Pierre Frank 1956
Summary of the Course on the Spanish Revolution
International School for Cadres of the Fourth International.
Source: Association Ra.D.A.R. (Rassembler, Diffuser les Archives de la Révolution http://www.association-radar.org/).
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
- After the failure of the revolutionary wave that followed World War I there were two major social crises in Europe which, ending in the defeat of the working class, led to World War II; 1933 in Germany and the Spanish revolution.
- When studied, the Spanish revolution is of interest from several points of view:
a) From the objective point of view Spain, like Russia in 1917, was mid-way between the position of a capitalist country (with a few colonies) and that of an economically backwards country. Whence the complexity of revolutionary tasks that were posed in Spanish society.
b) From the subjective point of view, a range of varied political currents, without the preponderance of one over any of the others: reformists, anarchists, Stalinists, centrists, Trotskyists. What is more, as concerns Stalinism, we will see the revolution beginning with the ultra-leftism of the Third Period and ending with the opportunism of the Popular Front.
- Spanish society, the result of “a putrefaction slow and without glory” (Marx). Provincial particularism; decomposition of the former dominant classes (the nobility); role of the monarchy (changing tack and centralization); role of the Church; the peasantry; the army (frequent pronunciamentos of the 19th century); the students and the intelligentsia; the proletariat (1.5 million of 23 million plus as many agricultural workers). Its history: uprising in Barcelona in 1909, general strike in 1917.
- The beginning of the revolution: fall of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1930); in April 1931 fall of the monarchy following municipal elections; proclamation of the Republic.
- The tasks of the revolution: the agrarian question(confiscation of the latifundia to the profit of the poor peasants); national self-determination (Catalonia, the Basques); separation of Church and state; confiscation of the Church’s wealth for the profit of the masses; program of social legislation (social security, education, taxation). Democratic tasks. Within the framework of the concept of permanent revolution, adding transitional demands (nationalization of railroads, banks ... workers’ control). Central political watchword: revolutionary constituent Cortes. At the same time, organization and arming of the workers: juntas (soviets), arming of workers and peasants.
- The union and political formations of the working class confronting the situation: all affected by the traits of Spanish society. Two union organizations: the UGT (under the leadership of the socialists – Largo Caballero), and in Catalonia the CNT (under anarcho-syndicalist leadership). Social democracy trailing behind the bourgeois republicans (some had even collaborated with Primo de Rivera). No objective other than a bourgeois republic in which they could have elected representatives and even ministers. The anarcho-syndicalist leaders are found in the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI). Combative but indifferent to the state question and economic problems. Nevertheless, a right-wing section collaborates secretly with the petit-bourgeois Catalan separatists. The communists. Weakness numerically and divisions aggravated by Stalinism (official Party, Catalan Federation, Spanish Left). At the beginning of the revolution, at first lack of understanding of its possibilities (declaration of Manuilsky) and the official policy is that of the Third Period (soviets; the socialists are “social fascists,” nothing concerning democratic slogans or the Constituent, return of the formula of a “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants”). The Catalan Federation, more than right-wing, localist. The “Workers and Peasants Bloc,” negation of the party, democratic revolution without class analysis. The Communist Left, numerically small, political weakness of the leadership (Nin, Lacroix, Andrade).
- The Republic up till 1935: In August 1932 attempt at a monarchist coup (Sanjurjo); in 1934, uprising of the miners in Asturias.
- The constituting of the Popular Front in as it relates to the development of the international situation. The bourgeois participants: Republican left (Azaña), Republican Union (Martinez barrios), Catalan left (Companys), Basque nationalists. The formation of POUM and its participation in the Popular Front. The electoral victory of the Popular Front February 16, 1936.
- The government from February to July 17, 1936: No social measures (no agrarian reform, no touching of the Church, Morocco in the hands of the army under the leadership of Franco). On the other hand, repression of strikes, censorship of the press, closing of the Casa del Pueblo on the eve of the military uprising, which was being openly organized. The day of the Army uprising refusal to arm the workers, refusal of the assistance of the workers’ organization (against a military undertaking qualified as “absurd”) search for two days of a right-wing ministerial arrangement by offering the ministry of war to General Mola, who commanded the troops marching on Madrid. From July 19 to September 4 this government was no longer anything but a fiction, for there was the intervention of the masses against the military coup d’état
- The revolution of July 1936: uprising of the workers of Barcelona, taking control of the barracks. The same initiatives in Madrid, Valencia, Malaga... Formation of workers’ militias. Formation on July 21 of a Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias. Thus began a period of seven weeks where, in the face of an army led by the fascists, the bourgeois government is non-existent. There exists a dual power. In the countryside the land passes over to the anti-fascist committees of the villages. Land titles, debts, and mortgages are destroyed. In the cities the committees organize production and transport. There was the basis for the creation of a workers’ state. For this to occur it would have been necessary that the workers’ organizations bring together and centralize power at the base. But the committees were not committees elected by the base. The committees were composed through a mutual agreement of the organizations, and the latter were oriented towards an agreement with the bourgeoisie (or rather with what Trotsky called “the shadow of the bourgeoisie.”)
