Lincoln Brigade vets celebrate 71st anniversary

NEW YORK — Unity against today’s far right and ending the Iraq war were the themes as veterans of the struggle to save the Spanish republic from Francisco Franco’s fascist insurgency gathered with families, friends and supporters April 29 to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The VALB was formed by the veterans of the North American battalions, the Lincoln, Washington and Mackenzie-Papineau, who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. They were part of the Spanish republic’s 15th Brigade of international volunteers who came from 52 countries to defend the republic, hoping to stop international fascism and prevent World War II. Several speakers noted that this year’s event took place almost exactly 70 years after the infamous carpet-bombing of the Spanish town, Guernica, by Franco’s German and Italian fascist allies.

In his introduction, Peter Carroll of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives described a 40-foot-long, 8-foot-high monument to the Lincolns that will be erected on San Francisco’s Embarcadero next fall. Carroll said that beyond its importance as a national monument, it would serve as an international working-class monument.

Led off by VALB director Moe Fishman, himself a Lincoln vet, veterans Matty Madsen, Maynard Goldstein and Clarence Kailin spoke briefly. Each called for unity in the face of the danger from today’s extreme right and denounced President Bush and the Iraq war. Summing up for the vets, Clarence Kailin warned the audience, “If we don’t get together, capitalism and fascism will destroy us.”

The occasion’s guest of honor, world-famous entertainer and lifelong political activist Harry Belafonte, called the Lincoln vets “an important part of the American soul.” Appealing for continued struggle and vigilance, Belafonte said, “We defeated Hitler but we did not defeat fascism.” He asked the audience to look back on the Lincoln vets to understand what must be done now.

The program was followed by a tour of the exhibit, “Facing Fascism: New York and the Spanish Civil War,” on display at the nearby Museum of the City of New York. The multimedia exhibition, on view until Aug. 12, tells of the role New Yorkers played in the heroic attempt to stop fascism in Spain and prevent World War II.

Organizers say the annual event’s purpose is “to preserve the history of the Lincoln Vets ... to continue to promote their anti-fascist and anti-racist traditions.” This year’s celebration, chaired by renowned labor and political activist Henry Foner, was sponsored jointly by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the Lincoln vets’ history. The ALBA collection is housed at New York University’s Tamiment Library, which recently received the archives of the Communist Party USA.

gbono @cpusa.org