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Book Reviews

Preston’s Authoritative Account Republican parties. Preston readily


concedes that the Communists’

Updated, Expanded methods were “unnecessarily brutal.”


Still, he remains convinced that
The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, the line followed by Negrín, the
Revolution, and Revenge by Paul in 1986 and 1996.) While thoroughly Communists, and their Republican
Preston. Third edition, revised and updated and about 50 percent longer allies—creating a conventional
expanded. New York and London: W.W. than the second edition, the general army with a centralized command
Norton & Company, 2007. points of Preston’s narrative remain structure, prioritizing winning the
unchanged, as does his position in the war over making revolution, and
By Sebastiaan Faber protracted “war of words” that has keeping up the increasingly desperate

I
t is difficult not to be in awe of marked the field since 1936. fight against Franco in hopes of
Paul Preston. It is also hard not to First, against competing accounts eventual foreign support from the
envy him. Over the past 30 years, from conservative scholars (such West—was by far the most realistic,
he has become the world-wide author- as Payne, Malefakis, De la Cierva given the domestic and international
ity of Spanish Civil War studies. Not and, more recently, Moa), Preston situation.
only is he an astonishingly prolific argues that the outbreak of the war Third, against “neutral”
and successful scholar, an influen- in July 1936 cannot be blamed on the commentators who maintain that
tial mentor of several generations of provocations from the radicalized “atrocities were committed on both
historians, and, as founder and di-
rector of the Cañada Blanch Centre
for Contemporary Spanish Studies, a "[T]here is little sympathy here for the Spanish right,
crucial promoter and sponsor of schol-
arship on contemporary Spain. He is but I hope there is some understanding." Paul Preston
also an engaging author of bestselling
books, a prodigious researcher, and
a generous and tireless participant in left. To be sure, Largo Caballero’s sides,” Preston convincingly argues
electronic discussion forums, includ- revolutionary rhetoric was naïve and that Francoist repression of the enemy
ing the ALBA listserv. As one of my irresponsible. However, in the end, was not only far more extensive, but
Spanish friends puts it admiringly: the right was unwilling to accept also consciously planned and imposed
Paul es una máquina. anything but a return to conditions from above, and therefore more
The book under review, which before 1931 and was determined to morally reprehensible.
came out in Britain last year, is use violence to set back the clock. Finally, Preston maintains that,
the third iteration of Preston’s Nor does Preston agree with while the war was at base the result of
chronological, overarching account accounts proposed by historians long built-up Spanish problems and
of the Spanish Civil War. (Previous sympathetic to the Anarchist and tensions, its development, duration,
editions came out at the 50th and 60th anti-Stalinist left (such as Esenwein and eventual outcome were crucially
anniversaries of the war’s outbreak, or Bolloten) or right-wing anti- influenced by leaders and representa-
Communists (such as Radosh), who tives of foreign nations. The war
Sebastiaan Faber, currently serving on blame the defeat of the Republic would have evolved and ended quite
ALBA’s Executive Committee, is chair on the violent suppression of social differently if it had not been for the
of the Spanish department at Oberlin revolution by the Comintern-dictated spineless Western democracies that hid
College. He is author of Exile and Cultural
policy of the Spanish Communist behind the fig leaf of non-intervention,
Hegemony: Spanish Intellectuals in Mexico,
1939-1975. Party, allied with the middle-class
Continued on page 18
16 THE VOLUNTEER  September 2007
Book Reviews
3 Novelists & a War
emphasis not just on the war’s political
outcome, but also the invention of a
warrior Jewish male identity.
Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left & revolutionary family during World Measuring the “truth” of fiction
the Antifascist Crusade. By Alan M. War I. Their routes to Communism, remains a complicated matter, though
Wald. University of North Carolina
Spain, and writing novels,” Wald Wald succeeds for the most part in
Press, 2007.
observes, “collectively comprise a vital separating history from sheer
subset of the literary Left as well as a imagination. One wishes he also
By Peter Carroll hitherto neglected segment of Jewish addressed the changing contexts in

T
his study of U.S. writers on the American cultural history.” which the three novels were written—
left is the second volume of a Contrasting their fictional Bessie’s in the heat of the McCarthy
planned trilogy, focusing on the characters with various biographical period, Herrick’s in the era of
impact of the Spanish Civil War, narratives of specific soldiers in Spain, Vietnam, and Wolff’s in the post-
World War II, issues of racial identity, Wald deconstructs the primary Franco 1970s and ‘80s.
and the labor movement on various themes that emerge in their works: an
literary endeavors. As in his earlier
volume, Exiles from a Future Time, Preston
Continued from page 16
which examined writers whose works
expressed the issues of the 1920s and
early 1930s, Wald proves to be an as- Hitler’s and Mussolini’s support for and its gift for efficient, engaging nar-
tute reader and sensitive critic of a Franco, Stalin’s less-than-enthusiastic rative that skillfully combines the
wide range of authors, some scarcely and anything but disinterested sup- general sweep with the telling or sur-
known (Leonard Zinberg), others emi- port for the Republic, and the prising detail.
nent and still influential (Chester thousands of foreign volunteers who Preston is also a disciple of the
Himes, Irwin Shaw, Arthur Miller). joined the International Brigades. maverick American historian Herbert
The book’s first chapter, which Preston represents a third genera- Southworth, who maintained that the
will be of special interest to our tion of brilliant British historians of student of the Spanish Civil War can
readers, is titled “Tough Jews in the 20th century Spain. The first was and should be rigorous and
Spanish Civil War.” It probes the Gerald Brenan, whose Spanish intellectually honest, but never
thematic interrelationships of three Labyrinth was published in 1943, three politically neutral. As Preston writes
novels written by veterans of the years before Preston’s birth. The sec- in his introduction, his book does not
Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Alvah ond was Raymond Carr, Preston’s aim “to find a perfect balance
Bessie’s The Un-Americans (1957), teacher at Oxford, whose history of between both sides”: “Despite what
William Herrick’s Hermanos! (1969), Spain came out in 1966. (Preston also Franco supporters claim, I do not
and Milton Wolff’s Another Hill (1994). studied with Hugh Thomas, whose believe that Spain derived any benefit
What the three novelists shared, Spanish Civil War [1961] is generally from the military rising of 1936 and
besides the Spanish war, were their considered less brilliant than efficient the military victory of 1939.” Hence,
origins in secular New York Jewish and timely.) Preston’s approach to “there is little sympathy here for the
families. Spanish history is indebted to that of Spanish right, but I hope there is
“All suffered the loss of or his predecessors—and to the British some understanding.”
alienation from their fathers at a historiographical tradition more gen- Preston’s identity as a British
young age. Two were won to erally—in its liberal outlook; its focus historian is also clear from his interest
radicalism in the early Depression.… on individual agency, particularly in biography, which has been his main
The third [Herrick] was born into a from political and intellectual elites; Continued on page 24

18 THE VOLUNTEER  September 2007

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