Recently I was reading a PDF of the 1938 pamphlet Trotskyism in the Service of Franco: Facts and Documents on the Activities of the P.O.U.M. in Spain by Georges Soria. Soria was a representative in Spain of the French communist paper L’Humanité and also wrote for the International Press Correspondence of the Comintern. The material for the pamphlet was originally published as a series of articles reporting on the situation of the Spanish Civil War.
Forty years after its original publication, Soria is said to have denounced the work and its contents as a forgery.
The work has subsequently been dismissed as a fabrication for a number of years. It is now cited by Trotskyists as evidence of a “Stalinist” campaign to smear the P.O.U.M. as fascist agents. Jeffrey Meyers, a biographer of George Orwell, called it “a vicious book” and Orwell himself dedicated lengthy passages in his novel “Homage to Catalonia” to blaming the Communists for similar accusations, and for the loss in Spain as a whole. The pamphlet has become a tool to denounce the heroic role of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) in the Spanish Civil War as counterrevolutionary.
The copy of the full pamphlet in its 1938 form on the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) comes with an editor’s note that cites the original author apparently claiming the work and its contents are a complete forgery:
“Forty years later, in a work about the Spanish civil war (Guerra y revolución en España 1936-1939, III, 78-79), Soria himself stated – without mentioning anything about his own role in disseminating the accusation – that ‘the charge that the POUM leaders were ‘agents of the Gestapo and Franco’ was no more than a fabrication, because it was impossible to adduce the slightest evidence’ and the whole story was ‘an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism’” (Marxists Internet Archive).
It’s worth noting MIA are not the first ones to use these quotes to “disprove” the Soria pamphlet. Many scholarly and non-scholarly books have used them as well.
As the MIA editor’s note shows, the original source for these quotes from Soria is the book “Guerra y revolución en España 1936-1939.” This source is not available to me. However, I did find another source that details the full unedited quotes by Soria which are being cited as proof his work is a forgery: the book “Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution” by Burnett Bolloten.
Within this source there is enough information to argue that the way the quotes from Soria are often presented is quite deceptive. Here I will present only what are actual quoted words from Soria, and omit the words and phrases MIA inserted between them. The first quote that is commonly used is that Soria said that:
“[…] the charge that the POUM leaders were ‘agents of the Gestapo and Franco’ was no more than a fabrication, because it was impossible to adduce the slightest evidence.”
The second quote, which MIA and others present as being about “the whole story,” (more on this later) meaning about the entire contents of Soria’s pamphlet, says:
“[…] an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism.”
These passages in quotes are the only portions of the editor’s note that were actually said by Soria. Now I will present the full and unedited Soria quotes in their original context as cited in Bolloten’s book. All portions in brackets [ ] without the annotation “E.S.” appeared in brackets in the original Bolloten text. The first full quote reads as follows:
“Forty years later however, in an attempt to exculpate the Spanish Communists from responsibility for the death of Nin, he [Soria – E.S.] stated that ‘the accusations leveled against Nin in Spain in the form of the couplet: ‘Where is Nin? In Salamanca or Berlin?’ were ‘purely and simply…an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism.’”
So Soria was not, in fact, talking about his pamphlet, but rather the story surrounding the disappearance of Andrés Nin, the founder of the P.O.U.M., where he was freed from prison by fascist agents. Soria then blames the NKVD for the death of Nin, which is what he dismissed as “an extension into the international arena of the methods that constituted the most somber aspect of what has since been called Stalinism.”
Bolloten even goes on to condemn Soria for his “attempt…to exonerate the PCE by shifting responsibility for the crusade against the P.O.U.M. and for the disappearance of Nin to the phenomenon of ‘Stalinism’” (507). So the Soria quote specifically speaks of the charges against Nin and one story of his disappearance.
The MIA editor’s note however, frames this quote as being about “the whole story,” implying that it’s about his original work and all charges of the P.O.U.M. acting as agents (either de-facto agents or actual spies) of Franco or Hitler:
“the whole story was ‘an extension…[Soria quote continues as above].”
