The View From 1776

Spanish Civil War: A Case Study Of Propagandistic Distortion

Robert Stapler reviews and assesses the many distortions, mostly by liberal-progressives, of causes, effects, and participants in the 1930s Spanish Civil War.

The International Brigades in Spain
By Robert Stapler

While researching the period between the World Wars, I came across a British website (see ) representing itself as ‘educational’.  The site is the creation of a secondary school (UK version of high school) history teacher claiming to prepare students for the GCSE (graduation) exam.  I was appalled (though not actually shocked) by the degree of historical inaccuracy, lack of citations, revisionism, misinformation and outright disinformation I found at his site.  It unabashedly praises the International Brigades who fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  The brigades fought as volunteers, but were, in reality (for the most part), composed of communists and radical-socialists. And for he most part, they were communist led operations whose objectives and methods were less praiseworthy than we are given to believe.  Considering the wealth of available and verifiable information on the subject, the article was inexcusably sketchy (doubly so for a teaching site); and, clearly, this was by design so as not to reveal the article is 4/5 propaganda. 

I am not picking on this site as being outside the norm for ‘educational’ websites as propaganda mills, as it is only a little less scholarly and objective than most, and falls within the norm for what passes as education and educators in our times.  Rather, it is but one example (out of many I might have chosen) to illustrate the ideologically-debased condition of education and scholarship today.  Indeed, it has become increasingly rare to find educators who don’t peddle such tripe to children; so much so that fiction has supplanted reality in the zeitgeist even among well-read adults; and, we have to first ‘un-teach’ such fiction before we can begin to see the past realistically.

My purpose here is not to acquit Franco, Nazis, Fascists, and others on the right in that war and/or their contributive abuses leading to war and pursuant to war and its aftermath.  It is simply to set the record straight and to alert the public to how the Left perverts history to hide its own atrocious misbehaviors.  Make no mistake; there were monsters on both sides.  But, the Left’s portrayal of these events and behaviors are absurdly lopsided, and are devoid of any mention of their own culpability, brutality, and subversions.

The Left has acquired a reputation for manipulating history to fit its own unsupported narratives (aka, revisionism).  We conservatives have our faults too in this regard, but this article is not meant to mock or make unflattering comparisons.  Rather, it is to explore and inform how radicals (of every stripe) intentionally misinform, and how the disinformation gets absorbed and passed on by willing dupes who then perpetuate said disinformation until it acquires an aura of incontrovertibility.  Propaganda once circulated, takes on a life of its own; effectively warping reality.  It serves a further purpose (to its authors) of justifying political objectives beyond the immediate scope of originating actions.  For example, the Left created the myth illegal aliens do not burden support systems created for the benefit of citizens.  Everyone knows this to be false, yet the lie persists and serves the additional purpose of expanding governmental programs beyond the immediate cause du jour, and of making citizenship elastic (which is useful if you want to manipulate election results).  Thus, the Left is far more likely to eschew evidence as does not fit re-conceptions they themselves devise.

Radicals do read history, so it is unfair claiming they are unscholarly or illiterate.  But they read their own tripe uncritically, view the world through a fictional lens of their own making, and go to extremes assuring their fictions are what get taught in our schools.  Where conservatives (and others) have a keen interest in their own country’s history and culture, leftists are far more interested in other peoples’ histories and cultures, often to the exclusion of their own.  I realize this is a sweeping generalization with notable exceptions; but I believe it to be true in the main.  We can even extrapolate from this a bit, that conservatives tend to be those who, having studied their own histories and finding something laudable about it, build upon that foundation; whereas radicals are those who, for whatever reason and early on, decide their own country is in some sense defective; and so lose interest in it.  Retaining an interest in things historical and cultural generally, however, they shift that remaining interest to other shores and grow enamored of other cultures; even to extolling that of aliens above their own on any pretext.  And, of course, whatever they find to fault in ours, they broadcast to a less radical, ‘liberal-progressive’ audience.  I believe this helps explain why so many liberals appear misinformed on so much.

Once formed in our opinions, conservatives can be every bit as stubborn in defense of that which we believe as does the Left.  The radical-Left shows, however, by its constant revisions and contradictions, it cannot long abide evidence having its own say if it, in anyway, undermines the narrative; and will go to extremes manipulating evidence to suit ‘a higher wisdom’.  Hence, we see countless writers of articles, books and journals working feverishly to reinvent the past and reshape the present, rather than simply reporting and allowing facts, people and events to tell their own stories.  Because unsupported, today’s fiction becomes tomorrow’s embarrassment; leading to still more revising.  We see this whether the subject is comparative religion, interpreting the Founding, the so-called Palestinian Right-of-Return, a madman shooting up a school, or global-warming. 

