Saturday, March 15, 2014

From The Marxist Archives -The Revolutionary History Journal-Georges Kopp and the POUM Militia



I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was a teenager. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.

Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class revolutions after the Russian revolution Spain showed the most promise of success. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted that the political class consciousness of the Spanish proletariat at that time was higher than that of the Russian proletariat in 1917. Yet it failed in Spain. Trotsky's writings on this period represent a provocative and thoughtful approach to an understanding of the causes of that failure. Moreover, with all proper historical proportions considered, his analysis has continuing value as the international working class struggles against the seemingly one-sided class war being waged by the international bourgeoisie today.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Trotsky's complication of articles, letters, pamphlets, etc. which make up the volume reviewed here is an exception. Trotsky was actively trying to intervene in the unfolding events in order to present a program of socialist revolution that most of the active forces on the Republican side were fighting, or believed they were fighting for. Thus, Trotsky's analysis brings a breath of fresh air to the historical debate. That in the end Trotsky could not organize the necessary cadres to carry out his program or meaningfully impact the unfolding events in Spain is one of the ultimate tragedies of that revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky had a damn good idea of what forces were acting as a roadblock to revolution. He also had a strategic conception of the road to victory. And that most definitely was not through the Popular Front.

The central question Trotsky addresses throughout the whole period under review here was the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the proletarian forces. That premise entailed, in short, a view that the objective conditions for the success of a socialist program for society had ripened. Nevertheless, until that time, despite several revolutionary upheavals elsewhere, the international working class had not been successful anywhere except in backward Russia. Trotsky thus argued that it was necessary to focus on the question of forging the missing element of revolutionary leadership that would assure victory or at least put up a fight to the finish.

This underlying premise was the continuation of an analysis that Trotsky developed in earnest in his struggle to fight the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the mid-1920's. The need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution and to extend that revolution internationally was thus not a merely a theoretical question for Trotsky. Spain, moreover, represented a struggle where the best of the various leftist forces were in confusion about how to move forward. Those forces could have profitably heeded Trotsky's advice. I further note that the question of the crisis of revolutionary leadership still remains to be resolved by the international working class.

Trotsky's polemics in this volume are highlighted by the article ‘The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning’, his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937. Those polemics center on the failure of the Party of Marxist Unification (hereafter, POUM) to provide revolutionary leadership. That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. Those conscious mistakes included, but were not limited to, the creation of an unprincipled bloc between the former Left Oppositionists and the former Right Oppositionists (Bukharinites) of Maurin to form the POUM in 1935; political support to the Popular Front including entry into the government coalition by its leader; creation of its own small trade union federation instead of entry in the anarchist led-CNT; creation of its own militia units reflecting a hands-off attitude toward political struggle with other parties; and, fatally, an at best equivocal role in the Barcelona uprising of 1937.

Trotsky had no illusions about the roadblock to revolution of the policies carried out by the old-time Anarchist, Socialist and Communist Parties. Unfortunately the POUM did. Moreover, despite being the most honest revolutionary party in Spain it failed to keep up an intransigent struggle to push the revolution forward. The Trotsky - Andreas Nin (key leader of the POUM and former Left Oppositionist) correspondence in the Appendix makes that problem painfully clear.

The most compelling example of this failure - As a result of the failure of the Communist Party of Germany to oppose the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent decapitation and the defeat of the Austrian working class in 1934 the European workers, especially the younger workers, of the traditional Socialist Parties started to move left. Trotsky observed this situation and told his supporters to intersect that development by an entry, called the ‘French turn’, into those parties. Nin and the Spanish Left Opposition, and later the POUM failed to do that. As a result the Socialist Party youth were recruited to the Communist Party en masse. This accretion formed the basic for its expansion as a party and the key cadre of its notorious security apparatus that would, after the Barcelona uprising, suppress the more left ward organizations. For more such examples of the results of the crisis of leadership in the Spanish Revolution read this book.

Revised-June 19, 2006


Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.

Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.

Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.

The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff. 


