By Albert Weisbord

If the French Revolution of 1789 may be taken as a gauge, a nation of twenty-five million does not exhaust itself in civil war until about a million and a half combatants have perished in the struggle. Measured by this standard, the Spanish civil war may last another year. As the number of deaths mounts tragically and the cost to the nation rises to bankrupt heights, one must ask, “What is the fight really about? Has all this blood been spilt to determine merely who shall manage the government of Spain, or are there deeper issues?”

Up to now the battle has been waged upon a political plane, within the channels of Fascism versus Democracy. But the fact is that the rebellion of Sanjurjo and Franco was far more than a “palace revolution” or a political upheaval, it was a genuine protest on the part of wealthy property elements and high caste army officers to maintain their power and wealth. And the resistance which met the rebellion of July 1936 did not come from the republican government—most of the members of the Liberal Coalition were hardly to be seen at the time of the uprising—it came rather from the workers and impoverished peasants who seized whatever arms they could lay their hands on at the moment to hold back the enemy.

In Catalonia, in Valencia, in the Biscay region and elsewhere in the industrial regions, the workers took possession of factories and transport industries and talked about a social revolution, about a complete defeat not only of the Fascists armies but of capitalism and all private ownership of property. They formed Anti-Fascist Committees that began to look very much like Soviets to direct the struggle. All this activity was carried on independently of the republican government. Apparently class lines were cutting through the “Loyalist” forces which were comprised of widely different groups, as indeed were the “Fascist” armies.

The fact that people go on using the shibboleths of political revolution when it is a social revolution that is in the making, is a sign that a dual power exists within the ranks of the Loyalists and that the revolution has stopped but half-way, unable fully to articulate its real historic meaning. One side of this dual power, the revolutionary workers’ side, aims at social revolution. The other, more moderate side, that of the Peoples’ Front, wants to restore the status quo of before July 1936. It is doubtful whether the situation now prevailing can endure very long. How transitory is the present regime can be seen from the fact that the Valencia government has steadily lost its mass base and today rests upon an administration of nine men, certainly a slim foundation upon which to build an enduring republic.

Both the instability of the government and the class nature of the forces which divide it were glaringly illuminated in the barricade fighting which broke out in Barcelona on May 3 and lasted to May 7. It was my good fortune to arrive at the very outset of the events and to witness unmistakable demonstrations of the volcano that seethes under this People’s Front. A street barricade, on both sides of which rifles crack and machine guns rat-a-tat, cuts with amazing sharpness through the bewildering babble of parties and of political pass-words. There was no mistaking the fact that in the eyes of the workers who manned the barricades, ready to give their lives if need be (and there were at least fourteen hundred casualties), the issue was not at all between Democracy and Fascism, but between capitalism and workers’ rule. They were on the streets to “defend the conquests of the revolution” which to them meant the right to own and control the economic functions of the nation. The Valencia government, in their eyes, had already become a counter-revolutionary one, in essence no better than Franco’s rule.

It is absolutely vital to grasp this underlying truth if we wish to thread the labyrinths of the Spanish scene with any certainty. That the upper classes understood the menace of the May Days can be seen in the fact that immediately thereafter there was widely discussed in all of the People’s Front press the question of settling the war, of making an armistice with Franco. And although the papers at the same time vigorously denied the possibility of this being done, yet so much smoke surely did not come without a flame and there is no doubt that powerful influences are at work in republican Spain to arrange some sort of agreement to terminate the war with Franco before the war with the people becomes too sharp to be easily handled. The Loyalists government in the internal development of the revolution seems to stand between the workers and the forces included in the grouping termed “fascist.”

The fact is the May Days ended in a truce, not in a complete victory for the government. The workers were well aware that they could have taken the power if the leaders of their organizations had so wished, and that the government existed therefore on their sufferance. Even the capture of the Telephone Building in Barcelona—the seizure of which by the Catalan police from the trade unions who were administering it precipitated the fight—was not effected by the power of the assault guards but surrendered to them voluntarily. Furthermore, the government forces had not been able to hold the center of the city, no less advance on the suburbs, but were bottled up in the tiny quarters where they had sought refuge, many of them not daring to step out of their houses. When the Anarchists seized Montjuic, with its cannon frowning upon the Generality Building, it is reported that after the first shot had been fired, at once the government telephoned the Anarchist chiefs that it was ready to surrender to the opposition. What respect can Anarchist workers have for such a government?

