The International Brigades in Spain: The true story

Fuente: Der (Hispanismo.org)

by Ricardo de la Cierva

(comments to the book by Ángel Maestro)

According to the author this is a "book of an emergency", requested by many friends after the decission of the Partido Popular to support the Social-Communist initiative to grant the members of the brigades the Spanish nationality as a sign of "gratitude of the nation" for fighting "for freedom and democracy". The nationality for the brigadists was granted by Royal Decree on 19th January 1996, signed by king Juan Carlos I and countersigned by his minister J.A. Belloch who the purists called, before his terrorific facial traits, "the choffeur of Frankenstein".

This book is a convincing work of historical correction and, at the same time, a crushing statement against the "historical lies and the terrible error of the State" committed by the MPs of the Partido Popular[1]. Through the book there are a number of adverse adjectivations: bias, sectarism, shamelessness, ignominy, ignorance, dementia, utter nonesense, big deceit, trick, incoherence, desire to humilate Spain and to deprive her from the historic memory. The speech of the Popular MP by the city of Teruel, Mr. Bueso, iin favour of the bridagists for "their work in favour of freedom" is ironically classified as a "deed" and it provokes shame. An affront to his own party and its speaker.

The International Brigades were units near to divisions, of some five thousand men each. There were seven of these units with effectives never superior to thirty thousand men, and the total number of volunteers was almost one hundred thousand, of which ten thousand died. They didn't come [to Spain] to fight for freedom, but they came organized by the Communist International on behalf of Stalin, to whom De la Cierva calls, not without reason, "the biggest murderer in History". This is also the thesis of Andreu Castelles --who was a member of the 129th Brigade-- in his book Las Brigadas Internacionales en la guerra de España (ed. Ariel, Barcelona 1973); a main source of information which De la Cierva quotes frequently. Like Sandor Voros (a political commisaire of the XV Brigada) declared: "We came to fight and to die under the direction of the Kommitern". They didn't come to fight for freedom, as that would be a sarcasm in a stalinist operation. William Herrick, a member of the same Brigada confesses: "when I went to Spain I had no faith in the bourgeoise democracy".

Most of the brigadists were the scum of their respective societies, battered by the economic crisis. This was their environment: "squandering of provisions, drunkness, binges and robberies". On ocasions, whole sections of drunk brigadists threw themselves over the frontline to fall under the fire. André Marty, secretary of the Kommitern, was appointed by Stalin as chief-in-command of the International Brigades. In the province where he established the headquarters of the Brigades, he murdered 1,126 people. That gained him the nickname of "el carnicero de Albacete" (the butcher of Albacete). This was the opinion of Marty himself about his brigadists in an official report: "There arrived hundreds of criminals and while a part of them passed the time living comfortably without doing a thing, many others, taking advantage on the chaos, committed a very large series of abominable crimes: rapes, gratuitous violence, robberies with violence, homicides for the sake of it, thefts, kidnappings, etc. Not happy with it, they have promoved rebellions with bloodbaths against the authorities and some have even spied in favour of Franco... In Albacete they intended to continue with the criminal acts committed in other places; after being detained, they ran away from the concentration camp beating or killing to part of the personnel of wards. Before this I did not hesitate in ordering the necessary executions; those ordered by me were not more than 500". An irrefutable and burdensome testimonial for the MPs who voted to offer "gratitude" to these peoples. It was, like De la Cierva writes, "to spit over the blood" of the people assassinated by the brigadists.

Another myth that the author debunks is that of the "popular" character of the red army. Although there were elitist people and elements in the Brigades, most were, effectively, "populace" from several countries (only three thousand Jews). But in the Spanish units of the Republic, out of more than one million men, only less than 150,000 were volunteers. Azaña summoned 26 reserves of conscripts, from those of 1915 (who were 40 years old at the time) till the reservists of 1941 (almost teenagers). While Franco only summoned 15 reserves of conscripts because he had 68,000 volunteers of the Requeté[2], 208,000 volunteers in the Flags of the Falange[3], apart from 30,000 alféreces provisionales[4] and 70,000 volunteers from Morocco[5]. De la Cierva writes: "the National Army was much more popular than the Republican Army". (page 84.)

