Review by Alvah Bessie: Smouldering Freedom, by Isabel de Palencia

by Rebeca on June 17, 2009

[Editor’s Note: In his email to me regarding this review, Dan Bessie wrote, “The review sounds quite sectarian, especially with the hindsight of time. While I’m really not conversant with the history of the Preito vs Negrin strategy and tactics in relation to Spain, it seems to me that the CP’s main tactic at the time ought to have been to champion ANYONE who was working for the re-establishment of the Republic.

More importantly, the review really has very little to say in relation to what the author wrote about, preferring to concentrate on the ideological stuff (which is what the CP did quite a bit in those years)”

I decided to add it to this month’s reviews so readers could see how the CP sometimes let its ideology get in the way of a good review.RS]

Smouldering Freedom, by Isabel de Palencia

Reviewed by Alvah Bessie, New Masses, November 6, 1946

The story of the Spanish Republican exiles cannot be told to often. These days it is a live issue again in the mass meetings throughout the length and breadth of the land through which individuals and organizations strive to sever the diplomatic relations that still exist between our country and the fascist regime that sent these people into exile.

Isabel de Palencia, who was the last minister plenipotentiary to Sweden of the Spanish Republic, tells the story again in her new book, and tells it very well indeed. Prefacing her narrative with a thirty-six-page summary of the war itself, she follows with the personal stories of many exiles — distinguished and humble — who were driven from their native land by the invading armies of Hitler and Mussolini.

These stories gain poignancy over other refugee stories by virtue of the fact that the Spanish refugees alone among the European peoples oppressed by fascism have no place to go. Their homeland, protected by a spurious neutrality, has not yet been liberated, and this fact alone is of consummate irony. For the neutrality of Franco served only to guarantee the continuity of international fascism, to guarantee the continuing murder of Spain’s republican populations.

While Señora de Palencia tells her many stories with patent heart and sound conclusions, one has the feeling that there is something lacking in her book. I would describe it as partisanship — not for republican Spain, for she is an iron-bound artisan of the Republic. What seems lacking is a proper allegiance to those forces within and outside Spain who are going to liberate her country in the near future. By maintaining a strange neutrality between the contending groups of Spaniards in exile, Palencia fails to strengthen the hand of the one group she concedes is really capable of rallying the majority — the Negrin group.

It is a sad fact that the recently convened Cortes in Mexico succeeded in isolating Juan Negrin — together with substantial groupings without whose support no unified movement for the re-conquest of Spain is possible. While admitting that the Prieto group now holds the balance of power among the exiles, it is curious not to find Palencia evaluating Prieto and his junta as they must be evaluated. For Prieto himself has long since been exposed by Premier Negrin as a traitor to the Republic, and Prieto’s influence at all times has been toward a narrow, nationalistic understanding of the Spanish problem — and toward a vicious anti-Sovietism and anti-communism that is the hallmark of greater villains than he.

Spain will be re-conquered, however by the people who remained behind after the war, and while the exiles (if they achieve real unity) can help materially toward the reconstitution of their republic, the fight itself when it comes, will be carried on by those who could not escape from Spain. They will bring to life a slogan whose memory depressed us all for many years: Madrid Will Be the Tomb of Fascism. That slogan has been reborn again, and it will triumph. Isabel de Palencia’s new book will add to the understanding of those people whose assistance and understanding is needed to make it a reality.

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