“They went because their open eyes could see no other way.” So rang the words of Cecil Day-Lewis in the ears of manylast week as a photograph emerged online showing International Brigadiers in Northern Syria sending solidarity to the RMT Southern Rail strike.
RMT guards are striking on Southern Rail, which has been chosen by the DFT as a battle ground to smash the Transport Unions, to defend passenger safety and to keep a second safety critical member of staff on board trains.
The newly-formed unit of the International Freedom Battalion (IFB) are fighting the war against Isis just 30 miles from their stronghold in Raqqa, and have taken the name of the late RMT General Secretary Bob Crow for their banner.
Comprised of British and Irish volunteers, the brigade who will serve a minimum six months military service have assisted the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in making significant territorial gains in the area.
Their aims are to defend the right of the Kurdish people to self determination, to defend the revolution in Rojava and to combat the fascism of ISIS.
They have decided to honour Bob Crow in this way because he was a working class hero, and the inspiration for a generation of socialists and trade unionists. He inspired all of them.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Steve Hedley, Snr. Asst. General Secretary of the RMT said;
“Bob would have been honoured that young people from Britain would fight the forces of evil in his name.
“A great admirer of the international brigades that fought in Spain, Crow would of course have drawn the parallels with the new international brigades fighting clerical fascism and defending Yazhidi ,Muslim and Christian workers from slavery and persecution.”
Speaking to the partner of a British volunteer, it is evident that this is a precarious and dangerous time. Like any family mindful of a loved one, there is fear and worry, but also great love, pride and hope;
“Having someone close to you in such a dangerous place – on the front line fighting ISIS is obviously worrying. I am however very proud of my fiancé, he is brave and dedicated in fighting against all forms of fascism, including the mysogynistic and oppressive Daesh.
“The Rojava revolution is a women’s led struggle in a region where women’s rights are few. So as a feminist and a socialist I understand the importance of the international volunteers and the support they provide to the revolutionary struggle.”
Although the legal status of volunteering is unclear, all of the brigade were inspired to answer the call put out by the IFB last year, and comparisons between the International Freedom Battalion of today and the Brigadas Internacionales of 1930s Spain are not lost on the volunteers either.
As communists and antifascists they understood clearly the threat of fascism posed by ISIS and the need to defend and spread the social revolution taking place in Rojava.
The communist international put the call out in the ’30’s to defend the Spanish republic from fascism, and they have answered the call to fight fascism today in the same spirit.
Although the Rojava Revolution has taken hundreds of volunteers over the last four years, YPG commander Cihan Kendal says they want to teach brigadiers more than they have previously.
As a result, on top of military training, all recruits now study at least a month of Kurdish language, history and culture and political and ideological classes. Classes are also taught by the women’s movement on their ideology and organisations.
Kendal says; “it is true that there are not so many female volunteers at the moment, but this will change… the main force of this revolution is the women’s movement and their ideology; so more women have to come, have to see it, and take part in their own emancipation.”
As the spectre of fascism looms large on the global stage, Gary Oak left a parting statement with a rousing message for us all.
“We must hold our values and analysis to be completely true at every step of the way; we must tell the people that our thought liberated us in the past, will liberate us now from confusion and dismay, and will ultimately liberate the whole of humanity; and we tell them by actions that demonstrate we believe this.”
He says it is no longer enough to traipse miserably through the rain, with placard in hand bemoaning our lack of power. It is not enough to sullenly sulk at the state of things. We have answered the call, and we answer it gladly, proud of our opportunity and our place in this struggle.
We must take our convictions in hand, and give dutily what is required, we must not fear or falter, we cannot let slip now – we must be the left that history demands of us.
I met with Chris Walker last month to give him an interview on my politics, where they came from, and what it’s all about:
1. At what age and where did your support for communism come from ?
I grew up in a strict family as the daughter of a baptist minister. We were working class, permanently skint and crowbarred by our parents into stereotypes we hated.
When I was 18 my “rebel phase” got out of hand and my dad kicked me out. I began squatting in London.
The anarchists I met in those squats, although I didn’t necessarily agree with them all the time, had passion and courage of conviction which I admired. I called myself an anarchist too, for a few years, and attended demos with my face covered and dressed black head to toe, I was naively waiting for that round-the-corner revolution we all see as imminent when we’re kids.
This was definitely the root of my political views as I saw them then, these guys had a real desire to smash the status quo, tear down the systems of oppression, shake the world. But in the end, as I grew up and had children, immersed myself in the working world and all the challenges that come with it, I began to look for something else. Something that suggested a remedy, a plan – for after the smashing of the state.
After the last general election, I went through some old boxes of stuff and found the Communist Manifesto. A friend had given it to me years before and begged me to read it, I had forgotten all about it. I read it, and read it again, and it completely changed my life. It’s been changing my life ever since.
2. In the current political situation in Britain how would communism change britain for the better ?
Communism is as much an answer in Britain as it is anywhere. Its a solution for all of the worlds ills, not just ours. It’s not a political party or a special measure – it’s a complete brick by brick dismantling of the whole capitalist system of corruption, exploitation and oppression which has crippled us for so long.
It is the building of a system in which the backbone of humanity – the working class, are afforded all that is owed to them, put simply – the fruits of their labour; the world itself.
It is not about changing what we have and making it better, or taking it back to when it wasn’t quite so bad. It must be obliterated altogether, scrubbed from the earth, and replaced with the dictatorship of the proletariat – the working class.
3. Who in Britain’s current political arena could help bring communism to Britain?
This is something that I learned as a young anarchist booting off at the G20 and going home with an empty feeling in my belly, frustrated cos half my mates had been nicked and I’d lost a glove.
