the PSOE and against the advice of the PP, condemning the “undemocratic nature of Franco’s coup,” and yet proposed July 18 as an “international date of condemnation of Francoism?”

But is full reconciliation really on the agenda, as the official media, resolutely breaking with the desire for “forgiveness without forgetting” of previous decades, advocate with obsession and exclusivism a “recovery of historical memory,” which is known to be a propagandistic and emotional evocation of the past, unrelated to rigorous and serious history?

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés

The image shows a plaque at the house where Melchor Rodriguez was born.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

José Antonio: Expiatory Victim of the Spanish Civil War

After exhuming the body of Franco on October 25, 2019 (forty-four years after his death), the Spanish extreme Left, which claims to be heirs to the Republic of the Popular Front, is still not fully satisfied. A number of its leaders, activists and sympathizers have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to carry on with the politico-cultural and religious struggle that surrounds the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).

The Irish historian, Ian Gibson, an admitted supporter of Socialist governments, declared a few years ago that he was in favor of putting a bomb in the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen, in order to destroy the monument and its immense cross.

More recently, voices have been raised to quickly remove from its grave the body of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. But why does the young founder of the Spanish Falange, assassinated after a sham trial in November 1936, still evoke such aversion and hatred?

José Antonio Primo de Rivera – Victim of the Spanish Civil War

Last August, the Vice-President of the Socialist government, Carmen Calvo, was still trying to be conciliatory: “José Antonio was a victim,” she said. “And he can remain in this place, but somehow in a discreet way, because he is one among the more than thirty-thousand victims, from both sides, that are over there.” But her half-hearted statement failed to calm the vengeful ardor of the self-proclaimed “progressives” and even less of the radical Marxists.

One example is Alberto Garzón, member of the PCE, the Izquierda Unida, and the coalition, Unidos Podemos. Reacting to Carmen Calvo passing the buck, he wrote in a pure Chekist vein, “The fascist José Antonio Primo de Rivera was executed because he was a putschist, like Mussolini was shot and hung up in Italy. And none of these facts justifies considering them as victims, because that would put them on the same level as the democrats assassinated and repressed by the fascists.”

In reality, for Garzón and his peers, José Antonio’s deadly crime is not so much his enthusiasm for the same social approach as Mussolini (or – which we should not forget – his admiration for the British political model) – but rather for his dogged defense of those particular phobias of cultural Marxism, namely, religion, fatherland, family, and Christian civilization. It is true that during the time of these facts, the politico-cultural precursors of Garzón were in the habit of calling all their adversaries as “fascists.”

During the years 1933–1936, in the Socialist-Marxist, Communist and Anarchist press and in their propaganda, Liberals and Democrats, such as, José Ortega y Gasset, Gregorio Marañon and Ramón Perez de Ayala, men considered as Founding Fathers of the Second Republic, to say nothing of the Liberal-Catholic philosopher and friend of Benedetto Croce, the Basque Miguel de Unamuno, were all tarred with the same infamous designation. Not having any illusions about the merit of the Popular Front, these noted intellectuals of the time, significantly chose the side of the Nationals during the Civil War. Thus, giving particularly damning testimony to the totalitarian excesses of the governing coalition of the Left and the extreme Left.

Contrary to what one frequently hears, Primo de Rivera was not responsible for the uprising of July 1936. Treated in an arbitrary and abusive manner, condemned to death without proof and following an expeditious and unjust trial – he was, instead, the victim of the government of the Popular Front. The facts that demonstrate this are today well established, as follows.

The day after the first round of elections in February 1936, despite the frauds, falsifications, manipulations and considerable violence of the Popular Front, José Antonio naively put his trust in the president of the government, the Jacobin-Liberal, Manuel Azaña. He ordered his men to respect the law and to avoid all criticism and caricature, even humorous, of the government. (In a circular to provincial officials of February 21, 1936, he stated: “The Left now reinstalled into power is much more capable of realizing audacious reforms”).

But in response, on February 27, under the pretext of illegal possession of arms (which were widely owned by all the militants of political parties, especially among those of the Bolshevized Socialist Party ever since their attempted putsch of October 1934), the security forces proceeded to shut down all the headquarters of the Falange.

The days that followed were marked by the first assassinations of young Falangists – no less than half-a-dozen. In reaction, on March 12, some Falangists carried out a failed attack on the Socialist Deputy, Luis Jiménez de Asua, which resulted in the death of a bodyguard.

The government responded immediately, on March 14, by having all the members of the Falange Political Committee arrested, together with hundreds of activists. (In 1933, José Antonio’s Falange had 2,000 members; about 5,000 in February 1936; 50,000 in June; and 500,000 in October. Franco’s new Traditionalist Phalange would later have nearly 2 million affiliates, including 600,000 women).

Once incarcerated, José Antonio was subjected to an endless series of trials (a good half-dozen), the avowed purpose of which was to keep him in prison. When the Madrid Provincial Court declared the Falange to be legal, the government appealed to the Supreme Court.

