||Ronald Radosh, Mary R. Habeck, and
Grigory Sevostianov, eds. Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the
Spanish Civil War. Annals of
Communism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. xxx + 537
pp. Maps, notes, index. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-300-08981-3.
Reviewed by Robert H. Whealey,
Department of History, Ohio University.
Published by H-Diplo
Soviet Intervention in the Spanish Civil War: Review Article
[The Spanish language uses diacritical marks. US-ASCII will not
display them. Some words, therefore, are written incompletely in this
This collection is actually two books wrapped in a single cover: a
book of Soviet documents presumably chosen in Moscow by Grigory
Sevostianov and mostly translated by Mary Habeck. Then the Soviet
intervention in Spain is narrated and interpreted by the well-known
American historian Ronald Radosh. Spain Betrayed is a
recent addition to the continuing Yale series, "Annals of
Communism," edited with the cooperation of Russian scholars in
Moscow. Professional historians concentrating on documents should
consider postponing their reading of the lengthy (about 110 pages)
introductory sections of Spain Betrayed until after they
have read the eighty-one important Soviet documents in chronological
Soviet Minister of Defense Klemit Voroshilov, in Moscow, handled many
of the incoming military messages from Spain, as more than a third of
the eighty-one published documents were addressed to him. Stalin was
sent at least ten. Stalin, the real head of the Soviet Union, made one
direct order to the Spanish government, on the conservative side. After
the bombing of the pocket battleship Deutschland on 29 May
1937 (which enraged Hitler), Stalin said that the Spanish Republican air
force should not bomb German or Italian vessels. (Doc 55.)
From reading Radosh's inadequate table of contents, it is not easy to
discover casually a coherent picture of what the Soviets knew and were
saying during the civil war. Archival information tends to get buried in
the footnotes and essays scattered throughout the book, and there is no
Examining the notes, one can list about sixty books and articles,
written mostly by Americans and British. A notable exception is the
Spanish edition of the memoirs of Francisco Largo Caballero, Prime
Minister of the Spanish Republic September 1936 to May 1937.
"Abbreviations and Acronyms" lists perhaps three-quarters of
the terms that an archivist would have included for the benefit of
Another problem with the editing and for the editors is that foreign
Communists in Spain used many pseudonyms. Most of these are helpfully
translated into real names in the index and in the lengthy editorial
essays. As it stands now, the reader is forced to consult the documents,
five major essays, the index and footnotes in zig-zag fashion over the
course of about 400 pages of documents. The reader can get confused, for
example, about "Berzin." He is identified on p. 22 as leader
of the Soviet military advisers in Spain, and former head in Moscow of
the GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence. He was also known as "Grishin"
and "Donizetti" and "Old Man." His real name,
Peteris, is not listed in the index. The editors could have provided a
clear list of pseudonyms. Anybody not already familiar with names from
the Spanish Civil War could give up in frustration. In short, to say
that this book is "a hard read" would be to understate the
This documentary collection had a number of distinguished Soviet
experts on its editorial board, including eighteen Americans and twelve
Russians, but apparently lacked somebody like George Kent with
experience editing the better-organized State Department, Foreign
Office, and Nazi Foreign Ministry documents. Those document volumes
dealing with the Spanish Civil War, already published in the 1950s and
1970s, allow the research historian to discover facts from the 1936-1939
archives in chronological order, because clear tables of documents are
Radosh's index is fairly good, but with more work a better product
would have been produced. Some names are not as well indexed as others.
For example, the citations to GRU chief in Moscow Uritsky are
incomplete. Several Anglo-Americans are ignored. Document 76 by
Sverchevsky ("Gen. Walter") mentions Abraham Lincoln Brigade
member Robert Merriman, claiming he was captured at Batea (p. 484), but
Merriman is not indexed. Neither is English Communist party leader Harry
Pollitt or Captain Watkins, on the same page.
Historians interested in the Spanish Civil War have seven questions
about the role of the Spanish Communist Party and the Soviet officials
(1) The growth of the membership of the Spanish Party at the expense
of liberals, anarchists and socialists from July 1936 to sometime in mid
1938; (2) The division among the Spanish Socialists; (3) Whether the
Spanish Republic ever became a satellite; (4) Why the Republic lost, (5)
yet lasted as long as it did; (6) What the Spanish Communists thought
about "revolution," as compared to socialist, anarchist, and
Trotskyist conceptions of "revolution"; (7) What destroyed, as
the war ground on, the morale of the Spanish left.
