A Brill publication @ the Central: Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-37 by Alan Sennett.

Alan Sennett 

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 7, ‘Defending the Revolution’, pages 267-9 of Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, published by Brill. I have omitted the footnotes and altered the tense of the first sentence to address the present reader.  This snippet is taken from the concluding section to the chapter and offers a brief assessment of the POUM, its key thinkers and leaders, their role in Spain’s revolution and relationship with both the political thought and personality of Leon Trotsky.  It follows the main body of the chapter that deals with the attacks upon the POUM and what amounted to the rolling back of revolutionary gains (especially collectivisation) in which the party had played a role alongside the much larger and more powerful Anarcho-Syndicalist CNT.  The party and its leadership were subjected to a campaign of vilification and slander – accused, among other things of being ‘Trotsky-fascists’ and part of a ‘fifth column’.  This position was put forward by the official communists, the Comintern and other national Communist parties and their press organs.  May 1937 had seen the playing out of a mini civil war in Barcelona triggered by attacks upon revolutionary gains. Defeat for the revolutionary Left was quickly followed by the Republican government outlawing the POUM, Nin’s disappearance and murder and the arrest of many militants, some of whom were later tried by the Republican government. The chapter assesses historians’ explanations for the propaganda assault and the nature of the May events and Nin’s murder, all of which are matters of some controversy. There is also major historical disagreement over the roles played by the official Communists, Soviet agents and other forces; the culpability or otherwise of the POUM leaders; and whether or not the vilification campaign was connected to Soviet foreign policy, whose logic – it has been argued – dictated terminating Spain’s social revolution and the forces supporting it.  While sympathetic to the POUM in many ways, the emphasis is upon presenting a historical analysis which will, I suspect, find little favour with any sectarian political positions.  Read more of this post

Book Review: Linda Palfreeman, Aristocrats, Adventurers and Ambulances.

Alan Sennett

Image © Bas de Jong

Linda Palfreeman’s new book, Aristocrats, Adventurers and Ambulances. British Medical Units in the Spanish Civil War, makes an important contribution to the historiography of Spain’s bitter civil war. Building upon her earlier ¡Salud! British Volunteers in the Republican Medical Services During the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2012), the author offers a well-documented account of two hitherto neglected British humanitarian initiatives. While British relief efforts for Republican Spain have been well documented and analysed, there remain notable silences in the historical record. Read more of this post

The Lost World of Rhodes by Nathan Shachar book review

Mike Guilfoyle

Image © Mstyslav Chernov

I was immediately drawn towards Nathan Shachar’s evocative and moving book on the formative historic influences that have he notes contributed so much to the diverse and richly textured socio -cultural inheritance of the Greek Island of Rhodes, the largest of the twelve Dodecanese islands situated near to South-Eastern Turkey (remarkably it only became a part of Greece in 1948!).  An Island that has been so memorably shaped and contoured by the confluence of epochal storied events ably detailed in this deeply humane and insightful narrative.   Read more of this post

Reconstructing Spain book promotion@LeftCentral

Reconstructing Spain 

This book explores the role of cultural heritage in post-conflict reconstruction, whether as a motor for the prolongation of violence or as a resource for building reconciliation. The research was driven by two main goals: first, to understand the post-conflict reconstruction process in terms of cultural heritage, and second, to identify how this process evolves in the medium term and the impact it has on society. The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and its subsequent phases of reconstruction provides the primary material for this exploration. In pursuit of the first goal, the book centres on the material practices and rhetorical strategies developed around cultural heritage in post-civil war Spain and the victorious Franco regime’s reconstruction. The analysis seeks to capture a discursively complex set of practices that made up the reconstruction and in which a variety of Spanish heritage sites were claimed, rebuilt or restored and represented in various ways as signs of historical narratives, political legitimacy and group identity. The reconstruction of the town of Gernika is a particularly emblematic instance of destruction and a significant symbol within the Basque regions of Spain as well as internationally. By examining Gernika it is possible to identify some of the trends common to the reconstruction as a whole along with those aspects that pertain to its singular symbolic resonance. In order to achieve the second goal, the processes of selection, value change and exclusionary dynamics of reconstruction and the responses it elicits are examined. Exploring the possible impact of post-civil war reconstruction in the medium term is conducted in two time frames: the period of political transition that followed General Franco’s death in 1975; and the period 2004–2008, when Rodríguez Zapatero’s government undertook initiatives to ‘recover the historic memory’ of the war and dictatorship. Finally, the observations made of the Spanish reconstruction are analysed in terms of how they might reveal general trends in post-conflict reconstruction processes in relation to cultural heritage. These insights are pertinent to the situations in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Published: Sussex Academic Press (UK) – March   2014 – Author: Dacia Viejo-Rose

We are delighted to announce that Dr Alan Sennett will review this book at the Central, his own text Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937 is out in June.

Aristocrats, Adventurers and Ambulances book promotion@LeftCentral

Aristocrats, Adventurers and Ambulances 

When a military coup provoked civil war in Spain in July 1936, many thousands of people around the world rallied to provide humanitarian aid. Britons were no exception. Collective efforts in Britain to provide aid for the Spanish Republic were vast in both scope and effect. Whilst such enterprise has formed the focus of a few previous studies, some of the most dramatic stories of the Spanish war have yet to be uncovered. This book seeks to shed light on the activities of two separate ventures that played important roles in British medical and humanitarian aid to Spain — the Scottish Ambulance Unit and Sir George Young’s Ambulance Unit. The volunteer members of these teams (those who went out to Spain and those who supported them in Britain) earned the unstinting praise of the Spanish government for their selfless commitment to the cause, as well as winning the respect and gratitude of the citizens whose welfare they strove so selflessly to protect. Recently discovered documentation reveals previously undisclosed details of these remarkably altruistic and, indeed, heroic enterprises, clarifying the reasoning behind their creation and documenting their endeavours in Spain — endeavours of key relevance to the wider history of the conflict. In Spain, the volunteers of the Scottish Ambulance Unit and the George Young Ambulance Unit offered a heartening and inspiring antithesis to the suffering they sought to relieve. They deserve to be remembered for what they embodied during those days of untold cruelty and destruction — outstanding examples of man’s humanity to man.

