1-2 Mayo May Day in Albacete and Making Peace with Socialists and Anarchists

1-2 May

Robert Merriman’s Diary from the 1st and 2nd of May, 1937

May Day, 1937, in Albacete seemed pretty routine for Bob Merriman.  No long marches down Fifth Avenue, just speeches in Albacete and a sing-along at the Cadres Office.  But there are some underlying hints in these two diary pages.  Merriman says that they were to meet with the Anarchists in Albacete, probably in a show of socialist solidarity, but they did not show up and Merriman presumes that was because it was raining.   What Merriman did not know was that in Barcelona a storm was brewing.  The Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista (POUM) and its union, the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (CNT), were using May Day celebrations to unify the far left parties in Barcelona against the Lluis Companys Government.  This will result in fighting in Barcelona from 3-9 May, and it will not be mentioned for some time in Merriman’s diary, so we won’t let the POUM divert us.  On the 28th of April, George Orwell who was fighting for the POUM in the Aragon, was pulled back to Barcelona and saw the activities there first hand and described the POUM/Anarchist version of events in his memoir on Spain.¹  A balanced view can be found in Richard Baxell’s book².  If you are very interested about the events in Barcelona, listen to Richard Baxell’s Len Crome Memorial Lecture.

Amlie

Colonel Stephen Fuqua (US Army), David Doran and Hans Amlie, Quinto, October 1937 ALBA Photo 11-1350, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman mentions a man who has just come into Spain, Hansford (Hans) Amlie.  Amlie went to Europe as part of a Socialist Party of America  delegation.  Peter Carroll gives us the backstory:

One American Communist later claimed that of the 25 {Eugene V.} Debs {column} volunteers in Spain, 18 were Communist sympathizers who had joined the Socialist ranks “for united front purposes”; 2 were Socialist party members; and 2 other “non-affiliated comrades …. state openly they are ashamed to have come with the so-called Debs Battalion”  Most of the Socialists who reached Spain, like Durward Clark, simply entered the Communist-led ranks.  Among them was Hans Amlie, the brother of the Wisconsin Progressive congressman Thomas Amlie.  A mining engineer who had served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War I, Amlie was so disgusted at the failure of the Socialists to build a fighting force that he took the occasion of an official visit to Spain by the Socialist party’s Sam Baron to quit that organization and become a Communist.  Other Socialist volunteers, such as Hilliard Bernstein, leader of the Workers Alliance in Virginia, reaffirmed their commitment to a common cause, the Popular Front: “I, the Socialist”, he asserted, “had come to Spain to fight for the democratically-elected government against fascism”.³

This story will be continued into the 3-4 May posting as Amlie’s removal from the Socialists and the intrigue which accompanied Baron’s visit will continue.

Merriman has meetings with Vidal and Platone at the International Brigades Headquarters.  He eats again with Pierre Lamotte at the Intendencia.   His relief guard did not show so the Brigade Officer School candidates continue to stand guard in Albacete for another day.  Since Marion is there, Merriman does not have his normal irritation when things do not happen as planned.  He must have enjoyed the comfort of Albacete over “roughing it” at the camp at Pozorubio.  Wallace Burton (one of the instructors at Pozorubio and who was having a fling with Mildred Bennett, later to become Amlie’s wife) says that Merriman is not tough enough with  the men.   He relates that Vidal is now talking seriously about an English Speaking Brigade and it appears that Merriman is looking for a promotion to lead that.

Lamb

Leonard Lamb, ALBA Photo 11 – 1306, Tamiment Library, NYU

It was later on the second of May when the OTS candidates were relieved of guard duty and Sam Baron arrives.  Merriman dislikes him immediately.  He mentions Leonard Lamb who came in early February and there is a difficult word to transcribe in this sentence.  Others have suggested “Lamb coming into own” as a possibility of a different version.  Lamb was in the OTS from March to June, 1937.

After lunch on the 2nd, Merriman returns to Pozorubio.  He notes that James Harris, who was his first commander prior to Jarama, has been reassigned to the Polish Dombrowski Battalion as a private.  Harris will be killed in action in November, ending a pathetic tale for a man who obviously had serious mental issues with war.   Merriman notes that Joe Rosenstein has been sent to the front.

Merriman continues his positive relationship with Pierre Lamotte who he describes as an interesting fellow.   Perhaps it was the ability to get cigarettes.  In a scrawl that takes a little hunting, the last sentence says “Map Table Problem”  We will see that in the next week, Merriman will discuss a sand table which was used by the mappers as a type of blackboard.   We don’t know if he was setting a problem on the map table or if the sand was leaking out.

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¹ George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia,  Harcourt Press, London, 1952.

² Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: The Extraordinary Story Of The Britons Who Fought In The Spanish Civil War, ibid.

³ Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, ibid. pp 72-73.