THREE ARTICLES FROM "BILAN" ON THE SPANISH IMPERIALIST WAR
The Spanish events of 1936 did not – as the falsifiers of history would have us believe – mark the beginning of a period of huge democratic advances culminating in the 1938-45 crusade of the democratic nations against fascist Barbarism; they mark, on the contrary, the ending of a revolutionary period, from which the Proletariat emerged defeated on an international scale. Today, half a century later, there is still not much sign of a recovery.
The Communist International committed an enormous tactical blunder when it proposed the United Front to the Social-Democratic parties; this front blurred the clear-cut distinctions between Communists and Socialists, and encouraged the opportunism of the centrist leaders who had joined the International out of political self-interest. But whilst the United Front did not actually represent an alteration or formal revision of the Marxist revolutionary program, the Popular Front which succeeded it distorted the fundamental class basis of communism by linking the proletariat to the fate of Capitalist Democracy.
In its initial platform the Communist International announced that it supported the workers’ demands because, at a certain point in their development, they would break out of the purely economic framework and provoke ’disorder’, or rather, that social crisis which would allow the organized proletariat to take power and exercise its dictatorship. That was in 1920. In 1936, on the contrary, Stalin’s ’communists’ would see ’disorder’ as nothing but the work of reactionaries and Fascists; the workers would thus be asked to sacrifice their own immediate demands and defend the ’order’ of those who exploited them, who starved them, and sent them off to be massacred in the name of patriotism.
Other accomplices in the counter-revolution were those political groups (anarchists and Trotskyists) of revolutionary inspiration who, when faced with the ruin of Democratic institutions, would soften their intransigent principles. For them it was necessary, above all, to safeguard the social and juridical framework which seemed to most favour class activity and organization. They aimed to save Democracy not because they considered it an ideal political regime but because they mistakenly believed that struggling against capitalism would be easier under parliamentary democracy. Thus, by manoeuvring in such a way, these political groups deceived not only themselves about the true nature of Fascism, but they also lost sight of the proletariat’s specific tasks.
In 1936 the cycle of degeneration named after Stalin was already a fait accompli. There were still plenty more infamies for Opportunism to commit, both before and after the dissolution of the Third International, but it was from that point on that our current’s warning to the International in 1920 – that the United Front tactic would be fatal if the global proletariat was forced to retreat – was proved correct.
The Popular Front served as an intensive preparation of the workers in the ideology of war, and, simultaneously, resurrected patriotism and even chauvinism. It destroyed everything Lenin had achieved in drawing workers away from capitalist ideology. In France, in 1938, the Popular Front would die a natural death when Daladier betrayed it to repress the general strike set in motion by the CGT against the ’Decree-Laws on Poverty’.
If the Popular Front in France – where it had never gone beyond the limits of classically reformist ballot-box coalitions – was reduced to a classical electoral farce, in Spain it took on tragic proportions. Here the bourgeoisie’s totalitarian offensive was a reality and the workers reacted with an armed insurrection. Consequently the real significance of ’anti-fascism’, the real political role of its promoters and the counter-revolutionary nature of the degenerated communist parties, was brought to light. In Spain, anti-fascism was essentially the annulment of the expropriations made during the workers insurrection; the restoration of the politics and authority of the bourgeois State in the name of military discipline; and the murder of revolutionaries under the pretext of the struggle against ’the 5th column’ and ’Unity against Franco’.
In 1965 we wrote: «In Lenin’s formulation, war between modern states signifies imperialist war of competition directed against all proletarians; whilst civil war is a class war of the international proletariat against all sections of the bourgeoisie. The complex nature of the war in Spain derived from the fact that it partook of both aspects. Civil war because the proletariat intervened, violently, and dislocated the bourgeois State institutions. In Spain, the revolution was immediately defeated by the counter-revolution; in Spain, two equally bourgeois governments – the Republican and the Francoist – aspired to run the same class state, these are the two reasons the Spanish proletariat was deceived about the true nature of its struggle, and it is on this basis that proletarians throughout the world could be convinced that, within the same mode of production, exploiting and oppressor States could fight for "liberty" against others which denied it. Underneath every armed struggle there lies a conflict of material interests. Those of Franco’s fascist reaction were all too obvious; those of the workers who responded to it with an insurrection were no less mysterious. The initial conflict was between capitalism and proletariat. Only by diverting the proletarian insurrection from its original objectives could it be transformed into a conflict between `democratic ideals’ and ’fascist barbarism’. The workers’ response to the Francoist offensive breaks out at a time when international war, sole capitalist solution to the capitalist crisis, is just around the corner. The principal conditions for its outbreak are united, then, from the moment when the proletariat, the only class able to oppose it, is defeated, and its international party, become simple appendage of Russian foreign policy, has resigned itself to war’s inevitability» ("Il Programma Comunista", 13/1965).
The Spanish bourgeoisie, for whom life was difficult up to the end of the 1st World War, achieved relative prosperity under the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera: a dictatorship supported by the Socialist party and in particular by Largo Caballero, the ’Spanish Lenin’ and future anti-fascist figurehead. Rivera’s downfall, in 1930, would open up a particularly stormy period in Spanish political life. The Bourbon monarchy would quietly pack its bags and go, but the Republic would prove to be just as incapable of resolving the political and economic difficulties. After each election the lefts would take power and drown the increasingly effective economic protest movements in blood. In 1931, the republican Azana and the socialist Caballero declared the ’Republic in danger’ and instituted an obligatory arbitration of social conflicts. In January 1932, the socialists would congratulate the government on its firm repression of the striking workers. In September, a miscarriage of agrarian reform prompted a peasants’ uprising. In January 1933, there were strikes in Malaga, Bilbao and Saragossa. The bourgeois Left and the socialists, having taken on the role of guard dogs of capital, handed over the government to the Right. In 1934, the strike in the Asturias was violently repressed. Participating in all these repressive actions were those political men who, as members of the Popular Front, would later claim to be opposing the fascist advance.
