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Socialist Appeal, August 1936, Volume 2 No. 07, Page 10-12
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Spanish Revolution: Bourgeois or Proletarian

By B. M. F.

NOTE. The following article was written before the reactionary army officers and Fascists attempted to gain political power and destroy the organizations of the working class. What the outcome of that attempt will be is not certain at the time of going to press. An evaluation of the stirring and significant struggle will appear in the next issue of the Appeal.

SINCE April, 1931 when the monarchy was overthrown, the basic issue within the Spanish working class has been: does Spain have before it a period of capitalist development – or can the workers, supported by the peasantry, make the proletarian revolution in this period? Though a number of other questions complicate the picture, the issue of bourgeois or proletarian revolution is the decisive issue on which the proletariat has divided into two warring camps. This is the issue which has split the Socialist party, for all practical purposes, into two separate organizations.

The Right Wing Socialists, led by Pesteiros and Prieto, have clung consistently to the theory that Spain has before it a considerable period of capitalist development. They participated in a coalition with the Republicans from 1931 to 1933; learned nothing from the victory of reaction during 1933-1935; and would have accepted President Azana’s recent invitation to enter the cabinet if they had not been forced to retreat by the terrific repercussions from the Socialist ranks. Though not formally part of the cabinet, they support it unreservedly. They consider that the burning question of distribution of the land can be solved by a gradual process of government purchases and redistribution among the peasantry who will repay the government through long-term loans, and consequently they refuse to take any responsibility for Socialist peasants who seize landed estates. They consider that much of the present unemployment will be solved by government encouragement of the development of backward Spanish industry and transport, with the government “priming the pump” and filling in industrial gaps through public works; and they consequently denounce the epidemic of Syndicalist and Socialist led strikes as irresponsibly driving the Spanish capitalists into the arms of reaction and making it impossible for the government to begin its constructive work. They point to Spain’s poverty as the excuse for the government’s slowness in distributing the land and reviving industry, and for its failure to establish a system of unemployment relief.

How long they propose to continue class-collaboration with the Republican bourgeoisie they do not say; but certainly they view it as requiring a decade or more. They are really not Socialists at all; like Social-Revolutionaries and most of the Mensheviks of Czarist Russia, and so many self-termed Marxists of semi-colonial and colonial countries, the first test of independent proletarian activity revealed them to be merely petty-bourgeois republicans. It has been reported, and not denied by Prieto, that he will lead a fusion with Azana’s republican party if the Left Wing Socialists, prevail in the Socialist party.

Forces Leading to Development of Left Wing

The present Left Wing of the Socialist party, whose most prominent leader is Largo Caballero, only began to differentiate itself from the Right Wing on the eve of the Asturian uprising of October, 1934. In the first two years of the republic it followed the line of the Right Wing; Largo Caballero himself was Minister of Labor in the coalition government and forced many a strike from the field of struggle into the debilitating channels of arbitration. The use of the state apparatus to favor the Socialist-led U.G.T. (General Workers’ Union) against the anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation, the C.N.T. (National Confederation of Labor) left a bitterness in the ranks of the latter that still remains one of the chief stumbling blocks to .united action. After two years of collaboration with the republicans, a massacre of striking peasants by government soldiers, for which Casares Quiroga (the Minister of Interior and now Premier) was responsible, climaxed a whole series of repressions against the workers and peasants. The resultant outcry led to Socialist withdrawal from the cabinet. But by then the masses had been rendered passive and disillusioned; the Anarcho-syndicalists adduced the record of the Socialists as further proof of the correctness of their traditional anti-parliamentarianism; and the next election saw the Catholics, monarchists and ultra-conservative republicans victorious. The conservative Republican? under Lerroux formed a cabinet, but actual control of the government was in the hands of Gil Robles and the Catholics. Step by step Gil Robles moved to crush the trades unions, to establish Fascist armed forces and to take over openly the reigns of government.

