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Socialist Alternative, September 1936, Volume 2 No. 6, Pages 3-4
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell and David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Revolution And Counter-Revolution In Spain

By B. M. F.

I. The Dual Power

THE counter-revolution broke out on July 18th. In the early morning hours between that day and the next, the substance of power passed into the hands of the armed proletariat. It passed to the proletariat because the republican government was unable and unwilling to wield it, except to make peace with the counter-revolution. But that “solution” was barred by the workers’ militia.

Though for weeks the labor and republican press had been filled with warnings and proof that the reactionaries were about to attempt a coup, the actual outbreak produced a complete collapse of morale in the republican politicians. They could think only of making a compromise with the fascist generals. President Azana had Quiroga’s cabinet —formed principally of Azana’s Left Republicans—resign, and called in Barrios, chief of the Republican Union party which embraces the basic sections of the middle-class businessmen and shopkeepers. Azana and Barrios formed a cabinet of Republican Union men and Right Wing Republicans outside of the Popular Front, a respectable government which would negotiate for peace with the fascist-monarchist armies.

But while the republican ministers huddled together in despair in the ancient and cavernous palace in Madrid, the proletariat was already mobilizing. In Madrid itself the Socialist militia was distributing arms from secret caches; was throwing up barricades on key streets and around the army barricades; was organizing its patrols for house to house seizures of reactionaries. In Barcelona the militia of the anarcho-syndicalist C.N.T.[1] and the P.O.U.M.[2] was in the center of the city, surrounding the troops in an iron ring, comandeering the great hotels for barracks, arming the eager workers not only from their own caches but with supplies torn department stores and government quarters. Before the ministerial crisis was well over, the Asturian miners had outfitted a column of six thousand for a march on Madrid. Without so much as a by your leave to the ministers, the workers had begun a war to the death against the reaction. Whereupon the republican ministers “agreed” to arm the workers. The Azana-Barrios scheme for a compromise (naturally, at the expense of the workers!) collapsed because the workers had punctured it. And for no other reason.

Independence of Proletariat

Thanks to the utter distrust of the republican ministry, a distrust which had grown progressively in the five months of its rule, the masses looked only to themselves for leadership. Every day since has served to strengthen this independence of the proletariat, and only that independence has enabled the workers' forces to fight back against the skilled military power of the general.

Thus, side by side with the form of power still held by the government, there has arisen the unofficial but far more substantial power of the proletariat.

The dual power exists most clearly in Barcelona, center of the chief industrial region of Spain. The Military Anti-Fascist Committee of fifteen (three from the C. N.T., two from the Anarchist Federation, two from the U.G.T.[3] one each from the Socialist, Communist and P.O.U.M. organizations, one from the peasants’ federation, and four from the left bourgeois parties) wields the real power. It is in charge of organizing arid directing the workers’ militia; has authorized seizure of factories, hotels, restaurants, supplies, etc., required for the struggle ; has ordered workers committees to control production in all enterprises; supervises all banking and financial transactions; has confiscated property of church and big bourgeoisie and converted it into childrens’ homes, sanatoria, workers’ clubs, union and party quarters; has decreed wage raises in certain categories, controls the workers who have taken over all public utilities. Pierre Van Paassen reports to Federal Press, quite simply, that “the Workers’ Revolutionary Committee rules Catalonia.” Maxwell S. Stewart cables The Nation an account of the dual power in Catalonia which is all the more significant because of his previous leaning toward the Communist party.

The P.O.U.M., the C.N.T. and the Anarchist Federation, which dominate the committee of fifteen, have in addition called upon the peasants and landworkers to seize the large estates and divide them under the direction of the peasants' organizations, and division has actually begun in the Catalonian provinces.

Independence from Popular Front Gives Strength

The course in Catalonia is identical with the program of “partial demands” raised by the Bolsheviks in the midst of the struggle against Kornilov in August, 1917: Workers’ control of production, to arouse the highest pitch of initiative and enthusiasm of the proletariat. Independent mobilization of the armed masses for revolutionary war against the reaction. No renunciation even for a moment of basic criticism of the republican government, and vigilance against any attempt at betrayal by it. And the drawing into the struggle of the peasantry on the side of the workers by the only slogan which can vitalize the starving and backward peasantry: Land to those who till it!

The decision with which the Catalonian proletariat acted in every sphere enabled it not only to smash the counter-revolution locally, but within a few days the Military Committee was able to dispatch column after column of well-equipped militia westward to aid the forces from Madrid and eastward to Mallorca. Far from weakening its capacities for struggle, as the proponents of the Popular Front had been declaring, the freedom of the Catalonian proletariat from the Popular Front pact (the C.P. and S.P. are comparatively weak in these provinces) has enabled them more quickly than elsewhere to adopt revolutionary methods, and thereby to make Catalonia the most impregnable fortress of the Spanish revolution. Therein lies a profound lesson for the believers in the Popular Front!

The Catalan government made a “clever” attempt to recoup the power which had slipped from its fingers. President Company announced the reorganization of the cabinet to make it more “representative”; three Socialists from the U.G.T. were inveigled into entering the cabinet. But this manouever fell through in five days; the Socialists withdrew from the cabinet under the insistence of the Military Committee.

