Abraham Lincoln Brigade

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The Abraham Lincoln Brigade was a contingent of private American citizens acting as combatant volunteers in the International Brigades, which fought for the Spanish so-called "Republican" government during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. When that government took power, "leftist mobs attacked political opponents, churches and clergy," observed Herbert Romerstein, director of the U.S. Information Agency's Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation and Active Measures in the Reagan administration.[1] “A spokesman for the right, José Gil Robles, complained in the Spanish parliament of over a thousand assaults, 269 political murders and the burning of 160 churches.”[2] On July 13, 1936, the government's Republican Assault Guards abducted and murdered monarchist leader Jose Calvo Sotelo.[3] Over the following days gunfights broke out between socialist and Falangist militias, and the army, under Nationalist leader General Francisco Franco, declared martial law.

Franco's Nationalists are often labeled "fascist" for accepting aid from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. But Franco not only "refused Hitler’s demand to hand over Spanish Jews, saving tens of thousands of Jews from extermination," according to Jonah Goldberg, but "signed the document abrogating the 1492 Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from Spain." This at a time when "the supposedly ‘liberal’ French and Dutch eagerly cooperated with the Nazi deportation program."[4]

Romerstein characterized the International Brigades as "Stalin's foreign legion."[5] "A 1986 Soviet source claims that the Soviet Union sent 806 military aircraft, mainly fighters, 362 tanks, 120 armored cars, 1,555 artillery pieces and about a half million rifles" to Spain during the war, noted Romerstein. “The Soviets also claim that about 3,000 Soviet volunteers participated in the war, including 772 airmen and 351 tank men.”[6]

Using Moscow's Comintern archives, Romerstein documented that approximately 80 percent of the American volunteers were Communist Party members,[7] the remainder made up of fellow-travelers from the Socialist Party of America and the Socialist Labor Party. Promised they were signing up for only a seven-month hitch, the volunteers were later informed that they were in for the duration of the war.[8] Those who complained were imprisoned or shot[9] —and listed as casualties.[10]

Before the Spanish Civil War, the Communist line was that war was a capitalist racket. But with the outbreak of war in Spain, "the Soviets could aspire to control the eastern end of the Mediterranean and had hopes of eventually controlling the western end as well, thus giving them control of the entire Mediterranean."[11] Overnight, the party line flip-flopped: "Well, the same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in 1937 were denouncing you as a Trotsky-Fascist if you suggested that the stories in New Masses about freshly wounded men clamouring to get back into the fighting might be exaggerated," wrote George Orwell. "And the Left intelligenstsia made their swing-over from 'War is hell' to 'War is glorious' not only with no sense of incongruity but almost without any intervening stage."[12] Orwell, a socialist, fought in Spain for the Red cause, and was shot through the neck.[13] Yet he was forced to flee Spain in fear of his life from Soviet-backed communists who were suppressing revolutionary socialist dissenters.[14]

Though supposedly formed to fight fascism, in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet Pact the International Brigades reversed course yet again, largely hewing to the Communist Party's new allegedly "non-interventionist"[15] line, opposing Allied efforts to resist the Nazis or interfere in Hitler and Stalin's division of Europe. “The American people look upon the veterans as the foremost champions of democracy and anti-fascism,” said Lincoln Brigade veteran Milton Wolff in May 1941. “We must utilize this prestige in the boldest fashion to explain the fundamental difference between their imperialist war—which we vigorously oppose—and the Spanish people’s defense of democracy which we just as vigorously supported.”[16]

The Lincoln Brigade veterans' "willingness to change their position on the antifascist struggle in order to conform to Soviet policy would forever cast a shadow on their legacy, as it would with the other elements of the Communist Left."[17]


  1. Herbert Romerstein, The Institute of World Politics
  2. Malcolm A. Kline, "Tolling the Red Bell," Accuracy in Academia, June 9, 2008
  3. Paul Preston, Doves of War: Four Women of Spain (University Press of New England, 2003) ISBN 1555535607, p. 351
  4. Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Random House, Inc., 2007) ISBN 0385511841, p. 17
  5. Herbert Romerstein, Heroic Victims: Stalin's Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War (Washington: Council for the Defense of Freedom, 1994) ISBN 9994812505.
  6. Malcolm A. Kline, "Tolling the Red Bell," Accuracy in Academia, June 9, 2008
  7. Daniel J. Flynn, "The Left's Good Warriors," The American Spectator, April 4, 2008
  8. Heroic Victims: Stalin's Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War, The Institute of World Politics
  9. Michael J. Waller, "Heroic Victims: Stalin's Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War. (Review), Demokratizatsiya, June 22, 1999
  10. Malcolm A. Kline, "Tolling the Red Bell," Accuracy in Academia, June 9, 2008
  11. William B. Dunham, "How Did You Get Here from There?: Memoir of a Diplomatic Career," Foreign Affairs Series, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 1996 (Library of Congress)
  12. George Orwell, "Looking Back on the Spanish War," reprinted in George Packer, ed., Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008) ISBN 0151013616, p. 145
  13. Peter Stansky and William Miller Abrahams, The Unknown Orwell: Orwell, The Transformation (Stanford University Press, 1994) ISBN 0804723427, p. 276
  14. George Orwell (1903 - 1950), Historic Figures (BBC)
  15. Preface, World War II Letters from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives, 2008
  16. Malcolm A. Kline, "Tolling the Red Bell," Accuracy in Academia, June 9, 2008
  17. Before Pearl Harbor, World War II Letters from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives, 2008

See also