The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism

The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism

by Stanley G. Payne

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In this compelling book Stanley G. Payne offers the first comprehensive narrative of Soviet and Communist intervention in the revolution and civil war in Spain. He documents in unprecedented detail Soviet strategies, Comintern activities, and the role of the Communist party in Spain from the early 1930s to the end of the civil war in 1939.

Drawing on a very

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In this compelling book Stanley G. Payne offers the first comprehensive narrative of Soviet and Communist intervention in the revolution and civil war in Spain. He documents in unprecedented detail Soviet strategies, Comintern activities, and the role of the Communist party in Spain from the early 1930s to the end of the civil war in 1939.

Drawing on a very broad range of Soviet and Spanish primary sources, including many only recently available, Payne changes our understanding of Soviet and Communist intentions in Spain, of Stalin’s decision to intervene in the Spanish war, of the widely accepted characterization of the conflict as the struggle of fascism against democracy, and of the claim that Spain’s war constituted the opening round of World War II. The author arrives at a new view of the Spanish Civil War and concludes not only that the Democratic Republic had many undemocratic components but also that the position of the Communist party was by no means counterrevolutionary.

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
Payne, whom Michael Mann calls the "preeminent comparative historian of Fascism," gives us here a well-documented and exhaustive history of both Spanish communism before and during the Spanish Civil War and Soviet policy toward Spain during that period. It does not make for easy reading: the intense factionalism of the Spanish left is mind-boggling (and helps explain the fiasco of the Spanish Republic). And the study of Soviet policy is anything but simple: after initial reluctance, Soviet support was plagued by poor preparation and overweening advisers, and as the Spanish Republic began to disintegrate Stalin found himself without an exit strategy. Payne concludes that Soviet commanders "made a fundamental mistake in taking the Spanish conflict as a valid scenario for a future European war" and that, contrary to charges that the Spanish Communists turned "counter-revolutionary," the "revolutionary Spanish Republic of the Civil War was a unique kind of regime that has no exact historical counterpart": rather than becoming a mere Soviet satellite, it never gave up its radical program of profound social and political transformation.
Library Journal
Often considered the opening round of World War II, the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 has long been treated as just that and not much more. Payne (A History of Fascism, 1914-1945) argues that the Soviets had a major stake in the conflict; they used it as a training period for both their troops and their ideology. Using previously unavailable primary sources, Payne documents Soviet strategies and activities, as well as communism in Spain from 1917 to 1939. He challenges the accepted view of the revolution in Spain as a struggle of democracy against fascism. Instead, he believes that the civil war could not have been fought had democracy still been alive in Spain in 1936 and that the basic cause of the war was the revolutionary process-a thesis well supported by his primary sources. Likely to become the definitive work on the Soviet Union's active participation and military intervention in the Spanish Civil War, this is recommended for collections with an interest in this era.-David Lee Poremba, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism



Copyright © 2004 Stanley Payne
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10068-6

Chapter One

Soviet Policy and the Cominterm in the Early Years 1917-1925

THE SOVIET REGIME was consolidated by revolutionary civil war and theoretically devoted to the expansion of the revolutionary process throughout the world. Lenin postulated that by 1917 the entire world had been brought into the capitalist sphere, and thus a great deal of it held or would soon hold the potential for socialist revolution, inaugurating what Arno Mayer has called the era of "international civil war." Consolidation of the Communist regime in Russia and the founding of the Communist International, accompanied by revolutionary agitation and outbreaks in other countries, provoked grave concern abroad, a preoccupation that strongly influenced European politics throughout the interwar period and during much of the rest of the twentieth century.

Yet revolution was much more easily proclaimed than carried out, and as early as 1920 Lenin called for "peaceful coexistence" in Soviet foreign relations. While some analysts would later claim that peaceful coexistence was merely standard terminology for what anticommunists would later call "cold war," as early as the 1920s it was being alleged that the Soviet governmenthad lost or was losing the goal of world revolution as a dominant priority and was more and more concerned with internal development and security. Whenever this idea was advanced in the West, however, another initiative to extend Soviet political or territorial influence or to advance the revolutionary process would follow in a few months or years.