Sussex Academic Press (UK) – December   2013 author: Linda Palfreeman

We are delighted to announce that Dr Alan Sennett will review this book at the Central, his own text Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937`is due out in June.

‘Truth’, immigration and the BBC

Image © Felix-felix

Robin Richardson

The Truth about Immigration was broadcast by the BBC on Tuesday 7 January, having been trailed in advance both widely and deeply. Viewers were promised it would be full of new clarity and insight, based on new and powerful facts and figures. Further, it would be imbued with unusual honesty from politicians and senior civil servants, and – even – from the BBC itself. In the event the programme was a shoddy and shameful shambles. Visually, technically, conceptually, ethically, politically and emotionally, it was the very worst kind of tabloid TV, an hour of bias against understanding, totally unworthy to be described as public service broadcasting. Read more of this post

In Defence of the War Poets

Katherine Edwards

Should the First World War be seen principally as a European and world catastrophe or as a British triumph? As we mark the centenary of the Great War, the debate on its commemoration has intensified, with the Education Secretary recently lambasting senior academics for their lack of patriotism.  Attacks on the influence of Blackadder are fast becoming just as much a cliché of the ‘revisionist’ school as the clichés the revisionists claim to be dispelling.  And where Blackadder is mentioned we can be sure the war poets – and Wilfred Owen in particular – will be the target of the next sneer. Hew Strachan is intent on demonstrating that ‘there was something more between 1914 and 1918 than futility and poems’.   Michael Morpurgo came under fire in the Moral Maze for citing Wilfred Owen.  More recently John Blake painted a scornful picture of teachers ‘sonorously intoning’ Owen’s poetry, placing much of the blame for what he considers to be the ‘myths’ taught about World War One on the excessive influence of Owen and Sassoon, who he claims, are misleadingly ‘sold as the authentic voice of the front-line soldier’. Read more of this post

Orwell and Loach on Spain

Dr Alan Sennett  

Andreu Nin

Even for the well read lay person, the politics of Republican Spain during the 1936-39 civil war can appear baffling. A viewing of Ken Loach’s 1995 film Land and Freedom raises more questions than could possibly be answered in a standard length feature film.   Familiarity with George Orwell’s 1938 account Homage to Catalonia fills in much detail and has clearly provided both source material and inspiration for screenwriter Jim Allen.  For those with a deeper knowledge of the micro-politics of the Spanish Left, the contributions of Andy Durgan, Loach’s historical advisor and expert on the Catalan dissident communists, are also evident.  Yet the reasons behind the main protagonist’s disillusion with the official Communist movement, at one point prompting him to tear up his CPGB party card in disgust, might still appear unclear.  Ideally the viewer needs an appreciation of the origins and context of the dispute between those who saw an organic connection between the struggle against fascism and what they believed to be an ongoing social revolution, and those who viewed the fight as solely a defence of democracy with revolution an unwelcome distraction.  Much can be explained by analysing the film’s key political scene.  Yet it has to be said that both Loach’s film and Orwell’s account must be approached with a critical eye. Read more of this post

Love Will Tear the British Union apart…

Nora Connolly 

Image© The Scottish Government

The SNP`s commitment to the principles enshrined in the British post-war settlement appear to be the motivating factor propelling Scotland toward independence. The party which oscillated between the left and the far right during the 1970s is now the party of consensus, promoting a benevolent nationalism whilst campaigning on a progressive social democratic platform. This seems reasonable and persuasive, especially given the SNP propensity to campaign in the poetry of Burns, whilst governing Scotland in the prose of Keynes and Beveridge. Bevan is also close to the SNP leadership’s heart, the Welsh architect of the British NHS. This is then, big tent inclusive nationalism, seemingly devoid of any racial component, anti-English rhetoric or sentiment. After all there is an estimated 400,000 people of English origins living in Scotland with a projected 10% of this cohort supporting the SNP. Of course Scotland is no egalitarian utopia. And while the country may exhibit more social cohesion and solidarity than other parts of the UK, it’s far from perfect and it would be naive to suggest otherwise. If you have ever attended an `Old Firm` game then you will quickly appreciate my point. Read more of this post

As mad as Hell: UKIP’s political success

Frederick Cowell 

Image© IndependentThinkerUK

Nigel Farage is the most dangerous man in British politics. Why?  He leads a party with no MPs and his party’s most well known policy, a referendum to leave the EU, is so popular among Conservative MP’s that should they win the 2015 election they’re offering their own version of it.  On TV he often comes across as a charming pub bore, the sort of chap who begins an argument midway through the second round saying “look, I’m saying what we’re all thinking here”. Yet as they manage to gain a quarter of all votes cast in this month’s local elections they are turning into a fourth force in UK politics and a real political headache. Even before the May election their influence on UK politics, outside of a vehicle of protest against the EU, had been growing steadily; at both the Eastliegh and South Shields by-elections they came second and since the start of 2013 have been absorbing defections of councillors from the Tories at the rate of one a week  Read more of this post

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