|About Ron Ridenour|
“Without American petroleum and American trucks,
and American credit, we could never have won the Civil War,” said
Franco foreign ministry foreign policy director, José Maria Doussinague.
General Primo de Rivera ruled Spain as a military dictatorship (1923-30). King Alfonso XIII approved his rule and he absolved when it fell in 1930, and elections were held.
The Second Republic was established in June 1931 after democratically held municipal and general elections, in which the overwhelming majority rejected a monarchy for a republic form of government. (2)
During the Second Republic, there were many political parties and contradictory approaches about how to rule. Intolerant to democracy and collectivism, the fascists launched a civil war in July 1936. The fascists viewed the conflict as Christian Civilization vs. godless atheism, communism and anarchy. Republicans viewed the conflict as one of freedom vs. tyranny. Most Catalonians supported the Republic, as did Basques. Although most Basques were conservative Catholics, the progressive Republican government promised them self-government.
Of the 25 million-population at the time around one million fought for the Republic and another million fought for the fascists, the aristocracy and the official Catholic Church. General Franco had mercenaries from Morocco, plus the German, Italian, and Portuguese governments and military on his side. (3)
The Republic only had significant aid from Russia. (4) Moreover, Spain welcomed between 30-40,000 volunteers from 52 countries organized in the Communist-led International Brigade. About three thousand volunteers fought with the left-wing socialists and Trotskyists in POUM (Unified Workers Marxist Party), and the anarcho-sindicalist CNT union. CNT-anarchists were the strongest leftist force among Catalonians partly because they had won an 8-hour work day already in 1919.
Conscientious US Americans were among many nationalities to fight in solidarity with Spaniards. The first volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion (ALB) sailed from New York City on Christmas Day, 1936, and joined the other International Brigades at Albacete. An estimated 3,000 men fought in this 15th battalion. Of these, over 1,000 were industrial workers. Another 500 were students or teachers. Around 30% were Jewish. There were also a large number of African-Americans. Most were members of the Communist party, but some were with the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party.
Of all the gruesome battles during the war, the most infamous was the bombing of Guernica. When Franco organized the takeover of the Basque Country, he sought air raids from Germany and Italy. They were glad to assist—good training for terror bombings in the upcoming world war. Hitler and Mussolini’s planes made their entre in Guernica on April 26, 1937.
Three-fourths of the defenseless village was destroyed by 6000 bombs in three hours of constant bombings. Most of the rest of the city was damaged, all but wealthy areas, the town assembly hall and its revered Guernica Tree, and the two weapons factories, which Franco would use in three days when his troops took over. The fascists knew where not to bomb thanks to rich Basque informants.
The Spanish Republic commissioned Pablo Picasso (without pay) to make what became the most famous of paintings, the 8-meter long Guernica, which was displayed first at the World Fair in Paris, July 1937. The New York Museum of Modern Art kept it safe throughout the war and turned it over to the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, in 1981.
Her er Picasso's Guernica copy in Gernika with Grethe before the wall.
In 2017, Jette and I stood before “Guernica”,
in Madrid, alongside people from around the world. My emotions were strong
and mixed: joy for the symbolism of solidarity it represents, and tears
of sorrow for the tragedy and excruciating pain people felt, the wanton
murder simply for the boundlessly inane desire for power and material
wealth. And it continues. Today the “democratic” states commit
their terror bombings for endless material wealth.
September 23, 1938, Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain. The Republican government foresaw defeat and did not want foreign friends to needlessly die.
Catalonia and Madrid were the Republics last holdouts. They fought bravely to the end well knowing they had no chance against Europe’s most modern military. Franco’s forces attacked Catalonia for weeks on end until they took Barcelona on January 21, 1939. Madrid was still holding out but England and France couldn’t wait to butter up to Franco. On February 27, they recognized his government, a month before the Republic fell when the fascists occupied Madrid, March 28.
Upon returning to their homeland, Abraham Lincoln brigade volunteers faced scrutiny and persecution from the U.S. Government, just as did many internationalists elsewhere.
During World War II, the U.S. government considered former members of the brigade to be security risks. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover requested that President Roosevelt ensure that former ALB members fighting in World War II not be allowed to be officers. In 1947, the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were placed on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations.
The House Un-American Activities Committee also blacklisted all veterans of the Lincoln Battalion. Many veterans were fired, denied housing and were refused passports for decades.
The numbers of people killed during the war are contested, but at least half-a-million were killed on both sides. General estimates are that ca. 110,000 Republic forces died in combat, and about 90,000 nationalist-fascists. The so-called “red terror” executions of nationalist soldiers and civilians are estimated at 30,000 to 38,000. Fifteen thousand brigade volunteers also died. Of the approximately 3,015 US American volunteers, 681 were killed in action or died of wounds or sickness.
Hundreds of Republicans and internationalist supporters were also killed in internal battles. Communist party soldiers and volunteers, Trotskyists and anarchists clashed over end goals. Was the struggle one of maintaining the democratic republic and fighting only fascism, or was it also a revolutionary struggle for socialism, which the more pragmatic communists considered impossibly utopian given the circumstances?
