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01 Jan 1939
Irish volunteers injured during the Spanish Civil War arrive back in Dublin. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Collection: Hulton Archive
Criticism etc writes on Raya Dunayevskaya, Tito nostalgia, Howard Fast and Spain. Extract:
[…] Dunayavskaya’s passing mention of Tito’s activities in Spainduring the revolution. Tito was a seasoned Comintern functionary long before he lead the partisan war against the Germans and it is an accepted part of his biography that in the 1930s he funneled volunteers from the Balkans to Spainto serve in the International Brigades. Proof that Tito was actually in Spainduring the revolution is scant, but the novelist and recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, Howard Fast, author of Spartacus(which was made into the film starring Kirk Douglas), wrote a 1944 homage with the immortal title The Incredible Tito which places him in the country. If this is accurate, it is entirely possible that Tito participated in the Stalinist repression of the POUM and the Trotskyists (or the Bolshevik-Leninists, as they called themselves).
Fast claims in his memoir Being Red, that at the time in 1946 when he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his work with the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee he learned that the Josip Broz in Spain he had heard about as an employee of the Office of War Information during WWII was not the one we know as Tito, but rather another person by that name (Fast was questioned about aid that may have helped Broz escape occupied France). Criticism &c. is inclined to belive the story as Fast recorded it in 1944. Regardless, Dunayevskaya may well have been informed from sources closer to the topic than Fast was privy to.
The irony in all of this is that in their frantic search for post-WW II perspectives, the Trotskyists went strongly pro-Tito for a time afterYugoslavia’s expulsion from the Cominform.
C etc is right in noting the Tito nostalgia that pervades the left, both neo-Pabloite Trots and fellow travelling social democrats like Tony Benn. It was one of the factors that led much of the left to find themselves on the wrong side of the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990s, when many associated the irredentist and ultimately genocidal Serbian nationalism with the partisan cause and the Croatian, Bosnian and other resistances to it with the Ustache.
- Arabic translation of Marxism and Freedom available on pdf (dmitryev.wordpress.com)
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- Criticism etc: Marxist humanism (poumista.wordpress.com)
Eric Blair is better known as George Orwell, author and journalist. Orwell’s work includes 1984, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his personal account of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. [At Poumista]
John Cornford was a Cambridge–educated poet. He fought initially with the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) and saw action at Perdiguera and Aragon in 1936 before falling ill and returning to England. He quickly returned, having recruited several friends, to join the English Battalion of the International Brigades, and was badly wounded at the Battle of Madrid in November 1936. He was killed at the battle of Lopera on 27 December 1936, shortly after returning to the front. [At Poumista]
Bob Doyle was an Irish member of the International Brigades. He was captured in 1938 at Calaceite, near the Aragon front, along with Irish Brigade leader Frank Ryan. After spending 11 months in a concentration camp he was among those exchanged for Italian prisoners of war. He died at the age of 92 on 22 January 2009. [At Poumista]
Frank Ryan, a prominent member of the IRA, led a group of Irish volunteers to fight with the International Brigades in Spain. He fought at the Battle of Jarama and was seriously wounded in March 1937. He was later captured and imprisoned by Nationalist forces before being released to the Germans in 1940. [At Poumista]
In the last three decades, since the publication of Albert Prago’s Jews in the international brigades in Spain in 1979 by Jewish Currents, there has been considerable interest in the massive role of Jewish fighters in the Spanish civil war. Most of them were within the orbit of the official Communist movement, which controlled and dominated the International Brigades – and also the narration of its later history. As Gerben Zaagsma and Martin Sugarman argue, the Stalinist version of that history obscured the specifically Jewish dimension to their motivations. This Jewish dimension was retrieved in the 1970s and 1980s by Jewish radical groups like Jewish Currents in the US and Jewish Socialist in the UK. However, their important commemorative work tends to focus on the Communists of the International Brigades. Lenni Brenner’s polemic Zionism in the Age of Dictators approached the issue from a different angle: showing that the Zionist movement had no interest in anti-fascism in Spain. However, although he also provides some interesting exceptions, his emphasis confirms the Stalinist historiography in marginalising the specifically Jewish motivations and the non-Stalinist participants.
