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The Elimination of the ‘Fifth Column’ in Republican Madrid during the Spanish Civil War

Dr Julius Ruiz is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Edinburgh. He has written widely on the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. His previous books, published in English and Spanish, are Franco’s Justice: Repression in Madrid after the Spanish Civil War (OUP, 2005) and The “Red Terror” and the Spanish Civil War: Revolutionary Violence in Madrid (CUP, 2014).

In the Series

Studies in Spanish History 

“The issue of Paracuellos has become a crucial subject for the development of our research on history… Ruiz has given us a great deal of time to provide a rigorous investigation of the events… Thanks to Ruiz we can now say that Paracuellos was an atrocity committed by Republican leaders, or better put, those on the Republican side who violated the legality of the regime that they defended].” Jorge M. Reverte, El Pais, 2 July 2016

“Julius Ruiz has done a splendid reconstruction of those events [the Paracuellos massacres] with the erudition and knowledge that has made him essential reading on the repression in those years. A study that will survive the test of time.” Octavio Ruiz Manjon in El Cultural (El Mundo), 22 January 2016; the full review can be accessed in Spanish at

“Ruiz definitively shows that the crimes [of Paracuellos] were carried out by Spaniards and that it is absurd to minimise their responsibility by attributing the initial idea to the Soviets. Similarly, he establishes – we hope definitively – that the false prisoner evacuations and the executions on the bank of the Jarama [river] was an isolated event].” Sergio Campos, Revista de Libros, January 2016; the full review can be accessed in Spanish at

This book examines the most polemical atrocity of the Spanish civil war: The massacre of 2,500 political prisoners by Republican security forces in the villages of Paracuellos and Torrejón de Ardoz near Madrid in November/December 1936. The atrocity took place while Santiago Carrillo – later Communist Party leader in the 1970s – was responsible for public order. Although Carrillo played a key role in the transition to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975, he passed away at the age of 97 in 2012 still denying any involvement in ‘Paracuellos’ (the generic term for the massacres). The issue of Carrillo’s responsibility has been the focus of much historical research. Julius Ruiz places Paracuellos in the wider context of the ‘Red Terror’ in Madrid, where a minimum of 8,000 ‘fascists’ were murdered after the failure of military rebellion in July 1936. He rejects both ‘revisionist’ right-wing writers such as César Vidal who cite Paracuellos as evidence that the Republic committed Soviet-style genocide and left-wing historians such as Paul Preston, who in his Spanish Holocaust argues that the massacres were primarily the responsibility of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. The book argues that Republican actions influenced the Soviets, not the other way round: Paracuellos intensified Stalin’s fears of a ‘Fifth Column’ within the USSR that facilitated the Great Terror of 1937–38. It concludes that the perpetrators were primarily members of the Provincial Committee of Public Investigation (CPIP), a murderous all-leftist revolutionary tribunal created in August 1936, and that its work of eliminating the ‘Fifth Column’ (an imaginary clandestine Francoist organisation) was supported not just by Carrillo, but also by the Republican government. In Autumn 2015 the book was serialised in El Mundo, Spain’s second largest selling daily, to great acclaim.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-787-2
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $84.95
Release Date: November 2016
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-788-9
Paperback Price: £24.99 / $39.95
Release Date: November 2016
Page Extent / Format: 340 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: No


Introduction to the English edition

Chapter 1: More Heat than Light: Remembering and Explaining Paracuellos

Chapter 2: ‘Paracuellos was nothing compared to what happened before’

Chapter 3: ‘All prisoners were potential recruits for that column’

Chapter 4: ‘Fascists and dangerous elements. Immediate execution, deniable responsibility’

Epilogue: Why Paracuellos Matters

Ruiz’s book is mostly about demolishing this theory. His first chapter is an admirable summary of the debates generated by the events of autumn 1936 and the extent to which they reflect political agendas or not; he also introduces the reader to some key sources from those days. The second chapter introduces us to the perpetrators and the bodies they served. The latter make for a particularly challenging topic, since after the botched coup, existing police bodies and intelligence agencies in the Republican zone had to open their doors to members of far-left Popular Front parties and unions, and in some instances suffered what might be called a hostile take-over. As a result, assessing who was issuing orders and who was merely following them constitutes a major challenge for any researcher, but it has to be said that Ruiz masters it in full.
Klaus Schmider, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, reviewing in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies Hispanic Studies and Researches on Spain, Portugal and Latin America, April 2019

This historical study unearths the facts about the massacre of over 2,000 political prisoners in the villages of Paracuellos and Torrejon de Ardoz in December 1936. The study focuses on the culpability of Santiago Carrillo and examines the massacre within the broad context of the Red Terror in Madrid that occurred six months earlier in July 1936. The study demonstrates that the Republican actions in Madrid influenced Stalin in the USSR, and concludes that the massacre was orchestrated by the Provincial Committee of Public Investigations, which was a leftist revolutionary tribunal. B&w historical photos are included.

One of the principal virtues of Julius Ruiz’s scholarship is that he does not engage with this ideological tug-of-war, as indicated by the fact that his work has been assailed by historians of both the left and the right. His goal has not been to defend or denigrate either the Republic or the Franco regime, but to reconstruct the nature, scale and trajectory of the repression in all its complexity. Nigel Townson, General Series Editor of Sussex Studies in Spanish History, Complutense University, Madrid

Reviewed in Italian, Spagna contemporanea, 2017, n. 52, pp. 163–181

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