CLR James 1937

Introduction to Mary Low and Juan Breá’s Red Spanish Notebook

Source: Book published by Martin Secker and Warburg, London, 1937. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Mary Low and Juan Breá did not go to Spain, notebook in hand, and having gathered enough material rush back to produce five shillings or seven and six-penny worth of revolution, hot from the press. Breá joined the POUM militia, Mary Low joined the women’s militia and edited the English edition of the POUM publication, The Spanish Revolution. What they have done is to set down their experiences from day to day, the things they helped to do, the people they met, the crowds at meetings and demonstrations, conversations heard in the streets, days in the trenches. Every line they have written is a record of experience lived for the sake of the revolution and written down afterwards because such rare and vital experience needs to be communicated.

The pulse of the revolution beats through every page. Many of the active revolutionaries are there, Nin and Gorkin of the POUM, McNair of the ILP, Rous, the Paris representative of the Fourth International, Benjamin Peret, the famous French poet (tenacious of his overalls even when calling on a minister), Miravitlles, no longer Secretary of the Anti-Fascist Militia Committee, but Minister for Propaganda, carefully putting on a record of Josephine Baker and holding the mouthpiece to it before he speaks to Paris on the telephone. From organising the massed strength of the workers to futile diplomatic manoeuvres of this sort, designed to impress the ‘democratic’ countries – that is the record of degeneration, beginning from the moment the Soviet Union demanded the democratic republic as its price for arms. When the bourgeois parties with this powerful aid had strangled the first phase of the socialist revolution, Breá and Mary Low left Barcelona.

And yet this is not a depressing book. Far from it. Catalonia leads Spain, and for some few months at least the workers and peasants of Catalonia, politically inexperienced, thought that the new world had come. The flame has been lit and fascism can pour on it the blood of thousands of workers, can stamp upon it, and even stifle it for a time. But it will burn underground, is imperishable, and will blaze again. For Breá and Mary Low, despite their eye for picturesque personalities, are proletarian revolutionaries, and their little book shows us the awakening of a people. The boot-black who good-humouredly but firmly refuses a tip, showing his union cards; the peasant who will not be kept waiting as of old because equality exists now; the hundreds of women stealing away from their husbands to join the women’s militia – and attend Marxist classes, throwing off the degrading subservience of centuries and grasping with both hands at the new life. They will conquer. They must. If not today, then tomorrow, by whatever tortuous and broken roads, despite the stumblings and the falls. There is no room for the democratic republic in Spain today. Either Spain must go back to a nightmare of reaction infinitely worse than the old feudalism, or on to the social revolution. And the guarantee of their victory is that for the eager thousands who march through these pages, smashing up the old and tumultuously beginning the new, worker’s power emerged half-way from books, became something that they could touch and see, a concrete alternative to the old slavery. We, who know how important to the emancipation of Europe and to the regeneration of the Soviet Union is the ultimate victory of the Spanish workers, will read this book and keep it, and the layman will get here, better than in all the spate of books on Spain, some idea of the new society that is struggling so desperately to be born.