Noticed at the rally: ‘Spain Day’ in Kolkata 1936-37

Suchetana Chattopadhyay

that tableland scored by rivers,
thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever
precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
the medicine ad, and the brochure of winter cruises
become invading battalions;
our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruin
projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb.
is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom
the ambulance and the sandbag;
hours of friendship into a people’s army.
perhaps the future.’
W. H. Auden
did the worker’s movement in Kolkata respond to a left internationalist appeal
for solidarity with Republican Spain during the early months of the Spanish
Civil War? Quick examinations of the few archival records that survive convey
that the workers and their leaders, by identifying the systemic interlocking of
capitalism, imperialism and fascism, were forging a vision of internationalism
from below.

9 August 1936, at the
maidan (open
space) adjacent to Ochterlony Monument, a time-honoured spot for public meetings,
Shamsul Huda was noticed at a rally. Along with other trade union organisers
and about 50 workers, he was observing ‘Spain Day’ in Kolkata.A worker from a Bengali-Muslim
peasant background, Huda had travelled to Moscow via United States in the 1920s
and successively joined Communist Party of USA, Communist Third International (Comintern)
and émigré Communist Party of India (CPI). Upon return from his radical voyage
across the world, he had participated in communist-led trade union movements in
and around Kolkata. This led to his arrest and conviction in Meerut Communist
Conspiracy Case (1929-31). For renewed activism in the sphere of labour he was
incarcerated again for a year in 1935. Released in March 1936, he was staying
at Room Number 25, 41 Zakaria Street, the informal quarters of the Kolkata
Committee of CPI and formal office address of the Ganashakti (People’s Power)
Publishing. Eight days after coming out of prison, in early April, the police
questioned him on his political identity and plans. He openly stated he was a
communist by conviction, having no religion and no connection with the banned
Communist Party. His interrogatorsprobably refused to believe him when he declared:
‘I am at present taking rest. I have not yet decided what I will do in the
future.’ Four months later, the police spotted him at a worker’s rally in
support of the Spanish Republic, soon after the civil war had started in Spain.
(Communist Poster commemorating the genealogy and birth of the Spanish Republic as the culmination of people’s victory)

