Source: The Communist International, February 1937, Vol. XIV, No. 2
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
IN THE name of the Executive Committee of the Communist International it is my duty on its behalf to pay its tribute to the memory of one of our most devoted, loyal and brillant Communist leaders, and in equal measure to pay its tribute to those score of other British Communists, who have, with Comrade Fox at their head, so courageously distinguished themselves by their coolness, bravery and discipline in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming odds.
In the case of Comrade Fox there was no economic reason why he should join our Party, the Communist Party. He came from a deep sense of intellectual conviction, and from the moment he took out his Party card, his life was dedicated to the cause of Communism. Whether as an author, a journalist, or as an instructor of. our factory groups in various parts of London, Comrade Fox has undoubtedly influenced the thoughts of thousands of working men and women, and also a big section of the professional classes of this country.
Comrades, we do not meet here as mourners for whom all is darkness and grief. We meet here as comrades in arms of those comrades whom we knew so intimately and so well, who have given that most precious thing that man can give—life—to the cause they believed in, and for which they were prepared to make the supreme sacrifice. We pledge ourselves to their families, their wives, their sweethearts, and in many cases, unfortunately, their children, that we will avenge their death, that we will show ourselves worthy of their trust and of their remarkably high example.
Friends of Spain in this audience who are not members of the Communist Party will pardon me if I refer with pride to the achievements that have been carried out by all Sections of the Communist International in support of the Spanish government. Without the existence of this International of steeled and. disciplined revolutionary fighters, the material and moral forms of aid sent to Spain would have been impossible of accomplishment. The dream of Marx and Engels has been realized—that dream which dominated them when they formed the First International—that one day there would arise a really single world party, that could mobilize the best of the people in every country to come to the assistance of comrades in other lands fighting a deadly enemy.
Comrades, the International Brigade, now covering itself with such honor and glory in Spain, is a real people’s army. It is an army composed of the best anti-fascist fighters of all countries. We are proud tonight to declare that 750 young men from this country now form a British battalion of the International Brigade, and we pledge ourselves that within the course of the next two or three days the 750 will become a thousand.
The 750 boys who have gone from this country have gone without any fuss; it has all been done very quietly, no press photographers to see them off, but they got there, and when they got there they went to Madrid where the fighting has to be done, where the real danger spots lie. In going they have been fortified by the knowledge that they take with them the good wishes of every sincere and genuine anti-fascist in this country. Labor men and Socialists, Communists and liberals, doctor and writer, docker and intellectual, have all found it possible to sink certain of their own party and political aims in a united endeavor to defeat the common foe—fascism.
It would be a crime against the whole future perspective of working class advance, a crime against the whole future perspective of peace, if that single idea now dominating men who, in thousands, look death in the face in Spain—to bring about the defeat of fascism—did not also become the driving force of all our efforts to build up a united labor movement and fighting People’s Front of all the democratic British people.
Comrades, we take legitimate pride in what comrades like General Kleber, Ludwig Renn, Hans Beimler, André Marty have said of the work of the British battalion in the Brigade. General Kleber has declared that when there is a particularly tight corner calling for coolness and courage, he has only to ask for the British Section, and men go immediately to that tight corner; and when that happens he feels safe that the objective they are to defend will be held to the very last. Their coolness and bravery have endeared them to all who have come into contact with them, and especially has the British Brigade inspired the Spanish militia who fight alongside them in a way that in life itself—in all to many cases death—has shown that international solidarity is not a First of May slogan, but a living reality for the best of our people.
The British Brigade has retrieved the honorable traditions of the British labor movement; it has upheld the fine democratic traditions that have characterized the fight on behalf of liberty. When the great poet Byron went to Greece to fight for liberty; when in a later period Comrade Brailsford fought for liberty in Greece—these are the examples our British comrades are following today in the conditions of our time.
If there is a spark of human feeling and international solidarity left in our Bevins and Citrines, in our Middletons and Baltons, these supreme sacrifices of our Comrade Fox and those others should at least shame them into giving their reply by coming out wholeheartedly and mobilizing all that can be mobilized in this country in order that not one thousand British fighting men can go to Spain, but ten thousand men-to ensure speedy victory.
The British Brigade has retrieved the honor of the British labor movement. Comrade Strachey was a thousand times right when he stressed the responsibility of the British labor movement in this present grave international situation. Comrades, that responsibility is not only on the shoulders of the leaders at Transport House; it is on every class-conscious worker in the labor movement of this country, because we can change the policy of Transport House if we really organize ourselves to do it.
The National Government now threatens to put into operation the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1871. The working class has, in its age-long struggle for liberty against capitalism and for socialism, always found the ways and means of overcoming restrictive legislation of a hostile capitalist class. The working class of this country will find ways and means of covering any restrictions that our Baldwins and Edens think they have placed in the way. With us, comrades, it is not the wishes of Baldwin that matter, but the demands of Caballero and the democratic Spanish people.
