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The New International, November 1934


L. Fersen

On the Eve of the Spanish Uprising

From New International, Vol. I No. 4, November 1934, pp. 101–102. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AUTUMN commences, and the struggle which is always somewhat slowed down during the summer months, becomes once more intensified. The balance sheet for the summer period was not as favorable for it as the reaction had hoped it would be. The parliamentary sessions were adjourned in the most ordinary fashion, so that the Samper government, that renowned unburied corpse, might liquidate the Catalonian affair freed of the obstacles that the parliamentary hubbub would have created. But, even with its hands thus untied, the government, conscious of its own weakness, did not pursue a violent course, rather preferring to sneak out through the side door of the juridical formula of capitulation. In view of the policy followed by the Samper government in Catalonia, some of the chiefs of the Right wing have been defrauded while the remainder pretend to be in order to reconcile themselves with their following. It is however clear that when the government had secured for itself freedom of movement, this was hardly for the purpose of plunging into civil war. The conflict of the Basque municipalities was added to that of Catalonia and almost immediately assumed unsuspected proportions. With the childishness natural in those who lack a sane objective outlook, the government assumed a hare-brained intransigeance that was translated into terrifying police and warlike preparations. Thus it hoped to revindicate itself before centralist and in the last analysis monarchist reaction, thus contradicting the weaknesses with which it had been charged on account of the Catalonian conflict. In spite of everything, the regiments in readiness, the airplanes in waiting, the conflict of the Basque municipalities follows its natural course: daily aggravation. With the parliamentary vacations drawing to a close, the reaction finds itself in open struggle with the petty bourgeois government of Catalonia, in open struggle with the ultramontane Basque reaction, and with the whole proletariat of the country. The situation is neither easy nor comfortable. The Rights are convinced that their future lies in these very weeks. They most certainly have a clearer idea of their own weaknesses than have we, their enemies. The sad spectacles presented by Gil Robles’ “youth” concentrations will go down in history, never to be forgotten. After the proletariat proved its strength by disorganizing the dirty comedy of April 22, we thought that Gil Robles had definitely given up the concentrations, in order to dedicate his political activity to back-stage intrigues. The two last concentrations, that of the Catalonians and that of Covadonga, which were initiated under visible signs of demoralization, can be considered nothing but desperate efforts of the bourgeoisie, heroically disposed to derive strength from its own weakness. The decision of the Catalonian landowners, swept away by popular sentiment, to come to Madrid in order to ask for the annulment of the Cultivation Laws and of the Catalonian Statute, was certainly a desperate step, as this would have also meant the recouping by the Central power of the public order services. On the other hand, Gil Robles was not filled with the same illusions as he had been on April 22, when life was easy for him. And it was clearly seen that instead of playing the role of Don Pelayo, he came very near playing that of the Moor; it was not without difficulty that he was able to reach the mountains of Covadonga.

The present is a critical moment for everyone; for the reaction and also for the proletariat. The Rights know very well that they cannot long continue playing around. But neither do they feel sufficiently strong to take over power completely. In any event, the problem is urgently posed of the need to take another step forward in order to prevent the breaking-up of their own ranks; this means an energetic policy towards the proletariat, the Catalonians and the Basques. Such a policy is not possible, except by working on the confusion of the enemy, utilizing, for example, Lerroux, whose reappearance at the head of the government, it is understood, would not provoke the same reaction as would be the case were a majority government to be formed. It would not be strange, if in order to prolong the confusion of the masses, these cliques should decide that the CEDA have no representation in the government. But this would matter little, as the CEDA at the present moment, is called Lerroux or Salazar Alonso.

