Monday, 18 July 2016

80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.


Today marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, a moment in time that has come to represent the defining struggle of the age: a clash between not just between the opposing political ideologies of socialism and fascism, but between civilization and barbarism, good and evil.
The fascists launched a coup against the democratically elected Popular Front Government in Madrid on the night of 17th July 1936 inpired mostly by General Franco. Hitler and Mussolini quickly sent aircraft, troops and supplies to the right-wing generals bent on overthrowing Spain's elected government.
But the people rose, millions of people around the world felt passionately that rapidly advancing fascism must be halted in Spain; and more than 35,000 volunteers from dozens of other countries went to help defend the Spanish Republic, forces of red and black fought back united against fascism. In the countryside, peasants took control of the land, redistributing large estates and, in many places, collectivizing the land and setting up communes and a civil war was was waged, the workers immediately set up barricades and within hours the rising had been defeated. Arms were seized and given to workers who were dispatched to other areas to prevent risings. Madrid was also saved because of the heroism and initiative of the workers. Hearing of what had happened in Barcelona they had stormed the main army base in the city. Workers' militias were established. Workplaces were taken over and for ten months after July 1936, the people held power. Taking over the factories and the running of the whole of society. They organised workers’ committees in enterprises and streets. They believed that they had power and fought to defend and extend it.
But in a series of tragic events were sadly defeated aided by the British government who had agreed to a policy of 'non-intervention'  along with the help of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. By April 1939, all of Spain was under fascist control and Franco declared a victory .Solidifying his power with a brutal dictatorship by oppressing and systematically killing any political opposition.Over half a million people were killed in the war, and in the next few years many tens of thousands more were executed, not forgetting all those who died from malnutrition, starvation, and war-engendered disease. General Franco's military regime remained in power until his death in 1975 depriving  Spain of freedom for several decades afterwards, the wound inflicted still resonates.
 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 information here , I have yet though to see a monument erected to them. 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.
For many it was not just a war to defeat the fascists it was the beginning of a new society. A revolution in fact, unfortunately revolutions do not succeed when the people are divided. There are many lessons to be learnt from this struggle, a struggle that continues to do this day.
Lets not forget all those who were killed serving with the International Brigades who nobly fought bravely in a spirit of solidarity, and political and moral awareness to try and save us from fascism's threat that still sadly lingers and haunts us  today.The dark shadow cast by the Spanish Civil war, still matters, and the wound inflicted on Spain still within living memory for many has yet to close. We must continue to resist oppressive forces, with our shout of no pasaran.
The poet and political activist John Corford was just 21 years old when he died in Spain in August 1936, I will leave you with these two poems by him written in the teeth of death.


Heart of the heartless world,
Dear heart, the thought of you
Is the pain at my side,
The shadow that chills my view.
The wind rises in the evening,
Reminds that autumn is near.
I am afraid to lose you,
I am afraid of my fear.
On the last mile to Huesca,
The last fence for our pride,
Think so kindly, dear, that I
Sense you at my side.
And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don’t forget my love.

A letter from Aragon

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.

We buried Ruiz in a new pine coffin,
But the shroud was too small and his washed feet stuck out.
The stink of his corpse came through the clean pine boards
And some of the bearers wrapped handkerchiefs round their faces.
Death was not dignified.
We hacked a ragged grave in the unfriendly earth
And fired a ragged volley over the grave.

You could tell from our listlessness, no one much missed him.

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
There is no poison gas and no H. E.

But when they shelled the other end of the village
And the streets were choked with dust
Women came screaming out of the crumbling houses,
Clutched under one arm the naked rump of an infant.
I thought: how ugly fear is.

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
Our nerves are steady; we all sleep soundly.

In the clean hospital bed, my eyes were so heavy
Sleep easily blotted out one ugly picture,
A wounded militiaman moaning on a stretcher,
Now out of danger, but still crying for water,
Strong against death, but unprepared for such pain.

This on a quiet front.

But when I shook hands to leave, an Anarchist worker
Said: 'Tell the workers of England
This was a war not of our own making
We did not seek it.
But if ever the Fascists again rule Barcelona
It will be as a heap of ruins with us workers beneath it.'

reprinted from  Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse, edited by Valentine Cunningham (Penguin, 1980)

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