The Truth About Spain! Mobilizing British Public Opinion, 1936-1939 (Book Review)
By Daniel Coysh
Morning Star | October 6, 2010
The Spanish civil war remains a subject both endlessly fascinating and divisive for the left in Britain thanks to its status as the first war against fascism in Europe and the revolutionary nature of parts of the Spanish republican government.
The refusal of the British and French ruling classes to assist Spanish democracy and the intervention of the Soviet Union and the International Brigades remain a source of fury and pride to socialists today.
In Spain itself the issue has only really resurfaced in the past decade. This is due to the long post-Franco hangover and recent efforts by progressives in the Spanish government and legal system to locate and give proper burials to the thousands massacred by fascist militias during the civil war.
This has proved incredibly divisive. Tainted by Francoism, the Spanish right wing have fought such moves all the way. Hugo Garcia has deliberately avoided this controversy in his book, which tries hard to be an “objective” scholarly examination of the propaganda efforts in Britain by both sides of the war.
Republicans believed that getting Britain onside would cause other powers to follow, so their efforts were focused there.
Originally part of his PhD, Garcia’s book is scrupulously researched and based on a combination archive material from Spain, Britain, France and the US and second-hand sources. It shows that both sides used techniques first developed by the British during World War I, as well as laying the foundations for the propaganda onslaught seen across Europe during World War II.
The goal was to convince foreign public opinion of the righteousness of each side’s cause, whether that was the defence of the democratic Spanish republic or the defence of “Spain” against “godless communism.” Tactics included rallying cries behind symbols of freedom, solidarity, unity or “the nation,” as well as depictions of atrocities carried out by the enemy and claims of “illegal” intervention by other powers.
Garcia analyses these forensically, alongside the media used to spread such propaganda. He takes in pamphlets, posters, newspaper reports – the Daily Worker’s Claud Cockburn is mentioned several times – newsreels, documentaries and art exhibitions.
He also considers the effectiveness of the campaigns, arguing that they were highly effective at mobilising the British left on the side of the republic and the far-right on the side of Franco while alienating most people, who continued to back the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments’ “non-intervention” policy.
This book is an excellent resource for anyone fascinated by this period of history, even if it lacks the rallying cry of “No Pasaran!” that many of us feel is still relevant today.