A programme blurb for the recent Aye Write book festival in Glasgow advertises a “special session to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War”.
The blurb goes on, “Scotland played a major role in the war with 500 volunteers. Daniel Gray (Homage to Caledonia) discusses the war with Chris Dolan, author of An Anarchist’s Story: the life of Ethel Macdonald, an embedded reporter from Motherwell known as ‘The Scots Scarlet Pimpernel’, and doyen of Spanish history and the war, Paul Preston, whose latest book, We Saw Spain Die, is the story of the journalists who reported the war. Chaired by Willy Maley, whose father was a veteran, there’s also an associated Mitchell exhibition.”
This session held at the Mitchell Library was, as it turned out, sold out with maybe 150 people there. It all started out polite enough, it being the Mitchell Theatre, £ 7 to get in and part of a festival (sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland) rather than a political event. That was until some Trotskyist white ant wrecker and spy dared to ask if the defeat of the Spanish Revolution (note revolution, rather than civil war) in Spain wasn’t inevitable given the role of Stalin and the Stalinists. The question was a bit longer than this but you get the gist.
Suddenly the atmosphere changed, the replies from the top table making it clear that they did not understand the politics of Spain — it was all down to Hitler and Mussolini’s superior weapons, you know, and the role of Britain and America.
This “analysis” led to loud cheers from large numbers of ageing Glasgow Stalinists in suits and red ties. This, in turn was met by the anger of another wrecker who irately called for a campaign to investigate the death of Bob Smillie, repeatedly asking the top table if they would sign a petition to this affect? They eventually agreed to, though I suspect, more to shut him up than anything else.
The books being promoted are not without merit, but Daniel Gray’s obsession with the Spanish Civil War hasn’t led to clarity about the scale of the repression that took place. There are clearly still rivers of blood between Stalinism and Bolshevism in Glasgow.
• Review of Homage to Caledonia by Daniel Gray: click here.