The peculiar Soviet combination of Russian messianism and imperialism with the expansionist revolutionary ideology of Marxism-Leninism produced a policy that the Russian scholars Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov have called the "revolutionary-imperial paradigm," the guiding orientation of Soviet policy for seven decades, from 1917 until after 1985. Such a basic orientation did not, however, result in constant Soviet promotion of civil war abroad or direct military conflict. Peaceful coexistence rather meant a split-level policy of normal peaceful diplomatic and economic relations on the one hand and indirect efforts to infiltrate, subvert, and foment revolutionary activity on the other.

During the first two decades of the Soviet Union, Soviet policy abroad may be divided into four periods. The first, consisting of the initial revolutionary struggle at home and abroad from 1917 to 1923, was followed by a period that more fully introduced the split-level policy of peaceful coexistence accompanied by somewhat diminished Comintern revolutionary activity. The "Third Period," announced in 1928, introduced no change in regular diplomacy but increased the emphasis on Comintern revolutionary activity. After this strategy proved disastrous for Communist interests, a fourth phase in 1935 sought antifascist diplomatic and military alliances abroad for collective security, flanked by a new Comintern policy seeking "popular fronts" with other worker parties and bourgeois democrats to complement Soviet diplomacy and to advance Communist politics. The collective security/popular front phase then came to a crashing end in August 1939 with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which put an end to antifascism until the disaster of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the conditions for which Stalin's diplomacy had so blindly created.

The Soviet regime initially strove to consolidate itself amid conditions of mounting civil war in 1918 while it was a quasi-ally of imperial Germany. Though the West viewed Germany as the leading reactionary power in Europe, German nationalists had often conceived of their program as a revolutionary force, bringing a new culture, a new moral order, and a new international framework to the world. German policy during World War I consistently aimed to subvert existing imperial structures and their allies through subversive and revolutionary designs. The Germans attempted to undermine the British and tsarist empires by encouraging the Muslims to revolt in the eastern Middle East, Central Asia, and British India, in military alliance with Turkey. They tried to incite revolutionary Mexico against the United States so as to tie down the Americans in the western hemisphere. They made a modest attempt to disrupt social and economic relations in the Entente's largest neutral trading partner, Spain, by inciting deadly violence in Barcelona's labor relations. The only measure that yielded success was their guarantee of free transit to Lenin and provision of financial support for his subversion of the Russian Empire. Leaders of imperial Germany were not blind to the Bolsheviks' ultimate ambitions, and at one point in 1918 General Ludendorff, who dominated much of Germany's policy, even suggested sending minor German forces to finish them off. They could have done so rather easily, but the Kaiser and other German leaders opposed the idea.

German aid, primarily financial, provided important assistance to the Bolsheviks. The subsequent peace with Germany had to be purchased by massive territorial and economic concessions, and by mid-1918 Lenin was even looking for German military assistance in prosecuting the Russian civil war. As Lenin had hoped, the German triumph in the east lasted less than a year, though the collapse of imperial Germany was brought about by the triumph not of proletarian revolutionaries but of the Western capitalist powers. For the next twenty years, Communist and fascist revolutionaries would, each in their own way, work to reverse this outcome.

The final phase of World War I, followed by extreme disorder in Central and Eastern Europe, opened new opportunities for revolution. The creation of the Red Army early in 1918 was followed some months later by a Soviet announcement that "our Red Army must become the nucleus of a World Proletarian Army." On October 3, 1918, Lenin dispatched a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party calling for "an army of three million" to spearhead an "international workers' revolution." He would in fact soon need an army of more than three million simply to win the Russian civil war, and after the Allied victory in the west he quickly responded by offering new economic and territorial concessions to guarantee peace with the Allies and terminate their support of White counterrevolutionaries.

