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.

I Am A Hongkonger!

The 2019 social movement in Hong Kong has amazed me in many ways. For one, it has evolved quickly and fluidly into a series of leader-less, internet-empowered campaigns.

Many have dubbed it, the “Be Water Movement” – for it is fluid as
water, in that protesters are flexible in their response to the police in front of them. The movement is hard as ice, in that protesters have vowed to resist injustice and defend their good cause by all means. And the movement is like steam, in that it remains shrewdly elusive in order to avoid arrest by authorities, and then later re-emerge.

This strategy has allowed the protesters to stay resilient for an extended period of time. But why did these protests happen? Prior to the handover, in 1997, China offered the people of Hong Kong a new idea, which has now become a hollow promise, of “one country, two systems.” Many had doubts, some decided to leave, but more chose to stay because they loved Hong Kong and thus wanted to believe in the promise.

Since the handover, the Chinese have been aggressively asserting their influence – politically, socially, economically, demographically and ideologically. And it appears that this interference has only accelerated since President Xi took power.

In fact, the ruling elite of Hong Kong have been completely transformed by two decades of such interference. Government leaders, appointed officials and legislators readily kowtow to the commands of the Chinese, with no concern for the wishes of the local people. For example, the latest survey saw Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive, fall to merely 15 percent of public support.

But despite overwhelming public dissatisfaction, those in authority seem to care even less about the people, because they were not chosen by the people but were handpicked by the Chinese. As such, Hong Kong functions under a fundamentally flawed system of governance that is bound to fail – because it no longer reflects the will of the people.

As a result, China has been piling up layers of oppressive policies, one after the other, policies which are implemented by the Hong Kong government. The purpose of these policies is restriction of freedoms and the undermining of autonomy. Thus, the education system is now pro-China; unjustified and needless infrastructures projects are hastily approved; pro-democracy legislators and candidates are disqualified; and all social activists are given overly harsh sentences.

The younger generation, in particular, feel helpless and are therefore desperate. They realize that “one country, two systems” is a big fat lie. There will be no freedom of speech. There will be no freedom of the press. There will be no freedom of assembly and association. There will be no true democratic elections. There will be no independent judiciary. The “rule of law” has quietly been replaced by the “rule by law.”

As the saying goes, bad money drives out the good. Simply put, Hong Kong
will not be Hong Kong any more
. It is losing its vigor; it is dying, and it is going to succumb to being a second-class Chinese city.

This protest movement is in many ways a war, a war between democracy
and authoritarianism
. It is a war of dignity and values. Pragmatically speaking, protesters also know that they will be defeated in the end. But they have no other option than to fight. If a woman is about to be raped does she simply beg for mercy? What option is left her? She still will cry out and resist with her last bit of dignity.

The protesters fight and resist, not because they know they will win. They fight because of their dignity. They fight because they believe in freedom and democracy. That essentially sums up their spirit.

The Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, once said, “If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.”

So, who really stands with these “eggs,” these protesters, who now smash themselves against the Chinese wall? And, for how long will support for their cause last? As we know, it was the extradition bill that sparked the protests. This bill would force anyone in Hong Kong, who did anything politically inappropriate in the eyes of the communist regime, could be extradited to China, to face dire consequences.

Fear of such a law is legitimate, as there have already been notable cases of mysterious disappearances, forced extraditions, unlawful detainment, torture, as well as coerced confessions.

Some people still choose to turn a blind eye, wishfully thinking that they are going to be safe, as long as they do not rock the boat. These people are tagged as “Blue-Ribbons” – those who side with the establishment.

However, the protests have “politically awakened” large segments of the population, who now question the system and the government. And these questions are quickly uncovering the many lies and the propaganda. They do not want to live in a “police state;” and many of these people are now coming out to express their outrage. They are tagged as “Yellow-Ribbons” – those who side with the protesters.

Typical protests now range from 1 to 2 million; and they are mostly the Yellow-Ribbons. To put this in perspective, Hong Kong has a population of 7 million.

If it were not for the young protesters fighting against all odds, the extradition bill would have easily passed. Nevertheless, the government remains adamant and continues to dismiss all legitimate and reasonable requests of its own people.

The police also continue to mistreat protesters each and every day. Their use of excessive force is now common-place. For example, on July 21, 2019, hundreds of mafia gangsters marched on the streets of Yuen Long (a northern suburban district), chasing innocent people, beating them, and intimidating them. It is likely that they were collaborating with the police, for while the mafia was on the street, there was no police to be found anywhere. And the emergency hotlines were jammed.

