Showing posts with label spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spain. Show all posts

Friday, June 01, 2012

Scotland and the Spanish Civil War

Steve Fullarton, Scotland's last surviving veteran of the International Brigade passed away at 87 in May 2008. The last Scottish veteran of Spanish Civil War, 99 yr old Thomas Watters, an ex-Glasgow bus driver who went to Spain with the Scottish Ambulance Unit died in February 2012. We, the working class, should always remember our history. But the heroism of individual members of the working class is not always enough. The Spanish civil war involved bravery and  imagination mixed with calculated cruelty, murder, mayhem and, not a few times, stupidity.

In the 30s fascism had already made huge advances in Europe with dictators established both in Germany and Italy. A demonstration in Hyde Park in London by the British Union of Fascists in November 1936  was attended by some 100,000 people. The BUF were controlled in Scotland by William Chalmers-Hunter of Tillery, which was a country house just outside the village of Udny.

On July 18 1936, right wing nationalist forces attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Spain. This Popular Front government, which could rely on 260 of the 470 seats in the Spanish Parliament, had been pursuing reforms and widening political freedoms within what was still a very poor and feudal country. At the time many peasants earned less than a shilling a day for 14 hours labours, whilst half of Spain was owned by mere 50,000 feudal landowners. The changes introduced by the elected government to the political and economic make-up of the country fell foul of the landed aristocracy, big industrialists and army generals, who proceeded to organize a fascist-military adventure against the elected government. The rebellion can be described in the main as a landed-class revolt against the agrarian reforms. The fascist-military revolt began in Morocco, a Spanish colony to spread to the mainland. Led by Generals Sanjurjo, Franco and Mola and supported by the Catholic Church hierarchy, the fascist army junta launched members of the Spanish military, Spanish Civil Guard, Spanish Foreign Legion, various fascist, religious fundamentalist and monarchist groups and 30,000 imported Moorish (Arab and Berber) mercenaries against the government and her supporters. In all 75,000 Moorish troops were employed in the Civil War. The fascist-military uprising could call upon 5/6 Italian Legionary Divisions consisting of 8-10,000 men, and, 15,000 Italian and 10,000 German technical troops.

The Spanish Civil War was fought against a backcloth where the British establishment was basically sympathetic to the fascists, their non-intervention in reality ensuring that the forces of General Franco won the day. We now realise that the rise of fascism in Europe was a direct consequence of the First World War and the dire economic conditions which led to the depression era.

To support the Spanish people in their defence of their democracy volunteers came to Spain from many countries. In all nearly 45,000 men and women from all over the world – organised in the main by Comintern came to Spain to form the International Brigades within the armies of the Republic. Some 2,200-2400 volunteers arrived from Britain to eventually form the British Battalion, a part of the International Brigades. The average age of the British Battalion was 29. This brigade saw action in most of the major battles of the Spanish War. One quarter of the British Battalion died during the war, some 526 killed and most everyone else wounded at least once. 80% of British Battalion volunteers were  members of the British Communist Party. Prior to the British Battalion formation in early 1937 volunteers from Scotland and elsewhere fought initially with Spanish militia units and then created a 145-man militia called the Tom Mann Centuria. English speaking troops also saw action in the 86th Brigade at the Cordora front, the John Brown Artillery Brigade and within sections of the Thaelmann (German), Commune de Paris, La Marseillaise and Edgar Andre (French) Battalions. Others operated as part of the POUM (neo-Trotskyist but affiliated to the ILP - the reason George Orwell enlisted in its militia ranks) and also with the anarchist militias. As well as combatants, Scotland contributed medical staff and the Scottish Medical and Ambulance Units. The Scottish Ambulance Unit, acted as a mobile medical service on first the Toledo front and later during the Siege of Madrid. Volunteer medics, drivers and nurses travelled to Spain independently, and worked both under battlefield conditions and in hospitals with a paucity of facilities and resources. Their important contribution to the conflict was to selflessly attend to the wounded under the most brutal and harrowing of circumstances

Scotland’s contribution to the British Battalion was 476 volunteers. Scottish volunteers comprised 23% of the estimated 2,400 men and women who travelled from Great Britain to serve in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.