In the elections of February 1936, the Popular Front obtained an overwhelming majority and a government was formed composed of bourgeois republicans with the external support of the ’workers parties’. The Socialist party, sensing what was ahead, defended the necessity of retaining its independence and the demagogue Largo Caballero tried to anticipate the manoeuvres of the competition by cosying up to the anarchists, and by agitating in the name of the ’workers government’, and even of the ’dictatorship of the proletariat’. Meanwhile, after Azana had declared to the Cortes that: "Any fascist danger was ruled out", Francisco Franco was quietly plotting under the noses of the republican ministers at army headquarters.
On 17 July, Franco carried out his coup. The army’s insurrection was successful in Andalusia, the North, at Saragossa, Oviedo, and in all the agricultural areas which had been disarmed by the suppression of peasant rebellions. The October Revolution stands as proof that in the agricultural areas it is the stance of the peasants that decides the outcome of civil wars. Franco would have been powerless against a massive rebellion of the Spanish peasantry, but the Republican government, by confiscating from them the land they had taken by force from the landed proprietors, threw them back into the camp of ’reaction’, or at the very least, made them indifferent towards a struggle from which they could expect nothing.
Nevertheless, Franco’s original plan – which consisted of landing in force and rallying the entire government military apparatus around him – failed because of a lightning counterstrike by the workers, who, in many cities but above all in Barcelona, fraternized with the soldiers, disarmed the officers, and made themselves masters of the streets.
The response of the ’legal’ government to this initial skirmish was to quickly make themselves scarce; the civil guards hid themselves away, and the proletariat remained the sole master of the situation. This allowed the unleashing of a ’terrorism of the masses’, which struck remorselessly all those who the workers hated most: priests, bosses large and small, bourgeois politicians, the police, torturers, spies, etc, etc. The trade-union organisations took steps to confiscate and control businesses, transport, the public sector, etc.
The Spanish proletariat, completely taken up with its programme of expropriation, neglected the essential aspect of any revolution: political power and class dictatorship.
Anarchism, which in the Spain of 1936 had its chosen land, could now prove its revolutionary credentials. But with the revolution going at full tilt it renounced taking over the leadership of the revolt, and delivered the armed proletariat back into the hands of the democratic capitalist powers. Anarchism, whose feeble theories and practices the revolutionary Marxist school has always denounced, would show the true content of its apoliticism, of its hostility to centralism, of its democratic and libertarian ideology. None of the political forces, Trotskyists included, put on the agenda the problem of overthrowing the Bourgeois Republic, as incarnated in the Giral government, because the latter: "had lost all importance". The anarchists, sworn enemies of all forms of State, would refuse to install their own dictatorship whilst leaving in place the power already there; eventually they would even take part in the democratic government, and the anarchist ministers would shamelessly impose a democratic dictatorship on the working class.
The tragedy of the workers’ insurrection in Spain was that it didn’t have a party of the same calibre as the 1917 Bolshevik party; without such a party, the glorious and heroic acts of the rebellion of the Spanish workers were squandered uselessly. Every initiative in the name of the libertarian ideal was local. Each enterprise, each town, each village operated independently without bothering to prepare an overall plan and strategy. The anarchists would even go so far as to boast about their treacherous impotence: «We could have acted alone, enforcing our absolute will, proclaiming the Generalidad of Catalonia fallen and enforcing in its place the true power of the people; but we did not believe in dictatorship when it was used against us, and didn’t want it when we in our turn could have used it against others». Analogous declarations and lines of conduct emerged from the Trotskyists of the POUM.
Thus it was that on the 4th September the State bourgeoisie, which had remained prudently waiting in the wings, gave birth to the "Workers government" of Largo Caballero; considered by his bourgeois predecessor Giral as the only one able to govern a restless Spain. The Government resumed its role relying heavily on the State police. The workers militias and the organizations born out of the insurrection were deprived of all political privileges and became simple appendages of the bourgeois government. On 1st October, The Central Committee of the Militias in Catalonia was dissolved. On 9th October, the peoples committees were all dissolved and expropriated industries were returned to their ’legitimate’ owners.
Soon after the formation of the new government, and after some typically parliamentary discussions about how many portfolios they would get, the anarchists would wave good-bye to their alleged principles and entered the central government.
The following explanation of this ignoble volte-face was the one supplied to the armed proletariat: «The international bourgeoisie refused to provide us with arms. We needed to give them the impression that our leaders weren’t the revolutionary committees but the legal government; it was that or nothing. We had to adapt to the inexorable circumstances of the present, in other words, we had to co-operate with the government».
Was it really only a question of giving the international bourgeoisie a false impression? Of getting them, by this clever ruse, to arm the revolution? The sad epilogue of these "brilliant stratagems" occurred in May 1937 in Barcelona, when the glorious proletariat of that city, who had a year earlier speedily despatched the Francoist plot, would erect barricades against the intolerable capitalist/democratic dictatorship: in Barcelona, the proletariat found the strength to build barricades and resist behind them for three days. The legal power would then try to terrorise them by sending gunboats into the port, and some anarchist chiefs (Federica Montseny and Garcia Oliver, "State anarchists") in order to brutalize them. And the motorized column of 5,000 assault troops that was sent from the front to shoot the proletariat of Barcelona, would re-establish order not to cries of "Down with the revolution" but "Long live the FAI!".
The Spanish insurrection had been drowned in blood, and the Spanish War could now start in earnest.
«From that moment on, Anti-Fascism was no longer bothered about
concealing its counter-revolutionary nature. For several months the Popular
Front government, strictly organised by the "communists", who had
been installed following the concluding of military aid agreements with
Moscow, had been striving to recover everything the workers had conquered
through hard struggle a year before, and particularly their management
of the expropriated enterprises (…) The repression (…) gave Stalin’s men
the opportunity for a good "purge", which was something they had wanted
for a long time. Andrés Nin, the Trotskyist, was taken away and
killed by "irregular elements"; Berneri, the anarchist, was arrested and
executed at the Barcelona police headquarters. The despicable campaign
orchestrated around the Moscow trials showed clearly who was the inspiration
for these crimes. The CNT and POUM protested, but didn’t sever their links
with the government, showing the degree of subjection into which the last
of the organisations laying claim to the revolutionary tradition had fallen.
