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Socialist Alternative, October 1936, Volume 2 No. 9, Pages 10-12
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell and David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Caballero At The Helm

By Ben Herman

NEWS dispatches agree that two powers exist in “Republican” Spain today. One is that of the armed workers and peasants, organized into Workers’ Committees. This is the real power in Spain. The other is that of the “regular” government—a mere shadow, impotent, even discredited. One need only read some of the dispatches:

“The Red Militia.... hold the fate of Spain in their hands. In Madrid they largely outnumber the police force.” (N.Y. TIMES , Aug. 5, 1936).

“The Spanish cabinet normally has restricted jurisdiction over Madrid and a few large towns. It is well aware that its police administration now is largely an illusion.” (N.Y. TIMES , Aug. 25, 1936).

“ (the government of Catalonia) moves under the shadow of proletarian organizations that regard it somewhat disdainfully as a rubber stamp for the approval of decisions, demands and fait accomplis.” (N. Y. TIMES , Aug. 11, 1936).

“Virtual control of Barcelona is in the hands of Anti-Fascist militiamen headed by a military committee, including delegates from the proletarian parties. They are acting in conjunction with the Catalan government. The public utilities are operated by workers’ committees .... The railways are in control of committees of workers who seized the station here and elsewhere in Catalonia.” (N.Y. TIMES, July 28, 1936).

Power lies with the workers. But this is not the first time that it has occurred. This is not the first Caballero to become premier. In post-war revolutionary Austria and Germany the real power was in the hands of the workers’ organizations. In each case the bourgeoisie sought out some “leftist” who would persuade the masses to relinquish their arms and restore power to the bourgeoisie. Only in Russia where the revolutionary Socialists (Bolsheviks) wrested the masses away from the influence of the Russian Caballeros did the proletariat use its power to crush the bourgeoisie and establish a workers’ state. Fascist dictatorships in Austria and Germany. Proletarian dictatorship in Russia, These are the living monuments to the correctness of the Bolshevik principles.

Workers Have Power in Spite of Parties

If the workers have power in Spain we cannot possibly blame the Socialist and Communist parties. Quite the contrary. Their tactics have hindered this development. In the last election to the Cortes they joined with the bourgeois democrats around a common bourgeois democratic program and a common slate of candidates. This slate gave a position of importance to the Republicans far out of proportion to their real strength. In the 1933 elections the Left Republicans gained seven seats; in 1936 the S.P. and C.P. allowed them to gain 81 seats. After the electoral victory of February when thousands of workers were, through their own initiative, “illegally” destroying reactionary arsenals and liberating proletarian prisoners, the Executive Committee of the S.P. could say only this: “... be prudent and refrain from all hasty and unlawful acts before the legal power to right all wrongs is put into our hands.” (N.Y. TIMES Feb. 18, 1936).

For fully six months the S.P. and C.P. supported one or another bourgeois government. These governments of course maintained the army apparatus which today is fighting against the workers. They used police force to expel peasants from the land; they declared strikes illegal in certain regions and shut down workers’ headquarters ; they allowed reactionary judges who refused to convict fascists to remain in office.

Azana, the bourgeois president of Spain, was elected by socialist and communist votes. And this in spite of the fact that there was no opposition candidate! The reactionaries had abstained.

These policies could act only to undermine the class independence of the proletariat and bolster the prestige of the anti-labor bourgeois politicians.

Bourgeois State Impotent

But today, in spite of the aid administered to the bourgeois parties by the C.P. and S.P., the state apparatus remains impotent. In the heat of battle the Workers’ Committees have been forged. They occupy the position of greatest authority in the eyes of the masses. They hold armed power. They direct the fight. Why is this so? The iron logic of events has demonstrated that the bourgeois state apparatus is incapable of serving the needs of the masses in their struggle. The bourgeois politicians have been exposed as incapable of carrying on a real fight against the fascists. There is only one organ which can and is mobilizing the widest masses for this struggle, the Workers’ Committees.