Don Bateman

Georges Kopp and the POUM Militia

The following contribution was written especially for this book. Its author, Don Bateman, joined the Labour Party in South Leeds when he left school at the age of 14 in 1934. He grew up in a Socialist-pacifist Independent Labour Party family; his father had been a war resister in the First World War. He joined the ILP early in 1939, and later on became its National Treasurer.
It was in the ILP over 50 years ago that he met George Orwell, John McNair, Ted Fletcher, Bob Edwards and his oldest surviving friend Staff Cottman, who had been Orwell’s staff sergeant in the POUM militia. During the years after the Second World War he took on the responsibility for maintaining contacts between the ILP and the exiled POUM leaders in Paris. It was then that he met Wilebaldo Solano, who during the Spanish Civil War had been head of the JCI (Iberian Communist Youth), the youth wing of the POUM, and later became leader of the POUM in exile and editor of La Batalla.
The ILP tried to help the beleaguered POUM by smuggling duplicators and printing equipment into Spain under the noses of Franco’s agents. An additional hazard was the treacherous conduct of the Stalinists, who had no hesitation about betraying to the Fascists those whom they deemed to be “enemies of the working class”. This enterprise was funded in its entirety by voluntary donations and the willing help of Socialist holiday-makers.
Don Bateman has remained a committed Socialist all his life. He is an honourary life member of his trades council, and of two trade unions, the NGA and NATFHE. He has played an active part on the Executive Committee of the South West Regional TUC, and, when the ILP decided to rejoin the Labour Party, in his local Labour Party. A printer by profession, he has lately retired from lecturing in the technology of printing, and lives in Bristol.
The Spanish Civil War and Revolution produced an infinity of original characters, adventure stories and sparkling literature. It was such a watershed in history that it remains a rich mine for historians to dig into. Official bibliographies reveal over 1500 titles on the subject in the English language alone. The sheer horror of some of the events is almost breath-taking, and there is an abundance of evidence that many of the men who volunteered to go and fight for the Republican cause fared as badly at the hands of Stalinists as many did from Franco.
As the Russian and NKVD grip tightened on all aspects of the Republican government, so did the repression against all other groups increase. The Moscow Trials and the purges in Russia were repeated in the International Brigades, within the Madrid government, and in other areas of Spanish life. After Spain, Heinz Neumann, a leader of the German Communist Party, was deported from Switzerland and executed in Russia without even a trial.
Margarete Buber-Neumann was jailed for having been his wife and having been in Spain. In 1940 she was to be swapped for high-ranking Russians under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. She exchanged a Gulag for Ravensbrück. [1] This was the pattern for most of the German Communists who fought in Spain, and Stalin killed more of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party than did Hitler.
Much of this has been chronicled by emigrés such as Orlov, the leading GPU agent in Spain who defected and wrote in 1953 The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes [2] and Jésus Hernández, Spanish Communist Party Secretary during part of the period and Minister of Information in the Republican Government, who produced La Grande Trahison. [3] As early as 1976 Monty Johnstone wrote in the journal of the Young Communist League that “great harm was done by the way in which at the height of the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union NKVD agents were sent into Spain and carried out measures of repression against honest revolutionaries such as Andrés Nin, the leader of the leftist POUM”. [4]
History is not only written by the victors, but also by the primary losers. The repression of groups such as POUM would have gone almost unnoticed and unrecorded but for Orwell and the ILP’s The New Leader. Homage To Catalonia was published by Secker and Warburg only because of Orwell’s persistence (and his hunger) and the use of Fenner Brockway’s influence with Fred Warburg. Boycotted by ‘the Left’ the first edition did not sell well, it was remaindered and I remember the 1940 Easter Conference of the ILP selling copies off at half price on its bookstall ... which is where I bought my own. It remains the major authentic and popular work recording a unique part of the chronicle of the period. Buttressed by John McNair’s Spanish Diary it carries the story of the May-June 1937 events in Barcelona.
It is an irony of the period that many of those who fought for the POUM did so partly by accident – it happened to be the fighting unit closest to hand and was shorn of the bureaucracy of the International Brigades. Men who went to Spain under their own steam invariably went through France to Barcelona, which was the POUM stronghold. Without theoretical discussion they often joined the first units they met which were fighting Franco, and this was sometimes the POUM militia. Additionally the ILP in London did not hide its recruitment of volunteers, as may be seen in the columns of The New Leader. Under the terms of the Non-Intervention Act, the recruitment of men “for foreign wars” had been banned by law, but men going individually to France or Spain, who called at supplied addresses in those countries, were technically not in breach of British law. In any case many of the British recruits for POUM went from London (under the eyes of the Special Branch, as described by Brockway) before the new law became operative.
The Communist Party recruits for the International Brigade were filleted first for political reliability, and the district Communist Parties were charged with this task. Originally Orwell himself was among the category of men who went to Spain in an individual capacity. Staff Cottman likewise had grown up in the Socialist Sunday School and a Socialist home in Barking. When the family moved to Bristol he joined the Young Communist League there. After going to Spain and joining the POUM he was expelled from the YCL with the usual accusations of being an “agent of Fascism”. In 1988 John Sullivan arranged a meeting in Transport House in Bristol to commemorate the War. I had the pleasure of taking the Chair for Staff Cottman (a friend of mine for 50 years), and the elderly characters who had expelled him from the YCL turned up in the audience ... all very contrite, friendly and affable. If there are such things as national characteristics, this was a very English event.
Spain was a gigantic melting pot at a time when Socialists were being hounded out of their own countries by Fascist and near-Fascist regimes. Stateless men went to Spain in the hope of adding their own twopennyworth to the anti-Fascist struggle, but their own political ideology was often undeveloped. It matured under Fascist and Stalinist repression.