In exchange for selling aid to the republicans, the U.S.S.R had demanded
the replacement of Caballero by Negrín. The latter, very obediently,
immediately made the POUM illegal and unsuccessfully attempted to mount
Moscow type show trials against them. It was this same government which
would mask the weariness and discontent of the masses with the slogan,
"Resistance to the End". In reality it would abandon Madrid and Valencia,
then Barcelona; and that would be the end of that. Of the sorrow procession
of refugees and republican soldiers who crossed over the border, some would
arrive on the other side of the Pyrenees only to be put into concentration
camps by democratic comrade Blum. If the Spanish war made the true role
of the popular front governments, as servants of reaction, abundantly clear,
it was equally fatal for the extreme left fractions who supported these
governments. Anarchism, which had always been horrified by the very idea
of a proletarian State, would discredit itself by sending its representatives
to sit as as ministers in a Bourgeois government. The POUM, who
as followers of Trotsky counted on the possibility of a revolutionary intervention
of the Proletariat to exploit the antagonism between democracy and fascism,
had to witness not only the murder of the Spanish revolution, but also
a bolstering of the Stalinist lie, and the defamation of Lenin’s old comrade
who, two years later, would be killed in Mexico by an assassin in the pay
of the Russian NKVD with a blow from an icepick. Our current, in the line
of the Italian Communist Left, drew the correct lesson from the Spanish
events. Fascism and Democracy are not two conflicting methods of capitalist
domination, but rather two different positions of one and the same class,
according to whether there is a threat of revolution or not. The proletariat
shouldn’t "opt" for one or the other of these methods, it must destroy
them both» ("Il Programma Comunista", 14/1965).
* * *
The following articles are drawn from the review "Bilan", the organ
of our Left fraction in the thirties, and they require no further commentary.
They are perfectly in line with the revolutionary "red thread", which links
the past generations of proletarians who launched into the attack against
the citadels of capital to the revolutionary vanguard who resisted falling
victim to the Sirens of "Anti-fascism"; and to the revolutionary proletariat
of tomorrow; destroyer of the infamous capitalist regime and all its right,
and left-wing, supporters.
The centrist [Stalinist] press is jubilant. The Socialist, democratic and Antifascist press more or less echo them. The "Popular Front", new name for an old product, the left coalition, has triumphed today in Spain! Tomorrow it will triumph in France. In Italy it is being taken into account as a possible transitional solution.
Sure, we don’t dispute the victory in Spain, nor the possibility of a similar victory in France, nor that things might even be manoeuvred in that direction in Italy.
But the problem is this: the victory of a ’Popular Front’, does it – certain apparent advantages aside – really signify a genuine success for the working class? In the final analysis, is it not just another negative and confusing factor to add to all the others which are currently demoralizing and disorientating the working class on an international scale? Is not the aim to bind the proletariat ever more tightly to the Bourgeoisie, be it fascist or "democratic", in expectation of war?
On 16 February 1936, the Spanish people was called to vote in the elections for the third time since the municipal elections of 12 April 1931 which had precipitated the fall of the Bourbon monarchy.
The Republic which was proclaimed two days later was, as we know, the "Workers" Republic. Although it was constitutional, in actual fact it was a popular coalition of Republican socialists with the provisional government of Alcala Zamora; to be precise, with the government which emerged from the Constituent Assembly elections in June 28, 1931, and which was to direct the destiny of the country for the next thirty months.
If, today, we analyze the function of these governments, similar in their political composition and personnel to the one Azana has formed, we can say, without any hesitation, that these first Left governments had the historical function assigned to all democratic government since the war, i.e., smoothing the road to the October 1934 counter-revolution.
What was the fundamental problem that needed to be resolved in a feudal-agrarian Spain? The "Agrarian reform", this reform which once disturbed the sleep of the "great" bourgeois revolutionaries in France in 1789 but which their epigones, in 1931-33 Spain, have by and large carefully avoided facing, contenting themselves with pulling the wool over the eyes of the rural population instead.
It can be imagined how difficult it is to obtain reliable statistics
on landed property – especially for Spain – but the following table shows
roughly how the land was divided.
|Total||% of total
|The table shows: 1% of the proprietors own more land
than all the
rest of the rural population; 15% of the proprietors own 87% of the
total land area and 87% of the peasants own the remaining 13%.
In the twelve provinces most affected by the agricultural reform – where the average earnings of an agricultural worker are 2 to 2½ pesetas at the most per day – 10,000 landowners own 8,200,000 hectares; that’s to say, 69% of the total area and this land is either only partially cultivated or not cultivated at all. Meanwhile, out of the 800,000 peasant families, only 100,000 own enough land to support themselves from their own labour. As for the land which belongs to the old Spanish Grandees, which was supposed to be simply expropriated (a measure taken following the monarchical pronunciamento of August 1932) they were only hit by a temporary measure.
The demagogic significance of the agricultural reform was to create millions of new proprietors; to give work to the immense multitude of agricultural labourers; to make wasteland productive. In practice the agricultural reform, which became law in September 1932, only provided for the alienation of the worst land and – naturally – on mortgage terms. Enforcing it, moreover, was accompanied by conditions such that, according to the calculations of a Bourgeois paper, it would take 1700 years to put the landless peasants in possession of their parcel of land. And when the Spanish agricultural proletariat – in response to this shady deceit – launched a series of violent strikes and occupations of the land in 1931, it was the Left government which pursued a policy of bloody repression, whose culminating point, in January 1933, left similar cases in December 1933 and October 1934 with little to envy.
The Socialists, headed by the "Spanish Lenin", Largo Caballero, by their silence made themselves accomplices in the Casas Viejas massacre, that is to say a cowardly assassination of unarmed workers and prisoners.
Thanks to this policy of the Left, the forces of reaction had meanwhile been gathering their strength. Now they could go back on the offensive: the Radical Party was their main instrument, which by provoking the dissolution of the Cortes and causing the consequent elections would lead to the defeat of the Left Parties. The Socialists would win only half their former seats and Azana would return to Parliament with only four of his supporters.