But on April 30, the verdict was upheld and the Falange was declared to be in conformity with the Constitution. Censorship then banned the publication of this ruling. Finally, on June 5, the government ordered the transfer of the leader of the Falange from the Modelo Prison in Madrid to a prison in Alicante, to keep him away from the capital.

Incarcerated four months before the uprising of July 18, 1936, José Antonio was nevertheless condemned to death for conspiracy and armed rebellion and executed on November 20, 1936.

The accusation normally made against him by numerous historians of the 1930s is that he incited hatred and violence and was therefore responsible for the climate of political unrest which finally led to the Civil War. (From February 16 to July 17, there were 270 victims, the majority killed by the police. Falangists were responsible for the deaths of 60 Socialist, Communist and Anarchist militants, and suffered an equal number of deaths in their own ranks).

His rather infamous and oft-cited statements (always presented in a much-altered form) are taken from a speech given at the foundation of the Falange on October 29, 1933: “Dialectic, as a first instrument of communication, is a good. But when justice and the homeland are attacked, is there not any other dialectic but that of fists and revolvers?”

Progressive and crypto-Marxist historians who blame him, of course, forget to recall that in September 1933, the Socialist, Francisco Largo Caballero (the future, “Spanish Lenin” who a few days earlier was still a minister of the government of the Republic), and to quote him only as an example, made statements that were far more irresponsible, in the magazine, Renovación, a publication of the Young Socialists: “What is the difference between the Socialist Party and the Communist Party? Doctrinally, nothing. We profess Marxism in all its purity.” And again, “Achieving Socialism in the framework of bourgeois democracy? It is impossible!… I do not know why some people are completely horrified by the dictatorship of the proletariat, of possible violence by workers. Is not the violence by workers a thousand times more preferable than fascism?… Socialism will have to undertake maximum violence in order to displace capitalism… We are at the beginning of such action that it will lead the proletariat to social revolution.”

José Antonio publicly regretted his inflammatory speech of 1933. But such was not the case for the principal leaders of the Socialist-Marxist Left (with the rare exception of Indalecio Prieto and Julian Besteiro), as well as the extreme-left Communists and Anarchists, who only ratcheted-up such inflammatory rhetoric by October 1934.

The testimony of José Antonio, written shortly before he was shot, gives us a better idea of his personality, which is at the same time mystical, poetic, and political: “May it please God that my blood be the last Spanish blood spilled in civil discord. May it please God that the Spanish people, so rich in qualities worthy of love, may find in peace, a fatherland, bread, and justice… I forgive with all my soul all those who have sought to harm me or offend me, without any exception, and I pray that all those whom I have harmed, either greatly or in little ways, may forgive me.”

But the Christian demand for forgiveness is still being stubbornly refused him by the most intolerant and the most divisive members of the political and media world. Let us, therefore, recall the salient facts, so often misunderstood and garbled, of his political life.

José Antonio, The Great Unknown

On October 1933, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, a young aristocrat, leading light of the Spanish Bar, organized a meeting at the Teatro de la Comedia in Madrid, which would be the prelude to the creation of the Spanish Falange. Born of a desire to create a “synthesis of tradition and revolution,” this movement, rejected and fought against by both the Right and the Left, was short-lived and turbulent. Its history is largely confused with that of its founder, whose tragic destiny was one of deep loneliness.

An unsuccessful candidate in the elections of February 1936 (after having been elected to the Cortès in 1933), José Antonio was incarcerated four months – let us highlight this once again – before the uprising of July `18, 1936, when the Popular Front came to power. Hauled before a popular tribunal, during the Civil War, the leader of the Spanish Falange was condemned to death and shot, because of pressure from the Communists, on November 20, 1936, at the age of thirty-three.

Paradoxically, so many years after his execution, José Antonio, still elicits hatred or fervor, repulsion or admiration. “An appointed agent of the Italian Embassy,” says the Frenchman, Max Gallo. The American Herbert R. Southworth stated that he had “a personality of a pimp under an elegant polish.”

On the other extreme, the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, recognized him as a “privileged mind, perhaps the most promising in Europe.” And the Ambassador of the United States, Claude G. Bowers, saw in him, “a hero of romance, with cape and sword.” And as for the grand master of the Generation of ’98, Azorin, he wrote: “Cordiality emanated from José Antonio. He therefore had a good heart.”

But what manner of man is hidden behind the mask of stone that detractors and hagiographers have put on his face?

In the extensive bibliography about the Spanish Civil War, of its origins and its consequences, José Antonio occupies a central place. However, it becomes quickly apparent that the conventional image of the leader of the Falange is usually delineated by a few tirelessly repeated clichés. Alongside the hate-filled caricature of the Socialist-Marxist historians, the “recouping” of his personage by Francoist historiography likely is the second leading cause of this singular situation.

The premature disappearance of José Antonio, in the midst of the Civil War, ideologically left the field open for General Franco. In 1937, the Caudillo imposed the merger of the Falange with all parties of the Right (monarchists, traditionalists and conservative-republicans), and this created a new movement, the Traditionalist Falange.