This terrorist attack, for that was what it was, was inflicted on the people to instill fear and to silence the public. None of the mafia members, of course, were caught, let alone prosecuted, despite wide-spread video evidence.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong is still freer than Mainland China, at least for the time being. It has not yet put up the so-called Chinese “Internet Great Wall,” which means that there is still free access to international, online information.

However, Chinese propaganda has long penetrated all mainstream media as well as various online communities in Hong Kong. Biased reportage, fake news and malicious assaults are endemic. Protesters try their best to filter the disinformation, by “fact-checking” news and rumors received.

But it is hard to “fact-check” everything. Truth and judgment will inevitably be clouded, given the constant bombardment of disinformation. It is harder to trust any information at hand. This also makes it harder to trust any people. Everyone becomes wary of each other, lest they be betrayed. There is fear of retribution, since China is always watching. Freedom from fear has been the first victim of communist propaganda.

Even at this moment, as I write this article, I am fearful of what might happen, of what the consequences might be of what I am now writing. Telling the truth often demands a fearful price.

What lies ahead for Hong Kong is also fearful – which lends greater poignancy to the protesters – for all Hongkongers what comes next is Cultural Revolution 2.0.

The Chinese Communist Party has never changed. It never respected human rights, and never allowed liberty to its own people. Tibet is the perfect example of what happens when China comes in and takes control.

And the Cultural Revolution 2.0 has already begun – all protesters have been labelled as violent terrorists and subversives; Hong Kong culture is being dismantled and destroyed. This what China does to minorities who refuse to kowtow. Just look at what is being done to the Uyhgurs.

What is most disturbing is that the world itself is silent, except for rare expressions of disapproval, such as, the Human Rights and Democracy Act for Hong Kong, which seems more politics than actual, real help for Hong Kong. In fact, as China grows stronger, Hong Kong will grow weaker, despite the fact that Hong Kong is extremely important as a major financial hub for China, through which it can access unrestricted capital flow.

Because of the financial importance of Hong Kong, the more radical protesters favor a so-called “scorched earth policy.” They want to smash everything that China holds dear in Hong Kong. “If we burn, you burn with us.” This sounds desperate – but we need to ask what has made these otherwise decent young people so very desperate that they will happily destroy what makes Hong Kong great – so it does not fall into Chinese hands.

This desperation has also split apart Hong Kong society. People are hesitant about sharing news with family and friends. Everyone is more guarded and careful about what they say. Relationships are torn apart – friends have become foes, couples are breaking up, children are running away from families.

Now, everyone has to take a side – whether it be as a “Yellow-Ribbon,” or as a “Blue-Ribbon.” Even companies, consumer brands and outlets are being categorized as, “Yellow-Camps” or “Blue-Camps.” Of course, the Yellows boycott anything Blue, and vice-versa. This has transformed society into opposing “tribes” – hose that protest China and those that agree and want to go along with it. But both sides are disgusted with the Hong Kong government, for its apathy, inaction and incompetence.

All the while, there is massive emigration, both among the Yellows and the Blues. Even the “Returnees” (who emigrated overseas prior to handover and the returned) are leaving for a second time. Others, who have no overseas passport, are frantically seeking alternative ways to get out and find a better future for themselves and their children.

Actually, China is perfectly fine with emigration. It seems that China wants to take over Hong Kong, but it does not want the people that come with it (the Hongkongers).

This is because there has been an uninterrupted influx of new immigrants, the rich and the elite, from Mainland China. Within a decade, the locally-born Hongkongers will be completely outnumbered in the next decade. Exactly what happened in Tibet.

Of course, this is a deliberate strategy, which will entirely delegitimize the local population. Hongkongers understand this well. Time is against them. What is now the majority voice, protesting for democracy and liberty will soon be stifled.

There is thus a sense of great urgency, which prompted a record high 71 percent turnout in the municipal council elections, in November 2019. The usual turnout for such election is 47 percent. The results of this election were encouraging, as it saw the pro-democracy camp successfully take control of 17 (out of 18) municipal district seats.