Thus [in November 1933], the political destiny of the country passed into the hands of a reactionary coalition composed of Gil Roblès’ supporters and Lerroux’s Radicals, that is to say, the agrarian and industrial "pro-fascists".
Brutal repression, suspension of Catalonian law, the reinstatement of Monarchist generals into the army, repressive anti-worker legislation, increased censorship, the declaration of a permanent state of siege in certain provinces; that was to be reaction’s balance sheet by October 1934. We know how [in October 1935] the ’straperlo’ gambling scandal, which exposed the enormous corruption within the Radical party (the thieves party par excellence), brought about Lerroux’s downfall and the break up of his party. But as the Radical Party was part of a governmental coalition with Gil Roblès’ party, only two possibilities remained: either power would go to Gil Roblès’ clerical party, or a transitional government would be appointed and the Cortes would be dissolved.
It was the latter solution that prevailed and [in December 1935] the Portela Valladares cabinet was formed.
The electoral campaign would be fought under the banners of the "Popular front" and of the coalition of right-wing parties. The latter was above all based on the alliance between Gil Roblès’ CEDA and Calvo Sotelo’s monarchists, on the agrarians, on Lerroux’s radicals, and on Cambo’s "Catalonian League". This right-wing block envisaged a revision of the constitution (which it thought too progressive), the restoration of religious education, the stifling of all class struggle, and the most absolute respect for property rights.
On the other side, the Popular Front had acquired its maximum extension, ranging from Azana’s Republican left, from Martinez Barrio’s dissident radicals to the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, Pestana’s Syndicalist Party and the Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification [POUM], formed from a fusion of Maurin’s old Workers and Peasants Coalition with Nin’s Trotskyists).
The Popular Front called for a general amnesty and the repeal of all the repressive laws adopted by the rightwing governments.
Not having been able to reach an agreement on the agrarian reform, as regards nationalization of the land and its free redistribution to the peasants, because of opposition from the Bourgeois parties, the Popular Front came up with a compromise on the basis of a set of minimum demands: reduced taxes, lowering of extortionate rents and fees, increased agricultural credit, and a significant revaluation of agricultural products. The program also contained a vast plan of public works to absorb unemployment and also Labour Laws, which, for example, set a minimum wage.
* * *
13,187,311 electors including 6,843,426 women, that’s to say more than half a million more women than men, were to elect 473 Members of parliament on the basis of a majority electoral system which assigned 80% of the seats in each electoral district to the party slate which obtained a majority (even if only a relative majority).
Even if at first sight the success of the Left seems inexplicable, in fact there is nothing extraordinary about it. The left had a majority of the votes in the November 1933 elections as well, and it was only because it had gone to the polls more divided than the right that it lost so many seats.
This time the "Popular Front" had the overall support of the Anarcho-syndicalists, including not only Pestana’s Syndicalist party (which had joined the "Popular Front"), but also the mass membership of the CNT. During a big meeting at Saragossa, several CNT leaders maintained that the organization would remain apolitical, but if individual members wanted to they could vote for the "Popular Front".
The Regional Committee of Barcelona, headed by the Federation of Iberian Anarchists (the same lot who, in October 1934, in good anarchist, ’anti-authoritarian’ fashion, had ordered the masses back to work without consulting them) called meetings to discuss the electoral question. Although it originally proposed only to ’moderate’ the abstentionist position, it would end up, two days before the elections, by inviting the members of the CNT to vote for "Popular Front" candidates, who had an amnesty in their program.
We know the election results: an absolute majority to the "Popular Front", collapse of Lerroux’s Radical party, position unchanged for Gil Roblès’ clerical party.
Immediately after the first results were in – and without even waiting for the results of the second ballot on March 1st, which would have decided forty extra seats – Portela Valadares’ government resigned and Azana formed the new "Left" government.
The casas del pueblo [people’s Houses], hitherto closed, were reopened; the 30,000 political prisoners were freed.
Those were the first two outcomes of the victory of the "Left-wingers". Something is going to be done for the unemployed (although officially there are 704,000, in fact there are more than a 1,000,000 out of an active workforce of 5,000,000), 60% of whom are workers from Andalusia and Estremadura, both areas of large landed estates where the famous "agrarian law" is supposed to become effective; a law which doesn’t even aim to prevent the landowners from continuing to drive out thousands of the small farmers who used to work for them.
If some right-wingers thought it prudent to cross the frontier during the first moments of exhilaration after the elections, they could do so in the certain knowledge that they’d soon be recalled by the "Left-wing" government, same as the first one, which recalled monarchists and priests after April 1931.
The very fact that the Bourgeoisie has restored power so readily to Azana and to Companys proves they know they have nothing to fear from the men of the "Left", who in 1931-33, as a Republican/Socialist coalition, brutally suffocated the Workers’ movement and allowed the counter revolution to consolidate and take back power, which led to the October 1934 massacres.
The fact that in 1936, after this conclusive experience, as far as Democracy’s function as a way of maintaining Capitalist control is concerned, it is still possible, as in 1931-33, to get the Spanish proletariat to line up behind a plan which isn’t based around class, but defence of the "Republic", of "Socialism", of "progress" against the forces of Monarchy, clerical fascism and reaction, shows the profound disarray of the workers in this Spanish sector, where proletarians have so recently given proof of their combativity, and of their spirit of sacrifice.
Centrism bears a heavy responsibility which is minimized neither by
its organic weakness, nor by the cretinism of the leaders of its Spanish
section. The fact of having contributed to drawing Spanish workers onto
the terrain of the binomial "democracy-fascism" alternative, and having
put their trust in the leaders of Social Democracy who broke ranks and
denied any involvement in the heroic movements during October, means they
are responsible for a 2nd assassination of the féros of Oviedo,
Gijon, Mières and Langrèo, perpetrated with the elections
of February 16, 1936.
The simple general assertion that at the present time, in Spain, a bloody battle is taking place between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat, and, that it may lead to a terrible disaster and a massacre of the workers, doesn’t enable us to establish the political positions and the forces which will permit proletarian defence and victory. In order to establish these positions first we need to establish if the masses have got dug in around their own specifically class interests, if they are capable of evolving, of finding within their ranks the forces capable of mounting an attack on the enemy.