Returning to our British teacher-essayist and my theme, the above linked radical rendering presents us with an opportunity to combat this tendency by exposing its self-serving fictions.  The essay here under examination romanticizes Spain’s ‘Republican Army’ and its allies (Soviet backed International Brigades) while vilifying Spain’s more conservative elements (monarchists, nationalists, church, businessmen, &c) and their allies (Nazis & fascists) in the most extreme terms; and by making it seem the Spanish people overwhelmingly opposed the Right and supported the Left in that conflict.  I will show that anti-communism was, then, at least as strong in Spain as anti-fascism (if not greater).  Despite the propaganda vilifying Spain’s military exclusively as fascist hijackers and merciless killers, Spain’s ‘republicans’ were just as complicit in fomenting civil war by their class warfare, disregard for valid complaints, confiscatory policies, disastrous economic blunders, relentless attacks on the church and individual Catholics, open favoritism in labor disputes, muzzling of opposition parties, and attacks on the military. 

Almost all the standard narratives leave out the war had been brewing for decades (not mere months as usually implied) and with both sides inflicting damage on the other to the degree possible (politically and physically) short of all out warfare.  Republican government was first tried in Spain in the late 18th century, as an effect of the American Revolution.  Republicans, radicals and monarchists could agree on nothing, and, so, that experiment failed in less than two years.  Class divisions and long festering hatreds simply proved too strong for the experiment.  Results of this failure included restoration of the monarchy and an enduring mistrust of republicanism among upper and middleclass Spaniards.  Moreover, Spain’s upper and ruling classes stood to lose too much by liberalization to be willing partners in their own downfall.  19th century Spain witnessed recurring clashes, class warfare, economic failures, colonial revolts, peasant revolts, labor disputes, dynastic disputes, and encroachments (both sides) which had the effect of further polarizing Spanish society.  Moreover, due to the rapid loss of Spain’s empire, the role of Spain’s military dwindled to the point its military were reduced to idleness, limited opportunities for promotion, and resentment.

Spain’s military included republicans and socialists, many of whom deserted to the Republican cause, somewhat undermining the assertion Spain’s military was totally conservative.  While, the military did include some actual ‘fascists’, most, including Franco, appear to have been, more simply, loyal soldiers terrified of radical changes wrecking [in their view as well as others] the country, church, military, economy, order and their way of life; as well as by the speed of the changes.  The reality was: both Spanish groups had some validity, both had legitimate complaints about the other, both accepted outside help that was (then and later) condemned and/or regretted, and each side acted sometimes nobly and sometimes atrociously.  The Left’s narrative, as handed down via our institutions of learning, therefore gives a lopsided, one-dimensional portrait of these rival factions, and goes something like this:

“The International Brigade is an umbrella term given to numerous groups that arrived in Spain to help the Republican cause – the overthrow of the Nationalist attempt to take over the country. Members of the International Brigade came from numerous countries – Great Britain, France, the USSR, and the former Yugoslavia for instance. However, while they may have had the same desire, the International Brigade was a collection of mainly men who had no loyalty to other groups within the International Brigade and followed no other leader than their own. Whether as a unified and cohesive force the International Brigade could have made any difference to the final outcome of the Spanish Civil War is open to conjecture.” –

“The International Brigades were military units, made up of volunteers from different countries, who travelled to Spain, in order to fight for the Second Spanish Republic, in the Spanish Civil War, between 1936 and 1939”. –

“The number of combatant volunteers [is] estimated at [as] between 32,000–35,000 … with no more than about 20,000 active at any one time.  A further 10,000 … probably participated in non-combatant roles and about 3,000–5,000 foreigners were members of CNT or POUM. They came from [over 50 countries] to fight against the Spanish Falangist forces led by General Francisco Franco, who was assisted by German and Italian forces”. –

“Spanish Civil War amounts to the opening battle of World War II, perhaps the only time in living memory when the world confronted—in fascism and Nazism—something like unqualified evil … a progressive Popular Front government was elected in February 1936, with the promise of realistic land reform one of its key planks, conservative forces immediately gathered to plan resistance … What the military did not anticipate was the determination of the Spanish people … the Spanish Civil War became a literal and symbolic instance of the growing worldwide struggle between fascism and democracy.” –

“Communists and their allies in the People’s Front were key in establishing a democratic government in Spain. The Spanish Republic was created in the aftermath of a mass revolt of workers and peasants. After the country’s first democratic election, Spanish government included conservatives, liberals, Social-Democrats, and Communists. The new, elected government began carrying out many popular reforms. Land was re-distributed, and literacy campaigns taught impoverished Spanish people to read … In response to the popular reforms, and the upsurge of democratic participation in society by the masses of Spanish people, General Francisco Franco launched an armed revolt against the democratic government. Franco was funded by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to attack the Spanish Republic with his army called the Falangists. They were supported by the Roman Catholic Church, and many wealthy bankers in Spain, the United States, and Europe.” –

As you can see, all of these sources read from the same basic script regardless they are mainstream or derivative.  If they vary at all, it is only with regard to how strongly they vilify and falsify the right, praise and validate the Left, minimize (or fantasize) the role of communism, or distort the record for reasons we can only guess at.  The first citation above mischaracterizes conservatives (aka, ‘Nationalists’) as “… attempt[ing] to take over the country”.  If anyone had ‘taken the country over’, it was the left as they were the clear agents of change.  ‘Reactionary’ is, by definition, a ‘reaction’ to someone else imposing their will on others; an attempt to stop or slow the rate of radical change, or to revert to things as they were just before the most recent change.  Thus, the more accurate rendering would be conservatives “… attempted to take the country back”.  Before the socialists came to power, the country had been a constitutional-monarchy with long established norms.  We may not agree with those norms, but there is no gainsaying it was the Left (and not the Right) that was imposing its will on an (about equally) unwilling populous in ways that can only be described as radical, confiscatory, destructive, and consciously unconstitutional.

