Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(21 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 17, 21 March 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The intricacies of the social-democratic mind are often difficult to follow. Take, for example, the comment of the New Leader (March 11) on the situation in Spain after the coup d’etat of the treacherous “Loyalist” generals in Madrid who ousted the Negrin regime and set up their own Defense Council.

“There can be no doubt of the loyalty to the Spanish people of the Defense Council. The Communist uprising, which was smashed by Miaja, is a revolt against the legitimate Spanish government.”

Now, leaving aside for the moment the more than dubious assertion that the Council’s loyalty to the Spanish people is indubitable, it would be interesting to learn from the New Leader writer just what criterion he employed in designating the Council as the “legitimate Spanish government.”

Just what makes it “legitimate”? Is it, perhaps, the legal product of the democratic suffrage of the Spanish masses? Was it voted into office in an election – any kind of election? Was it designated as the successor by a previously existing government?

Obviously, none of these is the case.

Where the Difference Lies

The Miaja-Casado-Besteiro gang came into power purely and simply by means of an armed seizure of power by a conspiratorial group of military men. It overturned by force the Negrin government which the New Leader itself, along with all other Popular Frontist organs, said up to yesterday was the “legitimate Spanish government.”

Again, what makes Miaja’s regime legitimate in the eyes of the social democrats?

We know that although more than two decades have elapsed, the social democrats have continued to be unrelenting in their condemnation of the Bolsheviks for dispersing the Constituent Assembly in Russia. With undiluted bitterness they tax the Bolsheviks with having overthrown by force of arms the “legitimate Spanish government” – although the Negrin regime of March 1939 was more representative, alas! of the masses than was the vastly discredited Constituent Assembly of January 1918.

The only conceivable basis for the social-democratic legitimation of the Miaja regime must therefore be sought in the fact that it has smashed “the communist uprising.” By the latter phrase, the New Leader is referring to the masses of workers of all political opinions who were ready to fight to the end against fascist slavery rather than capitulate ignominiously under the direction of Miaja. In estimating the two contending groups, the social democrats, true to their nature, rally instantaneously to the “legitimate Spanish government” – legitimate by virtue of the simple fact that it is led by capitulators. For where would Oneal, Lee, Waldman and Co. feel more at home than among the capitulators to fascism, with whom they have now been intimately associated for the past 17 years at least?

And in their enthusiasm for Miaja’s latest move, they are even prepared to forgive him for his membership in the Stalinist party. He is more than making up for that error by the energy he displays in shooting down revolutionary workers.

* * *

When Violence Is Permissible

Which brings to mind another couple of social-democratic peculiarities.

The abhorrence which the good people of the New Leader feel towards revolutionary Marxists is based to large measure on the accusation that the latter employ violence in fighting to replace capitalism by socialism. No violence is permissible in the struggle! they say.

Violence is reprehensible when used by the workers either to defend themselves from reaction or to establish the rule of the proletariat.

But – violence is perfectly all right when it is used to suppress the working class. Noske was not one whit more tender than Miaja when, in 1919, he used the machine guns and bayonets of the monarchist troops to exterminate the Berlin Spartacans who were fighting for the Soviet power.

And – violence is perfectly all right when it is used for the mutual slaughter of the workers in an imperialist war. In that case, the New Leader has already guaranteed in advance its support of one imperialist band against the other.

In a word, for the pacifistic social democrats, violence is “legitimate” when the capitalist class uses it against the workers, but entirely impermissible the other way around.

* * *

Not Like the Bolsheviks!

Among the heads of the New Leader’s “legitimate Spanish government” is Julian Besteiro. He is now engaged in shooting down and imprisoning all supporters of Juan Negrin, whose government he helped overturn. Almost two years ago, Negrin himself overturned the government of Francisco Largo Caballero, and devoted himself in the intervening period to shooting and imprisoning the supporters of the latter.

Look at the terrible Bolsheviks, the New Leader says with horrification from time to time, all they do is kill each other under their one-party dictatorship. Thank God we social democrats are not like’ the-Bolsheviks!

But this is the pay-off! Caballero and Negrin and Besteiro are, singly and severally, members and leaders of the same organization, the Socialist Party of Spain. Praise be to Allah, they too are not Bolsheviks, but social democrats. Yet, bafflingly enough, these good social democratic comrades settle their differences by overturning each other’s governments by armed force and putting each other’s partisans in prison or in front of a firing squad.

All of them together are, along with the editors of the New Leader, members of the Second International. So, of course, is comrade ex-Premier Leon Blum. They all belong to it, you understand, because they are devout believers in international socialist solidarity.

Fine International! Fine comrades! Fine socialists!

Thank God, again, they are not Bolsheviks.

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Max Shachtman
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