By the winter of 1919, however, revolution seemed to be on the march once more. Lenin told the Eighth Party Congress in March 1919 that the Soviet Republic was "living not merely in a state, but in a system of hostile states," so that it was "inconceivable that the Soviet Republic should continue to exist for a long period side by side with imperialist states. Ultimately one or the other must conquer." When in the following month a Räterepublik or soviet republic was temporarily declared in Munich, he was euphoric, declaring that "our victory on an international scale is now completely secure," even though the revolution had not yet triumphed militarily in much of Russia. By July he even announced that the period of trial was nearly over, for "next July we shall greet the victory of an international Soviet republic."

The Soviet leadership did not assume, contrary to some of their more naive pronouncements, that a worker army could simply vanquish the capitalist-imperialist world in a war of conquest. The overthrow of capitalism would require the initiative of revolutionary workers in almost every country, and to that end delegates of the new Bolshevik-style communist parties convened in Moscow on March 4, 1919, for their first meeting as the Communist International, or Comintern. All but nine of the fifty-one delegates were already living in Russia.

As Aleksandr Vatlin has observed, "The concept of the Third International was fundamentally different from those of its two predecessors: it pushed to the forefront a subjective factor and the use of a lever of social transformations. ... The emphasis was shifted from the thesis of revolution as a midwife of history to the thesis of the party as a midwife of revolution. It was ... a transfer of Russian ideological extremism originating from the 'Narodnaia Volia,'" or "People's Will," the founding Russian revolutionary movement of the 1870s.

Abroad a revolution triumphed only momentarily in Budapest, but in 1920 the defeat of a Polish attempt to seize much of Ukraine opened the way for a Red Army offensive into the heart of the new Polish republic. Unlike some of the more euphoric Soviet leaders, however, Lenin realized the risk involved in this venture. Success would depend not merely on military victory but on a rebellion by Polish workers. By July Lenin nonetheless thought things were moving along magnificently. He told Stalin that "the situation in Comintern is splendid ... [and] it is time to encourage revolution in Italy.... For this to happen, Hungary must be sovietized, and maybe also the Czech lands and Romania." Communization of Poland could carry over to Lithuania and Germany. True, the new revolutionary thrust might run out of momentum, but even if it failed for the moment, it would "teach us about offensive war. ... We will help Hungary, Italy and at each step we will remember where to stop."

Within this perspective the Second Congress of the Comintern convened in Petrograd and Moscow from July 19 to August 7, 1920, and this was the occasion on which the Soviet leadership forced member parties to approve the famous "Twenty-one Conditions" of Communist orthodoxy. The member parties were required to remove systematically from membership any reformists and centrists; to pledge to combine legal and illegal activities; to establish cells in trade unions; to adopt the Bolshevik principle of "democratic centralism" with iron discipline and conduct periodic purges of "petit bourgeois" elements; to support unconditionally every Soviet republic; to change their official party names to Communist; and to recognize that "all decisions by congresses of the Communist International as well as by its Executive Committee are binding on all parties." The Comintern was governed by a Presidium, an Executive Committee (ECCI), and a Political Secretariat, and by the following year had set up its own trade union confederation, the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU), or Profintern.

Collapse of the offensive into Poland altered the stance of the Soviet government, if not of the Comintern, and in November 1920 the term "peaceful coexistence" was introduced. The equivalent setbacks for the Comintern were first the rapid collapse of the Bela Kun Communist-Socialist dictatorship in Hungary in the summer of 1919, followed by failure of the revolutionary "March Action" in 1921 in Germany, home of the largest Western European Communist party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, or KPD), which had announced its participation in "the most vast civil war in world history." In 1921 Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) for the Soviet economy, a new Anglo-Soviet trade agreement marked the first accord with a major capitalist country, and regular diplomacy moved to the fore.

