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International Socialism, Autumn 1967


Philip Ralph

Study in Gutlessness


From International Socialism, No.30 (1st series), Autumn 1967, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Revolution of 1854 in Spanish History
V.G. Kiernan
Oxford, 48s.

Kiernan succeeds admirably in his purpose of showing the relevance of this brief and abortive revolution to the general development of Spanish society and politics. By describing the rise and fall of an attempt by middle-class and liberal politicians to limit the powers of the monarchy and set up a parliamentary bourgeois democracy, Kiernan gives us a foretaste of what was to follow in 1873, 1931 and 1936.

His analysis accounts for the repeated failure of bourgeois radicalism. Its foibles were those of the bourgeoisie itself. This class, both economically and politically weak, suffered above all from abject moral cowardice. No sooner did radicalism gather momentum than its leaders began to put the brakes on; Espartero, its leading representative in 1854, pointed the way to Azaña during the Second Republic. Having refused, as much as failed, to destroy the authority of the agrarian-monarchical state, bourgeois radicalism suffered repeated setbacks. Nor are the reasons hard to discover. Haunted by the spectre of Paris in 1848, Spanish radicals sought both to oppose the state and to restrict that opposition in the interests of their own class. In 1854, no more than in 1936, would they tolerate let alone encourage a social revolution. Working-class organisation, which was just making its appearance, especially in Catalonia by 1854, was regarded with intense suspicion. Theorists of Spanish liberalism continued to believe (or profess) that a model constitution alone was the cure for Spain’s ills. ‘Exploitation of man by man does not exist in this generous Christian nation’ proclaimed one of their periodicals. But as well as merely disregarding popular grievances, Spanish radicalism also intensified them. By selling Church and common land on the open market and opening up Spanish industry to foreign capital, with no welfare provisions or trade-union rights for Spanish workers, it drove a wedge between itself and an impoverished peasantry and nascent working class. More than this, by isolating itself from popular support, it paved the way for a return to authoritarian rule.

The failure of the 1854 revolution was more than a mid-nineteenth century political incident. It demonstrated the gutlessness of the Spanish bourgeoisie and its inherent inability to seize power from the agrarian-military right. ‘What,’ asked a contemporary satirist, ‘is left of the July (1854) revolution? Its causes.’ The epitaph is equally appropriate to the Second Republic, overthrown by Franco in 1939. The solutions lie in the mobilisation of those working-class organisations whose beginnings are described in Kiernan’s narrative.

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