Max Shachtman

The Recent Outbreaks in Spain

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 5 (Whole No. 101), 30 January 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“The old world is burning at both ends.” In the Far East, the imperialist lust has mounted to the head of a Japan rendered desperate by the crisis that has eaten into its vitals and it has plunged into so violent and unashamed a conquest of prostrated China that only a spark is needed to set off an international conflagration. In Germany, the death rattle of capitalist mingles with the noise of Fascism’s sabres and the distant rumble of a proletarian reply. Now in Spain, the workers – headless and unled though they are – are again displaying a lighting disposition, a vigor and a resourcefulness that offer magnificent possibilities for shortening the interlude between the democratic and the proletarian revolutions. The resurgence of the strike movement, particularly in Catalonia, Andalusia and Vizcaya, is especially heartening in view of the preceding period of depression that set in the working class right after last year’s series of heavily defeated strikes led and mismanaged in classic syndicalist style by the head of the National Confederation of labor (C.N.T.). At the same time, the events which have just occurred, during which a number of municipalities were apparently taken over by the workers and the Red flag hoisted, give ground for some concern for the immediate future of the movement in Spain: the silver lining has a cloud.

The distance that separates us from Spain and the thoroughly unreliable reports of the bourgeois press make it difficult to evaluate and to analyze last week’s events in proper detail. But a general knowledge of the Spanish situation and the most recent copies of the revolutionary press that have arrived, make it possible to give a momentarily adequate picture of what is going on, which will surely be amplified and confirmed by later information.

“Law for Defense of Republic”

The republican-socialist coalition which took over the government with such elaborate promises for the welfare of the masses and took such deliberate pains to proclaim Spain a “democratic republic of the workers”, has not failed to reveal in action its brutally anti-labor character. Not only has it not succeeded in solving a single one of the problems posed by the democratic revolution, but it has steadily instituted regulations and procedures which have steadily increased the discontentment of the workers. The focal point of the rift between the masses and the ruling class it has brought to power has become, to a great extent, the infamous “law for the defense of the republic” and the existence of the equally infamous “Guardia Civil” which is maintained to enforce the Draconian measures of the law.

Before the adoption of the law, and now “legally” under the law, hundreds upon hundreds of active militants have been arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial or indictment. The system of “detenciones gubernativos” (arbitrary governmental detention), instituted by Primo de Rivera, has been carried over under the Republic. Characteristically, under the dictatorship this vicious system was declaimed against by such present-day authorities as Azana, Prieto, Marcelino Domingo; one of its most ardent opponents under Primo was Galarza, who today perpetuates it just as ardently in the capacity of Director General of Security in Madrid. Just as under Primo and Berenguer, working class papers are now administratively suppressed by the minister of the interior or his representatives. Frente Unico and Mundo Obrero, organs of the Communist party, have been suppressed or harassed. In Catalonia, the civil governor, Anguerra de Sojo, completely suppressed the weekly paper of the Left Opposition, El Soviet. The powerful daily paper of the C.N.T., Solidaridad Obrera, has been seized regularly, particularly since it passed into the hands of the anarchists.

Trade union and political centers of all sorts have been closed by the authorities in the most high-handed manner. Just in the short period of the writer’s visit to Spain, the press reported the shutting down of the C.N.T. (anarcho-syndicalist) unions in Cadiz; the illegalization of the anarchist-controlled railroad workers’ union in Malaga; the outlawry of the autonomous building trades union in Bilbao, led by the Communist party and the Left Opposition; and – with the tacit consent of the three socialist leaders who are in the coalition cabinet! – the closing up of U.G.T. (socialist unions) and even Socialist party centers in their stronghold, Estremadura.

In one strike after another, the governments – the Madrid center as well as the Catalonian Generality, has intervened openly on the side of the employers. The Civil Guard, cordially despised and hated by virtually the entire population, has been used time and again to crush strikes, to beat up demonstrators, and even to fire point-blank into workers’ meetings. All these measures and acts are now elevated to the plane of constitutional law by the new “law for the defense of the republic”, voted by reactionaries, socialists and even Macia adherents, which puts more arbitrary and dictatorial power into the hands of the minister of the interior than Primo ever presumed to take! All this by the grace of the socialist ministers and with their benediction.

The Arnedo Massacre

The flames of resentment in the ranks of the working class, which were reduced to a smoldering for a while back, now seem to have flared up again. From what can be gathered by reading the most recent periodicals, the recent strike outbreaks were precipitated by a horrible massacre of workers in Arnedo, province of Vizcaya. Right into a crowd of defenseless workers came the rifle fire of the Guardia Civil, with the result that besides the many wounded, there is now a toll of ten dead men, women and children, among the latter a fifteen years old boy.