There are no shortcuts. Communism won’t be built overnight just because somewhere, the right guy fell into the right job. The only people who can enforce a working class revolution and establish communism, are us – the working class. The only way this will happen, is if we are motivated, educated, supported and connected.
There will always be sympathetic politicians. There will also always be those politicians who would love to see you swinging from a lamppost. We must rise with our class, all of us together, and not one above the rest. We must build the movement if we want it to be built. Join the unions, fight for the working class and stand strong when we are attacked, rally and defend each other, and build the movement. I can’t say it enough, its the only way it can be done.
4. What advice or information would you give to people wanting to find out more about communism and who inspired you?
Find other communists, for a start. I am very lucky to have a close network of likeminded friends who have all been very supportive and patient with me while I learn. I also joined my local branch of the communist party who hold monthly meetings where you can ask questions and learn more. There is also a library in Clerkenwell in London called the Marx Memorial Library – they not only hold books they also run courses on Marxist material, it’s an amazing place.
It is of paramount importance for any communist to find comrades and to connect with them. None of us can do it on our own, we need each other. Also, read the manifesto. Read it until you understand it, there are a lot of resources out there which can help you study. A lot of the writings that we refer to as communists are old and academic – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant or accessible. The manifesto is a love song to our class, and we must learn to sing it.
5. What direction is the communist movement in Britain heading towards?
Toward communism, haha!
Communists don’t exactly have a stranglehold on the political sphere in Britain right now but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of work to be done. Jeremy Corbyn is a strong socialist who values many of the same ideas and issues that we do. As communists we must learn to use the vehicles available to us to our advantage.
The divisionary tactics and sectarianism of the liberal left will be their own downfall. We can and must work with all areas of the working class to further our aims, but as I said before, class revolutions do not come about overnight. Build it from the ground up, and if there’s nothing where you live then build it there.
6. What would you say to people who still fear / misunderstand what communism is?
That’s a huge chunk of the world there that you’re talking about – there has been a colossal campaign of ferocious propaganda against communism which is still strong today.
It’s no wonder that the capitalist giants of the world will do all in their power to discredit and destroy us – we are the antithesis of everything they are, and their greatest threat.
But maybe the message shouldn’t be for those who are afraid of us – maybe it should be for us, to tell working class people there is nothing to fear.
Hoist that hammer and sickle high, let it fly in the wind, let the blood of the martyrs wash any doubt from your mind. Do not be ashamed and afraid of knowing the truth. Only when people see and fear will they question and understand.
7. Have you a message for people this interview might inspire to look at communism in a new light?
I think, as with anything in life, the message is simple. Find out for yourself. Read. Educate yourself. Find who your friends are, and build with them. Move forward, push. Spread the word. Join a union. Fly that red flag proud. See you on the barricades.
You know, I bet there were a few of those men and women in the 1930s who’s families said they were crazy. I bet there were people who laughed at them, or stared confused at their intention. I bet there were people who ridiculed and mocked, and told them it was pointless.
I bet a lot of people didn’t really understand what it was all about, and what’s Spain got to do with us anyway? I bet it was hard leaving their children and families behind. I bet it was difficult to explain to them what was going on, and why they had to go.
Because they did, have to go. It was not an option. The ugly head of fascism was reared in Spain and the call was sent out. These men and women understood that the struggle was international. That there must be international solidarity and action if it was to be defeated. The courage of their convictions was born, and from it came a most beautiful thing.
They understood that win or lose, to fight and die was better than to lie down and allow the wheels of such a monster to smother them in the dirt. They knew that if they did not go to Spain and slam the door in its face it would be on their doorstep next.
“They went because their open eyes could see no other way.” And there was no other way, than to put their lives on the front line in solidarity with the people of Spain and to declare, loudly, for the world to hear – NO PASARAN!
They were heroes, and we remember them – in our hearts, on our memorials, in our songs and in our stories. They are a part of this struggle which can never be erased or sullied. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for the greatest cause ever known – the freedom of mankind.
The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939 – but the war against fascism rages on, and is perhaps now more terrifying than ever before. In Syria and Iraq, the fascist hordes of ISIS have amassed to pour their boiling poison into the world.
Who stands in the face of such terror? Who holds back the night from our doorstep? Who stands, boldly, their very life in hand, ready to give it gladly in this war against evil? Who are the men and women who have already given so much, sacrificed all, for the greatest cause ever known?
The brave heroes of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the International Freedom Battalion (IFB). Men and women who are not conscripts, who have no duty in this fight other than that which blooms inside of them. The burning passion to eradicate this blackness from the earth, and replace it with the liberation of all humanity.
They pound that pavement to glory that the earlier brigadiers paved for them. They fight, as they did in Spain in the 1930s, because they know there is no other way. They are the sword in the darkness, they are the beacon light in a world black as pitch. They too, have left behind families, children, spouses, whole lives to offer up their entire existence to the cause of socialism.
British and Irish Men of the Bob Crow Brigade, IFB – we salute you, and send to you our deepest love and solidarity. You are an inspiration to us all, you are the bedtime story I tell my son. You are the hope of a generation.
As James Connolly spoke to his daughter Nora for the last time ahead of his execution – she said to him, “daddy – do we really have to fight?”
He said to Nora, “If we don’t fight, we can only hope for a great earthquake to come and swallow us and our shame.”
This is true now, as it was then, for all who would consider themselves socialist. We are bound by our morals, by the debt owed to those brigadiers in Spain, and by the blood of the martyrs which soaks every Corner of the red flag we hold so proudly aloft.
Fascism runs rampant on the global stage.
The international brigades burn brightly, a beacon of hope for all the world to see.
The call is in all of us, and we must answer. We must.