Spanish Civil War

17 Jul 1936
End date: 
01 Apr 1939
Event location: 



The Spanish Civil War was an armed conflict that erupted after a conservative-backed military coup to depose Spain’s republican government failed to gain control over the whole country. A bloody three-year war ensued with the Nationalists supported by fascist states like Italy and Germany, and Republicans supported by the Soviet Union and the Left across Europe and the US. Around 40,000 volunteers fought in Spain as part of the International Brigades, which were largely controlled by the Comintern, among them George Orwell and Mulk Raj Anand. The Spanish Civil War ended with the disbanding and surrender of Republican armies at the end of March 1939. The conflict cost an estimated 500,000 - 1,000,000 lives. For Britain it marked a threat to the post-World War I international consensus which would lead to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The conflict’s political impact reverberated far beyond Spain. It was seen as an international conflict and part of a wider struggle between freedom and democracy versus tyranny, dictatorship and fascism. It became a conflict of different conceptualizations of civil society and a struggle for people’s rights to self-determination, democracy and world peace. In the context of India’s struggle for independence it became evident that its own fight for self-determination was linked to other international conflicts like the Spanish Civil War. Nehru and Krishna Menon in particular realized this.

The conflict mobilized many Indian citizens living in Britain. For example Indira Nehru spoke in support of Republican Spain at a gathering organized by Krishna Menon. The January 1938 India League independence day demonstration also highlighted the conflicts in China, Abyssinia and Spain. Along with banners of Nehru and Gandhi, flags of Republican Spain were visible. The India League in collaboration with the Communist Party of Great Britain and other organizations on the Left held meeting and protest marches in support of Republican Spain. Menon and Nehru visited Spain in summer 1938 and Nehru addressed a crowd of 5,000 in Trafalgar Square as part of a demonstration in Aid of Republican Spain on 17 July 1938, which marked the second anniversary of the start of hostilities. The India League also founded the Indian Committee for Food For Spain, with Feroze Gandhi as organizing secretary. Menon and Clemens Palme Dutt combined forces and engaged in fund-raising activities for an ambulance.

People involved: 

Mulk Raj Anand, Protool Chandra Bhandari, Reginald Bridgeman, Clemens Palme Dutt, Avigodr Michael Epstein, Feroze Gandhi, C. L. Katial, Harold Laski, Krishna Menon, Indira Nehru (Gandhi), Jawaharlal Nehru, George Orwell, Reginald Sorensen, Monica Whately, S. A. Wickremasinghe, Ellen Wilkinson.

Published works: 

Nehru, Jawaharlal, Spain! Why? (London: Indian Committee for Food For Spain, 1938)

Orwell, George, Homage to Catalonia (London: Secker & Waburg, 1938)

Orwell, George, Orwell in Spain (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2001)

Secondary works: 

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/451, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/293, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras