Milton Wolff, a perennial symbol of U.S. working-class internationalism, died Jan. 14 in California at age 92. Born in Brooklyn of immigrant parents, the last commander of the Washington-Lincoln Brigades that fought fascism in Spain was a man of charisma and intelligence.

His was a life marked by action. Wolff joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, worked in the garment industry, joined Young Communist League, and in 1937 volunteered to fight in Spain.

Defying U.S. nonintervention laws in company with thousands of other young Americans, he joined international contingents and Spanish resistance forces attempting to halt the military assault begun in 1936 by Spanish reactionaries against an elected Republican government. He began as a medic, but soon became a combatant, surviving deadly engagements from Brunete, Teruel, Belchite, to finally the Ebro River disaster of 1938, when the international brigades left Spain.

By then, Wolff had become the ninth and last commander of the Lincoln Brigade. Predecessors had been killed or wounded. Author Ernest Hemingway described the 23- year-old leading columns in retreat: “tall as Lincoln, gaunt as Lincoln, and as brave and as good a soldier as any that commanded battalions at Gettysburg.”

Wolff served with U.S. forces during World War II, later in Italy with Army intelligence services. From 1938 until the death of Franco in 1975, Wolff led in protests against U.S. ties to the dictatorship. For decades, he headed advocacy efforts in behalf of both exiled Spanish republican refugees and Lincoln Brigade veterans victimized by post-World War II, red-scare hysteria.

“After the war,” Wolff recalled, “I went to art school. I participated in the Civil Rights Congress, traveling the South to solicit support for framed Blacks, Willie McGee, the Martinsville Seven, and others. I also worked briefly against the Smith Act, and appeared before the Subversive Activities Control Board and the House Un-American Activities Committee as a hostile witness.”

Later, under Wolff’s leadership, the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade protested against the war in Vietnam, campaigned to send ambulances to Nicaragua during the U.S. backed Contra war, sent humanitarian aid to Central American countries, and organized donations for Cuban hospitals. Reminiscing in 1995, he reported that “My latest action was joining the Travel Challenge to Cuba, and linking our post to the Lift the Embargo on Cuba movement.”

Wolff got into trouble. Speaking out against conditions leading to a friend’s death caused the Civil Conservation Corps to drop him. In New York, he was jailed for 15 days in 1940 for taking part in street protests outside the French consulate against threats to send refugees back to likely death in Spain. Later, the U.S. Army returned him stateside when his involvement with Spanish partisans in Southern France morphed into preparations for fighting the Franco regime, in Spain.

Milton Wolff authored many articles and reviews. His books include the autobiographical “Another Hill” – “The best book about war since All Quiet on the Western Front,” – Howard Fast; “A Member of the Working Class,” a depiction of growing up in Brooklyn; and “The Premature Antifascist”, a novelistic account of left-wing politics and love under the cloud of impending war.

Wolf also wrote movingly of Paul Robeson who the founding convention of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade made an honorary member. Robeson had visited the International Brigades in 1937.
Writing April 10, 1971 for the “Daily World,” predecessor of the People’s Weekly World,” he recalled,

“It was the first of only three stars that we gave to men who had been with us, but not in the Brigades. It was the only one we gave without reservations of any kind, for in some way that it is impossible to define, he had become one of us. And it was more than that; for when I stood beside him to pin the star on his lapel, up there on the stage at our first convention, all the veterans gathered sitting quiet, watching, I had this feeling that Paul Robeson was not so much becoming a member of the Lincoln Brigade, as that we were becoming a part of Paul Robeson, that Robeson joining us in this way was all the medals, ribbons and honors that any organization could want to have. And still have.”