Main Document Index  |  ETOL Home Page  |  Spain Betrayed


Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

from Revolutionary History

This account was first published over the pseudonym of M. Casanova as a pamphlet in the Le Tract collection (no.3) and in Quatrième Internationale, no.17, May 1939. It has since been twice republished, in pamphlet form in the Cahiers de la 4è Internationale (no.1) in February 1971 by the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire, the French section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (Mandel/Maitan tendency), and in Les Cahiers du CERMTRI, no.41, June 1986. A rather free translation of the first few chapters appeared as The Popular Front’s Flight from Spain in New International, Volume 5 no.4 (whole number 31), April 1939, pp.101-4, which has been incorporated into this English version.

What follows has thus long been known to French readers, whilst being almost unknown in Britain. It belongs to a rich class of literature of the political memoirs of the Spanish Civil War written by insiders and participants. Some of these are of the nature of personal memoirs (for example El Campesino, Listen Comrades, London 1952, and Jésus Hernández, Yo Fuí un Ministro de Staline, Mexico 1953), whilst others concentrate almost exclusively upon political analysis (Grandizo Munis, Jalones de derrota: Promesa de victoria, Mexico 1948). Although it is intended to belong to the second of these categories, the author’s personal experiences are strongly drawn upon, and they are especially rich in detail about the workings of the economy of Republican Spain and the impact of the Popular Front upon the working class movement at grass roots level.

In spite of its artless style (the author admits that he is no writer), its loose structure (he admits its extempore character, p.101) and its heavy use of the Thucydidean speech form, it is in fact an analysis of considerable political sophistication. Its prophecies, that the Miaja-Casado plotters would receive no reward for their treachery (pp.199, 207), that Stalin would drop the policy of an alliance with the democratic imperialist powers and make another sharp turn (p.206), and that far from being a mere puppet of German imperialism, Franco would in the end bargain with Britain (p.214 n66), were not long in confirmation.

Because it was so overshadowed in length and scope by Felix Morrow’s Revolution and Counter-revolution in Spain (New York 1938), the book was little noticed among the groups of the non-Stalinist left. Most English readers will only have heard of it in Trotsky’s defence in The Class, the Party and the Leadership, a manuscript found unfinished on his desk when he was killed in 1940 (L. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, New York 1973, pp.353-66). The magazine Que Faire? which attacked Casanova’s pamphlet was published in Paris from December 1934 by a group of former members of the French Communist Party, to which belonged the exiles Hippolyte Etchebehere and Kurt Landau, both of whom perished in Spain. Apart from Trotsky’s reply to this criticism, we do not know what his opinion was on the rest of Casanova’s pamphlet.

M. Casanova was the pseudonym of Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (1907-1942), who was born of a Polish Jewish family in Warsaw in September 1907 and joined the Young Communists in clandestinity at the age of 16. After his first arrest he emigrated, first of all to Belgium, and then to France, where he joined the Young Communists in 1927. Again arrested in August 1930, he was given another three year sentence for distributing illegal literature, and was expelled to Belgium. On his illegal return to France in 1932 he joined the adult Communist Party, only to be expelled in 1934, after which he joined the French Trotskyist organisation, the Ligue Communiste Internationaliste.

He departed for Spain in July 1936, serving first of all in the militia of the CNT and then in the offices of a factory manufacturing war material, whilst he assisted in the editorial work of La Voz Leninista, the journal of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists. After the arrest of Munis and Carlini described below he led the group until the end of the Civil War. Sherry Mangan’s account shows how he managed to get over into France in March 1939, where he tried to board a ship for Mexico at Marseilles. He was arrested and interned in a series of concentration camps, at Vernet (Ariège), “Les Milles”, and Drancy (Seine). On 19 August 1942 he was deported to Auschwitz, where he died.

Contents | Author’s introduction

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

Last updated on 27.7.2003