The Emperor’s New Clothes: “objectivity” and revisionism in Spanish history’, Journal of Contemporary History, 48 (1) 2013, pp. 191-202

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The Emperor’s New Clothes: “objectivity” and revisionism in Spanish history’, Journal of Contemporary History, 48 (1) 2013, pp. 191-202

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    http://jch.sagepub.com/  Journal of Contemporary History  http://jch.sagepub.com/content/48/1/191.citationThe online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0022009412461776 2013 48: 191 Journal of Contemporary History  Chris Ealham HistoryThe Emperor's New Clothes: 'Objectivity' and Revisionism in Spanish  Published by:  http://www.sagepublications.com  can be found at: Journal of Contemporary History  Additional services and information for http://jch.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts: http://jch.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions: What is This? - Jan 15, 2013Version of Record >> at SAINT LOUIS UNIV on January 16, 2013 jch.sagepub.comDownloaded from    Journal of Contemporary History48(1) 191–202 ! The Author(s) 2012Reprints and permissions:sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0022009412461776 jch.sagepub.com Review Article The Emperor’s NewClothes: ‘Objectivity’and Revisionism inSpanish History Chris Ealham Saint Louis University, Madrid, Spain ‘And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.’(George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’, in  Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays )‘Tell me what you boast about and I’ll tell you what you lack’.(Popular Spanish expression) Manuel A´lvarez Tardı´o y Roberto Villa Garcı´a,  El precio de la exclusio´n: La polı´tica durante la SegundaRepu´blica , Madrid, Encuentro, 2010; 320 pp.; ISBN 9788499200309Manuel A´lvarez Tardı´o and Fernando del Rey Reguillo (eds),  The Spanish Second Republic Revisited:From Democratic Hopes to the Civil War (1931–1936) , Brighton, Sussex Academic Press, 2011; 320pp.; ISBN 9781845194598 Julia´n Casanova,  The Spanish Republic and Civil War  , Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010;370 pp.; ISBN 9780521737807Gutmaro Go´mez and Jorge Marco,  La obra del miedo. Violencia y sociedad en la Espan˜a franquista(1936-1950)  (prologue by Julio Aro´stegui), Barcelona, Peninsula, 2011; 384 pp.; ISBN9788499420912 While within Spain the fight for memory and the battle over the past is pursued in away that is unprecedented in western Europe, the meaning of Benedetto Croce’smaxim – ‘all history is contemporary’ – is evidently lost on a certain type of his-torian of Spain. Heated debates over Spanish memory and politics are largelyinevitable if we recall how undefeated Francoism was timorously superseded by Corresponding author: Chris Ealham, Saint Louis University, Madrid, Spain.Email: cealham@slu.edu  at SAINT LOUIS UNIV on January 16, 2013 jch.sagepub.comDownloaded from   a democracy which, unlike in Germany and Italy, was erected on the foundationsof the old dictatorship, accompanied by officially cultivated amnesia, a ‘pact of forgetting’ and a tacit agreement between right and left not to punish anyone forcrimes committed during the regime.Thirty-six years after the death of the dictator, the limits of post-Francoistdemocratization were sharply exposed in the summer of 2011 by the scandalsurrounding the publication of a  Diccionario Biogra´  fico Espan ˜ ol   by the RealAcademia de la Historia (RAH). The context and playing out of this contro-versy shed important light on the nature of the historiography of contemporarySpain, as well as issues relating to power, partisanship, scholarship and memory.There is also a direct line to be drawn between the  Diccionario  affair and thefirst two books listed above: Manuel A ´lvarez Tardı ´o, co-author of one thesetitles and co-editor of the other, along with Stanley Payne, the keynote con-tributor to  The Spanish Second Republic Revisited  , both published entries in theDictionary.The RAH, it must be noted, is unrepresentative of the Spanish historical pro-fession today and of the overwhelming bulk of historical research produced inuniversities since Franco’s death. Although the RAH is publicly funded – withan annual budget of nearly  E 900,000 – it is a residue of the dictatorship.Thoroughly undemocratic, its president since 1998, the