Labour History Review

Holding the line: the political strategy of the International Brigade Association, 1939-1977

Labour History Review (2001), 66, (3), 294–312.

Abstract

Access Token
£25.00
READ THIS ARTICLE
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

 Google Scholar

Daily Herald, 9 January 1939 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Bill Alexander's No to Franco, the struggle never slopped, 1939-1975!, London, author, 1992, provides a valuable introduction to the IBA's history. Alexander was personally involved in the events he described as a commander of the British Battalion, as a leading figure in the Communist Party, and latterly as President of the IBA. It should be noted, however, that his book tends to be uncritical and glosses over a number of significant episodes, and that its value to historians is diminished by an absence of referencing to archival sources Google Scholar

This was the ‘pledge’ taken during the ceremonies to mark the withdrawal from Spain (Alexander, No to Franco, p. 18). This pledge was taken very seriously by many volunteers (see, for instance, Bob Cooney's comment in 1944 that initially volunteers had been ‘somewhat hazy as to what we could do in fulfillment of our pledge’, verbatim report of IBA meeting, 13 February 1944, IBMA, Box 37, file C/6a) Google Scholar

Bill Alexander stated that this organisation was composed of ten former volunteers, seven of them deserters (British Volunteers for Liberty, Spain, 1936-1939, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1982, p. 249). According to another source the organisation was called the ‘International Brigaders’ Anti-communist League'. Its members had apparently been parading in London with billboards that read: ‘We fought for Red Spain and found out; we who fought in the International Brigade give you the truth; why silence about Communist Spanish atrocities [?]’ (Catholic Herald, 31 March 1939) Google Scholar

For this reason Wintringham's role is noteworthy. However, his exclusion from the Communist Party in July 1938 had been for personal rather than political reasons, and, as David Fernbach observes, as a ‘fervent champion of the Popular Front’ Wintringham's political course ran ‘more or less in parallel’ with the CPGB's until September 1939 (J. M. Bellamy and J. Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, VII, London, Macmillan, 1984, p. 258) Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Alexander, No to Franco, p. 57 Google Scholar

H. Francis, Miners against Fascism: Wales and the Spanish Civil War, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1984, p. 253 Miners against Fascism: Wales and the Spanish Civil War 253 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Sam Wild to Peter Kerrigan, 6 July 1943, IBMA, Box 37, file E/8. Her political reliability had previously been questioned during the war in Spain itself (see J. K. Hopkins, Into the Heart of the Fire: The British in the Spanish Civil War, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1998, pp. 283-6) Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

See, for instance, Bill Alexander's typed comments on the reliability of Laurie Lee's 1991 ‘memoir’ A Moment of War (dated 6 November 1991, IBMA, Box D-3, file C/34) Google Scholar

IBA circular of 29 February 1940, IBMA, Box 40, file A/10. The open letter was signed by twelve IBA members, including four former officers or political commissars (Malcolm Dunbar, Bob Cooney, Sam Wild and Bill Alexander) and representatives of all the regions. Alexander later conceded that this letter was a mistake, as the IBA's behaviour gave evidence that it was a ‘tool of the Communist Party’ (No to Franco, p. 34) Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Nan Green to David Goodman, 7 December 1948, IBMA, Box 41, file C/6. On the problems facing the anti-Franco opposition after 1945 see T. Buchanan, ‘Receding triumph: British opposition to the Franco regime, 1945-1959’, Twentieth Century British History, 12, 2, 2001 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

See Nan Green to George Murray, 10 October 1949, IBMA, Box 40, file B/95; George Murray to Nan Green, 29 November 1949, B/98; Nan Green to George Murray, enclosing paper by John Angus, 14 December 1949, B/100; George Murray to Nan Green, 30 April 1950, B/106. A fellow member of the Glasgow branch, Roderick MacFarquhar, wrote that he felt ‘black ashamed with the conduct of our comrades regarding Tito and the sabre rattling of the Soviet Union’, and he left the Communist Party (letter to ‘Leonard’, 20 September 1949, IBMA, Box 40, file B/93). Nan Green later commented apropos George Murray that he had been ‘taking a wrong-headed line for years’ and was nearly expelled ‘over Browder in 1945-6’ (Green to Jack Brent, 12 May 1950, IBMA, Box 44, File A/11). Another former volunteer who took the Yugoslav side against the USSR was Alfred Sherman, who visited old International Brigade comrades in Yugoslavia in 1949 (New Statesman, 15 October 1949) Google Scholar

McGovern was a former ILP MP who had become strongly anti-Communist as a result of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War (see his autobiography Neither Fear Nor Favour, London, Blandford Press, 1960, pp. 99-114) Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Alexander, No to Franco, p. 68 Google Scholar

There is no archival record of the numbers or identities of the new members. They included two left-wing trade unionists, Julius Jacobs and R Silverthorne (Daily Worker, 11 October 1950) Google Scholar

Alexander, No to Franco, p. 68 Google Scholar

There is a detailed report in IBMA, Box 42, File C/7. International Brigade veterans might also be confronted with political imprisonment in the Soviet bloc. For instance, Len Crome attended a reunion of International Brigades veterans in Warsaw in the autumn of 1956, where many of the Poles had only recently been released from Russian camps (A. Macleod, The death of Uncle Joe, Woodbridge, Merlin, 1997, p. 228) Google Scholar

Daily Worker, 16 June 1954 and 18 October 1954 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

The IBA also appears to have lost influence within the Communist Party. It is notable, for instance, that the Association received scant coverage in the Daily Worker/Morning Star in the later 1960s, at a time when protest was increasing in Spain. In 1970 Nan Green commented privately that she was ‘saddened and distressed’ at the news that the hardliner Enrique Lister (a Civil War general) had been expelled from the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). However, she went on, the PCE was a ‘young party’ and would not be severely affected by the loss of one ‘of the heroic figures of the old days’ (Nan Green to Andrew Turner, 23 October 1970, IBMA, D-3, file B/13) Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

See P. Ortuño Anaya, ‘European socialist parties and trade unions and the Spanish transition from dictatorship to democracy, 1959-77’, DPhil, University of Oxford, 1998, and her article on ‘The Labour Party, the TUC and Spain, 1959-1977’, Labour History Review, 64, 3, 1999, pp. 269-86 Google Scholar

Alexander, No to Franco, pp. 85-6 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Buchanan, Tom