Tuesday, 19 July 2011

NO PASARAN! 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.

Today sees the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.  In 1931 with the proclamation of a Republic a Socialist-Republican Government was formed in Spain, which had the support of many revolutionary forces active in Spain.It had a commitment to the seperation of the church and the state, and a commitment to international peace, modern systems of education, land reform, and more equal roles for both men and women. By 1936 the Spanish Republic had recently been revived by the election of a moderately liberal government after 5 years of tension and retrenchment. A new popular front alliance of all anti-fascist parties had swept the country the previous year. However on the night of 18th July , 1936 the army mutinied with their generals against the people. They bought in foreign legionairres and colonial troops and under General Franco proclaimed a military takeover. A bitter struggle had begun.
Executions without trial were common place, Franco had the support of the aristocracy,the army, the landlords, the bankers, and the Church hierararchy and a clique of corrupt politicians went over to the conspirators the rest backed the Republic.The left wing of the popular front was determined to resist the Generals and resolved to distribute arms and weapons to newly formed militias. By the morning of 19th July truckloads of rifles from  the Ministry of War were on their way to the headquarters of the Socialist and Anarchist trade unions for distribution to their members. A few weeks later  a government emerged more than capable of defending the Republic against the Generals. It was the first Republican Government to have full Socialist, Communist and Anarchist support. However Franco had both Italian and German fascist support, with their finance and intervention. The fascists defended a common view of the past, while the republican coalition though, had widely different visions of the future.
 About 300 people volunteered from Wales against the tyranny of fascism, with 35 of whom not returning home but the important historical truth is the international flavour of those who volunteered to fight in this brutal war. A great idealistic cause of the first half of the twentieth century, that has been of great interest to me over the years. Two local people from my neck of the woods went to serve Arthur Morris and a Percy Jones. More infomation here http://irelandscw.com/docs-WelshMorris , I have yet to see a monument erected to them I believe perhaps one daytheir should be one. Over 40,000 other selfless men and women fought side by side for the ideas of liberty and social justice, solidarity and mutual aid from 53 different nationalities.Rallying to the republican cause. Alongside the war millions of workers collectiveised the land and took over industry to pursue their vision of a new society. Fighting valiantly against the reactionary medieval ideology that was Francoism, they tried to stop fascism in their tracks. Theirnummber was severely outnumbered by Franco's forces.
For many it was not just a war to defeat the fascists it was the beginning of a new society ,completely. A revolution in fact, unfortunately revolutions do not succeed when the people are divided.  Their are many lessons to be learnt from this struggle, a struggle that continues to do this day.
The spectre of fascism still haunts and universal equality has not been achieved.
We should not forget the international brigaders who preceded us, and we must continue to resist oppressive forces, with our shout of no pasaran.
                                    Guernica - Picasso

The Spanish Civil War was a symbol become reality, it was forged on the class struggle, also the struggle of the artists against tyranny( did not the fascists brutally murder Lorca).
It caught the poet's imagination too. Many subsequently joining the International Brigade. Many were determined to fight for Spain, to the inernational cause of solidarity. Unfortunately as the war progressed many became confused and dissullusioned by certain divisions that had begun to set in. Communists  became more intent on destroying Anarchists and Trotskyists instead of standing together against the fascists. A problem that continues to this day with members of the left fighting one another instead of our common enemies. We have a lot of lessons to learn. Complex ideas were fiercely fought but all who stood up against fascism were heroic and worthy of respect, their cause in my opinion just , a flame that will never die, sharing principles of brotherhood of man  and a sense of justice, driven by  political and humanitarian convictions.
It was not however just a poet's war, it was fought on the most part by ordinary people, for the people. Many courageous brigadeers died, and their were many tales of atrocities and heroism on this cultural battlefield where opposing notions were violently played out. Sincerely and bravely translating their faith into works, ready to endure death in their passionate unswaying convictions.
The Welsh volunteers in particular raised the morale of their comrades, by their unity, their strength, their tenacity and in particular their singing, with the miners amongst them put to good use with their tunnelling skills.
By 1938, their were 600,000 dead, 100,000 executed, 250,000 people imprisoned, many towns destoyed .
Thee war ended in March 1939 when Franco's forces finally captured Madrid. Why oh why international governments had not intervened earlier to help the republic side I don't know. Perversely after the Second World War after both Hitler and Mussolini were defeated, Franco was allowed to continue his totalitarian role in Spain, and for years to come his brutal force held sway and continued to destroy lives, dissent was brutally suppressed with many thousands of voices silenced , and  forced into exile , untill Franco's  death in 1975.
Many, many people died in their struggle for a better world,we must never forget, no pasaran, another world is not only possible it is inevitable, we must remain in solidarity with all those who believe in freedom, and social justice.
the following are a selection of poems that emerged from this conflict. Powerful and still inspiring.
For the Fallen -W.B. Keal

