Tear down the Glasgow waterfront statue of Stalinist sycophant Dolores Ibarruri (“La Pasionaria”) and replace it by one of the Gorbals-born International Brigader Alexander Marcowich! This is the conclusion of a new Workers’ Liberty pamphlet: Lions Led by Jackals — Stalinism in the International Brigades.
The pamphlet draws on the wealth of material — much of it previously unused — in the Communist International’s archives of the International Brigades, published online by the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in early 2015.
An abyss separates the political reality of the International Brigades from their portrayal in “official” labour movement history.
As the archived material quoted in the pamphlet confirms, the Brigades were a political project subject from the outset to the political dictates of Stalinism. From recruitment through to — for those who survived — repatriation, Stalinism controlled all aspects of life in the Brigades.
Recruitment to — and exclusion from — the Brigades was controlled by the national Communist Parties. Complaints about the “quality” of volunteers and the methods used to recruit them were also addressed to the national Communist Parties.
Many volunteers thought — understandably — that they were going to Spain to fight for working-class revolution. According to an archived report on the British Battalion:
“Especially at the beginning, English comrades arrived in Spain with a lot of illusions. A considerable number of them thought that they were joining a proletarian army, and that they were fighting in a proletarian revolution.”
Needless to say, Brigaders were given a political “education” to disabuse them of such “misunderstandings”. What that “education” involved is clear from the archives.
The Brigades were not a proletarian army but “international units of the Popular Front (national and international).” Their task was not proletarian revolution but “the plebeian resolution of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.”
Archived material quoted in the pamphlet highlights the attitude of the Stalinist champions of Popular Frontism to other anti-fascist political forces in Spain.
Anarchism was, just about, acceptable. It was a product of Spanish backwardness. And it was heading in the right direction: Anarchist leaders had joined the Popular Front governments, and the anarchist militia had been incorporated into the government’s armed forces.
But the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification) was “a band of murderers, wreckers and spies” at the centre of a vast conspiracy involving “degenerate, declassed intellectual philistines, spies, agents, common criminals, terrorists, diversionary elements, swindlers, black marketeers, sexually degenerate elements, and professional whores and pimps.”
Trotskyism was likewise beyond the pale: “The unity of the People’s Front, like unity at an international level, depends on the liquidation of Trotskyism. It is impossible to tolerate within the Popular Front the accomplices of fascism, those who have tried to sabotage the Soviet Union.”
The pamphlet also highlights two issues largely or completely ignored in “orthodox” Stalinist histories of the Brigades.
The Brigades were riven by competing national prejudices, and also often displayed chauvinist attitudes towards the indigenous Spanish. In early 1938 all Communist Party members in the Brigades were therefore ordered to join the Spanish Communist Party, to make them subject to its discipline.
And prior to repatriation, assessments of each Brigader were carried out by leading Communist Party members in the Brigades. The assessments were then sent to the relevant national Communist Party. Frequently, they do not make for pleasant reading.
Other archived material makes clear that members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) battalion in Spain were being “set up” as fascist collaborators in preparation for Moscow-style show trials, in which the ILP would be in the dock alongside their co-thinkers in the POUM.
Hence the incongruity of Glasgow commemorating the International Brigades with a statue of “La Pasionaria”. Ibarruri — the object of a Stalinist cult in her own right — vigorously advocated the physical liquidation of anti-fascists who shared the politics of Glasgow’s ILP tradition.
Far better, the pamphlet concludes, if the labour movement in Glasgow — and not just in Glasgow — were to commemorate the International Brigades with statues to the likes of Alexander Marcowich. Marcowich was an antifascist, an anti-Stalinist, and a product of the Jewish-socialist traditions of the early-twentieth-century Gorbals.
Denounced in his archived file as “Very bad. Disrupter. Trotskyist. Dangerous”, it was Brigaders like Marcowich who represented what was best in the International Brigades.