Memorializing “The Last Great Cause”: Spanish Civil War Refugees and the Re-Alignment of the American Left in the 1950s
Romero, Eulogio Kyle
The 1930s were the heyday for left-wing politics in the United States. Soon to be lost in the increasingly ideologically rigid world of Cold War America, socialist politics flourished in labor halls and urban ballrooms in the pre-WWII years. One group of these leftists, named the New York intellectuals, characterized this flourishing radicalism in the 1930s. By the 1950s, however, these same radicals became politically centrist stalwarts of what Arthur Schlesinger termed “The Vital Center” of American politics. New York intellectuals like Dwight McCarthy and Hannah Arendt contributed to the construction of the Cold War liberal consensus that defined 1950s America. In their radical days in the 1930s the New York intellectuals took inspiration from the newly elected Popular Front government of Spain – formed from a broad array of liberals, leftists, and socialists – as a shining example of radicalist success. In 1936, however, Spanish general Francisco Franco ousted the Popular Front government through the prolonged Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). America’s subsequent recognition of Franco’s rule shattered any beneficent image of the nation. However the Spanish Civil War remained a touchstone of identity for the New York intellectuals after World War II. This paper examines how these key American intellectuals engaged with and memorialized the Spanish Civil War as a shifting locus of political identity between the 1930s and 1950s, particularly how the process of aid to refugees from the Spanish Civil War reflected these intellectuals’ ideological shift from radical politicos on the periphery of U.S. politics to forming its center.