The Untold Victors: The Spanish Civil War as History Not Propaganda


The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) is one of the wars in which the losers are documented much more than the winners.

by Timo Hännikäinen

The ideological spectrum of the socialist Republican side of the war has been explored inside out, but their opponents, General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists are portrayed simplistically as reactionaries, who merely represented the interests of the Church and powerful landowners, and wanted to return Spanish society to feudal times.

This is particularly true of history writing that centres on the foreign volunteers of the Republican International Brigades, which involved 32,000 to 35,000 left-wing and non-political defenders of democracy from different countries. In his 2003 book, Suomalaiset Espanjan sisällissodassa (Finns in the Spanish Civil War), Jyrki Juusela closely follows the steps of the Finnish members of the International Brigades, but only a few dozen pages are dedicated to Finnish fighters on the nationalist side. In leftist mythology the Spanish war was an international crusade on behalf of democracy and egalitarianism, which drew militant idealists from all over the world, including Asia and Latin America.

But, actually, the proportion of foreigners in Franco’s nationalist forces was even greater. Along with 15,000 German and 80,000 Italian professional soldiers who were sent to help Franco, almost 90,000 foreign volunteers fought on the nationalist side.

Republican propaganda claimed that they were “mercenaries,” and this assumption lingers on even today. But, in reality, many foreign volunteers on the nationalist side had no previous military experience or even military training, and because their daily wage was only three pesetas, none of them got rich by waging war in Spain.

British journalist Christopher Othen’s recent book Franco’s International Brigade: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War (2013) is the first comprehensive presentation of these men and their motives. The fates of these right-wing volunteers resemble an adventure story, but, above all, Othen’s work is a political and ideological history; it conveys an elaborate picture of the radical Right of the pre-WW2 period.

Franco’s regime and its ideology is quite commonly referred to as “fascist,” but the term is misleading. Franco and the other generals who rebelled against the Republic represented a traditional, authoritarian conservatism, leaning on monarchy and the Catholic Church, rather than radical and socially reformist fascism.

The Falangist martyr, José Antonio Primo de Rivera.

The only truly fascist movement in the nationalist political scene was the Falange Española, or the “Falangists,” a political party founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The party’s ideology had a lot in common with Italian Fascism, and contained an anti-capitalist strand. Falangists declared that they rejected both capitalism and socialism, and wanted to replace them with a syncretic “third way” economic doctrine, which included the Italian idea of the Corporate State.

The movement adopted some racial doctrines and spoke of the “Hispanic race,” but biological racialism was not particularly important to its ideology. Instead of eugenics, Falangists emphasized Catholic “spiritual rebirth,” which would reunite the nation torn by class disputes.

When Primo de Rivera was executed by the Republicans in the early months of the Civil War, the leadership of the Falange movement was taken by Manuel Hedilla, who emphasized the “proletarian” side of the movement, and whose status was compromised by his political inexperience and being on bad terms with Franco.

Franco was afraid that Hedilla might try to oust him from his post, so he had him arrested and took direct control of the Falange. In 1937, the Falange’s status as an independent political movement came to an end: it was merged with a few other nationalist organizations into one large, more traditional conservative-royalist political party, under the leadership of Franco.

Many foreign fascists distrusted Franco’s nationalist movement. Members of actual fascist parties, such as Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, were not eager to enlist in their ranks. Finnish aristocrat and adventurer Carl von Haartman joined the Falangist militia, but from practical rather than ideological reasons.

Many fascists considered fascism to be a social revolutionary movement, and in their eyes the Spanish nationalists looked like mere minions of the ruling classes. For example, Mosley’s party newspaper Action wrote that the Spanish conflict was no more than “an old 19th Century class war: the rich against the poor.”

Fascist Italian society was polarized by the Spanish intervention. The Abyssinian War that Mussolini had waged before the outbreak of the Spanish War had enjoyed broad support, and even the left-wing and liberal opponents of the Italian government had approved the military expedition, which had after all ended slavery and the feudal system in Abyssinia. But interference in the Spanish situation was met with criticism from many convinced fascists, one of which wrote:

“We talk about the proletarian revolution at the same time as we defend the reactionary generals, landowners and exploiters.”