In the course of the fighting tens of thousands of soldiers in the front line trenches were ready to come home to fight what they considered their enemy in the rear, the Catalonian-Valencian government. And, on the other side, there is no doubt that all the troops available to the government would have been used to put down the new regime, had the workers actually taken power in Barcelona and Catalonia.

The government, it is true, finally got the Telephone Building which it was after, but it was not able to disarm the masses in the rear. How many arms the Anarchists, the Syndicalists and the members of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (P.O.U.M.) actually have, can only be guessed. One of the Communist ministers of the government declared that the “seditious forces” had at least eighty thousand rifles, three thousand machine guns, several hundreds of thousands of hand bombs and some mortars. And I myself, in visiting the big factory of Hispano-Suiza motors saw some huge tanks in the hands of the workers. That the unions meant business in taking over the factories is seen in the high barricades constantly maintained by an armed guard outside each factory. Despite all efforts of the government, the members of the workers’ patrol controls have not been entirely disarmed but many still retain their submachine guns taken in the July days.

As for the interior of Catalonia outside of Barcelona, the state of affairs may be seen from the fact that, weeks after the end of the battle in the capital city, the fighting was still going on in the smaller towns and cities of the countryside where the Anarcho-Syndicalists and POUMites had, in many places, taken entire control, only to be ordered by their central organizations finally to relinquish it. In the ensuing disarmament that was attempted by the government, it was reported that in one place alone, Tarragona, the public forces got one tank, seventeen hundred rifles and some thousands of bombs, the characteristic weapon of the Spaniards. At Reus they obtained eight tons of materials in which were included six thousand bombs.

The big problem before the Loyalist government is the disarmament of the working class and all other armed forces not under direct control, and the ousting of the workers from possession of the factories. But should either of these tasks be attempted it marks the beginning of a new civil war in the rear. The government will not be able to conduct a double war, at the front against Franco and in the rear against the revolutionary sections of the working class. It will have to choose one or the other, or one after the other.

After all, both Franco’s rebellion and the May Days barricade fighting in Barcelona were but the culmination of a process of many years standing beginning with the events that led to the formation of the Republic in 1931. If we plot a graph of the revolutionary movement since that time, we shall have to conclude that despite great zigzags, on the whole the curve has been steadily upward, each new spurt of the revolutionary curve having followed some attempt on the part of the forces of the old monarchic regime to go too far. The democratic republic, born in 1931, gave birth to two military outbursts, led by Sanjurjo and Franco, but in each case these counter-revolutionary attempts were followed by still further revolutionary advances so that, in the name of the defence of the republic, the lower classes of workers and peasants have each time moved closer to the seizure of power.

At this point in the game the Valencia regime can not cease activities against Franco. Itself more or less a prisoner of the workers constituting the parties that dominate the government, the cabinet must continue to fight defensively against the fascist enemy. It must not allow the defeats at Irun, at Toledo, at Malaga, at San Sebastian and at Bilbao, in every case due rather to the treachery of the Loyalist officers than to the superiority of the enemy, to be followed by a defeat at Madrid.

Should Madrid fall the government would lose so much prestige that it would not be able to maintain itself. And just as in the French Revolution when the foreign invaders were at the gates of Paris the people moved to the most extreme Left position possible in those days; and just as in the time of the Paris Commune of 1871 it was the defeat of the government of Napoleon III on the battlefield and in the siege of Paris that led to the proletarian outburst, so it may well be that the loss of Madrid would entirely disillusion the masses about the efficacy of the People’s Front government in Valencia and impel them to take matters into their own hands. The government, therefore, must strive not to be defeated in Madrid, not because Franco would thereby win the country, but because the issue between Fascism and outright Communism would then have to be fought out in its utmost clarity and all middle-of-the-road elements would have to disappear.

Internationally, the fall of the Valencia government and the rise of civil war in the rear with the establishment of a workers’ rule would at once lead to united intervention and foreign war. The answer to this could only be the attempt to extend the revolution beyond the borders of Spain into Portugal, France and Western Europe. The struggle between Communism and Fascism would then have to take on a world wide scope and even draw in the Soviet Union.