The citation next disingenuously characterizes the brigades as “mainly men who had no loyalty to other groups”.  This too is patently false.  Almost to a man (and woman) the brigades were composed of communists, radical-socialist and/or those with a strong associations with socialism.  Most exhibited a clear preference for communism, or something very near to it.  Some could even be classed as fascists, despite they fought against fascists (socialists are often confused just who they are and who fighting; victims of their own propaganda).  Few could be legitimately characterized as being without such an affinity.  Many had histories of radicalism in their own countries, including brushes with the law.  If not actually pledged (i.e., a party member), they, at least, were willing accomplices to the spread of communism, and perfectly conscious communist brigade dominance meant Spain’s future government would be dictatorial regardless who won.

The Wikipedia citation is better, yet it too leaves us with a one-sided interpretation.  It claims brigade volunteers came to fight for the ‘Spanish Republic’, but only someone ignorant of history (and I believe the wiki article to have been written by a scholar) would be fooled by the ‘Republican’ moniker applied to men who were decidedly socialist in their objectives and overt distain for republican niceties.  The wiki article goes on to tell us who these volunteers were, even to personal details as makes them human, but little about the opposition; the better to make valid comparisons.  Leaving them indistinct gives an impression of faceless, inhumane and rapacious hordes.  Were they really inhuman, did every German and Italian soldier think in lockstep with Hitler and Mussolini?  Were even Hitler and Mussolini quite as monstrous at this particular moment as they were later?  Or, perhaps, are our less than objective historiographers projecting later crimes onto earlier events?  Again, there is that little matter of sequence.

The fourth citation above was written by an English Lit major with a confused and weak grasp of the times, events and actors.  His sequence is badly botched you might almost think his essay a work of pure fiction.  The world did not know, in 1936, that Nazism and fascism would prove as terrible as we now know it was, yet that is the impression he gives.  In 1936, fascism, national-socialism and their variants, were praised in West as often as were international-socialism, communism, progressivism, and liberty.  If anything, socialism and liberty were regarded equally valid, equally commendable, and combinable within the same system (a belief that persists to this day, despite we’ve yet to see evidence of it).  The two leading forms of socialism (communism and Nazism), however, were rivals after competing hegemonies.  Popular opinion regarding them (outside their immediate spheres of influence) was generally positive despite the disturbances attending their rivalry.  Each of these movements attracted roughly equal numbers of outsider adherents.  Hitler and Mussolini were, in 1936, still reaping praise from Western intellectuals, journalists, businessmen, labor-unions, pedagogues, fraternal orders, and political leaders for their ‘wonderful accomplishments’.  In the so-called ‘democracies’, politicians and progressives alike toyed with adopting fascist & communist programs in their own countries; and the media fell all over itself praising aspects of first one and then the other.  In general, the press favored the international variety of socialism more than the national, but typically praised such shared agendas as planned-economy, educational reforms (i.e., indoctrination), welfare programs, lobotomizing the insane, selective breeding, population control, euthanizing the old and unfit, and ethnic-cleansing schemes.  So, as far as the world was then concerned (prior to the propaganda campaigns), meddling in the Spanish Civil War did not represent democracy slugging it out against fascism on a truly democratic field, nor did it see the contest as confronting extraordinary ‘evil’.  It was, more simply, a contest between national and international socialisms over a failed republic rent by its own internal squabbles, which few had expected to succeed anyway. 

Of the two outsiders, it was communists who, to that time, had the more fearsome reputation.  The Nazis were a relative unknown; and all the allegations raised against them by leftist were obviously attempts by Soviets to turn tables on an ideological and territorial adversary.  By that time, the West had realized the Nazis were bad actors too (and, yes, it was perfectly possible to predict they would prove the greater or more immediate danger), but all that was irrelevant to brigade self-justification.  Ergo, the propaganda campaign waged against the fascists by communists was really about keeping the West from looking too closely at the brigades’ communist composition and objectives.

Non-interventionism was the overriding principle in the West just then, and both communist and fascist meddlers exploited the Big Powers’ unwillingness to defend Spain.  It was dogma that world wars could only recur as a result of obligatory alliances and/or outsider interventions because those had played a critical role in igniting and spreading the First World War.  Spain without intervention would have been just one more European conflict, or so went the theory.  To the big powers, intervention by any of the pact’s signatories represented a breach of trust and principle of greater importance than ‘which meddler was the bigger aggressor’ or ‘how Spain and peace were best preserved’.  I doubt any of the big powers (Britain, France or America) realized how strong the fascists would soon become, or how strong the communists would become with us supplying them with war material and cash (all that would come later).  If they had, they probably would have dropped their lofty insistence on non-intervention, and kicked both fascist and communist out of Spain.  But, of course, that is hindsight and unrealistic to expect they were any more prescient than we are.

