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Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

16. The Republican Ideology

“We are fighting for international law, for the constitution to be respected, and we are fighting for a democratic republic.” So proclaimed Azaña, Caballero, Negrín and Miaja.

“We are fighting for a democratic parliamentary republic, but a democratic republic of a new type, in which the roots of Fascism will be eradicated. Our revolution is a popular one. Our war is a national war for independence”, added José Díaz, Jesus Hernández, and Pasionaria. [104]

So many words, so many phrases, so many mystified deceptions concealing matters. Messieurs Azaña, Caballero, Negrín, Companys and Díaz and Madame Pasionaria, you should say: “We are fighting to preserve capitalism on a democratic basis, because it is only within the confines of democracy that we can pursue our careers as lawyers, as members of parliament, and as trade union bureaucrats. We forbid the workers to overthrow the capitalist system and to make the proletarian revolution.”

Lying, which takes the form of mystical camouflage, is inseparable from the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie could not rule for a day without deceit. Could a salesman tell his customer the truth and say how much the merchandise really costs that he wishes to sell him at such an exorbitant price? Can a capitalist show his books to the workers? Why should this, which is impossible for an individual capitalist, be possible for the capitalist class taken as a whole? Mr Capital has too ugly a mug to show in public; he would very quickly discredit himself.

He must deceive to exist, as he must conceal his real aims, which he cannot admit. He must cover himself with a mask of mystification, particularly when he has a democratic form, which depends more on deceit than does Fascism itself, a more brutal and more open form of the rule of capital:

We Republicans represent culture as against Fascist barbarism. Look at these Fascist barbarians, they slay, they murder children, they bomb open cities and places where there is no military objective. They kill their brethren of the Spanish race. They have sold themselves to the foreigner. They are carrying on a totalitarian war. Inspired by the Prussian ideology, they have no conscience, they have no feelings, they have no heart. But for we Republicans, it is another thing altogether. We cannot, for example, retaliate for the bombings of Barcelona or of Madrid with bombings of Seville and Burgos, for we would stain our pure tricolour and Republican flag; we are the real patriots and we cannot base ourselves on the active aid of the proletarian revolution, and on the aid of the workers of the whole world. We want to win as true Spaniards, and it is because of this that we are about to withdraw all the foreigners, and we will withdraw them. We want to make the war humane, and it is because of this that we appeal unceasingly to the League of Nations; it is because of this that we are delighted about the formation of the International Commission against the bombing of open cities. It has only to come to Barcelona, to Valencia, and to Granollers [105], and it will establish that we are the innocent victims of the barbaric aggression of the Fascist airforce.

And so on, it never stops ...

We understand your tune and your speech, Messieurs Azaña, Caballero, Negrín, Companys and Díaz and Madame Pasionaria, and not only do we understand it all too well, but we also understand what it means, and that is as follows:

Faced with Fascism, which is a violent, and even barbaric weapon to be sure, but which is a necessary and logical one for the defence of a doomed capitalism which nonetheless wishes to survive, we democrats are only milksops. We are petit-bourgeois. Of course we want democracy, but we are afraid of you, big capital! You fill us with respect by your power! We go on tiptoe before thee, Oh Golden Calf, because we are afraid that anger will take hold of thee, an unjustified anger because we are only Republicans, not Reds. If we bomb Seville or Majorca, hundreds and thousands of aeroplanes will attack us. We will be wiped off the earth and will be smothered. In spite of our nobility, our humanitarianism, and our loyalty, Chamberlain does not want to listen to us and he does not believe us when we say that we are not Reds. What will happen if we use all our forces against Franco? The English and French democracies will not have the shadow of a doubt that we are Bolsheviks.

We petit-bourgeois fear thee, O Capital, we have respect for thee, because we owe thee everything: our seats on the boards of directors and our lawyers’ practices. We are fighting against Franco. Very well, but we fear that thou, O Capital, will disappear, for according to us petit-bourgeois, can a society continue to live if thou meetest with a fatal illness? That would be the end of civilisation, anarchy, and the breakdown of everything. Men who can hardly read and write, the workers, would rule we men of science and culture. We saw that when the accursed committees were in charge in the first months after 19 July. We tremble at the thought that it could return. Hence, with our moderation and our Christian kindness with regard to Franco we must impress international opinion, in other words, the opinion you create with your millions.

If the leaders of the Popular Front were to take up such plain speaking and reveal their true intentions and thoughts, they would educate the workers, but they would no longer be of any use to capital.

Let us cast a glance over the attitude of the Republican government, for example, on the question of the bombing of open cities, and we shall see that our democrats were angels – for capital and Franco, its running dog.