As we can clearly see however, in this first quote Soria was not talking about his pamphlet or the “whole story,” but specifically about the alleged liberation of Andrés Nin from prison by fascist agents, which Soria recounts in the pamphlet, though he does not mention the involvement of the Gestapo but rather implies that fascist agents may have been involved.
Bolloten then cites the second Soria quote used by MIA in the same paragraph, which contains even greater pronounced differences with the MIA citation. The original says:
“On the one hand, the charge that the leaders of the POUM, among them Andrés Nin, were ‘agents of the Gestapo and Franco’ was no more than a fabrication, because it was impossible to adduce the slightest evidence. On the other hand, although the leaders of the POUM were neither agents of Franco nor agents of the Gestapo, it is true that their relentless struggle against the Popular Front played the game nolens volens of the Caudillo [General Franco]” (Bolloten 507).
So despite Soria claiming that the charges of the P.O.U.M. leadership, including Nin, being fascist spies was without evidence, he still blamed the P.O.U.M. for taking an ultra-left position and undermining the popular front in Spain, which still rendered de-facto service to the fascists. In other words, even if the Trotskyists and ultra-lefts in the P.O.U.M. were completely innocent of all charges and were not agents of the Gestapo or Franco, they “only” offered de-facto, and not de-jure, service to Franco.
The phrasing here says that even though he claims there is no evidence of the P.O.U.M. leadership being fascist agents and spies, Soria does not deny the fact that they rendered service to Franco, using the phrase, “nolens volens,” meaning “whether willing or unwilling.”
The editor’s note on MIA omits this second phrase for obvious reasons. There are a number of other interesting points regarding these full, unedited quotes that are worth pointing out.
In these quotes Soria does not denounce his original work – merely the specific charge that the P.O.U.M. leadership were spies of the Gestapo and Franco. He does say it was “impossible to adduce the slightest evidence,” which can be said to imply that the documents and sources he cites in the pamphlet are, at least in part, forgeries. However, this is not stated specifically. In fact, Soria does not mention his work at all! This is implicitly stated by the editor’s note on the MIA page, which states that Soria spoke “without mentioning anything about his own role in disseminating the accusation.” His “role,” of course, was the pamphlet!
To some extent MIA makes a valid point about Soria never mentioning his own “role” in the charges that he claims was a “fabrication…[without] the slightest evidence.” Assuming the work is a complete fabrication, Soria never claimed to have been coerced to write the pamphlet, and never mentions an outside party forcing him to do so. Therefore, even in the case that it is a complete forgery, until there is proof that Soria authored it under the influence of an outside force, the blame must be placed not on the Soviet Union, “Stalinism” or the PCE, but on Soria the author for allegedly forging the evidence in his articles in the first place, and allowing those articles to be published as a pamphlet.
It’s also worth repeating that though Soria expresses his belief that the charges against the “P.O.U.M. leadership” being fascist spies was false and without evidence, this does not mean everyone in the P.O.U.M. was innocent of such activities, and Soria says explicitly that the P.O.U.M.’s actions still helped Hitler and Franco, even if unwillingly. One must ask then: how does this in any way exonerate the P.O.U.M.?
Furthermore, why Soria should choose forty years after the publication of the original document, long after such a “confession” of forgery could have had any effect whatsoever on the anti-fascist war in Spain or its outcome is unclear, thought it must be pointed out that these words were said after Soria became sympathetic to the Eurocommunism of the PCF, and during the era of “de-Stalinization,” where the virtues of making slanderous statements and denunciations regarding the Stalin era were looked upon with favor both inside and outside the Soviet Union. The pace for this was set by the many utter falsehoods uttered by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress, and the decades of revisionism that followed.
CONCLUSION: Until there is more direct evidence that Georges Soria denounced his articles and the documents he cited in them as forgeries, there is no reason to “dismiss” them from consideration as evidence, and though he later claimed the charges against the P.O.U.M. leadership were baseless and there was no evidence for them, implying that at least part of the original work was false and/or mistaken, the conclusion that Soria admitted his work and all of its contents were complete forgeries cannot be supported by the existing facts.