This book’s lugubrious title, Franco’s Crypt, indicates its partiality.  Written in a fluid style befitting its author, who has published in the New York Times Book Review and served as editor for The Times Literary Supplement, the book draws on multiple sources, including necrology, photography, monuments, museums, art, literature, memoirs, histories, and school curricula.  The varied approaches, however, produce a uniform result: Franco, the Nationalist uprising, the Franco years, and the Catholic Church that “colluded” with Franco were awful.  On the other hand, the republic and its defenders were good.  (Jeremy Treglown calls these defenders “democrats,” although they included the Communist Party of Spain, the Trotskyites and Russia under Stalin.)

The book even has a chapter on “Franco’s Films,” though only one, Raza, is discussed by Treglown, who describes it as unsophisticated.  For the author, the rest are notable simply for taking place against the background of Franco’s Spain, which the films criticize more or less subtly.  Most were “made during the dictatorship.”  An Italian director in Spain succeeded with “a number of social satires that got past the censors.”  A reader cannot help but suppose that there must have been some freedom of some kind in horrible Francoist Spain for such films to be produced and shown, since in places like Russia, China, and Cuba, during those same years, no film critical of the social situation under Marxism-Leninism, no matter how subtly done, was either filmed or shown.  However, the thought does not occur to Treglown, who instead commends the Spanish film directors of the 50’s and 60’s for their contacts with Italian filmmakers.  Such contacts were “particularly liberating, not least because of the strength of communism in postwar Italy.”

Treglown’s evaluation of Spanish literary works proceeds in a similar manner.  Yet novelistic portrayals of a miserable and oppressive contemporary Spanish society were published under Franco’s dictatorship—novels such as La colmena, Nada, and El Jarama.  These books did not have their counterparts in Marxist-Leninist Russia, China, or Cuba.  Indeed, Treglown dismisses Solzhenitsyn’s comparison of Spain and the Soviet Union during the Franco years:

The Russian dissident Solzhenitsyn said that contemporary Soviet citizens would have been astounded by the freedoms enjoyed by the Spanish.  (It doesn’t seem to bother Moa that Solzhenitsyn’s remark was made in 1976 after Franco had died.)

(Pío Moa is a journalist and an historian, a radical in his youth who later became a Francoist.)  And it does not bother Jeremy Treglown that Franco had died only the year before and that neither the laws of Spain nor their implementation had changed during the course of that single year.  Nor does he mention that democracy eventually came to Spain only because Franco had prepared the grounds for the transition under his carefully groomed protégé, King Juan Carlos de Borbón.

The book’s Index gives an impression of balance regarding atrocities on both sides.  A closer look reveals that this impression is wrong.  Under “Nationalists” we find “atrocities committed by and against,” followed by 12 entries.  But most of the entries refer to atrocities committed “by,” not “against,” the Nationalists.  Under “Republicans,” the prepositions are tellingly inverted: “atrocities committed against and by.”  There we find 13 entries, almost all of these committed “against” the Republicans.

Paracuellos, where “the Republicans had massacred about a thousand Nationalist prisoners” (in fact 4,021 names are listed in the archival sources), is given one sentence, reminding us that Paracuellos is kept alive in the minds of “conservatives” but not mentioned by the “other side.”  Treglown does not mention the Republican checas—centers of detention, torture, and summary sentences of death, formed in imitation of the chekas (All-Russia Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage) established by Lenin’s right-hand man, the infamous Felix Dzerzhinsky, creator of the Soviet secret police.  Among the few atrocities against the Nationalists mentioned, one concerns a priest seen carried away on a stretcher.  The incident is not, however, listed in the Index.  Moreover, it is preceded by a reminder that it was probably justified by the collusion of so many priests “with the exploitative class, the use of religious buildings as munitions stores and military emplacements.”  Treglown fails to add that the Republicans made a point of using church buildings for their own munitions stores and military emplacements.  And he never mentions that the names of almost 440 priests are recorded as having been shot by the Republicans.  After all, “the clergy died as a result of the military coup,” not at the hands of the Republicans.  Treglown thinks it ridiculous to call priests killed by the Republicans “martyrs,” as the word is not applied to any Republican killed defending “democracy.”  “There is no monument in the cathedral to the Republican dead—to the democrats whose overthrow was called for by most of the bishops.”