This was, in fact, a referendum, a reflection of public opinion. But despite this election, nothing really was won. The Chief Executive still will not budge. Large-scale arrests still take place every day (to-date, over 6,000 protesters have been arrested, many brutally beaten). We have no idea how many have been sexually assaulted, how many have been “disappeared,” or how many have officially “committed suicide” for the sake of this movement. They are indeed brothers and sisters in arms. They are the “martyrs” of this movement.

And in this dark time, I also see another Hong Kong, which shines with courage and righteousness. In the past, the typical young Hong Kong person used to be focused on money and success – and nothing else.

But now I see another kind of a young Hong Kong person – one who shows solidarity, perseverance and creativity. These young people can only bring admiration for what they have accomplished. I stand in admiration of their determination to do what they believe is right and to move forward without regret. Their love for Hong Kong is unconditional and sacrificial. Suffering builds up character; sacrifice builds a new world. Through their suffering and sacrifice, a new Hongkonger is being born! And I am proud to be one of them!

So, what is the endgame? We do not know what the future holds for

Hong Kong and its native people. As a realist, the future may be doomed. The fighting spirit of Hongkongers may be crushed.

But, as a Christian, however, I remember that Jesus vouched for the oppressed, the vulnerable, the marginalized and the persecuted. I believe He will vouch for Hongkongers: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Perhaps this protest movement is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps we do not need to keep analyzing possible scenarios or calculating risks and returns. Rather exasperation, let us be proud, rejoice and move forward together as Hongkongers. We are writing history.

E. Lee is a Hong Kong-born Christian preacher, who is passionate about missions in the world, and who still loves and cares for his homeland enough to write the inconvenient truth.

The image is from From Tien Yu’s Facebook, 2019.

The Assassination Of José Calvo Sotelo: Prelude To The Spanish Civil War

Rather than trying to quell the rancor, the resentment and all the old hatreds, the leadership of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) chose instead, in 2004, to revive the culture war and foment social unrest. The lamentable message repeated ad nauseam by the official media made it clear that since Spaniards were unable to overcome the past, the Transition and the spirit of reconciliation were only cowardice. This meant that the Spanish Civil War could not be discussed outside the presuppositions of those who regard themselves as being on the side of the good.

These suppositions are that the Right remained Francoist, if not outright fascist; that the Law of Amnesty of 1977 (the foundational act of the new democracy) was nothing other than a convenient way to protect the Francoists (despite the fact that this law was passed in the Legislature by a vote of 296 in favor, 2 opposed and 18 abstentions – in other words, with the support of the entire political class, including the PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), with the exception of a handful of Liberal-Conservatives and Francoists. The purpose of this law was to eliminate punishment for the actions of anti-Francoist terrorists, such as, PCE(r)-GRAPO and ETA).

All these suppositions are nothing more than a tissue of false-assumptions, lies, and radically erroneous premises – all meant to foster a veritable fiction, with no connection to reality.

On December 26, 2007, PSOE got Parliament to pass a “Historical Memory Law,” which originated in a proposal introduced by the Communist Party (Izquierda Unida). It rightly recognized and expanded the rights of those who suffered persecution or violence during the Civil War and during the dictatorship. But at the same time, it promoted a Manichean vision of history. Strangely, it was adopted because of the indifference, and consent for the most part, of the political class of the EU – even though this law undermines the most basic right of freedom of expression.

One of the fundamental ideas of the Historical Memory Law is that Spanish democracy is a heritage of the Second Republic. This a highly questionable point of view, given the fact that the process of Transition was conducted in accordance with the mechanisms provided by the Franco-regime and was managed by a King, who was appointed by the generalissimo, and by his prime minister, a former General Secretary of the Movimiento – as well as the nearly unanimous consent of the Francoist political class. According to the subjective reasoning of this law, the Second Republic (the foundational myth of Spanish democracy, as per the Socialist Left and the extremists) – should have been a nearly perfect regime in which all the Leftist parties would act beyond reproach.

This law also offers a questionable amalgam of military uprising, the Civil War, and the dictatorship of Franco, even though all three are distinct facts, with their own relevant interpretations and varying judgments. In effect, this law exalts the victims and the murderers, the innocent and the guilty because they all belonged to the Popular Front and because they are of the Left. Thus, this law confuses those who died fighting in the war with the victims of the repression. Further, this law promotes and justifies any and all effort that seeks to demonstrate that Franco planned and systematically carried out a bloody repression during and after the Civil War – all the while implying that the government of the Republic, and the parties that supported it, had no repressive projects of their own. Finally, this law recognizes and legitimizes the desire of many people to be able to locate the bodies of their family members – but it also implicitly refuses this right to those who were with the Nationalists, under the doubtful pretext that such people had plenty of time to locate their dead ones during the Francoist era.

