William Rust was a reporter for the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star) with the British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, many of whom, but not all were members or supporters of the CPGB. I find this one of the better books about British involvement in what was the German and Italian testing ground for the big event that came after - WW2.
Is Rust biased in his reporting and writing, yes he is, but as a passionate anti facsist I don't mind that at all.
He later went on to be the editor of the Daily Worker for many years and the printing works and editorial offices in Farringdon Road, London were named in his honour when he died.
This tells the story of the SCW from very much a British leftwing perspective, written by someone who spent a good bit of time there (book was first published in 1938) and not just researched fifty years later. Book concentrates more on the fighting than the geo-political angles.
Essential reading if interested in the period, if just to get away from much of the rightist orientated works of Hugh Thomas's later editions, and to an extent, Antony Beevor.
on 22 April 2011
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started reading Rust's 'Britons in Spain'. I was inspired to order it by Christie Moore's 'Viva La Quince Brigada', but I couldn't find a book about the specifically Irish volunteers so, knowing that many of them fought in the British Battalion, I ordered this book. My first thoughts were, on the one hand, that it personalised the war, giving a real sense that these were real men, real idealists, who gave so much, and on the other hand that it was written like a Boy's Own tale of jolly old comintern authoritarianism. The account of why saluting is necessary in a Popular Front People's Army is ludicrous - Rust's justifications for discipline could come from authoritarian Left or Right. But he was, it has to be said, correspondent for the Daily Worker.
As I read on, I realised that the overwhelming impression was of the commitment of the men and the huge price they paid. Of 2000 British and Irish volunteers, 500 died or disappeared and 1200 were wounded. Inadequately armed, they fought huge odds. Rust still claimed to be confident of the Republic's victory when he wrote his introduction after the withdrawal of the Internationals - if he was then it demonstrates to me the blind loyalty of the British Left to Stalinism and its doublethink.
I finished thinking that those men's idealism had been betrayed. And for that lesson I'm glad I read this book - it is no academic study, it is an important personal observation.