At the moment many different perspectives occupy the political scene. We will start with the one proposed by the Popular Front which has recently been given a "theoretical" consecration by the centrists. Supposedly we are dealing with a fight to the death between "seditionaries, rebels, and fascists" and "the legal government which is defending bread and freedom". The duty of the proletariat is therefore to defend the government, allegedly a progressive Bourgeois one, in its struggle against the forces of feudalism. The workers, having contributed to this victory over the representatives of the feudal regime, may then move on to the higher phase of the struggle for Socialism. In our previous issue, we showed that even if Capitalism in Spain does find it impossible to organize a society of the same type as found in the rest of Europe, it is still, nevertheless, a Bourgeoisie which is in power and the sole protagonist of the remoulding of the economic and political machinery remains the Proletariat and the Proletariat alone.
The Popular front in Spain, as in other countries, has already shown itself to be useless as far as the workers are concerned, and that is still the case today. It is in fact a powerful arm of the enemy whose aim is to crush the working class. We need only reflect on the fact that it is under its government that the entire organization of the right has been methodically organised, whose mainspring of support lies not so much in conspiracy (an aspect which though the most theatrical is the least important), for which plenty of room for manoeuvre has been given, but rather in the social domain. Here, the operations of the Popular Front government have managed not only to demoralize the peasant masses, but also to incur the profound hostility of the workers, who were once again on the point of launching major strikes similar to the ones in 1931-32 which were crushed with the use of State terror, lawfully deployed by a left government composed of a gang very similar to the Popular Front of today.
As regards recent events, it has been clear from the start that the aim of the Popular Front was to arrive at a compromise with the right, as shown by the attempt to form the Barrios government. Also Azana must be amazed that Franco didn’t arrest him on the very first day since he could have done so with minimum risk. The fact is a great unknown was hovering over the situation and capitalism, having decided on an initial frontal attack on the towns, couldn’t be sure whether its right-wing would be able to achieve total victory straightaway or not. With that in view, Azana’s arrest was postponed, and it is the subsequent actions of the Popular Front which have provided the capitalist offensive with the greatest chances of success.
In Barcelona, mainly, but also in all other centres with a high working-class concentration, the attack of the right clashed with popular uprisings, and because the workers were conducting their struggle totally separately from the capitalist State machine in these revolts, and asserting their class basis, it was easy to break up the army regiments, where, corresponding with what was happening on the streets, the class struggle broke out, and the soldiers fought against their officers. At that moment, the proletariat was heading towards an intense political rearmament from which only one thing could have resulted: an offensive directed against the capitalist class and the triumph of the communist revolution.
As a consequence of the proletariat’s vehement and powerful revolt, capitalism realised that it had to abandon its plan of a uniform frontal attack. Faced with insurgent workers who were acquiring a powerful class consciousness, the bourgeoisie realised that there was no other way of saving itself, of winning, than by entrusting the Popular Front with the task of supervising the workers’ political activity. Tolerance of the arming of the masses was accompanied by its regimentation, which Caballero wishes today to carry to perfection from the technical point of view by means of a "unified command" and by introducing a specifically capitalist political orientation. After the first phase, poorly armed in a material sense but well armed politically, there followed a second phase in which the workers, although with more technical instruments at their disposal, would find themselves gradually being drawn off the terrain of their own primitive class interests onto the terrain of their enemy, the capitalist class.
Rapidly in Madrid, less easily in the Asturias, and by means of a much more complicated process in Barcelona, the Popular Front has been successful and the masses are currently locked into the following viewpoint: that the state machinery of capitalist state must be considered sacrosanct and must function at its highest capacity in order to defeat the right; and the supreme task of the moment is the annihilation of "factionists".
Under the Popular Front the proletariat has lain down its specifically class weapons and agreed to compromise with the enemy. Onto the class fronts, which alone could have destroyed Franco’s regiments and breathed confidence back into the peasants terrorised by the Right, other fronts have been grafted which are specifically capitalist. In Spain, the Union Sacrée for the imperialist massacre has been achieved by setting region against region and city against city, and by extension, State against State within the democratic and fascist blocs. The fact that it isn’t a world war doesn’t mean that the mobilization of the Spanish and international proletariat isn’t currently being accomplished by means of the reciprocal throat-cutting going on under the imperialist banners of fascism versus anti-fascism.
After the Italian and German experiences, it is extremely sad to see politically very highly prepared proletarians who, basing themselves on the fact that the workers are armed, conclude from it that even though the Popular Front is in charge of these armies, conditions will appear, without totally disrupting the situation, which will allow the working class to defend itself and to win. No. Azana and Caballero are worthy brothers of the Italian and German socialists, they are their emulators, because in an extremely fraught situation they ended up by betraying the workers, who they had only allowed to bear arms because these arms were needed to fight a class battle, not against Spanish and international capitalism, but a battle against the working class of Spain and the entire world on the imperialist war front.
In Barcelona appearance obscures reality. Because the bourgeoisie has withdrawn temporarily from the political scene, because bourgeois persons are no longer at the head of certain enterprises, it has come to be believed that bourgeois power no longer exists. But if their power truly no longer exists, then surely there is another power should have arisen: the proletariat’s? And here, tragically, events have given their cruel response: all the political formations, even the most extreme, the CNT, have openly declared that there should be no undermining of the Capitalist state machine headed by president Companys since it might be useful to the working class. Our point of view in this regard is absolutely clear: two principles stand opposed, two classes, two realities: collaboration and betrayal on one side, and struggle on the other. The situation’s extreme intensity is matched by an extremely powerful collaboration. If when faced with a social conflagration of the Barcelona type the workers are driven not to attack the state machine but to protect it, then it is collaboration, not class struggle, which triumphs. The way the class struggle will unfold is definitely not through ever greater material conquests whilst leaving the enemy’s instrument of domination intact, but along the opposite road which sees the unleashing of proletarian movements. The socialisation of an enterprise whilst leaving the state machinery standing is another link in the chain which binds the proletariat to its enemy, both on the internal front and on the imperialist front of the antagonism between fascism and antifascism. On the other hand, the outbreak of any strike for even a minimal class demand (and even in a "socialised" industry) is a link which may lead to the defence and victory of the Spanish and International proletariat.