The cruel and barbaric bombing by the Fascist airforce could and should have been met with the bombing of towns in Fascist hands by the Republican airforce. [106] Of course, war is an inhumane and abominable thing in itself. But if you accept it, you have to carry it on to the utmost, using every means to beat the enemy. On the part of the proletariat the war must also be total, that is, be carried out until the enemy is defeated. The Republican government preferred an appeal to a Commission that was intended to assess the bombing of open cities, rather than resort to reprisals. This commission, composed of honourable British and French experts, etc, came to Barcelona and to Granollers. It looked at the ruins and the debris, the result of the airborne aggression by the Fascist airforce, and affirmed that open cities and places where there was no military objective had in fact been bombed, and then went away. How could this console the widows and orphans of Barcelona and Granollers? How could it prevent fresh air raids?

In order to emphasise the contrast between the ideology of the milksops of the Popular Front and the methods of the Russian Revolution, I will here quote a sentence from one of Trotsky’s speeches in 1918. I do not know if it is authentic and really was pronounced by the organiser of the Red Army, or whether it is simply one of those legends that are born during revolutions. It does, in any case, reflect the spirit and the determination of the Bolshevik Revolution. “If the sun only shines for the bourgeoisie, then we will go and put it out!”, which is to say: “We will use every means to defeat the bourgeoisie.” But the leaders of the Spanish Popular Front can neither speak nor act as Lenin and Trotsky spoke in 1917-21.

Obviously, Fascist methods are particularly barbaric, and we cannot and do not want to imitate them. There is a logic for such methods: it is the fury of a dying class that will not yield its position at any price. Moreover, whether it be Fascism or democracy, capitalism is always ready to cast thousands to the slaughter if its dividends are threatened. The yellow metal is the heart of capital.

We proletarian revolutionaries cannot be barbarians like the Fascists. This barbarism, moreover, seems pointless to us, as we are the beacon of new human values, and it is distasteful to us. But nonetheless we must be just as decisive and audacious as the Fascists, and even more so. “To be victorious, we must be bold, yet again bold, always bold”, said the great revolutionary strategist Danton. [107] If physical courage amounting to unexampled heroism was not wanting among the fighters of 19 July and among the fighters at the front, political boldness was completely absent from those who were claiming to lead the anti-Fascist war.

This softness with regard to Fascism, which the leaders of the Popular Front showed in every sphere, was not an accident.

It stemmed from their whole petit-bourgeois nature. The petit-bourgeoisie, which is an intermediate class located between big capital and the proletariat, the fundamental classes of modern society, can only vacillate, riven as it is by opposing currents, and it can only hesitate, particularly when it is a question of opposing what impresses it: big capital. And it was the petit-bourgeoisie, or, to be more precise, the petit-bourgeois agents of big capital, who directed the war against Franco – from which came the soft and snivelling nature of the ideology of the Popular Front. To defeat Franco the proletariat, drawing the petit-bourgeoisie behind it, had to take control of the war, but for this it needed a leadership, that is to say, a revolutionary party.

The petit-bourgeoisie is nationalist, and its economic existence is determined by the risks of competition in the capitalist market. It regards its rival, the opposing shopkeeper, with distrust and detestation. Our Popular Front leaders want to compete with Franco on the terrain of nationalism. The Stalinists think that this is the last word in wisdom. They want to surpass the Fascists in chauvinism. They think that this is clever. However, it is impossible. Their slogan of social and national revolution lent grist to the mill of Fascist demagogy in Germany, and facilitated Hitler’s ideological penetration. By their nationalism in Spain the Stalinists favoured Franco instead of Hitler.

Franco appealed to the foreign capitalists to save the capitalist system in Spain. This is not new. The ruling class always identifies the fatherland with its own rule. When its interests are threatened by either a competing imperialism or by the proletarian revolution, it cries: “The Fatherland is in danger!” Franco entered into an alliance with the Italians, the Germans and the Portuguese, but did not the White Guard generals go along with the capitalists of the entire world, and did not that democrat Miliukov [108], the ardent supporter of the Entente, so much as hesitate to approach the Germans and beg help from them against the workers of his own country? From its class point of view the bourgeoisie is right: the main thing as far as it is concerned is to preserve its rule and its system of exploitation.

The proletariat must draw the following conclusion from this relative ‘patriotism’ of the bourgeoisie: it is not national conflicts that are important, it is opposing class interests. We workers must take the bourgeoisie as an example. It has taught us that the country itself is a myth. We must struggle for our economic emancipation in alliance with the workers of all lands. That, moreover, is why the slogan of the Fourth International is not “Spaniards Unite”, but “Workers of the World, Unite!”

Proletarian ideology is internationalist, or it disappears. Stalinist chauvinism not only is a betrayal, but it is also impotent against Franco. We cannot surpass Hitler and Franco in chauvinism. On the contrary; we can deliver mortal blows against the bourgeoisie by using a force that it cannot command, which is internationalism. Bourgeois nationalism is based upon the fact that capitalism develops within the confines of national frontiers, that capitalism means competition, and in the imperialist epoch it means the competition of capitalist monopoly-states against each other. Socialism is another thing altogether, and its triumph can only mean the destruction of national frontiers and the creation of a true international society.