Spain’s coalition government of 1936 included a variety of rival groups, and the resulting coalition called itself a ‘Popular Front’.  But, isn’t that just typical of radicals to call themselves a ‘front’ and ‘popular’ regardless they are neither.  No party won a clear majority in the election, the Popular Front simply got enough votes (after pooling) to win under Spain’s then election laws.  If it was a front, it was a mighty shaky one, as its member groups loathed and feared each other almost as much as they did the opposition, and fought amongst themselves incessantly.  In fact, it was partly this infighting the military responded to, as that was inflicting greater damage and confusion to the country (and to its conservative elements) than had the coalition had been more stable.  Instability can be as dangerous as confiscation; and does, in some cases, provide sufficient justification to take action.  The standard narratives fail to even mention this as a possible or contributory motive for the action taken by the military despite it was clearly spelled out in Franco’s declaration of 17 July (see ).

Despite the Popular Front winning a majority of seats in the election of 1936 (,_1936#Seats ), they did not win the popular vote (47%).  Neither did conservatives with 49.8% of the vote.  The left simply proved more successful in forming a coalition, and did so sooner than the right.  Moreover, there were widespread voting irregularities on the left as casts even that outcome into disrepute.  While many of the left’s unrealistic reforms were indeed popular, those reforms rapid disruptions of country and economy were not.  Despite the article’s false allegation of the speed with which conservatives reacted, they were not all that quick to revolt given how fast the country was falling apart.  A few did, but most, including Franco, were hesitant to unwilling.  As to the suggestion the Spanish people overwhelmingly opposed the conservative reaction, the division of Spanish combatants suggests the conservative cause enjoyed slightly better support than did the socialists (514,000 vs 407,000).  Still, that does not necessarily prove conservatives had a popular edge in the fight, only that they were better organized and more effective in their recruiting.  What we do know is that we don’t really know (and can’t know) how the ‘average’ Spaniard felt about the war, then or soon after.  Ergo, this writer is simply projecting his own ideologically rooted assumptions.

As scholars, we ought to be asking: what is missing from all these readings, and might they be biased in some degree?  It is easy to believe that just because almost all give out (roughly) the same story, they must be true.  But, with propaganda supplanting reality it is all too often not the case.  One thing that is obviously missing (and this is as true of the full citations as the excerpts) is the other side’s (i.e., Spanish conservatives’) version of the events.  Due to the wide dissemination and acceptance of leftist renderings and crowding out of conservative testimony, it takes a great deal of searching and sifting today even to find an opposed viewpoint or testimony on this topic.  Forty years ago, I remember reading conservative accounts that told a different tale.  I did not then believe those reports (because I considered myself a liberal) and gave them short shrift; and, so, did not think to preserve and can no longer find copies.  This suggests a gradual purging of the literature over time in addition to the original narratives favoring the left’s version.  Some of that is natural (one side’s narrative gets refreshed, the other does not), but I also suspect some conscious pruning has happened.

Some of the confusion stems from a failure to place events in their proper order.  Propagandists of the time (both sides) made a hash of this sequence in the reportage (newspapers & radio) in order to justify their own behaviors and discredit an enemy’s; so we should not be too surprised leftist intellectuals and teachers imbibing this bilge continue to believe the shuffled version.  For a relatively factual timeline of the war, see (correct as to sequence, but descriptions are, in some cases, unenlightening without a thorough reading of links).

For purposes of examination, I have broken the overall myth into sub-myths as follows:

Myth #1 – the brigades consisted of ‘democracy loving’ volunteers.
Myth #2 – a) the brigades responded to attacks against a government that was popularly & legitimately elected and appropriately democratic; and b) it was this which justified the brigades’ intervention (whereas fascist intervention was merely criminal).
Myth #3 – Franco was a Falangist.
Myth #4 – acceptance of Nazi and fascist aid proves Franco and his Falange led coalition were likewise fascist.

Myth #1 – brigades were ‘democracy loving’

A key justification in the left’s portrayal of the conflict (and their part in it) was this idea one side fought for democracy and freedom in the Western sense of those terms, while the other fought to enslave a people under the fascist banner.  The reality was both sides enlisted outsiders to aid them, both sought to warp the outcome to suit totalitarian objectives, and both outsider-forces were rife with socialist radicals,.  They were also about equally brutal, deceitful and callus in their methods.  Although the Soviets (and their western socialists volunteers) often used these two terms (‘freedom’ & ‘democracy’) to justify their meddling, it was pure propaganda; and no more (or less) sincere than Nazi professions of the same false declarations of self-determination.  In the West when we say ‘freedom’, we mean each individual should be left, to the degree possible, to his own devices to work out his/her own destiny.  When a socialist says ‘freedom’ he/she means a safety net protecting the individual (as part of some larger group) from the consequences of his/her own actions, and protecting the group from the actions of individuals also.  These are antithetical definitions, as the latter precludes the individual acting, in any sense of the term, independently of the group.

