SOURCE: New Republic's Open University (4-16-07)
Now, they have announced the final panel for their program called"The Continuing History of the Spanish Civil War: A Tamiment Library Symposium." The announcement can be found here. The panel is being held in conjunction with the exhibit currently at the Museum of the City of New York,"Fighting Fascism: New York in the Spanish Civil War." In the pages of The New York Sun I reviewed the catalogue for the exhibit, and called it a romanticizing of the role played by the so-called Abraham Lincoln Batallion, the Comintern led group of American volunteers who went to fight for the Republic against General Franco's forces.
Now, like the exhibit, the panel put together lacks balance, is completely one-sided, devoted instead to resurrecting old and discredited fairy tales of the Old Left. The announced panel does have a few historians. Peter Carroll, the exhibit's curator and head of the Brigade Archives, calls his talk"Toward a new Paradigm of Spanish Civil War History." This would be a worthy topic to discuss, if there were present historians with a different paradigm than Carroll has to engage the issue. Carroll, as I argued in a review of his book in TNR, is author of a tendentious and biased eulogy to the Brigades, one that upholds the old Communist paradigm. Fraser Ottanelli is giving a paper on"Militancy and Ethnicity: Recovering the Memory of the Spanish Civil War." But he too shares the same politics and point of view as Carroll. Gabriel Jackson, an important historian of the war, is talking about the"The Problem of Historical Memory." But Jackson too shares the center-Left position on the war. There is no genuine diversity.
To their credit, they do have one person with a divergent viewpoint, NYU's former president and former congressman, John Brademas, who is giving a paper on Communists and Anarchists. Brademas wrote a worthy doctoral dissertation on this topic, and is an exception to everyone else on the panel.
The panel takes place on April 27. I challenge the organizers to broaden the panel--something they did not do with the recently held Alger Hiss day long sessions--and move to include others who have a different and critical perspective. I would suggest the following as more than appropriate:
Stanley Payne, of the UW-Madison, one of our country's preeminent historians of the War. He is author, recently of The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union and Communism, a book that directly opposes the"paradigm" held by the panelists I mentioned above.
Cecil Eby, author of the new book, Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. Eby used archives all over the world, including Spain and Moscow, and his book bears directly on the history to be discussed here and at the Museum.
Christopher Hitchens, whose book Why Orwell Matters, deals with Orwell's famous"Homage to Catalonia," a perspective Hitchens shares.
Stephen Schwartz, author with the late Victor Alba of Spanish Marxism vs. Soviet Communism: A History of the P.O.U.M.,the single most important study of the anti-Stalinist Left group in the war.
They could consider inviting Mary Habeck of Johns Hopkins SAIS, the co-author with me of Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War. This book even the director of the Juan Carlos center at NYU and a panelist, James Fernandez, acknowledged, (in an unpublished letter he wrote criticizing me to the Sun) has"done a lot to shake up a somewhat complacent field, which has often adopted a simplistic and romantic view of the war in Spain, rife with myths and platitudes."
Or, the sponsors could simply go down the hall, so to speak, and ask Tony Judt, one of the most distinguished European historians, to give a talk putting the war in context. Those American volunteers who went to Spain to fight fascism, Judt wrote in TNR in a review of our book,"were duped. They were the fodder for the projects of communist 'advisers.'" The real purpose of the Comintern, he writes, was to use the volunteers in"the struggle within the left, against the anarchists, and especially ... the POUM." The goal of the Comintern, which ran the show, was eventual Sovietization of Spain, via the technique they used in Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War. As Judt puts it, for Stalin, Spain was"the first, tentative experiment in the seizure of power abroad."
With any of these speakers, the planned forum would be interesting, challenging, and serious. The ball is now in NYU's hands.