Comrades and Commissars

The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War

Hardback or cased
Cecil D. Eby
Published 15 Feb 2007
List Price £33.95



Comrades and Commissars is the best book ever written about the Lincoln Battalion. Eby does not accept the standard politically correct line, but neither does he go to the opposite extreme. Rather, he demonstrates a very good grasp of the volunteers as individuals, not as political puppets, and is thoroughly sympathetic to them on the human level, while at the same time showing the real character of the politics involved.”

—Stanley G. Payne, University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism

“[Eby’s] Between the Bullet and the Lie (1969) was a good book and Comrades and Commissars is better. Cecil Eby’s book on the American volunteers who fought in the Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigades (IB) in the Spanish Civil War exposes in lively detail what happened to the Americans in Spain.”

—Stephen Burgess-Whiting, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“The result of this new research is a detailed, forthright, and empathetic account of the short, but active life of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, set masterfully in the larger context of the Spanish Civil War and the politics of the American Left in the 1930s.”

—Scott E. Belliveau, Journal of Military History

In the summer of 1936, Generalissimo Francisco Franco led a group of right-wing nationalists in a military attack on the Republican government of Spain—the start of what would become the Spanish Civil War. Despite U.S. laws banning participation in foreign conflicts, American volunteers began pouring into Barcelona in January 1937. The most famous of these anti-Franco groups was the band of 2,800 American fighters who called themselves the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. In Comrades and Commissars, Cecil D. Eby pushes beyond the bias that has dominated study of the Lincoln Battalion and gets to the very heart of the American experience in Spain.

Controversy has plagued the Lincoln Battalion from the very start. Were these men selfless defenders of liberty or un-American Communists? Eby has long been regarded as one of the few balanced interpreters of their history. His 1969 book, Between the Bullet and the Lie, won accolades for its rigorous and fair treatment of the Battalion. Comrades and Commissars builds upon that earlier study, incorporating a wealth of information collected over intervening decades. New oral histories, previously untranslated memoirs, and newly declassified official documents all lend even greater authority and perspective to Eby’s account. Most significant is Eby’s use of Lincoln Battalion archives sequestered in a Moscow storeroom for sixty years. These papers draw renewed focus on some of the most provocative questions surrounding the Battalion, including the extent to which Americans were persecuted—and even executed—by the brigade commissariat.

The Americans who served in the Lincoln Battalion were neither mythic figures nor political abstractions. Poorly trained and equipped, they committed themselves to back-to-the-wall defense of the doomed Spanish Republic. In Comrades and Commissars, we at last have the authoritative account of their experiences.



1. Getting There

2. Men of La Mancha

3. The Yanks Are Coming

4. The Jarama Massacre

5. Waiting . . . Waiting

6. Tourists and Trippers

7. The Torrents of Spring

8. The Washington Battalion

9. Stalemate at Brunete

10. The Road to Zaragoza

11. Fuentes de Ebro

12. Teruel—The Big Chill

13. Retreat from Belchite

14. The Rout at Gandesa

15. Postmortem

16. In the Penal Colonies

17. The Far Shore

18. La Despedida

19. “Premature Anti-Fascists” and All That

Appendix 1: Bibliographical Essay—Basic Sources

Appendix 2: Interview Subjects from the XVth Brigade




Cecil D. Eby is a retired Professor of English at the University of Michigan. He is the author of eight books, including Hungary at War: Civilians and Soldiers in World War II (Penn State Press, 1998).