Mussolini’s decision to participate in the war was probably not influenced so much by ideological factors than by the desire to develop the skills of his own armed forces for future expeditions.

Othen claims that the majority of Franco’s international volunteers were actually different types of conservatives, rather than fascists. Many were motivated especially by religion. In the areas controlled by the Republican Government churches were systematically destroyed and priests and nuns killed, which sparked outrage especially in Catholic countries.

The body of a nun exhibited in Barcelona in 1936.

Franco was considered to be fighting for the Christian faith against atheistic Communism. Many Catholic “crusaders” joined up with the Spanish Carlist movement. Carlism was a distinct monarchist movement with broad popular support among the small farmers of northern Spain. The movement had started during the succession crisis of the 1830s, when the Carlists had wanted to raise the lineage of the Infante Carlos, Count of Molina, to the throne of Spain. Its supporters used the red beret as their emblem.

In the Civil War Carlists had a reputation as particularly fearless fighters, who attacked the enemy with their heads held high and shouted their battle cry “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) As a social movement Carlism promoted independent small farmers – in some respects a Spanish version of Jefferesonianism. It was merged with the Falange under Franco in 1937.

There were a couple of noteworthy exceptions in the general attitudes of the European fascist movements. In Portugal, which was under the authoritarian control of the dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, there was a fascist opposition, the “national syndicalists” who wanted to replace Salazar’s agrarian conservative regime with a fascist state based on trade unions and the redistribution of land. Salazar expelled the head of the movement Rolão Francisco Preto to Spain after a failed coup attempt.

In Spain Preto developed good relations with the generals planning the rebellion against the Republic, and when Salazar equipped an 8,000-strong volunteer force to help Franco, it included a lot of old national syndicalist supporters. They found ideological allies in the Falangists, whose party program also spoke of “national syndicalism” as a third way between capitalism and socialism.

Fighting Irish: Eoin O’Duffy

In Ireland volunteer troops were gathered by General Eoin O’Duffy, a veteran of the Irish War of Independence and the leader of the Mussolini-inspired National Corporate Party. Nevertheless he was more driven by pursuit of personal power than ideological belief and compassion for the Spanish nationalists.

By the 1930’s O’Duffy, who was earlier considered a national hero, was a political corpse, and his alcoholism and homosexuality were openly ridiculed. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, brutal anti-religious atrocities committed by the Republicans provoked widespread sympathy for Franco in Catholic Ireland, and O’Duffy saw an opportunity to improve his image. Raising and organizing a volunteer corps brought him some new popularity, and he believed it could work as a springboard to power.

Franco did not take O’Duffy’s offers of help seriously. When an approximately 700-strong Irish unit was finally sent to Spain, it performed poorly in battle, and its lack of discipline infuriated nationalist officers. Eventually, Franco dissolved the Irish unit and merged it with Spanish Foreign Legion. With that O’Duffy’s dreams of becoming the Irish Il Duce withered.

Franco’s attitude towards European volunteer units, of which the quality varied widely, was one of skepticism. He saw their main value as helping to build friendly relations with European governments. Typically foreign volunteers were directed to the Spanish Foreign Legion. Only the Irish and the French were allowed to form their own separate brigades.

Franco placed much greater reliance on the Moroccan soldiers who formed by far the largest number of volunteers, a total of about 78,000 men. The Nationalist uprising had begun in the garrisons of Spanish Morocco, and in the early stages of the rebellion the generals managed to recruit the Moroccans to their side. In 1936 Morocco was divided into Spanish and French protectorates. The Nationalists appealed to the Moroccans by implying that their country would be granted independence after the Republican government was overthrown, but there was little intention of keeping such promises. The Moroccans swallowed the bait and enlisted in large numbers to Franco’s army.

“Kebab” in the service of “Fascism.”