The one hundred Scots in the British battalion were initially engaged defending the road south of Madrid and while the Nationalists were held in check, over a quarter of the Scots died. Later we learned that a force of 381 took part in the disastrous attack on Brunete, where 289 were killed, seriously wounded or captured. "We fight to free Madrid as the first step to freeing Spain. We fight to free Spain as the first step towards freeing the world of fascism." (Orders of the Day 15th Brigade, July 5th 1937, before the Battle of Brunete). With the survivors transferred to the Aragon front where they helped in the capture of Quinto and Belghite, by October they had suffered another serious reverse at the assault on Fuentes de Ebro. It was here that four Aberdonians were to fall.

Aberdeen had always a strong socialist tradition dating back to at least Chartist times, and in the 1920’s the city was said to be considered to be even redder than Glasgow. 19 of Aberdeen’s finest committed to this fight; 5 of them making the ultimate sacrifice to the cause, and dying on the battlefields of Spain at Gandesa and Ebro. International Bigade volunteers  from Aberdeen and its environs: D. Anderson,W. Bruce,,R. Cooney (Bob Cooney was the Political Commissar to the British Battalion), R. Cooper, C. Downie,W. Dunbar, G. Forbes, A. Gibb, J. Londragon, A. Reid, R. Simpson,  J. Watson, C. Watt, A. Christie. Those killed in action: T. Davidson, A. Dewar,  C .McLeod, K .Morrice, E. Sim

The Perthshire contribution was Edward Brown, John Gordon, Robert Malcolm, Hugh MacKay, [John] William Gilmour, James Moir, Ann Murray, George Murray, Tom Murray and George Steele, all connected to Perthshire were members of that small but significant band of men and women who went to Spain during the Civil War between 1936-39. In July 1937, the British Battalion under the command of Fred Copeman was involved in an offensive to relieve pressure on Madrid and the northern front – later known as the Battle of Brunete. James Moir was killed in action during this battle. He was aged 20 and a member of the Communist Party. Edward Brownwas a member of the Communist Party (initially a member of the Independent Labour Party, Edward joined the Communist Party whilst living in Perth) and saw service in Spain at the British Battalion base and as a member of the British Battalion Anti-Tank Battery. When in 1936 Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts organized a march in Perth, Edward Brown was a part of the large crowd that opposed the march. John Gordon in common with a number of other young men found the reality of war too difficult and he deserted soon after deployment. This resulted in arrest and imprisonment at Valencia before repatriation home. Hugh MacKay served in the French Foreign Legion from which he deserted in 1934. It was because he made his own way to Spain in 1936 that he was initially imprisoned as a spy and eventually released in 1937, served in No. 2 Company of the British Battalion, and fought at Ebro .

A meeting took place in Perth at the Lower City Halls on May 17th 1938 organised by the Pro-Franco Friends of Nationalist Spain. The platform speakers included Colonel R.G. Dawson of Orchill, Bracon, Captain H.W. Luttman-Jones of Luncarty (Luttman-Jones was an organiser for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in Perthshire), Sir Walter Maxwell-Scott, Arthur Loveday (Late President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain) and Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman M.P. as chair. Both within and outside the meeting counter-demonstrations and heckling occurred so that a lot of the meeting was disrupted. Nevertheless, a resolution was passed: "This meeting records its heartfelt sympathy with fellow Christians who are suffering such prolonged martyrdom, declares its firm conviction that there will be no peace in Spain or the Western Mediterranean until the forces of anarchy, tyranny and Communism are crushed, and expresses its earnest hope and confidence that the great majority of Spaniards now supporting the Nationalist cause will gain an early triumph for unity, order, liberty and religious freedoms for which they are striving with such heroism."

Opponents to the Republic fell primarily into one of two categories: they either supported Franco and Fascist ideologies, or they opposed the Republicans on the grounds of anti-communism and the atrocities perpetuated by republican forces upon the Catholic Church in Spain. Papers such as the "Daily Mail" and the "Daily Express" often functioned as anti-Republican propaganda, as did (to a lesser extent) the "Glasgow Evening Express". Support for the Nationalists came predominantly from local BUF branches and from aristocracy such as the 8th Earl of Glasgow, who held long-standing military ties.Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, the Conservative M.P. for Peebles, formed the United Christian Front, whose manifesto alleged that Franco’s forces were engaged in fighting the Anti-Christ in Spain, while Major-General Sir Walter Maxwell-Scott formed the Scottish Friends of National Spain, whose first meeting is notable for denying that the attack on Guernica was air-based, and resulting in a riot with pro-Republican protestors.

