Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(25 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 27, 25 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It was to be expected that once the Popular Front regime in Spain came to its natural, that is, its ignominious, death, we would begin to get the complete inside story of what happened behind the scenes during its lifetime. It was inevitable that all the sordid details of this “democratic” fraud would be revealed eventually in the form either of penitent confessions by its several participants or mutual accusations, each of which would aim at throwing the responsibility for the debacle on somebody else and all of which, properly assembled, would provide a fairly complete picture of the intrigue, the secret diplomacy, the horse-trading, the treachery that made up the life of this “instrument of the masses for the united defense of democracy.”

A Belated Witness

Among the first of the partners to speak up is Luis Araquistain, one of the “left-wing” leaders of the Spanish Socialist Party, well known as one of the principal advisers in the realm of theory and diplomacy to Largo Caballero. The Independent News of Paris has just made public a letter addressed on April 4, 1939 by Araquistain to the last President of the Spanish Republican Cortes, Diego Martinez Barrio. In it he announces a rather belated resignation from what he calls “our fantasmagorical Republican Cortes,” and dissociates himself, also somewhat belatedly, from the “most inept, the most despotic, the most unscrupulous government ever suffered by Spain, even in the most disastrous periods of the Austrian dynasty or that of the Bourbons.” This is his politest reference to the great government of the Democratic People’s Front headed by his own party comrade, Juan Negrin!

“During the two years – approximately – that he held the power, we lost all of the North of Spain, we lost a part of the Mediterranean littoral, and finally we lost all of Catalonia. At another time and elsewhere, I shall set forth the totality of the causes for this disaster which has no precedent in the Spanish wars. It is enough for me here and now to record the fact and to indicate the profound source and the ultimate reason for this immense defeat: it is the stupid and brutal communist dictatorship which guided our hapless war and lead us to this tragic denouement; of this dictatorship, Juan Negrin and his coadjutor, the former Minister of State [Azana], were the docile and unconditional agents. Dictators under the dictatorship of the communist party.”

Silent Accomplices

It is not out of place to add at this point that Araquistain, Caballero and their associates were, at the least, silent accomplices of this “dictatorship in the name of democracy.” They tolerated it, they cooperated with it, they kept quiet about its outrages and crimes at a time when forthright and truthful appeal to the masses could have altered the situation, they did not take a single serious step towards organizing popular opposition to a ruinous and despotic regime – all in the name of the “unity of the People’s Front.”

Araquistain reminds Martinez Barrio of the story told the latter by President Azana who, in 1938, was thinking of a change in government policy. Negrin, the “democratic socialist,” thereupon declared to Azana: “You shall not remove me, and if you try to do it, I shall resist; I shall place myself at the head of a popular and military movement, for the army and the people are with me.” (Which, presumably, is why both the army and the people drove him and his cohorts out of Loyalist Spain.)

The Negrin regime was characterized not only by despotism and intrigue, but also by plain and fancy graft. Not a few professional democrats filled their purses with good Spanish gold. Araquistain’s proposal to the government for an audit of its finances was cynically rejected, as was a similar proposal by the Ambassador to Washington, Fernando de los Rios.

“I hold that there were enormous administrative irregularities in the finances of certain agents of the Government abroad. By refusing to accept my proposal, it is evident that the so-called Negrin government shares the responsibility for these derelictions. I also affirm that high personalities of the Republican regime possess, deposited in their name in English banks and in those of the United States, important sums of money, hard to justify. But all possibility of a check-up being abolished – and that is what my proposal sought to avert – Republican Spain will never know which of its agents and representatives acted with probity and which behaved differently; all of them will be plunged into an atmosphere of suspicion. Nor will it know ... what became of the Spanish treasury, of the 500 and some tons of gold which were deposited outside the national territory, nor how this gold was spent, nor what remains of it, nor the name or names under which this deposit was made, a fact of the highest importance and one which perhaps would explain also why certain people, in an incomprehensible manner, clung obstinately to power in spite of the defeats and the hostility of public opinion ...”

The Mystery of the Vanished Gold

Had Araquistain been given the opportunity to read the article of Walter Krivitsky on Stalin’s Hand in Spain before writing his letter to Martinez Barrio, at least part of his question about the disappearance of the Spanish gold stores would have been answered. Krivitsky revealed that not only did the Father of the Peoples in the Kremlin demand spot cash payment for the few rifles, cannon and airplanes he sold to his beloved Spaniards, but he also arranged for the transfer of a huge part of the Spanish gold reserve to Moscow. For, when Stalin made his one solitary reference to the civil war in Spain as not a Spanish but a world affair, he apparently interpreted it to mean a good business affair for the Soviet Commissariat of Finance.

As for all the varieties of leaders of the Spanish People’s Front, the proletariat has the infuriating consolation that only now that they have completed their work of defeat and ruin will they themselves begin to tell the truth – by fits and starts, and in installments – about the crimes in which they acted either as principals or accomplices.

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