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I am Spain: The Spanish Civil War and the Men and Women who went to Fight Fascism, page 1


I am Spain: The Spanish Civil War and the Men and Women who went to Fight Fascism

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I am Spain: The Spanish Civil War and the Men and Women who went to Fight Fascism


  ‘Haycock manages the drama in this tale with such skill that his story unfolds like a well-plotted novel … Never before have the private vicissitudes of these artists’ lives been made so real, or their exuberance so vivid’

  Frances Spalding, Daily Mail

  ‘A vintage decade of early twentieth-century British art, told in vivid and entertaining detail through the adventures of five highly gifted young painters. I greatly enjoyed it’

  Michael Holroyd

  ‘What gives David Boyd Haycock’s book its freshness is that, through skilful use of letters and memoirs left by his five subjects, he injects it with the anxiety, ambition, self-doubt and jealousy that possessors of youth and talent are fated to feel’

  John Carey, Sunday Times

  ‘Haycock’s narrative of this entangled, war-defined group is so strong that it often has the force of a novel, hard to put down … We should call for a joint exhibition of their work, to complement the moving portrayal of their lives in this engrossing and enjoyable book’

  Jenny Uglow, Guardian

  ‘An extraordinary book. I read it avidly … The familiar cast is handled in a quite new and original way. They have been made fresh and vulnerable once more, and their work re-evaluated – made new to us’

  Ronald Blythe

  ‘Truly fascinating from every angle – almost a work of art in itself’

  Books Quarterly

  ‘Haycock wears his learning lightly and has an enviably fluent and assured style of writing: you pick this book up and simply start reading. Rarely has art history seemed so agreeable’

  The Art Newspaper

  ‘A sad tale, wonderfully told … Haycock fades the many different narratives in and out with ease’

  Country Life


  The Spanish Civil War and the

  men and women who went to fight Fascism


  For Genevieve and Nathaniel


  Title Page





  Introduction ‘The Politics of Desperation’

  Chapter 1 The Sun Also Rises

  Chapter 2 After the Storm

  Chapter 3 The Soul of Spain

  Chapter 4 Armies of Free Men

  Chapter 5 The Spanish Cockpit

  Chapter 6 Boadilla

  Chapter 7 Looking for Trouble

  Chapter 8 Death in the Afternoon

  Chapter 9 The Capital of the World

  Chapter 10 Eye-Witness in Barcelona

  Chapter 11 The Killers

  Chapter 12 The Dangerous Summer

  Chapter 13 The Fifth Column

  Chapter 14 The Undefeated

  Chapter 15 For Whom the Bell Tolls

  Appendix 1 Dramatis Personae







  17 July: Military rebellion against the Republican Government starts in Spanish North Africa.

  18 July: Military rebellion spreads to mainland Spain.

  20 July: General Franco sends emissaries to Mussolini and Hitler, requesting military assistance. General José Sanjurjo, nominal leader of the revolt, killed in an air crash.

  20 July: Republican siege of the Alcázar in Toledo begins.

  26 July: Comintern agrees to raise funds and send international volunteers to support the Republic.

  27 July: German and Italian airlift of the Army of Africa from Morocco to mainland Spain begins.

  27 September: Rebels retake Toledo and lift the siege of the Alcázar.

  14 August: The Army of Africa storms Badajoz.

  16 August: Catalan Republican forces attack Majorca.

  3 September: Republican assault on Majorca abandoned.

  24 August: Accompanied by numerous ‘advisors’, the Russian Ambassador to Spain arrives.

  28 August: First bombing of Madrid by rebel planes.

  4 September: Socialist leader Largo Caballero becomes Prime Minister.

  9 September: In London, the Non-Intervention Committee holds its first meeting.

  18 September: The International Brigades established by the Comintern.

  1 October: General Franco proclaimed rebel Commander-in-Chief and Head of State.

  6 November: Republican government quits Madrid for Valencia.

  7 November: start of the battle for Madrid.

  18 November: Franco’s regime is officially recognized by Germany and Italy.

  14 December: The battle of Boadilla begins.

  24 December: First Company of the English-Speaking Battalion mobilized.


  17 January: Rebels forces capture Malaga.

  6 February: Rebels attempt again to capture Madrid, and the battle of Jarama begins.

  8 March: Battle of Guadalajara begins as rebels attempt to take Madrid from the north.

  26 April: German and Italian planes bomb Guernica.

  3 May: Street fighting breaks out in Barcelona as anarchists and the POUM fight with communists.

  15 May: Largo Caballero resigns as Prime Minister and is soon succeeded by Juan Negrín.

  6 July: Battle of Brunete begins with a major Republican offensive.

  25 August: Rebels capture Santander on the north coast of Spain.

  31 November: Republican government moves from Valencia to Barcelona.

  15 December: The Battle of Teruel begins.


  12 March: The Anschluss: Austria is annexed by Germany.

  16 March: Italian bombers begin three days of intensive air raids on Barcelona.

  1 May: Juan Negrín’s attempts to negotiate peace with Franco are rejected.

  24 July: The Battle of the Ebro begins with a major Republican offensive.

  21 September: Juan Negrín announces in Geneva that the International Brigades will be withdrawn from action.

  15 November: the International Brigades hold leaving parade in Barcelona.

  29 September: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flies to Munich to meet Hitler in attempt to end the Czechoslovakian crisis.

