Academics and students exhibit a pervasive amnesia toward the pro-Stalin actions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (ALB), a group of American volunteers who fought against General Francisco Franco and his Nationalists during Spain’s civil war. Recent Boston University graduate-turned Associated Press reporter Kelsey Abbruzzese did little better than her college peers this July, publishing a story that lauded ALB veteran John Hovan’s career.
“In 1937, John Hovan volunteered to travel to Spain and fight on the side of democracy against Gen. Francisco Franco’s fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War,” wrote Abbruzzese on July 9. “Now, at age 93, he has been honored with Spanish citizenship for his service as a transport driver…His Spanish passport should arrive in a few weeks.”
Hovan is a “self-described Communist” who worked for the “American League Against War and Fascism before departing for Spain,” she reported. However, Abbruzzese does not identify the ALAWF as a communist outfit in the story.
In 1933, four years before Hovan traveled to Spain, the first U.S. Congress Against War and Fascism issued its “Manifesto and Program,” which asserted that “The rapid rise of Fascism is closely related to the increasing war danger,” and, later, that “The war danger arises inevitably out of the very nature of monopolistic capitalism…”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Attorney General Francis Biddle condemned ALAWF and its other incarnation, the American League for Peace and Democracy (ALPD), in his 1942 memo partially because ALAWF’s manifesto stated that “Serious struggle against war involves rallying all forces around this peace policy and opposing all attempts to weaken or destroy the Soviet Union.”
“In its discussion of the League, the Biddle memo cited the confabs called by the Communist Party to get the agitation rolling, the presence of known Communists such as [American Communist Party official chief Earl] Browder himself among the officers and leading speakers, and the flow of funds from Soviet-controlled commercial outfits to underwrite the costs of doing business,” wrote M. Stanton Evans in his book Blacklisted by History. “And, most of all, the memo noted, there was the League’s routine, emphatic, and unwavering praise of Moscow as the world’s only champion of peace and justice.”
An immediate objective outlined in the manifesto was “To support the peace policies of the Soviet Union for total and universal disarmament, which today with the support of [the] masses in all countries constitutes the clearest and most effective opposition to war throughout the world; to oppose all attempts to weaken the Soviet Union,whether these take the form of misrepresentation and false propaganda, diplomatic maneuvering, or intervention by imperialist governments” (emphasis added). The United States was identified as one such “imperialist” power.
Ironically, in the midst of antiwar rhetoric the Communist International used anti-fascist sentiment to attract socialists and communists to fight in the Spanish civil war. “We’re more familiar with the Republican side [of the war], which was recruited by the Communist International, but Moscow made the decision early on [that] they did not want to get all the Communist International members killed fighting in Spain so they were gonna go and appeal to socialists and basically anybody who thought they would be threatened by fascism. That would be the clear message, that fascism has to be stopped,” said Prof. David Malet of George Washington University on July 14 during a Foreign Policy Research Institute conference. “They recruited, in this country, Jews, African-Americans, socialist groups [and] labor unions to go fight because if fascism wins in Spain it will spread to the United States, you will ultimately be threatened,” he said, describing the Comintern’s messaging. Prof. Malet also noted that General Franco had recruited foreign fighters for the nationalist side, including “Catholics in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world” with the message that “basically communism was on the march, the Catholic church is gonna be destroyed if they didn’t stand up for it…”
Abbruzzese downplays Hovan’s political connections in her article, portraying him instead as a victim of American’s anti-communist hysteria. “Hovan, a self-described Communist, was called to testify during Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Communist-hunting hearings,” wrote Abbruzzese. “After he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to silence, his house was firebombed and painted with swastikas.”
Actually, Hovan was questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), not by the Senate.
Louis F. Budenz, a former Communist who also testified at the HUAC hearings, writes in The Techniques of Communism (1954) that ALAWF was called the American League Against War and Fascism only while Stalin still feared Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. “When a more positive approach was made to the Roosevelt administration, with Communist hopes heightened by the success of infiltration into the government, the name was changed to American League for Peace and Democracy,” he wrote. Then,
“When Stalin made his alliance with Hitler in 1939, and the Communists were doing all in their power to prevent American defense production, the organization was transformed into the American Peace Mobilization. Its objects were now the very opposite of those which had been put forward by the American League for Peace and Democracy. The White House was picketed.President Roosevelt was scathingly denounced, and everything was done by the newly organized front that would tend to aid the victory of Hitler, Stalin’s ally” (emphasis added).
In other words, Budenz argued that ALAWF later went on to indirectly support fascism and Hitler in its different incarnations.
Abbruzzese cites only sympathetic sources for her story, including the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, a professor aiding Hovan in his citizenship process, and “Duane Clinker, a Cranston United Methodist pastor who has worked with Hovan on civil rights issues since 1973.”
“Many of the American volunteers shared Hovan’s political leanings and experienced the ensuing fallout,” wrote Abbruzzese in her article. She quoted Wheaton College Professor Francisco Fernandez de Alba as saying “Being in Spain really marked their lives. It made them suspicious in the eyes of the FBI for many years…They were considered threatening by the United States. Many had hard lives and lost jobs.”
Their lives may have been hard, but at least they retained them. That much cannot be said for many of the victims of communist regimes worldwide. According to the Black Book of Communism, around 20 million people died in communist Russia and 100 million or more were killed in communist regimes worldwide.
E.D. This total does not include those who deserted the ALB in Spain, were killed by their comrades, then labeled combat victims who demise was attributed to Franco’s forces. This is a still half-interred story (former House and Senate investigator) Herb Romerstein told in Heroic Victims.