Max Shachtman

In Spain:
The Socialists and State Power

Reformists Maneuver to Avoid Responsibility before the Laboring Masses

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 7 (Whole No. 103), 13 February 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The party with the strongest influence among the workers and peasants of Spain today is the socialist party. In the coalition cabinet of the Cortes it is represented by three ministers, Caballero, de los Rios and Prieto. As a consequence of the relationship of forces in the country the question of a socialist government in power has become one of the most acute issues in the present-day politics of Spain.

One can scarcely point to any other body in the country that has played a more despicable role in Spain than the socialist party. During the period of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, with its record of reaction and repression, the socialist leaders worked hand in hand with the dictatorship. Largo Caballero, the leading spokesman of the socialist party and Secretary of the socialist General Workers Union, was a Councillor of State under Primo, and by his assistance to the dictator purchased a legal existence for his party and his trade union organisation, both of which were converted into docile agencies of the state. It was Caballero, functioning as Councillor of State, who elaborated the notorious law providing for the “comites paritarios”, consecrating by compulsion the system of class collaboration throughout every industry. Until virtually the last day of the monarchy, the socialist leaders helped to drag the dictatorial juggernaut over the prostrate bodies of the Spanish working class and peasantry.

The intensification of the revolutionary situation, marked by fierce general strikes in the principal localities served to cut the reluctant socialist away from the dictatorship. The bourgeoisie, compelled to sacrifice the monarch to the furious advance of the insurrectionary people, wisely provided themselves with a buttress on the Left side in the form of the bourgeois-socialist coalition in the revolutionary committee which subsequently constituted the government.

The Socialists in the Coalition

The drawing of the socialists into the coalition had a double advantage for the bourgeoisie in the first place, the election apparatus of the S.P. was immediately placed at the service of the joint coalition – no small matter, for the S.P. constituted after the proclamation of the republic about the only political party with even a well-equipped skeleton organization. Secondly, the presence of these socialist and trade union representatives in the government served to give it sufficient of a rose tint at the outset to attract the support of masses of workers and peasants who, still dominated by strong democratic illusions, would have regarded a purely bourgeois government with considerably greater suspicion and even hostility.

But such an inconvenient combination cannot last forever. That is to say, the development of the struggle, far from moderating, is becoming increasingly acute. The masses are demanding a cash payment for their revolutionary uprising which ushered in the republic, they are demanding the fulfillment of those multitudinous promises with which the bourgeoisie bought their support. Issues are therefore being put so pointedly that it becomes increasingly difficult for the socialist leaders to take the same position towards them as is taken by the reactionary bourgeoisie, out of fear of disillusioning the masses who still have a measure of faith in them.

The Purpose of a “Socialist” Government

In addition, the problem should be regarded from another angle. A bourgeois government in which the socialists merely participate but do not “govern” necessarily brings down upon itself growing measures of popular wrath. Necessarily, for the simple reason that the bourgeoisie, to consolidate its position, is compelled to inaugurate reactionary proposals which rob the masses of any pretense to democratic rights and which flaunts all the promises made in the early days. As the resentment and activity of the masses, rebelling as they are against these proposals, increase, the bourgeoisie, or at the very least, a substantial section of this class, find it the best part of wisdom to put a “Left” wall between its domination and the assaults of the masses, in other words, a “socialist government” which they hope will more easily absorb the shocks of mass action. Another section of the bourgeoisie, it is true, bolder and headier, demands even stronger measures for the establishment of “law and order”, measures which lead straight in the direction of Fascism. Thus is established the division of opinion in the ranks of the bourgeoisie: the latter standpoint is represented by Lerroux, who is already proceeding to organize a Fascist band throughout Spain; the former standpoint is advocated by fairly powerful organs of the ruling class, for example, the ex-monarchist and now “republican” daily in Madrid, El Sol.

