Source: The New International, Vol. V No. 2, February 1939, pp. 38–41.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: David Walters
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.
The siege of Barcelona did not last a day. Premier Negrin had of course plastered the city with “No pasaran” signs, had issued a proclamation swearing to the people that the government would not desert the city, and had imposed martial law ostensibly to facilitate military defense. But simultaneously, it develops, Negrin had been renting a little villa in Le Perthus which, quite conveniently, has its front door in Spain and its back door in France.
Workers everywhere in the city were still busily engaged in rearing barricades for street-to-street defense when ... they lifted their heads to find the fascist advance guards rolling unresisted down the principal avenues. The workers themselves had no arms with which to resist: the arms which they had torn from the fascists on July 19, 1936 had been wrested from them, first by the Caballero government and then by the Negrin cabinet, under the slogan, “All arms to the front.”
In concealing its plan to abandon the city without a fight the Loyalist government naturally could not give warning in time to thousands of worker-militants who are marked down in Franco’s files for execution. Ominous too is the fate of thousands of imprisoned rank-and-file socialists and anarchists, Poumists and Trotskyists; it is all too likely that they were left in Loyalist dungeons, to come out only to face Franco’s firing squads.
The Popular Front ends, “not with a bang but a whimper”. This, we were told, was the way to fight fascism. We were told this by the socialists after the revolution of April 14, 1931, when they entered a Popular Front government – the name had not yet been invented then by the Stalinists, it was still called by the old-fashioned name of “coalition cabinet”. When “the left-wing bourgeoisie” in that government shot down peasants and broke strikes by force, we were told that it was the fault of communist provocation. Two years of that coalition paved the way for two years of black reaction under Gil Robles. When reaction had to retreat, it was given time, opportunity and resources to prepare anew, by its successor, the Popular Front government, which took office February 1936. No one could now talk of communist provocation, for the Stalinists were in the Popular Front; nor could the anarchists provide an alibi, for they had shamefacedly sent their forces to the polls for the Popular Front. But the new coalition repeated the crimes of that of 1931–1933. It could not do otherwise.
It was known that the monarchists, landowners and capitalists were preparing for a return to power by force. The general staff, the whole officer corps of the army was of course with them. In April 1936, Colonel Julio Mangada published a documented pamphlet which not only exposed the fascist plot but proved conclusively that President Azaña was fully informed of the plot when, on March 18, 1936, upon the demand of the general staff, his government had indignantly repudiated “unjust attacks to which the officers of the army have been subjected”. A fawning description of the generals as “remote from all political struggle, faithful servitors of the constituted power and guarantors of obedience to the popular will” was coupled with a threat to imprison any who continued attacks on the officers corps.
Supporting the government, the socialists, communists and anarchists could not, by that very fact, conduct a systematic campaign for the disintegration of discipline in the army. The government had forbidden it and they supported the government. That meant that the officer corps was enabled, when the uprising came, to carry with them the peasants’ sons who constituted the army and who had never been taught to question the authority of the officer corps.
Under capitalism democracy is a luxury permissible, if at all, only in the mother country. One cannot rule colonial slaves by democratic methods. Being worldly-wise men who understood this, the socialist, communist and trade-union leaders supporting the Popular Front government put no obstacles in its way of continuing rule over Spanish Morocco by the Foreign Legion. The Spanish labor press was forbidden distribution in the Moroccan barracks and cities. The labor leadership did not reply by raising the slogan of “Freedom for Morocco”. That was not in the Popular Front program and one must not go beyond the agreement with “the left wing of the bourgeoisie”. In the discreet atmosphere surrounding the military dictatorship in Morocco, Generals Goded and Franco prepared the uprising at leisure; the Moorish peasants who had not been called brothers by the Spanish working-class movement were glad to wreak vengeance on the Spanish mainland for all past humiliation and suffering.
The ways in which the Popular Front government paved the road for the fascist uprising and for its success could be elaborated at great length. Elsewhere I have sought to do so.  What is necessary now, however, is to indicate the meaning for the French working class of the events in Spain during the last seven years.