  9 November: Kristallnacht: Nazi pogrom against Jews in Austria and Germany.

  23 December: Rebels launch offensive to capture Catalonia.


  26 January: Rebel forces capture Barcelona.

  27 February: The British and French governments recognize Franco’s regime.

  27 March: Rebel forces march into Madrid.

  1 April: General Franco announces that the Spanish Civil War is over. US Government recognizes his regime.

  1 September: Germany invades Poland.

  3 September: Britain and France declare war on Germany.


  Carlism: A political movement originating in the early 19th century with the aim of establishing a separate Bourbon monarchy in Spain.

  CEDA: The Spanish Confederation of Right-Wing Groups, established in 1933.

  CNT: The National Confederation of Labour: an anarcho-syndicalist labour union founded in Barcelona in 1910.

  Comintern: The Communist International, established by Lenin in 1919 as a world-wide union of communist parties.

  Commune de Paris Battalion: A unit of the International Brigades, chiefly made up of French and Belgian anti-Fascists.

  CPGB: The Com
munist Party of Great Britain

  CPUSA: The Communist Party of the United States of America.

  Falange: The Spanish fascist party, founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1933.

  FAI: The Iberian Anarchist Federation, founded in Valencia in 1927.

  Garibaldi Battalion: A unit of the International Brigades, chiefly made up of Italian anti-fascists.

  League of Nations: An international organization founded in 1919 with the aim of keeping world peace through disarmament and arbitration. Its effectiveness was undermined by the failure of the US to join.

  PCE: The Spanish Communist Party.

  POUM: The Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification: a chiefly Catalan anti-Stalinist communist organization founded by Andrés Nin in 1935.

  PSOE: The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, founded in 1879.

  Thälmann Battalion: A unit of the International Brigades, chiefly made up of German and Austrian anti-fascists.

  UGT: The Amalgamated Union of Workers: A Spanish socialist trade union founded in 1888.


  ‘The Politics of Desperation’

  What’s your proposal? To build the just city? I will.

  I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic

  Death? Very well, I accept, for

  I am your choice, your decision. Yes, I am Spain.

  W.H. Auden, Spain (May 1937)

  The Civil War that raged through Spain between 1936 and 1939 was a ruthless conflict: a local catastrophe that, in a world seemingly poised on the brink of another global war, quickly acquired international significance. As Ernest Hemingway’s Spanish friend José Luis Castillo-Puche reflected long afterwards, the war was

  a direct confrontation between two radically different, fanatical, totally irreconcilable antagonists who had sworn to destroy each other. The issues were black and white; what was at stake was a whole style of life, a worldview, the acceptance or the rejection of all human history. This was not a war fought in the front line according to tactical plans drawn up by general staffs; it was a battle fought in the streets and the countryside according to the instincts of the people, a total destruction of the enemy improvised from moment to moment. Not only were there grimacing corpses on the battlefields; civilians, too, died dramatic deaths. Above and beyond the horror of soldiers whose dead bodies were riddled with machine-gun bullets, there was the brutal, inhuman slaughter of non-combatants, a collective sadism, senseless cruelty.

  Yet this war was not simply a Spanish affair. The overt involvement of the fascist forces of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and the communists of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union – as well as thousands of international volunteers from over forty countries, fighting on both sides of the political divide – created what many contemporaries called ‘a world war in miniature’, a microcosm of greater forces at work, greater conflicts. For as the English poet Stephen Spender observed, within a few weeks of the outbreak of the Civil War, Spain had become ‘the symbol of hope’ for anti-fascists everywhere. And as he added, ‘since the area of struggle in Spain was confined, and the methods of warfare comparatively restrained, the voices of human individuals were not overwhelmed, as in 1939, by vast military machines and by propaganda. The Spanish war remained to some extent a debate, both within and outside Spain, in which the three great political ideas of our time – Fascism, Communism, and Liberal-Socialism – were discussed and heard.’

