Moe Fishman never gave up

Moe Fishman sat on a folding chair along Broadway surrounded by other Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) in New York City the morning of April 29, 2006. The Lincoln vets held a banner greeting the tens of thousands of anti-Iraq war protesters who marched past. When contingents caught sight of the VALB banner, they would break into cheers for the famed “premature anti-fascists.”

Fishman’s leg hurt from the severe wound he received in combat during the Spanish Civil War, but he was still jaunty in his blue beret, his eyes sparkling with joy at the march’s enormous size.

“We are here to show our respect for the peace movement and to join in the call for an end to this atrocious Iraq war,” Fishman told the World. “We have stood against war and fascism for 70 years. We want a foreign policy based on peace and mutual respect, not war and global domination.”

Fishman, who served for decades as executive secretary-treasurer of VALB and who led the Lincoln vets in hundreds of antiwar marches over the past seven decades, died of pancreatic cancer in New York City Aug. 6. He was 92.

Peter Carroll, chair of the board of governors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive, said in an obituary that Fishman remained active to the end, attending meetings in the United States and Spain to prepare for the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

Moe Fishman was born in New York City on Sept. 28, 1915. He left school during the Great Depression and became a laundry worker and truck driver. He helped unionize his fellow workers and joined the Young Communist League. He remained a convinced socialist the rest of his life.

When the war in Spain began, Fishman volunteered to help defend the Spanish Republic, but was rejected. He applied again and was accepted because of his truck driving skills. Arriving in Spain in April 1937, he trained as an infantryman with the George Washington Battalion. During the battle of Brunete in July 1937, he was wounded in action, resulting in a lifelong limp.

On returning home, Fishman worked for the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee while studying to become a licensed radio operator. His proficiency with the wireless enabled him to serve with the Merchant Marine during World War II.

During the Cold War, Fishman and his comrades were summoned as hostile witnesses before the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB). VALB was put on the U.S. attorney general’s infamous “list of subversive organizations. The entire executive board resigned rather than register with SACB.

Fishman and Milt Wolff stepped forward to keep VALB together as an organization. Wolff became national commander and Fishman executive secretary-treasurer, a post he held the rest of his life. In the 1970s, the federal courts ruled the attorney general’s list and SACB rulings were unconstitutional.

But the VALB treasury was empty, and in 1957, the two even considered disbanding the group, an idea the membership resoundingly rejected. About this time, Fishman received an appeal from a Spaniard interned in a Franco prison. At Fishman’s insistence, VALB plunged into defense of the victims of Franco repression, a focus until Franco’s death in 1975.

Fishman continued to lead VALB in its wide-ranging progressive activism including staunch opposition to the Vietnam War. During the 1980s, VALB raised funds to send an ambulance to Nicaragua in solidarity with the Sandinista revolution.

The Lincoln vets are honored today as heroes of the struggle for democracy, peace and justice, especially by groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. Not so many years ago, Moe Fishman often visited this paper’s offices, hand-delivering press releases and VALB newsletters, stopping to greet Jerry Cook, Dave Gordon, Joe Brandt and other Lincoln vets on our staff. We will miss him.

Tim Wheeler (greenerpastures21212 is national political correspondent at the People’s Weekly World.