Since 1935 the socialists and Stalinists have joined in chorus to tell the French workers that their salvation is to be sought in joining with the “progressive” bourgeoisie in a Popular Front which would crush reaction within and without – above all without: Hitler and Mussolini. The fact that the fourth cabinet of the Popular Front, that of Premier Daladier – and Daladier was the Radical leader who was mainly responsible for bringing the bourgeoisie into the Popular Front at its inception – had ended by coming to terms with Hitler at Munich and breaking the general strike at home, has not changed the chorus of socialists and Stalinists. Daladier’s “betrayal” is imputed to him personally, to Chamberlain, etc. – to anyone and anything except the class interests of the “progressive bourgeoisie”. Tomorrow, if it serves the purpose of the French bourgeoisie, another Radical leader, probably Herriot (who wickedly rejected the Popular Front in 1935) will reach out to the Stalinists and socialists, and they will fawningly greet him as they did Daladier: “The man of the hour.” The Blums and Thorezes learn nothing and cannot learn anything.
Not only must the French workers link arms with the “liberal” bourgeoisie, but they are also told that to complete their salvation they must then link arms with the governments of the “great democracies”, England and America.
To push the French workers in this direction, they are being told – as are the American workers being told by the Browders and Abe Cahans and James Oneals – that Loyalist Spain is being defeated because no arms were forthcoming from the “great democracies” and that, if only real Popular Front governments reigned in these countries, anti-fascist Spain would be victorious. Even Blum has the effrontery to demand that Daladier do what Blum would not do.
To push the French workers further in this direction, they are being told that the war in Spain is a war for national independence, waged by the fascist powers on the one hand against “the people” on the other hand, and that after Spain it will be the plight of the French people to wage a similar war for independence.
A little truth and a great deal of falsity are so cleverly mixed in this socialist-Stalinist propaganda, that it is no wonder that, backed by enormous funds and armies of functionaries, they are able even today, after seven years of the Spanish events, after five years of the French crisis to delude the majority of the French workers. Yet the French workers are doomed, unless they free themselves from these illusions.
The stark lessons of Spain must become a manual for the French workers – and for the American workers. The tragedy of Barcelona is an epic which the class-conscious workers must read and re-read tirelessly. As officers are trained in military schools, going over in the minutest detail the story of past military campaigns, so the proletarian cadres must go to school to the Spanish civil war. Let them but listen, and the martyred spirits of five hundred thousand Spanish workers and peasants will teach them how to fight the coming civil war in France?
That the fascists are preparing for war against the French masses is an indisputable fact. But when the Stalinists and socialists interpret this fact to mean only that it is Mussolini and Hitler and their French agents who will be launching a war against the French “people”, they spread a lie which, if believed, can prevent the masses from adequately preparing for the struggle.
The fascists who are preparing for war against the French masses are the French fascists and those they serve, the capitalist class of France. The main enemy is within the gate. Faced by ever-increasing demands from Hitler and Mussolini, the French imperialists prepare for the moment when they will try to cease further concessions and take back previous concessions and more. As an integral part of its preparations for imperialist war for the re-division of the world, the French capitalist class wants class peace at home. To the eternal glory of the French proletariat, the socialist and Stalinist lackeys have proved impotent to provide their capitalist masters with that peace; the workers will not and cannot submit to the wiping out of their past social gains. Driven by the needs of the situation, the French capitalists are moving towards a fascist dictatorship. Daladier’s turn to the right is only part of this process. His smashing of the general strike, ending of the forty-hour week, jailing of trade union militants, are not enough. The French capitalist class must be on equal terms of competition with Hitler and Mussolini; i.e., it must have no trade unions, labor political parties, free press, mass meetings, or any other democratic rights, to act as obstacles in its preparations for war and prosecution of war against its rival imperialists. It must have fascism in order the better to fight the fascist powers of Hitler and Mussolini.
If the French fascist coup d’état proves ineffective, and instead of crushing the masses with swift blows, the workers successfully resist and seize control of the chief cities, there will of course be found “liberal” bourgeois elements who will offer to control the workers in their war against the fascists. They will say, as Azaña, Martinez Barrio, Companys said in July, 1936: “This is not a war of class against class but a war of the whole people against a small clique backed by outside powers.” And if the French workers subordinate themselves to such control, these bourgeois “anti-fascists” will play the same treacherous role as in Spain.
Not merely did these “liberals” pave the way for the fascists by the various means we have already indicated. When the fascist coup d’état actually began, these democrats tried to surrender the power to Franco’s forces. Enough to recall here that the Popular Front governments in Madrid and Barcelona, when the fascists marched, refused to arm the workers. The governments took no steps of their own to organize resistance. On the contrary, Azaña opened negotiations with Franco to come to terms.
And, indeed, could it be otherwise? The camp of Franco was saying: We, the serious masters of capital, the real spokesmen of bourgeois society, tell you that democracy must be finished if capitalism is to live. Choose, Azaña, between democracy and capitalism Which was deeper in Azaña and the liberal bourgeoisie? Their democracy or their capitalism? They gave their answer by bowing their heads before the onward-marching ranks of fascism.