Fascists were by far the most brutal and indiscriminate in their violence. Franco’s “white terror” eliminated between 150,000 and 200,000 people through executions and “cleansings”. There were massacres of mainly civilians when the fascists took towns—22,000 in Basque towns, 10,000 in Cordoba, 8,000 in Seville, 6-12,000 in Badajz, 7,000 in Malaga, 2000 in Granada.
After the end of the Spanish war, on April 1, 1939, the new government established a central-state monarchy, and continued harsh reprisals. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and perhaps as many as 200,000 were executed. Many more thousands died during forced labor—building railways, drying out swamps, and digging canals. Perhaps 35,000 died in concentration camps.
Hundreds of thousands of Republicans fled abroad; at least half-a-million to France. Refugees were confined in internment camps of the French Third Republic. Some who fled to France, even before the end of the war, engaged in guerrilla warfare, and they continued following the fascist victory. The Spanish Maquis exiled in France fought Franco’s regime until the early 1960s. They carried out sabotage and robberies to help fund guerrilla activity. They occupied the Spanish Embassy in France and assassinated Francoists. They also fought against Nazi Germany and the French Vichy regime during the Second World War.
The term “Maquis” is French and refers to scrub-bush country. These Spanish and French peasants who fought guerrilla style saw themselves as “bush hardened”. Their numbers ranged from 20,000 to 150,000 during WWII. They sought an anarchistic or pure communist society.
Reporter and novelist Martha Gellhorn covered the Spanish Civil War alongside and separate from Ernest Hemingway, whom she married (1940-5). She also covered World War II and wrote a book about it, The Undefeated (1945). Here is an excerpt about the audacious “Maquis”:
“During the German occupation of France, the Spanish Maquis engineered more than four hundred railway sabotages, destroyed fifty-eight locomotives, dynamited thirty-five railway bridges, cut one hundred and fifty telephone lines, attacked twenty factories, destroying some factories totally, and sabotaged fifteen coal mines. They took several thousand German prisoners and - most miraculous considering their arms - they captured three tanks. In the south-west part of France where no Allied armies have ever fought, they liberated more than seventeen towns.”
I also quote from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938). He was wounded while fighting with POUM.
“The war was actually won for Franco by the Germans and Italians…The outcome of the Spanish war was settled in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin…”
“The common people knew in their bones that the Republic was their friend and Franco was their enemy. They knew that they were in the right, because they were fighting for something which the world owed them and was able to give them.”
“In practice, however, one cannot be neutral, and there is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins…In essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the dividend-drawers all over the world rubbed their hands. That was the real issue; all else was froth on its surface.”
US American Capitalists Helped Franco Win the War
What Orwell meant by the outcome being settled in Western European cities was that some directly assisted Franco while others aided by being allegedly “neutral”. I add that fascist capitalists in the United States did much more than remain neutral. They did their utmost to bring victory to the European fascists, as the previous chapter shows. One of them, Texaco, was especially dear to Franco. Texaco’s fuel provided Franco (and his partner Hitler) with the resources necessary to run his war machinery, and most of it was sold on credit and paid for upon their victory.
Journalist-author Adam Hochschild, a founder-editor-writer for the magazine Mother Jones, has just written a book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1939-1939 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). Herein are excerpts from his March 29, 2016 piece in Mother Jones, “How Texaco Helped Franco Win the Spanish Civil War: The lost history of a dictator-loving, Nationalist-supporting American oilman”. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/03/texaco-franco-spanish-civil-war-rieber/
“No corporations have been more aggressive in forging their own foreign policies than the big oil companies. With operations spanning the world, they—and not the governments who weakly try to tax or regulate them—largely decide whom they do business with and how.”
Hochschild wrote that Texaco’s CEO Torkild Rieber, a Norwegian-born US citizen, was “the best American friend a Fascist dictator could have. He would provide the Nationalists not only with oil, but with an astonishing hidden subsidy of money, a generous and elastic line of credit, and a stream of strategic intelligence.”
“In 1935, the Spanish Republic signed a contract with Rieber’s Texaco, turning the company into its major oil supplier. The next year, after Franco and his allies made their grab for power, however, Rieber suddenly changed course and bet on them. Knowing that military trucks, tanks, and aircraft need not just fuel, but a range of engine oils and other lubricants, the Texaco CEO quickly ordered a supply at the French port of Bordeaux to be loaded into a company tanker and shipped to the hard-pressed Nationalists. It was a gesture that Franco would never forget.
“FBI agents questioned Rieber about his tankers in Texas filled with oil for European destinations. They suspected he was breaking the neutrality laws of the 1930s prohibiting the sale of arms or providing finances to warring parties, regardless of whether aggressor or victim.