Brave sons of liberty, fallen in battle,
Fallen that we, their successors, might live,
Bravely they faced the machine-gunner's rattle,
Giving so bravely all they'd to give.

Hurriedly, carelessly, rudely,we buried them,
Buried them quickly, beneath the brown soil.
Hurriedly, quickly, we gave them our blessing,
Then we returned to our heart-breaking toil.

Theirs wasno splendour, the fallen in action;
Theirs was no pomp, neither glory nor show,
They were the cream of the Communist fraction
We are the reapers, but they went to sow.

Shall we forget them who never forget us,
Defending theworkers, while fighting in Spain?
Shall we stay passive while Fascism threatens us?
Shall their great effort be made all in vain?

Never forget them, the lessons they taught us,
Think of their travail, their suffering, pain!
Raise the Red Standard and help support us,
Lest we seein England what happened in Spain.

To the Mothers of the Dead Militia - Pablo Neruda

They have not died!
they stand upright in the midst of the gunpowder,
they live, burning as brands there.

In the copper-coloured prairie
their pure shadows have come together
like a curtain of armoured wind,
a barrier colour of fury
like that same invisible beast of sky.

Mothers, they are standing amidst the corn
as tall as the profundity of noon
that possesses the giant plains.

They area peal of sombre voices
calling for victory through the shapes of murdered steel.

Sisters as close as
the dust fallen,
hearts that have been broken
keep faith in your dead -
they are not roots only
beneath stones dyed in blood,
not only poor fallen bones
at work now in the finality of earth,
for their mouths are shaping the dry powder ready for action,
they attack in waves of iron,
in their clenched fists lies death's own contradiction.

See, from so many bodies an invincible life rises!
mothers, sons,banners,
in one single being as living as life;
one face made of all the slain eyes is guard in the darkness
with a sword that is strengthened and tempered with human

Cast aside your mourning veils, join all of your tears
tillthey transmute into metal-
so that we may strike day and night,
so that we may hammer day and night,
so that we may spit dorth day and night,
till the portals of hatred be overthrown.

I have not forgotten your tragedies
and your sons, they are known to me,
and if I have pride in their deaths
in their lives, too, I have pride.
Their smiles
are like flashes in the murk of the workshops,
and in the underground
every day their feet ring by mine.
I have seen
amongst the oranges ofLevante
and the fishing-nets of the south,
in the ink of the printshops
and the masonry of the buildings,
I have seen
the flame of their hearts fashioned out of fire and valour.

And, as in your hearts, mothers,
in mine there is so much od death and mourning
that it seems like a forest flooded
with the blood that quenched their smiles;
to it come the furious snows of sleeplessness,
the wrenching solitude of the dys.

But beyond your curse on the hyenas
out of Africa, blood-parched, baying their foul cries,
beyond wrath and contempt, beyond tears,
Oothers, transpierced by anquish and death,
look into the heart of the new day that is dawning
and know that your dead smile up at you from the earth,
raising their clenched fists above the corn, there, look, they are

Translated  from the Spanish by  Nancy Cunard. 