The impact of these events drove a large part of the Socialist party to the left. Finally Caballero declared for the perspective of proletarian revolution. Hurried attempts were made to arm the workers to defend themselves against the fascization of the regime. However, the work of rallying the masses was given such a purely conspiratorial form that it defeated its own purposes; it took the form of military organization only; the masses were not educated to the tasks ahead, were not consolidated through strikes and demonstrations and workers’ councils. So that, when the outbreak against the semi-fascist government finally took place, in October, 1934, the government, in most places including the Socialist stronghold, Madrid, smashed the uprising by seizing the key figures and the caches of arms. Only in Asturias where the workers’ councils had been formed and had functioned for some time, the miners, largely under Socialist leadership, conducted a heroic struggle and were only put down after weeks of fighting, when the government – unopposed elsewhere – brought in the native Moroccan troops and let them sack Oviedo in an orgy of slaughter, robbery and rape. The saying in Spain is that if there had been three Asturiases, the revolution would have succeeded.

But the Asturian rebellion was not a failure. It was, indeed, a decisive blow against the reaction. A large part of the army had proven itself “untrustworthy”; one of its chief divisions had been sent to Asturias and had “been lost” for weeks on the road. The passivity and defeatism of the masses was burned out by the heroic example of the Asturian miners. The Catholics failed to find sufficient forces among the small middle class, and met with no success at all in the peasantry, in seeking to build a Fascist corps. Gil Robles dared not take over the government. The October defeat had left the peasant-proletarian forces largely intact. A financial scandal, exposing the corruption of the Lerroux cabinet, proved its final undoing. The government was forced to call new elections. The Left Republican-Socialist-Communist ticket was tacitly supported by the syndicalist masses. The semi-fascist regime gave way to a Left Republican cabinet supported by Socialists and Communists.

Left Socialists Adopted Revolutionary Perspective in Words

In his “Address to the Communist League” of 1850, drawing the lessons of the revolutions of 1848, Marx warned that, immediately after the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat have together overthrown reaction and the petty bourgeoisie have taken the reigns of government, the proletariat must immediately take the road of intransigeant struggle against the new government, preventing it from consolidating its power and building in opposition to it the power of the workers. This was the obvious tactic for the workers to pursue against the new Azana government.

Moving in this general direction, the Left Socialists adopted in April, 1936 in their stronghold, Madrid, a program to be presented to the forthcoming national convention. That program explicitly declared that the bourgeoisie could not carry out the democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolution, above all was incapable of settling the agrarian question, and that therefore these tasks become part of the tasks of the proletarian revolution, which is on the order of the day. It was this program which precipitated the split between the Left Socialists and the Right Wing which denounced it as a Bolshevik document.

But the adoption of the Left Socialist program in April was not accompanied by a decisive break with the Popular Front government, though logically it should have done so. Instead, borrowing from the Stalinists their theory of “stages,” Caballero has declared that the Popular Front government has “not yet entirely exhausted its possibilities.” He also declares that trade union and political unity must precede a turn to the proletarian revolution. His daily paper, “Claridad,” denounces the Right Wing for its servile support of the government, but Caballero and his deputies also vote for the government in the Cortes. Indeed, to describe Caballero’s position would be to describe a crazy-quilt of ideas, eclectically scrambled together. The Right Wing Socialist daily “El Socialist” and the weekly of the small “Party of Marxist Unity,” “La Batalla” often quote side by side a half-dozen quotations from Caballero, made in one day or two, all mutually contradictory. The man is a positive burlesque of the centrist type, shifting, inconclusive, verbose and a political chameleon. The drive of the Left Wing does not come from him. That drive has been expressed in the refusal to vote for popular front tickets in the presidential election, some Socialist sections nutting up their own tickets; in Socialist leadership of strikes and occupation of landed estates; in participation in workers councils in Asturias and elsewhere; in arming the workers and in armed encounters against the Fascists. The contrast between Caballero and the basic core of the Left Wing finds expression even in “Claridad,” where Javier Rueno, leader of the Asturias rebellion, and other Socialists write consistently against the government.