We may recall the “Garzón Affair,” or the “Graves of Francoism,” which particularly exacerbated tensions in 2006, given that the repression during the Civil War was equally ferocious and widespread in both the Republican and the Nationalist camps.

Judge Baltasar Garzón (friend of the socialists) claimed to undertake a sort of general inquisition, curiously reminiscent of the Causa General (General Cause), carried out by Franco’s Public Ministry, between 1940 and 1943, and which the Democratic Constitution of 1978 formally prohibited.

The current Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, faithful to the revanchist policies of his predecessor (the socialist, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero), declared, as soon as he arrived at the Palace of Moncloa in 2018, that he would undertake to exhume, as quickly as possible, the remains of the dictator Franco, interred at the Basilica of the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).

Spain is still a nation of laws, with many men of the law who did not appreciate this behavior of the Chekists. The result was an endless judicial battle, which was finally decided by the political will of the Socialist government, on October 25 of this year (by way of a royal ordinance). The Basilica, in effect, is a religious place, whose inviolability is guaranteed by an international treaty signed between Spain and the Holy See in 1979. The Benedictines, who look after the monument, are not directly dependent on the Vatican, but on the authority of their abbot and the superior of their order, who is the abbot of Solesmes Abby.

But the improvised and sloppy drafting of this royal ordinance, adopted by the Sánchez government, was the source of other complications. No doubt given the notoriety of the name, Franco (a military man, a statesman and a polemical dictator), the national and international press omitted to mention that the application to the letter of this ordinance will also require the immediate exhumation of 19 Benedictine monks likewise interred in the Valley of the Fallen, along with 172 other persons who died after the end of the Civil War. As well, we do not know the fate of the body of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, imprisoned for three months before the uprising, but who was still condemned to death by a “People’s Court” for participating in the uprising. And we do not know what will happen to the thousands of bodies, from both sides, buried in the crypt, which are the object of so much controversy.

This judicial imbroglio was finally resolved by an authoritarian political measure, and by the use of the forces of law and order, just like totalitarian dictators and banana republics.

The study of the evolution of the concept of reconciliation in Spain, from 1939 to our own time, does merit a thesis. The irony is that the government of the socialist Sánchez defends to this day the exhumation of Franco, in the name of “justice and reconciliation,” and in a spirit that, after all, is not unlike that of the Caudillo (Franco) who expressed it in a decree of August 23, 1957, by which he established the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, at least if we put in parentheses the references pertaining to Christianity… “The Great Cross that presides over and inspires the monument, also gives it a profoundly Christian character… Thus, the sacred obligation of honoring our heroes and our martyrs must also carry with it the feeling of forgiveness, imposed by the Gospel message… It must be the monument of all the dead in battle, over whose sacrifice triumph the peaceful arms of the Cross.”

To this, on May 23, 1958, Alonso Vega, the Minister of the Interior, in a directive to civil governors, added that “this is to give a place of burial to all those were sacrificed for God and for Spain, with no distinction of the two sides that fought each other, like the spirit of pardon that the creation of this monument has now imposed.”

But there is this substantial difference – through the magic of the inevitable words of political propaganda, the good and the evil have changed sides. And it is precisely this moral hemiplegia which the Founding Fathers of the Transition and of Spanish democracy rejected in its entirety.

A few year ago, Ian Gibson, an Irish “historian,” with strong socialist convictions, declared that he was in favor of placing a bomb in the Valle de los Caídos and destroying the monument. Such European fanatics, whose concepts of justice and reconciliation are certainly worthy of the Afghan Taliban who destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, are unfortunately not rare. They would certainly make us despair for humanity, were it not for strong personalities, in their own circles, who keep them in their place. One of the players of the Transition, the socialist Felipe Gonzáles, declared in 1985, when he was Prime Minister: “We must accept our history…I am personally able to face the history of Spain… Franco… is in it… Never would I get the idea of toppling one statue of Franco. Never! I think it’s stupid going about pulling down statues of Franco… Franco now belongs to the History of Spain. We cannot erase History… I have always thought that if anyone believes that it is meritorious to knock Franco from his horse, then he should have done that when the man was alive” (Juan Luis Cebrian, “Interview with Felipe González,” El Pais, Madrid, November 17, 1985).