The crack that separates what remains of the Radical party and the CEDA has entirely disappeared. The dream of the Radical party was to convert itself into the expression of the consolidated bourgeois republic. But today it has resigned itself to be but the link of a chain moving towards an undetermined point. Nor does it want to know wherq it is going. The clashes between the political fringes of the Radical Party – always very elastic – and the CEDA, have provoked the split with Martinez Barrio, and today these clashes are reduced to a weak resistance on the part of a few individuals, clashes which are daily of less importance. The tendency, within the Radical party, to total subordination to the CEDA is represented especially by Salazar Alonso and Lerroux. This subordination does not grow out of any political criteria, but rather out of the complete absence of any criteria which is the distinguishing feature of the Radical chief and his most faithful mimics. The latter only know that they are in a big fight and they do not want to give in until they win.

The symbol of the Lerroux governments has been an ever increasing subordination to the directives of the CEDA. If Gil Robles decides in favor of another Lerroux government, it will be in order to carry forward more intensively a policy which he does not yet dare to commence openly.

The labor movement, fortunately, has a growing assurance of its own strength. The disillusionment and the depression which dominate the proletariat of other countries in similar moments of recent periods, has almost disappeared from the Spanish working class. With the increasing gravity of the situation – it must not be forgotten that the present days are decisive for all – distances are erased and, what is more important, in a sense favorable for the proletariat. We must say that unity in itself is insufficient, and may even be as fatal as division. It is one thing to say, for example, that Fascism in Germany penetrated through the open breach between communism and social democracy. Let us suppose that the proletariat had been unified as is almost the case today in Spain in the socialist ranks; the downfall would have been the same. When we called for the united front in Germany it was not only to present a compact front in partial struggles, but also in order that the revolutionary wing might be able to exert pressure over the entire working class.

If, with us in Spain, the unification which is being achieved predominantly around the socialist party, has a progressive value, this is due to the present attitude of the SP, which is inspiring increasing confidence. We do not mean blind confidence because this cannot be inspired by anyone and much less by an organization with as heterogenous a composition as the SP. But the most that can be expected of the social democracy, an energetic defensive attitude, an unbreakable decision not to sink – this the socialist party most certainly has. The sectarians and doctrinaires who, using as a point of departure the “general theory” – you cannot know how to struggle – could learn much in these cases concerning a social democracy, to which they refuse to attribute any defensive capacity, having even gone so far as to deny the opposition between socialism and Fascism, inventing the term “social Fascism” which has been so overworked at certain times. The Austrian insurrection has already given the first denial to such pseudo-revolutionary stupidity.

There are in the socialist ranks more or less confused revolutionary currents. For this very reason the socialist party cannot be considered as the definitive expression of a revolutionary party, as this latter requires a certain unity of thought and homogeneity in the cadres. There is no doubt that if the situation should move towards the Left, towards an Azanist government, or towards a soft-boiled Left government, that is of a republican coalition, the revolutionism of the socialists would be weakened, giving way to more or 1ess stirring up between the different tendencies that exist inside of the party. Every loophole which is opened by democratic means weakens socialist extremism, which on the other hand does not know what it wants or what it would do were it to find itself in power. This is essentially different from a revolutionary party for which a democratic period inasmuch as it opens greater possibilities of movement towards the final objectives, is always desirable.

But without deluding ourselves as to what a party with such a composition and ideals can do, neither is it permissible to fall into the coarse negativism in which the adversaries of the social democracy have been enmeshed. The problem resides in knowing whether the SP will be willing to defend its existence and not yield to Fascism at the decisive moment. The Austrian socialists have already demonstrated this willingness and the Spanish Socialist party is demonstrating it in a much better form, to the point of being the only party which under the present circumstances offers a few guarantees. The willingness is insufficient unless it is accompanied by seriousness. The anarchists are tenacious revolutionists, but they are dangerously foolish people. For the Stalinists not even this can be said, because the CP is an organization that does not really think politically, but only in inter-organizational plays (sleight-of-hand); if it is ordered to fight against any given party, it does so even in the most non-essential matters, and if the slogan is of capitulation to the same party one cannot keep up with them on this route either. At the present moment which may be decisive, the socialist party is the only one that offers some guarantees, not only of willingness, but of seriousness as well.