De la Cierva denies that the Alzamiento[6] was "the war of the generals" against the people. Out of 21 existing generals with a command place, 17 adhered to the Republic and only 4 to the rebellious Mola[7]. And nearly all of those who later were marshalls in the USSR in 1969, had been sent by Stalin to Spain to give military advice to Azaña, considered as the creme of his officials.

The author destroys the myth of the novelist Malraux, who was never engaged in a real combat nor did he know a word about planes, although he was the captain of a French wing. Later on he became a Gaullist. And he destroys too the myth of Hemingway, who wrote "reports which were detestable from the point of view of History and which have as little to do with the reality of the Spanish war as his pseudo-historic novel".

De la Cierva includes a testimonial of the Argentinean brigadist Víctor de Frutos, in his book Los que no perdieron la guerra (Buenos Aires, 1967), where he sheds light over the destruction of Gernika. The brigadist writes: "Bilbao had to be set flames, those were the plans... The old city did not burn in flames because, when we were running across the streets with ready-to-use incendiary bombs, cans of petrol and lightning matches, we could see terrorized women and children in the windows". Another myth that falls apart.

It is true that many brigadists fought with courage, as shown by the fact that 10% of them died in action. But they only achieved military failures, which De la Cierva lists battle after battle: "The International Brigades did not obtain one single victory since the day that they engaged in their frist combat; but the Battle of Brunete, which lasted until July 1937, was the worse and more humiliating defeat. However, there were still bigger disasters still to come for them."

In this important work, a must read for the recovery of the historical memory, the author uses materials from earlier books, especially from his Historia esencial de la guerra civil (1996) which I referred recently (see «Razón Española» núm. 78, julio 1996, págs. 103-105), as well as the important research works by J.M. Martínez Bande and Jesús and Ramón Salas Larrazábal, and all the available bibliography of the Brigades. The background is, therefore, a complete one. He does not omit anything important to the subject.

Years ago --like the title of one of his inciting books reads (see «Razón Española» núm. 71, mayo 1995, págs. 352-6)--, De la Cierva set himself on the noble task of impeding that a team of falsifying clerks from our national near past, rob us from our History. Still today he continues with such an enterprise with impetus, courage and historiographical precision. D. Ricardo de la Cierva is, nowadays, the champion of truth about the age of Franco. He is not alone. But, in all justice, there should be many others. It is a bad thing to be a forgetful and and ungrateful nation.

Notes of translation:

1. Partido Popular was born out of the Social-Conservative Alianza Popular of D. Manuel Fraga Iribarne which, like he defined it himself in the years of the Transition, it represented the Sociological Francoism. Since those years, PP has transformed as a part of its "search for the center", into a group of Neo-Liberals and Neo-Conservatives, betraying its origins. However, they still count with the faithful vote of a sector of the Spanish society of Social-Conservative ideology, who don't see an alternative against the Left. This "faithful vote" is what in Spain is known as a "captive vote", which is represented by the sector of subsidized temporary workers in Andalusia for the Socialist Party (PSOE) and which in times of Socialist President Felipe González was labeled as "grateful tummies".
2. The Requeté is a name by which is known the Armies of the Traditionalist Carloist supporters.
3. Falange Española de las JONS, after the fusion of FE with JONS. Spain's own Fascist-style movement of the 30s.
4. An alférez in the Spanish Army is an officer below the rank of leutenant and above a cadet (since the cadet is not yet an officer). During the Spanish Civil War the alférez provisional was created with equal rank to alférez, with the difference that the alférez was instructed in the Military Academy while the alférez provisional only passed a sort of crash course.
5. These were Spanish troops of the Tercio (Spanish Legion) and other units and regiments, as well as the indigenous troops from Morocco.
6. literally: Rising. This is the name by which is often known the rebellion against the Republic. 7. General Mola, initially in charge of the Alzamiento in the Peninsula and chief-in-command of the Army of the North.

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