You are on page 1of 10

APA (American Psychological Assoc.

) References

Bailey, B. (1985). One Man's Education: A Testimony to Internationalism. Harvard Educational Review, 55(1), 101-108.
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date Reference List

Bailey, Bill. 1985. "One Man's Education: A Testimony to Internationalism." Harvard Educational Review 55, no. 1: 101-108. Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed November 4, 2011).
Chicago/Turabian: Humanities Bibliography

Bailey, Bill. "One Man's Education: A Testimony to Internationalism." Harvard Educational Review 55, no. 1 (February 1985): 101-108. Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed November 4, 2011).
Harvard References

Bailey, B 1985, 'One Man's Education: A Testimony to Internationalism', Harvard Educational Review, 55, 1, pp. 101-108, Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 November 2011.
MLA (Modern Language Assoc.) Works Cited

Bailey, Bill. "One Man's Education: A Testimony To Internationalism." Harvard Educational Review 55.1 (1985): 101-108. Historical Abstracts. Web. 4 Nov. 2011.

One Man's Education: A Testimony to Internationalism

BILL BAILEY San Francisco, California Bill Bailey was working as a union organizer in Hawaii in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out. Fascist troops led by Franco rebelled against Spain's democratically elected Republican government. The U.S. government declared a policy of nonintervention that prohibited the shipment of arms to the Republican Loyalists and banned travel to Spain. This policy contributed to the Fascist cause and outraged many Americans, including Bailey. Early in 1937, Bailey joined a group ofAmerican volunteers forming the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, an unpaid and nonprofessional troop of men and women who chose to fight with the International Brigade alongside the Republican Loyalists. In this article, the complexity of internationalism is expressed through Bailey's commitment to support the Spanish democracy, a decision in which he places the international cause of fightingfascism above his nation's choice not to participate. Bailey shares his memories of that period and describes his reasons for choosing the path that led him to Spain. The Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936, ended in March 1939 with the defeat of the democratically elected Republican government, after which Franco and his Spanish brand of fascism would rule Spain for over forty years. During that war, over 40,000 men and women from all continents traveled to Spain to form the International Brigade, joining the mass of Spaniards in an armed struggle to save their Republic. O f the 40,000 volunteers who went to Spain, some 3,200 were Americans; of that number half would die. The rest of us returned home to a country that during the McCarthy period would use our commitment to fight fascism in Spain as grounds for harassment and persecution by the Committee on Un-American Activities. Scholars have often wondered what 40,000 men and women had in common that would make them travel around the world to risk their lives in a war on Span ish soil. What did this segment of humanity learn in Spain that they might not have learned elsewhere? This is the story of the Americans who traveled across the sea and climbed the Pyrenees to enter Spain. In Europe in the early thirties, Mussolini daily dispatched troops from Italy across the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to conquer Ethiopia. Ethiopian EmHarvard Educational Review Vol. 55 No. 1 February 1985

Copyright by President and Fellows of Harvard College 0017-8055/85/0200-0101$01.25/0


Harvard Educational Review

peror Haile Selassie pleaded for help before the League of Nations, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, Hitler was inflicting his brand of fascism on the Ger man people, outlawing all political parties of the opposition and arresting and sending to concentration camps Communists, Socialists, and trade unionists. His denunciation of the "Jewish capitalists and Bolsheviks" as the source of problems that afflicted Germany was only a harbinger of the impending holocaust. By 1936 Haile Selassie had taken refuge in England as Mussolini's Black Shirts paraded down the main streets of Addis Ababa, secure in the belief that Ethiopia was theirs. Hitler's Gestapo was busy inflicting terror across Germany as more concentration camps were built to imprison the opposition. Some European countries stood by and did nothing to stem the advance of fascism; others encouraged Hitler to direct his military sights eastward against Russia. The Soviet Union, recognizing the Fascist danger, called upon the peoples of the world to build a united front against war and fascism. France and England, the two countries that could have halted Hitler's rapid advance, refused to grasp the opportunity to do so and offered him no resistance. It became obvious that no government in Europe would stand up against the evils and encroachments of fascism and that fascism would be allowed to consume one country after another throughout Europe without resistance. The United States in the early thirties was a country suffering all the ills of a prolonged depression. Massive unemployment left men, women, and youngsters without means of a livelihood. Soup lines in every major city and town became the only source of food for the hungry. Although our country was a huge, over stuffed warehouse with an abundance of surplus goods, the majority of working people had little purchasing power. I joined with other progressive citizens in the United States to put life into the idea of a united front against war and fascism. With the country deep in depres sion and the future uncertain, we acted against insidious elements like the K u Klux Klan, the Silver Shirts, the American Nazi Bund, Father Coughlin, and lots of other Fascist and semi-Fascist outfits existing at the time in this country, who believed the United States' only way out of its economic problems was through war and adoption of the same Fascist methods being used then in Italy and Germany. While we of the Left struggled in our own country to build a strong anti-Fascist movement, many Americans considered themselves safe and immune from the agony of the European peoples, either because of the sea that separated Europe from the United States or because "fascism was a European problem." Yet the Pro gressives viewed with sorrow the gains fascism had made and was continuing to make in Europe and Africa. Meanwhile, as the world witnessed the rise of fascism in Europe, an inspiring development took place in Spain. A n event occured that would alter the course of history: on April 14, 1931, King Alphonse XIII of Spain was forced to abdicate, and he sailed out of Cartagena the next day. In the Spanish elections of February 1936, the people voted in Spain's second Republican government; at the same time the Popular Front of all Left parties won a decisive victory against those of the Right. The Left coalition was voted into power on a program of land distribu tion to the landless peasants, separation of church and state, recognition of wom en's rights, medical care for those in need, building of schools, and jobs for the