In this blog post, I want to simply mention some of the Jewish participants in the Spanish Civil War who were also part of the anti-Stalinist movement, and specifically participants who were associated with the “Three and a Half International”, the anti-Stalinist socialist international that also included the Spanish POUM and the British ILP. The information is taken from Martin Sugarman, of AJEX, Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, and his booklet Against Fascism. I have added hyperlinks. Material in italics comes from other sources, as given at the end of the extracts. (more…)
Thanks to Ciaran Crossey for an article by Harry Owens about Poum veteran Roma Marquez Santo after his recent talk in Dublin. Highly recommended. [Related: Not Just Orwell.]
Thanks to faceless for the video of George Galloway talking about John Cornford on the BBC’s Great Lives. Recommended with reservations. [See also: The Scots who fought Franco; Brian Pearce on John Cornford.]
Browsing George Galloway’s site this morning, as one does, the following news announcement caught my eye:
George Galloway will be with host Matthew Parris on Great Lives – a weekly biographical series where each guest talks about a person in public life who is very special to them. George has chosen the poet John Cornford who was killed, tragically young, in the Spanish Civil War. He would like you to join him for 30 minutes to discover why he finds John’s life so inspirational.
Broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday the 18th of August at 4:30pm, then repeated on Friday the 21st at 11pm.
And also available on BBC iPlayer from 19th August.
The Communist poet John Cornford did indeed have a ‘great’ if tragically short, life – and the sacrifice of those like Cornford who gave their lives fighting fascism remains an utterly relevant inspiration for our anti-fascist struggle today. Cornford is clearly a hero for Galloway – see this characteristically short eloquent 2006 article – John Cornford and the Fight for the Spanish Republic – and his choice of a ‘Great Life’ and its timing – has to be applauded. However, one suspects that simply heralding Cornford as a ‘fighter for the Spanish Republic’ may actually miss not only some of the complexity of his politics but also downplay somewhat their revolutionary nature.
As the late great revolutionary historian Brian Pearce once noted, ‘Cornford was killed in action in December 1936, fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. His writings while in Spain suggest that, had he lived, his Marxist approach would have brought him into conflict with Stalinism.’ Pearce referred to John Cornford: A Memoir, edited by Pat Sloan (1938), which ‘consists of selections from the writings of the young man to whom the socialist movement in the universities in that period owed more than to anybody else, together with contributions by people who knew him.’ As Pearce noted,
For Cornford the struggle in Spain was ‘a revolutionary war’. ‘In Catalonia at least the overwhelming majority of the big employers went over to the fascists. Thus the question of socialism was placed on the order of the day.’ The Spanish Communist Party should ‘force recognition from the government of the social gains of the revolution’. Cornford feared that the party was ‘a little too mechanical in its application of People’s Front tactics. It is still concentrating too much on trying to neutralize the petty bourgeoisie – when by far the most urgent task is to win the anarchist workers…’
Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism. The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.
I do hope George Galloway’s discussion of Cornford will find time to condemn the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism in revolutionary Spain, though something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much on this score.
Speaking of Pearce, those with access to a university library might check out the latest issue of Revolutionary Russia (v. 22, no. 1 (June 2009) which carries a long obituary alongside two tributes from academic historians, and those without might check out the latest issue of Revolutionary History which also has an obituary.
I am indebted to POUMista for drawing my attention to this photo of George Orwell – another witness to the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism in Spain of course – which as POUMista notes ‘highlights the fact that Orwell, although thought of by some as a Little Englander, was fundamentally an internationalist and cosmopolitan, and in many senses a postcolonial figure.’
