Source: Ralph Fox: A Writer in Arms
Published: Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1937.
Printer: Western Printing Services, Ltd, Bristol.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.
RALPH FOX was born in Halifax in 1900. He came from a comfortable middle-class home. He received the education and upbringing of his class, finishing at Oxford. The choice of a life of letters, of aloof culture, for which Ralph had all the intellectual capacity, seemed to open before him. Instead, in 1920, he went to the most hard-hit famine area of the Soviet Union. Instead he joined the Communist Party. Instead of mellowing gradually into a Literary Editor he died at 36 fighting the forces of Fascism in Spain. And as Harold Laski has written, his death was, “a fulfilment. It was, for him, simply a necessary service to his ideal.” Fox, in his combination of qualities, his devotion to the Communist Party and his intellectual ardour, was able to foreshadow the alliance between mental and manual worker in, the fight against Fascism and war, the destroyers of culture.
There was no personal economic reason why Fox should have joined the Communist Party. He did so 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 author, journalist, or instructor of our factory groups in various parts of London, Fox undoubtedly influenced the thought of thousands of working men and women, and also of a big section of the professional classes of this country.
Fox had, what so many of the members of our Party lack—the recognition that the supreme aim of his work must be to build the Party to which he belonged, for he recognized that as a necessity, not in some narrow and sectarian way, but because he understood that the more powerful the Communist Party becomes, the more powerful the working class as a whole becomes in its historical struggle against capitalism.
We do not speak as mourners of those who have died in Spain. We speak as their comrades in arms.
Friends of Spain 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 brought no accomplishment. Thus 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 real 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.
The International Brigade now covering itself with such honour and glory in Spain, is a real People’s Army. It is an army composed of the best anti-fascist fighters of all countries. The core of that International Brigade in Spain is formed of disciplined and revolutionary fighters from all sections of the Communist International, and they have, by their example, developed a force around them that all the dark and bestial forces of fascism will never be able to conquer. Ralph Fox was part of that core. He would only wish to know that others have come along to take his place in the ranks.
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 their 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 labour movement and fighting People’s Front of all the democratic British people.
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, for those men to go immediately to that tight corner; and when that happens he feels safe that the position they are defending 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 battalion inspired the Spanish militia who fight alongside them. Life itself, in all too 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.
I have in mind a comrade unknown to many, for though lie had to do with books he was a bookseller not a writer, Comrade McLaurin, a comrade from Cambridge University, a member of our Party and a citizen of New Zealand, who, in a series of ways has demonstrated his loyalty to Communism. A short time ago I heard that McLaurin was a skilled machine-gunner; I sent him a telegram asking him to see me. He came. I asked would he go to Spain because I had received an S.O.S. telling me that machine-gunners were especially scarce. I asked him to go, and explained that it meant facing death. Without a moment’s hesitation Comrade McLaurin gave up everything he held dear and went the next day.
In the company of German, French and Spanish comrades he was given on the 8th to the 10th of November one of the most difficult posts to defend in Madrid and behind his gun he stopped those fascists; his aim was so deadly and the work he did so magnificent that the objective that the democratic forces aimed to take was taken, but unfortunately one of the last shots of the retiring enemy smashed our comrade’s head, and he died at his post, having vindicated everything that solidarity means to the mass of the British working class.
The British battalion has retrieved the honourable traditions of the British Labour Movement; it has upheld the fine democratic traditions that have characterized the fight on behalf of liberty. The great poet Byron went to Greece to fight for liberty; in a later period Comrade Brailsford fought for liberty in Greece; these are the examples our British comrades are following to-day in the conditions of our time.
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 counter-revolutionary 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 as the comrades who 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.
Our comrades are not dead, they live again, in the way that we will now work for victory for Spanish democracy. And in working for that, we are fighting for our own lives and liberties.
I recall to you the words of the poet Byron:
“Still Freedom yet, thy banner torn but flying,
Streams like a thunderstorm against the wind.”
Our comrades who have died in Spain have helped us all in our work of guarding the banner of freedom and liberty.