One Man's Education


jobless. It was a joyous event for the mass of working people and farmers but a sad day for those who hated democracy and feared participation in government by trade unions and working people. They smarted from the defeat and plotted for its destruction. On July 18, 1936, General Franco, with the blessings and support of Hitler and Mussolini, led his army in a revolt against the democratically elected Spanish gov ernment. The uprising commenced in North Africa and quickly spread to major areas on the Spanish mainland. Confused at first, some members of the Republi can government vacillated in securing arms to crush the rebellion and maneuvered against the strong demand of the people, as represented by the trade unions and political parties that supported the Popular Front. By the time government leaders acceded to the people's demand for arms, Franco's forces had seized a sizable chunk of Spain. Hitler and Mussolini flew in planes loaded with bombs for Franco. Ships from Germany and Italy discharged heavy tanks, munitions, and long range cannons in several ports controlled by Franco. Shipload after shipload of mercenaries, mostly Moors, landed in Spain from North Africa. It was now up to Republican Spain to put together a disciplined and trained army to fight against professionally trained troops composed of Moors from the Army of Africa, Italians of the Black Arrow Divisions, Germans of the Condor Legion, and Spanish Army officers and men who had sided with Franco. Against this array of professionals with their unlimited amount of military equipment was pitted an untrained, untried, badly equipped, undisciplined people's militia that had but one aim to save the Republic at any cost. The Republican government felt certain that its close neighbor, France, under Socialist premier Leon Blum, would rise to the occasion and answer their plea for arms. The Republic was also confident that the United States would stand by a fellow democratic nation in time of need. But Spain soon learned that yesterday's friends would not necessarily stand by her and that nations born in struggle do not always lend a sympathetic hand to other democratic countries in trouble. This lesson came as the Tory government of Great Britain quickly convinced Blum that the ceiling would cave in on France if she supported Spain with weap ons. French support, it was feared, would provoke Hitler and Mussolini. The Tory government urged France to call for a "nonintervention" policy and supply no arms to either side. Blum accepted this insane reasoning, and France clamped down on the borders leading into Spain. The Republican Loyalists, trying to recover from this shock, looked to the United States, but President Roosevelt was under the influence of Great Britain as well as under pressure from the Catholic hierarchy in our own country. He also agreed to a policy of nonintervention. The United States even went so far as to pressure Mexico against sending arms to the Republic. While the democratic nations would not sell so much as a Band-aid to the Republic, non intervention did not stop the German or Italian ships and tankers from delivering their war supplies to Franco. It was the Soviet Union that refused to abandon the Republic and became the major supplier of arms to the Republican Loyalists. The Soviets sailed their ships into Republican ports many times under heavy aerial bombardment, and only the Soviets and those who directed the "mysterious" submarines know the exact num-