Soviet agents in Spain in the Comintern, the GRU, and Foreign
Ministry wrote some long dispatches. Frightened of a purge, they put in
a line to satisfy every tendency. After all the twists and turns, the
line that best describes Soviet policy is the slogan, "Win the war,
and this means the revolution too" as quoted by the Spanish
Communist, Pedro Checa (Doc 63, p.403.). There is ample room for others
to mine the eighty-one documents for facts and to interpret them
differently from Checa or from Radosh.
One point clarified is the importance of the International Brigades (IB)
in upholding a military balance of power. The Soviet documents back up
the generally well-known story that Brigade members saved Madrid in
November 1936, and played a big role at Guadalajara (March 1937). But
previous historians have exaggerated the power of the Brigades and their
continued presence as a potential "pretorian guard" on into
1938. "Gen. Walter" in Doc. 70 shows that by 14 January 1938,
the Spanish Popular Army had 200 Spanish brigades compared to five
The fighting effectiveness and number of the foreign volunteers on
the side of the Republic declined by 1938. The Comintern had recruited
31,369 foreigners for the International Brigades as of 30 April 1938
(Doc. 73). This key document shows 18,714 had moved through the IB base
at Albacete by April 1937, and thereafter lists recruits and
replacements on a monthly basis. The total figure 31,000 was used when
withdrawal of the remaining 10,000 Brigade members (5,000 at the front)
was discussed in Moscow in September 1938 (Doc. 74.) The IB had 15,992
troops available on 31 March 1938 (Doc.73). The 31,400 compares with
about 16,500-18,000 Germans. The Legion Condor stationed about
4,500-5,000 at the fronts at any one time. Mussolini dispatched about
74,300 men in Spain from August 1936 to the end of the war, with 48,000
in the "Volunteer Corps" (CTV) as of March 1937. About
6,000 Brigaders died (Doc.75) compared to 4,000 Italians, and 320
Germans. Man for man the German military was the most efficient foreign
unit in Spain, and the Brigade members shed the most blood.
The longest (seventy-three printed pages) and most colorful document
in this collection is Doc. 60. "General Emilio Kleber," real
name Manfred Stern, was a Soviet Commissar sent by the Moscow Politburo.
By timely action, the internationals he commanded helped save Madrid
from Franco in November 1936, after Spanish Government leaders had left
the capital. Kleber's report is dated 14 December 1937, which was
probably when he began composing it, after his recall from Spain.
However, it apparently included diary material written at Spanish
fronts. Internal evidence in the document on p. 363 indicates he may
still have been writing after March 1938, because he mentions the Anschluss
and the Sudetenland problem. He was in Spain by 15 September 1936,
present at the fall of Toledo and a field commander for parts of a
In November 1936, Kleber was in liaison between the Spanish Minister
of Defense in Valencia and the French Communist Andre Marty, who was in
charge of recruiting and arming the International Brigades in Albacete.
Kleber essentially saved Madrid in November 1936, with the Spanish
Communist 5th Regiment and the International Brigades. After that he
fell into constant quarreling with Marty. Kleber says relations with the
official Madrid Junta of Defense commander Gen. Jose Miaja were good
Kleber demolishes the myth of a monolithic Stalinist, totalitarian
unity. Stalin had aspirations to totalitarianism, but was nowhere near
achieving it until 1939. The Spanish Socialist Minister of Navy and Air
Force Indalecio Prieto (Doc.45 ) expresses the typical democratic
attitude toward Communists, "For the Communist is not a human
being--he's a party; he's a line." He is a person, "with the
unseen committee behind his back." Kleber, in contrast, got on well
with some Spanish Communists but not others. He got on better with Poles
and Yugoslavs than with French. He even sometimes parried suggestions to
go to this or that town or front line on suggestions made by his
presumed Soviet superiors in the Military Attache's office. After his
recall to Moscow in December 1937, Kleber (Stern) disappeared, shot in
the 1938 purge. Others purged by Stalin included Ambassador Rosenberg,
Consul Antonov-Ovseenko, General "Berzin," and Military
Attache Gorev. On the other hand, Palmiro Togliatti
("Alfredo," "Ercoli", Docs. 51,62) survived to head
the post World War II Communist Party of Italy. Tito of Yugoslavia, who
also aided the Communist cause in the civil war, is not identified.
