Ethel, one of a family of nine, was born in Bellshill and came to live in Glasgow as a young teenager in the mid twenties. Soon after, she became a socialist and mixed for a time with the ILP. By about 1932 she made contact with Bakunin House and the anti-parliamentarians, including Guy Aldred, and from this time on she became more and more identified with Anarchist ideas in the revolutionary struggle. A gifted linguist, she went to Spain in 1936 accompanied by her friend and colleague Jenny Patrick. Whilst Jenny travelled on to help in Madrid, Ethel stayed to work with the Anarchists in Barcelona. She was there during the famous ‘May Events’ when the Republicans had their own civil war behind the lines - with the Communists determined to break the power of the CNT even if it meant losing the war against Franco. For several days Ethel took part in the street battles on the CNT/FAI barricades. Of her many broadcast speeches on Radio Barcelona, seven were published in the Bellshill Speaker in 1937. ‘The Volunteer Ban’, the speech chosen here, was published in Regeneracion the same year. Ethel’s whereabouts were unknown for several months after her imprisonment by the Communists. On her release towards the end of 1937, six hundred wellwishers crowded into Queen Street station to cheer her return. The remainder of her life was likewise devoted to the libertarian struggle. She, along with Guy Aldred, Jenny Patrick and John Taylor Caldwell, founded the United Socialist Movement and worked from the Strickland Press in George Street, Glasgow, producing in all 25 volumes of their monthly paper The Word. On 1 December, 1960, Ethel died in Knightswood Hospital. She was only 51 years old. In view of the nature of the illness from which she suffered - multiple sclerosis - it was her wish that her body be donated to the University of Glasgow for medical research in the hope that other sufferers might benefit. It was typical of the quality of mind displayed by this woman throughout her life. An invaluable collection of papers, posters, leaflets, letters and other historical memorabilia was brought from Spain in 1937 and, through the Mitchell Library, bequeathed by Ethel to the people of Glasgow.
TOMORROW, SATURDAY, THE 20th of February, 1937, is the date fixed by the Sub-Committee of Non-intervention, sitting in London, for the commencement of the ban on volunteers for Spain. Volunteers to Spain! From where have these volunteers come? Italy has sent, not volunteers, but conscripts. Germany landed in Spanish territory, not volunteers, but conscripts. The army of rebel Franco consists, not of volunteers, but of conscript Moors, conscript Germans, conscript Italians, all bent on making Spain a Fascist colony and Africa a Fascist hell, with the defeat and the retreat of democracy everywhere.
The situation today proves the truth of the words of St. Simon and of Proudhon that parliamentarianism is the road to militarism, that parliamentary democracy is impossible, and that mankind must accept industrial democracy, revolutionary syndicalism. But syndicalism and industrial democracy do not imply trades unionism which is the British idea of organisation and action. If mankind is not prepared to accept this, then the only other alternative is a retreat to barbarism and militarism. An insistence on parliamentary so-called democracy is merely playing with freedom and in effect, retreating to militarism. The progressive conquest of political power under capitalism is a snare and a delusion. The present situation in Germany illustrates this truth very clearly.
If parliamentary socialism had any worth whatever, this could never have taken place. Germany could have given the world the example that would have set alight the fires of world revolution. But Germany failed because of this paralysing belief in parliamentarianism and this disbelief in the power and initiative of the working class. It has been left to Spain, with its Anarcho-syndicalism, to do what Germany should have done. And this paralysis extends to other countries that still believe in the power of parliament as an emancipating weapon of the proletariat. It should act as such but that is beyond its power. Belief in parliament does not lead to freedom, but leads to the emancipation of a few selected persons at the expense of the whole of the working class.
What are the actions of the parliamentary parties with regard to support of the Spanish struggle? They talk, they discuss, they speak with bated breath of the horrors that are taking place in Spain. They gesticulate, they proclaim to the world their determination to assist Spain and to see that Fascism is halted; and that is all they do. Talk of what they will do. This would not matter if it were not for the fact that the workers, through a disbelief in their own power to do something definite, collaborate with them in this playing with words.
Comrades, fellow-workers, of what use are your meetings that pass pious resolutions, that exhibit Soldiers of the International Column, provide entertainment, make collections and achieve nothing? This is not the time for sympathy and charity. This is the time for action. Do you not understand that every week, every day and every hour counts. Each hour that passes means the death of more Spanish men and women, and yet you advertise meetings, talk, arrange to talk and fail to take any action. Your leaders ask questions in parliament, in the senate, collect in small committees and make arrangements to send clothes and food to the poor people of Spain who are menaced by this horrible monster of Fascism, and in the end, do nothing.