Harvard Educational Review

ber of ships torpedoed and seamen killed as they were dogged through the Medi terranean Sea in their efforts to deliver their military cargo. In the late weeks of 1936, members of the French trade unions and members of the Communist and Socialist parties, disgusted with Blum's decision to follow a course of nonintervention, rode across the French-Spanish border in taxis, buses, and trucks. They were "tourists," they told the border guards, and because they carried no weapons they were permitted to cross. Thus they became the first international volunteers to enter Spain and join in the fighting against the Fascists. Soon word spread through Europe that the Spanish Republic was permitting vol unteers to assist in the fight. I had sailed into and out of Spain as a merchant seaman in 1935, only a year before the Civil War began. I had great admiration for the Spanish worker and farmer and for the good fight they were waging to change their lives. Back in the United States in 1936, as the life of the Republic was being tested on the battle field, I read every bit of news I could find on events there. As a Communist, I was convinced beyond doubt that what was happening in Spain would have a pro found impact upon on the struggle against fascism. I felt that a defeat of the Fas cists in Spain would be the best inducement for the Italian people to dispose of their country's Fascists. Would the German people, seeing the defeat of fascism in Spain, fail to dispose of their Nazi leaders? These were questions that the strug gle in Spain could answer. In the following months, men and women sympathetic to Loyalist Spain overcame many obstacles as they found their way across oceans and continents and wound up and down deer paths across the Pyrenees to the Spanish trenches. I was in Honolulu when I received word that an International Brigade had been formed in Spain and that it had already given a good account of itself in repelling Fascist attacks. As part of this brigade, the Americans had organized their own group and called it the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. By May of 1937 I started to read about the Fascists making fewer and fewer gains; yet, at the same time, the Republicans were barely holding their own. I left the Hawaiian Islands for the mainland and, with the help of the Communist party, was on my way via Grey hound bus to New York. After a few days in New York, I was assigned to a group of twenty-five people boarding an ocean liner bound for France. Although the Democratic party, the Republican party, or any other party or organization in the United States professing a love of democracy could have solicited donations to fi nance the passage of volunteers to Spain, none did. These organizations and the government contradicted the majority of the American public which favored a Re publican Loyalist victory over the Fascists. It should be noted that it was the Com munist party that bore the brunt of channeling the volunteers, both Communist and non-Communist, and saw them safely across the country and onto ships. All this was done in secrecy, with the knowledge that our passports were not valid for travel to Spain. Our presence in Spain would be illegal and we could be subject to a loss of citizenship because of the Neutrality Act enforced by President Roose velt. Most of the volunteers like myself had worked feverishly against the Neutrality Act from the beginning. We tried getting resolutions passed at union meetings, mounting soap boxes where the opportunity presented itself, even collecting signa tures on petitions and soliciting donations to buy ambulances or medical supplies


One Man's Education


in the hope that the rebellion would be short-lived and end in victory for the Re public. But once it changed its character from that of a rebellion to a war of inva sion by thousands of Moorish, German, and Italian troops, I felt that "shaking a can" for donations or getting a petition signed was no longer strong enough for me. Once the Republic had opened its arms and accepted the International Brigade to defend its cause, all other things seemed to fade into the background. A serious wrong had to be corrected. Aside from the need to halt the Fascist drive across Europe and Northern Africa, we were repelled by our own country's inaction in refusing to help the embattled Loyalists and by its appalling attempts to prevent other countries from going to Spain's aid as well. What better way than fighting alongside Spanish Loyalists to tell the politicians in our country how wrong they were, and what better way to tell the Spanish people that all Americans did not agree with Roosevelt's Neutrality Act? In fact, the common bond that brought the 40,000 internationals to Spain was a desire to fight fascism on the field of battle. Whatever individual considerations or personal motives there might have been, these were, above all, politically moti vated combatants. In the beginning I think I assumed that was true, but in the end I knew it as fact, tested and confirmed by the trials of combat. I do not know now whether I was aware that I was placing my life on the line, as, of course, I was. But I, and others like me, believed it was this type of strug gle that we were committed to. For the Italian and German workers, it was far too late for the ballot box to do them any good. The Spanish had tried the ballot box, but the Fascists chose to reverse the people's will with bullets. The issues would have to be resolved with bullets before ballots would ever again have meaning. We were warned before departing across the Atlantic that British, French, and U.S. intelligence were intensifying their efforts to prevent volunteers from reach ing Republican Spain. Thus we were cautioned to stay alert. O n shipboard, we minimized our association with each other as a group for reasons of secrecy and security and maintained a low profile as passengers and tourists. We were none theless greeted on arrival in France by a notice placed prominently on a bulletin board. It acknowledged, in effect, that there were people on board whose destina tion was Spain. Because travel to Spain was both illegal and dangerous, the notice advised those passengers that they would do well to change their minds and accept the offer of a free trip home on board the same vessel. Once in France, we relied on friends of Republican Spain to take care of our needs and guide us safely across their country to the Spanish border. Nazi and Fascist leaders had agents throughout France that made traveling to Spain both difficult and dangerous. Groups detected by pro-Franco sympathizers in the French police department had been jailed, some for thirty days or more. At the border we relied on experienced mountain men who led our group across streams of ice-cold water during the dark hours of the night. We walked at times as if on eggshells for fear that hostile border guards would detect us or even shoot at us. Finally, at dawn one morning we reached Spanish soil on the other side of the French border. In Spain, I, and most others, began a long learning process about politics, about causes, about ourselves, and about our commitment. As we were assimilated with other internationals, we cemented bonds between us and the cause we all believed


