Introduction to the pamphlet
Kevin Doherty, Secretary of Belfast and District Trades Union Council
Events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World
War rightly received massive media coverage throughout 2005. Never must
the horrors of the Nazi regime in Germany, their Fascist allies across Europe, and
the brutal imperial Japan, be forgotten.
Nor should we ever forget the circumstances in which the Fascists came to
power, who supported them, and who were the first to oppose them.
In the 1920s and 30s the rich and powerful western powers saw Fascism as a
convenient bulwark against the growth in support for left wing ideas and
Communist parties. They also hoped that the Fascist powers would be a tool to
smash the first workers state, the USSR. Many Western corporations had no
problem doing business with the Fascists including, Ford, IBM, Standard Oil
(now Exxon), DuPont, Chase Manhattan, General Motors.
But the Fascist powers were not content to be simply a tool directed against
Communism. They had aspirations to be 'Great Powers' as well. Inevitably the
hunger of the Fascist machine for natural resources led it into conflict with the
Western Powers and their colonies.
September 1939 is commonly regarded as the beginning of World War 2 when
the British and French Governments declared war on Germany for invading
Poland. However resistance to Fascist expansion had been taking place
throughout the 1930s without the assistance of the so-called Great Western
Powers. The struggle against the Fascism became an international affair not in
1939, but during the Spanish Civil War 1936-39.
On the 17th July 1936 Spanish military officers launched a coup against the
democratically elected left-of-centre government of the Spanish Second Republic.
The military rebels, under General Franco were backed by the aristocracy, the
Church, wealthy landowners, industrialists and financiers who were opposed to
the governments limited social reforms. The Spanish people armed themselves to
defend their government and the civil war began.
When Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided assistance for Franco's forces
the real character of the military rising was exposed. Many correctly saw
Franco's coup as part of the international spread of Fascism and feared that if
Madrid fell Paris and London would be next.
However the governments of Britain, France and the United States, operating
a policy of appeasement of Fascism, declared neutrality, leaving the USSR as the
main supporter of the democratic Spanish Republic.
Outraged by the Western Powers betrayal of the Spanish democracy support
groups sprang up across the world to raise money, food, medical supplies and arms
for the Spanish people. Thousands of volunteers went to Spain to fight with the
International Brigade or to serve as doctors and nurses for the Republic.
Approximately 320 people from the island of Ireland (78 of whom originated
from Northern Ireland) went to fight with the working people of Spain against
Fascism. Coming from both sections of the community here, these International
Brigadistas recognised the perils of the growth of Fascism and selflessly risked
their lives trying to halt it. 82 of them made the ultimate sacrifice (approx. 20 of
them from N.I.) and fell on Spanish soil.
The Spanish Republic was eventually crushed in April 1939 under the weight
of the Fascist army rebels with unlimited support from Germany and Italy, and
the blockade imposed by Britain, France and the United States. Franco then
unleashed a bloody terror on his people to secure his power.
Five months later the British and French Governments were forced to declare
war on Germany.
In 2005, as there was little or no mention of Spain and the heroic efforts of the
International Brigades in any of the numerous articles and programmes
commemorating the struggle against the Fascist Powers during the Second World
War, the Belfast and District Trades Union Council (B&DTUC) decided to
resurrect this important part of working people's history.
Revisiting this period of our history takes on an added significance because the
Irish people who joined the International Brigades, provided medical support or
other assistance to the Spanish Republic came from both of the main traditions
on the Island. They united in a common cause in the interests of people in what
was then regarded as a distant land.
With the support of the Community Relations Council (CRC) the B&DTUC
commissioned this pamphlet and, along with the Messines Association, organised
a number of public education seminars, to raise awareness of who these Irish
International Brigadistas were, what motivated them to volunteer, and why their
struggle needs to be remembered today given the resurgence of intolerance,
injustice and anti-democratic forces throughout the world.
In 2005 the B&DTUC along with a number of individuals from the arts
community, academia, wider trades union and community movement, came together
with the aim of erecting a fitting piece of art in Belfast to commemorate the
International Brigadistas. Michael O'Riordan, International Brigade veteran, was at
the first meeting of this group which became the International Brigades
Commemoration Committee. Unfortunately Michael passed away in 2006, but he will
be remembered along with his comrades of the XV International Brigade at the
unveiling of the sculpture in Writers Square, Donegall Street, on 13th October 2007.
The B&DTUC wish to thank the CRC and the speakers who addressed the
public seminars, John Gray, Joe Bowers, Ciaran Crossey, Harry Donaghy, Jimmy
McDermott, Manus O'Riordan, Mick O'Reilly, and International Brigade
Veteran Bob Doyle.
The B&DTUC also wish to thank Ciaran Crossey the author of this excellent
pamphlet who took time to write this piece while working on his forthcoming
comprehensive work examining the Irish who fought in the Spanish Civil War.
Through this pamphlet, discussions and other events we hope to enhance
communication and understanding of our common history.
It is also important to recall the words of Santayana, "Those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Kevin Doherty B&DTUC, October 2007
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