Abraham Lincoln Brigade

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE. Americans comprised about 2,800 of the approximately 40,000 international volunteers who responded to the Spanish Republican government's 1936 plea for help against a revolt by right-wing military officers. In this conflict, called the Spanish Civil War, the rebels gained the military assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republican side had far less extensive aid from the Soviet Union. Communist parties operated worldwide to recruit and send volunteer brigades to fight against the Spanish fascist forces. Nearly one hundred African Americans signed up, their antifascist fervor augmented by the recent Italian fascist invasion of Ethiopia. Communists and non-Communists, the volunteers began to arrive in early 1937. Few had prior military experience. Most made their precarious way through blockaded France and across the Pyrenees to join the Spanish Republican Army.

Before going into battle with minimal training, the volunteer units were divided into linguistic combat battalions often named after national heroes. The Americans chose to call their units the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Battalions of the Fifteenth Brigade. Some also served as doctors and nurses with the medical units, or as ambulance and truck drivers. Initially thrown into the Jarama Valley sector of the battle for Madrid, the volunteers suffered heavy casualties but Madrid did not fall. A costly Republican offensive followed in the Brunete region, west of the capital, in July 1937. Later in the summer, the much-reduced Lincoln Battalion absorbed much of what was left of the Washington Battalion. Other Americans joined the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Brigade and fought on. The fighting then shifted to the Aragon-Ebro front in the northeast to prevent the fascist forces from cutting the Republican territory in two. The shrinking Lincoln contingent participated in the bitter winter campaign at Teruel, and in the unsuccessful Republican offensive in the Ebro region. By that time one-third of the Lincolns had been killed, and most of the remainder had sustained injuries.

To pressure the Germans and Italians to withdraw their forces, the Republican government in 1938 ordered the demobilization of all International Brigades. But Hitler and Mussolini kept their troops fighting alongside Franco's forces until Madrid fell the following March, leaving the fascist forces victorious. Still, the surviving Lincolns returned home heroes and heroines to the left, but suspect "premature antifascists" to government officials and conservatives. The support by many Lincoln veterans of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from 1939 to 1941 seemed even to liberals to contradict the veterans' professed antifascism, but once the United States and the Soviet Union entered the war, many of them enlisted in the armed forces to again pursue victory over fascism. As leftists in the postwar McCarthy era, the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade faced and survived U.S. government repression. When in 1956 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev publicly admitted the crimes of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin, many prominent Lincoln veterans left the Communist Party but remained eager to uphold the legitimacy and rectitude of their antifascist activity in the 1930s, and also supported the peace and civil rights movements of later decades. With the number of Lincoln veterans shrinking, a sister organization, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, came into existence in 1979 to carry on by educational activity the memory of the brigade.


Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. Home page at http://www.alba-valb.org/.

Bruckner, Noel, Mary Dore, and Sam Sills. The Good Fight. New York: KINO International, 1984. Videotape.

Carroll, Peter N. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Nelson, Cary, and Jefferson Hendricks. Madrid 1937: Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Landis, Arthur H. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. New York: Citadel, 1967.

Marvin E.Gettleman

See alsoCommunist Party, United States of America ; Spain, Relations with .

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