Harvard Educational Review

in. Numerous anti-Fascist German members of the Thaelmann Brigade told me how some had escaped from concentration camps and traveled with forged papers to Spain. To me, that was a lesson in commitment. There were other groups with similar experiences of dodging hostile border guards and overcoming language barriers to arrive in Spain, where, like the Germans, they could continue the fight against fascism. These men had already lived among and fought the Fascists in their own countries. They knew fascism firsthand. It was now their time to settle a score for what the Fascists had done to them and to their countries. Aside from their firsthand knowledge of the enemy, they were far more experienced than many of us Americans in the use of weapons. At times I could not help but feel awed by their presence. We Americans had traveled with safety, ease, and comfort compared to most of the Europeans. They taught me a lesson that, if commitment is strong enough, barriers will be overcome. They had proven that fact. It was also remarkable to see the learning that took place in mutual relation ships. Everywhere the internationals went the Spanish people celebrated their ar rival. They wanted to talk to us, to give us small insights into their lives, to tell us how much they appreciated our presence in their country and how much they hoped to accomplish when the war was over. Our volunteers were a disciplined group of people, and the Spaniards recognized this asset and quickly picked up the idea that if discipline helped the volunteers to fight better, it would also assist the Spanish. As soldiers we learned that the most important thing was to stay alive so that we could continue destroying the enemy. We were somewhat handicapped, how ever, when it came to training. Most of our instructors had been at the front lines for only a short time; the most they could teach us was how to dig a machine gun pit or a trench, how to throw a grenade, or how to take cover when we heard the sound of an airplane. We had two important weapons, the Maxim water-cooled heavy machine gun and our bolt-action, single-shot rifle, and, like most of the other Americans, I had never fired anything other than a BB gun. With only a couple of weeks of training, we had to learn how to survive at the front while up holding our end of responsibility. In a couple of weeks of training, we mastered the art of breaking down the gun, putting it back together again, aiming it, and loading it, but ammunition was not easy to come by, so we did all this without firing one live round of ammunition. The lack of good training resulted in big cas ualties for our side in the early stages of the war. If anyone earned our respect and admiration during this struggle, it was the Russians. The Republican government had sufficient gold reserves to buy large amounts of defense weapons, but only the Russians were willing to sell them arms and risk the lives of their seamen in transporting the cargoes to Spanish ports. Aside from the Maxim machine guns, they also sent Spain their rifles. Engraved on each rifle was the hammer and sickle and the date the rifle was made mine said 1936. The Maxim machine gun, with its carriage and wheels, was the very same model in vogue in 1917 when the Bolsheviks stormed the Czar's Winter Pal ace in Petrograd. In many Russian revolutionary photos the Maxim was displayed

Exiled German Communist party members organized the Thaelmann Brigade, named after their leader Ernest Thaelmann, who was at that time confined in a Nazi concentration camp.