Undoubtedly, the Socialist masses side with the Left Wing. One recent indication was the re-election of Caballero as secretary of the U.G.T., while ex-president Pesteiros was not re-elected. The Right Wing has taken desperate measures to retain control: the convention has been postponed from June to October, “Claridad” has been outlawed, and the district committees have been instructed to “reorganize” dissident sections. The recent “election” for vacancies on the National Executive was a farce, the Right Wing simply not counting most of the Left Wing votes. There are really now two Socialist parties in Spain.

Reformist Influence of Communists

The development of the Left Wing has been seriously handicapped by Stalinist influence. In 1931, the Communist party recognized that the task for Spain was a proletarian revolution; but rendered itself impotent by its rabidly sectarian attitude, calling the Socialists “social-fascists,” opposing any united action, etc. Today, like its sister parties everywhere, the Spanish Communist party explicitly denies that the choice is between Socialism or Fascism, declares that the Popular Front government can solve the agrarian question and revive economy and, in a word, is even more vociferous in its support of Azana than are the Right Wing Socialists. Azana is a “friend of the Soviet Union” because he condescendingly praises its peace policy: ergo Azana must be supported. Seeking to drown out the authentic Left Wing elements, the Communist party works assiduously for organic unity. It has already succeeded in dissolving the Young Communist organization into the Socialist Youth, with the result that the Socialist Youth, hitherto always acting as a vanguard for the party is today decidedly to the right of it. The vacillating elements in the Left Wing Socialists are in the warmest relations to the C. P.; while the genuine Left Wingers are in sharp conflict with it. The Stalinists have already secured the expulsion from the united youth organization of some of the best militants.

The “Party of Marxist Unity”, born of a fusion of the former Trotskyists with Maurin’s Right Wing Communist opposition might have played an important part in the development of the Socialist Left Wing by entering it and strengthening it. But Maurin values his organizational “independence” far more than revolutionary politics. To retain an excuse for keeping his own little organization, Maurin has resorted to a line of refusing to recognize the genuineness of the Left Wing development in the Socialist party, and declares that in practically everything both wings are identical. “La Batalla” has even gone so far as to say that if the split actually takes place it will lead to only dire results for the whole labor movement! The latest antic of this group is to call for “an authentic Government of the Popular Front, with the direct (ministerial) participation of the Socialist and Communist parties” as a means to “complete the democratic experience of the masses” and thus hasten the revolution. This tommyrot, at a time when the Left Wing-Socialists are engaged in a murderous struggle with the Right Wing precisely because the Lefts are opposed to Socialist entry into the government. The Maurin-Nin group has eliminated itself as a progressive factor.

United Action Through Workers’ Councils Essential

Of fundamental importance to the Spanish revolution is the problem of winning the support of the syndicalist-led peasants and workers; next to the Socialist masses, this is the second-most important element in Spain. What is needed here is, not the abstract slogan of unity advanced by Caballero, but united action through workers councils (soviets) in which Socialists and other elements would be represented on a proportional basis. These councils would be both the organs of the defense against reaction and fascism, and of the proletarian power after a victorious revolution. But. unfortunately, the Madrid program of the Left Socialists makes the one error which is fatal to any collaboration with the C.N.T. for revolutionary struggle. It declares that “the organ of the proletarian dictatorship will be the Socialist party.” This is precisely what the anarchist leaders have been accusing both Communists and revolutionary Socialists of meaning by the proletarian dictatorship; and to out-Stalin Stalin’s bureaucratic distortion of the proletarian power (even the Stalinist bureaucracy pretends to rule through the Soviets) is the worst error that the Left Socialists could make in Spain, with its anarchist traditions. Indeed, if Caballero had deliberately sought to render the Left Wing program impotent, he could not have chosen a better method than of identifying the revolutionary government with party rule.

The basic tendency of the Left Socialists, their recognition that Spain, no more than Russia in 1917, cannot solve even the “bourgeois-democratic” problems of dividing the land and building industry except through a workers’ revolution, is the hope of the Spanish masses.

The reformism of the Right Wing Socialists and the Stalinists, the political nihilism of the anarcho-syndicalists, the organizational conservatism and political mountebankery of the Maurin-Nin group, hinder the development of the Left Socialists, but they cannot prevent it. In a word, the situation in Spain may be described as a race between reaction and the political maturity of the Left Socialists.

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