Democracy is one of those terms everyone uses as though clearly understood, but usually isn’t.  It is most often ascribed to prevailing systems of government in which top officials are ‘democratically’ elected to office.  The actual form of government, however, is typically ‘republican’ else a ‘parliamentarian-monarchy’.  It can also be oppressively socialist or dictatorial.  Even our elections vary to the point many of them insults to their democratic intent.  Thus, calling most of these systems a ‘democracy’, is not only misleading, it imputes a sense of virtue to frequently unvirtuous governments into order to fool the politically-naïve into going along with actions they’d otherwise oppose. 

Real democracy is a form of government in which all citizens participate directly in decisions of state; in which rules and actions (e.g., declare war, send emissaries, judge an offender, &c) are decided collectively.  Democracy is impracticable except in a population small enough all citizens can gather at a single place (or concurrent venue) so that each can have his/her say in the proceedings (e.g., tribal gatherings of native-Americans, town-hall meetings). 

When the Brigades, their Soviet manipulators, or historiographers claim they fought for ‘democracy’ (in the Western sense), the claim fails on two counts; a) that a ‘democracy’ was, in fact, under attack (Spain has never been a democracy) and, b) it was not really ‘democracy’ they defended but, more obviously, wanted everyone to think that was the objective in order to reap a propaganda bonanza.

Myth #2a – Spanish Republicans: a popular, legitimately-elected, democratic government

Even evidence gathered from leftist sources demonstrates this to be a false claim.  Spain’s form of government (before, during and after the war) was a parliamentary-monarchy; which though electively ‘democratic’ was far from being a ‘democracy’.  The monarchy had largely been abandoned as a result of a socialist-led military coup d’état in 1923, and Spain’s king self-exiled following the socialist dominated elections of 1931; but it was still a constitutional-monarchy.  A great deal of propaganda emphasis is placed on the military having ‘plotted’ an overthrow, but violent reaction and plots were even more the norm on the left (whether in and out of power).  For example, an election victory by conservatives in 1934 prompted the left to stage a violent strike that effectively paralyzed conservative reforms, and the government the left claimed was under threat of assault by ‘reactionaries’, in fact, had already been usurped by Popular Front radicals on the eve of the war.  Street violence by organized gangs was also a frequent tactic used by the left to obstruct government, force changes and sow discord (Germany was not alone in having squads of ‘brown-shirts’).

At the time of its civil war, Spain had had a republican form of government less than five years.  Within that span, faith in republicanism was mostly absent in any of its political factions (monarchist, nationalist, anarchists, progressives, socialists or communists), and even less obvious in Spain’s apolitical classes.  Moreover, at the time of the nationalist revolt (July 1936), the so-called ‘republican’ government then in power was fracturing over differences of agenda and personality.  The Popular-Front government was composed of left-republicans, socialists, anarchists, and communists, none of whom achieved a majority in the elections.  In fact, it was radical-socialists within the coalition that initially staged a coup, ousting their own moderate-socialist president; and it was that (plus cumulative attacks against the church, businesses, land-owners & military) that triggered the civil war.

Therefore, the political system of Spain in this period was, at best, in a state of flux (see ), was inherently unstable and weakly supported, and ‘democratic’ in name only.

Myth 2b – brigades justified in meddling / fascist meddling criminal

The picture we get is that the Brigades were justified in their meddling because the fascists a) meddled first, and b) were dangerous to established forms of government and personal freedom. 
Forgotten in this portrayal are the Brigades, as a communist led organization and socialist spearhead was just as dangerous.  Also missing from the narrative is that, although fascists did indeed introduce their resources and ‘volunteers’ into the conflict first, both the Soviets/socialists and Nazi/fascists began to mobilize almost simultaneously.  That the fascists were able to deliver men and material faster and more effectively is largely a case of shared borders and modes of transportation with Spain which Soviet Russia lacked.  For the Soviets to catchup in the meddling required they come up with some novel means to move men and material into the fight, and to simultaneously persuade the big powers (Britain, France, and America) their invaders wore white hats and did not violate neutrality restrictions.  The method they settled on was to work through proxies, and the proxies they naturally turned to were their own network of communist cells, socialist sympathizers, and socialism-favoring press in Western countries closer to the action. 

Another criterion often used to justify brigade intervention implies they responded to protect and not destroy a stable, legitimate system of government and decent way of life for ordinary Spaniards.  But, is this really true?  Clearly, many of the brigade’s volunteers believed they were doing just that, but some too quickly realized that was not the situation or not how they were being exploited in the fight; and deserted when they realized the brigades were just as evil or the cause they were fighting was a farce.  If the Nazi/fascists were evil, so too were the communists; and it was the communists who dominated the brigades.

But, ‘What of the government of Spain?’, you will say.  If it was, in fact, a legitimate government, doesn’t that justify outsider volunteers coming to their rescue?  So, what if those volunteers had ulterior motives given the only alternative is an unchallenged fascist victory. 

The problem with this argument is that it hinges on a single presumption the ‘Republicans’ then in power were not instigators of their own demise.  If (contrary to the standard narrative), the republicans were really socialists who had already usurped more than was allowed by their constitution, and showed every sign of further traducing their constitution and of crippling political enemies by unjust means, that argues against them and for their opponents.  And, if the more radical members of the ruling coalition ousted the legitimately elected leader of their faction in order to force changes beyond their mandate, through violence, or by illegal means, that too argues against their supposed legitimacy.