the assorted reports of Intelligence Branch of Bengal Police and Special Branch
of Calcutta Police, it is possible to form an impression on the ways in which a
connection between the anti-fascist resistance in Spain and the expanding
leftwingtrade union movement in Kolkata was being made. Despite meanings lost
in the passage from the speaker’s mouth to the police observer’s ears and
notebooks, the descriptions provided by official sources indicate that a wider
worldview on the connections between capital, empire-building and fascism was
being disseminated by leftwing labour organisers. They were aiming to motivate
and educate the workers who were alreadyforming militant unions to push forward
their economic and political demands. The local labour campaigns were being
combined with the international left solidarity with Spain.The multiple routes
by which the organisers arrived at this position reflected the variegated
branches of the left’s engagement with workers. While CPI activists represented
an identifiable militant bloc, other groups and individuals were also
influential in organising diverse working-class segments distributed across
industrial and service sectors in formal and informal ways. Apart from Huda,
two other labour organisers linked with leftwing internationalism, Sibnath
Banerjee and Soumyendra Nath Tagore were active in the trade union movement in
support of Spain. Though coming from proprietor segments of Bengal, they had
parted ways with the political and social directions of the bhadralok (Hindu
upper-caste) gentry and professionals. Banerjee, an independent socialist, had
travelled to Russia immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution. He organised
militant strikes in the Hooghly industrial belt of South Bengal and worked with
the Indian National Congress-affiliated All India Trade Union Congresss (AITUC).
Tagore had travelled to Europe as an unofficial representative of communists in
India during the late 1920s and later formed a small group in the wake of
schisms following the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. Like Huda, both of themhad
been politically transformed by the post-1917 world. As left activists of the
interwar era, theypossessed an understanding of crisis of capitalism during the
Great Depression and the attendant polarisation between labour and capital,
fascism and anti-fascism, imperialism and the colonised/semi-colonised
populations. They were joined by those whose activism had a local focus but not
bereft of an analysis of the international situation. Though the communists, smaller
left parties and socialists working with Indian National Congress were
separated by terms of political affiliations as there were inter-party
divergences over aim and strategy, they adopted anti-fascism as a considered
political position and launched joint campaigns in labour circles.
Theoretically, Huda, Banerjee and others were guided by and absorbed the
positions of the Comintern linking fascism with big business and propagating
united front of anti-fascists against the fascist offensive as the most
effective counter-strategy. Tagore was influenced by breakaway splinters from
the Comintern which also advocated anti-fascist resistance.
solidarity with the Spanish Republic was launched at two labour meetings in Kolkata
during August 1936 and lived on through other meetings in the following year.
Their vivid and detailed descriptions in the police dossiers showed persistent
attempts to organise the unorganised segments of the workforce, expand existing
unions and launch labour movements as practical programmes of everyday class
survival.These steps merged with the conjoined advocacy of anti-fascism and
proletarian self-government. While resisting a regime of capital, the workers
and labour activists were absorbing Spain within a larger and intertwined
struggle against empire-building and fascism.On the first rally in support of
Spain held on 9 August 1936 by All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Special
Branch reported that several ‘labour parties of Calcutta’ had organised a
public meeting at the foot of Ochterlony Monument in maidan. The aim of the
rally, they interpreted, was to observe ‘Spain Day’. Visited by the spectre of
communism, the police regarded solidarity with Spainon the left as an expression
of sympathy towards the communists of Spain who were fighting a war with the fascists.
The audience, primarily comprising around 50 labourers, was supplemented by 24
left trade union activists. The banners, flags, placards and slogans convinced
the police agents that this was a left initiative. A red banner proclaimed in
English: ‘unite to fight against imperialism and fascism and war for work and
wages or maintenance’. A red flag with the communist ‘insignia’ of hammer,
sickle and the star and another ‘big red flag’ were spotted. The placards
championed the Popular Front government in Spain, demanded an end of abuse
faced by political prisoners in colonial jails in India, condemned an incident
of firing on protestors in French Pondicherry and exhorted workers of the world
to unite against fascism and counter-revolution in Spain. Labour,
inter-provincial and anti-imperialist campaigns were thereby incorporated
within the campaign in support of Popular Front in Spain. The meeting was
punctuated with shouts of ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’ (Victory to the Red Flag),
‘Mazdur Dal ki Jai’ (Victory to the Worker’s Party), ‘Dunia ka Mazdur ki Jai’ (Victory
to the Workers of the World), ‘Mazdur Kisan Hukumat ki Jai’ (Victory to a
government of Workers and Peasants), ‘Mazdur Millat ki Jai’ (Victory to
worker’s unity), ‘Samrajyabad dhangsha hok’ (May Imperialism be destroyed) and
‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long live Revolution).
meeting began at 5.30 PM. The heterogeneous character of the audience,
comprised of multiple lingual, caste and religious segments could be detected
from the various languages in which the speakers addressed them. Sudhin Pramanik,
speaking in Hindi, explained the purpose of the meeting. To the police agents
present, this was to show ‘sympathy’ towards communists of spain who were at
war with the fascists. Pramanik proposed Sibnath Banerjee as chair and Ranjit Mazumdar
seconded this. Nityananda Chaudhuri read out a resolution in English:

mass meeting of workers and citizens of Calcutta and suburbs considers the
fascist coup d’état in Spain as a direct blow to the United People’s Front and
the proletariat movement of the world. While condemning the fascist
counter-revolution in Spain, it expresses its solidarity with the People’s
Front of Spain and calls upon the Indian people to mobilise their force against
the menace of fascism, imperialism and war. This meeting further calls upon the
workers of Italy and Germany, over the heads of their Fascist Government in alliance…to
come out in support of the Spanish People’s Front.’

