During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Churchill remained resolutely opposed to any British support (either official or unofficial) for the democratically elected (and overtly ‘Socialist’) Republican government, which was under-siege and fighting a rear-guard action against a fascist insurgency led by General Franco (whose forces received financial and material aid from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy). Only the Soviet Union (and the International Communist Movement under the guidance of Joseph Stalin) came to the aid the legitimate Republican Spanish government. To this end, the USSR backed the formation, arming and training of the ‘International Brigades’, which were comprised entirely of ‘volunteers’ from around the world, often (but not always) recruited through the various Branches of the Communist Party. One such British individual was Oxford graduate and Communist Party of Great Britain Member – Tom Wintringham (1898-1949) – who not only fought bravely and demonstrated excellent leadership skills in Spain, but upon his return to the UK was instrumental in founding the original ‘Home Guard’, which was intended to be organised around Socialist principles (recruiting both men and women in the hundreds of thousands), with its units trained to defend local (and familiar) terrain using defensive guerilla war tactics, designed to slow down an invading enemy, and give the much smaller professional British Army time to deploy and manoeuvre. However, since at least 1938, Winston Churchill had been taking measures to officially persecute any British men and women returning to the UK, who had fought in the Spanish Civil War, often ensuring they lost not only their jobs, but also their Union Membership and their right to join the professional British military forces (even under ‘conscription’). Churchill viewed his policy as preventing the British Armed forces from being taken-over by what he feared was a growing ‘Socialist insurgency’ in the UK. Meanwhile, Tom Wintringham (together with other Veterans of the Spanish Civil War), had begun training a ‘People’s Army’ on private property as a means to resist the Hitlerite invasion of the UK when it finally arrived, only to have Winston Churchill ‘outlaw’ any such ‘paramilitary’ activity anywhere in the UK. This was followed by British military officials taking over the command and administration of the fledgling ‘Home Guard’ and forcibly taking it out of the hands of Wintringham and his fellow Socialists (using the threat of arrest and detention). Winston Churchill then ordered that a ‘new’ history be fabricated for the ‘Home Guard’, one that expunged all references to ‘Socialism’, and which accredited himself with its invention. Part of this propaganda coup was to present the Home Guard as a second rate and slightly incompetent military formation which although necessary in time of war, probably did not stand much of a chance against professional armed forces. (This attitude has been preserved in the much loved British comedy ‘Dad’s Army’). However, history demonstrates that wherever People’s Armies have took to the field, their truly ‘democratic’ nature has replaced the usual ‘fascistic’ and ‘hierarchical’ traditions of the conventional military, have had no problems recruiting, and been proven highly effective on the battlefield. Winston Churchill understood that should such a ‘People’s Army’ be allowed to thrive and grow on the British Mainland, and if it was ever victorious in battle against the forces of International Fascism, then it could also be used as a ‘van guard’ to establish a Socialist Revolution in the UK.
Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism: By Richard Baxell