Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Struggle of the Spanish People
Dress Rehearsal for World War

By Harry Pollitt
World News & Views August 1958

Much of what has been written in this series of memories about Spain, appeared at the actual time of my visits to that country in the "Daily Worker", and thanks are due to the Editor for permission to reprint them in the edited form in which they now appear.

Unfortunately the whole situation which ended with the temporary defeat of the Spanish Republican Government at the hands of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, fully backed by the policy of the Chamberlain Government in particular, turned out quite differently from what I anticipated when some of the articles were written. Nevertheless, nothing can ever dim the heroism and sacrifice of the Republican and democratic people of Spain or the magnificent support they received from the International Brigade and all democratic and peace-loving mankind.

The events in Spain from 1936 to 1938 were meant by Hitler and Mussolini, to be a dress rehearsal for their organisation and carrying through of the Second World War. British and French reaction hoped fervently that by supporting Franco, they would save Britain and France from being involved in direct war with the two fascist gangsters. Hitler and Mussolini.

We know only too well now how the actual events turned out, and what a terrible price had to be paid by the peoples of France and Britain for this pro-fascist policy.

Few events in our lifetime have evoked such a splendid international support and response as was the case during the Spanish war. I personally have never known public feeling to be so roused as it was in Britain at that time. The meetings of all kinds were very successful. The work of collecting money and goods and medical supplies for Spain received tremendous support, and this support came from all sections of the community who were deeply aroused by the magnificent fight of the Spanish people and their own fears and hatred of fascism.

Outstanding was the epic struggle and sacrifice of the British Battalion of the International Brigade. It is a story that ought never to be forgotten by the Labour movement in particular, and it certainly did more to restore the honour of Britain than any other event of the Spanish war.

The British Battalion

The Battalion took part in many battles and won for itself the proudest name in the International Brigade and it was an everlasting honour to have been connected in any way with it. I refrain from mentioning the names of comrades because it would be invidious now to single out names from this gallant company, but we will never cease to pay our tribute to all who formed the British Battalion of the International Brigade, won for it such glorious laurels in battle, endured hardships, and shared its successes and defeats alike. The orrganisation of the British Battalion, getting its members to Spain, supporting the dependants of the comrades, was a truly gigantic task. Small wonder that some misunderstandings and mistakes took place. But these were nothing to the work as a whole that the British Battalion did while it was in Spain.

Its memory will live for ever and provide one of the noblest pages in the history of the British Labour movement.

I went to visit the British Battalion five times and visited every part of Spain its members were in—at the battle front, behind the lines, in training camps and in hospitals, and it was a great honour and privilege to meet the comrades in all these varied circumstances as I did.

It is true that the democratic people and government of Spain were defeated. but never has the struggle against Franco ceased for a single day.. The deeds of the Spanish people who have taken part in this activity, and particularly those of the Communist Party of Spain, will never be forgotten and one day it will all prove successful. Franco will become completely defeated and the cause of the Spanish people will again triumph for ever.

On the first occasion it was decided that I should go to visit the British Battalion in January 1937, we had just had news that it had been in its first big battle at Jarama. I went to the headquarters of the International Brigade, where I met comrades from many countries who were on the staff, and they got me in touch

with Peter Kerrigan, who was in Valencia. They sent for Peter, and the next morning we set off for Morata to see the British Battalion.

Appeal for unity

Following that first visit, I addressed a meeting in the Friends Meeting House in March 1937, and the following are extracts from the speech I made at that meeting. . ,

"Is it possible to have a civil war for a matter of eight months without that posing the most urgent questions with relation to economic, political and now military situations in the world? Especially since Spain is predominantly agricultural, with no great basis of heavy industry which can allow it to produce its own munitions of war.

"It is this which adds to the gravity of the decisions which the international conference, meeting in London tomorrow and on Thursday, will have to take. believe that the leaders of that international conference, especially the leaders of the British Labour movement, stand in an unenviable position; because they have had the power that could long ago have brought complete victory to

Republican Spain. Westminster, demanding that the Conference repudiate non-intervention, strengthen the International Brigade, and demand the right for the Spanish Government to obtain arms.

"Every one of you should do this, and then 2,000 telegrams or postcards will go to the Central Hall, where the Conference is being held; it will have a tremendous political effect upon that Conference. Telegram boys will be mobilised to take telegrams all day to the Central Hall."Our boys are doing their bit. Our British Battalion of over 600 strong is now no more than 200. The rest of the comrades are either killed or wounded.

"Last Saturday morning the boys had a rest out of the firing line. These 200 got together in a little church, and I stood in what might have been meant for the pulpit, and I addressed these comrades.

"There wasn't a whine, a word of reproach. Not a comrade who said he would like to get back. There was a feeling of pride that they had been chosen to have held the most important sector of the fight that has saved Madrid.

"They have done it with heavy losses. Our Party has lost some of its best fighting men in the struggle. But they will never die. Their names will live for ever.

They represent the flower of the British people. They represent a people whohave redeemed the honour of the British Labour movement, who have removed from it that stain placed on its name by the Citrines and the Bevins.

"Those men are great men. They have done things the like of which has never been heard of before. "The boys, after two weeks', fighting, with all the losses they had sustained, were brought out of the firing line for a rest. The word came that Franco had launched a counter-attack. The British Battalion was asked would it go, in spite of its losses, back into the line. Would it re-form its ranks and try to hold that counter-attack?

"Those 200 boys went back into the fighting line and prevented the counterattack from being successful.

"Everybody in authority in the Spanish Government and the International Brigade pays the highest tribute to them. "Not a man who went there was promised a penny. I give the lie to the abominable slanders appearing in the capitalist press. They knew that they faced death in Spain. Not a man was promised any financial award: everyone was a genuine volunteer and understood what he was going out to "These boys, when they come back, will be leaders of our movement. Theywill not be content with disunity.

In the hospital

"At two o'clock on Sunday morning I went through a great hospital. I walked right through ward after ward, and at one ward I thought I recognised one of the comrades sleeping.

"I turned back the cover and saw a man whose face I knew, a Labour Party comrade from West London who had thrown up a very good job to go out. "He woke up and saw me standing there. 'I'm alright' he said. I asked him, 'What's the matter with you?' 'Oh, nothing's the matter'. But I turned down the cover and saw that his arms had been shot off from the shoulder.

"Another chap, a member of the Y.C.L. in Dundee, was obviously dying. He asked me for a pencil and paper, and wrote this little note: 'Please send my watch to my mother. Long Live the Y.C.L.!'

"And in another bed was the then leader of the Communist Party in London. A bullet had gone through his cheek. I shook him, and when he awoke, the first words he said were 'Gawd blimey! Is it you? What's the result of the L.C.C. Elections?'

"How can they say we are not sincere when we have sent our best comrades out to the International Brigade? "If they can have unity there, on the battlefields, why can't we have it here? Do you think they would stand for this? Their lives are consecrated now to unity. Because if there had not been unity in Spain, Spain would already have been a fascist colony."