Very few of the eighty-one documents mention General Francisco Franco
or other Nationalists. But they underline Franco's importance by
discussing both the Communist and general Republican problems in
establishing a chain of command from the beginning in July 1936. Few in
the Nationalist Army or among Franco's Italian or German military
advisors questioned the Generalissimo's final decisions. In contrast,
some Communist commissars and military officers quarreled with each
other and the Spaniards practically every day on a battalion and company
level, as the documents attest.
Who was primarily in charge in the Republican government? The Spanish
Fifth Regiment in Madrid? The general staff in Valencia? The Prime
Minister of the Spanish cabinet? Various Spanish leaders in Barcelona?
The union militias of the Socialist UGT, the anarchist CNT, the Central
Committee of the Spanish Communist Party, Marty in Albacete with the
International Brigades, or the Soviet Military Attache? What authority
did Comintern and military men, sent by Moscow, have over the Spanish
operation? Those questions were never decided from July 1936 to March
1939. What happened is that too much time was wasted stabbing others in
the back, missing orders, stealing equipment, placing battalions in
reserve, not understanding the basic languages of the operations
(Spanish, French, Russian) and committing a dozen other errors. The
Spanish parties and Soviet agents also spent too much time spying on one
another. Incompetence was confused with subversion by spies,
provocateurs, wreckers, and saboteurs.
Looking at the five documents signed by Marty (Appendix 2) as a
whole, it emerges that this French Communist and Comintern agent could
be considered the de facto ambassador of Stalin to the Spanish Republic.
His knowledge of the Spanish personalities inside the cabinet, inside
the CNT and UGT unions and Spanish Socialist Party, the Fifth Regiment
and the PCE was outstanding. To see him as only the first commander of
the IB base at Albacete would downplay his importance, for he reported
in person to the Communist International.
Did the Republicans eventually lose through incompetence, or
sabotage, or the ideological fixations of half dozen tendencies? Who in
the CNT or the UGT or the Republican Left were secret party communists
or Trokskyists? Did it make any difference by 1939? It is well known
that the Socialist Party was badly divided in July 1936 between the
revolutionary faction and the reformist faction. What the Soviet
documents show is that the Socialist problem was only the tip of an
Anglo-American historians occasionally have suggested that Juan
Negrin, Prime Minister of Republican Spain from May 1937 to March 1939,
was either a puppet of Moscow or a secret Soviet agent. One tidbit of
information from "Kleber" (Doc. 60) about Negrin, which partly
explains his puzzle, is that the Socialist doctor from the Canary
Islands had a Russian wife (p.326). The Soviet documents indicate that
he was trapped by his situation. Surrender to Franco meant execution.
Fleeing to France meant cowardice and charges of fascist sympathies.
Staying in office offered an ever-diminishing chance that the Republic
and his own life could be spared by a twist of international diplomacy.
Doc. 45, written by a Soviet GRU agent best describes Negrin's
problem. He tried to be a smooth vacillating healer in a split cabinet.
He tried to negotiate between the anti-communist Largo's UGT, the CNT
unions and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE).
Yet the PCE through its ties to Moscow eventually assumed the power of
rationing military supplies bought and paid for in advance by the
Spanish since September 1936. Negrin also was quite sensitive to
French politics and wanted the Soviets to go slow in pressuring the
French Popular Front to the left, for fear of forcing the Radical
Socialists to move to the right (Doc.79). The USSR was fighting for the
Popular Front, so worked to keep Socialists, both Largo and later Negrin,
in office as long as possible.
A Communist coup would have meant open repudiation of the democratic
Republic, and probably an early recognition of Franco in Washington,
London and Paris and an early end of the Spanish War. When the war was
over, Negrin fled to France and later Britain, not the USSR.
The major enemy of the Communists within the Popular Front coalition,
both Spanish and foreign, was General Jose Asensio. After the fall of
Malaga in February 1937 the Soviets were convinced he was a secret agent
of Franco sabotaging the Popular Front (Docs. 39, 60).