One such character was Georges Kopp, a Belgian Socialist born in 1902. He was too young for service during the First World War but had lived under the German occupation. His track record included service as an officer in the Belgian army, as a volunteer officer in the POUM militia, as a member of the French army and French Resistance, and as a field operator for British Intelligence before taking up postwar residence in Scotland. He died when still a comparatively young man. His service is unrecorded. Hugh Thomas, in his standard work on the Civil War, like most similar books, does not even mention him. [5]
Kopp was somewhat unusual inasmuch as he was a professionally qualified engineer, and very few left wingers have come from these ranks. He was a committed Socialist with some military experience from his conscription period. He had been commissioned and was still a member of the Officer Reserve. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he helped to organise the buying of arms and gun-running for the Republic in Western Europe. He also formed a small engineering firm producing cartridges and bullets which were shipped out to Spain. Complementing this he bought the ingredients for explosives and exported them so that live ammunition could then be manufactured in Spain itself. Once the Non-Intervention agreement was signed this became illegal, and the western powers became gamekeepers for Franco, who got all the arms he needed, to start with from Mussolini and later from Hitler. It did not take the intelligence services long to trace arms supplies back to Kopp, and the Belgian government began nosing around his blockade busting activities. He then realised that his usefulness in that field was over. He left in a hurry for Spain, arrived in Barcelona and volunteered for the POUM militia.
He was a powerful man weighing 15 stones and very athletic. With his military training and qualification as a member of the Belgian Army Officer Reserve, his coolness and experience, he was a bounty to the raw volunteers. He quickly rose through the ranks and was elected head of a POUM Centuria. A POUM Centuria contained only 80 men, which was rather inconsistent, but he rode a black horse and made an impressive figure.
When Orwell arrived in Barcelona at the end of December 1936 he was sent to the Aragon front and joined a column of which Kopp was then in charge. His official title was Commandant of the Third Lenin Division. The rifles were old and decrepit. Orwell had a Mauser from 1896, and each man had only 50 cartridges. The grenades they had were crude and so primitive that only half of them exploded when used, and they often proved a greater hazard to the thrower than the target. Had the POUM been part of Franco’s Fifth Column (as the Stalinists later insisted) he would surely have seen that they had better equipment issued to them.
Both horses and men were short of food, and as the reserve stocks were gradually used up in Catalonia they were never replaced. The Russians made quite sure of that. In 1937 they were almost the sole suppliers of munitions and food going into Catalonia, and an embargo was placed on supplies for either the CNT or POUM. The big offensive there, which Largo Caballero had planned for taking the pressure off Madrid, was never mounted. Victories were not wanted which could boost the prestige of organisations the Stalinists did not control. Kopp led a hungry and almost weaponless militia. They had no artillery and, as the POUM members have all endorsed, with any kind of offensive equipment they could have taken Huesca. McNair outlined the situation where neither side had any artillery, and with a couple of field pieces and machine guns they could “have taken the place within 24 hours”. Orwell described the nonchalant bravery which Kopp always displayed and which set such a good example to the column. When on the move he rode in front carrying a red flag, and was a symbol of reliability which Orwell obviously admired.
His courage became legendary, and Orwell describes him calling for 15 volunteers to attack a Fascist redoubt and then explaining the situation to them, first in Spanish and then in English. In the heat of the attack he waited for them, pacing up and down inside the parapet: “Even the fat folds at the back of his neck were pale; he was paying no attention to the bullets which streamed over the parapet and cracked close to his head.”
In April 1937 the POUM was in action, and Kopp wrote a description of the period in a letter dated the 16th to the parents of Bob Smillie. Bob (the grandson of the Scottish ILPer and miners’ leader) died later, after being taken ill with appendicitis. He was a leading light in the ILP Guild of Youth in Scotland. He had been arrested and was allegedly in the prison hospital. McNair believed the Stalinists murdered him. [6] Staff Cottman (always a generous soul) thinks Bob died of neglect and peritonitis. Kopp said in his letter:
We have had some very ‘hot’ days and have made an advance of some thousand yards; the enemy counter-attacked but did not succeed in regaining an inch of the lost ground. In the night of the 13th we made a somewhat audacious raid on the enemy’s positions on the Ermita Salas, in order to relieve pressure on the Ascaso Front ... We have had a complete success which is due largely to courage and discipline of the English comrades who were in charge of assaulting the principal of the enemy’s parapets. Among them I feel it my duty to give a particular mention of the splendid action of Eric Blair [George Orwell – DB], Bob Smillie and Paddy Donovan.
Paddy Donovan died in London in 1971, and was still active in the labour movement to the end.
After this action Kopp went on leave in Barcelona with other members of the British POUM contingent when the Communist-controlled Civil Guards and Salas, the Chief of Police, made the attacks on the telephone exchange, the Hotel Falcón and the POUM Executive Committee building. It was in the chaos of these days that Bob Smillie was arrested. Orwell told of the surprise the attacks were to them and of his fear at the explosion of hand grenades and bullets flying around them. Kopp glanced out of the window, “cocked his stick behind his back, said ‘Let us investigate’ and strolled down the stairs in his usual unconcerned manner”. Such sang froid is popularly supposed to be a British quality, but Kopp had a double ration.
Next door to the POUM building was a café with an hotel above it. The day before, a party of Civil Guards had seized it and held it as a strong point for attacking the POUM offices in an outflanking operation. When on the following day they tried to come out, the POUM shock troops drove them back inside with rifle shots and grenades. Kopp strode in, hauled off a German POUM shock trooper and told the crowd in a variety of languages to avoid all bloodshed. Orwell, who was no coward himself, said:
Then he stepped out on the pavement and in sight of the Civil Guards, ostentatiously took off his pistol and laid it on the ground. Two Spanish militia officers did the same thing and the three of them walked slowly up to the doorway where the Civil Guards were huddling. It was a thing I would not have done for £20.
