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Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco


The proletariat has sustained a fresh defeat. Franco has seized Catalonia. After more than two and a half years of bloody conflict and of countless sacrifices on the part of the Spanish proletariat, all that has transpired is a new victory for reaction!

The extemporary and somewhat disorganised character of this work arises from the conditions it experienced at its birth. But if it lacks a systematic basis, it does express the most urgent needs of the time.

Comrades questioned me after my return to France. They asked me to explain the reasons for the catastrophe. Why was Barcelona given up without a fight? Why did the Catalan workers, who have demonstrated so much proof of their heroism, not hit back against Fascism? What was the attitude of the workers’ organisations at the critical moment, etc? What most amazed my questioners was the remarkable ease of the Fascist advance, and the fact that Franco had encountered no resistance from the proletariat that had accomplished 19 July. [1]

I have to explain what has just happened on the basis of my own experience. I have to report the facts. I will describe how strategic positions of crucial importance were abandoned without a fight, how defence plans were handed over to the enemy by a treacherous general staff, how the war industry was sabotaged and the economy disorganised, how the finest working class militants were murdered, and how Fascist spies were protected by the ‘Republican’ police, in order to explain how the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against Fascism was betrayed and Spain was surrendered to Franco.

My analysis and the facts I shall describe all go back to one and the same theme: the criminal policy of the Popular Front. Only the workers’ revolution could have defeated Fascism. The whole policy of the Republican, Socialist, Communist and Anarchist leaders worked to destroy the revolutionary energy of the working class. “First win the war and make the revolution afterwards!” – this reactionary slogan was to kill the revolution only to lose the war afterwards.

Their hopes of winning therefore rested on the support of the so-called ‘democratic’ bourgeoisie of France and Britain. Everything was given up in the name of this policy. They went from capitulation to capitulation, all was betrayed, and the proletariat was demoralised. The POUM was crushed, and then the Anarchists. The bloody Barcelona days were provoked. All this finally resulted in the pro-Franco pronunciamento of Miaja and Casado [2] against the Communists, who had for the previous 30 months been preparing the way for their own destruction.

The uninterrupted succession of the crimes of the Popular Front led to Fascism.

The Republican, Socialist and Anarchist leaders have all had their share in the preparation of this catastrophe. But the real architects of this defeat and crime against the proletariat were undoubtedly the Stalinists. The authority they enjoyed as a result of the banner of the October Revolution, which they purloined and dragged in the mire, was placed at the service of a counter-revolutionary policy.

Yet it is difficult to imagine more favourable objective conditions for the proletarian revolution than those that existed in Spain.

The workers of the entire world must draw the lessons of this tragic experience. Neither Socialism nor Marxism failed in Spain, but those who so criminally betrayed it. Present day society is confronted by a tragic choice: to go backwards, that is to say to preserve capitalism, which can only evolve more and more barbarous forms, or to go forward towards Socialism. The desire to preserve bourgeois democracy is an idiotic illusion. Fascism or proletarian revolution! Such is the dilemma for the international working class.

The foremost duty of the revolutionary vanguard is to enlighten the workers about the real situation, to say what is.

The proletariat has gone from defeat to defeat, but nonetheless there is progress. In Germany in 1933 the working class, led by the Social Democrats and Communists, surrendered completely to Fascism without a fight. In Austria in 1934 the Viennese working class gave the first signal for resistance. The echo of this resistance was the glorious Asturian Commune in Spain. [3]

In spite of the criminal policy of the Popular Front, the proletariat managed to resist for nearly three years. The honour of being capable, not only of resisting, but of defeating Fascism and bringing about the triumph of the proletarian revolution, will fall to the workers of other lands. But to be victorious, the proletariat must forge the weapon of struggle – the revolutionary party and the revolutionary international, the Fourth International.

This work does not pretend to answer all the questions posed by this tragic experience, not even the most urgent. But if the writer of these lines has been able to throw some light and help in understanding the problems of the Spanish Civil War, he will feel that his labour has not been in vain.

M Casanova
Perpignan, 16 March 1939



1. 19 July 1936 was the day when the working class of Barcelona defeated General Goded’s attempt to take over the city by a military uprising.

2. General José Miaja Menant (1878-1958) and Colonel Segismundo Casado López (1893-1965) were Republican army generals who attempted a coup against the Republican government of Juan Negrín in order to end the Spanish Civil War through negotiations with Franco.

3. The Asturian Commune of October 1934 occurred when the miners of northern Spain, remembering the massacre of the Vienna workers by Dollfüss earlier in the year, rose against the growing influence of the reactionary CEDA on the government of Lerroux. They ran Asturias as a Soviet republic for a fortnight until smashed by Francisco Franco’s army.

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