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Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

1. The Tragic Exodus

How did you get out?

Well, it wasn’t so easy, not at all a de luxe trip.

In spite of his tiredness, his good humour has not deserted him. He tells us his exciting adventures, and adds:

The French frontier is guarded by gendarmes and by Senegalese troops who do not speak French. They do not let even French citizens get through if they don’t have a proper passport. As for the Spaniards, during certain hours of the day they let through the women, children and wounded, but the others are driven back without pity.

Our comrade, who accomplished the 100 kilometres between him and the frontier partly by hitch-hiking and partly on foot, added:

The sights I beheld on the roads leading to the frontier were horrible. This headlong exodus – of women, some of them pregnant – of children – of wounded, some of them with a leg amputated, trying in vain to stop a motor car – others hastily evacuated from hospitals in the areas threatened by the Fascist advance, this exodus on foot of exhausted men, women and children, was a sight to make us shiver! However, our feelings are not easily stirred after what we have seen in Spain.

Naturally, the departure was carried out differently for Messrs ministers, deputies, bureaucrats, leading functionaries, etc., who by Monday, 23 January (three days before Franco entered Barcelona) were already rolling along in luxurious cars toward Cerbère and Perthus. Observing along the road the two means of transportation, we had a concrete demonstration of the class divisions within the Popular Front: on the one hand the left bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisified bureaucrats travelled in fine limousines, or at the worst in small Citroëns; on the other the workers, peasants and rank and file militants walked on foot.

We saw tragic farewell scenes between those who left and those who, because of family obligations, were compelled to stay behind: moments of hesitation, of quick, precipitous decisions, all under the constant threat of the Fascist aviation, which constantly bombed and machine-gunned the road. Sometimes we had to stop suddenly, to hide in a ditch, to lie down on the road, to take cover in a nearby field, to spend many nights awake with no information about the conditions at the front or the speed of the Fascist advance, and all this took place in the midst of general panic, of unprecedented disorganisation and chaos. No newspaper came out after Tuesday [4], the radio stations were not working, and up to the last we had hoped for a stiff resistance to the Fascists. You will understand our disorientation.

Our comrade’s story, of which we give extracts, upset us and plunged us into gloom, moving us to tears at the fate of all these victims of ‘non-intervention’. The grief even affected our comrade, who experienced the tragedy of our Spanish brethren. He was embarrassed by his grief, and added forcefully:

No, I have not come back ‘disenchanted’ with Spain! Some may have come home ‘disenchanted’ – for example the Stalinist volunteers who left with false ideas, who did not understand the meaning of events, and who were kept in ignorance by the Communist leadership. But our international organisation and our Spanish section predicted well in advance the logical consequences of the criminal policy of the Popular Front which opened the gates to Franco.

The Spanish tragedy is one more crime to the account of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which crushed the revolutionary movement, assassinated the best militants, and by its whining policy toward so-called democratic capitalism, demoralised the heroic workers of this country. But this crime is also a lesson – dearly paid for, it is true – from which the workers of other countries will profit, the French workers to begin with.



4. Tuesday, 24 January, or two days before the fall of Barcelona. [Author’s note]

Author’s Introduction | Chapter 2

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Last updated on 27.7.2003