A Civil Guard came out and pointed to two unexploded grenades on the pavement: “I came back and told them to touch them off with pistol shots.” Such cool courage has a very special quality of its own. Back in the POUM building, Kopp told them to defend it if attacked, but the POUM leaders had in any case sent instructions to play a purely defensive part and not to open fire at all costs if it could be avoided.
Back in the front line besieging Huesca, life was becoming tough for the POUM battalions, who could feel the attacks of the Communist Party and government forces closing in upon them. It was bad enough having Franco in front of them, but the attacks from the rear they could do without. News came through to them of the arrest and then the death of Bob Smillie. Kopp continued to lead them and was promoted to the rank of major, which replaced the ad hoc one of commandant in the revolutionary army.
The Russian control was becoming more apparent and political influences were being removed. The Lenin Division was renamed the 29th Division, and POUM political control was being broken. It was part of the Communist somersault on the Popular Front and the attempts to build military alliances with France and the democracies. The regular army was ousting the political militias. No-one was now allowed to rise from the ranks higher than major, and all senior posts had to come from the Central Military School of War. This institution was controlled by the Communist Party and in such a manner that it secured a tight grip on the army.
On 15 June 1937 Kopp was sent for by the Ministry of War in Valencia (Madrid having been evacuated of all government departments when the Fascists closed in) and given a pass describing him as “a person of confidence”. He was transferred to a new appointment on the grounds that his specialist skills as an engineer were needed. The date is ominous. 15 June was the day when Andrés Nin was arrested, the POUM was suppressed, other members of its Executive Committee were arrested, the POUM offices were raided, and La Batalla and other papers suppressed.
Kopp had been sent to the eastern front with a letter of recommendation to the commander of engineering operations. He called in at the Hotel Continental to collect his baggage, which was being stored there, and he was arrested. This dragnet operation was cleverly organised and POUM people were being picked up all over the place. By the end of the month, General José Rovira of the 29th Division (the POUM military unit) had been arrested, and when his men protested to the Ministry of War, they disclaimed all knowledge of the affair. [7] By this time the Communist Party was openly behaving as a state within a state and ignoring judicial procedures. Such a display of dual power was not for ushering-in a workers’ state but for crushing one. Kopp was jailed by the people whom he had come to help in their battle against the Fascists. He had given up his job and career for people who had flung him into prison. In his period of service he had been wounded once, and was in the front line almost continuously for eight months under the most hazardous conditions where his personal bravery had won the respect of all who knew him.
Back home in Belgium he had burned his boats, and been sentenced ‘in absentia’ to 15 years in prison; five years each on the three charges of “making explosives for a foreign power”, leaving Belgium illegally, and joining a foreign army when he was still holding a reservist officer commission. Despite all this he was now branded as a ‘Fascist agent’ like the men who were being tried in Moscow. June 1937 was the month when the Red Army was purged and its top brass executed. In January the ‘Trotskyite Anti-Soviet Centre’ had been unmasked, followed by mass executions. The previous August had seen the Zinoviev Trial and the judicial murder of the old Bolsheviks.
Orwell (and Eileen) visited Kopp in prison, but had to be careful not to recognise too many of the inmates, for to do so would have put the finger on them as people who should also be arrested. Kopp was living in miserable conditions of great squalor in what was really the ground floor of a shop. There were a number of such premises which had been commandeered as private Communist prisons. Andrés Nin was held in such conditions. Kopp was one of about 100 prisoners who were jammed into two rooms about 20 feet square with dirty windows, murky light, stone floors, one bench and a permanent stench of dirt and human bodies. Many of the men held there had been wounded, they were poverty-stricken and their wives brought in food for them.
Through the clutter emerged Kopp, still a commanding figure in a military uniform and smart bearing. The news of Nin’s murder was in the air, and Kopp said to Orwell with abnormal cheerfulness: “I suppose we shall all be shot.” Orwell himself had been wounded by a bullet through his neck and could hardly talk, but Kopp explained that all his army papers and documents sending him to a new assignment had been taken away from him. Most important of all was the missing certificate guaranteeing his personal integrity. Orwell rushed away (leaving Eileen with Kopp) to the Department of War in an attempt to see the colonel who had issued it and would vouch for his friend. He found only an aide-de-camp there, but he battered his way through the protocol and bureaucracy. When he mentioned the dreaded word “POUM” a wave of fear swept through the proceedings. It was rather like swearing in a nunnery. In the atmosphere of the day it was almost like an admission of espionage.
After some persistence the letter was found and delivered safely to the Chief of Police. It had not the slightest effect. He was powerless to take any action – even if he had wanted to. All the efforts of the army to free Kopp were to no avail. He was in the hands of a force more powerful than they were; like Nin he was a victim of ‘the Moscow process’ and the police had become a part of that supra-national force. Orwell spent the next few days with McNair and Staff Cottman, writing letters and trying to force interviews which might free him. It was all to no avail. After harassment, police searches, bullying and sleeping rough, Orwell and his two friends left Spain convinced that Kopp was by now dead or beyond saving. The campaign on his behalf could best be conducted from Britain. In any case he was being held incommunicado, and they would not be able to contact him.
Kopp was later able to take up the narrative – unusually so, for few men lived to tell their story after such experiences. He was repeatedly interrogated by two NKVD agents – one Russian and one Belgian in origin. Using the techniques chronicled by so many interviewees, they took him repeatedly through his story, day after day after day, looking for slight inconsistencies, but also attempting to weaken his resistance so that he would sign documents incriminating the POUM leadership. The ILP paper The New Leader printed material brought back by McNair. It was assumed by then that Kopp was dead. Brockway recorded details of this in Inside the Left. The NKVD interrogators wanted Kopp to sign a statement saying that the POUM had been a willing tool of Franco, and had conspired with his military leaders for the POUM militia to retire at critical times during the battles, thus giving Franco victory. Also included was a statement that John McNair was an agent of the British intelligence services. He was told he would be shot unless he signed, and was given 24 hours in which to make up his mind.
