Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 4
Below is the text of a letter I sent to the Guardian as a balance to the gushing obituaries of Bill Alexander, the former member of the International Brigades, who died last July. It was not printed.
I well remember the spleen of the late Bill Alexander (obituary, 14 July; letters, 17 July; obituary, 20 July) at a meeting in Rochester in 1986, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, when I and others had the temerity to mention the fate of the POUM. Andreu Nin, the leader of the POUM, let it be remembered, was literally flayed alive by the torturers of Stalin’s NKVD.
Also, I have in my possession a video tape of an interview Alexander gave in 1996 in which he says: ‘Stalin – he made mistakes, but good mistakes.’
Anyone who spent a lifetime defending man-made famine, show trials, torture, murder and the Gulags – whatever admirable qualities he may have had – deserves a rather more critical obituary than the one your newspaper gave him.
The Editor adds:
I couldn’t agree more. I first heard Alexander lying about the POUM and Nin’s fate while sitting in the audience of a sixth-form history conference at the Imperial War Museum a quarter of a century ago. A couple of years before Alexander’s death, I was asked by Ken Loach to debate with him at Marx House at a screening of Land and Freedom by the Socialist Film Society (an invitation that the Stalinists tried to get withdrawn). There he tried to deny the existence of GPU torture chambers in Spain, despite the fact that they had already figured in a Catalan television programme based on the Russian archives. I was even able to supply him with a few of their addresses. He was subsequently caught out lying about Laurie Lee and George Orwell in the press. The man clearly couldn’t tell the truth without straining a ligament, as Wodehouse would have put it.
Updated by ETOL: 5.10.2011