In spite of the Azañas, the workers of Barcelona stopped the fascists. Almost barehanded, with only the arms they could seize by raids on sporting-goods stores, with dynamite from construction jobs and some guns found in fascist homes, the workers conquered the revolting garrisons. Only when the workers were masters of Catalonia, the decisive industrial sector of Spain, only then did the government at Madrid declare it would arm the people – only, that is, when it was no longer master of the decision.
As part of the deliberate propaganda to delude the French workers into linking their fate to an alliance with their “own” bourgeoisie, the Stalinists and socialists have connived with the Spanish bourgeoisie in concealing the fact that it refused to arm the workers. A particularly foul example of this propaganda is at hand: Andre Malraux’s “novel”, Man’s Hope. The third sentence of the book reads: “At one o’clock in the morning the Government had decided to arm the people, and from three o’clock the production of a union-card gave every member the right to bear arms.” That first page is about Madrid. The “liberties” of the novelist here cover up a political falsification. The first fight with the fascists took place in Barcelona on July 19, and was decisively won by the workers before the following day when the Madrid government “agreed” to arm the workers “at one o’clock in the morning”.
No coalition with the bourgeoisie, left or right! No political support to a Popular Front government! Arming of the workers before the outbreak of civil war; arming of the workers independently of the government and in spite of the government! These are the elementary lessons of the outbreak of the Spanish civil war.
But these lessons alone are not sufficient for victory.
As Morocco was the military base for the Spanish civil war, so North Africa generally will in all likelihood act as a military reservoir for French fascism. The native masses have today no feeling of brotherhood for the French workers. That is precluded by the conduct of the Populal Front government since June 1936, which has naturally been identified, in the minds of the native masses, with the French workers whose organizations backed the government.
The natives have not been able to appreciate the blessings of Popular Frontism, as conveyed to them by Albert Sarraut, “Coordinator” for the colonies. The bombing planes and motorized infantry which suppressed the Kurds in Syria (August 1937), the innumerable native meetings routed by the sabres of Mobile Guards, the mass arrests and imprisonments, the displays of force designed to overawe the natives (such as the flight of eighty first-line planes over North Africa in October 1937), the forcible suppressions of nationalist movements in Meknes, Fez, Casablanca, Khemisset, Rabat, Port Lyautey, etc., etc. – this is what the Popular Front has meant to the colonies. The very suppressions have paved the way for fascism, for while the Socialists and Stalinists would not support freedom for the colonies, the fascists demagogically promise the natives anything. Their anti-Semitic agitation has caught fire, and as early as 1935, de la Rocque was able to hold an impressive military review near Algiers. The analogy with Spanish Morocco is complete to the last detail: in the honeymoon of the Popular Front government (November 1937), the Stalinists were constrained to complain that their press was banned from Morocco, while the fascist Action Française came out in a Moroccan edition, calling for the assassination of the government members.
If the natives of North Africa are not to play in France the role of Franco’s Moors, the French working class must, now, make clear to the natives that it identifies its cause with theirs. That can only be done by unconditional support of freedom of the colonies from French domination.
In the name of the fight against fascism, the Spanish workers and peasants acceded to the Popular Front government’s advice: we must not free Morocco, because that would be bitterly opposed by France and England, whose colonies would be inflamed by the example of Morocco. The result was that the Moors wreaked vengeance on the Spanish mainland... under Franco’s officers.
Having thwarted the fascist coup in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and, indeed, in the major part of the country, the workers prepared to fight fascism by the most efficacious means possible: by their own strength, by their own organization of military and economic means and by distributing land to the land-hungry peasantry, in order to rouse the countryside against Franco. The workers seized and ran the factories and transportation, the peasants took the land. Overnight a network of workers’ and peasants’ committees sprang up everywhere to organize the civil war and carry on production. The Catalonian and Madrid Popular Front governments had no power: the basis of their power, the army, had gone over to Franco, and now the armed masses were the only other power. There remained only to centralize these committees into a national council which would create a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.
At this point, however, the Spanish Bluets and Thorezes came forward and said, as they are now saying in France:
“We need help and we can get it from the great democracies, and to get it we must do nothing to frighten them. Besides, the left bourgeoisie is also fighting with us against the fascists. We must therefore coalesce with the bourgeoisie in a government of all the people against the fascists. This is not a civil war but a war for national independence against Hitler and Mussolini.”