In April/May 1936, moderate socialist Zamora was forced out as President and Azana, a radical-socialist and Popular Front’s real organizer, assumed power without calling for a referendum.  This alone made this government illegitimate.  In February 1936, the Falange was forced to close its Madrid office and was banned altogether in May.  Also in February, General Franco was relieved of his command and sent to the Canary Islands to get him out of Spain.  Other officers were similarly abused, demoted and/or reposted where they could not oppose or protest radical changes.  The military was legislatively barred from political involvement around this time.  In March 1936, Rivera was arrested and charged with arms trafficking, and by November 1936 he was executed.  Around this time (April-May), a vendetta street-war began between those on the right and left; which is where much of the propaganda fodder begins alleging conservatives plotted all along to overthrow the government.  In May 1936, the government ordered the closing of Catholic schools due to frequent arson (i.e., churches were being burned, so let’s punish the Catholics).  There was a long history of anti-clericalism by radical-socialists enabled by this so-called republican government that included vandalism, looting, desecrations, confiscations (by government), beatings, and even murders (see ).

Myth #3 – Franco was a Falangist/fascist

One of the hardest things in historiography it determining ‘what was the guiding philosophy or ideology’ behind events or participants, and is tantamount to ‘reading tea leaves’ for enlightenment.  Where historical persons have declared the philosophy guiding them, this is fairly easy, but where (as in Franco’s case) our subject fails or refuses to declare himself, we can only guess.  All of the sources objected to herein, have projected their own beliefs onto Franco that he was a fascist or Falangist, and that he sought absolute power from the outset of the civil war.  I do not believe the evidence supports any of that.

Prior the civil war, the Falange (Phalanx) was an insignificant political group with few adherents.  There is some debate the pre-war Falange should even be counted on the ‘right’, as its platform consisted of: republican reforms, modernization, poor-relief, and opposition to communism and monarchy alike.  In 1934, the Falange combined with a syndicalist/trade-union group to become the Falange Española de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista, or FE-JONS.  It was but one of many groups in opposition to socialists masquerading as republicans, and a tiny group at that.  The Falange had some friends and admirers on the left, and, until hostilities broke out was considered a left of center organization.  But, was it ‘fascist’.  I find little evidence to support that argument either, just lots of accusation and innuendo.  Yes, it shared certain fascist traits (e.g., syndicalism), but few of those traits for which they can be rightly condemned as thuggish totalitarians.  If the potential for becoming a fascist were a legitimate criterion, then all of us, Left and Right, can be legitimately condemned as ‘proto-fascists.  Fortunately, the evidentiary bar is set higher than that, requiring some actual fascist behavior combined with self-justifying rhetoric to be on display.  The FE de JONS is, at most, guilty of syndicalism and of bullying businesses into unionizing.  But, then, so did the New Dealers, British Labor Party and French trade-unionists.  Were those groups fascist also?  If not, what are the key criteria?  What is it that fascists advocate or do that others do not, as makes the former reprehensible and the latter acceptable, even admirable?  Wikipedia says Mussolini’s fascists were not bullies by accident but by design; who, as early as 1925, advocated an authoritarian-totalitarian state and conquest of ‘lost territories’ in their doctrine.  The FE-JONS had no such territorial ambitions, no totalitarian doctrine, and their violence was not directed outside the confines of Spain.

There is no evidence Franco was ever a Falange member prior to the war, nor of any other political group.  He was a military officer, plain and simple, who was dedicated to king and country (common among Spain’s officer corps; see ).  Clearly, he was something of a monarchist, but, if so, he can’t also have been either a fascist or Falangist as both those groups opposed monarchy. 

It was the Left’s open attacks on and abuses of the military, royal family and church that finally drove Franco and his fellow officers into open rebellion, and not a lust for power as generally portrayed.  Franco did adopt some of the methods of the Left, including propaganda posters and leader cult, but this was little different from the same means used by Americans (FDR), Soviets (Stalin), British and French (de Gaulle) … and Spanish Republicans/Brigades … to rally support behind every new cause. 

The Falange are lumped with conservatives in the 1936 election results; but that was more because, like conservatives, they were anti-communist, not because they were conservative or willing to work with or support conservatives. 

Contrary to modern mythology, fascism does not equate to conservatism or ‘the Right’.  Fascism and Nazism are radical socialist movements; and that places them squarely on the left.  The Spanish right was composed mainly of traditionalists and special interests (e.g., businessmen, the military and the church), and it is only irony that some leftists joined conservatives in fighting fellow leftists.

Likely reasons Franco incorporated the ‘Falange’ brand in naming the Right’s new coalition are mixed and varied.  He needed a recognizable name to give his umbrella coalition.  The Falange’s leader (Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera) was martyred/murdered by political enemies on the left soon after the war broke out (but before Franco assumed leadership), and the martyr happened to have been the son of a prominent conservative (Prime Minister in the 1920s), giving his some credibility among conservative upper strata.  The Falange, without Rivera, was leaderless; making confiscation of its brand a simple matter without the usual rivalry.  Moreover, Rivera’s followers were probably content following a leader who opposed communism as much as they did.  The largest faction on the right (after the church) were the Carlists.  Choosing a name for this new movement (Franco refused making it into a party) with the name ‘Carlist’ in it would have caused problems for Franco, primarily because the Carlists favored an alternate line of descent to the throne than the current one; and Franco was loyal to the current, if self-exiled, king.  Giving precedence to any other rival conservative group, therefore, would have ignited jealousies.  Ergo, it is my interpretation that Franco’s inclusion of Falange in the new party name was not because he favored the Falange over other parties, it was because Franco was shrewd enough to avoid favoring any one party too much.