  This book tells the story of the war through the interwoven voices of just a handful of those many individuals who came from outside Spain either to fight or to observe and record the war. The principal British participants whose letters, diaries, newspaper reports and recollections I draw upon are Felicia Browne, Claud Cockburn, John Cornford, George Orwell, Esmond Romilly and Tom Wintringham; the Americans are Alvah Bessie, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and William Herrick (who later changed his name to William Horvitz). But the Spanish war touched the lives of many other foreign anti-fascists, and the names that appear in this book include Britons, Americans, Irishmen, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Germans and a Hungarian: names such as W.H. Auden, Kitty Bowler, Robert Capa, Cyril Connolly, Martha Gellhorn, Laurie Lee, Herbert Matthews, Dorothy Parker, Gustav Regler, Frank Ryan, Stephen Spender, George Steer, Gerda Taro and Philip Toynbee.

  That most of these foreign participants were writers and artists is not intended to diminish the role played by the tens of thousands of other men and women who travelled to Spain to aid the Republican cause, nor that of the millions of Spaniards who fought or endured the war. Furthermore, this is a story of only one side of the conflict: the Republican side, a loose affiliation of leftists, liberals and anarchists who for almost three years stood up to a repressive tyranny of militarism, repression, dictatorship and fascism. For this was a war that almost compelled people to take sides. As Ernest Hemingway (who already knew Spain well) told a young American writer in February 1937:

  The Spanish war is a bad war, Harry, and nobody is right. All I care about is human beings and alleviating their suffering, which is why I back ambulances and hospitals. The Rebels have plenty of good Italian ambulances. But it’s not very Catholic or Christian to kill the wounded in the hospital in Toledo with hand-grenades or to bomb the working quarter of Madrid for no military reason except to kill poor people, whose politics are only the politics of desperation. I know they have shot priests and bishops but why was the church in politics on the side of the oppressors instead of for the people – or instead of not being in politics at all?

  It’s none of my business and I’m not making it mine but my sympathies are always for exploited working people against absentee landlords even if I drink around with the landlords and shoot pigeons with them. I would as soon shoot them as the pigeons.

  Inevitably, this is a book with both a position and an opinion, but these, I hope, emerge through the voices of those who were there and who saw it happen. ‘In case I have not said this somewhere earlier in the book,’ George Orwell counselled in his classic 1938 account of his war-time experiences in Catalonia, ‘I will say it now: beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of fact, and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events. And beware of exactly the same things when you read any other book on this period of the Spanish war.’

  Chapter 1

  The Sun Also Rises


  Spain in 1936 was a land not well known to many foreigners. W.H. Auden memorably described it as ‘that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe’. To George Orwell, writing of how he pictured Spain before he first travelled there, it was a land of white sierras and Moorish palaces, of goatherds and olive trees and lemon groves; of gypsies and girls in black mantillas, bullfights, cardinals and the half-forgotten terrors of the Inquisition. Of all Europe, he would write in 1937, Spain was the one country that had the most hold upon his imagination.

  But Spain was not simply a land of the imagination. In the years immediately around the Great War a number of British and American writer and artists travelled – even settled – there. Their books and paintings added layers of modernity to Orwell’s almost oriental vision. Yet they, too, sometimes mirrored his exotic impression. For Spain was a land not quite like anywhere else in Western Europe.

  The American novelist John Dos Passos first visited Spain in 1916, a few months after graduating from Harvard. He had travelled already in France, Italy and Greece, yet wrote that nowhere else in Europe had he so felt ‘the strata of civilization – Celt-Iberians, Romans, Moors and French have each passed through Spain and left something there – alive … It’s the most wonderful jumble – the peaceful Roman world; the sadness of the Semitic nations, their mysticism; the grace – a little provincialized, a little barbarized – of a Greek colony; the sensuous dream of Moorish Spain; and little yellow trains and American automobiles and German locomotives – all in a tangle together!’ When the author Lytton Strachey visited Granada in
the spring of 1920 he too was captivated: ‘Never have I seen a country on so vast a scale,’ he wrote home, ‘wild, violent, spectacular – enormous mountains, desperate chasms, endless distances – colours everywhere of deep orange and brilliant green – a wonderful place, but easier to get to with a finger on the map than in reality!’

  Strachey’s travelling companion, the artist Dora Carrington, would be equally moved, capturing the landscape and its people in scintillating oil colours. She would be one of the first in a long line of post-war British artists to visit Spain: Ben and William Nicholson, Augustus John, David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Henry Moore, Edward Burra, to name only the most well-known. And there were English-speaking writers, too, making of Spain a place to wander: Ralph Bates, Waldo Frank, Robert Graves, Ernest Hemingway, Laurie Lee, Malcolm Lowry, V.S. Pritchett, as well as Dos Passos. According to one contemporary literary critic, what had initially attracted Dos Passos (and no doubt some of the others, too) was the discovery in Spain of ‘an attitude toward life and a way of living which are in pleasant contrast to the mad turmoil of industrial Europe and America’. Nonetheless, in his 1917 essay ‘Young Spain’, Dos Passos observed a country – with its corrupt, inefficient politicians and its ill-educated, underpaid workforce – ripe for revolution. It was only, Dos Passos considered, a sort of despairing inaction that prevented it.

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