Unfortunately the Spanish workers and peasants listened to them. It is not to be wondered at, when one reflects that not only the socialists and Stalinists talked this way, but also the anarchists and the left wing POUM. The tiny handful of revolutionists was scarcely to be heard. The Azañas, Companys & Co. were permitted to remain at the helm.
Preparing the Capitulation
Slowly at first, then more and more quickly, the “liberal” bourgeoisie, immeasurably aided by the workers’ leaders, rebuilt the shattered bourgeois state. Rebuilt, to take the place of the army which Franco now had, a “unified, disciplined” army subordinated to an officers corps recruited from the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists, primarily. And with this coercive apparatus, they took back the factories and the land, re-established private property and all that it implies. To what end, we have seen: capitulation to Franco. Blows to the left, conciliation to the right, meant that while revolutionary workers were executed and imprisoned, pro-fascist officers were able to betray city after city, front after front: Malaga (where the Stalinist commandant, Bolivar, went over to the fascists), Bilbao, Gijon, Santander (thanks to the suppression of the CNT and the hegemony of the Basque bourgeoisie); the Aragon front of January 1938 – thanks to General (comrade to the Stalinists) Sebastian Pozas; one could go on for pages.
Not to complete the revolution – this the workers acceded to originally because it would bring arms from the “great democracies”. But neither “comrade” Blum (Premier from June 5, 1936 to June 21, 1937), nor the succeeding Popular Front governments, nor President Roosevelt, nor Anthony Eden, was moved by this renunciation sufficiently to provide effective arms against Franco. The capitalist democracies – i.e., their governing classes, and their lackeys – understood quite well that the day that Franco was driven into the sea would be the last day of Spanish capitalism. Why should the peasants and workers at that point permit Azaña and Companys to rule them? Precisely for this reason, the capitalists of the world, no matter how democratic, preferred a Franco victory to an anti-fascist victory inevitably followed by a workers’ and peasants’ government.
To help keep the Azañas in power long enough to prevent too speedy a victory, which would have aided their rivals, Italy and Germany, an occasional dribble of arms was permitted by the democratic imperialists. They graciously permitted Stalin to send some. He, for his part, determined to prove his usefulness to the great imperialist powers, did for them what they could not do as well for themselves: his agents strangled the revolutionary forces in Spain by every method which the GPU has developed. In the end, of course, neither the Spanish labor leaders nor Stalin got the alliance from the “great democracies” for which they had been willing to betray the Spanish revolution.
To repeat this false road in France would be absolutely fatal for the French workers. Accept the help of the “middle classes”? Of course! Fraternity with all who will take arms in hand against the fascists. Give the French peasantry a real stake in the struggle by wiping out their indebtedness to the banks, the corporations and the usurers, and by dividing among them the great estates – it is a myth that all French soil is tilled by small owners. Give the small storekeeper and the white collar worker in the cities a vision of a future in a socialist world, in stirring contrast to the capitalist world of hunger, penury and humiliation in which he now lives. These are the ways to the “middle classes”.
And take the power! Above all, take the power, and do not surrender it to the “liberal” traitors, the French Azañas. Put the power in the firm hands of workers who will remain loyal to their own flesh and blood. Keep the power in the hands of those who stand to lose everything by fascism.
That, above all, is the lesson of Spain. Had the workers and peasants taken the power into their own hands, there would have been no Bilbaos and no Barcelonas surrendered intact to the fascists. There would have been no crawling pleas to the Blums and Chamberlains for arms, but instead a clarion call to the masses everywhere to organize the shipment of arms and in the process to take the power in their own countries into their own hands, in France first of all. The wave of revolutions inspired by the Russian Revolution of October 1917 would have risen again, enriched by all the intervening lessons.
Fight or die! – these are the only alternatives. Nothing is impossible for the working class when it follows a revolutionary course! Boycotted by the whole world, fighting the whole world, the Russian workers and peasants threw back the White armies and the Allied armies on twenty-two fronts. The Barcelona of July 19, 1936, is the Barcelona that we shall remember – and also the Barcelona of January 25, 1939. Had the Barcelona proletariat continued to follow in the footsteps of the Petrograd proletariat of October 1917, it would not now be under the heel of Franco.
We have spoken of the lessons for the French working class. Those lessons are also for us, here in America. Soon enough, the same issues will face us. The tragedy of Barcelona will not be fruitless, if we learn from it that it is the only alternative to the road of the Petrograd workers in October 1917.
1. The Civil War in Spain, Sept. 1936, Pioneer Publishers. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, May 1938, Pioneer Publishers.>
Last updated on: 21 August 2015