The Moroccans played a vita role in the initial phase of the war: the Nationalists would have been unable to continue their attack in Spain without Moroccans troops flown over from the protectorate. The motives of the volunteers were manifold: some were attracted by the soldier’s pay, some hated Communism, some believed in the promises of independence, and more skeptical ones thought that they would receive some combat experience for a future war of independence. Others wanted only a chance to kill Spaniards, no matter what political stance these represented.

Moroccan troops, “los moros,” quickly got a bad reputation. It was said that they systematically raped Republican women and tortured prisoners of war. In battle they used to castrate their fallen enemies, and when pictures of mutilated corpses spread to foreign newspapers, the nationalist Colonel Juan Yagüe officially banned the habit among his Moroccan troops.

Propaganda art by Helios Gómez, depicting rape of a Republican woman by Moroccan troops.

Republican propaganda made the most of the real and imaginary atrocities of “the Moors.” In propaganda posters Moroccans were depicted as grinning, thick-lipped turbanheads, who harassed white women and pierced children with their bayonets. Republican journalists and authors wrote of “brutal Africans with knives in their teeth,” and accused Franco of bringing “African savages to a European civil war.” The Left of the 1930’s clearly didn’t embrace the current type of political correctness.

One of the most interesting observations in Othen’s book is the fact that in the Spanish Civil War both parties thought they were defending European civilization against barbarism. For the nationalists, barbarism was the anti-religious Communism. For the Republicans it was the reactionary military regime with their Arab allies. One party sought to protect religion and tradition, the other democracy and progress. Foreign interventions and international corps turned the Spanish conflict into a pan-European civil war. In World War II, this ideological civil war was extended throughout the continent.

Both parties had their reasons to see the other party as barbaric. The Civil War was an unusually cruel confrontation, with brutal treatment of prisoners of war and military operations against civilians. Especially in the early stages of the war, radical left-wing groups killed multitudes of church workers, land-owning farmers, and supporters of the right-wing parties, while the weak Republican government turned a blind eye to such terror.

Nationalists paid in kind, and mass executions of left-wingers became common practice in Nationalist-held areas. German air units sent to support Franco bombed Republican cities without distinguishing between military targets and the civilian population.

Some of the foreigners involved in the conflict were disappointed when idealism encountered the darker side of the war. Many radical leftists had a rude awakening when Communists gained increasing power on the Republican side and started to liquidate Trotskyists, anarchists, and other “heretical” elements. Georges Bernanos, a French writer known for his novel The Diary of a Country Priest (1936), had established contacts with the Falangists and supported Franco when the war began, but after witnessing summary executions and other terrors on the nationalist-held island of Majorca, he began to write of the Franco regime with a sharp critical eye.

George Orwell: his experiences in Spain profoundly influenced his later writing.

Othen brings the unscrupulousness of the civil war to life, without demonizing or apologising for either party. His account shows that both Republican and Nationalist volunteers were largely pawns in a game played by bigger powers, who hardly cared about Spain and its culture. For them, the land of Cervantes, Murillo, and Goya was mainly an exotic battlefield on which to promote their own political goals.

The Spanish Civil War saw both a loss of leftist and rightist idealism, but from a coldly pragmatic point of view its end-result can be considered positive. The Communists gained more and more power in the Republican government during the war. Through control of Spain the Soviet Union would have been able to threaten Western Europe. This was prevented by Franco’s victory.

On the other hand, Nationalist Spain remained neutral in the Second World War, which was a powerful brake on Hitler’s world domination plans. Franco’s objectives were national: he wanted to crush the Socialist Republic and Basque and Catalan separatism; the extension of the conflict throughout Europe did not interest him. In achieving his goals, he used the help of Christian Crusaders, right-wing radicals, and Moorish fighters – so much and so long as they were useful.

Although Franco’s Spain kept out of from the “European Civil War” 1939-45, many of his foreign volunteers took part in it. The Continent’s political complexity is illustrated by the fact that not all of them participated on the same side. Franco’s Air Force fighter pilot, Count Rodolphe de Hemricourt de Grunne, a Belgian aristocrat, joined the British air force when the Germans invaded his country. He may well have been in dogfights with the German pilots, who, a little earlier, had fought on Franco’s side as part of the Condor Legion.