This is to say that a socialist government deciding to move the body of a Catholic, monarchist, conservative, anti-Marxist and anti-Communist dictator may perhaps be explained, but it cannot be understood. As we know, peace around the graves of revolutionaries and dictators is extremely rare. Unless I am mistaken, to this day, there are only two or three great exceptions (admirable for their serenity and their respect for the dead), which refute this immutable rule: In Russia, the mausoleum of Lenin in Red Square, and the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, where Stalin is buried; and in France, the tomb of Napoleon I in the Invalides.

But behind this desire to exhume the ashes of Franco and to officially condemn his actions and his regime, there hides an important question, which is very thorny and very embarrassing for the powers that be – namely, the interpretation of the origins of the Civil War, which only highlights the considerable responsibility of the PSOE. Therefore, let us recall some well-established facts.

Both on the Right and the Left, the proclamation of the Spanish Republic, in 1931, was greeted with hope. But disillusionment quickly set in. In bringing about democracy and “progress,” Spain fell into disorder and anarchy. In October 1934, the PSOE, whose leadership had been entirely Bolshevized since 1933, deliberately triggered a general strike in all of Spain, which the police managed to contain, with the exception of Catalonia and especially the Asturias. In February 1936, the fragile victory of the Popular Front put an end to the chaos. In June 1936, in a speech to the Legislature (which was immediately declared to be a “catastrophe” by opponents), José Maria Gil Robles, leading light of the moderate Right, tallied in four months 353 attacks, 269 political murders, and the destruction of 160 churches.

According to Communist historiography, popularized by the Komintern, which is now regarded as canonical, or at least “politically correct,” this terrible tragedy was the direct result of a military coup d’état against a perfectly democratic and progressive regime. Then the army, backed by a handful of fascists, rose against the people who were defenseless, but who resisted courageously and drove back the rebels. Finally, it is said, Franco could not have won had it not been for the help of Germany and fascist Italy.

Along with the collaboration of several of the best specialists on this subject, I believe that I have demonstrated in my book, La guerre d’Espagne revisitée, and again in the special issue of La Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire (1936-2006: “La guerre d’Espagne,” no. 25, July 2006) – that this Communist legend or mythology does not correspond whatsoever to the reality of facts. The American historian, Stanley Payne, a great expert on the subject, brought forward precise, rigorous and dispassionate answers that are all-too-often ignored and passed over in France, in his book, La Guerre d’Espagne. L’Histoire face à la confusion mémorielle, to which I wrote the Preface.

Further, this one single fact will suffice to refute, or at least lend nuance to, the premise of the military uprising against democracy: The great intellectuals of the time, the Founding Fathers of the Republic, Ortega y Gasset, Marañon and Perez de Ayala, and let us not forget Unamuno – they all unreservedly voted for the National side, and against the Communist, Socialist-Marxist and anarchist extremism of the Popular Front.

Among the numerous myths that could be mentioned here, for lack of space, I shall make note of only two, which were recently deconstructed. First, the victory of the Popular Front in the elections of February 1936, and the reasons and conditions for the assassination of José Calvo Sotelo.

The question of whether the elections of February 1936 were regular or irregular, legitimate or illegitimate, legal or illegal, democratic or anti-democratic never ceases to foment debate. But in 2017, a crucial piece was added as evidence. It is the work of two historians at King Juan Carlos University, namely, 1936, Fraude y violencía en las elecciones del Frente popular (1936: Fraud and Violence in the Elections of the Popular Front) by Roberto Villa García and Manuel Álvarez Tardío.

After a long and careful study, these two researchers have shown, in a manner both rigorous and incontestable, that the frauds, falsifications, manipulations and violence of the Frente Popular (the Popular Front) were of a considerable magnitude. In the aftermath of the voting, the Frente Popular claimed 240 seats (out of 473), but deliberately stole 50 from the right-wing opposition. Without this plundering – a veritable parliamentary coup d’état – it could never have governed alone. The institutions of the Republic were deliberately violated; and it is perfectly right to question the legitimacy of the government of the Spanish Popular Front.