Eden’s speech last night to the Foreign Press Association was an insult to every intelligent citizen. This National Government that allowed itself to be a doormat on which Mussolini and Hitler could walk any time they liked has never from July 18 to the present time been neutral for a minute in the Spanish struggle. Eden said last night “We are neutral, let the Spanish nation find its own way to form the government best suited to Spain.” Comrades, when the Spanish people were left alone from July 18 to July 21, they crushed Franco. It was in face of Hitler and Mussolini and the Foreign Legion and Moorish troops that the Spanish people, unarmed as they were, then found that they had a stiffer job on, and the responsibility for that lies at the door of this National Government.
We will answer it by strengthening the International Brigade; we will answer it by sending food to Spain. Comrades, I don’t want to frighten anyone here, but it must be obvious to you that you cannot conduct a civil war for six months and especially in a country predominantly agricultural, without the likelihood of there being within the course of the next two or three months acute food difficulties. This is one of the things Franco is banking on. But we hold the trump card. They cannot give them food from Germany because they have no food themselves; they cannot give them food in Italy because they have no food. But there is food in Britain, France and the Soviet Union: In the course of the next two or three months this question of food can be all-decisive. Our cooperative movement must be brought into play. We have the reserves, the resources, the cooperative movement has the ships. Then let us forward the food supplies the men and Women of Spain so badly need.
Again, comrades, you cannot evacuate one million women and children from Madrid unless you have something to evacuate them in. They have not the vehicles. But our Trades Union Congress could mobilize thousands of motor trucks and vehicles to go to Spain to help in this humanitarian. task; they can at any rate assist in evacuating the women and children. Our Citrines and Bevins may be so holy they may not want to see bloodshed, well if they are the Christians they say they are, let them do this, let them prevent women and children from being slaughtered.
Comrades, I read one tribute to Comrade Fox which declared that the writer in question could only see in his death “a tragic waste”. That is a misunderstanding of the situation. When, unarmed, in tatters and rags, with bare fists and sticks, our Russian comrades fought a civil war from 1917 to 1920, when on seven fronts the counterrevolutionary armies of the imperialist world opposed them, we had people in this country who said “it was a tragic mistake that men should fight against such fearful odds”.
Thousands of our Russian comrades laid down their lives with the same courage and vision and understanding with which comrades have laid down their lives in Spain. Their sacrifice was not a tragic waste, for out of it has grown the mighty Soviet Union. I ask you to believe me when I say that out of the sacrifice of Comrade Fox and these others a new Spain will be born, a new world will be born, and it is not a waste therefore that in the heat of the fray these comrades have laid down their lives. Therefore, we will brush aside the tears, and we will go from this meeting with such a white heat of hatred of fascism and of reaction in this country that this audience of 1,500 people will represent a new potential revolutionary army in the citadel of British imperialism. We will swear over the bloody and scattered graves of our comrades that not only will we avenge their deaths, but prove worthy of building here the edifice that they all sought to build in Spain.
The banner of freedom, held in the hands of Fox and his comrades, shall be carried on by us, and we will prove worthy of the trust they reposed in us, and to the fascists we will give more than blow for blow. For every one of ours they laid low, our boys have and will lay low a hundred of theirs. It is the only way in which victory can come to Spain, and it is in that spirit and it is with that And of hatred that I ask you to leave this meeting, and in leaving it, remember to work tomorrow morning in the docks and the engineering factory, work tomorrow in the trade union branch and in the cooperative movement and in the local Labor Party. It is not as dangerous as the work of those 750 British boys now in the trenches, night and day menaced from the air, menaced by the picked troops of Hitler and Mussolini, by the tanks and artillery, by the big guns of Italy and Germany. Those boys are facing it all with gladness and joy; and that letter which Bramley reported coming from Comrade Springhall—when I read it I was the proudest man in this country because “Springy” was giving quotation after quotation showing, the mettle of which our section of the International Brigade has been constituted. Therefore let tomorrow see a new movement born in London. The press tomorrow will be full of statements of the Labor Party directed against all those who dare to stand for unity. In Spain they are demanding unity with their blood. Do not let us wait in this country until we are called upon to undergo that experience, for rest assured, if Spain goes down, as night follows day, fascism will come in this country. We are facing the same problems here, and as a matter of self-interest, as the first step on the road to peace, democracy and socialism, let us make the International Brigade and its British section especially, a hundred times stronger than it already is.
I recall to you the words of Byron:
“Yet, freedom! yet, thy banner, torn, but flying,
Streams like a thunderstorm against the wind.”
And our comrades who have died in Spain have helped us all in our work of guarding the banner of freedom and liberty.
1. Speech delivered at the memorial meeting to Ralph Fox in London, January 13, 1937.