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Here's the speech given by IBMT Chair Jim Jump at the commemoration on 7 October 2023 at the memorial to the International Brigaders from Stockton-on-Tees…

It’s a great honour to be able say a few words here on behalf of the IBMT during this our Annual General Meeting weekend in Stockton-on-Tees.

This is a town with with a proud history of anti-fascist struggle – like the 3,000 men and women who chased Mosley’s Blackshirts out of town in the Battle of Stockton almost exactly 90 years ago on 10 September 1933.

Several of the Teessiders at Market Cross on that day would later travel to Spain to fight Franco’s fascists.

They knew that fascism was a uniquely dangerous creed, with its toxic mix of ethno-nationalism, racism and militarism – evils that are still with us today.

In some ways they were ordinary people. Looking at the Teesside volunteers, they were scaffolders, merchant seamen, labourers, carpenters, clerks, foundry workers and dockers.

In other ways they were far from ordinary. They were, in the words of Ken Loach, ‘the cream of their generation’ and they didn’t simply appear out of the blue.

Natalie Thorp (left), great niece of William Carson, and Liz Estensen, daughter of Otto Estensen, under the memorial to the International Brigades in Stockton's Wasp Nest Yard that names them and six other men from the town who went to Spain.

Pictured above, Jim Jump raises the IBMT banner under the Stockton memorial.

These Teessiders were men whose political education had been forged in those battles against home-grown fascism, against the grinding state-enforced poverty of the 1930s, in the unemployed workers’ movement, in the hunger marches, in their communist and labour party branches, in the YCL and the Labour League of Youth. 

What also makes them extraordinary is that they were willing, and in some cases did, lay their lives on the line. Nine of the 24 Teesside men made the supreme sacrifice…

…Four of them from Stockton: George Bright, Ron Dennison, Myles Harding and Bert Overton.

The others were Thomas Carter, Martin Durkin, Bob Elliott, David Halloran and John Unthank.

To mangle the words of Christy Moore’s ‘Viva La Quince Brigada’, ‘Let us all remember them today.’

Or to steal a slogan adopted by trade union campaigners for safety in the construction industry, one that chimes with the values of the International Brigades, ‘Remember the dead. Fight for the living.' 

The men and women who went to Spain warned – and they were proved right – that there would be a world war unless fascism – in the form of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini trampling over Spain’s elected Popular Front government – unless fascism was stopped on the battlefields of Madrid, Jarama, Brunete, Aragón and the Ebro.

The British government had other ideas. It preferred to play footsie with the dictators in the hope that they would turn their guns on the Soviet Union. 

Dressed up as neutrality, Britain’s policy of so-called non-intervention doomed the Spanish Republic by denying its government the right to buy arms to defend itself. 

Let us never forget that these Men of Munich, Neville Chamberlain and the other appeasers, preferred to see a Franco victory than the survival of a progressive government in Spain.

Lots of lessons there for today, not least that most in our establishment will aways serve their class interests rather than the national interest. And they will tell lies in doing so.

At the Stockton commemoration: IBMT Scotland Secretary Mike Arnott holds the Scottish Contingent banner. Also pictured (from left) are IBMT Secretary Megan Dobney and IBMT Trustee Dolores Long.

These Teesside volunteers knew better – as did all the 2,500 from Britain and Ireland who went to Spain between 1936 and 1939, whether as soldiers, sailors, pilots, medics, nurses, doctors or administrators. 

Five hundred and thirty of them gave their lives, and we remain humbled by their sacrifice and thank them for their inspirational example of international solidarity and anti-fascism.

We honour also all those lucky enough to survive the war in Spain. Many continued the fight against fascism in the Second World War – and indeed for the better world that they were defending in Spain.

And I want to leave you with the words of two of those who fought on until 1945.

The first is Johnny Longstaff. In the Second World War he joined the London Rifle Brigade. He later recalled his feelings before battle in North Africa:

I knew that some of my friends would die… I knew that others would be wounded and possibly lose a limb… I had not lost the scent of battle, the smell of blood, the stench of the bloated dead, the cries of the wounded… Once again I would be seeing fear in men’s faces … and I recalled how bravely the Republican Army and International Brigades had fought even though ill clad, ill armed and hungry and with little else but high morale and a will to win… Now, in a few days’ time, I would be fighting the same enemy.

Finally, we have the words of David Marshall, who took part in the Normandy landings and the liberation of Belsen. 

As a dole office clerk in Middlesbrough, he had witnessed at first hand the humiliating poverty and obscene inequalities of the 1930s – and knew that another world was possible. 

This is what he wrote in one of his poems:

They came from every corner of the earth
So many men from distant lands
Who took to arms in the defence
Of Spain’s Republic.
Madrid the magnet that drew us all
Along slow roads to Spain – at last a star
For desperate men, sensing the gathering storm
And we that fought to warn a watching world
Were called false prophets by appeasers

Remember the dead and fight for the living. ¡No pasarán!

Jim Jump reviews ‘Architects of Terror: Paranoia, Conspiracy and Anti-Semitism in Franco’s Spain’ by Paul Preston (HarperCollins, 2023). The review appears in the current issue of the IBMT magazine ¡No Pasarán!

Before the Spanish Civil War began in July 1936 there were no more than 6,000 Jews living in Spain and the Communist Party was tiny. Yet the plotters who launched the coup that started the war declared they were fighting, not the Spanish Republic’s elected government, but a Jewish-masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy. Their enemy was an ‘Anti-Spain’ responsible for every disaster that had beset the fatherland, from the Muslim invasion to the loss of empire.