Despite these setbacks, the Comintern did not retreat in its policy. By December 1921 it had adopted the revolutionary strategy of the "united front from below," pursuing the goal of forming Communist "united fronts" directly with workers who might belong to other trade unions or parties, bypassing non-communist organizational structures altogether. This strategy provoked splits in trade union movements all over Europe, drew criticism from foreign Communist leaders, and in the long run achieved little. Though revolutionary actions would also be attempted in Estonia and Bulgaria, the last significant opportunity for the Comintern in postwar Europe came amid the turmoil of the French invasion and hyperinflation in Germany during 1923, when the KPD even engaged in limited cooperation with Hitler's National Socialist Party. Though Comintern leaders had been the first to grasp the full potential for political stigmatization of the new terms "fascism" and "fascist" arising from Mussolini's government in Italy, they also recognized certain key similarities between such a movement and Communist parties. The final KPD revolt proved abortive, and would be the last insurrectionary gesture in Germany.

After the failures of the first five years, the Fifth Comintern Congress insisted on full "Bolshevization" of member parties, requiring strict centralization and control from Moscow. Member parties were not required to reproduce every feature of Sovietism in total detail, but they did have to adopt the basic features, with other measures depending on circumstances. Its most central component was the absolute orthodoxy and unswerving loyalty of foreign party leaders. From the Kremlin's point of view, successful Bolshevization was probably not fully completed until the following decade.

The death of Lenin brought no lessening of revolutionary orthodoxy. The manifesto of the Second Comintern Congress had declared that "the international proletariat will not sheathe its sword until Soviet Russia is incorporated as a link in the World Federation of Soviet Republics." The new constitution of the USSR in 1924 declared the Soviet government to be the nucleus of a world state. The Small Soviet Encyclopedia of 1930 explained that the world proletariat was international and tied to the USSR. "That is why every country in which a socialist revolution was concluded will enter the USSR," though this feature was later dropped from the Stalinist constitution of 1936.

The only effective military action to set up a satellite state beyond the Soviet frontier had been the invasion of Outer Mongolia in 1921 by a mixed force of the Red Army and a new Soviet-organized Mongolian army, but Outer Mongolia was not added to the USSR. Instead, it became a "people's republic," a new formula for the first full stage of new satellite regimes in lands not deemed propitious for the direct establishment of Soviet-style socialism. The new Mongolian government organization had initially been formed in the Soviet Union in March 1921. After successful military occupation of Outer Mongolia a few months later, it took control, transforming itself into what was called a "people's revolutionary government." This was not a formally socialist government but was defined as representative of an advanced form of the "democratic revolution" that preceded socialism. It remained in theory a quasi-theocratic monarchy under a figurehead Mongolian chief of state. The standard designation for the puppet state of Outer Mongolia was "a bourgeois democratic republic of a new type," terminology that was to emerge again in Spain during 1936-37. By 1924 the Outer Mongolian regime had become officially a people's republic firmly under Communist control after a series of purges that eliminated a good many of the original Mongolian Communist leaders. Military and security forces were fully under Soviet control and key institutions were dominated by Soviet advisers. After 1945 the designation would be changed to "people's democracy," in line with the nomenclature of the new Eastern European states.

Soviet policy abroad became less activist during 1924, the year in which Stalin introduced the doctrine of "Socialism in one country." The Soviet Union would concentrate increasingly on internal development, though Stalin also emphasized that for the "complete victory of socialism ... the united efforts of the proletarians of several countries are necessary." The first task of Communists abroad, however, was now to defend the Soviet Union; promoting foreign revolution, while still a goal, was secondary. In relations with other worker parties, the Comintern introduced in 1924 the tactic of "united front from above," opening the way to negotiated fusions rather than subversive Communist takeovers from below.


Excerpted from The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism by STANLEY G. PAYNE Copyright © 2004 by Stanley Payne . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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