In contrast, the killings by the Nationalists are described in meticulous detail and in the context of “class analysis”:

in revenge for Republican activism, not least a particularly active approach to land redistribution, the Nationalists committed one of the civil war’s first atrocities, rounding up any likely Republican sympathizers they could find, driving them down through the narrow streets toward the bullring and on through the tunnel by which, for centuries, the bullfight parade entered the arena, and machine-gunning them.  The number of victims is disputed, but Jay Allen of the Chicago Tribune reckoned at the time that 1,800 were killed in twelve hours.  The resulting lake of blood, he wrote, was “palm deep.”

Treglown portrays former Republican leader Santiago Carrillo as a hero in his actions resisting the failed military coup of 1981 against the young Spanish democracy.  He does not mention that Carrillo presided over the murders of members of his own PCE (Partido Comunista de España) during the party’s purges, or Carrillo’s responsibility for the Paracuellos massacre.  And he gives similarly partisan treatment to the “Republican heroine” Dolores Ibárruri (“La Pasionaria”).  In fact, La Pasionaria’s controller was the Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti, Stalin’s main agent in Spain.  Under his direction, she was instrumental in having the considerable gold reserves of the Bank of Spain stolen by the Republicans and shipped to the Soviet Union.  Toward the end of the Civil War, she went to Russia, where she became prominent in Stalin’s propaganda machine and wrote, among other things, an admiring pamphlet: “Stalin, Leader of Peoples, Man of the Masses.”  (During the Civil War, La Pasionaria stated at a meeting that “It is better to kill one hundred innocents than to let one guilty person go.”)

Treglown dismisses Pío Moa’s carefully documented research (Franco: un balance histórico), necessary reading for a proper assessment of the Franco dictatorship, after several pages of relentless attack, which manage nevertheless not to rebut any of the facts presented by Moa.  According to Treglown, Moa’s “success has a lot to do with the fact that, in terms of weighing the more extreme pros and cons, an almost histrionically adroit impression of balance is exactly what it provides.”  He is particularly annoyed by Moa’s repeatedly “lapsing into a new exercise in tit for tat: they were bad, but the other side had behaved much worse in 1936.”  Therefore, the entire section on Moa is titled “Pío’s Propaganda.”  Moa’s arguments are not only “unintelligent, but also dangerous.”  Such historians as Henry Kamen and Stanley Payne, who have praised Moa’s research, are “conservative” historians, while the left-wing historian Paul Preston, Treglown’s main source on Franco, is simply an “historian.”

Treglown gives an impression of even-handedness in his analysis of the economic success of Franco’s Spain.

Moa is right, though, in another of his revisionist claims: that in some ways Spain flourished under the regime. . . . Many would go further and say that the foundations of [Spain’s strong democracy, social stability and economic prosperity] were laid under Franco.

But then we learn that it is not really so.

None of this is simple.  Spain’s increasing prosperity in the 1960’s was part of a much broader Western phenomenon. . . . The country . . . also benefitted disproportionately from an offshoot of the newly spread wealth of northwest Europe: mass tourism.

Treglown concludes:

Still, you do not have to be a Marxist to know that many processes in history, as in private life, work through reaction and counterreaction, and just as the regime’s repressiveness was bound to encourage some of the resistance it sought to crush, so some members of the regime itself found themselves acknowledging and adapting to their opponents’ aspirations.

Historian Stanley Payne has described an understanding of the Spanish Civil War characteristic of a certain kind of Western “intelligentsia”:

[T]he Spanish Civil War was one of the comparatively few modern conflicts in which the losers largely won the battle of propaganda—to some extent during the war, but certainly during the decade that followed.  Given the general dominance in the humanities and social sciences of professors and students sympathetic to the politics of the left, it is hardly surprising that such sympathies have been extended to the understanding of the Civil War of 1936-39 as well.

Franco’s Crypt is a product of that intelligentsia.  Not surprisingly, the book has been praised in the usual circles.  Thus, Paul Freeman, Chester D. Tripp Professor of History at Yale University, writes that it “gives the best and most thought-provoking portrait of the culture of the Franco era and its aftermath.”

The book’s illustrations are well chosen and skillfully distributed.  The first is a photo of a Republican skeleton unearthed from a mass grave; beneath is a photo of the Valley of the Fallen, with its prominent gigantic cross, and under it the explanation, “built with the help of Republican prisoners in 1944-59.”


[Franco’s Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936, by Jeremy Treglown (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) 320 pp, $30.00]