- The constituting of the Caballero government (left socialist, leader of the UGT) was the result of this ambiguous situation, to the profit of the bourgeoisie. Composition of the Caballero government: three left socialists, three right socialists (Prieto), who got along marvelously with the Stalinists (two ministers), and five bourgeois ministers. The government’s program: everything must be subordinated to the war against fascism, that is, in fact the fight is seen exclusively as military, with the renunciation of any political measure that might displease the bourgeois ministers. The land: confiscation only of that of known fascists. Factories: a collective contract. Morocco: nothing in response to Abd-el-Krim’s proposal to rise up if Morocco would be granted independence. No soldier’s committees. Reconstitution of a “republican” army. The Caballero government is complemented in Catalonia by the formation of a government of the Generalitat (which POUM and members of the FAI and CNT enter). No program truly different from that of Caballero.
- The bourgeois state is reborn (September 1936–April 1937). On January 7, the dissolution of the workers’ committees assuring provisioning. As a result, rise in prices, ration cards, and speculation. Dismantling of collective farms. Uribe, Stalinist minister of agriculture, names the former owners co-administrators of these lands. Censorship inflicted on the newspapers of the CNT, FAI, POUM. Meetings prohibited. Reconstruction of the police and the Guardia Civil (under the name Republican National Guard). Prohibition of policemen being members of a party or union or attending workers’ meetings. Dissolution of militias, handing over of weapons to the ministry of the interior. In addition, a GPU was formed which acted outside all legality.
- The masses discontented; their pressure on the organizations. March 27, the resignation of the CNT ministers from the government of the Generalitat; new government formed April 16. POUM is vacillating, the leadership opposed to the constituting of soviets.
- The May Days in Barcelona: Late April, governmental provocations, arrest of anarchist leaders, disarming of the workers. The latter respond by putting up barricades. May 3 the assault guards led by Salas (member of the PSUC) attacks the telephone exchange of Barcelona which the workers hold since July 19. Failure. May 4, the workers masters of Barcelona. The 6, the CNT and POUM order the evacuation of the barricades. The government, which had promised to withdraw its troops, occupies the telephone exchange. Repression begins. Assassination of the Italian anarchist Berneri. Repression of the Friends of Durruti, mass arrests.
- Fall of the Caballero government. The Stalinists present to the government a proposal for the dissolution of POUM. Caballero refuses. Defeated by the Stalinists, Prieto’s socialists, and the bourgeois ministers, he resigns May 15.
- The Negrin government, “government of victory” (Pasionaria dixit). Purge of the tribunals and installation of special tribunals for “seditious acts.” July 29, a trial of ten members of the Executive Committee of POUM is announced. August 7, suspension for a certain time of Solidaridad Obrera, organ of the CNT. Purge of the police of elements incorporated after the events of July 1936. In the UGT a coalition of right socialists and Stalinists declares the Executive Committee of the UGT dissolved, whose majority followed Caballero. Reconstituting of a new EC having the support of the government. Factories: reduction of the rights of the factory committees to working conditions and stimulation of production. The minister of defense only passes on orders to enterprises functioning “on the basis of their former owners.” Agriculture: breaking up of those collective enterprises that remained. Illustration of this reactionary policy: the session of the Cortes of October 1, 1937. Absence of Caballero, presence of Maura, former reactionary minister of the interior and of Portela Valladares, former governor general of Catalonia.
- Repression in Catalonia and Aragon: May 28 banning of La Batalla, organ of POUM. The Friends of Durruti outlawed. June 16, arrest of Nin. June 17, banning of POUM. In July 1937 “disappearances” by the dozen and arrests by the hundreds. August 18, even Companys must resign. August 11, dissolution of the Council of Aragon (majority anarchist). Dissolution of municipal councils.
- The military struggle. Before May 1937: The Catalan militias liberate Aragon; warships attack the transports of Franco’s troops. The workers defeated in Badajoz and Irun (there because of the French government, which stopped the munitions sent by Barcelona). Nothing is done in Morocco (note from the minister of foreign affairs, the socialist Alvarez del Vayo of February 9 to the French and English government). The Republican government abandons the fight on the fronts of Zaragoza (workers’ movement under anarchist leadership) and the Basque country (evacuation of San Sebastian in September 1936 so as not to hinder the Basque bourgeoisie). Starting in October 1936 Madrid will become the principal front. After San Sebastian the abandoning without combat of Bilbao (June 19, 1937) and Gijon (October 21, 1937). This is already after the May Days of 1937. From that date forward, with the exception of a few reactions on the part of Republican troops, Franco will maintain the initiative.
- Non-intervention. Germany and Italy openly assist Franco (troops, materiel, torpedoing of ships in the Mediterranean by “unknown” submarines). The workers of all countries formed International Brigades (after the May Days fierce Stalinist control). The Soviet government sold weapons at a high price and with political conditions. The English and French (Blum) governments proclaim non-intervention, a diplomatic fiction that never had any content. In January 1939 an agreement concerning the withdrawal of the volunteers.
- The military defeat and the political disintegration. Late 1938, Franco’s offensive in Catalonia. January 15, 1939, fall of Tarragona. January 26 entry into Barcelona without a fight. Thousands of people head towards the French border. January 6 Franco’s troops reach this border. February 11, the Negrin government is installed in Madrid. February 27, recognition of Franco by Great Britain. The 28 Azaña resigns the presidency of the Republic. March 6, in Madrid, pronunciamento against the Negrin government by the Council of National Defense: Miaja, Casado, Besteiro, Carrillo (UGT), San Andrés (republican left), Vals, and Gonzalez Marin (CNT). March 18, Besteiro proposes negotiation to Franco. March 28, Franco returns to the offensive. Madrid capitulates the 28.
Four months later, World War II begins.
Last updated on: 3 August 2015