So began a bitter, bloody three-year civil war, itself an overture to an international conflict, as Mussolini and Hitler took Franco’s side and the Soviet Union that of the Republic. Franco’s victory and subsequent long dictatorship did not settle the matter; nor did his death in 1975 and Spain’s return to democracy. A civil war makes for fissures that will not heal within a hundred years; Spain is still haunted. (The BBC today reported on the ongoing controversy over what is to be done by the Zapatero government in respect of the Valley of the Fallen in Madrid, Franco’s colossal and divisive tribute to his victory.)On this day 75 years ago General Francisco Franco descended on the Spanish protectorate of Morocco, there to assume direction of an armed uprising begun in Spain two days previous: a revolt of conservative nationalists against the Popular Front government of Spain’s Second Republic.
For the Left ‘Spain’ remains a great cause, a courageously principled fight against fascism and on behalf of a government that championed the poor – a cause impaired only by the virulent internal dispute between Stalinist and Trotskyist/anarchist ideologies (as explored in sympathy with the latter faction in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and in the 1995 Jim Allen/Ken Loach film Land and Freedom.) On the Right, meanwhile, you will often hear that Franco was ‘authoritarian’ rather than fascist, that ultimately he ‘saved’ Spain from Hitler, and indeed Stalin, and so on.
What is indisputable is that legions of men and women from Europe, the US and Australia journeyed to Spain to join the Republican struggle against what these volunteers saw without question as a rising fascism. These were the International Brigades. A pioneering figure among them was Tom Wintringham (1898-1949), Grimsby-born soldier, poet, journalist, Marxist and keen military theorist. In 1936 Wintringham was despatched to Spain by the Daily Worker as a journalist to cover the war, but his passions and interests were quickly inflamed: he had ideas for how the Republican volunteers should be marshalled, and he was instrumental in the formation of the International Brigades. He would command the British Battalion in the bloody Battle of Jarama in February 1937, at which he was wounded. In 1939 he committed to paper an account of what he saw and did and learned in the struggle. This was English Captain, and Faber Finds is pleased and proud to reissue the book this week, 75 years after the Spanish Civil War began.
English Captain is available to order here. If you wish a little more background information on Wintringham, do look at and listen to the videos below from a tribute event held at Grimsby in 2007, the first a general survey of the life, the second a few comments on the poetry and the Spanish Civil War by Wintringham’s biographer Hugh Purcell