Manuel Hedilla, secondary leader of the original Falange, was condemned to death for refusing to bend. Very quickly, the Francoist authorities understood the benefits to them of a cult of José Antonio. They extolled his example and his sacrifice, but systematically eliminated from his doctrine “revolutionary” or “socially dangerous” themes.

In the years following the dismantling of Francoism and the return of democracy, the wound is still too fresh for scholars and authors to be seized by a desire to study on a historical level the confused relations between Francoism and the original Falange. They prefer instead to draw the veil of forgetfulness, or limit themselves to a general condemnation. But such schematic interpretations are beginning to break down.

Much has been written about the Christian or traditional philosophy of the original Falange and about the conservative elements of its political doctrine. But one essential aspect is its social program.

José Antonio wanted to establish deep social justice, so that on this basis, the people might return to supremacy of the spiritual. He intended to bring about this idealist project by carrying out the nationalization of banks and public services, by giving greater value to the work of the unions, by deep agrarian reforms in agreement with the principal of “the land belongs to him who works it.” And, finally, the creation of familial, communal and union property.

We can debate the reformist or revolutionary character of this program, but we will have to affirm that it is not reactionary. Such was Conservative-Right and Liberal opinion that his press did not hesitate to treat José Antonio as a “National-Bolshevik,” while reproaching him for confusing “Franciscanism” with “fascism.”

In the Cortès, when the Rightist majority decided to lift parliamentary immunity from the leader of the Falange in order to get rid of a cumbersome opponent, José Antonio owed his safety to the aid of almost the entire Left and a handful of Rightist deputies.

In February 1936, on the eve of the elections, the Falange was careful to disassociate itself from the “National Block” – an anti-revolutionary coalition that opposed the union of Leftist parties. In the end, the Right on the whole did not have sympathy for José Antonio until after the victory of the Popular Front.

No less surprising is the Left’s relationship to the Falange. Numerous Falangist officials were drawn from the Anarchist Confederation (CNT) or the Communist Party.

Manuel Mateo, José Antonio’s right-hand man for unions, was the former secretary of the PCE in Madrid. In their memoires, the Anarchist leader, Diego Abad de Santillán and the Popular Front minister, Julián Zugazagoitia, explain how both men facilitated contacts with several officials of the CNT (notably, Ángel Pestaña), and the Iberian Anarchist Federation. As well, negotiations took place with Juan Negrín, one of the principle representatives of the minority, non-Marxist Socialist Party. José Antonio even told Indalecio Prieto that he would willingly entrust to him the direction of a future Socialist Falange.

After the Civil War, various Republican personalities, including the President of the government of the Republic in exile, Félix Gordón Ordás, acknowledged that “it would have been possible in the beginning to get José Antonio to cooperate with the Leftist Republic.”

Teodomiro Menendez, Socialist deputy and director of the UGT Union, stated that José Antonio often told him in Parliament: “Teodomiro, if there were no religious ideas, we would be close to one another in politics.” And he added, “He was right!”

Prieto, Zugazagoitia and the other moderate ministers of the Popular Front paid tribute to the leader of the Falange for trying to persuade the belligerents to negotiate early in the Civil War. His execution – demanded by the Communists – was an absurdity. Exchanged or returned to the Nationals, without a doubt, he would have tried the impossible, to achieve peace through compromise. They shot him, and no one could then stop the carnage.

Among the theses demolished, there is the so-called political agreement between Franco and José Antonio. The unique witness to the only meeting of these two men is Ramón Serrano Suñer, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the brother-in-law of the Caudillo, told me in an interview: “José Antonio and Franco had neither sympathy nor respect for each other. They belonged to two very different worlds, in their mentalities, their sensibilities, and their ideologies. There was never any political dialogue nor an agreement between the two of them.”

That said, there is a question that automatically comes to mind. Does the discussion, or even consideration of a set of underrated facts, ignored or just pushed aside, about the political life of the founder of the Falange lead to a sort of “revisionism” of fascism (not to speak of Nazism)? I do not think so. Such an argument is propagandistic misinformation.

For the serious historian, the Falange of José Antonio Primo de Rivera cannot be separated from the context of Spanish reality of the 1930s, in which this movement arose and died. Reducing the Falange to the petty common denominator of Italian fascism, to Nazism, or the various “socialist nationalisms” of Europe at the beginning of the twenty-century is to refuse to engage seriously with the originality and fundamental significance of a movement that left its mark on much of Spanish history of the twentieth-century.

The Falange of José Antonio was neither racist nor anti-Semitic; it did not place the State or race at the center of its world-view. On the contrary, “Man, bearer of eternal values, is capable of saving himself or destroying himself.”

Of course, history is far richer and more complex than the claims of ideologues. And historical debate is neither judicial nor politico-memorial; nor a debate between yourself and the blind defense of a particular and unique representation of the past which undermines the free competition of opinions and therefore democracy itself.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from French by N. Dass.

The image shows a portrait of Jose Antonio by the Spanish portrait painter Miguel del Pino (1890-1973). This work, which was commissioned by FET (Falange Tradicionalista de Franco – Franco’s Traditionalist Falange) after the Civil War, was painted by Del Pino in Argentina, where he lived from 1938 to 1956.