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(en) Britain, Ethel MacDonald's life made into movie - Seventy years after the Spanish civil war, the efforts of a forgotten activist are on the lime light

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 13 Feb 2005 11:06:32 +0100 (CET)

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She was dubbed the Scottish Scarlet Pimpernel for helping innocent prisoners
caught up in the chaos of the Spanish civil war. Now the neglected story of
Ethel MacDonald, a free-thinking anarchist jailed for her efforts in Barcelona,
is to be told in a film marking the war's 70th anniversary.
The film's producer, Alison Murphy, said MacDonald's tale deserved to gain
wider recognition because she was an "amazing" woman who "placed herself
at the heart of the struggle". Although MacDonald is now
remembered only by a few survivors, she was once known
worldwide for her efforts helping the International Brigades in the
Spanish civil war. She travelled to Spain to support the governing
left-leaning Republicans after General Francisco Franco, a
Nationalist and social conservative, declared war on them in 1936.
The fighting lasted three years and ended in the defeat of the

Born in 1909 to a working-class family in Motherwell, MacDonald
left school at 16 and was active in the left-wing movement all her
life. Secretary of the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Movement in
Glasgow, she eventually worked for the United Socialist Movement
(USM). In 1936, the USM sent her to Barcelona to report back for
the organisation. There, she became the English-speaking
propagandist for an anarchist radio station, listened to in Europe
and America. She was behind some of the first reports on the 1937
May Riots, when leftists turned against each other, resulting in
death squads of Stalinists assassinating prominent anarchists and
400 people being killed in street fights in Barcelona. She also wrote
for Scottish newspapers.

MacDonald often endangered her life in support of her cause. When
anarchists in the independent Marxist party, POUM, were rounded
up in June 1937, she visited them in prison, smuggling in letters
and food and helping some escape in borrowed clothes and on
foreign ships. She was imprisoned by Stalin's secret police,
but while the world fretted about her disappearance, she organised
hunger strikes among the anarchist prisoners and smuggled out
letters. After questions about her absence in the Houses of
Parliament and an American newspaper campaign, supporters
formed the Ethel MacDonald Defence Committee. International
pressure was applied and she was deported to France, eventually
returning to Glasgow disillusioned. She told crowds of well-wishers:
"I went to Spain full of hopes and dreams. It promised the
utopia realised. I return full of sadness, dulled by the tragedy I have

Ethel MacDonald, who continued to campaign throughout her life
against Stalinist attacks on the POUM and the anarchists, died in
1960 of multiple sclerosis. Alison Murphy, producer of the new
film, came across her story while working on the
BAFTA-nominated documentary Against The Tide - George
Orwell, another International Brigades volunteer. "The beauty
of this story is not only that it is forgotten, but that it shows what an
extra ordinary path her life was to take: from humble beginnings in
Lanarkshire to Spain, where she would place herself at the heart of
a fierce struggle," she said.

The film, Ethel MacDonald - An Anarchist's Story, has
won financial backing from the European Commission and director
Mark Littlewood is in discussions with potential German
co-producers. The hour-long feature will mix reportage and drama
to depict a strong-minded feminist who demonstrated her bravery in
the Spanish civil war, but was never fully accepted on her return.
Littlewood said: "It is a remarkable story of an individual who
struggles to achieve, virtually on her own," he said.
"Even in California, people were concerned for her safety
when she was arrested and the Scottish papers called her a Scarlet
Pimpernel. She lived in a menage-a-trois with other anarchists in
Gibson Street in Glasgow. We have interviewed one of them, John
Caldwell, and he gives a remarkable testimony." Caldwell,
who is 94 and lives in Glasgow, recalled: "We were separate
individuals who sometimes had it off a wee bit. "When Ethel and I
were in public, we were separate people ... sex had nothing to do
with other people. "But she believed I could have as many
friends as I liked and she could, too." He added: "Her
broadcasts went down very well. Some of the American newspapers
said how pleasant her Scottish voice was. But Ethel's mother
disapproved of her being with [one of her companions] Aldred.
Aldred the free lover, the atheist - she didn't want it.
After Ethel died, none of the family came near us at all."

Ethel MacDonald's life also features in a pamphlet published
by Rhona Hodgart, a senior lecturer at Anniesland College,

Relatives or acquaintances of Ethel MacDonald who would like to
contact producer Alison Murphy can telephone 0141 300 3014
Copied from infoshop.org

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