“But President Franklin D. Roosevelt was leery of getting drawn into the Spanish Civil War in any way, even by prosecuting such a conspicuous violation of American law. Instead, Texaco received no more than a slap on the wrist, eventually paying a fine of $22,000 for extending credit to a belligerent government. Years later, when oil companies began issuing credit cards to consumers, a joke began making the rounds among industry insiders: Who did Texaco give its first credit card to? Francisco Franco.”
The meager fine did not stop Texaco from continuing to extend credit until the end of the war.
Franco had vessels and planes looking for and attacking ships carrying goods to Republican Spain. Hochschild wrote, “Commanders directing these submarines, bombers, and surface ships were always remarkably well informed on the travels of tankers bound for the Spanish Republic.
These were, of course, a prime target for the Nationalists and during the war at least 29 of them were either damaged, sunk, or captured…One reason those waters became so dangerous: the Nationalists had access to Texaco’s international maritime intelligence network.”
Texaco also relayed information on tankers sailing to the Republic to fascist submarine captains and pilots. This spy company helped the fascists win the war to the tune of $20 million in oil revenues—worth $325 million today. Rieber’s tankers made 225 trips to Spain, and another 156 trips made by ships that Texaco chartered. Franco made his spy friend Rieber a “Knight of the Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic”.
“Eventually, Rieber’s love of dictators got him in trouble. In 1940, it was revealed, among other things, that several Germans he had hired were Nazi spies using Texaco’s internal communications to transmit intelligence information to Berlin. Rieber lost his job, but thanks to a grateful Franco the deposed tycoon landed on his feet: the dictator made him chief American buyer for the Spanish government’s oil company.”
While Texaco was the greatest and most vigorous of Franco’s
American capitalist-fascist supporters, other giants assisted as well,
many who came to Hitler’s aid soon thereafter. Among them were:
Ford, Studebaker and General Motors. They sold 12,000 trucks to the fascists.
Shortly after U.S. businessmen had made tons of money supplying armaments, oil and other war necessities to both the fascists and the defending Allies, and had just started the Cold War against socialist Soviets, Picasso created the peace dove. Luis Aragon, a leading French Communist, poet and author, had fought in the resistance and in Spain. He asked Picasso, who was also a Communist party member, to contribute a work for the World Conference for Peace, to be held in Paris, April 1949.
Aragon thought of using a dove as a symbol for justice, a bearer of messages for peace as a poster. Matisse had recently given his friend a few Milanese pigeons, and Picasso made a lithograph of one. Aragon came across it when browsing through sketches, so wrote Francoise Gilot in her 1964 book, Life with Picasso. She was one of Picasso’s lovers and “muse”, as well as an artist. At this writing, she is still alive at age 95, and the pigeon is still the world’s peace dove.
I am only a human
but I shall one day
raise earth’s mountains
and let them shake
in the ears of those who sleep
I am only a human
but I shall one day
take the sun down from heaven
and light up all the dark holes
with merciless white light
I am only a human
but I shall one day
steal the gods lightning
and sweep the earth clean of dust (5)
1. See Antony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006)
2. In April municipal elections pro- monarchists received 25.6% of the vote; the rest were for a republic. In general elections, 70% of those eligible voted, considered high. At that time, however, women were denied the vote, although ironically they could run for office. The republican constitution of December 1931 granted women the right to vote, and many other equal rights. Of the 34 political parties that won over 1% of the vote and thereby a seat in the 473-seat parliament, outright monarchist parties received only 10 seats; and rightist parties won 20 seats. The republican and socialist coalition won a huge victory with 34% of votes (193 seats), while the social democratic PSOE took 14% (80 seats).
3. Germany provided Franco forces with 600 war planes, 200 tanks, and 16,000 soldiers. Italy added 660 warplanes, 150 tanks, 800 artillery pieces, 10,000 machine guns, 140,000 rifles, and 50,000 troops. Portugal sent 20,000 “volunteer” soldiers.
4. The Soviet Union provided military assistance at the cost of most of the Republic’s gold reserves, some $500 million worth. The equipment it sent was no match for the more modern Axis weapons: 700-1000 artillery pieces, 500,000 mostly out-dated rifles, 730 tanks, 45,000 heavy machine guns and sub-machine guns and 600-800 planes. Their 2000-3000 soldiers were mostly volunteers, advisors and secret service personnel. Half of Soviet arms production went to Spain, and some went to Mao’s forces in China fighting a civil war. Some arms were provided by Poland, Czehoslovakis and Estonia.
Mexico was the only other country to help the Republic. It provided about $2 million in aid, which included 20,000 rifles. It also offered sanctuary for about 50,000 refugees after the Republic fell. The European democracies and the U.S. declared “neutrality” and didn’t even offer returning internationalists safety. Some were imprisoned in their home countries in Europe and the U.S.
5. “The naked human” poem written by Gustav Munch-Petersen at age 20 before he went to Spain. He was one of 550 Danish solidarity fighters, and one of 220 who was killed on the battlefield, or tortured to death in prison, or died of a war-related disease. I translated the poem.
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