It was in that period he managed to smuggle out a letter, using the services of a young boy who brought in food for one of the Spanish prisoners. The letter bore a charmed life. He sent it to an Italian anti-Fascist journalist, Georges Tioli, who was friendly towards the POUM and lived in the Hotel Continental. Tioli never received it, for he had been abducted by the same strong-arm squad which had kidnapped Kurt Landau, the Austrian Socialist. Neither of them were ever heard of again. They were presumed shot and buried in an unmarked grave. A POUM member of the hotel staff, acting on instructions he had previously had from the Italian, destroyed Tioli’s papers but posted off the letter to London. By a miracle it arrived at the ILP office. This saved Kopp’s life, for he had told his interrogators that he had sent out a letter which would be published if he died or disappeared. The letter he said was by then “at Toulouse airport” – a gross exaggeration.
Coincidentally, however, McNair had got back to London and the campaign started for Kopp’s release. The three ILP MPs went to the Foreign Office with the story, and NKVD agents found diplomatic pressure being applied to the Russians, which percolated through to them. The last thing the Russians wanted was hostility from the Western powers, whom they were by then cultivating as potential allies. This was the reason for the attacks on the POUM; they wanted to convince the West that they had no revolutionary pretensions.
What was assumed to be Kopp’s last letter was reprinted in the New Leader of 6 August 1937, and in it he announced his intention of going on hunger strike – his last means of self-defence.
I was arrested on 20 June when I had just got back from Valencia on a military commission and was preparing to carry out the orders of my superior officers. The police agent who detained me told me it was a question of furnishing the police with certain information in order to help them with the investigation of a case of espionage. This I was always ready and willing to do. On the day I was arrested I addressed to you a letter which I had entrusted to the captain of the Assault Guards who was also charged with my detention. I asked you to have me interrogated immediately due to the urgency of the military mission which had been entrusted to me. I presume that my letter was delivered to you but your answer has never reached me. I have not yet been interrogated.
I am detained in conditions which are intolerable for any decent individual, and in the case of an officer in the Spanish army who has served eight months at the front, amount to an insult. I am mixed up with pickpockets, thieves, Fascists and homosexuals. I am confined like many of the chief prisoners in a room where there are 18 persons, even though there is room only for three or four. All exercise is denied to us; the food consisting of two plates of soup and two pieces of bread is distributed at unsuitable hours (four in the afternoon and 11 at night). The guards, although I personally have no cause for complaint, for some of them carry out their duties decently, treat us like cattle, beating the prisoners and insulting them.
It appears to me that as a foreign volunteer and an officer in the Belgian army, who (after aiding the legal government of Spain by secretly manufacturing munitions in his own country) enlists in the anti-Fascist militia and fights at the front where he successively commands a company, a battalion and a regiment, does not merit this kind of treatment. Nor is such treatment merited by the prisoners I have seen here and who, after weeks of imprisonment, do not know why they have been arrested. I do not know how far the patience of these other prisoners will stretch, but for my own part I have come to the end of the time when I can regard my experience with good humour. I therefore address you for a second time, asking you to give me the chance of clearing myself of any accusation that can be made against me and to do so without loss of time, since I am needed at the front.
Awaiting your reply, I remain your servant and that of the anti-Fascist cause.
Commandant Georges Kopp
This was a letter not without commitment and sincerity, but it did him very little good, for the interrogations continued and he remained in jail for a further 18 months. In December 1938, when the Russians were winding up all their commitments in Spain to prepare for the Hitler-Stalin Pact, he managed to get out and into France. From there he came to England, making contact with Orwell, McNair and Brockway. He was a new slimline version of Georges Kopp, for in jail he had lost seven stones in weight.
He was nursed back to health by Laurence and Gwen O’shaughnessy, the brother (and his wife) of Eileen Blair (Eileen Orwell). When, in less than a year, the Second World War broke out, Kopp went to France and volunteered for the army. He could not return to Belgium without being jailed, and the French army appeared at the time to be an extension of the war against Fascism. In June 1940 he was wounded and captured by the Germans south of the Marne. For a good period he was in a French military hospital, and when well enough to be mobile he escaped to unoccupied France and lived in Marseilles. It was here in the south of France that many units of the Spanish Republican army had been interned, and he was able to make contact with them. He joined the French Resistance, which grew rapidly after Russia entered the war in 1941, and escaping Spanish Republicans joined up with them. In Marseilles he linked up with British intelligence, monitoring shipping and other activities. Details of his work are obscure. We know that he was working as an engineer and enrolled in British naval intelligence. He must, however, have been important, for when the Gestapo alerted the Pétain secret police, the British flew him out in September 1943.
This was the end of his active political service. He spent the last years of his life in Britain, and married Doreen Hunton, the sister of Gwen O’Shaughnessy, and so became a distant relative of George Orwell, the man he first met on the Aragon front in Spain. He lived out his few remaining years as a hill farmer in Scotland, and in 1951, still a young man of 49, he died of his war wounds sustained in Spain and France.
The labour movement has been well served at various levels of activity by men and women who gave to it everything of themselves which they had to offer.
George Orwell, Homage To Catalonia, London 1938.
John McNair, ed. D. Bateman, Spanish Diary, Manchester 1978.
New Leader, London 1937-38.
Fenner Brockway, Inside the Left, London 1942.
Oral evidence to Don Bateman; Staff Cottman and John McNair.
Don Bateman, series of articles in New Leader, August-November 1974, which stimulated letters and information.