At the Glasgow May Day Rally of 1937, 15,000 people turned out to march under the banner of "Solidarity with Spain" while Dundonians in that same year raised enough money to buy and send an ambulance to the Republican front. A food ship carrying 100 tons of food for those under siege in Spain was chartered and sent by a collaborative venture from the Edinburgh and Glasgow Trades Councils, while in Dundee, the Basque Children’s Committee was created in order to provide a accommodation for children from the Basque region who had been evacuated to southern England in 1937, with 25 children eventually travelling to Scotland to reside at Mall Park in Montrose, and 200 refugee children taken in by the Co-operative Society in Rothesay.

Arthur Nicol a lieutenant in the International Brigade and one of sixty from Dundee to volunteer for Spain, describes the journey to Spain. "First, we had to slip out of England like criminals. We took a weekend ticket to Paris. Then we had to dodge the French police on our way down through France to the Spanish border. Then it was an all night hike over the Pyrenees into Spain. I must say that the French Communist Party did a marvellous job organizing our journey through France. Dodging from place to place sometimes taking two or three weeks to get through France."

17 Dundonians died in Spain

It is impossible in such blog as Socialist Courier to describe all the volunteers to Spain so a brief biography of James Maley must suffice. He was just 11 when he was in George Square on the infamous occasion in 1919 when troops and tanks were called in after a demonstration for a 40-hour working week became a riot. This was the era of Red Clydeside, when disillusioned men not long returned from the trenches to a thankless civvy street discussed politics at close mouths. The young Maley started attending meetings, and listened to the Independent Labour Party firebrand, Jimmy Maxton, at Glasgow Green. In 1932, at the age of twenty-four, James Maley joined the Communist Party. He was a public speaker at Glasgow Green and Govan and tutor for the Party. He was captured at Jarama, with his machine-gun company. One of his comrades was executed. He was sentenced to twenty years with the others, but eventually released as part of a prisoner swap. His recount his experience of  going to Spain. Three buses were drawn up in George Square with the men paying £5/8s/0d  each for the journey. "It was like a Celtic supporters' outing. I recognised some of them who'd gone to school with me," he said. The lack of organisation was equally apparent when the volunteers were taken to the front. As they were getting off the lorry, the Republicans were already in retreat in a battle which was raging less than quarter of a mile away. "There were four of us with two cannons as well as 12 men with rifles," Mr Maley told BBC Scotland's news website. "As soon as we jumped off the lorry we had to begin firing. It was pandemonium, but we didn't have enough ammunition. There was no organisation; we fired until we ran out of ammunition, until there was nothing left." Following his Spanish experiences, had little time for the Roman Catholic hierarchy and didn't bring up his children in the faith. However, he was a die-hard Celtic supporter,   and two 30ft-long banners were unfurled in his honour at Hampden Park on Saturday during the cup-tie against St Johnstone, upon his passing. Quoting the slogan used by the defenders of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, "They shall not pass," the banners said: "James Maley RIP. No Pasarán". His communism owed more to the Calton than to the Kremlin.

Of the ninety-two Scottish International Brigade volunteers killed in Spain, sixty-five were from Glasgow; another nine came from the Lanarkshire mining communities around Blantyre.

 Five Communist Party members from Renton made their way to Spain to join the International Brigades to combat Franco. Brothers Patrick-Joseph, Tommy and Daniel Gibbons, along with James Arnott and Patrick Curley. Tommy was killed in the battle for Brunete. Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, and was allowed to return home – but he made his way back to Spain again. He was captured at the battle of Calaceite in March 1938. Patrick Curley was killed at Jarama.

31 volunteers came from West Dunbartonshire, including the five from Renton, and another 11 from Alexandria. Others came from Clydebank, Dumbarton, Duntocher and Dalmuir.

40 men and women from Fife - 11 of them from Kirkcaldy alone - made their way to Spain to take up arms.

There were 40 men and women from across Edinburgh who volunteered for Spain, ten of whom fell on the battlefields. Among them was Jimmy Rutherford, from Newhaven, who was only 20 when he was executed for his involvement in the battle. He sneaked back into the country after previously being deported – committed to helping the republican cause – only to be recognised and executed. He told his father, "If all the young men had seen what I saw out there, they would be doing what I am doing". Edinburgh shoe repairer Harold Fry, also  died on the battlefields, never seeing his son who was born after he set off for Spain.

George Watters, his brother in-law, William Dickson, who was killed at Brunete, Jock Gilmour also killed in action at Jarama, and Jimmy Kempton were volunteers from Prestonpans, a highly politicised town in the 1930s.