It is equally impossible to deploy a hodge-podge of proletarians and bourgeoisie such as exists in the present territorial fronts, the Union Sacrée armies, and the class frontiers, the class armies. The difference relates to fundamental questions and not just matters of detail. At present there exists an apparent contradiction between details and essentials; between the composition, ardour, sacrifice and heroism of the proletarians chained to the Popular Front, and the political and historical force which the latter represents. Just like Lenin in April 1917, we must work on the heart of the problem, for it is there that the only "real" political differentiation can take place. The response to the capitalist attack must be on a proletarian footing. Those that neglect this central problem are placing themselves deliberately on the other side of the barricades and the supposed social achievements are, in the end, nothing other than shackles tying the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.
Our conception of War, as manifestation of the class struggle, appears to have been confirmed by the current events in Spain which prove that if inter-imperialist competition doesn’t break out in its extreme form as imperialist world war, on the contrary the full extent of class antagonism is revealed, and international capitalism, Russia included, is able to pass to the massacre of the Spanish proletariat thereby exterminating within it the international proletariat, since the workers in other countries are mobilised around the same positions which are making the annihilation of the workers in Spain possible.
The proletariat will only be able to escape the present situation, in which it is squeezed between two capitalist forces, by taking the path to insurrection. There is no possibility that the existing armies of Catalonia, Madrid and the Asturias will evolve, will change for the better, and there needs to be a brutal, clear and unambiguous break from them. The essential condition for the salvation of the Spanish working class resides in the re-establishment of class lines, opposed to the existing territorial ones. Above all in Catalonia, where proletarian energy is still a force to be reckoned with, this energy needs to be mobilised around a class programme. We have to combat the capitalist programme which consists of crushing the peasant masses with terror, and enticing the industrial masses with political corruption, in order to lead them off to the front to fight for the victory of Spanish, and international, capitalism. No to any Union Sacrée, at any level of the struggle, in any battle, at anytime. This act of imperialist war may not be linked to an imminent outbreak of the world conflagration. In that case the present battles in Spain, unless there is a total and drastic upheaval, will aim to achieve a victory for the Right, since it devolves on the latter to kill thousands of proletarians and impose a generalised state of extreme terror of the type that has exterminated the German and Italian proletariat. The left – the Popular Front – plays a different role for the capitalists which consists of preparing the bed for reaction, a bloody bed where thousands of workers from Spain and from other countries have already been laid to rest.
The only forts of the working class are class ones and it cannot win from the moment it is imprisoned in those enemy forts which are currently the military fronts. The heroic defenders of Irün were condemned in advance; they were consigned to the enemy by the Popular Front who managed to dislodge them from their own class terrain and make them prey to Franco’s armies.
The armed struggle on the imperialist front is the proletariat’s grave. It must be opposed by armed struggle on social terrain. Instead of the competition to conquer the cities and the regions, it is necessary to oppose an attack on the state machine, and it is only by such an attack that the right-wing regiments will be broken up; only thus that Spanish and international capitalism’s plans can be smashed. Otherwise, with or without the acceptance of the French neutrality plan, with or without the Coordination Committee composed of fascists, democrats and centrists (representing all the important countries), it is capitalist chaos which will triumph and the French, English, German, Italian, and even Soviet, arms dealers will deliver munitions to the two Chiefs of Staff, to Franco and to Caballero, so they can massacre the Spanish workers and peasants.
Against the capitalist watchword: "for or against neutrality, for or
against sending munitions to Franco or to the government" you must oppose
class demonstrations, strikes against the transportation of arms, battles
against each imperialist power. Only on such a basis can real solidarity
with the cause of the Spanish proletariat be established.
A new Union sacrée is spreading through the Spanish republic. There is "Rearguard entente", "cordiality amongst the anti-fascist sectors" and everyone would like to relive the weeks which followed the formation of Caballero’s first government. Around the Asturian miners despicable campaigns are being engineered to erase from proletarian minds the crimes of the Negrín government and its social-centrist and anarchist accomplices. In our villages the "Bilbao Committees" have changed their name and become the "Asturian Committees".
Poor proletarians! After more than a year of imperialist war, horrifying carnage and ferocious repression by both Franco and the republican leaders, once again they will be dupes to the traitors who are exploiting the Asturian tragedy to maintain and consolidate the Union Sacrée.
When we see the capitalist machine determining the course of events in the Iberian peninsula, how can we not reflect? How can we continue to cling on to stupid illusions? Precisely because of its historic role, the proletariat is incapable of fighting for "anti-fascism" (a name which disguises the massacre of the workers) and fighting for the proletarian revolution. It was necessary to choose whether to fight on class terrain where the workers proved on July 19 they could win, or on capitalist terrain, where for months and months the bourgeoisie has shown it is they who know how to win the day.
So the mirage which blinded so many would-be left-wing communists, Don Quixotes of non-existent revolutions, what remains of it? Words and declamations, and when the imposing reality of capitalism rears up and slaps them in the face, they take it lying down, protesting: "we never said this, or never said that". Poor "revolutionaries" who haven’t the courage to recognise their monstrous aberrations and who, despite everything, continue to navigate in the waters of anti-fascism.
Now that a wind of "harmony" is blowing through the Republican zone, and the sons of a new act of chauvinist mobilisation are making their appearance, they’ll probably start yelling again about the "triumphant" revolutionary forces "imposing" the Union Sacrée; "imposing" their presence in the Valencia government; "imposing" every possible measure of class collaboration in the name of the future interests of the "revolution".
And yet, for us, never had a situation made clearer the need for a class position based on Marxist theory if the workers were to get out of the terrible situation they were in.