Marquis of Castrillo ´n,Gonzalo Anes, can be re-elected indefinitely. Moreover, the RAH functions as aprivate club. It does not accept applications from scholars. There is no competitionfor places and membership is strictly by invitation. As of summer 2011, the bulk of its 36 members, 15 of whom were then over 80 years old, were steeped in Francoistculture. Its leading members include senior clergy and a retired Inspector from theBrigada Polı ´tico-Social, Franco’s notorious secret police. A similar scenario wouldbe inconceivable in post-Fascist Italy or post-Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly per-haps, the RAH comprises only three women members and not a single contem-porary historian. 1 Most Spaniards were oblivious to the RAH until the scandal surrounding theDictionary, which was lavishly funded with nearly  E 6.5m under a 1999 accordapproved by the right-wing administration of Jose ´ Marı ´a Aznar, broke. Once pub-lished, the content of the Dictionary, co-ordinated by the octogenarian Anes,provoked a furore, being roundly denounced by figures such as Nobel laureateMario Vargas Llosa.So what was the controversy about? Besides a complete absence of editorialcontrol, friends and ideological bedmates were invited to write entries (and bewell-rewarded from public funds) regardless of their suitability. The most conten-tious entry – that of Franco – was written by Luis Sua´rez Ferna´ndez, a medievalistand unashamed admirer of a man he refused to acknowledge as a dictator. Othercontributors openly identified with the ideas of the dictatorship: one entry laudedthe ‘glorious death’ of right-wingers during the ‘crusade’ that was the civil war, 1  El Paı´ s  (5 June 2011). 192  Journal of Contemporary History 48(1)  at SAINT LOUIS UNIV on January 16, 2013 jch.sagepub.comDownloaded from   that anti-communist ‘war of liberation’ against the ‘practically dictatorial’ SecondRepublic. 2 Many of the contributors repeatedly, and with considerable ennui, emphasizedthe scrupulous impartiality of their work. Thus Sua ´rez, the author of the infamousentry on Franco, explained in an interview with a left-wing Spanish daily that hehad penned an ‘objective’ study, explaining his refusal to mention Franco’s repres-sion on the grounds that this would constitute an inappropriate ‘value judgement’. 3 In the first two books under review here we witness the same tendency to lay claimto ‘objectivity’, a central shibboleth of right-wing and centre-right historians work-ing on contemporary Spanish history nowadays.Indeed, ‘objectivity’ for these historians is little more than a slogan, an assertionthat is rarely demonstrated. At best it is a nod towards what they believe isgood practice. But they show no readiness to engage in their writing with concep-tual issues surrounding notions of ‘impartiality’ and ‘bias’. Perhaps they are simplyoblivious to these. Whatever the case, one of the clarion calls of Spain’s new his-torical revisionism is that historians with leftist sympathies succumb, perforce, totheir impassioned and ideological positions, thereby compromising the necessarystandards of ‘scientific objectivity’. Thus, the doyen of pro-Francoist history writ-ing, the publicist Pio Moa, repeatedly accuses his mainly liberal or social-demo-cratic detractors of rancour and even of being apologists for the USSR. 4 While most (but not all) professional historians are averse to being identifiedwith Moa’s poorly documented and explicitly propagandist conclusions, some of his revisionist tenets have been embraced by a medley of conservative scholarswithin the university system, where such ideas are endowed with an aura of aca-demic respectability and validity. 5 The works by A ´lvarez, who has publiclydefended Moa’s oeuvre, Rey and Villa, can, albeit to varying degrees, be takenas examples of this trend: in what is at times almost a nineteenth-century belief inthe neutrality of their ‘scientific research’, they pose as ‘objective’ historians who,through their unimpeachable professionalism and unflinching will to neutrality,have risen above the ideological meˆle ´e that consumes others from within the his-torical profession.Even if we follow the lead of A ´lvarez, Rey and Villa by riding roughshod overtwentieth-century debates relating to hermeneutics, epistemology and their impli-cations for historiography, it is still incumbent upon a critical reviewer to put theirclaims of ‘neutrality’ to the test and, in doing so, one is immediately confrontedwith the limitations of their approach. El precio de la exclusion  has generated much excitement in Spain’s leading right-wing newspapers, whilst predictably going unacknowledged in the liberal-left press.