Leon Trotsky

The Tragedy of Spain

(January 1939)

Written: 30 January 1939.
Originally Published: Russian Bulletin of the Opposition, No. 74.
Source: Socialist Appeal [New York], Vol. III No. 6, 10 February 1939, p. 1.
Translated: Socialist Appeal.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Martin Falgren & D. Walters.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2008. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

One of the most tragic chapters of modern history is now drawing to its conclusion in Spain. On Franco’s side there is neither a staunch army nor popular support. There is only the greed of proprietors ready to drown in blood three – fourths of the population if only to maintain their rule over the remaining one – fourth. However, this cannibalistic ferocity is not enough to win a victory over the heroic Spanish proletariat. Franco needed help from the opposite side of the battlefront. And he obtained this aid. His chief assistant was and still is Stalin, the gravedigger of the Bolshevik Party and the proletarian revolution. The fall of the great proletarian capital, Barcelona, comes as direct retribution for the massacre of the uprising of the Barcelona proletariat in May 1937.

Insignificant as Franco himself is, however miserable his clique of adventurists, without honor, without conscience, and without military talents, Franco’s great superiority lies in this, that he has a clear and definite program: to safeguard and stabilize capitalist property, the rule of the exploiters, and the domination of the church; and to restore the monarchy.

The possessing classes of all capitalist countries – whether fascist or democratic – proved, in the nature of things, to be on Franco’s side. The Spanish bourgeoisie has gone completely over to Franco’s camp. At the head of the republican camp, there remained the cast – off “democratic” armor – bearers of the bourgeoisie. These gentlemen could not desert to the side of fascism, for the very sources of their influence and income spring from the institutions of bourgeois democracy, which require (or used to require!) for their normal functioning lawyers, deputies, journalists, in short, the democratic champions of capitalism. The program of Azaña and his associates is nostalgia for a day that has passed. This is altogether inadequate.

The Popular Front resorted to demagogy and illusions in order to swing the masses behind itself. For a certain period, this proved successful. The masses who had assured all the previous successes of the revolution still continued to believe that the revolution would reach its logical conclusion, that is, achieve an overturn in property relations, give land to the peasants, and transfer the factories into the hands of the workers. The dynamic force of the revolution was lodged precisely in this hope of the masses for a better future. But the honorable republicans did everything in their power to trample, to besmirch, or simply to drown in blood the cherished hopes of the oppressed masses.

As a result, we have witnessed during the last two years the growing distrust and hatred of the republican cliques on the part of the peasants and workers. Despair or dull indifference gradually replaced revolutionary enthusiasm and the spirit of self – sacrifice. The masses turned their backs on those who had deceived and trampled upon, them. That is the primary reason for the defeat of the republican troops. The inspirer of deceit and of the massacre of the revolutionary workers of Spain was Stalin. The defeat of the Spanish revolution falls as a new indelible blot upon the already bespattered Kremlin gang.

The crushing of Barcelona deals a terrible blow to the world proletariat, but it also teaches a great lesson. The mechanics of the Spanish Popular Front as an organized system of deceit and treachery of the exploited masses have been completely exposed. The slogan of “defense of democracy” has once again revealed its reactionary essence, and at the same time, its hollowness. The bourgeoisie wants to perpetuate its rule of exploitation; the workers want to free themselves from exploitation. These are the real tasks of the fundamental classes in modern society.

Miserable cliques of petty – bourgeois middlemen, having lost the confidence and the subsidies of the bourgeoisie, sought to salvage the past without giving any concessions to the future. Under the label of the Popular Front, they set up a joint stock company. Under the leadership of Stalin, they have assured the most terrible defeat when all the conditions for victory were at hand.

The Spanish proletariat gave proof of extraordinary capacity for initiative and revolutionary heroism. The revolution was brought to ruin by petty, despicable, and utterly corrupted “leaders.” The downfall of Barcelona signifies above all the downfall of the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of anarchism, rotten to its core.

Forward to a new road, workers! Forward to the road of the international socialist revolution!

Trotsky’s Writings on the Spanish Civil War

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Last updated on: 1 December 2015