During the Spanish civil war of 1936 to 1939, 35,000 men and women from around the world volunteered to fight against the forces of General Franco and his supporters from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. When the volunteers were withdrawn in September 1938 after two years of bitter fighting, more than a fifth of them had been killed and very few emerged unscathed.
Conflicts are by definition binary affairs, so it’s inevitable that bitterly contrasting views of the role of the International Brigades have existed ever since the civil war itself. For the volunteers and their supporters, their sacrifices were a ‘heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality’. Conversely, Francoist propagandists dismissed them as Red mercenaries, while the predominant role of the International Communist party, the Comintern, led to a long-standing belief that the International Brigades were a ‘Comintern army’, an agent of Stalin’s expansionism and terror.