Of late the Spanish Communist Party has propagated the following slogans: “Spain for the Spaniards! National Reconciliation Between Spaniards! Fuera los extranjeros! (Foreigners out!)” It thus thinks that it can win over the followers of the Fascists by adopting Francoist language. But what has happened has been the reverse. Though a workers’ party can temporarily gain in influence thanks to low nationalist demagogy, it can only end up being defeated on this terrain, and hence can only clear the way ideologically for Fascism. You do not have to go to the trouble of becoming a Communist, for example, in order to sing the Marseillaise, or to eulogise the Pope. You can do it just as well with Kerillis and de la Rocque. [109]

In propagating nationalism the Stalinists and the entire Popular Front have forged a weapon for the enemy and assisted in their own extermination. The Stalinists imagine that their patriotic formulae can satisfy a petit-bourgeoisie that is imbued with nationalism. They imagine, for example, that Stalin’s nationalist if conservative formula, “We do not want an inch of foreign territory, but we will not yield an inch of our own”, can satisfy a petit-bourgeoisie inspired by patriotism. But if you are a nationalist, if you “love your country more than any other”, then you are not satisfied with the idea of keeping what your fatherland already possesses, logically you want to extend it, and you must also become a supporter of conquests.

For whereas the Popular Front has promised to keep what Spain possessed, Franco has long promised to create a new empire! Has not Quiepo de Llano [110] in his speeches promised the Spaniards to take Gibraltar from the British? What can our Popular Front nationalists of a lesser calibre reply to this? That we must respect treaties, and that Britain is a great power from which we must beg support. It is true that in their propaganda our Popular Front patriots always recall that Franco is selling out Spain to Italy and Germany, but may not Franco also recall that our democrats are ready to sell Spain out to Britain and France, and that if this democratic trading did not occur, it was not the vendor’s fault?

Azaña and Negrín very much wanted to sell themselves, but democratic international capital, rejecting the offer of the Popular Front, turned towards Fascism. Besides, a Spanish nationalist could understand Franco very well: to struggle against the godless Reds who are threatening the fatherland (for Nationalism goes along with Catholic fanaticism in Spain), may you not make concessions to the Italians and Germans at the time of danger?

The Stalinists cannot outrun the Fascists on the terrain of chauvinism. The reconciliation of Spaniards, in other words, the submission of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie which they have preached for so long will now be realised over their bones, but unfortunately over the bones of the Spanish proletariat as well.

Neither the Fascists, allied with Germany and Italy, nor the Popular Front democrats who orientated themselves towards dependence on France and Britain, could liberate Spain from the oppression exercised over her by foreign capitalists, whether British, French, German, American or Italian. Only a class that has no links with international capitalism could do it, one which would have been prepared to break all the imperialist treaties. That class is called the proletariat. But Azaña, Negrín and José Díaz do not orientate themselves to it, but towards Chamberlain and Pius XI. [111]



104. “A democratic parliamentary republic of a new type, in which the roots of Fascism will be eradicated” is a quotation from a speech by José Díaz. But this ‘new type’ resembles the old type really, because in order to eradicate the roots of Fascism it is necessary to destroy its source: the capitalist system, a forbidden thing, according to José Díaz. [Author’s note]

105. One hundred people were killed when the Nationalist airforce bombed Granollers, a town of no military significance 20 miles north of Barcelona, on 2 June 1938.

106. The numerical and qualitative inferiority of the Republican airforce cannot explain the humanitarian behaviour of the Popular Front. [Author’s note]

107. eorge Jacques Danton (1759-1794), one of the foremost of the Jacobin leaders in the French Revolution.

108. Pavel Nikolayevich Miliukov (1859-1943) was the leader of the right wing Cadet Party in Russia. Whilst he was the Foreign Minister in the Provisional Government in 1917 he was a fervent supporter of the Entente Powers in the prosecution of the war, but after the Bolsheviks seized power he was in favour of the German invasion.

109. Colonel Casimir de la Rocque (1886-1946) was the leader of the French semi-Fascist organisation the Croix de Feu, which made a violent attack upon the parliament building in Paris in February 1934. Henri de Kerillis (1889-1958) was a right wing French parliamentarian, famous for his chauvinistic articles in the Écho de Paris.

110. General Gonzalo Quiepo de Llano y Serra (1875-1951) was one of the most ruthless of the commanders in the Nationalist camp, who specialised in threatening propaganda broadcasts during the Spanish Civil War.

111. Pius XI, Achille Ratti, (1922-1939) was the Pope who signed the Concordat with Mussolini and supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

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Last updated on 27.7.2003