“It’s a pity that only one of them can lose,” said Henry Kissinger of the Iran-Iraq War. The same was true of the Spanish Civil War. We need to face the fact that we had no dog in that fight, a war between those who entirely predictably went on to back the Axis while officially neutral, and those who wanted to turn Spain into a satellite of, initially, a de facto member of the Axis, as Spain would also have been if the Republicans had won. Indeed, she would have been so even more than she was under Franco, since the Soviet Army actually fought alongside that of Nazi Germany, notably staging a joint victory parade through the streets of Brest-Litovsk. If Hitler had also had such a relationship with a Soviet-dominated Spain, then he would probably never have reneged on the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and therefore might very well have won the War.
The Spanish Civil War has always split Old Labour into its constituent subcultures. It did at the time. The Hard Left is as ardently pro-Republican as ever, because of its myopia, even now, about Stalinism, because of its anti-Catholicism, and because of the overrating of George Orwell. Meanwhile, Catholics, at least if pushed or if they know anything at all about it (as almost no younger Spaniards do, either), will still back the Falangists, whose ostensible Catholicism was a perversion defined by its reaction against other things, although there have been worse such before, at the same time, and since. No one else will have much, if any, view on the matter. But we need to get real. Even if Franco was no Hitler, neither side deserves our historical sympathy. Franco, as much as anything else, maintained, and occasionally tried to press, a territorial claim to staunchly Catholic and staunchly British Gibraltar.
Since Soviet archives were opened up, all sorts of information has come to light. The entire Republican cause was Comintern-directed, and the Soviet intervention was in no sense parasitic as has traditionally been supposed or asserted. For example, far from being commanded by a Canadian volunteer, the International Brigade was in fact commanded by Manfred Stern, a Soviet Commissar. But then, there never was an anti-Soviet Left in Spain in the Thirties; that myth has been astonishingly long-lasting considering its complete and utter baselessness. Take, for example, Francisco Largo Cabellero, Socialist Party Leader and Popular Front Prime Minister. Entirely typically of his party, he defined it as a revolutionary force wholly distinct from British Labour or the French Socialists, and differing “only in words” from the Communists. The Socialist Party's 10-point programme of 1934 was wholly Leninist in form and substance, calling, among other things, for the replacement of the Army and the Civil Guard with a workers’ militia, and for the dissolution of the religious orders and the expropriation of their property. So one could go on, and on, and on.
Stalin only loosened his grip once the Civil War was clearly lost, long after the Republicans themselves had given up what little commitment to democracy that they might ever have had. So the best that can be said about the Spanish Civil War is that the not-quite-so-bad bad guys won. If the even-worse bad guys (the Republicans) had won, then Spain would actually have fought with the Axis just as the Soviet Union did, the Nazi-Soviet Pact would probably never have collapsed, and Hitler might therefore very well have won the War.