In 1936, all around the world, Communists aligned with the Soviet Union were building “People’s Fronts Against Fascism.” Communists were joining together with social-democrats, artists, intellectuals, and other forces to defend democracy from fascism. Communists were key in constructing mass left-wing political movements that changed history.
In France, the trade unions shut down the country with general strikes, and shortly afterward a “People’s Front” government was elected. In the United States, the Communist Party led the movement to build industrial unions and oppose racism, and was a factor key in securing therelection of Roosevelt as President in the 1936.
Communists and their allies in the People’s Front were key in establishing a democratic government in Spain. The Spanish Republic was created in the aftermath of a mass revolt of workers and peasants. After the country’s first democratic election, Spanish government included conservatives, liberals, Social-Democrats, and Communists. The new, elected government began carrying out many popular reforms. Land was re-distributed, and literacy campaigns taught impoverished Spanish people to read.
In response to the popular reforms, and the upsurge of democratic participation in society by the masses of Spanish people, General Francisco Franco launched an armed revolt against the democratic government. Franco was funded by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to attack the Spanish Republic with his army called the Falangists. They were supported by the Roman Catholic Church, and many wealthy bankers in Spain, the United States, and Europe.
The United States was officially neutral in the Spanish Civil War, and this neutrality was forced on the population by federal law. Supporting the people of Spain in their struggle against the fascists was a federal crime. Despite this, many US bankers were able to funnel money the Falangists through Germany and Italy.
“Far Off is Our Land”
In response to the attack on the elected Spanish government by fascist thugs and hooligans, the Communist International called for the creation of International Brigades. Communists from all over the world went to Spain to fight against the fascists. Millions of dollars were raised directly from the pockets of working people to fund the anti-fascist resistance.
From the United States, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was formed. The name was chosen in honor of US President Lincoln because he had led the Second American Revolution which abolished chattel slavery. Thousands of young men from the United States volunteered to go to Spain, in violation of the law, to fight against the fascists.
The International Brigades were welcomed by the Spanish people as heroes. As the “brigadistas” fought in Spain, they were celebrated around the world by progressive forces. Supporters held rallies and sang songs in supporting of the Spanish Republic and its allies. One popular song was the theme of the German “Ernst Thaelmann Battallion.” It lyrics were sung all across the world:
Spanish heavens spread their brilliant starlight
All above our trenches in the plains
In the distance, morning comes to great us
Calling us to battle once again
Far off is our land!
Yet ready we stand!
Fighting and winning for you!
We fight for freedom!
The Soviet Union was the only government on earth to officially support the Spanish Republic in its fight against fascists. The Soviet Union, itself just emerging from poverty with its Five Year Plans, sent machine guns, helmets, and other supplies to the Spanish Republicans.
International Brigades in 2014
The story of the International Brigades in Spain is largely unknown. It has been stricken from history text books. However, among progressive forces, it has not been forgotten.
In New York City, the “Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade” holds an archive of materials related to the Anti-Fascist fight, including the personal recollections of the brigades veterans. In Spain there are monuments commemorating their efforts, which were erected in the aftermath of overthrow of the Falangists.
In modern Ukraine, as the democratic government has been overthrown by Fascists backed by Wall Street and London, and the people in the East have risen up in resistance, International Brigades have been formed once again.
Military veterans from France and Germany have already gone to Ukraine, to stand with the people in Donbass region. As the fascist Junta in Kiev reigns death and destruction on the people in East, people from far off lands are joining with them to fight against Wall Street backed fascism.
While the Soviet Union may be gone, and the Spanish Republic was eventually defeated, and history has marched onward, the spirit of internationalism and anti-fascism has not died.
While the west has demonized and slandered the people of East and Southern Ukraine for daring to resist the fascists, millions around the world support their revolt.
International solidarity against fascism and repression has not died, and the same internationalist spirit of resistance is alive today. As Wall Street and London unleash fascist terror on the world, in places like Ukraine and Syria, the response of the people is still a loud, unforgiving chant of “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.