Mujer Libre
February 1, 2008 12:46 AM   Subscribe

The Scots voice of the Spanish revolution [Embedded DivX video 1hr15m; also downloadable] Ethel MacDonald was a young working class Scots woman who hitch-hiked to Barcelona to do her part in the war. There she became the English-language voice of the anarchist movement as a radio station announcer. Newspapers at home dubbed her the "Scottish Scarlet Pimpernel" for her role in helping comrades escape the crackdown that followed the May Days. Her remarkable story is told in this recent drama-documentary.
posted by Abiezer (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely fascinating.
posted by Lezzles at 1:18 AM on February 1, 2008

Thanks, I recently saw Ken Loach's movie Land and Freedom, your post is going to provide some more interesting glimpses into this history.
posted by nicolin at 1:44 AM on February 1, 2008

I only very recently found out that my grandmother's brothers (from Lanarkshire in Scotland) both went to fight in the Spanish Civil War so it is something that I am very interested in finding out more about.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:05 AM on February 1, 2008

The Marxist Sheeren Nanjiani ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:28 AM on February 1, 2008

Fascinating story—thanks for the post. But I've always found '30s leftist politics confusing, and this left me even more confused:
Ethel left the ILP and joined Guy Aldred in the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, (APCF). Three years later in 1934 the APCF split over the issue of the nature of its opposition to Labour Parliamentarianism. Guy Aldred lead the splinter group and Ethel MacDonald joined him. The splinter group formed a new organisation, the Workers Open Forum. The Workers Open Forum had a very short life, months in fact, the ILP had split from the Labour Party and its support was being sought by the Communists to create a United Front and by Trotsky to form a Fourth International. Guy Aldred supported the Trotskyists and was successful in getting the Glasgow, Townhead Branch of the ILP to join with him and form a new organisation, in June 1934 the United Socialist Movement, (USM) was born. Ethel remained a member of the USM and a close comrade of Guy Aldred until her death in 1960.
I don't see how you can be a Trotskyist and an anarchist at the same time. Ah well, she was a Glaswegian hero!
posted by languagehat at 7:49 AM on February 1, 2008

No Pasaran!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:04 AM on February 1, 2008

lh - the USM was not Trotskyist, it was libertarian communist (as these things go, it's a flavor of anarchism). Some of its members may have flirted with Trotskyism but they were never part of the fractious movements that eventually shook out into the Revolutionary Communist Party.
posted by graymouser at 9:25 AM on February 1, 2008

Excelente post!!!!. Gracias.
posted by elmono at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2008

Am I the only one who immediately thought of a certain sub-plot in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"?
posted by Asparagirl at 3:49 PM on February 1, 2008

" Spain in the 1930s was a fractious country, with groups from left and right committing political violence on a massive scale. While Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supplied aid to the Rebels, the democracies of Europe refused to help the government of Spain, and it was left to Communist Russia and the foreign volunteers to support the Republic.

The foreign volunteers in Spain were organised as the International Brigades and saw much heavy fighting throughout the three years of the war. Of the 2,000 or so Britons who fought in Spain, around a quarter were Scots. One hundred and thirty four of the Scottish Brigaders lost their lives in Spain, sixty-five of those hailing from the city of Glasgow.

The surviving members of the International Brigades left Spain in early 1939 as it became obvious that a Fascist victory was inevitable. La Pasionaria spoke these words at their farewell:

"Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the good of that same cause for which you offered your blood with limitless generosity, send some of you back to your countries and some to forced exile. You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of the solidarity and the universality of democracy… We will not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic's victory, come back!" "

James Maley RIP.
posted by brautigan at 4:30 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think I enjoyed it most in a similar vein, Asparagirl; both the story of this impressive young woman, and the interviews with the now elderly anarchist activist woman which I thought were the best part of the documentary. As a crumbly old lefty I was aware of a lot of the history introduced, and could probably take exception to some of the academic views presented, but these voices, these lives, remain an inspiration.
I'd read bits and pieces about Guy Aldred here and there; I had him pegged as a sort of quixotic figure but that probably doesn't do the man justice. There's a whole ferment of activism in the immediate post-WWI years and into the twenties that I really wish I was more familiar with. One study of the lost byways of anarchism in Britain I read years ago was the excellently-titled The Slow Burning Fuse, but it's not all online there sadly, so can't refresh my memory of this particular period.
posted by Abiezer at 4:42 PM on February 1, 2008

Had a quick search for more on the woman activist from the film; plenty in Spanish but not much in English. There is this brief bio at the IISG, where some of her papers are lodged: Antonia Fontanillas.
posted by Abiezer at 5:51 PM on February 1, 2008

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