Experience itself is forcing the SP to abandon its mistakes in the field of partial struggles. The discussion around this point is now almost needless. Whatever advances have been made against reaction are due to the partial struggles. April 22 (El Escorial), September 8 (Covadonga) were struggles that were forced upon the proletariat, which resolved them into very severe blows against reaction. Only illiterate liberals can deny the necessity of these struggles. To have been able to carry out successfully either one of these demonstrations would most certainly have translated itself into a considerable step forward for reaction, and what is more serious, into a deep depression for the proletariat. If the worker had seen the Escorial and Covadonga affairs carried through with impunity, he would have asked: “What are the organizations doing?” The effects of the strike in Madrid on September 8 have been tremendous. The Catalonian “concentration” was turned into a sorrowful and insignificant affair compared with the immensity of the proletarian reply. Enthused by the Madrid strike, the Asturian workers felt themselves enthusiastically of the same chain, and the verve of their movement was redoubled. All of the proletarian forces of Catalonia, forces in struggle with reaction, responded emphatically to the struggle in Madrid. On the other hand, the consequences that the bourgeoisie has tried to draw concerning the government’s means for breaking up the strikes are certainly out of place.

The labor organizations did nothing but issue the strike order without attempting any violence, for they knew that the tie-up in itself would be sufficient to reach the objective. The working class responded with absolute unanimity, giving an admirable example of its will and its discipline. If the working class had persisted in preventing it, would the street lamps have been lit? Would the few automobiles of the bourgeoisie which did circulate, have done so? And would certain lizards have basked in the sun, as they did? Of course not. The movement was voluntarily peaceful, and this being the case, the slight circulation did not represent any danger to it. If the street presents a bad aspect, the bourgeoisie in general will not go out for its stroll. The governmental steps taken to counteract the strike were successful only in producing an artificial circulation which was far removed, even in its outward appearances, from the normal traffic. The bourgeoisie does not believe itself when it speaks of having dulled the weapon of the strikes. The strike continues to be the most powerful instrument of the proletariat to make known its will and its strength.

It is evident that partial struggles do not signify that the proletariat should submerge itself in a game of strikes. The over-use of strikes would lead to the destruction of the labor movement or else force it to go further. But situations must be faced when the circumstances impose them. Furthermore, it is understood that not all partial struggles are strikes. The problem consists in mobilizing the forces, in making known their existence, in not allowing the enemy to move with impunity.

The working class should recognize its superior strength over reaction. But not in order to rest on its laurels, but rather so as not to take a single further backward step, indicating its willingness to deal a death-blow to reaction, if the latter, by artful proceedings, manipulating marionettes, or by direct aggression, attempts to annul its rights and liquidate its organizations. One should never fail to recognize the danger of an enemy who fights with desperation; and this is the case of the Rights. It must not be thought that they are going to give up without a struggle. That which is clear is that they have entered into a period of visible unrest. For the moment they see that their power is cracking under the strain of the deepening of the revolution. This obliges them to demand draconic measures. On the other hand, those closest to the pulse of the situation are becoming panicky; this was given away in Gil Robles’ speech at Covadonga. The labor movement certainly has no reason for losing its head.

The currents towards unity of action are making their way. The Workers’ Alliances which are still in a plastic state, are hardening daily. The attempts to destroy them – and these have not been few – are condemned to failure. The Alliances are imposing themselves against the mutual divergences, over the rivalries of the parties. If a new impetus is given to them, their national action coordinated, it will then be impossible to ignore them; even the most important rivals will be obliged to rotate about them as in an orbit. Having all of the organizations either bound or influenced by a common discipline is a very essential factor for victory.

Madrid, September 1934



1. The author of this article, written before the Spanish uprising, is one of Spain’s leading Bolshevik-Leninists and, it is reported, is now being held by the government for his activity in the revolution. – Ed.

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