International Brigades fought against capitalism, not for

Hilary Benn’s pro-war speech

International Brigades fought against capitalism, not for it

Scott Jones

Hilary Benn’s ‘electrifying’ speech for bombing Syria outrageously invoked the International Brigades in support of imperialist bloodletting.

The brigades fought alongside mass popular resistance in the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War to stem the tide of fascism. Thousands of working class people from across Britain, including many from my hometown Blackwood in south Wales, went in solidarity with the Spanish revolution.

The ‘typical’ volunteer from South Wales was, of course, a miner. Usually unemployed due to the Great Depression or trade union activities, he would have taken part in many working class and anti-fascist struggles.

From Britain’s 1926 general strike, to the 1936 Battle of Cable Street – where trade unionists fought police to prevent fascists marching – with hunger marches and demonstrations in between. South Wales miners formed the largest regional grouping in the brigades’ British battalion.


Their struggle was later immortalised by working class Welsh rockers the Manic Street Preachers. Their 1998 number one record about the Spanish Civil War, ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, features a line attributed to a Welsh volunteer: “If I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists.”

In total, over 2,500 men and women from Britain and Ireland voluntarily travelled to Spain to defend the elected Popular Front government of the Spanish republic against the forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. The 40,000 volunteers from across the globe were an unprecedented example of international solidarity.

They gave up everything. Many literally gave up their lives, including 500 from Britain and Ireland alone.

Benn compares this to the sectarian civil war in Syria, where there is no obvious independent working class or socialist force leading mass resistance.

This is both wrong, and an insult to those who consciously fought against the forces that invented the systemised bombing of civilians, at Guernica. We will now see similar bombings repeated in Syria.

Fighting fascism?

It’s also worth noting that the British state did nothing to aid the Spanish Republic in its unsuccessful struggle against fascist invasion.

This is despite Hilary Benn’s claims that parliament “stood up against Hitler and Mussolini” and for “justice”. On the contrary, it actually attempted to stop International Brigades and other anti-fascist forces from obtaining weapons to fight.

The US-led coalition which Britain is now part of is bombing a beaten and confused population to bolster its prestige and defend its profits.

These bloody imperialist aims are a million miles away from the goals of working class men and women in the International Brigades who fought alongside the Spanish people against fascism, imperialism and capitalism.

The International Brigades fought for socialism. They embody the true spirit of internationalism which Benn tried to invoke – not RAF Tornadoes on million-pound air raids for capitalism.