1. Margarete Buber-Neumann, Under Two Dictators, London 1949.
2. Published by Jarrolds in London in 1954.
3. First appeared as Yo Fuí un Ministro de Stalin, Mexico City 1953.
4. Monty Johnstone, Trotsky and the World Revolution, Cogito, 1976, p.12.
5 55. Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, third edition, Harmondsworth 1977. After the appearance of the first edition of this work the author discovered that in fact a revolution had occurred in Republican Spain, and as result the third edition contains a section entitled The War of Two Counter-Revolutions. Cf. his rather frank admissions to Richard Gott in The Guardian, 9 February 1977. How easy it is to maintain a reputation among the ivory towers!
6. Cf. the pamphlet issued by the ILP at the time, Dan McArthur, We Carry On: Our Tribute to Bob Smillie, ILP Guild of Youth, 1937.
7. José Rovira Canals (1902-1968) was an old member of the Bloque and the POUM. Arrested by the Stalinists, he was subsequently freed by the intervention of the War Minister, Indalecio Prieto. During the Second World War he led a unit responsible for maintaining contacts across the Pyrenees with London via Portugal.


Sunday, March 16, 2014, 2:00 pm  *** New Start Time ***
D Street & West Broadway, South Boston
Look for white "Vets for Peace" Flags

Assemble: 2pm. Parade start: 3pm  

Sign Up to Attend - We Need to Know You will Be There! 

There are several DIVISIONS marching in the parade, as well as two marching bands, Duck Boats, bagpipers, and the Bread and Puppet Theater.. The DIVISIONS are: Veterans groups; Peace groups; LGBT groups; Faith groups; environmental groups; social and economic justice groups; labor groups; political groups. Please invite your group(s) to come! Contact: Veterans for Peace, Pat Scanlon,, 978-475-1776; Massachusetts Peace Action, Cole Harrison,, 617-354-2169; faith groups contact Lara Hoke,

Web: Twitter: @SmedleyVFP   Facebook:

Please join us for our Fourth Annual Saint Patrick’s Peace Parade, the Alternative People’s Parade for Peace, Equality, Jobs, Environmental Stewardship, Social and Economic Justice.

Join on facebook


Solidarity Statement from LGBTQ organizations
We stand with Veterans for Peace
Boston, MA – Saturday, March 15th – We and our LGBTQ organizations and communities wish to show solidarity with Veterans for Peace and all they have done to carry the message of unity between our community and the Peace Movement in the Saint Patrick’s Peace Parade. There are many LGBTQ veterans in Vets for Peace (locally and nationwide) and their entire organization has shown great integrity and support for the LGBTQ community. We speak with one voice regarding this issue and urge the traditional St. Patrick’s Parade organizers to accept the Veterans for Peace and all other honorable and peace-loving groups to be in the traditional parade. It would not be enough for us, just to win the right for the LGBTQ to march in the traditional parade. We will not leave our sisters and brothers from Veterans for Peace behind.
“Our Peace Parade is not going away until we have one welcoming inclusive parade for all without censorship”
Pat Scanlon, Smedley B. Butler Brigade, chapter 9, Vets for Peace, Massachusetts
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***Out In The 1940s Film Noir Night- T For Trouble- T For Treasury Man-Anthony Mann’s T-Men- A Film Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

T-Men, starring Dennis O’Keefe, directed by Anthony Mann, Eagle Lion Productions, 1947

No question, at least in my mind, the police procedural noirs from the 1940s and 1950s are the weakest form of the genre. Especially when, like the film under review, Anthony Mann’s T-Men they are essentially a propaganda documentary for some governmental agency. Here the Treasury Department’s counterfeiting squad gets the shining glowing light treatment. The main problem with this sub-genre is that unlike a femme fatale-driven noir where we hope the femme does not rough up the guys too badly or a private detective entry where we wish the tough gumshoe success for his client we know from the beginning that the bad guys, here a nation-wide syndicate passing bad dough and bad liquor stamps, is doomed to fail.

A run through of the plot-line here tells the tale. Seems Uncle Sam (that’s us) is miffed that post-World War II bad guy gangs are passing bad paper and nicking the government (that’s you and me, okay) of its liquor revenues, nicking it big time. Naturally this thumb in the eye has all the top Washington Treasury bureaucrats (that’s not you and me but our public servants) screaming bloody murder. So naturally to figure out how the nation-wide operation was succeeding and putting a stop to it there had to be a sting operation. A sting operation which includes two T-men , two keen agents, including the key agent (played by Dennis O’Keefe) working their way into the operation to see who Mister Big is and to grab him and put him away for about 99 years, or life anyway.

So the two agents dot the i’s and cross the t’s by working their way up in the organization starting in poor benighted Detroit and crossing the country to sunnyland LA. Their work gets them so far but the organization did not get to the organization by being saps for undercover cops and they get a little hip to the fact that one of the agents does not seen to be on the square. And so they in time-honored tradition waste the agent which our boy Dennis O’Keefe watched in horror. But that is really the end of the drama because as every film noir aficionado knows, knows 101, once a cop, a good guy, get wasted by bad guys or femmes then the old adage about “crime does not pay” comes home with a vengeance. And that is about it, except that any Anthony Mann film is worth watching for the cinematography, the great black and white shadow photography, and the nice pacing.       

*** As March 17th Approaches-Remembrances Of Saint Patrick’s Peace Parade 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

“Hey, just follow the Veterans For Peace (VFP) white and black dove-emblazoned flags down to D Street and you’ll run right into the Saint Patricks’ Peace Parade staging area,” a grizzled veteran, looking like a man who had seen his share of battles in war and peace, bellowed to one and all as Frank Jackman and his veteran and peace activist companions exited the Broadway Redline MBTA station on that overheated March 17th 2012 Sunday late morning in order to form up in that parade the old vet had informed them about. Headed out into the South Boston (Southie) day.  

