April 29, 2018


What They Did in Spain: Review: Histories of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and Communist intervention in the Spanish Civil War (Ronald Radosh, April 29, 2018, Free Beacon)

This myth, however, is not confined to the left but has gone mainstream. Sen. John McCain wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled "John McCain: Salute to a Communist" after reading that Delmer Berg, the last living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, had died in March of 2016 at the age of 100. Acknowledging that Berg was an "unreconstructed Communist" his entire life, McCain nevertheless believes that Berg and the other volunteers "professed to fight for the preservation of democracy" and were part of groups of "idealistic freedom fighters from abroad."

Even the Communists, he wrote, "believed they were freedom fighters first, sacrificing life and limb in a country they knew little about, for a people they had never met." Knowing full well the horrendous record of terror inflicted upon the world by Communism, McCain nevertheless concluded that he still "harbored admiration for their courage and sacrifice in Spain." Indeed, he felt that way since age 12, when he read Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, whose hero, Robert Jordan, fought and died for the Spanish Republic.

McCain's heartfelt piece reveals that he, like so many others who have opinions about the Lincoln Battalion, in fact know little of the real motivations of so many of the volunteers. First, they did not decide on their own to volunteer to fight in Spain because they opposed the rebelling generals' attempt at a coup. They volunteered only after the Communist International (Comintern) made the call. Many, however, were not aware of how their efforts would be used to fulfill the Soviets' goals. The truth is, as historian R. Dan Richardson writes in his study of the battalion, the men were highly motivated, but above all were a "significant political, ideological and propaganda instrument ... used by the Comintern for its own purposes ... an integral part of that interlocking directorate which was the Soviet-Comintern apparatus in Spain."

Richardson's view was seconded by the last American commissar of the Lincolns, John Gates, a leader of the American Communist Party who would quit the party after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. His men, he said, "fought with the best of intentions, they held noble ideals, but they fought in a system controlled and run by the Russian Communist leadership, then under the control of Stalin." The result is that the Soviets insisted "on adherence to the policy advocated by the Spanish Communists," which meant eschewing revolution and, on the surface, supporting a bourgeois or middle-class left-tinted Republic that would be firmly under Communist control.

One wonders if Mr. Simon is aware of this, and whether he will take this crucial point into consideration in depicting the American volunteers and follows through on what happened to them in Spain. Undoubtedly the battles he portrays will be accurate. The press interviews inform us that he has gone to the major battlefields to look at them and to get an accurate picture of what the volunteers faced as they fought Franco's legions.

Has he read, I wonder, the single most important volume on the battalion, written by Cecil D. Eby--Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War? Stanley Payne, the leading American historian of Spain, calls it "the best book ever written about the Lincoln Battalion," and he writes that while Eby does not "accept the standard politically correct line,... neither does he go to the opposite extreme." Sympathetic to the volunteers on the human level, Payne writes, he at the "same time [shows] the real character of the politics involved."

For the myth to endure requires ignoring what the Communists did to Eastern Europe when they took over.  Nevermind that a fascist victory effectively kept Spain out of WWII and thwarted Hitler's ambitions at the mouth of the Med, consider how easily and peacefully Franco transitioned the nation to normalcy on his death and that even today its GDP per capita is 50% higher than the best performing former Soviet satellite. 

Posted by at April 29, 2018 6:47 AM