After the Battle of Guadalajara, in March 1937, André Marty reported to Comintern that the Brigades were on the verge of collapse due to the loss of men through demoralisation, deaths, casualties and desertions. Men previously commended for their courage were now described as “cowards, amoral and alco­holics”. The erosion of Brigade morale began with Jarama. Partly this was due to the harsh real­ities of a war in which they were used as expendable shock troops. The next battle in which the British Battalion was involved occurred a few months later, in July 1937, at Brunete, the first major offensive of the war. It quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster, both tactically and in terms of personnel. Of the 331 Britons who answered roll call on July 6, 1937. the first day of the battle, by July 24, when Franco’s forces finally broke through the Republican lines, 289 of them were dead, wounded or captured. With such enormous losses — most battalions were now down to under 200 men —morale plummeted and there were increasing outbreaks of insubordination and desertion. Around 298 British volunteers deserted (16 per cent) compared with about 100 Americans. Only one Briton, a Glaswegian, by the name of Peter Kemp, is known to have been formally executed. Morale deteriorated further in the Spring of 1937 with the Stalinist onslaught against the CNT and the var­ious, smaller "Marxist" parties. The Battalion’s greatest success, however, was its key role in the capture of the Aragonese town of Teruel on 8 January 1938, but this proved short lived as by the end of the month the British were forced into a series of retreats in the face of a fierce Francoist onslaught.

Even though the International Brigadess were rela­tively few in numbers, they played an important role as shock troops, but cen­tral to their effectiveness was their political and moral commitment, particular in the early days. The  example of the International Brigades benefited the Republic, and as the civil war progressed the idealism and heroism of the rank and file had an even greater impact on the wider labour movement, with a marked increase in the membership and influ­ence of the Communist Party. In spite of their politics, the rank-and-file Brigaders’ genuine inter­nationalism and sense of working class solidarity and selfless heroism could not have been in starker contrast to the treachery of their Bolshevik leaders of the Soviet Union or the rank hypocrisy of the bourgeois politicians of the western democra­cies. They inspired later generations with their bravery and selfless courage.

However, in this struggle for freedom and democracy, by November 1937, there were 15,000 anti-fascist prisoners in the Republic’s jails, about 1,000 of them from the POUM. The NKVD established numerous secret prisons around Madrid, which were used to detain, torture, and kill hundreds of the Stalin's enemies. Ethel MacDonald played an important role in exposing the Red death-squads. One of nine children, she was born in Bellshill on 24th February 1909. She left home at sixteen. MacDonald joined the Independent Labour Party eventually attaching herself to the Glasgow anarchists. She  travelled to Barcelona with Guy Aldred's partner, Jenny Patrick, here she began to broadcast on the CNT radio. MacDonald assisted the escape of anarchists wanted by the Communist Party secret police after the Barcelona May Days of 1937, acquiring the nick-name the "Scots Scarlet Pimpernel". Contrary to Communist mythology about it being an attempted POUM­/Anarchist coup d’état neither the POUM nor the Anarchists attempted to seize power but concentrated on negotiating a peaceful settlement. As a result the Barcelona workers were defeated and a Stalinist pogrom unleashed against the POUM and the Anarchists. Ethel would smuggle into prison letters and food for fellow anarchists. She too was then detained until she managed to escape from Spain. After leaving the country she made speeches on the way the Communist Party  had been acting in during the Spanish Civil War. She returned to Glasgow in November, 1937 and in a speech to 300 people at Central Station she said: "I went to Spain full of hopes and dreams. It promised to be utopia realised. I return full of sadness, dulled by the tragedy I have seen. I have lived through scenes and events that belong to the French revolution."

She accused the Communist Party of being complicit in the death of ILP volunteer Bob Smillie who died in jail in Valencia, officially of appendicitis/peronitis. Smillie's death has been surrounded in mystery and subject to speculation, with accusations that he was kicked to death by his Communist interrogators for refusing to co-operate. An official ILP investigation, conducted by David Murray of Motherwell ILP, found that the authorities were guilty of carelessness and neglect rather than direct malice. But it has been suggested by some that the ILP leadership deliberately prevented Smillie's death from becoming a matter of political debate and that the ILP joined forces with the Communist Party to cover-up the death of Bob Smillie. The argument being if it became widely known that the Communists were killing anarchists and the followers of Trotsky, this would only help Franco and the fascists.

ILP General Secretary Fenner Brockway argued that the Communists were on the wrong side of the barricades and were now "committed to the defence of property". Stuart Christie quotes the anarchist historian Jose Pierats that in Catalonia, between July and Octo­ber 1936, the Spanish Communist Party ranks was swelled by 8,000 landowners and around 16,000 "middle class professionals".

