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Cutting dispatches on the Spanish war

Tom Sibley finds a splendid critique of Orwell in Jim Jump's A Spanish Civil War Scrapbook

A Spanish Civil War Scrapbook
Edited by Jim Jump
(Lawrence & Wishart, £35)

This splendid book reproduces a teenager’s extensive scrapbook of press cuttings drawn from  two wars in the late 1930s, the Spanish civil war and the Japanese invasion of China. That teenage  compiler was Pearl Bickerstaffe — mother of Unison’s former general secretary Rodney —who contributes a foreword to the book.

She grew up in a Doncaster working-class family who were readers of the Daily Worker and that’s reflected in the scrapbook, where on-the-spot reports for the paper from Spain feature dispatches by  Sam Russell, Frank Pitcairn — the pen name of Claude Cockburn — and Peter Kerrigan.

The book’s editor Jim Jump, secretary of the International Brigades Memorial Trust and a leading authority on the Spanish civil war, rightly highlights the crucial role of communists in the solidarity effort for Spain.

The International Brigade was the creation of the Communist International and the Aid to Spain movements in alliance with political, trade union, church and other voluntary groups and, as Jump stresses,  this exemplified the party’s desire for a wider popular front against fascism.

Paul Preston’s introduction, focusing on the foreign correspondents reporting on the civil war, rightly castigates George Orwell’s crassness in likening the Soviet Union’s role in Spain to that of Britain and France. The former was a staunch supporter of the republic while the imperialist powers did much to aid Franco under the cloak of the spurious non-intervention pact.

But he might also drawn attention to Orwell’s assessment of press coverage and his conclusion that  left-wing and pro-republican papers like the Daily Worker and the News Chronicle did more to mislead the public than the pro-fascist Daily Mail.

That shows how Orwell’s obsessive anti-communism prevented him from making any worthwhile judgements about the politics and conduct of the civil war.

The scrapbook is further proof of the inestimable value of a socialist daily newspaper like the Daily Worker in providing an accurate historical record.

And it’s essential reading because, as Bickerstaffe stresses in the foreword, it’s vital that future generations learn the lessons of what happened in Spain and about the sacrifice of so many of the finest young people of their generation in the cause of freedom, social justice and democracy, a struggle that continues to this day.

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