Workers’ Power in Madrid

In the national capital the dual power exists too; not so clearly developed, not so consciously organized, nevertheless it grows in power daily. Shall the flower of the working-class youth march to their death in the mountains, while the young bloods of the upper classes hide within the city waiting for the opportunity to murder the workers from behind? No! Premier Giral has threatened dire penalties against workers who search houses and arrest citizens. But let the Premier try to enforce his edict! The workers’ militia patrols the streets, stops cars, searches houses, seizes thousands upon thousands of monarchists, fascists and right-wing republicans, executes the most dangerous and confines the rest. By that token, the police power, foundation of the state, has largely passed over into the hands of the workers.

Shall our brave men and women die in the mountains because the capitalists, who secretly hope the reaction will win, do not run the factories properly, do not transport food and supplies efficiently, demand their full payment for what we need? No! The government issues an edict prohibiting the “seizure of property not absolutely necessary to the defense of the regime.” But everything is necessary to the defense of the working-class! The Right-Wing Socialist daily, “El Socialista,” editorializes: “We believe in the government’s order prohibiting the seizure of property not absolutely necessary to the defense of the regime.” But what authority does “El Socialista” now command, with its philistine prudence, so ludicrous in the midst of civil war? Nor do the Communist party’s exhortations to the workers to respect private property carry more weight. These “leaders” can delay, they cannot prevent, the inexorable development of the workers’ power. Workers’ committees take over control of all the public utilities; they seize the oil, tobacco, shipping and other industries; the government declares them “state enterprises” but must leave them in the control of the workers’ committees which are already in charge. The government itself is compelled to forbid buying or transfer of securities or real estate, seeking to prevent capital from getting into the hands of the rebels. But who can carry out this ban—in every bank and financial house, indeed in every enterprise where the owner may seek to buy fascist-owned securities cheaply, in the municipalities where real estate purchases are recorded, etc. etc.—who but the omnipresent workers? As in Barcelona, so in Madrid although more slowly, the power is passing over into the hands of the workers and their organizations.

Reports from the rest of the country are even more fragmentary than those from the two capitals. But, removed from the “tops” of the government and the conservative labor leaders, the workers and radical peasantry are establishing “revolutionary committees” and extirpating their enemies; so much is clear. A glimpse into the heart of the movement: Portbou, a little village near the Catalonian-French border, presided over by a Communist mayor. “This is a battle between communism and fascism. Communism must win. There is no other result possible.” In those few words the village mayor cuts through all the sophistries of the reformists. Socialism, communism, libertarian communism—the workers have various terms for it; but it's either that or fascism.

Role of Communist Party

Ostensibly in order to retain the support of the republicans, the Communist party is even promising not to make the proletarian revolution after the present struggle is won: “It is absolutely false that the present workers’ movement has for its object the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship after the revolution has terminated. It cannot be said we have a social motive for our participation in the war. We Communists are the first to repudiate this supposition. We are motivated exclusively by a desire to defend the democratic republic.” (Hernandez, director of “Mundo Obrero” in N Y Times , August 10th). To see how alien to Leninism is such craven balderdash, one has only to contrast this with Lenin's injunctions, in the midst of the struggle against Kornilov, against any political support to the government.

The reformist policies of the Right Wing Socialists and Communists slow up the struggle. This is proved by the fact that there are so few desertions from the ranks of the army regiments in the hands of the fascist generals. Who are these rank and file soldiers? They are mainly sons of peasants, serving their two-year period in the army. They can be won over or at least induced to desert, by winning their families to the side of the workers. How? “Land to those who till it!” But outside Catalonia this slogan is hardly raised, so far as one can tell. That slogan should have been raised six months ago, immediately after the February 16th victory; the failure to do so is the explanation of the fact that the southern provinces, Andalusia and Seville (the latter a stronghold of the C.P.) can be in the hands of the fascists. “What did the Republic give you to eat?” This popular retort of the peasants has bitten deep; and the Marxist parties did not call them to take the land. The result is much passivity among the peasants. Within the territories held by them the workers must aid the peasants in seizing and distributing the large estates. By ten thousand channels that fact, transforming the peasants’ world, will be carried into the provinces held by the fascists ..... and anti-fascist peasants will spring out of the ground.

Confiscation of Land Essential

Naturally, the republicans will have none of this! For confiscation of the land, in a country where land has been bought and sold for hundreds of years and hence mortgaged and debt-ridden, means confiscation of bank capital, means to smash at the very foundations of Spanish capitalism. And the reformists who cling to the republicans in the Popular Front, and who echo their every fear for private property, will also fight against the slogan of confiscation of the land. Nevertheless, this slogan cannot long remain confined within the boundaries of Catalonia. As inexorably as workers’ control of production, it is dictated by the necessities of the struggle against the armies; and like workers’ control, will find its way to the lips of every worker. Spain is still primarily a peasant country, with two thirds of the land held in large estates. The agrarian question is the key to the Spanish revolution; but it is also the key to the successful struggle against the counter-revolution.

The Spanish working class failed, too, to raise the slogan of freedom for the Spanish colonies. At the hands of Moorish soldiery it is now paying the price for that failure. Even the Left Wing Socialists and the anarcho-syndicalists never understood the colonial question. The Communist party once did, and raised that question correctly in 1931-1933. But for the sake of the Popular Front it buried the colonial question, in Spain as in France. Even now a bold campaign of propaganda in Morocco could wreak havoc with the fascist plans.

The Spanish workingmen and women have no lack of courage. And what lack of political understanding they have is fast being dissipated. For they have put their feet on the road, the only road, the road of the independent struggle of the working class. On that road everything will become clear.


1. National Confederation of Labor (Anarchist).

2. Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity (Revolutionary Marxist).

3. General Workers Union (Socialist).

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