After their service in the Spanish Civil War, the British Fascist Peter Keen and the Norwegian National Socialist Per Imerslund went as volunteers to the Finnish Winter War to fight against the Soviet Union. After returning home, Keen served in the intelligence division of the British parachute regiment, while Imerslund supported the pro-Nazi government in occupied Norway. Frenchmen from the Jeanne d’Arc volunteer unit later fought in both the French SS and the French resistance movement. History had entered into a new phase, where old loyalties were no longer relevant.

Timo Hännikäinen is a Finnish author, translator, and the editor-in-chief of Sarastus online magazine. He lives in Helsinki.

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  • Dagger at the Heart of Spain: Franco’s African Affront (Aryan Skynet)

    He writes that “the Moors raped women and afterwards slashed their throats and cut off their breasts.” The purposeful mutilation of women’s bodies, especially the breasts, represents the symbolic destruction of motherhood. Solano Palacio asserts that by destroying and mutilating women the Moroccan troops demonstrated their contempt for motherhood and for [Spanish] society in general. After her visit to Spain in 1934 Leah Manning reported that a nursing mother was tortured “particularly upon the breasts” simply because her husband had participated in the revolt.

    The sending of African troops to Asturias led to P. Preston’s remark that “The nationalist values on which the Right claimed to stand rested on the central symbol of the struggle to reconquer Spain from the Moors. Now they shipped Moorish mercenaries to Asturias, the only part of Spain never dominated by the Crescent to fight against Spanish workers

    Franco and his allies also railed on about the “Africanization” of public life. They equated the Republic’s attempts to aid the peasantry with the barbarism they believed they were fighting in Africa, and
    presented Spanish peasants as racial inferiors comparable to Moroccan tribesmen. This revival of the second specter haunting Spanish nationality, the inferior Moor along with the conspiring Jew, carried
    with it an eerie irony. Franco’s African Army itself brought the practices of colonialism to Spanish shores. Officers and men boasted that they treated conquered Spanish towns like they treated Moroccan
    They killed the wounded and the prisoners and the local elites for the same reasons they had in Africa, so as not to leave any possibility for resistance in the rear, and to intimidate the surrounding

    During the civil war of 1936 to 1939, the Spanish Foreign Legion and the Regulares fighting for the nationalist side, mutilated corpses, massacred prisoners, and raped working-class women. The Foreign Legion, despite the name, was composed mainly of Spaniards, with a few Cubans and other Latin Americans. The Regulares, again despite the name, were Muslim troops recruited in Morocco, and promised pillage in Spain. Preston is as restrained as he can be in the presentation of the regular
    gang rape of Spanish women by Muslim mercenaries under the command of Spanish nationalists. This was part and parcel of Franco’s policy.

    It is difficult, furthermore, to imagine any context in which the abuse and mutilation of European women – even fanatical communist zealots – by imported African mercenaries would be an acceptable course of action for men presenting themselves as ethnonationalists.

    • Cuckservatives worship uniforms and flags. Just because someone wears a uniform and does a roman salute doesn’t mean they’re racial nationalists. Blind loyalty to a flag above loyalty to your own kind is just another form of treason.

      Judges forced the children of the working class into busing schemes while they sent their grandkids to overwhelmingly white private schools. National Review says working class whites deserve to die. That’s not just immoral, it’s dumb politically pushing millions of voters into the Democrats arms. Hillary pushed them back when she called them deplorable but what’s Trump going to do for them? The working class white vote is OUR vote, not the Republicuck’s or the Democuck’s. Redneck Revolt is trying to co-opt their loyalty with Communist rhetoric while flooding the country with non-white scab labor competition and demanding they be disarmed while NEVER going after anyone who demonizes white people. National Review wants the same thing as Vincente Fox, Richard Kalergi and Leon Trotsky: an intellectual elite lording over impoverished brown masses.

      The good news is I think the Alt-Right is pretty much in line with class solidarity and rejects the National Review form of racially treasonous elitism.