Myth #4 – Nazi/fascist aid proves Franco & Falange were fascist too

The term ‘fascism’ in the context of the Spanish Civil War, its aftermath, and propaganda intended to vilify one side only, requires we avoid too loose a definition and that our definition matches how it was then understood.  It is not fair or valid to make comparisons based on how it is now understood, used or abused. 

There is no question Franco and associates were sometimes brutal, dictatorial, despicable and oppressive.  But, fascist is a term the Left misuses to tar anyone and everyone who disagrees with their dogma.  As a highly-charged emotional term, it is used to put an opponent off his game by putting him/her on the defensive by making the dissenter appear odious to an under-informed audience, regardless they are not in the same league with real fascists.  It is this abuse of term which has made it almost meaningless and unintelligible.  Tellingly, the Left never smears using such pejoratives as ‘commie’, ‘socialist’ or ‘radical’ (terms with a far bloodier connotation than even ‘Nazi’) because that would expose their own association in the process.    The Left has created and maintains a self-serving myth that fascism is synonymous with the political ‘Right’ in every country in order to demonize those who, for one reason or another, oppose them.  Thus, it is our opposition and not our ideology that is objected to.  At least in the West, the Right of today consists of those who, 100 years ago, were commonly identified as ‘liberal’.  Communists were, in that same era, even more repressively brutal and inflicted more death and damage than all fascists combined (then to now).  Yet, today’s leftist propaganda persists and has succeeded in confusing the public regarding this history and these terms to the extent it is acceptable (even fashionable) being tagged a communist … but never a fascist.

It helps to start with a verifiable definition of what constitutes fascism.  A grossly simplified (and misleading) definition goes something like this one:

“An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization; (in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.”

Some of the above traits are valid for fascism, but not all.  First and foremost is that fascism and Nazism were not ideologies belonging to the Right, but of the Left.  The Right in Europe and America consists of those wedded to some elements of the past, to the status quo, or to Enlightenment principles of limited self-rule.  In Europe of the time, conservatives consisted of those who defended monarchy, religion, or an economic system against radical pressures to overthrow entire systems that had worked adequately (some, though not all) for centuries, substituting untried, often impractical schemes likely to cause more harm than good.  The European Right includes also, any who saw dangers and moral dilemmas arising from the various socialisms, and therefore opposed socialism based on principle or foreboding alone.  These latter belong to no definable ideology, and are defined only by their opposition.  In America, conservatives include all of the above categories except monarchism.  American conservatism is also distinct from the European variety (and most other continents) as it is, first and foremost, about preserving liberty and of maintaining that particular system of limited self-government devised by our Framers which, thus far, has proved the greatest prescription for liberty and surest bulwark ever devised against tyranny (when diligently maintained) by man.  Fascism, by comparison, is inherently despotic; and, therefore, the complete antithesis of American-conservatism.  Western European conservatism, for its own reasons, is nearly as incompatible with fascism as the American variety, because fascism is inherently hostile to those allegiances regard by conservatives as sacred or worth preserving.  For example, you can combine fascism with monarchy, but not for long because fascists will not long tolerate power sharing and will exploit demagoguery to eliminate their partner/rivals.

Here is a little better definition of what constitutes fascism (see ):
• a radical form authoritarian-nationalism of the early 20th-century in Europe strongly influenced by syndicalism
• [political ideology strongly] opposed to [classic-]liberalism, Marxism, communism, anarchism and traditional-conservatism[s]
• Citizens, production and industry are mobilized & martialed to serve the state in time of war; total mobilization of society under a totalitarian single-party state necessary to prepare the nation for armed conflict
• unprecedented authority to intervene in the lives of citizens
• liberal democracy rendered obsolete by WWI
• a strong leader and a martial government are necessary to overcome economic problems, to forge a national unity and to maintain a stable, orderly society
• rejects assertion violence automatically a negative in nature; regards political-violence, war, and imperialism as legitimate means for achieving a national reinvigoration
• advocates a mixed economy with a goal of achieving economic independence through protectionist and interventionist economic policies

There are other traits we can assign to fascism, and the wiki article discusses some of those.  But, these I believe to be core features and terms reasonable people will recognize and accept.  Moreover, most of these are regarded objectionable features of fascism in historical hindsight.  Many of them non-unique to fascism, however, and it is that which is often exploited by radicals (or some ignoramus) to conflate fascism with some non-fascist behavior in order to deflect criticism from their own agenda.

