Monday, July 24, 2006

Remembering the heroes who fought fascism in Spain

by Rob Laurie

SEVENTY years ago this month General Franco led a revolt of the Spanish Army against the Popular Front Government elected the previous February. Thus began what is known as the Civil War in Spain – but which is more accurately named the Spanish War Against Fascism – which was to last three years before the fascists triumphed.

This was due to the massive open support of Hitler and Mussolini, to say nothing of the covert support from Britain and other bourgeois democracies.

The Spanish Republic did fight not alone; support came from the Soviet Union and the International Brigades which were formed of volunteers who came from across the globe.

Britain sent 2,100 volunteers to fight against the fascists. Of these 526 died in battle. Today only 24 are still alive.

Contrary to the impression given in the capitalist media the volunteers were not all poets and other gilded youth whose later memoirs greatly exaggerated their role.

The Brigaders were largely working class: among them were Welsh miners, Clydeside engineers and working class Jewish veterans of the struggles against Oswald Mosley in the East End of London.

Last Saturday this heroic struggle was remembered at a ceremony at the International Brigade Memorial under the gaze of the London Eye in south London.

This year the ceremony was important for the first ever attendance of the Spanish Ambassador, Carlos Miranda, which represented a long overdue official recognition by the Spanish government of the efforts made by the International Brigade in the war and afterwards when they campaigned for the political prisoners held in Franco’s jails.

He praised the Brigaders for their role in bringing about Spain’s present democratic constitutional monarchy. While this may not have been the aim of the Brigaders who were largely Communists, they can be credited with encouraging the Spanish people’s resistance to the fascist system which did not long outlive General Franco.

The well attended event was chaired by Jack Jones, former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, himself a Brigader. Among the seven veterans present was Penny Fyvel who served as a nurse in during the war.

There were three wreaths laid. The Spanish Ambassador laid one; a representative of the Jewish ex-servicemen’s organisation, AJAX, laid another and Connie Fraser laid the third on behalf of the International Brigade Memorial Trust – who organised the ceremony.

Bob Doyle, the last surviving Irishman to fight in Spain was also present to sign copies of his recent autobiography Brigadista. While the main speaker was Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former general secretary of Unison, Sam Russell, another Brigader, recited Cecil Day-Lewis’s poem The Volunteer.

He also called upon the large audience to remember the role of women who served as ambulance drivers and nurses. The meeting also saw the launch of a new anthology of poetry written by veterans and edited by Jim Jump.