University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Bunk, Brian D., 1968-; Pack, Sasha D.; Scott, Carl-Gustaf (ed.) / Nation and conflict in modern Spain: essays in honor of Stanley G. Payne
(2008)

Scott, Carl-Gustaf
The Swedish left's memory of the International Brigades and the creation of an antifascist postwar identity,   pp. 151-173 ff.


Page 162

NATION AND CONFLICT IN MODERN SPAIN 
paint a largely uncritical picture of the Brigadistas, which not only attributes
to them the 
best possible intentions, but also idealizes their exploits in Spain.'"6
Those who did not 
conform to the propagandized portrait of the heroic and highly politicized
volunteer have 
been weeded out from the collective history of the Brigades. The volunteers
who left Spain 
completely disillusioned with the international Communist movement-which
was a fairly 
common experience in other countries'7 -are given no voice in Swedish accounts
about 
the Spanish Civil War.' Ironically, one of the main shortcomings of this
fictitious version 
of events is that it does the former volunteers an enormous disservice. The
performance of 
those who did serve with distinction in Spain would become all the more admirable
if placed 
in the truthful context of draconian discipline, soaring causality rates,
and widespread deser- 
tion among the Brigades. Instead, the Swedish Brigadistas have retroactively
been turned 
into political symbols that have little bearing on historical reality. 
In other parts of Europe, however, a more judicious interpretation of the
International 
Brigades has recently emerged'59 (in no small part due to the opening of
the Soviet 
archives).'60 Although some modest steps in this direction have been taken
in Sweden dur- 
ing the past decade,'6' this progress is still far from satisfactory. In
all likelihood, the chief 
reason that this larger trend has yet not made itself more felt in Sweden
has to do with the 
myopic nature of Swedish historiography, which has often been slow to respond
to new cur- 
rents in international scholarship. Yet, it likewise stems from the fact
that the Swedish Right 
has not contributed in any meaningful way to the debate about the former
volunteers,62 
and consequently there has been no counterpart to the Left's interpretation
of them. This is 
because Swedish Conservatives have had little incentive to involve themselves
in discussions 
about the Brigadistas, whom they at any rate could not have cared less about.'63
This was a discernable trend everywhere in Western Europe, where after the
Second 
World War, the Right characteristically has been silent about Spain. This
was in part because 
Conservative support for Franco had collapsed as early as mid-1937; that
is, well before the 
conflict was over.'64 In the wake of the German bombing of Guernica, even
former sympa- 
thizers such as Winston Churchill began to turn their backs on the Nationalist
cause.'65 In the 
postwar period, moreover, the Right's earlier backing of the Non-Intervention
Agreement 
was now discredited as appeasement.66 Nor were West European conservatives
at this point, 
eager to stick up for Franco's Spain, which in the early postwar years became
a pariah state 
for its previous association with the Axis Powers. With all of this in mind,
from a conservative 
point of view, the less that was said about the Spanish Civil War, including
the International 
Brigades, the better. 
It is more difficult to understand why West European Social Democrats have
been 
so reticent to debunk the Soviet mythologized portrait of the Brigades, given
their historic 
enmity toward the Communists. In part this presumably reflected a lingering
reluctance to 
place Stalin's atrocities completely on par with Hitler's. While the Third
Reich was consid- 
ered utterly evil in the eyes of West European Social Democrats, the Soviet
system was fre- 
162 


Go up to Top of Page