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Review of Sarah Watling’s Tomorrow Perhaps the Future

The cover of Sarah's Watling's Tomorrow Perhaps the Future, with Gerdaa Taro's famous photograph of a kneeling Republican militiawoman aiming a pistol

‘We English,’ Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin allegedly remarked, following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, ‘hate fascism, but we loathe bolshevism as much. So, if there is somewhere where fascists and bolsheviks can kill each other off, so much the better.’ Initially, many in Britain probably agreed with Baldwin’s comment, seeing no reason to be drawn into another country’s civil war. However, a sizeable minority saw things very differently, believing that the conflict was not just a civil war, but part of an ongoing struggle between democracy and fascism. To them Spain became a rallying cry and over the course of the war many thousands of people from around the world volunteered to go. The majority fought in the Communist controlled International Brigades, but others went to report on the conflict, as part of ‘fact-finding missions’ or simply to show their support for the Spanish government’s cause …

My review of Sarah Watling‘s study of ‘writers and rebels’ in the Spanish Civil War appears in The Spectator.

Giles Tremlett’s The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War.

On 12 November, 2020 I joined Giles for an online discussion and virtual launch of Giles Tremlett‘s new study of the International Brigades, hosted by the IBMT and Marx Memorial Library. You can listen to the discussion here.

My review of the book appears in the latest edition of The Spectator. I thought it an engaging read and a well-researched, comprehensive work of scholarship. Based on a mass of primary research, especially the RGASPI material in Moscow, he’s written a very even-handed, ‘warts and all’ account. And his conclusion is, I think a fair one:

‘There was nothing perfect about the brigaders and attempts to paint them as 20th century saints only serve to highlight their failings. These were (mostly) men at war. They killed and were killed. Some fought bravely, others did not. Some were noble and brave in their actions, others were cruel, cowardly or callous. Some fought for an ideal, others for adventure. And, for some, those ideals would take them on a journey of oppression that placed them closer, in their behaviour and blind defence of Stalinist communism, to the fascists whom they declared as their enemies than to the democratic Republic that they defended. All fought, however, against the most destructive and evil force unleashed by 20th century Europe’s violent politics and history. As Bernard Knox – by then a distinguished Classics professor at Yale – pointed out, there could be nothing ‘premature’ about anti-fascism.’

Giles Tremlett, The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War. London: Bloomsbury, 2020, p. 528.

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