752.61/2–346: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennam) to the Secretary of State


328. In view of interest shown by foreign Communists in mobilizing international pressure for overthrow of Franco Govt and speculation about future Russian policy toward Spain (for example Madrid’s 71, January 14 to Dept17), it might be useful to recapitulate briefly at this time basic elements in Soviet attitude toward Spain.

Spain is one of very few western countries in which Russian Communists have discerned social conditions similar in certain respects to those prevailing in Russia prior to revolution. They have learned from experience that social revolution is easiest where working class [Page 1034] is most backward and owning classes most feudal and isolated. Thus Communist minds, frustrated by failure of Marxism to become effective drawing card in advanced western countries, have always turned with hope to more familiar social climate of Iberian Peninsula.
Russian Communist Party and Secret Police engaged themselves heavily in Spain during civil war more heavily in fact than they had done in any western country, and lost out. Not ordinarily given to nursing of grudges (smashing of German Communists was received in Moscow with bland indifference if not slight tinge of relief), Russian Communists have borne implacable resentment over their elimination from Spanish picture and have shown unwillingness to let bygones be bygones.
There is no doubt that participation of Spain in German attack on Russia and above all nefarious behavior of Spanish Blue Division aroused enormous resentment here and gave final hardening to Soviet hatred of Franco regime. Russians will not forget that Blue Division was largely responsible for wrecking and plundering of Catherine The Great’s Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, perhaps the finest of Russian historical monuments, and that Spaniards quartered their horses in the ruins. This was so gratuitous and so grievous an act of vandalism that Spaniards should not hope to avoid some day being confronted with the bill.
But intensity of Russian efforts to displace Franco are not explained by sentiments of revenge alone. Politically as well as strategically Russians recognize in Spain a key territory in which it is highly important for them to gain influence.
Politically Spain presents itself to Soviet mind: (a) as an important flanking position to France and to Italy in both of which countries Soviets have strong hopes of eventually achieving dominant political interest; (b) as entry to backward peoples of Morocco; and (c) as potential direct channel of influence to Latin American world independent of US or of any other great American power.
Russians are keenly aware of strategic situation of Spain and particularly interested in it because it controls entrance to a sea of which they are close to being a littoral power. Manuilski, Ukraine Foreign Minister, stated publicly in 1926: “Tangier represents a military base competing with Gibraltar. Gibraltar is an outmoded cliff fortress. Tangier is its growing competitor. The installation of long range artillery at Tangier for example would assure to the state which holds Tangier the mastery over the entire Straits of Gibraltar”.
Russians have recently found themselves helpless to accomplish anything effective by direct efforts toward the overthrow of Franco. Their previous preoccupation with German danger and their present [Page 1035] naval and air weakness have prevented them from contemplating direct military action. Nor have they been able as they once hoped to penetrate and mobilize for Soviet purposes anti-Franco opposition among Spaniards inside and outside of Spain. Apparently the narrow scholasticism, crushing discipline, systematic intolerance and slavish devotion to Soviet policy which have characterized Moscow-oriented Spanish Communists plus Spanish memories of Communist brutalities and excesses in civil war period have combined to render Communists impotent to seize lead among forces opposed to Franco. Moscow has therefore been reduced to relying principally on public opinion and govt action in western countries to bring pressure for downfall of Franco regime. Soviet policy has thus been (a) to do all in its power to render impossible achievement of any permanent modus vivendi between western powers and Franco or any other conservative element in Spain and (b) to utilize every possible channel for mobilizing western opinion against Franco in the hopes that western govts will have to yield to pressure and make strong action to bring about downfall of Franco regime. This last is an excellent example of purposes for which Moscow so assiduously pursues control of international mass organizations such as labor unions, women’s groups, youth groups, etc., and it is not by chance that authoritative Moscow New Times cites messages sent to Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers by World Federations of Trade Unions and by International Women’s Federation allegedly representing 70 million and 83 million persons respectively as reason why democratic powers should take joint action to eradicate Franco power.
Potsdam decision on Spain was distinct success for Russians in as much as it provided guaranty in their interpretation against Franco Spain being admitted into United Nations. But at present moment Russians are highly alarmed lest means be found for peaceful transition to a moderate conservative or liberal govt in Spain which could introduce an era of relative stability and establish satisfactory relations with western powers. For this reason Moscow press resounds with cries of alarm and with efforts to discredit all efforts in this direction. Moscow publicists are suspicious of Prieto18 whom they term “unstable”. Maura’s resignation they portray as a maneuver, the establishment of a Christian Democrat Party as a Jesuit ruse. Recent movements of Juan19 are naturally followed with deepest misgivings. Giral’s national coalition govt is dismissed as reactionary and unrealistic since it excludes Communist Party. La Pasionaria’s20 [Page 1036] clarion call last month for the formation of another coalition to include all anti-Franco forces as well as Communists reflects this Soviet nervousness that a peaceful and moderate solution to Spanish impasse may be developing which would leave Communists out in the cold.
Russia’s purposes in Spain are incompatible with retention of any influence or even cohesion by conservative or moderate conservative forces in that country. In this sense they are probably incompatible with all stability in Iberian Peninsula for coming years. As far as Spain is concerned Russians have learned nothing and forgotten nothing since civil war. Their only program is to return to that struggle unabashed by chaos which might ensue. In atmosphere of renewed civil unrest and disorder with [garble] German and Italian interference eliminated they feel that superior discipline and revolutionary methods of orthodox Communist faction should eventually prevail.
Whether this is a realistic approach is something that can be decided better in Madrid than in Moscow and we would appreciate Madrid’s comments. It is my own conviction that there is still a vast psychological abyss between fierce personal pride of Iberian character and total personal sublimation of modern eastern Slav. Until something is done to bridge this void, I doubt that Russians can ever seize and hold the leadership they covet in Iberian affairs.

Sent Dept 328, repeated Lisbon for Madrid and Paris 29.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Indalecio Prieto, Spanish Socialist leader in exile.
  3. Presumably Don Juan, Pretender to the Spanish throne.
  4. Dolores Ibarruri (“La Pasionaria”), Spanish Communist leader.