About the only complaint that I could make about this book is that in order to keep it a five hundred pages, it's printed in very small script making it a difficult read at time. Edy (who wrote a prequel in 1969) had been allowed to view the NKVD (KGB) files that had been hidden in the Lubyanka for over sixty years. Not only was he able to read what the Comintern agents who controlled the 'International Brigade' (IB) wrote, but the records of the battalions themselves were included in these records. Unsurprisingly, Edy determined that the Soviets considered it more important to have 'pure Leninism' as the basis for the brigade than to have fighting men. The commissars were foisted on the different units as a way to indoctrinate the 'volunteers' in the proper marxism per the Soviet Communist Party (read Stalin). Though 30 thousand men served in the Brigade, their strength was never more than 15K and only half of that were at the front at any one time.
Stalin had promised all types of military material but sent outdated tanks and few planes. Troops were trained with broomsticks and never saw or shot a gun until they were sent up to the front, sometimes within days of arriving in Spain. Many of the rifles the troops were issued had the Imperial Double Eagle of the Romanov Dynasty stamped on them. During their time at the front, the IBs suffered purges of Trotzkyites, Anarchists and other 'enemies of the state'. Those who didn't toe the CPUSA line found themselves in 'Labor Battalions' with criminals that had been cleaned out of Spanish jails. Many of the French who made up half of the IB, joined because they had been given the choice of death, life imprisonment or the IB. Many were drunks and degenerated who were more dangerous to the Spanish population than to the Falangists. They deserted as soon as they were involved in a battle and there was no one to keep an eye on them.
During one of the major pushes by Franco (who had German and Italian regular army groups on his side), the Stalinists conducted war on the Anarchist and Socialists in Barcelona. The 'staff' of the IB were picked for their orthodoxy and not their military training. The men of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion speak of being used as canon fodder and propaganda rather than being trained as useful soldiers. Of course, those that weren't killed outright would develop into soldiers, but 50% casualties was a high price to pay for on the job training. Formed with volunteers in 1936, by 1938 the ranks had been thinned to the point that there were more Spanish conscripts in the IB than foreign volunteers. Men who were told that they would serve six months and then be sent home, were denied leave and kept in the trenches for up to eighteen months. Only those who were 'unfit' would be repatriated, and it was common for wounded to be patched up and sent back to the trenches.
With about three thousand volunteers in all, only twelve hundred were repatriated to the US in early 1939, and only those who took a 'loyalty oath' to the CPUSA received any kind of help once they were home. Shot if they deserted (even after a year at the front) or by the Falangists if captured, these idealists who went to Spain shabbily treated by all sides. Great read.