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Reviewed by:
  • The Spanish Republic and Civil War
  • Pamela Radcliff
The Spanish Republic and Civil War. By Julián Casanova (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010) 358 pp. $99.00

Seventy years after the end of Spain's destructive civil war, interpretation still, in Julian Casanova's words, "arouses passionate opinions rather than historical debate" (4). Though not claiming to be detached and neutral, Casanova promises to present a synthetic narrative that acknowledges debates, takes explicit positions, and maintains the historian's "constant quest for truth" (4). This is a lot to juggle, but Casanova manages to achieve a good balance between synthesis, when scholarly consensus is broad; exposition, when historiographical positions do not agree; and intervention, when his own conclusions are warranted. Since Casanova is one of the most eminent scholars of the Spanish CivilWar—with various books about the anarchist movement, the Church, the violence/repression, and the comparative context of twentieth-century civil wars—his narrative bespeaks the confidence, as well as the subtlety, of one immersed in the complexities of the historical record.

The book's narrative is driven by the classic "big" questions about the democratic Republic's failure to consolidate, the origins of the civil war, and the reasons for the Nationalist victory. In each case, Casanova provides multifactoral answers that resist simplistic conclusions, although he is not averse to declaring his sympathies at various points. Thus, in analyzing the origins of the Civil War, he acknowledges that the working-class movements helped to destabilize the Republic with their insurrectionism, but he lays the blame for the war squarely on the military conspirators. Furthermore, the anarchist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) certainly helped to create a "culture of confrontation" [End Page 464] (63), but so did landowners' groups and Catholics. Likewise, although Casanova recognizes that the Republic's anticlerical legislation and apparent indifference to popular anticlerical violence turned Catholics against it, he finds "little room for understanding" in a gulf between Catholics and anti-clericals that was old and deep (40). Casanova seeks to dispel the classic conservative argument that the onset of the war was largely the result of working-class disorder and Republican weakness, arguing instead that the military and the ruling classes ended the Republic.

On the question of why the Republicans lost the war, Casanova provides an evenhanded analysis of the two main scholarly frameworks for interpreting the defeat. The first framework focuses on the divisiveness and lack of unity within the Republican ranks; the other one pinpoints the internationally rooted disadvantages of the Republicans, from non-intervention of the Western democracies to massive Fascist/Nazi aid to the Nationalists within a context in which many Europeans were losing faith in democracy. Thus, he acknowledges both that "internal discord was a true stumbling block to winning the war" and that international aid or lack thereof was decisive in the duration, progress, and result of the war (269, 212). In this case, Casanova is more circumspect in his own opinions, citing divergent positions that emphasize one factor over the others.

In addition to addressing major historical questions about the origins and outcome of the Civil War, Casanova's book is one of the first general histories of the war to synthesize the main focus of research in recent years—the war's unprecedented violence and repression. He devotes more than a chapter to the details of the political violence inflicted on both sides, with special consideration of what he calls the "eliminationist" policies of the Nationalists (178). The Nationalists' steadfast commitment to "exterminating violence," with the endorsement of the Catholic Church, is a central theme of the book. In contrast, the Republicans' political violence occurred largely after the collapse of state authority in the first months of the war. Hence, 90 percent of the clerics that the Republicans murdered were dead by September 1936, two months into the war, before the Republican state was able to restore central authority. In the end, despite the undeniable cruelty on both sides, the Nationalists were primarily responsible for developing the new instruments of mass terror (339). This aspect of the Nationalists' mass politics situated them with the "modern" European fascists rather than the...


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pp. 464-465
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