  • This is the same as in present day US, Trump isn’t and wasn’t the darling of the pre furious Media as just as General Francisco Franco, Primo de Rivera were. What if George Orwell had fought on their side? Would we have had a different story, perhaps?

  • Want to talk about real history? The United States lost both the American Civil War AND World War II. To believe otherwise is to not understand the stakes of either war. Define victory first, you can work from there.

  • Winners wrote the history of the Spanish Civil War IN Spain. Problem is Spain didn’t control world media. US and most European nations had historians and media people who sided with the Spanish Communists.

    • Yeah. There isn’t much out on this subject in English to this day. In school we just read Homage to Catalonia by Orwell and very little was spoken of about the Right Wing side, which seemed odd as the Left lost the war.

  • “The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) is one of the wars in which the losers are documented much more than the winners.”

    This applies to Nazi Germany too. Many more books were written on Hitler than on Stalin, Churchill, or even FDR.

  • A number of quick points about this article:

    1. Franco’s ideology was called Nacional Catolicismo (National Catholicism). As the name indicates, it was basically a strong form of nationalism with religious elements blended in due to the long spanish Catholic tradition.

    2. Nationalist forces were integrated not only by Falangists but also Conservatives, Monarchists and other sectors of the Right.

    3. Yes, Falange was inspired by Mussolini’s Fascism. However, there were some factions taking as a reference National Socialism, like Ramiro Ledesma Ramos.

    4. In a sense, Falange was Jew wise. However, at the time of the civil War there weren’t a lot of jews in Spain. The principal enemy was the left (sponsored by Moscow) and Masonry, who was huge and influential.

    5. Neither Falange nor any important political figure talked about the concept of “hispanic race”.

    Almost all the relevant material about Falange, Nacional Catolicismo, Nacional Sindicalismo (especially its doctrinal Canon) has not been translated into English, so the English speaking audience only gets a very partial and incomplete picture.

  • >Especially in the early stages of the war, radical left-wing groups
    killed multitudes of church workers, land-owning farmers, and supporters
    of the right-wing parties, while the weak Republican government turned a
    blind eye to such terror.
    Somewhat parallels antifa and today’s government.

    Republicucks were actually Commies and other useful idiots like Orwell. The overall contribution of Moroccans to the success of Franco’s regime is highly questionable as is any propaganda the Commies put out. Though it could be a case of historic irony that the liberals were inflicted with their own poison.
    I also wouldn’t trust a ‘British journalist’s’ accounting of the Spanish Crusade (as it is known by genuine Catholic Spaniards).

    God gave the victory to Franco who’s forces considered the war a true all-or-nothing Crusade, the Catholic traditionalist side prevailed and survived WWII thanks to staying out of the whole business like the semi-godless Mussolini should’ve done, fascist Italy would’ve likewise survived WWII.

  • General Juin of the Free French Army commanded a division of Moroccans in WWII at the Battle of Monte Casino…To invigorate the morale of his savages before the battle, he promised them access to the Italian women of the local villages. He kept his promise. Europeans who use savages in war against other Europeans are animals.

  • Great article! Very few people have accurately portrayed the facts about our civil war. It was a very sad thing. On one hand you had Francom who allowed his monkeys to rape Aryan women and cut off the heads of Aryan POWs who could have been re-educated or at least used for labor in the rebuilding process, while on the other you had vile communist scum and Jews who openly tortured people to death and committed countless atrocities. An all around tragedy really and the Jews are to blame.

  • The Mass Shooting in Las Vegas was most likely an Anti-White Terrorist Attack……

    ….on White Trump MAGA Voters…….

    If true…….the Race War in America is now Fully Out in the Open…….

    The Alt-Right needs to be all over this……..studying, examining, researching…….

    If I’m wrong then I’ll admit it…….

    But, if this was an Anti-White Terrorist Attack on White Trump Voters……

    Game Changing……

    Everything Changing……..

    • It is confirmed. Someone on /pol/ found his facebook page. He is an open communist and supposedly like antifa pages!

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