The assassination of Calvo Sotelo, which was the prelude to the Civil war, is in itself another good illustration of the reality of facts. José Calvo Sotelo, at 43 years of age, was one of the most eminent figures in the Spanish conservative right. He was a member of the monarchist party (the Renovación Española), contributor to the intellectual revue, Accíon Española, and a former minister of the economy and finance. A courageous and eloquent parliamentarian, he attracted all the hate of the Popular Front. His speeches had a profound impact on public opinion, so much so that Santiago Cesares Quiroga, head of government and minister of defense, did not hesitate to openly threaten him in the full sitting of the Legislature on June 16, 1936.

The response of the future victim is now legendary: “Mr. Cesares Quiroga, I have broad shoulders. You are a man quick to challenge and threaten… I take full note of your warning… I will answer you as Saint-Dominique de Silos did to the King of Castille, ‘Lord, all you can do is take my life and nothing more.’ Better to die with honor than to live without dignity.”

On June 23, 1936, Calvo Sotelo was again threatened in the columns of the Madrid newspaper, El Socialista. Then, in the evening of July 12, the Lieutenant of the Assault Guard, José del Castillo, instructor of the militias of the Young Socialists, was assassinated, in reprisal for the murders of José Luis Llaguno, a Carlist student and Andrés Saenz de Heredia, who was the cousin of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The Assault Guard was a special police force that was highly politicized. At their barracks in Pontejos, the comrades of Lieutenant del Castillo shouted for revenge. These were men, for the most part, who were also close confidantes of the government. Chief among them were Major Ricardo Burillo Stholle, Lieutenant Maximo Moreno, and Captain of the Civil Guard, Fenando Condès. The last two had already actively participated in the attempted socialist uprising against the Republic in October of 1934.

On July 13, 1936, around two o’clock in the morning, vehicle No. 17 of the Assault Guards left the barracks at Pontejos. Sitting inside it were eight Assault Guards, and four hired men of the Socialist Party, under the command of Captain Fernando Condès. They were all in civilian clothes.

A few minutes later, a second commando unit rolled out into the night whose job it was to eliminate the other great leader of the right, Gil-Robles, who was head of CEDA (a coalition of the conservative-right, liberals and Christian-democrats). Luckily, he was in Biarritz at the time, and so, miraculously, he escaped death.

Vehicle No. 17 went on its way towards Vélasquez Street, where the house of Calvo Sotelo was located. It stopped in front of number 89. Captain Condès and several of his men got out. They summoned the night watchman to open the door to the building, and he did so. The Guards went up the stairs, rang at the door of the Monarchist Deputy and demanded entry, under the pretext of a search. Awakened by the noise, Calvo Sotelo opened the door.

Quickly the Guards rushed into the apartment and cut the telephone. Captain Condès asked the politician to come with him to the Security Directorate. Calvo Sotelo was wary. A deputy could not be arrested, unless caught red-handed actually committing a crime. It would be necessary to call the Directorate General of Security, but the telephone did not work. His wife tried to go out to get help. The Guards stopped her. The resistance of the leader of the National Bloc was mollified by the assurances given on the Captain’s honor. Calvo Sotelo got dressed, then kissed his children in their beds and his wife to whom he promised that he would telephone as soon as possible, “unless these gentlemen are taking me away to put four bullets into me.”

He got into the bus. He sat down on the third seat, flanked by two Assault Guards. Behind him stood Luís Cuenca Estevas, a known bodyguard of the Socialist leader, Indalecio Prieto. Captain Condès took a seat behind the driver. The others went and sat at the back. The vehicle headed off and went only as far as about 200 meters, when at the top of the intersection of Ayala and Vélasquez streets, Luis Cuenca took out a pistol, pointed it at the back of Calvo Sotelo’s neck and fired twice, killing him instantly. (According to other sources, the killer was Maximo Moreno, the Lieutenant of the Assault Guard). The body of the victim collapsed between the seats.

Unperturbed, the driver went down the road. At the crossroads of Vélasquez and Alcalá streets, a truck full of Assault Guards entered the flow of traffic. But for vehicle No. 17, the way was open. With their murderous mission accomplished, and having returned to the barracks at Pontejos, the assassins reported to their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanchez Plaza. Downstairs, Guard Tomas Pérez removed bloodstains from inside the vehicle.

The wife of Calvo Sotelo had not sat idle. She immediately got in touch with her family and her loved ones. To all of their demands, the Directorate General of Security and the Minister of the Interior invariably replied: “Nothing has happened… There is nothing at any police station.”

