31 Marzo Back to Albacete by Train and Stember leaves Merriman a Lecture

March 31

Robert Merriman’s diary for March 31, 1937

Other than their final release from Murcia and the train ride from Murcia to Albacete with Marion, not much new information is given on this page of the diary by Merriman.

He did, however, feel that the “lecture” given by Stember and left in the files of the XVth Brigade were worth transcribing in a careful hand.  The comment at the bottom says that this was published 12 days after Stember wrote it.  Merriman says “all was forgotten” but that is not true.

Recall on the 27th of February,  Stember had gone back up into the lines to put down a rebellion of the men who felt that they had been sent into a slaughterhouse.  Stember ordered the men forward at the point of a pistol and was not successful in restoring order since the men hooted him down.

Cecil Eby picks up on this note as evidence that American mutineers were tried and sent to a labor battalion.¹  Eby says that the missive was run off on a mimeograph and put into the Brigade official newsletter and quotes “Notre Combat” (the French version of Our Fight newsletter) as the source.  Eby says “The Lincolns merely scoffed at the leaflet — so much “ass paper”.¹  Eby quotes Harry Fisher in his book Comrades as saying ” ‘That son of a bitch Stember’, wrote a recruit. ‘If he ever comes back here we’ll shoot him’ “.

Peter Carroll picks up the story further:

And the men never forgave Stember for remaining in safety far from the front.  Twelve days after the protest meeting, their anger exploded when Stember published an article, “Single Command,” in the brigade newspaper Our Fight.  … He warned that a recurrence by these “disruptive elements” would result in “severe measures”.  Outraged by this threat, the men voted no confidence in their commissar, forcing him from his post. “The [political] commander,” the Daily Worker would announce a few months later, “was sent back” to the United States “on the vote of the battalion to tell of their needs and to make the American people understand what they are fighting for.”  Such gross distortions rankled the men in Spain, but none would threaten the Republican cause by exposing Stember’s weakness.²

It should be noted here that March 31 is a very memorable day in International Brigades history as in 1938 (one year after this diary page was written) the Brigades were decimated by a massive onslaught of Italian-led fascist troops between Batea and the Ebro River.  Each year a memorial march is held to commemorate this event and video of the event can be seen here (Video 1, Video 2 and Video 3).

One year after this page was written, Bob Merriman would be executed after capture above Gandesa.  Bob Merriman, presente!

______________________________

¹ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid. pg 86.

² Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p. 114.

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