[As it turned out, by the way, when Frank “interviewed” him later while they were waiting in that flag-festooned staging area, the grizzled veteran, Bob Ballad, had indeed seen his share of battles, having done two tours in ‘Nam, two tours as a “grunt,” an infantry man, “cannon fodder,” during hell time, 1966-68, and also of peace time battles against drugs and liquor, a couple of bouts of homelessness, a couple of divorces, and a few other of the now well-known  pathologies of  those who had had trouble coming back to the “real world “ after Vietnam that Frank had witnessed in his own family, in his own old time Hullsville neighborhood,  and among his fellow VFPers. Moreover , unlike Frank, who was also a Vietnam veteran and had  turned anti-war while in the military, that grizzled vet had not turned against war, the rumors of war, and all that war entails until his own son started clamoring for permission to go in the service when Iraq exploded in 1991. That is when he put his foot down, kept his son out, and had been a stalwart anti-warrior ever since. Talk about a guy with street “cred” on war issue. Welcome aboard, brother, welcome aboard]                

Frank  had to chuckle to himself a little as he and his companions headed up Broadway among the throngs who were forming up for the official parade that although he had grown up in the Irishtown section of Hullsville (you could hardly walk down a street of that town at this time of year and not be confronted with more green than you would ever see short of  maybe Dublin , and that was true even these days when the town itself, reflecting a couple of generations more moving south out of  Boston had lost it dominate Irish feel) and had lived in Boston on and off for most of his adult life he had never gone to the official parade. Well except that one time in high school junior year when he and “flame” Kathy Flanagan (she of the long wild red hair, light freckled face and green eyes, and thin athletic body who disturbed his sleep more than one night in those days) had “skipped” school (unlike in Boston which was in a different county from Hullsville they did not have the day off from school in the days when the holiday was celebrated on the actual day not only on Sunday) and headed via the long haul Eastern Mass bus armed with a pint of  Southern Comfort, the drink of choice and cheap, over to the parade. They never got there, to the parade anyway. They had stopped off at Carson Beach and started drinking that ambrosia and well, one thing led to another and  who gave a damn about some silly shamrock drunken parade anyway when a guy had a wild, green-eyed, red-headed girl next to him on the seawall. So, although he had many close connections with old “Southie,” the first stop for many of the famine-borne (famine of one kind or another, not just the food kind although that was writ large on that benighted country’s history) Irish, including his family, this was to be the first time that he showed up in Southie for a parade on Saint Patty’s Day. And of course while he might be on those same hallowed official parade streets his purpose that day was to march with the VFP contingent in their alternative peace parade.                  

Frank was not sure of all the details then about why there was a need for a separate parade, although later after the event he dug out some of the details from some guys who were closely involved in organizing the alternative event, but the gist of it centered on exclusion. Everybody in town, everybody who cared anyway, knew that back in the 1990s the official parade organizers had gone to court, hell, had gone all the way to the Supremes, over excluding gays and lesbians (even Irish gays and lesbians like somehow such human categories could not exist in Catholic-heavy Irishtown and was a dastardly thing, a mortal sin maybe, so if there were then they did want any part of it publicly). And won, won the right to exclude whomever they wanted from their “private” parade, as the Supremes in one of their more arcane legal decisions that made no sense when he read it backed them up.

See though, when you have a “right” to exclude that can take you into some strange places so when the VFP decided they wanted march in the official parade to protest various war actions of the American government, or just to send out a peace message to a large crowd they too were excluded by the official parade organizers. The “reason”-short and simple reason, they, the officials, didn’t want the words “veterans” and “peace” put together in their parade.  Hence the march of the excluded that VFP had first organized the previous year. And hence too Frank Jackman had that year responded to their call and was approaching the staging area with that sense of solidarity in mind.

As Frank waited, seemingly endlessly waited for the peace parade to step off  (the officials had, as part of their victory, been able to legally keep any other formations at least one mile behind their procession) he began to think of the many connections he had with this old section of town, this section that he had heard had changed demographically and in other ways as the Irish moved south and the younger more diverse set moved in and rehabilitated the old cold- water triple-deckers that lined all the lettered and numbered streets of the section (at least showing some sense of order since the real of the town was identified by a miasma of odd-ball combinations). He remembered ancient first murky visits to those old cold- water flats where some great aunts and their huge broods lived in splendid squalor and of cheap ribbon candy offered at Christmas time and not much else. Or funny things like the few times that he had been “privileged” to drive his material grandmother Riley  (nee O’Brian) over to Southie so that the sisters (some of those grand-aunts) could go to one of the “ladies invited” taverns and get drunk since Grandpa Riley refused, absolutely refused, to have liquor in the house (or cigarettes either). He wished he could remember the exact gin mill but he couldn’t except that it was near the Starlight Ballroom. 

Or when he was older and his uncle on his mother’s side had taken him to Jim and Joe’s farther up Broadway, up toward M Street, and “baptized” him with his first drink of whiskey straight up (no beer chasers then, that would could later). Or later still when he became something of a regular at Jim and Joe’s while he was working his way through college servicing vending machines for York Vending just around the corner from the D Street staging area and the guys, the mainly Southie guys that he worked with, “forced” him to drink with them after work, drink straight shot whiskey (and hence the genesis of beer chasers). Beyond those episodes though, except an occasion walk on Carson Beach (with and without female companionship) he had not been around Southie much since then.

