Max Shachtman

Spain’s Bourgeoisie
on the Offensive

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 6 (Whole No. 102), 6 February 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This is the second of a series of articles on the situation in Spain by comrade Max Shachtman who recently returned from an extended visit to such centers as Madrid and Barcelona. – Ed.

Have the workers gained politically from the establishment of the Republican-Socialist coalition government which came into power after the overthrow of the monarchy last April? What rights have they been accorded? To what extent do these “rights” conform with the high-sounding phrase “the democratic republic of all the workers” which the socialists had incorporated into the fundamental law of the land?

An Atmosphere of Suppression

The visitor to Spain is immediately impressed with the fact that the most rigid control is exercized by the police authorities not only over foreigners but even more so over the native born. Spain is the only country on the continent, except Fascist Italy, known to this writer where there is a passport or documentary examination in the course of a trip in the interior of the country. Passport control at frontier countries is a matter of course everywhere, but in Spain the traveller who makes a trip from one interior city to another has an official going down the length of the railway carriage demanding his documents. We travelled with one of the comrades from Madrid to Barcelona, two cities well within the frontiers of the country, but we had scarcely got under way when a police official, accompanied as usual by the evil-looking Civil Guards, approached us and asked for our documents. My comrade’s revolutionary “notoriety”, (he has been arrested 29 times now!), gained us both the dubious honor of being accompanied all during the voyage by the agent, who kept pacing in front of our compartment till we reached Barcelona, casting the most suspicious glances at us all the while as though to prevent us from making the slightest move to disturb the law and order of the country from the vantage point of a train car. While representatives of the most reactionary section of the foreign bourgeoisie receive the undisturbed hospitality of the government, foreign Communists have not only been arrested, but, as in the case of some Communist members of the French Chamber of Deputies who came to Spain, have been transported to the border of Spain for deportation. Under Prime de Rivera, practically every labor organization, regardless of its form or activity, was suppressed or declared illegal. The only exception to this rule was the Socialist party and its organizations, for the simple reason that the sanguinary dictatorship enjoyed the collaboration of no less a personage than Largo Caballero, party leader, secretary of the socialist trade union center, and councillor of State under the monarchy. The advent of the republic has not brought about any appreciable change in this respect. That labor organizations exist at all as yet is due solely to the fact that the bourgeoisie, in forsaking the monarchy, was compelled to give a formal recognition to the militant labor organizations which had broken through the dictatorial repressions of Primo and of Berenguer in the months before the fall of the latter. But now the rights which the working class and peasantry gained for themselves by sheer force in the early moments of the republic are being cynically abolished by a reactlonnry bourgeoisie in power which is taking no chances on allowing the workers the democratic political rights which were originally promised them.

Legalizing an Organization

Under the republic today, all organizations, whether trade unions, political parties, chess clubs, sports associations or sewing circles, must “legalize” themselves if they have 19 members or more. The statutes of the organization must be presented in advance to the Director-General of Security (roughly, the equivalent of our police chiefs), or to the governor of the province, and if that worthy grants the required permission, a formal meeting is called eight days later at which the organization is formally constituted. At this meeting, two police officials must be present for the purpose of supervising the procedure and taking notes for their reports to their superiors. If the meeting formally approves the deposed statutes and the officials of the organization are elected, a report is then turned in to the “Seguridad”, together with the names and records of every officer, and then – only then – is the organization “legal”; we hasten to add, providing all of this has been approved by the authorities. Every meeting, regardless of whether it is a public mass meeting or a closed business meeting of an organization, must receive the O.K. of the authorities before it can be held. A local trade union cannot call its own members together to discuss its internal affairs without permission from the “Seguridad” which also has the right (and exercizes it) to send a detective and a uniformed policeman to attend the meeting for supervisory purposes and to make a report. Even the Socialist party, which has scores of representatives in the Cortes and three ministers in the cabinet, must apply for permission to hold a public or private meeting and have them attended by police! A regular branch meeting of the Madrid local of the Opposition which I attended was also graced by two plain clothes .men, who made no secret of their business, listened to the proceedings with great attention and made copious notes. At both ends of the street on which the meeting place was located, were stationed four Civil Guards and two regular police – quite an escort of honor for the business meeting of the Madrid Opposition! The Russian Okhrana could do no better.