the resolution in Hindi, Chaudhuri observed that the reins of the ‘United
Front’ government in Spain were at present in the hands of the workers who were
more powerful than the fascists.  This
was why the fascistshad declared war against a people’s government. There existed
an unspoken solidarity among the capitalists which did not exist among workers.
Capital was afraid of the united front movement led by workers, which was also
emerging in Belgium, France and China. Citing Soviet Russia as an example of
worker’s rule which had survived for the last 18 years, he stressed on the need
for workers’ unity against the forces capitalism and fascism. Ranjit Mazumdar
seconded the resolution. Speaking in Bengali, he said that the rich, all over
the world, constituted only 2 percent of the population. Yet, they had combined
and were lording over the poor, the remaining 98 per cent. Capital was trying
to suppress labour with the aid of bullets, knives and swords. The capitalists from
all over the world were helping the fascists in Spain with arms to bring down
the present government. Meanwhile, wherever a capitalist government was in
power, there was unemployment and people were dying of starvation. The workers
of the world should try to counter the attempts of fascism to establish its
rule in Spain and should help the United People’s Front. The workers should
also try to ‘wipe off’ the rich from the world.
police noted the rain had become a drizzle when the meeting started. It now began
to pour heavily. Soon‘all was disorder’ and‘a major portion of the audience’
left. The organisers ‘began to sing communist songs’ which were not‘heard
distinctly’, the lead having been taken by Nityananda Chaudhuri and Sisir Roy.
This was followed by a speech in Urdu by Abdul Gani who also supported the meeting’s
resolution. He remarked that the capitalists were drinking the blood of the
workers.The workers of India should sympathise with the workers of Spain and
rally against the capitalists. Advocating a militant route, he suggested a red
army of labourers should be formed to help workers whenever they needed it. At
this point, the heavy rain forced the organisers to end the meeting. One police
report stated that after the meeting was concluded at 6.10 PM, about 10 workers
led by Sibnath Banerjee started a procession with a red flag and shouting slogans.
They proceeded upto the Esplanade crossing and dispersed. Another report, filed
the day after, contradicted this version and observed that no procession was
formed once the meeting ended and the audience ‘dispersed’.
days later on 12 August 1936, the police learnt that under the auspices of
AITUC, Spain Day will be observed at Sradhyananda Park in the early evening and
students and workers will participate. The crowd was expected to be larger and include
bell-metal workers were expected to march to the meeting in a procession.
Accordingly, two police officers and two watchers, Satyen Bhattacharji and Moni
Saha were present in the park to trace if any leaflets were being distributed.
To their disappointment, no leaflet of any kind was circulated. Unable to find
any incriminating text floating around, they grumpily observed that Umbrella
stick-makers of Champatala, who had collected at the park to walk in a
procession to a labour meeting at Jorabagan Park, were ‘forcibly stopped’ and
made to participate in the proccedings by Sibnath Banerjee. It seems from the
description that the umbrella workers readily joined the meeting.
poster hanging on the railing of the park proclaimed: ‘Down with Fascist
Counter-Revolution’. In the North-West corner about 50 people had initially
assembled. Their ranks swelled gradually to 200 and came to include the 30
umbrella-benders. At around 5.55 PM, the meeting started. Sibnath Banerjee
speaking in Bengali remarked that the capitalists had rebelled against a
worker’s government in Spain. What was happening there will happen in India in
the future. Capital will wage a life and death struggle against workers and
peasants to keep them from attaining prosperous living conditions. While Soviet
Russia and a section in France were supporting the government of Spain, Italy
and Germany were backing the fascist rebels with armaments. Money was being
raised in Russia to help Spain. In India, colonial capital was oppressing the
workers along with native capitalists. The peasants and workers of India should
support the peasants and workers of Spain. Abdus Sattar, a socialist leader
from Burdwan, who preside over the meeting, echoed this position. He stressed
that the workers should support Spain for the Spanish poor were being attacked
by forces of capital, the common enemies of the labouring classes across the
world.The outcome of the conflict in Spain was bound to exercise an impact on
international politics andIndia and its people could not remain unaffected. If British
imperialists supported the fascists in Spain, people of India should give a fitting
reply to Britain since India was her economic mainstay.He pointed out that the
professed neutrality of Britain was not being carried out in practice, as was evident
from press reports. People of India should stand by Spain. Sattar moved a
motion of solidarity of Calcutta workers with workers and peasants of Spain,
alarmed at attempts by Germany and Italy to suppress the Spanish masses. The
resolution added that the meeting was watching with great apprehension the
growing confrontation between imperialism and the working class. It was also
declared that henceforth 9 August will be observed as Spain Day.