One Man's Education


prominently. While it proved to be clumsy and difficult to haul over rough terrain, it was the Maxim that stymied many a Fascist attack. Without their help we might have been reduced to throwing stones at the Fascists. That's why we spoke highly of the Russians. From this I learned that "internationalism" was at its best when it contributed where it would do the most good, which in this case was supplying arms for the fight. This was the kind of action that surpassed all the rhetorical plat itudes that so many were giving to Spain. At that time, rhetoric was no substitute for bullets. It was a shocker for me when I learned of serious political disagreements among some of the groups that constituted the Popular Front. M y belief that everyone supposedly commited to the Republic had submerged their differences to win the war was not so. The young Republic had to face many challenges, from the front and from the rear. In the population of the Republican ranks were many people who would have been more at home had they crawled over to the Fascist lines. Some were opportunists and wavering volunteers whose constant sniping against the Republican government was designed to destroy morale and undermine the war effort. Damaging, too, were some groups of Spanish anarchists who insisted that the government first proclaim Catalonia an autonomous nation before they would take on the job of waging war against Franco. With the threat of fascism breathing down their necks and almost half of Spain under Franco's control, this sizable group insisted, "You guarantee us our revolution, then we'll join you in yours." Thankfully, other groups with unsolved political problems subjugated their special interests for the good of the whole. In addition, the membership and leadership of trade unions were actively taking part in every level of government and industry and in the direction and administration of the war. This was an un usual phenomenon. Where else would the working-class trade unions have so strong a part in running the government? But what of the personal relationships one builds in time of stress and anger? Here were thousands of men and women in a foreign country. Most of us had to adapt to a new language and a new culture, but, most importantly, we had to deal with each other in the open with full trust. We ate the same food, used the same military equipment, slept in the same trenches and foxholes, and had the same en emy. I saw the Spaniards at first questioning why Americans, whom they assumed to live lives of plenty, would suddenly give up everything to come to Spain to help defeat Franco and give the Spaniard back his Republic. We explained to them that the Hollywood version of life in the United States was not our way of life, that many of us lived in poverty, and that the enemy was not just Franco, the local villain, but fascism an international sickness that we were attacking and trying to defeat in Spain. Once the Spanish recognized this, they felt a new upsurge in pride, knowing that they were making not just a local contribution but a global one as well. We internationals became more to the Spanish than rifle bearers. They saw in us discipline, something that was vitally needed to inflict punishment on the en emy. At first they did not believe in digging foxholes or trenches. "Holes are made for rats," one Spaniard told me. "We are not rats. Let the Fascists crawl into the holes." As a result of this misguided philosophy, many Spanish soldiers were killed charging into the enemy who lay concealed and protected. Our discipline rubbed


Harvard Educational Review

off on many of the Spanish soldiers, as did our conviction that it was better to stay protected in foxholes and trenches if we were to tackle the enemy again and again. The Spanish saw that we cared about them enough to come many miles across many barriers to assist in defeating our common enemy. It was this facet of our relationship that inspired the Spanish people to accept us as true brothers and sis ters. On September 21, 1938, Juan Negrin, the premier of Republican Spain, spoke before the League of Nations and submitted a petition calling for a commission to supervise the withdrawal of all foreign volunteers. It was Negrin's hope that such a move would force Franco to remove his foreign troops from Spain. Franco never did follow suit, nor did the League of Nations demand he do so. Negrin or dered the internationals to leave. A couple of weeks after we were ordered out of the trenches to be sent home that is, those who still had a home country to go to a parade such as Spain will never see again took place in the city of Barcelona. Thousands of Spanish men, women, and children lined the streets to say thank you and farewell as we paraded by. They showered us with flowers and hugs and kisses. On their faces I could see the expression of their love for us, but I also knew that unless a miracle occurred quickly they were doomed. Many of us marched with tears in our eyes. So many lessons remain with me from my eighteen months in Spain. Lessons pop up in my daily life, but I guess the one that I want to conclude with is that the struggle, the "good fight," still goes on. At no time must any of my Comrades or I forget that when Franco conducted his "holy crusade" in Spain he did so to "save Spain from Communism." Six months after the war ended in Spain, Hitler commenced his bloodbath in Europe. In the years that he prepared his murderous aggression, he proclaimed that his goal was to save the world from Bolshevism. Before his crusade against Bolshevism was brought to an end, tens of millions were slaughtered. Today our nerves are being rattled with similar themes. The youth of the United States and the people of Central America are slowly being edged toward invasion and war in that impoverished region of the world in order "to save Cen tral America from Communism." Thus speaks our president. For me, the lesson from the Spanish Civil War has to be that now is the time for all those who will no longer accept the logic of Franco and Hitler to become committed to preserving our planet from those who are forever chasing phantoms and who one day may believe their own propaganda and press the button that will turn our world into one fiery ball. It will be too late then to do anything.


This material has been reprinted with permission of the Harvard Educational Review for personal use only. Any other use, print or electronic, will require written permission from the Review. For more information, please visit or call 1-617-495-3432. Copyright by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. The Harvard Educational Review is an imprint of the Harvard Education Publishing Group, publishers of the Harvard Education Letter and books under the imprint Harvard Education Press. HEPGs editorial offices are located at 8 Story Street, First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138, tel. 617-495-3432, or email to