Islington Museum: Spanish Civil War Banners (24.6.2017)

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Visiting Islington Museum

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Islington Museum is currently exhibiting Banners made during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in the UK – made in support of the democratically elected ‘Socialist’ government of the Republic – in its fight against the renegade General Franco and his rightwing forces supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Banner featured at the top of this article is ‘new’ and has been commissioned by Islington Museum to celebrate and commemorate the sacrifices made by the people of Islington who joined the famed ‘International Brigades’, in their fight against totalitarianism, greed and hatred. This Banner is part painted by hand, and part embroidered, and carries the Spanish words ‘NO PASARAN’, or ‘NO PASS’ – referring to the Republican battle-cry that fascism will not be allowed to ‘pass’ through the battle-lines into society, and corrupt all it encounters!

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Also on display are Banners usually stored at the Marx Memorial Library (Clerkenwell), commemorating the response to the Spanish Civil War from around London and other places. Generally speaking, the Soviet Union co-ordinated the anti-fascist response through the auspices of the International Communist Party and its numerous branches spread throughout the world. Ordinary men and women would turn-up at a local Communist Party Offices, and following an interview to establish suitability, would be told whether they were needed in Spain or not. If selected, the volunteers had to make their way to Spain (easier said than done, considering Western Europe’s apathy toward the Republican cause), and once there, they were given a uniform, a weapon, basic training and placed in the front-line – usually in a battalion containing people of the same ethnicity – hence the ‘British Battalion’. Interestingly, the Americans were represented by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – which was commanded for sometime by African-American Communist Oliver Law (1900-1937) – who is believed to have been the first Black man to command White troops in any capacity in world history. Although the Republic was eventually destroyed by fascism in 1939, the bravery of the ‘foreign’ International Brigades has never been forgotten by the Spanish people!

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