But the far more likely probability is that Madrid will be adequately defended. There is no doubt that the Spanish people’s army is now more formidable than the army of Franco. The soldiers have become seasoned and trained. They have the highest moral. They are fighting for their homes and what they believe to be progress. Their enemy combines a hated foreign invader and the cohorts of minority groups whose foot has been traditionally on the necks of the people. The Loyalist Army is far superior in numbers and has much better economic organization behind it. The case parallels, in a way, the situation in the American Civil War where the South was able to strike the first hard blows and in the beginning appeared to be winning the struggle, only to have to yield to the superior economic might and man power of the North standing for a more modern and better mode of production. The indications are that Franco has spent his main strength and has definitely reached his peak beyond which he cannot go without immense new aid from Germany and Italy.

But the fact that will have to be recognized sooner or later, is that the conservative sections of politicians and army officers on the side of the Valencia government do not want to beat Franco too badly or completely destroy his forces. Should the defenders of the old regime be completely wiped out, they fear they will not be able to control the rear. Such a situation is not entirely new. It finds its prototype as far back as the days of the English Civil Wars of 1642-1646 and 1648-1649 when the conservative element in England had been fearful that the civil war would go too far in upsetting the property structure. At first the army of the Parliament of England had been led by several big Lords, but after the defeat of the King at Marston Moor these officers were mortally afraid not of being defeated but of beating the king too much. They therefore sabotaged the further conduct of the war and Cromwell was forced to bring charges against the Earl of Manchester and others and to push forward his own “Model Army.”

These considerations furnish the basic reason for the fact that the government forces, on the whole, have always limited themselves to the defensive, even when these tactics were suicidal, and for the further fact that although the Loyalist government has lost so many positions owing to the treachery of the officers, it still continues to place the highest trust in the renewed militarization of the old workers’ militia under their supreme command. Here, too, is the reason why the revolutionary troops on the Aragon front have found themselves without cartridges, without bayonets, without cannon, without airplanes or tanks and are periodically reŠorganized by a general staff which has not the slightest intention to arm these men even though their advance might mean the fall of the important cities of Huesca and Zaragossa and the cutting of the long lines of the Fascists into fragments.

The idea, then, is to defeat Franco but not too badly, to force the enemy to submit but later to incorporate its ranks into the republic again, so that the combined forces may put down the threat of social revolution. And this, too, is the card that England and France, and with them Soviet Russia, seems to be playing.

It is no accident that the French Ambassador is to be found near Hendaye and not near Valencia and that Britain has kept so many key men on the Franco side of Spain. They are working overtime to counteract the influence of Hitler and Mussolini and to effect a compromise between the two sides of the struggle. For this it is necessary to have elements in both camps in charge who are not extremists.

In the government of Valencia a Liberal-Right Socialist-Stalinist coalition can be set up willing to listen to reason and prepared, before it deals decisively with Franco, to deal decisively with the proletariat of Catalonia, the most important industrial region of Spain. It means, too, that on the side of Franco, not the Falagists, inspired by the foreign models of Germany and Italy, must control but those elements, the liberal Monarchists and the old Lerroux type of compromisers who were formerly friendly to England, be put in charge. The recent trial and expulsion from the country of Manuel Hedilla, leader of the Falangist appears to indicate that Franco is taking this drift toward moderation seriously, is bargaining with England and is trying to come to some terms. As long ago as May 27th, the well informed paper, La Depeche de Toulouse, could predict that the civil war in Spain was approaching its end and that both sides would finally get together in some sort of compromise.

What sort of compromise can possibly be effected? It can only be on the condition that the situation before 1936 be restored and that private capitalism be re-established. That is to say that the masses abandon the property they had seized. But this can be done only after the city workers are provoked into some sort of struggle and are beaten. And this is the most probable perspective because the working class has not been able to form organizations strong enough to resist the coming attacks against it.

The recent mass executions in the Soviet Union have provided the sinister spectacle of a revolution, like some female spider, devouring the very elements which had impregnated it. As applied to Spain, this same principle holds good in another sense, namely, that in the course of the revolution all the parties have been forced to contradict their programs and advocate the very opposite. Catholics fight side by side with Moors whom their ancestors drove out of the country. Monarchists are the camp mates of Falangists who insist that never shall the monarchy return to Spain. And, under other circumstances, it will be the monarchical elements friendly to England that will break from the Falganists friendly to Germany and Italy, if need be to effect a compromise on terms under which they can keep some of their influence and wealth.