The Soviet Military Attache was suspicious of him as early as 16
October 1936 (Doc. 17). Louis Fischer, American journalist and Popular
Front sympathizer who helped at the International Brigades base at
Albacete in the fall of 1936, agreed with the Soviets that Asensio's
loyalty was in question (Doc. 30). The Soviets could not openly expose
Asensio, because Premier Largo Caballero leaned on him for military
advice. Largo needed Asensio to protect him from the PCE.
As a 67-year-old union boss, Largo thought he was for revolution in
July 1936. He had no military experience, but by observing the battles
and the shifting political pressures within the parties, unions and
militias by 1937, he came to the conclusion that if the Popular Front
won the war, he would be dumped as leader of the UGT union. So he
stepped down in May 1937 as Premier, after considerable pressure from
the Republican military units, in order to protect his position as
leader of the UGT union. (Docs 30, 31, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 42, 46).
Voroshilov noted about 15 April 1937 that Largo "does not want
defeat, but he is afraid of victory," because it would strengthen
the communists (p. 192).
It is well-known that Stalin's paranoia led to a curtailing of the
influence of the party with Trotskyist tendencies, the POUM, in May
1937. Soviet Ambassador Marcel Rosenberg on 30 September 1936 charged
the POUM as "provocateurs" (Doc. 13). It is noteworthy that as
early as 22 July 1936, the Comintern Agent Codovilla (Argentinean, p. 4)
reported together with Jose Diaz, who headed the Spanish Communist Party
The title Spain Betrayed creates many ambiguities. It is
vital to identify and date the charges. The complex reality was that
many were betraying many others. Franco betrayed the constitution and
the liberal government in July 1936. Communists betrayed Prime Minister
Largo Caballero in 1937, socialist Prieto betrayed the anarchists, the
CNT union anarchists betrayed the political FAI, Spanish Communists
betrayed Comintern officials and vice versa, French comrades betrayed
German comrades in the International Brigades, etc. What this generation
needs to know is, what were the Soviets trying to do in Spain? Spain
Betrayed sheds real new light, but not enough, on this question.
. For a few later documents, see Robert H. Whealey, "Economic
Influence of the Great Powers in the Spanish Civil War: From the Popular
Front to the Second World War," The International History
Review, Vol. 6 (May 1983), 229-254. It cites fragmentary archives
of CAMPSA-Gentibus, a supply company that facilitated the Soviet arms
shipments to the Republic, in particular pp. 241-45, nn. 58, 65, 73, 77,
78. There are several letter boxes captured in Barcelona by the
Nationalists, which are strong from the 1938-39 period. I wish Radosh
had discovered more about Federico (Friedrich) Luchinger, in charge of
. Robert H. Whealey, Hitler and Spain: The Nazi Role in the
Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (Lexington KY: University Press of
Kentucky, 1989), pp. 205-06, n. 56.
. John F. Coverdale, Italian Intervention in the Spanish
Civil War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp.
. Kleber's report discusses Col. Segismundo Casado's role in
summer 1937 (pp.339-41). Then somewhat obscure, Casado later became well
known in March 1939 for surrendering Madrid. This may be a clue that
somebody in Moscow modified Kleber's document in 1939 or later. Or else
Soviet intelligence was more efficient than we have assumed, because as
of 1937 Kleber already had an unfriendly eye on Casado.
. "Cid," an unidentified GRU agent who wrote Docs. 41
& 45 and also "Mayor Dios," Docs. 1-4, CI (Annex II) need
. Radosh obscures the fact that as of September-October 1936, the
Spanish Government bought Soviet weapons, with cash. He should have
added to the notes and non-existent "bibliography" two works
by Angel Vinas Martin, El oro espanol en la guerra civil
(Madrid: Instituto de Estudio Fiscales Ministerio de Hacienda, 1977) and
El oro de moscu (Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1979). The first uses
the archives of the Bank of Spain and the second cites the papers of
Marcelino Pascua, the Republican Ambassador in Switzerland who handled
relations with the Soviet banks. Instead Radosh, p. xvii, cites Gerald
Howson's Arms for Spain (London: Albemarle, 1998), to the
effect that the Soviets deliberately swindled the Republicans and made
money by using an artificial exchange rate. However, the Germans and
Italians set similar inflated rates for aid to Franco, who long after
the end of the civil war was repaying post-Mussolini Italy.
Citation: Robert H. Whealey . "Review of Ronald
Radosh, Mary R. Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov, eds, Spain
Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War,"
H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews, March, 2002. URL: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=272391019497687.
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