I am currently reading Paul Preston's latest book, the much praised The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain. It is a detailed account of the terror and violence carried out by both sides before, during, and after the Spanish Civil War. While it seeks to attribute blame where appropriate to both sides, there is no doubt that it focuses on the appalling atrocities carried out by the Francoist forces and the right generally.
I am about 150 pages into it, and there is no doubt that it brilliantly, if harrowingly, illustrates the murderous and anti-democratic mindset of the Spanish Right prior to the outbreak of war. It is astonishing how a hatred of the Second Republic and democracy in general was a feature of pretty much the entire Right wing, including the parliamentary and supposedly moderate CEDA.
However, I am becoming increasingly disinterested and even dismayed by the book, and I don't know if I am going to be able to finish it. I think there are three reasons for this:
1. The unremittingly grim and depressing accounts of atrocities, rapes, extra-judicial shootings etc.
2. It is detailed, perhaps overly so, and rather turgid in its recounting of any outrage after another, without much of an overall context or overarching narrative. One would need to have at least some knowledge of the situation in Spain up to the creation of the Second Republic before coming to read the book, because little background is provided.
3. Probably my main problem: the obvious bias of the author in favour of the Republic and against the Right. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, and I think to all reasonable people the broadly democratic Republic would be favoured over the wholly autocratic and oppressive Right. But there is a persistent attempt by Preston to minimise Left violence and oppression, and to portray it as merely reactive. Right wing revolutionary rhetoric is taken at face value, whereas similar speeches from the left are dismissed as hot air. The Republic was not a perfect democracy by any means, and in particular the curtailing of freedom of religious expression was a major factor in the growth of the anti-democratic Right, but this is glossed over by Preston. Similarly, the Left wing revolt in Asturias in 1934 is portrayed as a response to Right wing repression, but it is more generally seen as an anti-democratic response to the victory of the Right in elections that year. There has been no recognition up to the point I have reached of the much-demonstrated capability of Communist forces for institutionalised violence, and the titles of the main sections of the book would suggest that Preston will continue to portray Left wing violence as essentially reactive, given that Part 2 is entitled "Institutionalised violence in the rebel zone" whereas Part 3 is called "The Consequence of the Coup: Spontaneous Violence in the Republican Zone". Furthermore, the title of the book itself, "The Spanish Holocaust", is indicative of the author's approach is, incidentally, surely misjudged.
I am interested in whether anyone else has read the book and if they agree with my description and criticisms of it. I have some knowledge of the Spanish Civil War period but I am far from an expert, and those who know about it might like to contribute as to whether the violence was predominantly from one side, or whether a true recount of the horrors of the War will require a more nuanced approach.