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Democracy, Deeds and Dilemmas

Support for the Spanish Republic within British Civil Society, 1936–1939

Emily Mason is visiting researcher at the London School of Economics, Cañada Blanch Centre. She teaches modern British history at King’s College, London and modern European history at the University of East London.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) the British public raised an estimated one to two million pounds for Republican Spain, mostly through small individual donations at a time when large parts of Britain were experiencing severe economic depression. Across the country people were moved by the plight of Spain, a land in which most had never set foot. The response was quintessentially British; through picnics, whist drives, concerts, dances and rambling expeditions, the war in Spain became embedded in British social and cultural life. Innovative fundraising campaigns ran alongside lectures, film screenings and exhibitions, engaging people with the Spanish conflict. But it was a fragile alliance of progressive opinion, for those involved often had very different interpretations of the political significance of the war and of the Republic’s fight for a broadly defined concept of ‘democracy’.

Democracy, Deeds and Dilemmas provides a fresh perspective on what is a well-trodden area of scholarship. It places British humanitarian responses to Spain within the context of Britain’s flourishing civic and popular political culture, following the advent of mass democracy in 1928 as supported by the Equal Franchise Act. Emily Mason explores engagement with ‘Spain’ through three foci: the peace movement, the co-operative movement and British Christians – groups that were at the heart of the humanitarian response, but which remain underexplored in current historiography. The book explores how the Republican cause resonated with notions of British identity and with the crises that different groups perceived to be threatening their world order. It explores the dilemma that non-intervention posed for many Britons, and argues that humanitarian support for the Spanish Republic offers an example of ‘active citizenship’ and popular internationalism in Britain between the wars.

Published in association with the LSE Spanish History Series

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-885-5
Hardback Price: £50.00 / $65.95
Release Date: June 2017
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-958-6
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: November 2018
Page Extent / Format: 200 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies    
Series Editor’s Preface  
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations      

Introduction: A Unique Appeal

PART ONE Old And New Worlds           
1  A People’s Struggle        
2  This Spanish Earth
3  The End of Art?

PART TWO Pacifism
4  A Pacifist’s Dilemma
5  Practical Pacifism

PART THREE Co-operation
6  A Movement in Peril
7  Spain’s Milkmen

PART FOUR Christianity
8  No Faith in Fascism
9  Our Spanish Brethren

Conclusion: Popular Political Engagement


Mason has produced an impressive overview of British civil society’s support for the Spanish Republic which offers many fresh perspectives. Certainly, Democracy, Deeds and Dilemmas will remain a key text for historians and students interested in twentieth-century political activism in Britain and British responses to the Spanish Civil War.
Scott Ramsay University of Leeds, writing in the Journal of Contemporary History 55(1)

Britain’s response to the Spanish Civil War is considered in the context of Britain’s popular political culture, the role of British pacifism and the peace movement, and British Christians. The book explains how and why British citizens donated money to Republican Spain with charity drives, bazaars, dances, and other events. In addition, it details parallel efforts to educate the public on the conflict in Spain through lectures and films. The art program features b&w historical photos, posters, and illustrations.

While Democracy, Deeds and Dilemmas is predominantly a national overview of British support for the Spanish Republic, Mason does provide a sense of how local and regional concerns influenced specific individual and group responses, and how communities developed their own meaningful connections to international events. This book will hopefully act as a departure point and framework for more detailed local studies in future. Besides potentially elaborating on Mason’s interesting ideas on youth and women’s responses, further research in local archives might also help to reveal more of the motivations of the masses of relatively casual or informal supporters of the Spanish Republic, rather than the more committed activists who have left more obvious traces in the historical record.
Dr Edward Packard (University of Suffolk), Reviews in History

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