( El Paı´ s , the leading paper of the democratic era, like some of the historians who 2  La Vanguardia , 30 May 2011. Stanley Payne compared the Dictionary to its Oxonian equivalent ( LaRazo´ n , 26 May 2011). Once the storm broke, the Dictionary had few public defenders.3  Pu´ blico  (31 May and 1 June 2011).4 See ¿Que ´ se jugaba en la guerra de Espan ˜a?,  Libertad Digital   (30 August 2011).5 F. Espinosa,  Contra el olvido. Historia y memoria de la guerra civil   (Barcelona 2006). Ealham  193  at SAINT LOUIS UNIV on January 16, 2013 jch.sagepub.comDownloaded from   write for it, displays a capricious, some might argue dictatorial, tendency to ignorestudies that challenge its discourse.) Firmly located within what we might call theneo-revisionist canon, the central findings in A ´lvarez’s and Villa’s volume are com-patible with, possibly even inspired by, the old Francoist assertion that the leftprovoked civil war. Perhaps this is not so surprising. After all this study is pub-lished by  Ediciones Encuentro  which includes Moa among its authors.  Encuentro  isalso closely linked to the Spanish chapter of Communion and Liberation – a shad-owy, authoritarian Catholic sect founded in Italy, which was implicated in theTangentopoli scandal of the 1990s before associating with the coalition of forcesaround Berlusconi. Less important in Spain, Communion and Liberation never-theless actively promotes ‘theo-conservative’ ideas within the universities.Notwithstanding their publisher’s ties to the Catholic church, a major protagonistin Spain’s 1930s crisis, A ´lvarez and Villa repeatedly proclaim their impartiality.Nor would it seem a problem for A ´lvarez to preserve his equanimity as a historianwhile participating in the activities of the militantly neo-liberal FAES Foundation,the brainchild of former Primer Minister Aznar, who has publicly praised A ´lvarez’swork. 6 For all their stress on ‘objectivity’, a careful reading of   El precio de la exclusio´ n reveals it to be far from even-handed in the respective criticisms of right and left.The comparative pretensions of this work are a case in hand. A ´lvarez and Villacontrast unfavourably the birth of the Spanish Second Republic with Frenchrepublicanism during 1869–72, lamenting, in particular, the absence of a SpanishLe´on Gambetta capable of incorporating the moderate Catholic right within therepublican project, as occurred during the French Third Republic. Sadly, theauthors’ familiarity with nineteenth-century French history does not extend tothe workings of comparative methodology. This book is a reminder that, whilecomparative methods can produce rich and exciting conclusions, if utilized care-lessly they become an unreliable methodological road map, leading us here to aone-dimensional and purely formalistic approach. There is no consideration of thewildly different domestic social, economic and political contexts and internationalcircumstances that shaped political developments in 1860s France and 1930s Spain,factors that need to be in the foreground to make a meaningful comparison.Moreover, having constructed the French road as a kind of ‘ideal type’ that con-veniently allows them to flag up the shortcomings of Spain’s republicans, A ´lvarezand Villa do not pursue their comparative agenda with rigour.According to A ´lvarez and Villa, the Second Republic was the product of a‘revolution’ (37), not a tacit agreement between sectors of the liberal-left oppositionto the monarchy and members of the military top brass who, for a variety of reasons, were alienated from King Alfonso XIII. 7 It was only after General 6 See http://elpais.com/elpais/2007/02/08/actualidad/1170926223_850215.html (accessed 23 September2012).7 G. Esenwein and A. Shubert,  Spain at War. The Spanish Civil War in Context, 1931–1939  (London1995), 68–9; S. Payne,  Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931–1936  (Madison, WI 1993),32–4. 194  Journal of Contemporary History 48(1)  at SAINT LOUIS UNIV on January 16, 2013 jch.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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