How the Left Distorts History to Inspire New Generations of Activists
3. The Spanish Civil War
For decades, the left wing in America has spread the myth about the Spanish Republic’s fight against fascism that started in 1936, and the decision of heroic volunteers to fight on its behalf. Especially singled out are the Americans who went to volunteer in that fight, who belonged to what they called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was actually a small battalion, the size of which they exaggerated purposefully in order to make themselves appear as more important than they actually were.
The old pro-Communists have their own falsified history to explain that event. That too has been long discredited, especially by the historian Stanley Payne, in books such as his recent The Spanish Civil War and in The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism.
The truth about the Lincoln Battalion can be found in Cecil Eby’s important yet neglected book, Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. The role played by the Soviet Union in Spain can be understood in the book Mary Habeck and I wrote, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War. Reviewing it for The Weekly Standard, Stephen Schwartz wrote: “It will effect a complete overturn in historical perceptions of the twentieth-century Left.”
No matter. The left continues to teach its false history to a new generation. In the past two weeks, an article by William Loren Katz appeared on the website of the Zinn Education Project, which is devoted to spreading the word of the most popular leftist defiler of the truth, the late Howard Zinn. His column also appeared on the Huffington Post and other websites. According to Katz, the volunteers had one mission:
By November the volunteer rush became a torrent: An estimated 40,000 men and women from 53 nations left home to defend the Republic. For the only time in history, a volunteer force of men and women from all over the world came together to fight for an ideal: democracy. The volunteers brought a message that ordinary people could resist fascist militarism
In the United States some 2,800 young men and women of different races and backgrounds formed the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” Seamen and students, farmers and professors, they hoped that their bravery could turn the tide, or at last alert the world to the fascist drive for world domination. Most made their way to Spain illegally as “tourists” visiting France.
The truth: what they were joining was a Comintern army, put together by the NKVD’s international apparatus and the Communist International, and controlled and run by Stalin.
Rather than the mythical “good war” depicted by Katz and the propagandists, it was put together to help Spain fall under Soviet control, and to put into power a regime that would be the model for the post-World War II “people’s democracies” and that would be given limited military aid until such time as Britain and France might change their policy and unite with the Soviets in a new world alliance.
You will not find anywhere in Katz’s article -- which continually heralds the volunteers’ anti-fascism -- that during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, their Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade adopted the slogan “The Yanks are Not Coming!” Or that its leaders gave speeches condemning the warmongering of Franklin Roosevelt and the British, and depicted Nazi Germany as a benign power that was not a threat to the Western nations. Of course, their anti-fascism returned as soon as Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and Stalin again demanded an overnight change in the party line.
The left continues to present its ideologically determined view of the past as a tool to inspire today’s naïve and uneducated young activists, many of them taught these falsehoods by leftist professors at major universities. Their project is to mine history for heroes and martyrs, even if the heroes they praise turn out to be not heroes at all, and their martyrs actually guilty. Those of us who respect the truth have an obligation not to leave history to them.