For a similar, slightly harsher, take on Galloway on Corford, see this old post by Bob. Bob does not like George Galloway. (For non-Scots mystified by the Brigada‘s intervention: sleekit, sook.) On Kolakowski, I think I missed Peter Ryley’s excellent “cool reflection”.
Also from Histomatist:
Sorry, a bit irrelevant I know, but I was digging through some old files and, well, speaking of Trotsky, I came across this snippet on page 28 of With Trotsky in Exile by Jean Van Heijenoort which I thought ought to be shared with Histomat readers. It’s about when Trotsky tried to learn to drive at some point during the 1920s.
Trotsky, when still in Russia, had expressed the desire to have a car and to drive. Joffe, a Soviet diplomat and friend of Trotsky, sent him from abroad a Mercedes, specially equipped with a powerful engine. Trotsky took the wheel and, after five hundred yards, went into a ditch. That was the end of the driving.
The Marxist Internet Archive, as I noted here, are undertaking the wonderful task of adding Brian Pearce’s regular column, Constant Reader, from the 1950s, to their great collection. A couple of items caught my eye. This is from March 1959:
John Cornford’s warning
A useful book on this subject is ‘John Cornford: A Memoir’, edited by Pat Sloan (1938). It consists of selections from the writings of the young man to whom the socialist movement in the universities in that period owed more than to anybody else, together with contributions by people who knew him.
Cornford was killed in action in December 1936, fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. His writings while in Spain suggest that, had he lived, his Marxist approach would have brought him into conflict with Stalinism.
For Cornford the struggle in Spain was ‘a revolutionary war’.
‘In Catalonia at least the overwhelming majority of the big employers went over to the fascists. Thus the question of socialism was placed on the order of the day.’
The Communist Party should ‘force recognition from the government of the social gains of the revolution’.
Cornford feared that the party was ‘a little too mechanical in its application of People’s Front tactics. It is still concentrating too much on trying to neutralize the petty bourgeoisie – when by far the most urgent task is to win the socialist workers…’
And this is from the following week:
Cornford and the anarchists
An error crept into one of my quotations from Cornford last week – an error which it is particularly worth correcting, as it weakens the point of the passage quoted.
It was not the ‘socialist’ but the ‘anarchist workers’ that Cornford thought the Spanish communists should concentrate on winning.
Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism.
The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.
Very relevant to what we were talking about here.
‘Frank Ryan brought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all the Yids…’
That’s how Principia Dialectica kick off their tribute to Bob Doyle, the last of the Irish to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, who died on Valentine’s Day. Will Rubbish and Shiraz Socialist have also paid tribute.
Eamonn McDonagh notes that Frank Ryan was a man who spent the last four years of his life actively collaborating with Nazi Germany. Terry Glavin adds: “Aye. The same way Christy Moore ruined a perfectly good song.” He’s referring to “Viva La Quinta Brigada“:
Ten years before I saw the light of morning
A comradeship of heroes was laid.
From every corner of the world came sailing
The Fifteenth International Brigade.
They came to stand beside the Spanish people.
To try and stem the rising Fascist tide
Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy,
Frank Ryan’s men came from the other side.
Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it thundered on.
Truth and love against the force af evil,
Brotherhood against the Fascist clan.
There is no doubt that Bob Doyle was a heroic man, but it is also worth thinking about the fact that he carried his Stalinism to his grave, and that the International Brigades helped crush the Spanish revolution and were responsible for the deaths of many non-Stalinist anti-fascists. As Bob commented, on the passing of Moe Fishman, another veteran of the Brigades,
As a child, the “International Brigade” conjured up the noblest form of heroism. As I got older, and developed politically, I came to see the ignoble side of the International Brigade, its use by Moscow to destroy dissident forms of anti-fascism in Spain. I realised things were not as black and white as fascism versus anti-fascism. So the passing of people like Fishman touches me in another way too: the tragedy of noble impulses used so wrongly.