We have already hud occasion to write about the Spanish court system in relation to workers. The abominations of “governmental detention”, despised so heartily under Primo, are carried over today into the republic without the slightest change. And carried over mostly under the regime of the very men who fulminated so violently against the system when the dictatorship applied it. The outstanding example is Galarza, the Director-General of Security in Madrid; others, like Azana, the president, Prieto, the socialist minister, Domingo, “the man to the Left of the Left”, could also be mentioned. Workers may (and are) still be arrested without charges placed against them. They can be held without either charges or being brought to trial. They can be kept in prison for years without “due process of law”. – That is the system of “governmental detention”.

Just as the workers have not gained the real right to organization so little have they gained the right to strike. In 1920, Primo created the so-called “comites paritarios”, or parity committees, which were composed of one representative of the workers, one of the employers and the “impartial” government chairman – compulsory for every industry. This scoundrelly law was elaborated and approved by his councillor of state, Caballero, and only the socialist unions (U.G.T.) and the Catholic unions approved it; the anarcho-syndicalist C.N.T. would have no part of it. These “parity committees”, which virtually crippled the right to strike, are still in force today, at least to the extent that the workers recognize them.

The Government and Strikes

When the workers go out on strike in spite of the strangulating class collaboration committees, they meet with the violent, organized opposition of the government. The same people who today occupy some of the most important posts in the state once did all they could to foment strikes and disturbances under the monarchy; today they drown them in blood if necessary. During the famous national telephone strike of more than six months ago, directed at the American trust which holds the monopoly, the government and its Civil Guard were to be found exclusively on the side of the employers. In Madrid, the telephone exchange was completely occupied by the Civil Guard. Each scab repairman who went out was accompanied on the truck by four Civil Guards, armed to the teeth and ready for business. The same story can be told about any other strike. Nor do they stop at “giving protection” to scabs. The instances are piling up when the Civil Guard has fired point blank at strikers, killing and wounding men and women and even little kids.

Now, with the adoption of the “Law for the Defense of the Republic”, the situation become worse. Merely to quote from its provisions will give an idea of how the shades of Bismarck and the Russian Czars must envy the reactionism of their successors. The following are considered as “acts of aggression against the Republic and as such liable to the present law”:

“4. The indirect provocation or the incitation to commit acts of violence against persons, things or property for religions, political or social motives.

“5. Every word or gesture of contempt for institutions or organizations of the state.

“6. Strikes not announced eight days in advance, unless there exist other intervals designated in the special law; strikes launched for motives other than questions of work and those not having been preceded by arbitration or conciliation.”

Punishment is indicated in the second article: “The direct authors of the acts enumerated in paragraphs 1 to 10 of the preceding article, as well as those who will have incited them to commit them, may be deported or banished for a period no greater than that of the validity of this law, or have imposed upon them a fine up to the maximum of 10,000 pesetas.”

A Dictatorial Power

In the third article, we read that “The Minister of the Interior has the power to: 1. Prohibit public meetings or manifestations of a political, religions or social character when, by reason of circumstances, it may be assumed that their unfoldment may disturb the public peace. 2. Dissolve centers or associations considered as inciting to the realization of the acts enumerated in article 1 of this law.” And article four informs us that the application of the law is confided exclusively into the hands of the Minister of the Interior.

The results of the application of such a monstrous piece of ultra-reactionary legislation may well be imagined. The reactions of the workers and peasants to the law, of the workers and peasants who retained so many of their illusions in the “republicanism” of the bourgeoisie, are increasingly satisfactory from the revolutionary point of view. The bourgeoisie, by the adoption of this law and by its subsequent application, is manifestly on the offensive. It is aiming at the complete suppression of any independent working class movement, of reducing the proletarian and peasant movements to the subterranean, illegal level to which it was depressed under the rule of Alphonso and Primo de Rivera.

Even before this law – voted by the socialists and Catalonians as well as by the bourgeois parties! – but especially after it, the repression has been accentuated. Scores, perhaps hundreds of Communists, are in prison now. When I was in Barcelona, the editor of the C.N.T. daily paper, Solidarid Obrera, the anarchist Felipe Alaiz, told me that in Barcelona alone there were more than 200 members of the C.N.T. imprisoned, and more than 1,000 throughout Spain. The number has undoubtedly increased since then, especially after the recent revolutionary events.

The third article will deal with the Socialists and the question of a Socialist government in Spain – Ed.

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