Felix Morrow

Barcelona Workers Face Supreme Test

Boss Reaction in Loyalist Rear Makes Franco Advance Easier by Hamstringing Workers

(January 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 3, 21 January 1939, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Can Barcelona withstand a siege? This is the question which workers everywhere are asking themselves as Franco’s forces, having broken into Barcelona Province, advance upon the chief city of Spain from three sides. On the fourth side lies the Mediterranean, which Franco’s fleet commands.

A million proletarian men and women are prepared to lay down their lives in defense of Barcelona. They are the very flower of Spain’s working class. Madrid has been primarily the administrative center of the country, with few important factories, but Barcelona is the industrial heart of the country as it is its chief seaport. The Barcelona masses on July 19, 1936 initiated the struggle against the fascist coup d’etat, with bare hands wresting arms from the revolting troops.

If Barcelona’s fate rested with these heroic workers, we could say with certainty: despite superior armament, despite the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco will never march into Barcelona.

Workers Are Shackled

Unfortunately, however, the fate of Barcelona rests in other hands. The leaders of these workers – they are predominantly adherents of the anarchist-led C.N.T. unions – have surrendered the power to the bourgeois, Social-Democrat and Stalinist ministers, with the C.N.T. providing a “left” face to the government.

The workers’ organizations play no independent role whatever, but are subservient to the Negrin government. In the name of the fight against fascism, the direction of that struggle has been ceded to those who fear a victory of the working class more than they fear a victory of Franco. Too many crimes committed by this government and its predecessor, the Caballero cabinet, too many betrayals of cities to the fascists have taken place, to make it possible to place any confidence in the leadership which Premier Negrin will provide for the defense of Barcelona.

Suicidal Policy Continued

Despite all the bitter lessons of two and a half years of civil war, the Negrin government continues to place all its hopes on Anglo-French aid. Alvarez del Vayo, Spain’s foreign minister, spent the crucial days of the week at Geneva, making speeches in the League of Nations Council beseeching the “democratic countries” to permit the Loyalists to purchase arms and ammunition. The same speech has been made by governmental leaders ever since July 1936, and to no effect.

Seeking to curry favor with England and France, the Loyalist government has ruthlessly crushed the initiative of the Spanish workers and peasants. The factories which they seized in July, 1936, have been wrested from them and returned to the status of private property, likewise armed forces have been employed to curb peasant movements – notably in Catalonia and Aragon – for collectivizing the land.

To enforce this counter-revolutionary policy, the workers’ militias which originally sprang up to smash the fascists were “reorganized” and the old military bureaucracy and carefully selected bourgeois and Stalinist officers were given complete command of the armed struggle.

The Result

The result has been a series of disastrous military defeats and outright betrayals. During the period when the Loyalist navy was still superior to Franco’s, it was bottled up in Cartagena harbor because England and France feared that naval activity might drive Hitler and Mussolini to open warfare. Thereby Franco was enabled to transport troops from Morocco at will. Malaga was betrayed to the fascists by the treacherous high command. The only front where successes occurred, the P.O.U.M.-C.N.T. manned Aragon front, was deliberately deprived of arms until the C.N.T. capitulated politically. The Basque “democratic” bourgeoisie, left in complete control in the North, surrendered without a siege, one after another, Bilbao, Gijon, Santander, until the entire north was in fascist hands. After a murderous purge of the Aragon front, executing revolutionaries and imprisoning thousands of C.N.T. soldiers, that front was turned over to the Stalinist ally, General Sebastian Pozas – who promptly opened the front to the Franco forces during their offensive last Spring.

Not military victory, but the “embrace of Vergara” – treacherous conciliation between the contending ruling camps – remains the main danger to anti-fascist Spain. Grooved in the Anglo-French policy of “appeasement,” the much-touched “13 point” program of the government, based on the thesis that Spain is fighting not a civil war but a war between “Spain” and invaders, is at bottom of perspective of conciliation with the main elements In Farnco’s ruling circles. The Negrin governmental forces are prepared to join with the Franco forces in a military dictatorship, whose first task of consolidation would be extermination of the intransigent workers and peasants.

Last updated on 28 November 2014