Throughout the country it appears that this was the final straw.

The accumulated hatred of the Civil Guard, which symbolizes oppression, arbitrariness and police brutality to the Spanish workers and peasants, spilled over in all parts of the country. In one section after another, general strikes of protest against the Arnedo butchery were called some for 24 hours, some for two days, some for an “indefinite period”: in San Sebastian, later throughout Vizcaya, and, as recent press dispatches indicate, throughout Andalusia and Catalonia. Everywhere, the popular demand was raised for the dissolution of the Civil Guard. The republicans and socialists in power, cavalierly oblivious of their solemn promises before the fall of the monarchy to abolish the black-hatted bandits of the Guard, promptly proceeded to send comrades of the same Guards to suppress the strikes with all the ferocity for which they are notorious.

Despite the militancy of the strike movement, which sporadically and spontaneously went so far as to take over control of local municipalities, it is clear from even the meager press reports that it has been driven back by the concen-[a line of text is missing] geoisie. And with the present state of the movement, nothing else could be expected.

The fatal weakness of the movement is its leadership and outlook. Practically everywhere, it is under the domination of the C.N.T. leaders, either of the “pure” syndicalist brand or of the “pure” anarchist brand. Practically everywhere, the actions are consequently precipitated without genuine preparation, with the vaguest, least practical, most “idealistic” aims, without national coordination, without foresight as to the results or the mean provided for resisting an agile, mobile, well-directed and centralized bourgeoisie and its apparatus of suppression. The inevitable result is that the anarcho-syndicalists, [a line of text is missing] contempt for the state, are completely discomfited and checkmated when the “social myth” of the state turns up at every corner and confronts the heroically confused workers with serried ranks of trained Civil Guards bayonets fixed and rifles levelled.

The concern which every revolutionist must feel over these events is over the fact that the petty-bourgeois ignorance and prejudices of the anarcho-syndicalist leaders resulted in dress parades of an unprepared and undirected working class against a thoroughly fortified bourgeoisie, unnecessarily exhausting the forces of the workers, bleeding them slowly in futile skirmishes, preaching the superiority of primitive guerrilla warfare when only the strategy of centralized war is applicable, practising the theory of sporadic advances and disorganized retreats under the fatally erroneous impression that it is the bourgeoisie which will thereby be weakened; The continued precipitation of premature and unprospective mosquito attacks, accomplished by taking unwise advantage of the just resentment and militancy of the masses, means that the anarcho-syndicalists are stretching out Spain’s “July days” into weeks and perhaps months. It constitutes a terrific threat to the real progress of the Spanish proletarian movement.

The other side of this situation is the “blnnhersin permanence” [sic!] of the Spanish Communist Party. We have often pointed out the veritable crimes against the revolution which the Stalinist bureaucrats have committed in the Spanish situation. Each acute situation only reveals this horrible fact more glaringly.

The light-hearted gambling with the problems of the movement, ignorance and ineptness, the stage juggling with the burning trade union question which results in the absence of any deceive Communist influence in the powerful C.N.T. – or the U.G.T., for that matter – has made it possible for the anarcho-syndicalists to debilitate the working class without encountering effective resistance from the Communist forces in the principal mass organizations. So much invaluable, irretrievable time has been lost by the antics of Stalinism! So much more time threatens to be lost unless a turn is made!

The pitiful attempts of the Stalinist press to cover up the bankruptcy of Bullejos, Adame, Trilla and Co. in Spain, deserve a word. Taken completely unawares, the Daily Worker clamored for days about “eight towns” having “declared the establishment of a Soviet Republic”! Such abysmal ignorance about “establishing Soviet Republics” is to be expected from the bourgeois press ... and from Stalinist dunderheads. Then we learn that “the workers of Spain are turning in masses to the revolutionary leadership of the Communist party” (D.W., 1-23-32). Unfortunately, this big mouthful is miles distant from the truth, if only for the reason that these same journalist-manufacturers and their Spanish colleagues have done everything they could to keep the masses from the Communist party.

The Daily Worker is not alone. The current issue of the Workers Age, which contains an outraged article by Gitlow against the bluffs and exaggerations of the Daily Worker, does an elaborate piece of bluffing on its own hook. It informs us of the “wide-spread revolutionary uprising under the leadership of the Catalonian Communist Federation (the Right wing group of Maurin and Co.) and the syndicalist unions”. That the syndicalist unions are leading the movement is undoubtedly true, but no more. The story about the leadership of Maurin and Co. is nothing but bluff, pure and simple, manufactured entirely out of a typewriter and a piece of paper.

The revolution in Spain is still on the order of the day. It is only necessary to understand the dangers it faces, and to overcome them in a serious, Marxian manner.

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