Such an interpretation of Spanish history may have been chronologically bizarre, as Paul Preston notes in this characteristically powerful and chillingly entertaining book*. But it proved highly effective in justifying and generating enthusiasm for the uprising that brought General Franco to power and in the process killed half a million Spaniards and inflicted misery and exile on countless more.  

Antisemitism has deep roots in Spanish history, going back to the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 and the Catholic Church’s efforts in the Inquisition to ‘cleanse’ the country of non-believers. Then, early in the 1930s came the publication of the fabricated antisemitic text, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, which supposedly showed Jewish plans for world domination. The forgery found fertile ground among the enemies of the newly installed Republic, having already been seized upon by Hitler and the Nazis to underpin their antisemitic creed. Its influence in Spain outlived the Third Reich. Twelve editions were published, alongside many other antisemitic tirades, during the Franco dictatorship that lasted until the generalísimo’s death in 1975. 

As the tide of the Second World War turned against the Axis powers, efforts were made to deny that antisemitism had been central to Francoist propaganda. Preston demolishes the myth that paints Franco as a saviour of Jews during the Holocaust. Up to 35,000 Jewish refugees did manage to pass through Spain to safety during the Second World War, many of them clandestinely. Others were turned away at the border or imprisoned, and Jewish relief organisations were banned. A few heroic Spanish diplomats – in Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest and Sofia – took unilateral initiatives to save hundreds of Jewish lives. But consular protection for Sephardic Jews in Greece was refused (at least 45,000 were sent from Salonica to Auschwitz), Franco did nothing to save hundreds of Jews with Spanish nationality in Nazi concentration camps and German Jewish refugees were handed over to the Gestapo.

Several prominent Republican politicians were freemasons. The Catholic Church hated them and so did Franco, though for him it was personal. They were ‘the great invasion of evil’ and, he wrote in 1962, ‘atheistic traitors in exile, delinquents, swindlers, men who betrayed their wives’, the latter categorisation a thinly concealed swipe at his father, who was a mason and a womaniser.

His antipathy to the left was just as pathological. In 1938, with the civil war still raging, the Caudillo authorised funding for Dr Antonio Vallejo Nágera, head of the military psychiatric services, to find the ‘red gene’ that linked Marxism with mental disorders and moral degeneracy. The premise was that left-wingers were polluting the pure Spanish race with Jewish strains. Nágera’s team of investigators included two German scientific advisers and tests were carried out on captured International Brigaders and Republican women prisoners.

The foul lunacy of the Jewish-masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy theory – a classic case of ‘fake news’, according to the author – is brought to life via mini-biographies of six of its ardent adherents, each with their own chapter. They are a motley and unsavoury crew. There is the police chief and intelligence agent Mauricio Carlavilla, who kept a portrait of Hitler on his desk until retirement in 1957 and who was the author of several diatribes, including ‘Sodomitas’, which set out to link homosexuality with communism. 

The influential priest and author Juan Tusquets began compiling lists of Jews and Freemasons well before the Civil War and, at the cost of innumerable lives lost and ruined, continued his work within the Sección Judeo-Masónica of Franco’s military intelligence agency. Just as well-placed in Francoist circles was the poet José María Pemán, who extolled the brutal murder of Republican supporters in the reign of terror that followed the 1936 uprising. The war was necessary to protect the Virgin from being Russian or Jewish and ‘had been sent by God to teach Spaniards a lesson, to permit them to purify themselves, to leave behind their past sins and errors, and to reach the end pure and cleansed’.

Perhaps even more crazed was the aristocratic, polo-playing sadist Gonzalo de Aguilera who, as Franco’s press officer during the civil war, would explain to foreign correspondents in perfect English (his mother was Scottish) that, like plague-ridden rats, the Spanish masses had been infected with the virus of Bolshevism. He blamed this on sewers and modern plumbing, which had allowed too many of these ‘animals’ to survive. A vicious bully and toadying snob, he almost certainly sexually abused his daughter Magdalena over several years. The end of his life was fittingly and gruesomely tragic. By 1964 he was seriously paranoid and liable to fits of wild rage. In one of these, he shot dead his two sons at the family estate. He was locked up in an asylum in nearby Salamanca, where he died in the following year.

The final profiles are of two generals in Franco’s rebel army: Emilio Mola and Gonzalo Queipo de Llano. Both professed to be waging a crusade to save Spain from, as Queipo de Llano put it, ‘Marxist hordes’ and ‘the [Jewish] race that propagates communism, hoards gold and aspires to subjugate the world’. Mola was cold-bloodedly responsible for the murders of some 40,000 civilians in northern Spain. Queipo de Llano, Franco’s corrupt military strongman in Seville, was a bombastic psychopath who oversaw the murder and rape of thousands of Republican supporters in the working-class districts of the city. 

Mola died in a plane crash during the Civil War, while Queipo de Llano lived until 1951. Of the trio profiled by Preston who survived until Spain’s return to democracy, only Carlavilla seems to have stuck to his ideological guns, though his final years were spent in a sordid room in a Madrid lodging house. Tusquets and Pemán by contrast tried with some success to deny and downplay their pasts. Preston’s devastating new book will hopefully make sure that, in posterity at least, they won’t get away with it.

Main picture: Franco and Hitler meet in Hendaye in 1940. Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/Cc-by-sa-3.0-de

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