S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

International Brigades in Spain 1936-39 by Ken Bradley: A Book Review

ImageThe clue to the authors political bent is in his Dedication: “To the volunteers of the international brigades who gave all they had to oppose international fascism and to preserve a free Spain.” (My emphasis on “free.”) Republican Spain (again another euphemism) was anything but free or a republic. In 1936, when the Spanish Revolution began, Spain was in the firm grip of the Soviet Union’s Communist International (Comintern), and the government was pro-Marxists, and the USSR was the primary supplier of arms to its Army. Spain pair for these arms in silver coins from it colonial glory-days—not at its numismatic value but rather at its current price in troy ounces.

“Republican” was the Comintern’s successful agitprop to disguise the true nature of the Spanish Communist government. It launched severe oppression against the Catholic Church, monarchist, Carlists, and any group opposed to its dictatorial-socialists agenda. In this chaotic environment, Fascists General Francisco Franco started the civil war.

Here a few snips from Bradley’s narrative illustrating the Comintern’s influence in Spain and the International Brigades:
• “…there was a meeting at NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) in the Lubianka (Prison) in Moscow.”
• The Comintern organized a network to get foreign volunteers to join the International Brigades in Spain.
• Communist Parties in various countries handled recruitment for the International Brigades)
• Political Commissars were included in each company, battalion, and brigade.
• George Orwell served in the Catalan (Socialists) militias.
• Commissar Walter Tapsell had been the leader of the Young Communist League in Britain and circulation manager of the Daily Worker.
• General Emilio Kleber, Thaelmann (German) Brigade was an agent of the Comintern military section of the Red Army.
• Captain Tom Wintringham, British Battalion, was a member of the Communist Party, editor of The New Left Review, and later a correspondent for the Daily Worker.

Bradley gives short shrift to the campaigns in this Civil War. He skims over key battles yet inundates us with city and province names without providing a map. In detail, he discusses the names and official numerical designation, composition, and affiliation of the International Brigades—actually done in more detail that I need to know. He notes that most of the soldiers were fighting for ideals and not for money. Most soldiers were working-class people, intellectuals, and labor leaders.

His primary focus is on the uniforms of the soldiers of the International Brigades—illustrated in twelve-color plates. This book is more of a reference book than an exploration of the Spanish Civil War for the curious reader.

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