Brothers of the Ideal: Some Reflections on the Spanish Civil War

On both sides, writes David Mitchell, during three years of conflict, political passions ran high.

La Lonja, a soaring, sombre Gothic masterpiece where merchants buy and sell the produce of the countryside, is, as the guidebook says, the most beautiful building in Valencia. The Museo de Bellas Artes has a large collection of Valencian primitives, and a Velasquez self-portrait in a little shrine of its own hung with faded brown velvet. The wide bed of the River Turia is attractive, where the water, spanned by comely, many-arched bridges, has shrunk to a narrow stream flowing through poplared meadows interspersed with football pitches.

But it is in the Town Hall that the twentieth-century treasures of Valencia are to be found: the newspapers of the civil-war period from November 1936 to November 1937, during which Valencia was the centre of government in Republican Spain. Here, in the municipal archives, are files of Verdad (a joint Socialist-Communist publication until the parties quarrelled), Frente Rojo (Communist), Fragua Social (a ‘moderate’ Anarchist daily), and Nosotros - a ‘left’ Anarchist evening -Portavoz (Megaphone) de la Federacion Anarquista Iberica, or FAI.

Ilya Ehrenburg, then correspondent of Izvestia, wrote that in autumn 1936 Spain reminded him of Eugene Delacroix’s heroic canvases - ‘beyond the Pyrenees the romanticism of the past century smouldered briefly and flared up’. Of course, which ‘side’ a Spaniard took largely depended upon where he happened to find himself at that time. Even so, there was genuine passion on both sides.

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