(Photo: Franco and Hitler)

Huda speaking in Bengali said the imperialists and the fascists were joined
together in a conspiracy to destroy the workers and peasants’ government in
Spain. The working masses of India must support the Spanish government. If the Spanish
fascists win, imperialism and capitalism will win and a second war, even more
devastating than the Great War, will be unleashed on the civilian populations
of the world. The use of deadly chemical weapons, including poison gas and
bombs was a certainty. To establish the rule of workers and peasants in this
country, the people of India who have been exploited, oppressed and had their
blood sucked for 150 years, must resist fascism and imperialism. Shamsul Huda,
upholding the Comintern and CPI position, stressed on the need to form a ‘United
Front’ or ‘Popular Front’. Other speakers, also speaking in Bengali, connected the
starving conditions in the country with the working of banks, capital and
imperialism and supported Spain’s struggle against fascism. Rajani Mukherjee,
for instance, said that people in India died of starvation in front of banks
and restaurants since religion forbade them to rise. The banks and restaurants
could not have functioned smoothly in Europe if the conditions had been the
meeting dissolved at 7PM. Sattar as president of the meeting requested the
workers to form a procession and march to Jorabagan. Thirty workers of
umbrella-bending workshops who were waiting at the park to join a labour
meeting of their associations at Jorabagan Park, were accompanied by 10 trade
union organisers who had participated in the Spain Day meeting. The assembled arms
of the law, the mixed group of low-level government watchers, Special Branch
and Intelligence Branch officers as well as the regular police who were present
at the meeting immediately trailed the procession during its ‘entire route’,
possibly fishing for rewards and praise from the higher authorities.They
eagerly followed the umbrella stick-benders,a small crowd of plebians without
banners, marching through the ‘native’ neighbourhoods of Amherst Street,
Mirzapur Street, Colootola Street, Chitpur Road-Chittaranjan Avenue, Maniktala
Street, Raja Gurudas Street, Beadon Street and NimtalaGhat Street. The processionists
reached the Jorabagan Park meeting at about 8 PM in the diminished number of
around 20 persons, including Abdus Sattar, Sudhin Pramanik, Mohhammad Ismail, Manoranjan
Roy, Abdul Gani and other communist and left labour leaders who had joined them
after the Spain Day meeting. Sibnath Banerjee and Pratap Singh had escorted
them up to Mechuabazar Street before parting ways. During the march, Abdul Gani
raised distinctly ‘red’ slogans, including some aired in the previous meeting
on 9 August: ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’ (Victory to the Red Flag), ‘Duniya ka fascism
barbad’ (May fascism perish in the world), ‘Duniya ka capitalism barbad’ (May
capitalism perish in the world), ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long Live Revolution), ‘Spain
ka inquilabi jung’ (Spain’s Revolutionary War), ‘Mazdur Dal ki Jai’ (Victory to
the Workers’ Party),‘Soviet Russia zindabad’ (Long Live Soviet Russia) and in
anticipation of a future victory, ‘Soviet China zindabad’ (Long Live Soviet
China). Suresh Chandra Ghosh and Surjyakanta Ghosh also echoed similar slogans:
‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘Mazdur Dal ki Jai’, ‘Sramik Union ki
Jai’, ‘Sramik Brinda ki Jai’ (Victory to workers), ‘Sramik Hukumat ki Jai’, ‘Strike
Mazdur-o ki Jai’ (Victory to striking workers). The ‘red’ flavour was noticed
in the banners and flags exhibited at the Jorabagan Park meeting, bringing
together umbrella workers of different industrial units: a red banner with the inscription
in Bengali alphabets, ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai, Champatala chatar banter sramik brinda’
(Victory to the Red Flag, Umbrella-bending workers of Champatala), a red banner
also in Bengali letters, ‘Bhadra Brothers Chatarbanter karkhanar karigar brinda,
5 Nilmoni Ganguly Lane’ (Umbrella-being Artisans of Bhadra Brothers Factory, 5
Nilmony Ganguly Lane) and two impudent red flags. Spain Day thereby merged with
the struggle of an obscure segment of workers, becoming organised and militant,
and overcoming their invisibility in the big city.

