Bill Bailey (Spanish Civil War veteran)

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William James Bailey (1911February 27, 1995) was an American merchant seaman, union organizer, Lincoln Brigade soldier and longshoreman. He was a member of the Communist Party USA from the early 1930's until resigning in 1956, in protest of the Soviets' crushing of the Hungarian Uprising.


  • You have to put up some kind of a beef. Scream or holler or scratch or make some sound that you’re alive and can fight. You know, cough or do something. Otherwise, they just walk past you and look at you and say, “He must be dead, he ain’t moving.”
  • "To Be Young, Gifted & Red", Mother Jones, Sep-Oct 1983, p. 51.
  • Well, first of all, if you’re not—if you’ve never been on a soap box, it’s sort of awkward. You get up on a chair, and you look out—‘specially when the guy will precede you by saying “And the next speaker is Bill Bailey, a member of the Marine Workers Industrial Union, and a great—and this, and on—“, you know. They give you a big razzle-dazzle, and you get up there and you look out over a couple of hundred faces… Nobody’s laughing, no expression, you know, no nothingYou don’t know if they got a ham sandwich in their hand they’re gonna hit you with or what! And you’re supposed to razzle-dazzle them, you know, stir them, you know, really get ‘em up to where they’re screamin’ “Bloody murder!” Well, you know, and you get up there, and you’re mouth is dry, you know. Butterflies in your stomach. I mean, you’re complete emotional, ready to collapse, and the first thing you said to yourself, “I wish an earthquake takes place at this very minute,” you know. But anyway…! Like anything else, you take a deep breath, and you say your first word. And the second one comes out a little bit easier, after you get the word “Fellow-worker”, you know, out of your mouth—that’s the way it is. Then, bit by bit, you start warming up.
  • There’s already about 10,000 people on the docks, screamin’ and hollerin’, and carrying swastikas, “Free Ernst Thälmann”, “Down with Hitlerism”, and such and such and such. The demonstration’s already really in progress.
The twenty minute whistle blew. So we had to make a break for it then or never. Here they got guys all blockin’ everybody from going forward, standing there. Soon we got down there, we pushed the officer—one of the guys—out of the way. And the guy says, “Was ist loss!” You know, one of the officers, “What’s the matter!” And one fella, who led the way, we called him “Low-life” McCormick, that was his nickname, “Low-life” McCormick—wonderful guy—he didn’t waste no time in explaining “was ist loss”. He belted the officer one, rolled ‘im over, so he hollered to me “Keep goin’, keep goin’, keep goin’! Get up there! Get up there!” That’s the way it was. So I was young enough to hurdle these big sea-breakers and I got up to the bow… Anyhow, there I was with this flag and I thought it’d be an easy deal, and I remember yankin’ it and the first—part of the halyard ripped. Rrrip! And I thought it was home free, all I had to do was give it another yank—but it would not give. And I gave it a third yank, and a fourth yank, and a fifth yank—and it would not give. And you believe in panicky, I was… And here we had the job already done, and that son of a bitch of a swastika would not give. And I didn’t know what the hell to do—I would’ve eaten the thing! And the crowd on the dock was absolutely hysterical, the roar was just crazy. So I turned around and it was this guy named Duffy, and he just said “Hold the flag still! Hold it still! Gimme the halyard, gimme the rope, and hold it still!” And he took out a switchblade knife and I heard “Click-click”…”Zzzing!” and he let it go, that part of the halyard, and the flag is now home free, and believe me it was a moment worth everything that ever happened afterwards just to see that son of a bitch just flutter! And the Germans were stark mad, absolutely stark mad! And the crowd on the dock stark mad with delight.
  • On ripping the swastika off the SS Bremen, The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (1984).

The Kid from Hoboken: An Autobiography by Bill Bailey (1993)[edit]

Dear Mom:
I wish I could be near you to hold your hand and explain in some detail the reasons for my death. I know at this point that it has fallen upon you in a way that I wish would not have happened. I wanted to explain to you the night before I left New York that I was really going to Spain, and the reasons why. But I knew that no matter what I might have told you, it would never have made sense to you. I found that trying to explain was an impossibility. I am sorry for that.
But, you see, Mom, there are things that one must do in this life that are just a little more than living. I could never be satisfied with just going through life knowing that there are millions of people all over the world who are being stepped on and pushed around by bullies.
I can recall the first time I missed your presence at home and discovered that you were out hunting for a job scrubbing floors in order to bring home some food for the family. I knew that something was very wrong with life, but I had no idea what to do about it to make it any different. It was only when I grew up and I too had to go around begging for work to live that I realized the wrongs had to be corrected.
In Spain there are countless thousands of mothers like yourself who never had a fair shake in life. Their whole existence has been one of trying to get enough food to stay alive for another day. One day these people did something about that. They got together and elected a government that really gave some meaning to their lives and promised to make it so that the millions of mothers like you would never again have to bend their knees and beg to exist in a world that had plenty for everyone.
But it didn't work out the way the poor people expected. A group of bullies decided to crush and wipe out this wonderful thing the poor people had accomplished and drive them back to the old way of life.
That's why I went to Spain, Mom--to help these poor people win this battle so one day it would be easier for you and the mothers of the future. I am not alone. Many of the men I associated myself with have mothers who have gone through much of the same hard times and misery you suffered.
Don't let anyone mislead you, Mom, by telling you that all this had something to do with Communism. The Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world are killing Spanish people who don't know the difference between Communism and rheumatism. And it's not to set up some Communist government, either. The only thing the Communists did here was show the people how to fight and win what is rightfully theirs.
You should be proud that you have a son whose heart, soul and energy were directed toward helping the poor people of the world get back what was taken from them. When the horrible conditions of this world are eventually made right, you can look with pride at those who will be here to enjoy it and say, "My son gave his life to help make things better, and for that I am grateful."
If it will make my departure from the world of the living a little easier for you, just remember this, Mom: I love you dearly and warmly, and there was never a moment when I didn't feel that way. I was always grateful and proud that you were my mom.
Your son,
  • I have tried to lead my life by following a belief that has guided my passage. This I sincerely recommend for all to follow: to witness an injustice and do nothing--that is the biggest crime.

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