Just as students sporting t-shirts of Che Guevara are often ignorant of his bloody revolutionary record, so too it seems that champions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade suffer from a peculiar form of “historical amnesia” promoted by academics and activists alike.
But in Professor Char Prieto’s case, the decision to continue lauding the Soviet-influenced Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) stems not from ignorance of the these values, but their acceptance.
“After World War II the movement to stop Communism was rampant in the United States. Therefore, anything associated with Marxist views was censored,” argued the Professor of Spanish from California State University at Chico this December. “The members of the Lincoln Brigade who fought fascists in Spain were considered a threat to America and anti-patriotic and so it was [with] Langston Hughes and his literary works, especially the poems he wrote about race and social justice while he was in Spain.”
Prieto described how 1930’s “Negro Communist” Langston Hughes became sympathetic to Soviet Communism after visiting the USSR, which Hughes felt was less racist than the United States. “In 1932 he had traveled to Russia and there he started to appreciate Communism and not only praise socialist practices during the Depression, here in the United States,” Prieto said.
“This Russian trip influenced Hughes to sympathize with the socialist ideals in Spain,” she continued, speaking at one of two panels sponsored by the Langston Hughes Society. Prieto is currently authoring The Forgotten Holocaust: Spanish Civil War, Massacre, Pact, Obliviousness and Recovery of Historical Memory in Spain, according to her CSU-Chico biography.
Prieto encouraged the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention audience to go see the recently-erected VALB monument in San Francisco. “2008 was a historic year for California when the first monument for the American volunteers of the [Abraham] Lincoln Brigade was unveiled in San Francisco—here, in March, in this town,” she said. “This event was without any doubt an antidote for historical amnesia. The memorial honors the brave men and women who joined the fight with the Spanish liberals to save democracy during the Spanish Civil War 1936 [through] 1939.”
As Herbert Romerstein, a former congressional staffer and federal official who specializes in internal security issues, documented in his book Heroic Victims, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade would shoot its deserters and then list them as casualties.
Lincoln vets include, among many others,
• Milt Wolff, who said “I don’t care what channel, whether you’re a communist or a Quaker, as long as that is the aim—to alleviate hunger in Ethiopia, or stop the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, or El Salvador, or end the U.S. blockade of Cuba. It’s not Spain by itself, but the whole thing, that is the good fight.”
• Abe Osheroff, who built homes for the socialist Sandanistas of Nicaragua while Reagan backed the Contras, and
• Ted Veltfort, who moved to Cuba and taught physics there shortly after the Cuban Revolution.
Richard Bermack and Peter N. Carroll quote Veltfort’s memories of Cuba in The Front Lines of Social Change,
“The best thing at the time about Cuba was seeing socialism working…We got to see socialism working in housing, healthcare, and education. Our three children all got excellent schooling.”
Freedom House lists Cuba as “Not Free” with a one-party government “highly repressive of political dissent” and where “official corruption remains a serious problem.”
As Accuracy in Academia’s Malcolm A. Kline argues in a recent column “While they were alive, VALB spokesmen worked the college lecture circuit for all it was worth. Indeed, they may be the only American combat veterans greeted like heroes in the halls of academe in recent memory.”
When dedicating the VALB San Francisco memorial in March, veteran Osheroff said “I’ll tell you what it’s all about for me. Someday in the not too distant future some guy will be walking through here with a couple of his adolescent kids, and one of the kids will say ‘Dad, what’s that?’ and this Dad may know the answer and giving that answer is like putting another spark plug into the vehicle of progress that we’re all engaged in.”
Osheroff, a member of the Communist Party until 1956, passed away in April; the University of Washington, which screened the pro-VALB film “Souls Without Borders” set up an Abe Osheroff & Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund for Students. “Specifically, students will partake in projects through direct engagement in areas that are consistent with the legacy of Abe Osheroff, a lifetime human rights activist, including but not limited to economic justice, environmental justice, labor rights, women’s rights, and or minority/indigenous rights,” reads the endowment.
“High priority will be given to projects that focus on the adverse consequences of the policies or actions of our government, or our institutions and corporations, on disadvantaged people in our country or abroad.”
Students interested in promoting human rights in Cuba, Communist China, or exposing the evils of Stalin’s USSR need not apply.
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.