THE OTHER SIDE IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR-ROME HONORS FRANCO'S 'MARTYRS'
Under ordinary circumstances I do not give a tinker’s damn about the internal ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church, or for that matter, any church but a recent news item hit me square in the eye. On Sunday October 28, 2007 at Vatican City some 498 priest and nuns killed just prior to or during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 were given a mass of beatification. Apparently beatification is a direct step in the process to sainthood- the Catholic Hall of Fame. Unfortunately the article did not give a list of reasons why these ‘martyrs’ were chosen other than the fact that they had been killed, presumably by forces that supported the lawfully designated Republican government, in the Civil War.
But wait a minute- this is Spain, this is the Spanish Civil War-what the hell- these are General Franco’s agents who fell all over themselves to aid his rebellion and ultimately led to forty years of hell. Those are the kinds of people that the Roman church is giving its blessing to. Let us further set the historical record straight - these were agents of that Romish church that owned significant lands and assumed all the prerogatives of feudal landlords in relationship to their peasant tenants. This, I might add, is the church of the Inquisition; the church that oppressed the poor, downtrodden and otherwise confused people of Spain for centuries. Yes, there seems to be some symbolic ‘justice’ here as Mother Church honors her most trusted agents.
Popular anti-clericalism had a long tradition in Spain, justifiably so from any fair reading of the history of that benighted land. Many times during social turmoil ignited by the fed up peasantry and the plebes in the smaller cities prior to the Civil War the first plebian act was to go lay waste to the local church and scatter or otherwise harm the clergy. The period of the Spanish Civil War was no different in that sense. Except that by that time the anti-clerics had also taken on an anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist coloration. In fact during this period they made church vandalism into an art form. Thus this batch of ‘martyred’ clergy were likely the victims of that tradition, although a stray irate republican, insolent socialist or undisciplined communist may have gotten caught up in it depending on the furies of the local population. Ernest Hemingway in his Spanish Civil War novel For Whom the Bells Toll has one of his characters narrate a very graphic description of what anti-clerical (and anti-central government) revenge was like in one locale.
Historically attacks on churches are an elemental first reaction by the plebian masses in a revolutionary period. In the English Revolution the yeomen of the Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army made a regular practice of reducing churches (for their silverware to be used as ammunition as well as an expression of rage). In the French Revolution the same thing occurred although on a less disciplined basis. Thus Civil War Spain is hardly an exception to that general trend. However socialists, especially Marxist socialists, have always drawn the line on the question how to deal with religion differently. We stand in solidarity with such elemental acts against the oppressions brought by religion however that is not our program. We recognize that we must change the whole material basis of society in order to get rid of the ‘need’ for religion as solace for an unjust and chaotic world. Hey, we are the ‘religion is the opiate of the people’ guys, remember? Thus we spill no tears over the fate of these Popish ‘martyrs’ but neither do we advocate such action to create social change. We go after the big guns- the capitalists.
While we are on the question of honoring those who died in the Spanish Civil War we have our own heroes to recognize. Like those who fought under the banner of the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias and saved the republic, in the short haul, as Franco’s rebellion reared its ugly head. Or those far flung legions of "pre-mature” anti-fascists who came from all over Europe and the Americas and formed the International Brigades that did valiant service on the Ebro, the Jarama and elsewhere. Or those who defended Madrid in its hour of need so that Franco should not pass. And the anarchist Friends of Durritti (to speak nothing of Durritti himself) and the fighters of the Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) who were ready to give their all in the last ditch effort to save the revolution in the May Days in Barcelona in 1937. Yes, those are OUR kindred spirits. They stand in no need of beatification. However, in the end the best way to honor their efforts is to fight for socialism. Then we can put religions in the museums as historical curiosities