T.E. Nicholas -  In Rememberance of a Son of Wales ( Who Fel in Spain)

Amid the roar of guns that split the air,
   Faint moaning reached him from a tortured field;
He followed to a city passing fair,
   His soul aflame, his flesh a living shield.
There death-charged missiles blazed a trail of woe,
   Leaving each shattered hearth a vain defence
While flocks of iron eagles, swooping low,
   Clawed out the life of cradled innocence.
Far from the hills he loved, he faced the night,
   Bearing, for freedon's sake, an alien yoke;
He fell exalting brotherhood and right,
   His bleeding visage scorched by fire and smoke;
E'en as the sweetest note is born of pain,
So shall the song of songs be born in Spain.

Guernica - A.S Knowland

Irun-Badajoz-Malaga-and then Guernica

So that te swastika and the eagle
might spting from the blood-red soil,
bombs were sown into the earth at Geurnica,
whose only harvest was a calculated slaughter,
Lest freedom should wave between the grasses
and the corn its proud emblem, or love
be allowed to tread its native fields,
Fascism was sent to destroy the innocent,
and, goose-stepping to the exaggerated waving
of the two-faced flag, to save Spain.

But though the soil be saturated with blood
as a very efficient fertilzer, the furrow
of the ghastly Fasces shall remain barren.
The planted swastika, he eagle grafted
on natural stock shall wither and remain sere;
for no uniformed force shall marshall the sap
thrilling to thrust buds into blossoms, or quicken
the dead ends of the blighted branches;
but the soli shall be set against an alien crop
and the seed be blasted in the planting

But strength lies in the strength of the roots.
They shall not pass to ruin Spain!


The bullfighters are monarchists,
The monks are preachers of fascism.
And the miners of the Asturias?
Long live the revolution!

My grandfather came from Mieres;
His wife from Pola de Siero.
The capital city of my blood
Must surely be called Oviedo!

The Moors are outside Oviedo.
Oviedo they'll never take
Though they'll kill all the Spaniards and threaten
Their wives with murder and rape!

The Regulars are bathing
In the Covandonga flood.
The lords swim at Majorca,
While the miners swim in blood.

In October there are no fiestas
Except those of the season.
But October only means to us

translated from the Spanish by A.L. Lloyd

The Hero- Richard Church

I could tell you of a young man
Blown with heroism into Spain.
He had a knapsack of philosophy,
And as he went he scatterred thesmall grain
Of his few songs under the dangerous sky.

A girl, grown fond, thought him too young to die.
She put the memory of teir secret joy
Behind her heart, and turned to public deeds,
Neglecting the earth he trod, and his scattered seeds.

But soon she was brought to child-bed, with a boy
Smiling up at her as his father had smiled.
And thankfully she saw that his plump back
Carried no philososopic haversack.
She saw, but only for his mother's breast
That being so, she found she could forgive
The man who died so that a dream might live,
And faith with prudence remain unreconciled.

The penguin Book of
Spanish Civil War Verse
Edited by Valentine Cunningham

( their are so many lovely poems in this collection,
essential reading for anyone interested in this period)

Selection of Spanish
Selection of Spanish Civil War Songs.

There have been many , many books written on the
Spanish Civil War, here are some I would strongly
reccommend for further perusal.

The Spanish Civil War - Hugh Thomas ( Penguin) 1983.
They shall not Pass ( the Spanish people at war 1936-9) -Richard Kirch (wayland publications 1974).
Lessons of the Spanish Revolution -Vernon Richards (freedom press 1972).
Miners against fascism -Wales and the Spanish Civil War - Hywel Francis
( Lawrence and Wishart )1984.
We Live -Lewis Jones ( library of Wales). incidentally this is one of my favourite books.


  1. May I be presumptuous and add Laurie Lee's 'A Moment of War' to your further reading list... a very honest account of an idealist's war experience.
    O, I just have ;) roy

  2. yes, quite reliable, a less honest one that I'll add is ' Dialogue with Death' by Arthur Koestler...... and their is always Mr Orwell himself with his book .... ' Homage to Catalonia.... and many many more...