On the morning of July 13, the identification of a body dumped at the Eastern Cemetery roused disbelief and outrage. While the Socialist, Indalecio Prieto, demanded that arms be distributed to all “workers” organizations, funeral arrangements were made for the following day to be held before an enormous crowd.

The judicial investigation was hurriedly buried. The Civil War put a stop to any remaining pretense of legality.

On July 25, 1936, at 12:45 PM, in broad daylight, a dozen members of the militia of the Popular Front, entered the buildings of the Ministry of the Interior, led by a man in civilian clothing. Inside the office of the judge charged with investigating the case, they seized by force all the records and files pertaining to the assassination, and took everything away. Thus disappeared all documents relating to the inquiry, including the scientific evidence of the medical examiners, and the reports of the interrogation of the chief suspects.

Most of those involved with the murder were rewarded after the uprising. For a good number of historians, the elimination of Calvo Sotelo is nothing more than revenge for the assassination of José del Castillo. But this explanation, partial and inadequate, has now been thoroughly questioned (in 2018) by the former Secretary General of the PSOE of Galicia, namely, Francisco Vázquez Vázquez, the Deputy, Senator and Mayor of A Coruña (see, “Memoria histórica de Calvo Sotelo,” ABC, April 9, 2018). Indeed, the shock produced in public opinion by the news of the elimination of a leader of the political opposition is completely incommensurate with any emotions stirred up by the murder of a Lieutenant-Instructor of the Assault Guard.

Vázquez, a well-known and respected politician, provided the original report – never before published because it had been lost – of a declaration made before a judge by one of who was directly involved with the assassination. This is the statement of Blas Estebarán Llorente, the driver of the ambulance-van that was responsible for transporting the body to the Eastern Cemetery. We learn in this crucial testimony that the militias of the Socialist Party, then under the direction of all the principal leaders of the movement, had planned the assassinations of Calvo Sotelo, José Maria Gil Robles, and the monarchist, Antonio Goicoechea at least three months earlier. Also implicated in the plot were Jésus Hernández, the Communist leader and future Minister of Education during the Civil War, and a certain Antonio López. Then, Blas Estebarán went on to state that, as ordered by the Security Directorate, he met the vehicle at the top of Manuel Becerra Place, and that he followed it, before parking and taking charge of the corpse, which he took to the Eastern Cemetery.

The assassination of Calvo Sotelo became the detonator of the national insurrection of July 18, 1936. Conspirators had already been at work well before this terrible political crime, and the uprising would likely have taken place regardless of this assassination. But the shock of this event made a decisive contribution towards smoothing out the difficulties and dissipating the doubts of the conspirators. It accelerated the preparations and imposed a definite day and hour. It considerably increased popular sympathy for, and participation in, the plans of the military. Because of this crime, hatched and covered up by the State, it is clear that all the adversaries of the Popular Front felt themselves in danger of being killed. As Gil Robles said in Parliament, “Half of Spain will not agree to being killed.”

One of the major observers of the time, Julián Zugazagoitia, a minister of the Popular Front, told one of his visitors, “This attack is war.”

We cannot repeat this enough – it is not the military uprising of July 1936 that is origin of the destruction of democracy, as the leaders of the PSOE nowadays claim. On the contrary, it was because democratic legality was destroyed by the Popular Front that the uprising began. In 1936, no one, neither Left nor Right, believed in liberal democracy as it exists today. The revolutionary myth believed by the entire Left is that of an armed struggle. The anarchists and the Communist Party did not believe in democracy. The vast majority of socialists and most notably their leader, the very prominent, Largo Caballero (the “Spanish Lenin), who advocated the dictatorship of the proletariat and rapprochement with the Communists, also did not believe in democracy.

From this, we can conclude that the army of 1936, like Spanish society itself, was very divided, while both sides (the Left and the Right) enjoyed powerful popular support. If the legend fabricated by Spanish and Soviet propagandists of the Frente Popular is indeed correct, then there would have been no civil war because the army, entirely unified, would have risen up and the Nationals (not “nationalists” as they are always and erroneously called in France) would have had victory within 48 hours. And if the people all had been on one side, then the Frente Popular and its allies would have easily won. But it was not so.

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 photo shows a portrait of José Calvo Sotelo at the Bank of Spain.