When her older brother left for college, our next oldest, Adelaide, did not take long to presume ownership of the second family car. She claimed it not only for driving purposes but also for its advertising potential. One day, while her parents were off in Malaga, Spain (the birthplace of Picasso), Adelaide planted her first ever bumper sticker: “Bernie 2016.”
Really? A Socialist parked in our driveway?
Of course, this begs the question: just how exactly is Bernie Sanders an old-order Socialist? Similarly, why do people still keep accusing Obama of Marxism? Or why do some people persist in decrying creation care advocates (Christian environmentalists) as communists? Labeling others has a way of backfiring on people. Robynn and I recently returned from Spain and I believe I have found a rejoinder: I am not a Socialist, Marxist, or Communist; instead, I have been designated “PAF.”
In 1936, General Francisco Franco attempted a coup d’etat to overthrow the duly elected Republican government. The Civil War that ensued for the next three years was brutal. Franco was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Nazi Germany tested out new aircraft and new aerial tactics on Spain’s civilian population. The most notorious massacre was the Guernica bombing, immortalized in Picasso’s painting. As Franco’s forces gained more and more territory, they engaged in limpieza, or cleansing. Between 130,000 to 200,000 Spaniards were executed, with particular targets made of schoolteachers, Basques, and Protestant ministers, although it should be noted that the opposing forces, called Loyalists or Republicans, also executed many. By March 1939, Franco controlled all of Spain and embarked on a dictatorship which would last until his death in 1975. In a tragic side note, the first prisoners to die in a Nazi concentration camp were the 5,000 loyalist Spaniards deported to Mauthausen after the Spanish Civil War.
Spain’s neighbor, France, chose to remain neutral towards the Spanish Civil War, as did most of Europe, except of course for fascist Germany and Italy. The Soviet Union however chose to support the Republicans. They sent equipment, aircraft, and perhaps 7,000 trained personnel. Seven thousand wasn’t a large number, but many of the Soviet mercenaries were officers, or trained by experience in WWI. The Soviets had an undue influence. Other nations responded unofficially in support of what became known as the International Brigades. For example, Churchill welcomed the British mercenaries home after the war, playfully calling them “armed tourists.” Canadian fighters were part of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. A monument to the “Mac Paps,” as they were known, was unveiled in Ottawa in 2001. Meanwhile, the Americans formed up the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Approximately 2,800 recruits scoured the Army Surplus stores of New York City, shipped off on cattle steamers to France, and then crossed into Spain for training in close-order drill. Robert Merriman, their most eminent commander, was reportedly the basis for Hemingway’s character, Robert Jordan, in the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Now, yes, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, as did the Anarchists, had a role in the duly formed Republican government of Spain, albeit a minority role. And yes, Soviet officers had a more visible role in the foreign support of the Republicans. And yes, Merriman had been a professor of economics at the University of California. And yes, the politics of Merriman and many of the Abraham Lincolns were liberal when they first made the decision to join up for the Republican cause. And yes, everyone called everyone else camarada, comrade. And yes, every brigade had an appointed commissar to fuel the enthusiasm and explain to the mercenaries “why we are fighting.” (The pay of one to five pesetas a day was hardly incentivizing.) Did that make the surviving members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who returned to the States, communists? The US Army thought so.
In September 1939, just four months after many wounded Abraham Lincolns disembarked in New York harbor, Hitler invaded Poland. It wouldn’t be long before American young men shipped off en masse to Europe. It wouldn’t be long before the United States was officially allied with the Soviet Union. Fighting fascists became the national passion. Many veterans of the Spanish Civil War volunteered. “Send us back to Europe,” they told FDR. “We were firing on Germans and Italians when the rest of you were lukewarm isolationists.” The Army enlisted them, but distrusted them, shuttling them off to inconsequential jobs, certainly far away from any classified information. The Army never outwardly labeled them “Communist sympathizers;” that accusation would wait for the McCarthy blacklists. Instead the Abraham Lincolns were designated “PAF,” which stood, believe it or not, for “Prematurely Anti-Fascist.”
In a matter of months, everyone in the United States would become Anti-Fascist—except for maybe Charles Lindbergh—but because the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade had jumped the gun on standing up for their ideals, they were isolated as potential Communists. If I end up voting against a Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz) presidency in November 2016, it’s not that I’m a Socialist; it’s just that I’m anti-fascist.
And feel free to check the calendar date today: I may be premature . . . but then so apparently was the original Republican, Abe Lincoln himself, I suppose.
-Gary W. Lloyd
ADDED BONUS: Read how Hemingway ironically deals with the labels: Communist, anti-fascist, Republican. In an early passage from For Whom the Bell Tolls, the young Spanish woman, Maria, questions American Robert Jordan. (The other character in this discussion is "the woman," Pilar, the old Spanish Republican partisan.) Maria asks Jordan:
"Are you a Communist?"
"No I am an anti-fascist."
"For a long time?"
"Since I have understood fascism."
"How long is that?"
"For nearly ten years."
"That is not much time," the woman said. "I have been a Republican for twenty years."
"My father was also a Republican all his life. Also my grandfather," Robert Jordan said.
"In what country?"
"The United States."
"Did they shoot them?" the woman asked.
" Qué va," Maria said. "The United States is a country of Republicans. They don't shoot you for being a Republican there."
"All the same it is a good thing to have a grandfather who was a Republican," the woman said. "It shows good blood."
"My grandfather was on the Republican national committee," Robert Jordan said. That impressed even Maria.
"And is thy father still active in the Republic?" Pilar asked.
"No. He is dead."
"Can one ask how he died?"
"He shot himself."
"To avoid being tortured?" the woman asked.
"Yes," Robert Jordan said. "To avoid being tortured."