“I salute you and all the male and female workers, peasants and republican soldiers fighting with such heroism against the fascist beast in Spain. I salute the great men and women Spain has produced in these times of struggle whose lives are, away from the limelight, writing a new History for humankind
Your letter, comrade Herrera, is the first from your country to reach me.
Your invitation, and my thanks for it to all the SIA comrades, represents the greatest honour ever bestowed upon me. Alas, I am not in a position to be able to accept that honour for reasons that you will assuredly not have known of when you made your offer to me.
My knowledge of the German language is very limited, even more so than my Spanish which, as you will have seen from the errors in this letter, is quite poor. I have on several occasions published it in German reviews that I am not German, neither by descent, race nor blood. I have only ever been in Germany once, prior to the war of ’14 and do not know enough about the country or the language to be able to judge works of literature by German writers.
I was born in North America and English is my native tongue. When it comes to judging works of literature in English, you have men in England more talented and famous than myself, and free of any hindrance that the enormous geographical distance separating us might impose upon my cooperation. Nevertheless, comrades, accept my deep gratitude for your invitation.
Rest assured that if anyone were to offer me an all-expenses-paid, first class, safety guaranteed trip to Germany with thousands of dollars to boot, I would decline the offer. That is how little desire I have to see that country in the slavish circumstances in which she finds herself today; and I say the same of Italy’s “Empire” an increasingly stuffed and mounted “Empire”.
On the other hand, if the Spanish government (Spain has only one government) wished to honour me by issuing me with a passport and covering my costs, I would be very keen to become acquainted with and see Spain during her glorious struggle. But no, comrade, I would not go. Rather, I would take that money and right here buy cotton, condensed milk, coffee and cigarettes and ship them off to you immediately. Because just the same as I know that I would enjoy a visit to Spain, I know that the above items are needed by you in order to win the war that much sooner, whereas my presence in Spain is required neither to win the war nor to offer you sound advice. You have no need of a writer, even one from the workers’ revolutionary ranks, to tell you how you might better your circumstances. You have had too many advisors, a lot more than you needed. If, instead of the millions of words showered upon you, you had had a tri-engined plane for every million words, and a machine-gun with a sufficiency of ammunition for every hundred, you would have won your war a year ago. Comrades, every word uttered unnecessarily is a cartridge gone to waste as far as you are concerned.
I have a great desire to help you in some way. Even though my books have been translated into seventeen languages, I find myself homeless and penniless and just about able to dress myself. I am talking about my personal circumstances because I am sorry that I cannot be the same help to you as the Pope is to Slack-jawed Pancho (Pancho el Boquiabierto) in Salamanca.
However, there is something that I am very pleased to place in your service. I have my library, which is neither huge nor luxurious. What need have I of it, if it might be of some use to the Spanish comrades on a war footing? Reviews in English and Spanish account for part of that library. If you are interested in all my books and magazines, write to me and I will forward them to you. I will cover the mailing costs. Let me have your address.
Magazines and books can be of service in the hospitals, trenches, encampments and in the Academies where the new officers are being moulded.
Everything I own is at your disposal. I will not tell you that I yearn with all my soul for your victory, for I know that the republican workers, peasants and soldiers will secure absolute victory, even should the Italian and German invaders send another fifty thousand of their poor slaves to the slaughter like ailing livestock just to recoup the millions in marks and lire squandered in the peninsula already. You will have your victory before the month of December, I believe. Or maybe your fight will drag on for longer. A year, maybe two. Who knows? But no matter how long it takes, victory will be yours.
And you will win it more thanks to your wholesome, forward-looking thinking than to your arms. The 1931 Republic existed on paper, which is why it could not survive. The Republic born in the course of this war will, by contrast, be a Republic written in the blood of the people, in incalculable suffering, superhuman sacrifices and built upon a heroism without equal in human History.
For those reasons the Republic that survives this war will endure, because its foundations will be so solid that never again can they be assailed by the enemies of Progress, Civilisation and Humanity.
I have had my say, Spanish comrades, and my thanks for your attention.
From: Documentos Históricos de España, No 8, July 1938, page 32 (Buenos Aires)