(Photo: Children as homeless victims during the civil war in Spain)

with Spain continued in 1937 and surfaced at labour meetings. The meeting most
highlighted in history was organised by the leftwing intelligentsia, under the
auspices of League Against Fascism and War, on 11 March 1937 at Albert Hall. It
was an outcome of the ‘united front’ between the communists, socialists, labour
activists, nationalists and progressive anti-fascist intellectuals. The Special
Branch officers filed a joint report that night. The meeting, they noted, began
with a reading of names. Members of Spain committee included prominent and
leading scientists and authors, nationalists and leftists, communists and trade
unionists, intellectuals and academics. The long list included many men and a
handful of women who had breached the male bastion of the public sphere:
Prafulla Chandra Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Bose, J. C. Gupta, S. C.
Banerjee, Satyen Mazumdar, Prabhu Dayal Himatsingka, Mira Dutt Gupta, Labanyalata
Chanda, Srish Chandra Chakraborty, Asimuddin, R. Ahmed, Surendra Nath Goswami, Gunada
Mazumdar, Rajani Mukherjee, Kamal Sarkar, Deben Sen, Hrishikesh Banerjee,
Nanigopal Mukherjee, Satya Ranjan Sengupta, Ranjit Mazumdar, Muzaffar Ahmad,
Arun Banerjee, Soumyendra Nath Tagore and others. Sarojini Naidu presided. Hirendranath
Mukhopadhyay, Suren Goswami, Gunada Mazumdar, Soumyendra Nath Tagore, Ram
Manohar Lohia and ‘two other gentlemen’ spoke. The president and the speakers
requested people not to be indifferent to the situation in Spain and offer help
in every possible way. 1500 people, including ‘ladies and gentlemen’, attended.
The meeting ended at 7.30PM.
Hirendranath Mukhopadhay recalled the event 50 years later. With the benefit of
hindsight, he observed that Spain was the dress rehearsal of Second World War:‘I
remember speaking at a large meeting in Albert Hall alongside Suren Goswami, a progressive
left writer and Sarojini Naidu. Rabindranath had responded to the appeal to
stand in solidarity with Spain. In the wider anti-fascist political campaign,
we (communists) worked with Sudhindranath Datta (poet) and Soumyendra Nath Tagore
as well as journalists, poets, intellectuals.’
early April, the Special Branch recorded that the members of ‘League Against
Fascism and War’ have formed All India Spain Democracy Defence Committee. They
displayed greater maturity in grasping the issue of mobilising in support of a
leftwing popular democracy by noting that the aim of the members was to assist
the democratic cause in Spain. The local office of the Committee was located at
220 Cornwallis Street (Section E). Among members listed were Soumyendra Nath
Tagore as communist leader and Organizing Secretary,  Ranajit Mazumdar (Bengal), Swami Sahajananda
(Bihar), Nityananda Kanungo (Orissa), Sajjad Zahir and Purnima Banerjee (United
Provinces), P.Y. Deshpande (Central Provinces), Sohan Singh Josh and Freda Bedi
(Punjab), F. H. Ansari and Bahal Singh (Delhi), Indulal Yagnik, Nimbkar and Meher
Ali (Bombay), Kameshwar and N.C.Ranga (Madras).
R. Ahmed, Honorary Secretary, Bengal Provincial Spain Committee convened a public
meeting on 12 April 1937 to raise popular awareness on the Spanish Civil War and
money for the ‘Spain Fund’ at College Square. Held between 5.35-6.35 PM, it was
short and attracted 75 people. Four government reporters present at the meeting
recorded the speeches delivered by Soumyendra Nath Tagore, Professor Suren Goswami
and Gunada Mazumdar. Goswami initially chaired the meeting. He left after a
while and Gunada Mazumdar chaired the proceedings. Suren Goswami, speaking in
Bengali, arguedIndiawas fighting for independence and must stand by the Spanish
republican government in its struggle for democracy at a time of distress.
Nath Tagore, also addressing the crowd in Bengali, observed that the imperial
system which governed India was not in favour of the government in Spain.
Anti-imperialists therefore must show an international concern for Spain in her
struggle since it was not her’s alone. He also referred to the ongoing jute
general strike directed against colonial capital. He appealed for financial
contributions to be sent to R.Ahmed, 2/1 Esplanade East or 220 Cornwallis Street
and expressed satisfaction that Rs.50/- could be handed over at the meeting to
this fund. He said the money was to be sent via Delhi and Paris to
Spain.‘Spain’, a pamphlet by Soumyendra Nath Tagore was on sale at the meeting.
Gunada Mazumdar, also speaking in Bengali, condemned the working of imperialism
and capitalism in India and related this to capital’s attempt to destroy the government
in Spain.
next day, at Wellington Square under the banner of Water Transport Workers
Union, Taltala Branch, an evening meeting for Spain was held between 5.40PM and
