Earlier tonight I attended an event at university hosted by SDS to kick off the second anarchist book fair. The invited speaker was an activist by the name of George Sossenko, one of the last remaining veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Even though I think certain parts of the left today carry themselves in such a way that they wind up undermining the cause, the chance to hear someone with first hand experience of what many people (including myself) consider the first battleground of World War II was too interesting to pass up.
Sossenko is quite a character with a fascinating story. Originally from France, he ran away from home in 1936, at 16 years old, to join the war that had just begun in Spain between Franco’s fascist troops and a diverse coalition of republicans, communists, and anarchists. Initially rejected by both the communists and the republicans for not having enough battle experience, Sossenko claims that the anarchists did not even bother to ask him his name or his age. Instead they just told him to show up there the following week, because that was when the caravan was leaving to cross the border into Spain. Eventually he wound up as part of the two most famous battalions of the war: the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Durruti Column. Fighting in the anarchist-controlled regions of Catalonia and Aragon, Sossenko told the auditorium, was an eye-opening experience because it fully convinced him that common ownership of factories, farms, and other enterprises was indeed possible. He told anecdotes of how his squad liberated women kept in a brothel (the pimps were shot) and nuns (by telling them that ‘God was dead’).
Throughout his talk Sossenko lamented the lack of passion and conviction that he sees among the youth of today. Although 88 years old now, he seems to be as full of vigor and outrage about the injustices of society as he was at 16. Even when asked about how the Soviet Union’s interference through the Comintern ultimately doomed the anarchist cause, he insisted that the Western democracies were more at fault for standing pat while Hitler and Mussolini supplied Franco with troops and weapons. After the talk I went over to him to briefly shake his hand and thank him for his words and his fight against fascism. He replied that the torch has been passed to us now. Perhaps it is time to put on hold the squabbling among the left – between liberals, Marxists, social democrats, anarchists, socialists, etc. – and again try to focus on the values we do have in common.
A video of Sossenko speaking about his experience in World War II (yes, he fought then too) can be found here.