Lincoln Brigade Memorial

by Michael Leon


Madison, Wisconsin. Amid the national flag waving as the War on Terrorism continues its bloody toll, on this idyllic Monday morning about 80 people gathered in James Madison park here to honor the efforts and sacrifices for justice made by 45,000 freedom fighters who during the Spanish civil war fought the fascist military insurrection led by its dictator general, Francisco Franco.

Among the 45,000 were 2,800 men and women from the United States, including some 90 disenfranchised African-Americans, who formed what was later called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The Wisconsin Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade sponsored this Memorial Day celebration honoring Madison’s local hero, Abraham Lincoln Brigade veteran Clarence Kailin, and his comrades by “publicly addressing the continuous, on-going struggle to establish and maintain full, whole, and complete democracy–of the People, by the People, for the People–at home and abroad.”

At the Memorial Day event, speakers who fought in such conflicts as the Korean, Vietnam and the Spanish Civil war opined that American foreign has rarely been on the side of democratic forces in world affairs–an assessment so at variance with the pieties expressed at Memorial Day services across the country that one cannot help but ruminate on the nature of these people celebrating the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

What type of person would travel across the world to fight for democracy and liberty in the face of western rejection back then? Why would someone identify with the victims of the American military right now?

The answer to both questions is the very same type of person–a liberty-loving democrat.

Crystallizing its abandonment of the Spanish Republic during the civil war that lasted from 1936 to 1939 leading to the fascist victory, the United States officially recognized the government of Francisco Franco right after World War II. The enumeration of serial crimes of American-supported, anti-democratic forces between then and now is long and dishonorable. An unfortunate fact of history that is all the more ironic as President Bush at a Memorial service in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France today cast the War on Terrorism in the “same, stark moral terms (ABC News)” used to describe the “war on fascism” some 60 years ago.

“If Memorial Day is to have any meaning and content whatsoever, it should not simply and solely be burgers on the grill, or even worse some stars-and-stripes patriotic praise for the empire…We should be honoring those who fought for freedom, for democracy, and against fascism. Consider the ‘pre-mature’ anti-fascists (those fighting for the Spanish Republic) who gathered from all over the world to fight the beast at that time. The continuities today all over the world are stark once you cut through the fog and the globaloney,” said Allen Ruff, a member of Jews for Equal Justice.

Clarence Kailin, age 87, is a surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and still tirelessly works for peace and justice. “Our fight for economic and social justice, for peace and freedom is a struggle that is just as important today as it was in 1937 and 1938,” said Kailin describing what the Memorial Day event represents. “This will be more than memories of the past. Our immediate fight must be against our own militarism and for the struggle for peace and equality.”

Asked why he wasn’t out attending a conventional parade or waving an American flag, Kailin answered, “We’re waving our own flag today. The destruction of the World Trade towers was the best opportunity that could happen to Bush. So he could use it as a scare tactic–‘the world is full of terrorism and we have to go after it. And we will lose a few civil liberties along the way, but we have to do this and have a bigger military budget.’ Our whole foreign policy is based on solving things by force and violence.”

“We’re very wealthy here. But at least one half of the world is living on a dollar or two a day; it’s a terrible situation. In Iraq, we have undermined the whole structure there. A half a million children there have died–all absolutely unnecessary. We won’t give up the fight. This is simply a military government (in Washington) and we are going to pay a hell of a price if we don’t find a way to put a stop to it.”

Following is the text from which Mr. Kailin read as the opening speaker at the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade event:


“One month ago, on April 28, I was in New York with my daughter, Julie. We attended the annual affair of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade held at New York University. This was in celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Volunteers for Liberty. There were 900 people there, and among others, we heard the San Francisco Mime Troupe who sang many songs from the Spanish Civil War. That was the emotional high point of the day.

However, we were there for more than memories. At this time of international crisis, we find an urgent need to carry on the spirit of struggle in which we, along with the Spanish people, were involved sixty some years ago when fascism was threatening the world, when Spain was the only country to stand up to Hitler, and when the democracies betrayed the Spanish Republic, giving Hitler and Mussolini everything they wanted. This was when the International Brigades were formed. Spain and the Volunteers made that period one of the most unusual and unique in history.

Today, with the United States having become the dominant world power and seeking to extend its empire to every part of the globe, the danger is much greater than at any other time. Almost total control of information by the monopolized news media has made our work that much more difficult.

I want to quote from the latest edition of The Progressive magazine. This is in Matt Rothschild’s column. He quotes from Tariq Ali, an editor of the New Left Review. In the prologue of his latest book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, he (Ali) criticizes our ‘increasingly parochial culture that celebrates the virtues of ignorance, promotes a cult of stupidity, and extols the present as a process without an alternative.’

‘The virtual outlawing of history by the dominant culture has reduced the process of democracy to farce. The result is a mishmash of cynicism, despair and escapism. This is precisely an environment designed to nurture irrationalisms of every sort. Over the last fifty years, religious revivalism with a political edge has flourished in many different cultures. Nor is the process finished. A major cause is the fact that all other exit routes have been sealed off by the mother of all fundamentalism: American imperialism.’

American capitalism is the common denominator, the main reason why we want to encourage the many single-issue organizations in this area to come together in common cause–but without asking them to giving up their own important work. … This is the work of lifetime. But I always see the fact that we outnumber them by a thousand to one. So one should never despair. So, again, seeing you here tells me that in the long run the people can win.

(clinched fist in the air) Salud, everyone!”

Among the many speakers following Mr. Kailin was a representative of the Creative People’s Resistance and the Cities for People organizing a protest and other action June 15, 16 to the US Conference of Mayors to be held in Madison, Wisconsin from June 13 – 18.

Mike Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His work has appeared nationally in In These Times, The Progressive and CounterPunch. He can be reached at maleon@terracom.net


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