Mariana, MML Volunteer and cataloguer of our Spanish Collection, tells us about how this collection has inspired a fascinating with the Spanish Civl War and Aid Spain Movement.
"It was only last autumn that my then very limited knowledge about the Spanish Civil War, squeezed into half a history class back in school, expanded and deepened greatly, to become a subject close to my heart. I had joined the Marx Memorial Library as a volunteer, having recently obtained a master’s degree in Library Science. I began work re-organising, classifying and cataloguing the pamphlets of the Spanish Collection. They represent just one type of the printed material in this comprehensive archive, which also holds correspondences, photographs, periodicals and more. The pamphlet collection alone comprises many hundreds of items.
The first thing I noticed was how beautiful these pamphlets are, and also how varied: the majority of them was published during the war years (1936-39), but some are as brief as 4 pages long, others as long as 84; many printed in England but many others from Spain, France, U.S.A., Germany; some are opinion essays but others official decrees, partisan manifestoes and memoirs. I spent the first few weeks of work familiarising with the collection, absorbing the history of the Spanish Civil War told by the pamphlets. I was introduced to a variety of characters and agents: from Franco to Falange, Durruti to Dolores, UGT to CNT, Interventionists to Non-interventionists, anarchists to Africanistas, Communists to Carlists. They tell their stories in the form of speeches, poetry, instructions, opinions, photos, correspondences, essays, campaigns, pledges and claims.
This great variety does make the job of re-organising and classifying the collection a difficult one. Initially, the pamphlets were stored inside folders in a relatively orderly manner that suggested a sorting by publishers, with a smaller proportion of them sorted by language or theme. Thus, an important and challenging part of my work was to build a classification scheme for the pamphlet collection, one that would accommodate their variety as far as possible, while keeping some aspects of this previous sorting system and also mirroring how the rest of the archive was being re-organised. Following that, a focus on the cataloguing: for each pamphlet I began to create a record into the MML online catalogue and designate a unique reference number according to the classification system. When this work is complete, we will have every pamphlet recorded, described and identified, easily searchable through the MML online catalogue and quickly retrievable from the shelves. We expect this effort will burst open the doors to this invaluable collection, and I am confident that I will not be the only one to have fallen in love with this fantastic resource.
Another aspect of this variety in the pamphlets is that it shows the complexity of the Spanish Civil War itself, at a time when it is finally being remembered and retold, after several painful decades of the imposition of an unchallengeable, simplistic version of the conflict’s history: the victors’ version, that tells of a ‘liberation’ of Spain from the ‘anti-Spain’ ones – or the ‘reds’, Communists, anarchists, republicans, and everyone else who once had expressed more democratic aspirations. According to this history, ‘they’ murdered, assaulted, destroyed and vandalised, and ‘we’ the Nationalists managed to expunge ‘them’ from Spain and restore it. But, as Paul Preston put it, ‘The conflict was not a tidy split between right and left, between forces of evil and the forces of good. It was a messy and appallingly painful amalgam of intertwined hostilities and hatreds’ (Preston, 2006). These pamphlets are hundreds of voices expressing exactly that: the fact that the Spanish Civil War just cannot be adequately understood by dual terms, two extreme opposites, but that the recognition of the many characters and their conflicts can provide a more accurate outlook. And unlike the ‘victors’ history’, our pamphlets let those who fought, resisted, died, aided and suffered as ‘anti-Spain’ speak up for themselves and talk about their Civil War, their claims, their gains and their losses.
In this sense, the inauguration of the pamphlets collection is also very timely, for it contributes to the current, still growing wave of rediscovery of perspectives from the Spanish Civil War that have been repressed for so long, but that are finally emerging. The number of pamphlets that want to tell ‘the truth about Spain’ – the one that had been kept concealed – is very impressive: dozens of them, attempting to call attention to many different issues which, in their view, were being hidden or distorted by the Francoist, fascist or pro-Nationalists media, including the bombardments of civilians, the breach of the non-intervention pact by German and Italian military forces, the lies about the role of Soviet aid to the Republic, about certain unlawful killings by Republicans, about what the Republic would mean for Spain. The attempt to disseminate the truth through these pamphlets makes me think of a combat against the fake news and post-truths of the Spanish Civil War, spread all around by Nationalist radio during and after the war.
A very special part of the collection comprises the pamphlets in Spanish languages, many of which published by the Spanish Republican Government during the war years, items that I suspect are not readily found anywhere else. Also, of particular interest to researchers here in the UK might be the extensive set of pamphlets that I have classified under ‘War years: Britain and the Spanish Civil War’. They are publications from British political parties, trade unions and other political organisations; from groups of aid to Spain; from non-affiliated and government pressure groups; even from certain publishing houses that, during those years, were committed to having pamphlets on the Spanish situation printed out for British readers (‘The International Brigades’ is a separate section of its own). In ‘Aid to Spain’, you can find items by British individuals or groups specifically dedicated to efforts of war relief, either by volunteering in health provision – such as ‘The Spanish Medical Aid Committee’ –, organising the evacuation and refuge of Spaniards – notably the ‘Basque Childrens’ Committee’ –, or fundraising and collecting food donations for Spain – such as ‘The Christian Foodship Committee’. Along with the International Brigade, I would consider these efforts direct British aid to Spain; however, I would also say that (almost) all the pamphlets in the collection by British individuals and groups represent an aid of some sort, for simply publishing words denouncing German bombardments and challenging the non-intervention agreement for the largely indifferent or monarchy/Franco sympathising British public of that time, in my view, can be considered an aid – at least by echoing the Spanish cry for greater audiences. These pamphlets are a testimony for those in Britain who took a stand.
So much can be squeezed out from this amazing collection, and we are pleased and proud to have it launched in no time, so anyone interested in Spain can come and be touched by the history in these pamphlets – fascinating documents of a war that, with its many conflicts regarding assistance to refugees, foreign military intervention, fascist inclinations, glorification of empires of the past, polarisation of politics, borders between European countries, to name only a few, remains so relevant today."