After a while, a long hot while, since the weather was unseasonably warm for March in Boston, the peace parade stepped off, stepped off with VFP black and white dove-emblazoned flags flying in the lead paced by several cars for those really old (so he thought) World War II  veterans, veterans from Frank’s late father’s time sitting on board. As he looked back he noticed a huge banner calling for No War On Iran and another calling for Freedom For Private Bradley Manning, another worthy cause, and behind that contingents of LGBT in various combinations, and behind them broken up at intervals by marching bands other progressive and social groups wishing to express solidarity with the excluded here, and throughout the world. Frank felt good, felt he had made the right decision to come this day despite some medical problems recently.

As the parade turned onto Broadway, old Broadway, of a thousand drinks and other assorted goings on, he again thought about the old days as he passed various landmarks, or the spots where the landmarks had been once. Artie’s where his first serious serious “flame” Sheila Shea had left him, left him for good, Jim and Joe’s now called the Green Tavern, where he had had more cheap whiskeys than he cared to recall, a couple of places farther up where ladies were invited back then (quaint notion, right),and he had been invited by a couple of ladies and then up where another  small “flame” Minnie Kiley had lived, then up and over to  cavernous East  Broadway where the triple-deckers of his early youth still stood thick as thieves.

Then he started to notice that those self-same triple- deckers had been upgraded and that those who stood on the sidewalks clapping as the parade went by were not the “from hunger” Irish second and third cousins of his youth but looked, well, wed-fed and well-cared for. And as they marched toward the end of the parade route at Andrew Square he also noticed, very distinctly noticed, a small section of streets where gay men were standing with a sign and cheering. Frank then flashed back to an earlier time when the deep dark secret in Aunt Bernice’s brood, the one from K Street, was that one of the boys, Harry, was “different” and had been banished from the house. Yes, things had certainly changed but he wished that those idiots who were so keen on exclusion had moved away from those whiskey and beer chaser bar stools and come into the sunlight…               


Heroic Wikileaks Whistleblower Private Chelsea Manning ‘s Fight For Freedom Will Again Be Remembered At The Fourth Annual Veterans For Peace-Led Saint Patrick’s Peace Parade in South Boston On March 16, 2014



We will be forming up at the corner of D Street and West Fourth in South Boston (take Redline MBTA to Broadway Station-walk up four blocks and then left) at 1 PM for a 2 PM step-off (note time change). Supporters of Chelsea Manning will be out in force distributing informational leaflets and stickers as well as encouraging participants to sign the Amnesty International and Private Manning Support Network petitions calling on President Barack Obama to pardon her. We will not leave our sister behind        
President Obama, Pardon Pvt. Manning

Because the public deserves the truth and whistle-blowers deserve protection.

We are military veterans, journalists, educators, homemakers, lawyers, students, and citizens.

We ask you to consider the facts and free US Army Pvt. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

As an Intelligence Analyst stationed in Iraq, Pvt. Manning had access to some of America’s dirtiest secrets—crimes such as torture, illegal surveillance, and corruption—often committed in our name.

Manning acted on conscience alone, with selfless courage and conviction, and gave these secrets to us, the public.

“I believed that if the general public had access to the information contained within the[Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy,”

Manning explained to the military court. “I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”

Journalists used these documents to uncover many startling truths. We learned:

Donald Rumsfeld and General Petraeus helped support torture in Iraq.

Deliberate civilian killings by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan went unpunished.

Thousands of civilian casualties were never acknowledged publicly.

Most Guantanamo detainees were innocent.

For service on behalf of an informed democracy, Manning was sentenced by military judge Colonel Denise Lind to a devastating 35 years in prison.

Government secrecy has grown exponentially during the past decade, but more secrecy does not make us safer when it fosters unaccountability.

Pvt. Manning was convicted of Espionage Act charges for providing WikiLeaks with this information, but  the prosecutors noted that they would have done the same had the information been given to The New York Times. Prosecutors did not show that enemies used this information against the US, or that the releases resulted in any casualties.

Pvt. Manning has already been punished, even in violation of military law.

She has been:

Held in confinement since May 29, 2010.
• Subjected to illegal punishment amounting to torture for nearly nine months at Quantico Marine Base, Virginia, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Article 13—facts confirmed by both the United Nation’s lead investigator on torture and military judge Col. Lind.
Denied a speedy trial in violation of UCMJ, Article 10, having been imprisoned for over three years before trial.
• Denied anything resembling a fair trial when prosecutors were allowed to change the charge sheet to match evidence presented, and enter new evidence, after closing arguments.
Pvt. Manning believed you, Mr. President, when you came into office promising the most transparent administration in history, and that you would protect whistle-blowers. We urge you to start upholding those promises, beginning with this American prisoner of conscience.
We urge you to grant Pvt. Manning’s petition for a Presidential Pardon.
FIRST& LAST NAME _____________________________________________________________
STREET ADDRESS _____________________________________________________________

CITY, STATE & ZIP _____________________________________________________________
EMAIL& PHONE _____________________________________________________________
Please return to: For more information:
Private Manning Support Network, c/o Courage to Resist, 484 Lake Park Ave #41, Oakland CA 94610


Note that this image is PVT Manning's preferred photo.

Note that this image is PVT Manning’s preferred photo.