Expediency indeed arises during war and perhaps one of the most unusual at the time was when Communist Party members allied themselves with the Duchess of Atholl and supported her in the West Perthshire by-election of 1938 due to her commitment to the cause of Scottish aid to Spain. In fact, the Duchess belonged to the pro-imperial right wing of the Conservative Party and saw victory for Franco as a threat to British imperial interests in the Mediterranean, and the spread of fascism in Europe as a threat to the British Empire as a whole. As the historian Bill Knox puts it in his “Lives of Scottish Women”: “Her stance on the Spanish Civil War conferred on her the title of the ‘Red Duchess’, although never was a title more undeserved than in this case.”

Although having some initial successes, the government forces were no match for Franco and by January 1938 the British contingent eventually succumbed to the Nationalist forces at Tervel. The writing was now very firmly on the wall. By September news filtered through that all foreigners in the Spanish army had to be repatriated forthwith and by December they began to arrive home. With government forces in almost complete disarray, Franco took over most of Spain as dictator. By February 1939, the British government officially recognised Franco and by April his victory was complete.

The toll of the Spanish Civil War was 600,000 dead, 320,000 killed in action, 100,000 executed, 250,000 imprisoned for up to 30 years or more, 340,000 in exile, 250,000 houses destroyed, 150 towns severely damaged, One-third of total livestock lost, 700 bridges destroyed, 11 cathedrals destroyed. Those who weren't killed had been crammed into Franco's concentration camps, penal labour battalions, or settled down to a hungry future. The country swarmed with 57 varieties of police. It really was government by machine-gun and terror.

Whether the Spanish workers were wise in participating in a struggle so costly may be debatable, but as they had decided to take the plunge, and as they faced the most violent partisans of capitalism, the Socialist Party of Great Britain were, of course, on their side. The Socialist Party paid tribute to the conduct of the Spanish workers. Believing that a vital principle was at stake, they had rallied to the government against a powerful revolt backed by the greater part of the armed forces. Workers, with little or no military training, stood up to trained and experienced soldiers. Although sections of the military forces remained loyal to the Government, these were hampered by treason and sabotage among the officers. Only the untrained volunteer militias were thoroughly dependable.

Nevertheless, the SPGB questioned the wisdom of their action in rallying to a purely capitalist government in order to defend it against a military, aristocratic and clerical rebellion. It is difficult to blame socialists and anarchists who took up arms to defend themselves and their unions from murderous bosses; but we can perhaps look towards the rejection of political democracy that preceded the civil war that gave the fascists the pretext they needed to break cover and launch their assault. One thing that was demonstrated was the impossibility of achieving real unity by merging together in a Popular Front parties and individuals who differed so fundamentally in aim, outlook, and method. It was obvious in 1936 that it would be an enormous task to secure unity between long-standing opponents like the anarcho-syndicalists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, liberal-republicans, social democrats and Basque separatists. There was frequent inability to secure effective and loyal co-operation, which shows that, even the stress of war will not make men who think differently work to a common programme. The anarchists favoured a revolutionary popular peoples' militia. The Communists wanted a "political" army like that of the Russian "Red Army", controlled by party-line commissars and Liberal-Republicans sought a party-neutral non-political army, obedient to the government. These fundamental divergences of aim and method naturally have serious consequences.  For libertarian organisations such as our own there was a real problem. If there is no democracy, how could socialist ideas be spread? The truth is - unpopular as it is to some revolutionaries - that achieving socialism was not possible and they could seek only the poor second-best - a bourgeois democracy. Trying to go beyond this resulted in defeat and disillusionment. A war within capitalism could only be fought on capitalist terms. You can't have a democratic army. If, however, you have an overwhelming majority on your side, you don't need an army anyway. No amount of oppression can be made to work against the masses, as the Communist Parties  discovered when the Warsaw Pact countries went into melt-down or Mubarak in Egypt later also learned when his legitimacy as finally challenged. 

In summing up the Spanish Civil War, New York Times correspondent Herbert Lionel Matthews wrote : “Spain...taught us what internationalism means...There one learned that men could be brothers, that nations and frontiers, reli­gions and races were but outer trappings, and that nothing counted, nothing was worth fighting for but the idea of liberty”.

During the Spanish Civil War the call went out for an International Brigade, and workers from all over the world set out for Spain. They had developed an idea of working class solidarity against oppression, against Franco.

sources: Fascism in Aberdeen
see also an earlier post here