- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

When Gen. Emilio Mola was asked at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 which of his four columns he expected would capture Madrid, he replied, "the fifth column." He was, of course, referring to his undercover rebel supporters within the capital city.

What he didn't know was that there was a sixth column in Madrid comprising supposed supporters of the beleaguered Spanish Republic who would in time help him and his successor, Gen. Francisco Franco, to take Madrid and win the war. These were Joseph Stalin's battalions, Spanish Communist Party members, Soviet secret police, and Comintern agents whose instructions from Stalin were fairly simple: Take control of the war and, of equal if not greater importance, execute all "Trotskyites."

"Trotskyite" was a catchall appellation covering all leftist opponents of Stalinist communism and, especially in Spain, anarchists or anarcho-syndicalists. For Stalin, beating back Franco and his nationalist troops was far down on his "must" list.

Such a statement about Stalinist duplicity would be rejected even today by any good left liberal as calumny. Understandably. Even though Stalin, like V.I. Lenin, had wiped out in the Soviet Union anything resembling democracy, and even though the Moscow show trials were in full swing, Western liberals en masse believed that the communists were the most effective champions of democracy in Spain. "Mountains of mendacity," was Paul Johnson's phrase describing the pro-Soviet lies that circulated about the Spanish Civil War. "No episode in the 1930s has been more lied about than this one."

And now at long last we have in "Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union and the Spanish Civil War," edited by Ronald Radosh, Mary R. Habeck and Grigory Sevostianov, immutable proof of what George Orwell was reporting at the time to skeptical audiences, namely, how Stalin had been betraying the Spanish Republicans from day one of the Civil War. There is documentary proof right from the Soviet archives themselves that a concomitant of the Spanish Civil War was a Stalin-directed war against Republican government officials, Spanish and foreign soldiers alike who opposed Soviet takeover of Spain.

To understand the full meaning of these telltale tidbits from the archives we must first look back at one of the most infamous "party line" dogmas spawned in 1931 by the Soviet dictator : "social fascism." It was infamous because it made Adolf Hitler inevitable. Stalin propounded the theory that the real enemies of the revolution were not fascists, Nazis or capitalists. No, the real enemies were socialists, social democrats and non-communist labor leaders and followers of the exiled, and later assassinated, Leon Trotsky.

Stalin imposed this calamitous "party line" on the Spanish Civil War because the Spanish Republican cause was of secondary importance to him. Thus Largo Caballero, leader of the Republican forces and a true democrat who refused to follow Kremlin orders, was to Stalin a far greater enemy than Franco. One can read the results of the party line in the 81 documents included in this book, communications between Soviet agents on the spot and Soviet officials in Moscow who instructed their agents as to what Stalin wanted done and no questions asked. Those who asked questions were purged, imprisoned or shot.

What these documents also reveal conclusively is that the Nation magazine during the Spanish Civil War was itself betrayed by one of its on-the-scene correspondents, Louis Fischer. In an 8,000-word Comintern stenogram (Document 30) he is shown to be reporting to a high Soviet intelligence official on December 31, 1936 about supposedly unsuccessful Spanish Republican generals, proving that they represented "a government of traitors." Fischer, who later turned against communism, was 100 percent in the pocket of Soviet intelligence throughout the war while filing dispatches to the Nation.

In all the post-Soviet archival revelations the documents cited here are among the most meaningful because the Spanish Civil War was also a "good" war of the intellectuals. It came at a time of the emergence of the Kremlin-run Popular Front and the recruitment of some intellectuals as Soviet spies in Britain, the United States, Canada and France. Spain in 1936 became the symbol of the resistance to fascism. It is sad to read these Soviet archives and read the words of a Soviet agent to the Comintern's Georgi Dimitrov: "The war cannot end successfully if the Communist Party does not take power in its own hands."

It is even sadder to note that while some 31,000 men volunteered for the International Brigades, only 10,000 remained as of August, 1938 (Document 74). So many gave up their lives for nothing. And it surely became nothing when Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler signed their "non-aggression" pact in August, 1939.


Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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