Quite naturally the bourgeoisie tries to restore the shattered state machinery. Since its military force is inadequate for the purpose, it resorts to the expedient of a “socialist” government, to win the confidence of the masses. Premier Giral resigns “in favor of a regime which should have the maximum weight with the working classes throughout Spain.” Thus is born the Caballero government whose function it is to restore the shattered prestige of the state machinery, to remove the initiative and influence of the Workers’ Committees, to restore power to the bourgeoisie.

The Caballero government proceeds at full speed to fulfill its obligations to the bourgeoisie. According to the N.Y. TIMES of Sept. 13, 1936 . . . “the government announced tonight that the Cortes would be reconvened October 1, ‘to legislate a fresh code of laws to give the Spanish workers a new place in the sun’.”

But why do the workers need the Cortes to legislate for them? Have they not already accomplished in fact what the Cortes will give them on paper? The first Cortes declared that “Spain is a democratic republic of the workers of all classes.” Has this pious statement meant anything? Where has the Cortes been up till now? It is the Workers’ Committees that have organized the resistance to the fascists. They do not need the legal stamp of the Cortes.

Says the N.Y. TIMES : “Well informed sources believe this decision was based on a desire to legalize as soon as possible measures adopted arbitrarily during the revolt.”

The Catalonian workers take over the running of the factories. Days later the President of Catalonia forms a council and “requests” the workers to administer industry. The workers of Spain, “arbitrarily” enact measures for the benefit of the masses. Caballero, weeks later, is to call the Cortes to enact these same measures “legally.” Is not the connection apparent?

Caballero Gives Strength to Bourgeoisie

All this has one and only one meaning. Caballero and his government wish to wrest the initiative away from the Workers’ Committees. Caballero considers the Cortes the legal body in Spain, the body which should have prime influence, the body without whose approval all acts are illegal.

This is further substantiated by the statement of Caballero’s Cabinet upon assuming office: (N.Y. TIMES Sept. 6, 1936). “The new government considers itself directly representative of all the political forces fighting on the various fronts for the preservation of the democratic republic . . .”

But .... “the political forces fighting on the various fronts” are already represented, are already united in the Workers’ Committees. The bourgeois state machinery is a shadow; it has organized no fight. Why bolster it up? Of course some of the political forces standing for the “democratic republic”—namely the bourgeois parties—have hardly any representatives at all on the Workers’ Committees. But that is because there is nothing to represent. The Workers’ Committees represent the masses, they “represent” struggle. The bourgeois parties are made for the field of parliamentary picnics not for the field of struggle.

And does this government really represent all the forces fighting against the fascists? The anarchists who have decisive influence over large sections of the masses are not at all represented. The anarchists—in spite of their anti-political protestations—are represented in the Workers’ Committees. And this, in spite of the fact that these committees are political instruments of the working class. This need not surprise us. The Workers’ Committees are the most authoritative organs of the proletariat. No party with mass support can remain opposed to them without losing its following. The logic of events, the necessity for an organ of struggle forces all working class parties to join in the Workers Committees, including the Anarchists.

Workers Subordinated to Bourgeois Republic

The government continues: “The new government program is based entirely on a firm intention to hasten a triumph over the rebellion by coordinating the strength of the people in united action. All other political interests must be subordinated until the insurrection has been put down.” (our emphasis)

As far as unifying the fight is concerned, this government will do exactly the opposite. It will tend especially to split the anarchist workers away from the Socialist and Communist government parties.

But the government wants “all other political interests subordinated” to its program. It is precisely here that the anti-revolutionary essence of the Caballero policy shines through. It cannot be denied that the main task of the workers today is to defeat the fascists. But who is to carry on this fight? Who can carry on this fight? Which is to dominate—the Workers’ Committees or the bourgeois state machinery?

The entire situation of dual power shouts out this question. Which power is to be supreme? Which power is to be subordinated? Caballero’s answer is ready—the Workers’ Committees must be subordinated to the bourgeois government apparatus.

Caballero stands with the bourgeoisie against proletarian power.

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