What, in fact, have the events of these last months taught us? The Negrín government came to power after the "victory" in the Madrid area, against the Italian troops and the offensive in the Basque Country, and it continued the ferocious work of repression which Negrín’s colleague Caballero had begun in Barcelona on May 4. From then on, up until the fall of Bilbao and Santander, the proletariat was under permanent attack, the workers’ committees purged, the POUM militants and the "Friends of Durruti" massacred. It was a case of the complete and unadulterated triumph of bourgeois legality.
Scarcely has Santander surrendered when Madrid and Valencia are immediately seething with fascist plots in which the Republican army corps are fully implicated. As soon as the military "victories" allow the launching of repression and for the "traitors" to get ready for the big day, the Negrín government with its centrist rabble is born from the total defeat in Biscay. Everything was so clear in the way the republicans consigned Santander to Franco that it is not surprising that the Francoists have made a big push for Madrid and Valencia, almost certain of benefiting from the goodwill of Negrín and his centrist allies.
At a stroke we have seen the situation reversed. Military defeat and desperate appeals from the Asturian miners have prompted a campaign to re-establish the Union Sacrée. They are going to kill two birds with one stone: since the situation is becoming impossible in Barcelona and Valencia where the masses are suffering from extremely severe rationing, where the cost of living is rising and where the UGT/CNT pact has already attempted to channel the discontent of proletarians working in the war industries, the Asturian miners will serve as a rallying point for all the anti-fascist sectors who – including the CNT – will put their faith in Negrín.
Thus, both victory and military defeat serve in their turn as means of strangling the proletariat. But the working class opposes capitalist war with its own class war and doesn’t realize the Union Sacrée at the moment of defeat in order "to fight fascism" for it knows that this lesser victory will mean its own massacre. The conditions required of proletarians to help the Asturian miners, to attack Aragon, are the abandonment of their class spirit and their submission to the capitalist State (in Aragon the offensive started only after the anarchists had been forced to accept the republican general Pozas and military directives from Valencia). And when progress is made on military terrain, the right conditions are realized for bourgeois repression.
The situation in Spain at the moment is really exceedingly tortuous. Contradictory fact piles upon contradictory fact, only going to show that it is a war of capitalism against the proletariat. Thus, we have on one side the public declarations of the centrists ordering their adherents to cease any campaign against the anarchists so as to maintain the anti-fascist front; the campaign of the CNT for «the integration of all the anti-fascist sectors and organisations in a war government which must include, first of all, the two main trade unions» ("Solidaridad Obrera"). On the other side, the Cortes are opened with the participation of Miguel Maura, head of the conservative party, and Portela Vallandares, the influential leader of the republican right, both of whom had fled in July 1936. Writing in the Dépèche de Toulouse, Portela Vallandares made declarations which are worth reporting: «the government of the Spanish republic acts as a government of order, of authority and respect for the Law; it acts in conformity with the constitution. The rights of its citizens are assured. The Control Committees, more or less arbitrary, are dissolved. One sole authority exists: that of the Law: the same for all citizens. There is more. There has been the will to examine the past and punish the crimes committed at a time when power didn’t have authority, etc...».
What significance can we attribute to this dual movement: the attempt to reconcile all the organisations in a consolidated Union Sacrée, and the possible reappearance of the republican right in the political arena using the authoritarian language which so characterises it?
The need for the ’Popular Anti-fascist Front’ campaign (the additional adjective indicates the integration of the main trade unions into the Popular Front, particularly the CNT) derives from the manoeuvre which will need to be carried out to allow the complete annihilation of the Asturian miners and to stifle the discontent that has arisen as a result of Negrin’s policies; Negrin, who whilst massacring the workers, consigned the Bay of Biscay to Franco. It is very much in the interests of the centrists, direct accessories in this affair, to publish open letters in which anyone who works against unity and who don’t wish to adopt a friendly attitude towards the CNT is considered a "provocateur or agent of fascism". And yet only yesterday the anarchists were considered as allies of the "fifth column" and arrests rained down on them like manna from heaven.
The Asturian miners shouldn’t draw lessons from the surrender of Santander and eliminate the counter–revolutionary gang which wanted to consign them to the executioner. The workers of Barcelona and Valencia shouldn’t raise the alarm and revolt against the Valencia government, which is allied to Franco: their laxity in this war must be combated.
And here the manoeuvre is clear: the bourgeois state has re-established order and authority everywhere: well then! an appeal will be made to those same anarchists who permitted the May massacre so as to better manipulate the workers. However, this time the CNT will have to openly evolve onto the terrain of bourgeois legality.
They will respond to the bourgeoisie’s appeal, by declaring in one of their manifestos, that Bakunin would certainly have acted like them if he had lived in Spain. Their reasoning would be simple: «they chased us out of government because we were dangerous and could prevent ’betrayal’; by returning to government the proletariat will achieve, by means of the anarchist ministers, a success». And in the Cortes, Negrin would subtly indicate that he was extending the hand of friendship to these new traitors who had shown no hesitation about getting workers’ blood on their hands when part of the Caballero government. The POUM too would fight to regain its place in the capitalist government of Companys’, but it wouldn’t save them from the centrist guns. The anarchists have given fine proof of their attachment to the regime, by participating, along with the centrists, in the patriotic demonstration of September 11 which celebrates Casanova’s revolt against Philip V, by refraining from making any attacks against Russia (conforming to the Irujo decree), and by discovering a certain significance in defending the country (Garcia Oliver’s speech in Madrid, published by "Frente Libertario"). But it won’t achieve anything. The bourgeoisie is using them today in order tomorrow to hand them over to the prisons or to the red and black executioners. Praise will be heaped on them for helping the Asturian miners, and they will forget everything: the dead, the prisoners, the betrayals, just so they can concentrate on a veritable "anti-fascist front" by forming a war government to beat fascism.
Meanwhile, close to them a curious phenomenon taking place and we still don’t know how the CNT is going to react. The UGT would perceive the victory of the reformist-centrist tendency (that of Gonzalez Pena, the Asturian deputy) under the dual aspect of the centrist campaign against Caballero and pressure from the Negrin government. The "Spanish Lenin" would be defenestrated with an unprecedented ease and the person of Pena would symbolically indicate to the masses that these changes were going to allow the UGT to participate better in the antifascist war, particularly in the Asturias. For the anarchists to contrast the homogeneity of the CNT with the quarrelling amongst the Marxist currents in the UGT will no longer suffice. Yesterday they were opposed to the campaign against Largo Caballero, leader of the UGT, and now, in the name of "cordiality", are they going to applaud Pena, who represents the sudden U-turn of the official communists towards the CNT?