We welcome every man that comes to Spain to offer his life in the cause of freedom. But of what use are these volunteers if we have no arms to give them? We want arms, ammunition, aeroplanes, all kinds of war material. Your brothers who come to us to fight and have no arms to fight with are also being made a jest of by your inaction. We want the freedom of the Mediterranean. We want our rights, the rights that are being taken from us by the combined efforts of international capitalism. You have permitted Franco to have soldiers and arms and aeroplanes and ammunition. Your government, in the name of democracy, have starved the government and workers of Spain, and now they have decided to ban arms, ban volunteers, to the government of the Spanish workers. Your government, workers of the world, are assisting in the development of Fascism. They are conniving at the defeat of the workers’ cause, and you tamely accept this or merely idly protest against it. Workers, your socialism and your communism are worthless. Your democracy is a sham, and that sham is fertilising the fields of Spain with the blood of the Spanish people. Your sham democracy is making the men, women and children of Spain the sod of Fascism. The workers of Spain bid you cry, “Halt!” The workers of Spain bid you act!
I, myself, was in Scotland when sanctions were proposed on behalf of Ethiopia. The Labour Party there threatened war. The Trades Unions threatened war. The Communist Party threatened war. The threats wore off, and Italy seized the land of Ethiopia, and despite the continued protests from various persons, Italy has commenced the exploitation of Abyssinia. Ethiopia is now the colony of Italy.
But Abyssinia is not Spain. Despite its history, Abyssinia is a wild and undeveloped country and may, indeed, in some parts, be semi-savage. But Spain is a land of culture and more important, a land of proletarian development, and it is menaced by the hireling Franco because it possesses proletarian culture. And Franco is assisted by Hitler and Mussolini and all the hordes of international capitalism because of the wealth contained within its territory, and to gain possession of that wealth for purposes of further exploiting the working class and for their own personal aggrandisement, they are prepared to massacre the whole of the Spanish working class. For what are the lives of the workers to them? Labour is cheap, and is easily replaceable.
And you, parliamentarians, you so-called socialists, talk and talk, and know not how to act. Nor when to act. For Spain, you are not even prepared to threaten war. Non-intervention, as a slogan, is an improvement on sanctions. It is even more radically hypocritical. It is more thorough and deliberate lying, for Non-intervention means the connived advance of Fascism. This cannot be disputed. Under the cloak of Non-intervention, Hitler and Mussolini are being assisted in their wanton destruction of Spain. Non-intervention gives them the excuse to do nothing, and behind the scenes to supply these European maniacs with all that they require. Your governments are not for non-intervention. They stand quite definitely for intervention, intervention on behalf of their friends and allies, Hitler and Mussolini. Your governments and your leaders have many points in common with these two scoundrels. All of them lack decency, human understanding, and intelligence. They are virtually the scum of the earth, the dregs that must be destroyed.
Comrades, workers, Malaga has fallen. Malaga was betrayed and you too were betrayed, for you have witnessed not merely the fall of Malaga but the fall of a key defence of world democracy, of workers’ struggle, of world liberty, of world emancipation. Malaga fell; you, the world proletariat, were invaded: and you talk. Talk and lament and sigh and fear to act! Tomorrow, Madrid may be bombed once more. Barcelona may be attacked. Valencia may be attacked, and still you talk! When will this talking cease? Will you never act?
To go back to Germany. At the Second Congress of the Third International, Moscow, a comrade who is with us now in Spain, answering Zinoviev, urged faith in the syndicalist movement in Germany and the end of parliamentary communism. He was ridiculed. Parliamentarianism, communist parliamentarianism, but still parliamentarianism would save Germany. And it did. You know this. You know the conditions in that famous land today. Yes, parliamentarianism saved Germany. Saved it from Socialism. Saved it for Fascism. Parliamentary social democracy and parliamentary communism have destroyed the socialist hope of Europe, has made a carnage of human liberty. In Britain, parliamentarianism saved the workers from Socialism, gave them a Socialist leader of a National Government, and has prepared the workers for the holocaust of a new war. All this has parliamentarianism done. Have you not had enough of this huge deception? Are you still prepared to continue in the same old way, along the same old lines, talking and talking and doing nothing?
Spain, syndicalist Spain, the Spanish workers’ republic would save you. Yes, save you with the hunger and blood and struggle of its magnificent people. And you pause and hesitate to gave your solidarity, and pause in your manhood and democracy of action until it is too late.
The crisis is here. The hour of struggle is here. Now is the decisive moment. By all your traditions of liberty and struggle, by all the brave martyrs of old, in the name of the heroic Spanish men and women, I bid you act. Act on behalf of Spain through living, immediate Committees of Action in Britain, in America, throughout the whole world. Let your cry be not non-intervention, but “Hands off Spain”, and from that slogan let your action come. In your trade union branches, in your political party hall, make that your cry: “All Hands off Spain”. What will your action be? The General Strike. Your message? “Starve Fascism, end the war on Spanish Labour, or - the Strike, the strike and on to Revolution”.
The British Government says: “You shall not serve in Spain.” Good! Then to the British Workers we say make this your reply. “We will serve Spain and the workers in Spain and ourselves in Britain. We strike.” Down tools! There is one flag of labour today. Spain’s Red and Black Flag of Freedom, of Syndicalism and Courage!
”Workers of the world! Rally! Think - and act now!”