7PM. Sibnath Banerjee spoke. Two hundred people, including 50 seamen, were
present. Since the Taltalaneighbourhood was well-known for housing sea-farers
from a Bengali Muslim background, their demands surfaced in the speeches. A red
banner with slogans in Bengali and a red star with hammer and sickle was
prominently displayed. The mood of working-class militancy was also conveyed
through slogans: ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’, ‘Jahaji Sramikki Jai’ (Victory to
maritime workers), ‘Water Transport Workers Union ki Jai’, ‘Spain ka Mazdur ki
Jai’ (Victory to Spanish Workers), ‘Mazdur Kisan Hukumatki Jai’(Victory to the
Government of Workers and Peasants), ‘Duniyar Sramik Andolan ki Jai’ (Victory
to the Workers’ Movement of the World), ‘Swadhin  Bharat ki Jai’ (Long Live Independent India)
and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.
Banerjee presided. The meeting was significant for the presence of leaders from
a working-class milieu. Banerjee introduced Abdul Qadir as a persecuted organiser
of workers from Bauria jute mill. Speaking in Bengali, Qadir repeated the
argument thatIndiawas fighting for democracy and independence and should stand
by Spain when it was being attacked by fascists. He appealed for money to
assist Spain. Badiur Rahman said fascism and imperialism were at the root of the
attack on the Spanish republic and ensuing civil war. He asked seamen to raise
money for Spain and requested Sibnath Banerjee to raise the cause of seamen in the
provincial legislature. Zulfikar, also speaking in Bengali, referred to the
miserable conditions of seamen. Despite the tendency of Qadir and Zulfikar to
attack Aftab Ali, the leader of Indian Seamen’s Union as an exploiter of
lascars, by connecting the struggles of seafarers with the fight for a popular
democratic government in Spain, they were asking the workers to jointly combat
capital and fascism. Soumyendra Nath Tagore, explaining the situation in Spain,
argued that the government was not a communist but a popular one, based on mass
support and committed to improving the conditions of peasants and workers. It
was being attacked by the forces of capitalism and imperialism, the same forces
which own the shipping companies. He referred to the appeal from intellectuals
and leaders to assist Spain, Romain Rolland and Rabindranath’s position on the
need to defeat fascism, Nehru’s observation thatSpainwas fighting for India by
fighting for democracy and the death of Ralph Fox, a British communist writer
and critic who had volunteered in the civil war.  He asked the audience to donate on behalf of
the masses of India and reported that the fund-raising drive was yielding
results, the Spain committee having already sent Rs.100/- to Spain. Sibnath
Banerjee speaking in Bengali referred to the expanding strike action among jute
workers against colonial capital which was rapidly taking on the shape of a
general strike. He observedthat British imperialism was not being able to
resist fascism as it was spreading as a movement in England. Despite the arrogance
of Italian fascists, Britain was placating them and was anxious to preserve
capitalism as a regime. If India was free, she would have sent lakhs of rupees
and volunteers to Spain. In the current circumstances, India must stand with
Spain to defeat General Franco.[4]
with Spain and standing against the rule of capital and capitalism-driven
colonialism thus became inseparable. The labour meetings which first launched
the solidarity movement with Spain in August 1936, continued to find resonance
in the meetings that followed. A militant rejection of capitalism as a global
system and the source of imperialism and fascism emerged in these gatherings.
This position was combined with the immediate issues confronting segments of
workers in Kolkata and its hinterland in the era of Great Depression. Workers
in small-scale industrial units and small to large service-sectors were
organising against oppressive labour conditions. In the parks, squares and
streets of Kolkata, their distance from Spain was being bridged through the
shared vision of a popular, socialist, democratic rule forged from countless
experiences of exploitation, rooted in the working masses and freed from the
depredations of capital. Their social voice was finding an outlet as a
political voice of self-aware people belonging to a particular class,
concentrated at the bottom of society. The struggle for Spain was becoming a
part of the grass root attemptof workers to dismantle the conditions that kept
them down. In this everyday civil war against the owners of capital, they were incorporating
a vision of internationalism from below. Spain was being accorded a central
space within the interpretive framework of the dispossessed to fight those
ruling their lives, indistinguishable from the forces ruling the world.

