Saturday, 19 April 2014

Cockburn on Spain.

I've just been flicking through the pages of The Devil's Decade (1973) by Claud Cockburn, in which he has a chapter on the Spanish Civil War, entitled The Battle for Spain: Triumph of the Right. This is not so surprising as Cockburn was a Communist agitator in the 1930s and covered the Spanish revolution and its fight for survival. He was not totally exceptional as a British aristo abroad fighting for a cause which seemed insane to the ruling-classes of the day. Here's an excerpt I quite like:
Outside Spain, the event was noted with generally calm incomprehension. A general election had taken place, a shift to the Left had been registered. 
Europe north of the Pyrenes was in the main ignorant of the state of mind of the Spanish working people; was indifferent to it; and would in any case have found it unintelligible. 
Those whose business it was to observe the course of events found it impossible to convey their nature and significance to populations cocooned in their political habits. Some tried to translate Spanish into French or English by seeking comparisons with the mood of revolutionary Europe in 1848 or of the Paris Commune of 1871. The translation was rough indeed, the analogy distant. 
It was justified in one sense only: in Spain now, as in those great European explosions of the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of people - in Spain millions - were motivated and propelled by a good hope that the moment had come when man could remake his world; that he could master his circumstances; that liberty could cease to be an empty word, and work be no longer a dreary one. They did not accept that Utopia must be a sick delusion. 

These words must have been bittersweet for Cockburn who had seen the defeat of Spain's revolutionaries by Fascism first hand. It was a defeat which the Western powers had colluded in (along with Stalin) to stomp out an alternative vision of society. It would be four decades until Spain was emancipated from the jackboot of Franco's regime. It's an important lesson in the dark times in which we as leftists live. Many years later in the final years of the twentieth century Claud's eldest son Alexander Cockburn would write: "These days we're shy imaginers of Utopia. We know we live in the age of iron, lamented by Hesiod and Ovid. All the more reason not to lose heart. There is abundance, if we arrange things differently. The world can be turned upside down; that is, the right way up. The Golden Age is in us, if we know where to look, and what to think."

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