So, was Franco a fascist or a Falangist?  There is no way to be certain, but I don’t see that the evidence supports such an assertion; and, if unsupported, it should be dropped from what is taught about him as spiteful maligning.  Franco has enough else to answer for that tagging him as a ‘fascist’ is just piling it on.  The danger from doing that (and letting it slide) is that our own narrative becomes false, leading us (and our children) into increasingly greater error, until we become the very thing we are trying to avoid.

Additional readings: – difficulty defining fascism & socialism,_Fascism_and_the_Falange_-_Not_One_and_the_Same_Thing/

Perspectives from the left - perfect example of ‘unscholarly’ muddled misrepresentation of the brigades as somehow independent of communist influence, and that these ‘independents’ flocked to Spain ‘overwhelmingly in defense of ‘democracy’ rather than to impose anti-democratic communism, socialism and/or radical anarchism.  There are two problems with this narrative: 1) Spain wasn’t and had never been a democracy, and 2) it wasn’t brigade members who defined brigade objectives but their communist manipulators (i.e., a Republican ‘victory’ would have made negligible difference to the outcome).  In fact, all most all volunteers backed one kind of socialism or another, including those professing ‘democratic-socialism’ (an oxymoron, or something very near to one and with the half-life of a gnat – see ).  These volunteers were every bit as fuzzy on the concept of ‘democracy’ as are modern democrats, and truly believed democracy and socialism compatible.  Worse, they were all too willing to be duped into fighting on behalf of communists whom they must have known were as terrible as the fascists.  They were marginally clearer on the idea of a republic, however, and honestly defended what they thought a ‘legitimately-elected republican system (too bad no one told them even that was a farce.  The Spanish Civil War was triggered by a coup initiated by one set of radical-socialists edging out legitimately-elected moderate-socialists (aka, ‘democratic-socialists).  That said, however, there were also large numbers of brigadiers who did understand these distinctions and were perfectly willing to exploit the situation to transform a purely local fight into one more conquest for communism, and many of these in positions of leadership. – from the horse’s ass, ah, mouth - left leaning, yet considerably more balanced view by an actual historian; plus and

Some non-partisan perspectives (or nearly so) - a mainly factual rendering (though a bit dry) - an interesting attempt to draw others into debate regarding the Hemingway rendering

/ – a more balanced narrative, note the Spanish republic was in its infancy.  Outside the cities, Spaniards had little appreciation of democracy and tended to be more politically radical or conservative according to class.  As noted in some of the above links, by 1936 socialist policies had wrecked the economy, exiled military leaders as politically non grata, and were in the process of wrecking the church.  Standard narratives paint the military, church and capitalists as the great villains of this tragedy, but this was purely Marxist propaganda that, along with the advent of civil war, became embarrassing for more liberal governments to later gainsay.  And, so, they participated in the fiction and it stuck in the zeitgeist down to this very day.  Clearly, the military, church and business interests were already under attack by the left prior to the rebellion.  Yes, the right shared some ideological baggage with fascists and corporatists, but so did the left; or in any of the other so-called ‘democracies, for that matter.  Socialism, in its various guises, was the next big thing of that era; and everyone was toying with it (especially Europe).  Had the first convulsion resulting from radical socialism gone amuck occurred in Greece or the Balkans, I have no doubt it would be Greek conservatives who’d be vilified today instead of Spanish conservatives.  Spanish conservatives quite rightly feared their country would soon fall victim to communism.  Many conservatives also feared a fascist takeover, but, in 1936, communism had the longer and stronger reputation for aggression.  So, they responded as any patriot would. 

In hindsight, it is easy (and convenient) condemning conservatives like Franco for the pact they made with fascists.  But, in 1936 it was far less clear just how evil the Nazis would prove to be (Mussolini and fascists were light-weights by comparison and easily dealt with).  It was already clear to most (including many liberals) that the Soviets were frightful and not to be trusted; which is why they and brigades went to such lengths to disguise who they were and what they were up to behind a cover of ‘volunteers’.  The ‘democracies’ were refusing to help conservatives restore political order (i.e., far left coup) and favored the left regardless due the fiction (accepted among liberals) equating ‘moderate-socialism’ with democracy.  So, Spanish conservatives, ignored (or despised) by the ‘democracies’, and facing a Soviet-backed invasion (Soviets had already infiltrated military advisers into Spain) were left with few options; and, did the obvious thing … accepted outside help from the only ones willing to help them – the Germans and Italians.

Some conservative perspectives - a Catholic writes … - testimony of a civil war baby - While Conservapedia sets some minor points aright and provides ideological ‘balancing’, scholarship is not their strong-suit, and this site lacks many details and depth I hoped for.

Miscellaneous links: - Malraux’s fraudulence exposed,_1936 & – gives a clearer picture of Spanish politics of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Spain attempted republicanism several times, but never got the hang of it; and many Spaniards (middleclass especially) became disillusioned with republicanism as a result.  Spain also lacked Britain and Spain’s centuries’-long experience of personal rights, legal basis, and theorizing. - from this and other titles I have read, it does not appear Spain’s constitution was ever ratified by popular referendum, which somewhat undermines the ‘popular government’ argument used by the brigades.  It may have been popular despite strong evidence (either way), but unless or until such evidence can be demonstrated, I have to think the country and its people were polarized right down the middle.

Some 1930/40s Propaganda Posters