Hobsbawm’s miserable apology for Stalinism in Spain

Today’s Guardian Review contains a miserable apology for Stalinism in Spain by Eric Hobsbawm.

He says events in Spain 1936-39 were about fascism vs anti-fascism. And he can’t resist a good old ad hominem amalgam: “It was not, as the neoliberal François Furet argued it should have been, a war against both the ultra-right and the Comintern - a view shared, from a Trotskyist sectarian angle, by Ken Loach's powerful film Land and Freedom (1995).”

Hobsbawm congratulates the disillusioned intellectuals who, with the exception of George Orwell, stayed silent about what they saw the Communist Party doing.

He dismisses arguments “among the losers” about “such incidents as the banning of the dissident Marxist POUM party and the murder of its leader Andrés Nin”. Later he adds that these “polemics about the dissident Marxist POUM are irrelevant here and, given that party's small size and marginal role in the civil war, barely significant”.

As an aside, Hobsbawm says moral revulsion against the Stalinists is justified. But he excuses them because he believes they were only trying to win the war against the fascists.

The opposite is true. The Spanish working class could have seized power in 1936-37. In fact across the Republican zone vast swathes of industry and agriculture were collectivised, socialised or put under workers’ control. Only the POUM and the tiny band of Trotskyists even posed the question of a workers’ government (though the POUM joining the Catalan government undermined their paper commitment to socialism).

The role of Stalinism, together with the bourgeois republican parties and the socialists and the anarchist leaders, was to abort this revolution. They did this with propaganda – but also with terror, with their own secret police, secret prisons and indeed whole army divisions used to smash the workers’ power. In doing so they undermined the very reasons why workers had resisted Franco in the first place. By reducing the revolution to a war in defence of bourgeois democracy and sapping the morale of the militants – they helped pave the way for defeat.

Seventy years on the Stalinist view of the Spanish revolution still holds sway. We should do everything we can to tell the truth about it.

Paul Hampton