But if on the other side of the propertied classes there has been marvelous flexibility both under Franco and under the Loyalist regime, on the side of the workers’ leaders has been an utter abandonment of principle. The Socialist Party which has always preached the necessity of democratic management of the government has consistently refused to determine democratically the relation of forces between itself and the Anarcho-Syndicalists. The Communist Party, formerly stern advocate of insurrection and of the dictatorship of the proletariat through Soviets, now does its best to declare that it does not fight for Socialism but for capitalist democracy and has consistently initiated governmental measures to suppress the working men in the cities of Catalonia and elsewhere.

Anarchists, the very essence of whose program has been intransigent hostility to every sort of State regardless of its character, have been members of the State itself and ministers in the government. Syndicalists who have reared barricaded in opposition to it; and while staying in the government, both Anarchist and Syndicalist ministers urged their adherents not to try to conquer the State but to ignore it and to construct a new social order regardless of it.

And even the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, known as the P.O.U.M., which boasts of being the real heir to the robe of Lenin in Spain, entered the government established in July with statements implying that this was a workers government and that no further revolution was necessary for the workers to take power. Even this party kept one of its members as head of the ministry governing the textile industry of Catalonia during the bloody May Days when the government was hunting down and prosecuting all the P.O.U.M. members it could find. At this time, too, the P.O.U.M. made no earnest effort to take the initiative and to lead an offensive of the workers that might have resulted in the fall of the capitalist section of the government and the inauguration of a trade union government that would have paved the way for Soviets.

A party that believed in workers’ initiative, the P.O.U.M. had not even formed soldiers’ committees in the brigades under its direct command. A party claiming to wish to overthrow imperialism, it made no real effort to raise the slogan for the independence of Morocco so as to induce a revolt in the Moroccan troops supporting Franco. A party that declares war on the Socialists and Communists alike and calls for a new Communist International, it yet remains inside the socialistic International London Bureau and allows the Bureau to govern its international relations.

In a sense this very confusion in the ranks of the revolutionary labor movement may be a sign of its salvation. It means, at least, that under the blows of the struggle everything is in flux and that proper changes in practice are possible. A large section of the Socialists may yet definitely advocate direct action at the same time as the overwhelming majority of the Syndicalists champion the cause of the seizure of State power and the establishment of a workers’ State. Already a very influential section of the Anarchists, the Friends of Durruti, have come out for the closest collaboration with the P.O.U.M. which, in turn, as it becomes further persecuted and driven underground, might succeed in Bolshevizing itself and eliminating the discrepancies between its theories and its practices.

In this respect the P.O.U.M. has played a very clever move in calling for the setting up of a trade union government composed solely of representatives of the General Labor Union (U.G.T.), socialistically controlled, and the National Confederation of Labor (C.N.T.) led by syndicalists. The lead given by the P.O.U.M. has been seconded by considerable numbers of workers in both union centers and the C.N.T. has officially endorsed the move. The fusion of the C.N.T. and sections of the U.G.T., especially those under the influence of Caballero and his Left Socialists, is becoming even more realizable. Should such a fusion take place, it would signify that Spain is well on the road to the establishment of dictatorship of the proletariat.

But for all this, time is evidently needed. Whether they will be able to win this time is problematical. At any rate, at the present moment, the workers’ organizations seem to be unprepared to solve the tremendous problems before them. The odds appear to be against them and just as Franco will not be able to take the power, so it may be the proletariat also will not be able to succeed completely for the time being.

And then what? The defeat of the workers in pitched battle, after they have been induced to engage in futile struggle, their disarmament and ousting from the industries of the country, the reconstitution of a strong military machine to which all is subordinate, all this is probable, and if this happens the basis will be laid for the driving out of the temporizers from the government, and, whether openly or covertly, through the use of the plebiscite or other democratic trappings, for the establishment of a dictatorial regime that will bring order of one sort or another into the Spanish scene.

Such a prospect can be realized in Spain with one important proviso, namely, that the international situation remains as it is. But if world war breaks out quite different complications will ensue.