(Photo: Flooded streets of Kolkata during monsoon 1937)

of the Spanish Civil War
February, Popular Front wins national elections in Spain. A leftwing coalition
government comes to power.
July, a rightwing military uprising to depose the elected democratic government
and led by General Francisco Franco begins. The rebel army is supported by the
Falangists, the Spanish fascists.
August, the International Brigade volunteers start arriving to fight for the
Spanish Republic.
Germany and fascist Italy supports the fascist rebels while Soviet Russia
stands by the Spanish Republic. The Western powers, Britain and USA withhold
sale of weapons to the Republican government.
February-March, the Nationalists offensive is checked and the International
Brigade plays a major role.
April, Guernica, an entire town which acted as a republican stronghold is
destroyed by aerial bombing.
May, internal division among Republican groups in Barcelona takes a serious
August, the Vatican formally sides with Franco.
April, Republican Spain is partitioned by the fascists.
July, the Republican army starts collapsing after the Battle of the Ebro.
October, the volunteers of the International Brigade leave Spain as defeat
January, Barcelona is captured by the fascist rebels.
February, Britain and France recognise the Falangist-military regime, vesting
fascism with quick and much-needed legitimacy.
March, Madrid, the Spanish capital, surrenders to the fascists.
April, the Spanish Republic has been destroyed.
of Intelligence Branch, Bengal Police
of Special Branch, Calcutta Police
Mukhopadhyay, ‘Spain-er Grihajuddha (1936-39) Smarane’ (In memory of the
Spanish Civil War), Manabendra Bandopadhyay (ed.), Spain-er Grihajuddha: 50 bachar pare (Civil War in Spain: 50 Years
Later), Kolkata, Dey’s Publishing, 1988.
Pal, ‘Spain-er Grihajuddha o Bharatiya Buddhijibi’ (Spanish Civil War and
Indian Intellectuals),  Manabendra Bandopadhyay
(ed.), Spain-er Grihajuddha: 50 bachar
(Civil War in Spain: 50 Years Later), Kolkata, Dey’s Publishing, 1988.
Framke, ‘Political Humanitarianism in the 1930s: Indian Aid for Republican
Spain’, European Review of History,
Volume 23, Issue 1-2, 2016.

(Cartoon: July 1937: Hitler and Mussolini standby as puzzled parents while Franco, dressed as a priest christens an emaciated and dying baby, representing Spain.)

[1]IB 376/1928.
‘IB’ stands for Intelligence Branch of Bengal Police.
File No.12894/36. ‘SB’ stands for Special Branch of Calcutta Police.
[3]Hirendranath Mukhopadhyay,
‘Spain-er Grihajuddha (1936-39) Smarane’ (In memory of the Spanish Civil War),
Manabendra Bandopadhyay (ed.), Spain-er Grihajuddha: 50 bachar pare (Civil War
in Spain: 50 Years Later), Kolkata, Dey’s Publishing, 1988, p.34.
File No.12894/36.

Suchetana Chattopadhyay teaches history at Jadavpur University.