Communists get together. Washington, D.C., Feb. 12. Americans, all of whom fought and many wounded while fighting for the Loyalists in Spain, met today in Washington at the First National Conference of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, left to right: Francis J. Gorman, President of the United Textile Workers of America; Lieut. Robert Raven, wounded and blinded in the Spanish War; and Commander Paul Burns of Boston Commander of the Lincoln Brigade, 2/12/38
George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia –
the only worthwhile book to come out of the Spanish Civil War writes – The men who were well enough to stand had moved across the carriage to cheer the Italians as they went past. A crutch waved out of the window; bandaged forearms made the Red Salute. It was like an allegorical picture of war; the trainload of fresh men gliding proudly up the line, the maimed men sliding slowly down, and all the while the guns on the open trucks making one’s heart leap as guns always do, and reviving that pernicious feeling, so difficult to get rid of, that war is glorious after all.
He had gone to the war on the side of the left knowing that, When I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.
Like so many who fought he had been too young to serve in the First World War
but soon learned what service in an army really amounted to, The human louse somewhat resembles a tiny lobster, and he lives chiefly in your trousers. Short of burning all your clothes there is no known way of getting rid of him. Down the seams of your trousers he lays his glittering white eggs, like tiny grains of rice, which hatch out and breed families of their own at horrible speed. I think pacifists might find it helpful to illustrate their pamphlets with enlarged photographs of lice. Glory of war indeed! In war all solderies are lousy, at the least when it is warm enough. The men that fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae – every one of them had lice crawling over his testicles.
Where hitherto, the rights and wrongs had seemed so beautifully simple,
he came to realize that, Except for the small revolutionary groups which exist in all countries, the whole world was determined upon preventing revolution in Spain. In particular the Communist Party, with Soviet Russia behind it, had thrown its whole weight against the revolution. It was the Communist thesis that revolution at this stage would be fatal and that what was to be aimed at in Spain was not workers’ control, but bourgeois democracy. It hardly needs pointing out why ‘liberal’ capitalist opinion took the same line.
At least Orwell became wise, after having been shot – something that might have improved more Abraham Lincoln Brigade members, and abandoned the left (without embracing the right) and went on to be one of few voices of sanity in the 20th century.
With typical American enthusiasm – which is so often steered by something unimaginable to the individual enthusiasts – the Abraham Lincoln Brigades formed up and marched off to Spain full of people who thought Utopia was right around the corner. It wasn’t but those with the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in their minds simultaneously – and accepting both of them – remained under the red banner. All of their political thinking vitiated in the same way, they could foresee the future only that coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts could be ignored when unwelcome. These same people continued in the Communist Party in the United States and only when that was finally suppressed as an effective tool did they proceed to subvert the political mainstream and take over first the left-wing of a major party, then the whole party and finally dominate the political discourse of the nation.
Like Orwell we don’t think they offer any more or better solutions than the right but it is somehow necessary that the terms of the national discourse be defined by people without so much bias. To that end we offer these thoughts on the Spanish Civil War, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the CPUSA in order that the reader can understand that the war was not won by the forces of fascism and the latter two teeter between being dilettantism and danger to every idea of human liberty enshrined by our founders based on 2,000 years of the western intellectual tradition.
War is beautiful: an American ambulance driver in the Spanish Civil War New York: New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co., c 2008 James Neugass; edited and with an introduction by Peter N. Carroll and Peter Glazer Spain History Civil War, 1936-1939 Personal narratives, American Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xviii, 314 p.: ill., facsims., map, ports.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 309). Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
In 1937, James Neugass, a poet and novelist praised in the New York Times, joined 2,800 other passionate young Americans who traveled to Spain as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade — an unlikely mix of artists, journalists, industrial workers, and intellectuals united in their desire to combat European fascism.
Although rumors persisted over the years that Neugass had written a memoir, the manuscript of War Is Beautiful, a nuanced and deeply poetic chronicle of his service as an ambulance driver, did not come to light for sixty years, until a bookseller discovered it among papers in a New England house once occupied by the radical critic and editor Max Eastman. The memoir combines fast-paced accounts of darting onto battlefields to pick up the wounded with elegiac renderings of days spent “on alert” in an ever-changing series of sharply observed Spanish towns, enduring that most difficult of wartime activities: waiting.
Published now for the first time, War Is Beautiful is poised to take its place alongside works by Erich Maria Remarque, Irène Némirovsky, Wilfred Owen, and George Orwell as a transcendent contemporaneous rendering of wartime life. It includes some of Neugass’s own photos taken while in Spain.
Born in New Orleans, James Neugass attended Yale, Harvard, and Oxford and worked as a book reviewer, shoe salesman, social worker, and fencing coach before shipping off to Spain. His novel Rain of Ashes was accepted for publication shortly before his death in 1949 of a heart attack in the Sheridan Square subway station. Peter N. Carroll is the board chair of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives and the author of The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Peter Glazer is an associate professor of theater, dance, and performance studies at UC Berkeley and a member of ALBA’s Board. Both live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
William G. Ryan, of Milwaukee today told the Dies Committee that Communist Party members regard it as a generally accepted fact that the American Youth Congress is controlled by the Communist Party. Ryan, a former member of the Communist Party, said that he served 17 months with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain and then ‘escaped’