‘The First P.O.U.M. Women’s Battalion’ from The Spanish Revolution (POUM, New York). Vol. 1 No. 7. December 2, 1936.
Since its formation only a few weeks ago, the Women’s Secretariat has enjoyed a rapid and soaring success. In this short time it has already gained five hundred more members, while new comrades are enlisting every day. The enthusiasm with which our women comrades have come forward to offer their help to the revolution in every domain —nursing, sewing, teaching, lecturing, etc.— is truly admirable, but our greatest success has been the formation of the first women’s battalion.
The women have proved themselves ready and willing to enter the war and the revolution. From the very first moment when the violent struggle, which at the present time is sowing death and ruin through Spain, broke out on July 19, many women with great generosity and courage, enlisted in the people’s army, offering voluntarily to fight for the total triumph of the working class. From the days of make-shift street fighting up to these present times of modern equipment and all the magnified dangers of modern warfare, women have done everything for the cause which could have been asked of them, and much more besides.
As has so often been said, in order to end the oppression of the working class it is necessary to crush fascism once and for all. The women of the revolution have realised this: they know that for the triumph of the revolution each one of them must give to the war her son, her companion, her brother. Without a selfish protest, they have sent their men off with the columns which leave for the front.
The war also needs nurses. The combatants need warm clothes. There are children who are suffering from lack of a mother’s care. Work behind the lines needs extra efforts put into it to intensify our struggle against fascism in all domains. At the first word of appeal thousands and thousands of women have come forward to carry out whatever task or duty needed to be done.
Up till the present, individual women had gone to the front in various columns of the militias, serving bravely with the men and doing their share as well as they could, but no effort had been made to provide them with adequate military training. The P.O.U.M. was the first to put forward the idea that so much eager willingness should be properly trained and organised, and in this way our plan for military instruction began. We believe that every working woman should be familiar with the use of firearms and military terms, not necessarily because we think women should go to the front, but because the time may come when our women comrades will be compelled by force of circumstances to take up arms in the defence of our cities and fight side by side with the men. We hope and believe that things will never come to such a pass, but preparation is in itself an arm against all contingencies.
The first women’s battalion, organized by the P.O.U.M. from among militants of our party and sympathizers from other workers organizations, is composed of more than one hundred women. Every Sunday morning, from eight o’clock until two in the afternoon, they gather at the Lenin Barracks (belonging to the P.O.U.M.) where they undergo intensive military training. These women comrades can already march in formation and execute various maneuvers with competent skill. They can use rifles and manage a machine gun, taking it to pieces and putting it together again with a full knowledge of every one of its component parts. The members of the P.O.U.M.women’s battalion could assemble and set up a machine gun on the darkest night without showing a light to warn the enemy of its location.
The good will and quickness to learn which these comrades show is amazing.
Everyone of them feels she is carrying out her revolutionary duty in learning to replace the men who may one day be missing, and for hours on end they march and wheel to orders of the military instructor, in rain or sun, without ever complaining or showing signs of fatigue. This work seems to them as vital as their other tasks of nursing and sewing and caring for the child refugees from Madrid. The revolutionary ardour which they bring to this military training is one more triumph for the P.O.U.M., which, by the formation of its women’s secretariat and the encouragement with it has given to revolutionary womanhood to enter and take part in our struggle has once more placed itself in the forefront of the fight for the total emancipation of the working class.
The Spanish Revolution (not to be confused with the CNT supporters’ paper of the same name, time, and look)) was the English language journal of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM). Edited by American couple Charles and Lois Orr, she a member of the POUM women’s militia, the journal was aimed at British and US audiences through the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre, sometimes called the “Three and a Half International,” from October, 1936 until the arrest of the Orrs and the banning of the POUM after Barcelona’s “May Days” 1937 uprising.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/spain/poum/spanishrevolution/v1n7-dec-02-1936-Spanish%20Revolution.pdf