The Attitude of the Socialists

In the ranks of the socialist party leaders themselves, however, there is a division of opinion on the matter of a “socialist government”, or more accurately, of a “socialist coalition”, for none of them has yet advocated a “purely” socialist cabinet. Largo Caballero, one of the least popular but strongest of the socialist leaders, ruling figure in the G.W.U., minister of labor in the cabinet, and ruled by an uncontrollable ambition to head the government, has already declared publicly the readiness of the socialist party to constitute the government and its cabinet. In the interview which he granted a couple of months ago, he emphasized however, that the socialists would not take over the government completely, but would include in their cabinet the representatives of other parties, for they realize that they have not enough strength and that the situation “is not ripe enough” for the socialists “to put through their complete program”. The same point of view was underscored by Caballero’s colleague, de los Rios, minister of Justice, in his interview to El Sol last November.

Opposing this standpoint is the group headed by Besteiro, a more popular figure in the party, who is in fact, its chairman, as well as the chairman of the G.W.U. and the president of the Cortes. Besteiro opposes a socialist coalition until the party is in a “strong enough position” to carry out the “full socialist program for the reconstruction of society”.

The Reformists Fear the Consequences

Between both viewpoints, the whole essence of the issue is juggled around with an elaborate and pompous cynicism. The socialists are the strongest party in the country, with the largest representation in the Cortes. They do not take power as a “pure” socialist government for the simple reason that they fear the consequences of assuming so heavy a responsibility before the masses. A real socialist party government could do little more and little less than social democratic governments have done in the past in such countries as Germany, Belgium and England. It would carry out, in every essential respect, the policy of the bourgeoisie, to which it is bound by a thousand threads. But carrying out a bourgeois policy under its own name, without the possibility of furnishing pretexts or shifting responsibility, would hasten phenomenally the disillusionment of the masses who still follow the socialist party and are beclouded with democratic fantasies. Upon the background of a socialist government, would be starkly revealed all the cowardice, shamelessness, impotence and reactionism of the social democracy, in such a manner as would become clear to all. That is why the socialist leaders recoil from the prospect; that is why even the most hard-pressed bourgeois thinks twice and three times before taking such a step – for after it might come the revolutionary deluge.

What Is the Official C.P. Doing?

In view of this situation, the official party obdurately refuses to adopt the slogan and tactic advocated by the Left Opposition which is for driving the socialists into a corner and compelling them to take a stand in the government which will facilitate the winning of the masses for the revolutionary cause: the slogan and tactic which Lenin’s Bolsheviks applied with such exemplary success between the February and October revolutions in Russia. Against this position, the Stalinists adopt a thoroughly sectarian and sterile attitude. Bureaucratic boasting replaces revolutionary tactics.

The party is forced into a position of inactive expectancy, waiting and hoping for the socialist party to lose influence among the masses automatically, so to speak. It is quite true that the socialist party leaders have conducted themselves before and since the proclamation of the republic in a most hideous manner, which has undoubtedly resulted in a certain decline of its influence. Unfortunately, this process is by no means a one-sided one, it is not automatic, and does not follow a straight line. If it took place in a vacuum, one might even establish with mathematical accuracy the point at which socialist influence upon the masses would reach the vanishing point. But it takes place, on the contrary, in a live and complicated environment. Just as socialist opportunism has so often resulted in a strengthening of anarchist and syndicalist ideology in the masses, so also does anarchist sectarianism and impotence frequently drive the disappointed masses back into the arms of the social democratic opportunists. This is being proved in Spain today. One need only point to Barcelona, where the socialist G.W.U. is gaining strength for the first time in years as a result of the hopeless course pursued by the anarchists. Thus these two extremes of the labor movement feed upon each other parasitically. Worse yet, the antics and incapacity of the Stalinists have nullified many of the splendid opportunities which Communism was offered at the expense of the social democracy in Spain. A more detailed exposition of these phases of the Spanish situation we leave to the forthcoming articles.

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 31.5.2013