The Grand Camouflage: The Communist Conspiracy in the Spanish Civil War

By Burnett Bolloten | Go to book overview

25
Largo Caballero Breaks with Moscow

F OR all its seriousness the episode of the Iron Column added but a ripple to the whirlpool of discord which for weeks had been swirling in Valencia, the seat of government.

Early in February, 1937, enmities had acquired fresh malignancy with the fall of the strategic port of Malaga, from where the loosely organized and inadequately equipped militia columns, divided by dissensions and mutual suspicions, had been rolled back in precipitous confusion for more than eighty miles along the coast by an overwhelmingly superior enemy force composed of Spanish and Italian units. Of this disaster -- for which individual and collective responsibility was widespread 1 -- the Communists made what capital they

____________________
1
Copies of two important documents dealing with the loss of Malaga have been preserved, which no one wishing to apportion responsibility fairly can afford to ignore, for they form, together with the valuable data in General Asensio's book, El General Asensio. Su lealtad a la república, the basis of any serious study of this subject. One is a detailed account of the disaster given on February 12, 1937, to members of the Higher War Council by Colonel José Villalba, a professional officer with no party ties, in charge of the Malaga sector of the southern front; the other is a report, dated February 18, 1937, to the Commissariat of War by the left-wing Socialist, Alberto Fernández Ballesteros, Inspector-Commissar of the southern front. These documents refer to the absence of military discipline and organization on the Malaga sector, the muddle and disorder in the rear, the irresponsibility of professional officers and militia leaders, the struggle between the different factions to the prejudice of military operations, the inordinate proselytizing efforts of the Communist Party, the appointment of an excessive number of Communist political commissars by Cayetano Bolivar, chief political commissar of the Malaga sector, the wanton neglect of defensive works, the treachery of the two commanders in charge of fortifications, Romero and Conejo, who deserted to the enemy, the inadequate supplies of rifles, guns, and ammunition, the lack of assistance from the fleet and Air Force, and, finally, the failure of the War Ministry to respond to the reiterated appeals of Colonel Villalba and other leaders for reinforcements and supplies. One of the most unlucky figures in the disaster was Villalba himself, who was assigned to the Malaga sector after enemy forces had pierced the eastern defences at Estepona and when everything was fusing into disaster. Undoubtedly selected by the War Ministry as a scapegoat, he was later arrested and imprisoned. After more than eighteen months' internment, however, he was exculpated from any blame for the disaster and rehabilitated. -- See La Vanguardia, November 3, 1938.

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