And yet, there is also the return of the opposition politicians to the Popular Front, who have been warmly welcomed into the Cortes. It is because Negrin’s state machine is strong and all illusions of revolution are dead and buried. The move to the right also allows the right-wing politicians to go back into a calm atmosphere and the Union Sacrée, which the anarchists are so keen to consolidate, becomes al the more significant: not only the pact with Negrin, but also with Maura and Vallandares.
That is the reality of a situation which sees the opening out of a manoeuvre which will sanction pushing the Asturian workers, to the very last one, under Franco’s bombs, whilst the workers of other regions are supposed to applaud and as Negrin continues to roll out the arms of State repression.
In an article by M. Chaves Nogales, former editor of the Madrid "Ahora", the question is put, "Why isn’t the war in Spain over?" and the author clearly emphasises that, on both sides, the reasons given in July 1936 no longer apply: Negrin massacres workers and re-establishes democracy: Franco is trying to call in the politicians of the monarchy and the republic and reining in the falangists. Why don’t they agree to stop the war since they are struggling neither for communism nor fascism, but in the name of the capitalist system?
And the question, in fact, still remains: why, and for what, does the war in Spain continue? Economically the Iberian peninsula is on its last legs; politically the workers have fallen in their tens of thousands and the bourgeoisie rises up victorious in both zones.
What is going on? It is the international situation which is governing the lassitude which exists in both camps, and which prevents the evolution of tendencies towards compromise (the famous fascist plots) prepared to bring matters to a close. Even the declarations of Companys on the absurdity of "we Catalans" ceasing the fight against fascism and negotiating separately with Franco are not so orthodox as to hide the preoccupations of the Catalan bourgeoisie.
The war in Spain continues because it has become the axis of the global situation of imperialist war which we in, in all countries, particularly from the point of view of relations between classes. It is the democratic, fascist and centrist countries – in collusion with the Spanish bourgeoisie – who are maintaining and operating the political and military game which allows the offensive in Aragon when Franco occupies Santander; which lets France organise the Nyon conference in order to "legalise" the "piracy" in the Mediterranean or, at least, to allow Italy to be both cop and robber at the same time, conference which appears to assist the Valencia government; it is Russia, and Mexico, with their provision of arms; it is England with its capital provided to both sides; it is Italy, and Germany, despatching their army corps.
Over the corpses of the Spanish proletariat the Union Sacrée can be maintained in all the democratic countries whilst in Italy, and in Germany, there are formidable and fully operational slaughterhouses. Who can end the Spanish war (by now a truly international war)? The government in Valencia? It fears the workers too much and would prefer to allow Franco to press forward with his advances until the very last moment! Besides, doesn’t it have the power of the democratic and centrist countries behind it who want "to localise" but not end the slaughter? Franco? It is Italy and Germany who can’t stop without causing a collapse in their own systems of domination.
Like the last world war, which from the end of 1916 appeared as a killing field without end, without "logic", without even the initial "ideals" of 1914, so appears the Spanish war today: and only the proletariat with its class uprising can put an end to the carnage; now, as then.
But here the awful truth is revealed: just as the Russian workers are currently proving themselves to be incapable of overthrowing the centrist domination without the help of the world proletariat, so also the Spanish workers are showing they can’t transform the imperialist war into civil war unless revolutionary movements break out outside Spain against capitalism and its war. From this point of view the outlook in other countries is none too brilliant, especially if one looks at the labour movement and the isolation in which the struggles of the communist left fractions take place. But, the Sino-Japanese conflict shows us that the bubbling over of the conflicts within capitalist society has become the dominant element in the situation, and these same conflicts which compel capitalism to throw itself into war also constantly agitate the world proletariat, as expressed in the progressive work of the left fractions; finally, where a vanguard has arisen out of the bloody martyrdom of the workers, they may explode the revolutionary bomb.
The war in Spain has been decisive for everyone: for capitalism it has been the means to broaden the front of forces working for war, to incorporate into anti-fascism the Trotskyists – the so-called left communists – and to suffocate the workers’ revival which occurred in 1936; for the left fractions it has been the decisive test, the selection of men and ideas, the necessity of confronting the problem of war. We have held firm, and, against the current, we are holding firm still.
And yet anarchists and Trotskyists, centrists and socialists, haven’t they showered us with insults and slanders? We dare to defend the destruction of the capitalist territorial fronts, the immediate fraternisation of all the exploited, over the enemy trenches, against all exploiters. To the civil war of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat we oppose the civil war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. And if the events of the past year have confirmed our opinion, justified out slogans, yet the bellicose ardour of the traitors, old and new, remains unabated. Let them accuse us of being agents of Franco, Hitler, or Mussolini or whoever. Proletarians will come to understand that the true agents of capitalism, fully paid up, receiving their stipend like common lackeys, are the centrist butchers of the May days in Barcelona; the anarchist ministers of yesterday and maybe today; the executioners from Russia. And if the Trotskyists want to collude in all this to give proof of republican "loyalty", they will be in a good position to get the response they deserve.
Our fraction will continue to hold high, in the face of the bourgeois provocateurs, the banner of the transformation of the imperialist war in Spain into civil war, through the destruction of the military fronts, the fraternisation of proletarians, the sole basis on which to unleash, in the republican and in the fascist zones, the struggle for the destruction of the capitalist State.
Having lived through the experience, we need to know how to choose between proletarian class positions and the positions which capitalism dissimulates in its various different versions. All the parties or groups have revealed their bankruptcy in Spain: Trotskyism too is a "malodourous corpse" and none of Trotsky’s declamations will be able to revive it. Militant communists must draw the balance sheet from recent events: they must break with the traitor organisations: set to work in order to reconstruct an organisation which is based on class: a fraction of the communist left.