Main Document Index  |  ETOL Home Page  |  Spain Betrayed


Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

7. Once More on Technique

But all the same, aren’t you disregarding technique too much? Obviously man is important, but what can you do if you are in the open, facing an enemy, heavily armed with tanks, artillery and, above all, aeroplanes, and who gets help from abroad? You are powerless, you must have had a chance to experience that at the front, mate!

No, I don’t disregard technique. You mention aviation, the most powerful arm of modern warfare. It was lacking, for example, in the attack on Quinto on 15 July 1937. We came out and were already close to the Fascist trenches, but our advance posts were short of bullets, and whilst it is true that our artillery was doing a bit, our airforce was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it was riding about in Barcelona at the time, or perhaps it was somewhere else. We fell back that same evening at nightfall.

The example of the abortive attack on Quinto [38] resembles all too closely other operations of the same type on the Aragon Front in the course of 1936 and 1937. You must surely have heard of this type of operation.

I don’t understand to what you are referring. Explain yourself better!

Because the battalions of the FAI and the CNT, and the POUM along with them, predominated on the Aragon front, the central government in Madrid and then Valencia, where already the Stalinists together with the CNTers predominated, neglected this front, and sabotaged every military operation there for reasons that are easy to understand. They did not want the militias of the CNT-FAI and the POUM to enter Huesca and Saragossa. That would have increased the specific weight and importance of the revolutionary sector, and would have meant a danger as great as Franco for Prieto, Negrín and Comorera, who were already in the wings preparing a new ministerial combination at the service of international capital.

Such was the pattern of all the operations undertaken by the battalions of the CNT and the POUM. The units, armed with guns, sometimes with machine guns which were in a deplorable state, would go onto the attack and storm the most difficult positions and the steepest hills at the cost of great losses, but having overwhelmed the Fascists, they would have to give ground to them once more a night or 24 hours later. The Fascist aviators would arrive, but ours would never show up. We would be bombed and forced to withdraw.

This was equally the case in the attack on a very important position, Santa Quiteria, about the middle of April 1937, in which the position was taken from the Fascists, but we had to retreat through want of air support. This was also the story of an attack by the POUM about the same time, an attack to gain possession of Loma near Manicomio de Huesca, in which among others, Wolf, one of the leaders of the SAP, died. [39] I only know of these last two operations from the accounts of other comrades who took part in them, but, since these are confirmed by many independent witnesses, these stories must be authentic. Comrades who stayed at the front longer than I can give you far more examples of this sort of thing.

My dear Casanova, don’t your examples emphasise precisely the importance of the technical factor, even in the course of a civil war? What can you do with superior people even if they are of the calibre of mythological heroes, when you lack tanks and an airforce? You cannot say that “man is everything”. Besides, the Republican government had limited, very limited, quantities of tanks and aeroplanes because it had so many fronts to defend! Perhaps you are forgetting too much the importance of the dire effects of the policy of ‘non-intervention’!

No, I am not forgetting the dire effects of the policy of non-intervention, which was started by the first Popular Front government, that of Léon Blum.

Obviously, the policy of non-intervention has weakened, greatly weakened, the Spanish proletariat. It helped Franco, among others, who, as I have been able to verify with my own eyes at Codo, was getting ammunition from French arms dealers. This policy stems from the whole policy of the Popular Front, for which the basis of the capitalist system is sacred and inviolable, and according to which the workers of any country at this time are forbidden even to try to free themselves from the capitalist yoke. It obviously lies at the root of the technical inferiority of the anti-Fascist camp in Spain.

I do not wish to whitewash Blum (the proletariat will one day judge him as he deserves), but it is with a sense of shame and some astonishment that I noticed the indifference with which the French workers accepted the ‘sincere’ declaration from the head of the first Popular Front government, his ‘confession’ to the Chamber of Deputies about the reasons that led to the fall of Irún. [40]

But as I have already explained, and I must insist on the fact that given the policy followed in Spain, even in the unlikely event (for the moment I am arguing in the abstract) of the Spanish Republican government receiving great quantities of aeroplanes from abroad, these planes would not have saved the situation. To vanquish Franco we needed a revolutionary leadership, that is to say a party.

Moreover, as far as ammunition, bullets, machine guns, hand grenades, mortars, and even artillery and aeroplanes were concerned, they could been made in Spain itself, and in great quantity. (In this I do not intend to say that foreign aid was not of the utmost importance.)



38. Six weeks later, in the neighbourhood of Puebla de Alborton, we were on conquered territory; I read the Fascist press that described our attack on Quinto on 15 July. It clearly talked about our reverse, and also about “Russian tanks”, born solely out of the imagination of the editors of the Heraldo de Aragon, the Saragossa daily put out to serve the needs of Fascist propaganda. [Author’s note]

39. The SAP (Sozialistische Arbeiter Partei) was a group founded in October 1931 after the German Social Democratic Party had expelled its left wing. It was midway between Stalinism and Social Democracy.

40. Irún, close to the French border, fell to Franco in September 1936.

Chapter 6 | Chapter 8

Main Document Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 27.7.2003