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Socialist Appeal, November 1936, Volume 2 No. 10, Pages 15-16
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Spain and the Campaign


“THE SPANISH workers are fighting with their back to the wall against Spanish Fascism, financed by German and Italian Fascism. American Socialists must respond by putting on a campaign to raise funds to help defeat Fascism where it is now expressing itself in its worst form. Liberals, progressive trade unionists, all sympathizers with the Spanish workers should be called upon for contributions to be sent to Spain through the International Federation of Trade Unions and the Labor and Socialist International, which have set up a Joint fund.

“Properly handled this campaign can be used to increase Socialist support in this campaign, rather than detract from it. ...

“The campaign to aid the Spanish workers should help to speed up class struggle education in America and emphasize our international solidarity,” writes Clarence Senior, national secretary of the Socialist Party, in a letter to all branches and locals.

The Major Issue

I am convinced that the campaign to aid the Spanish workers should be the major issue of the present Presidential campaign. But certainly if it is to be “properly handled,” a great deal more clarity is necessary than at present exists in party ranks.

First of all, we need a sense of proportion. What does Spain mean to the world’s working class and the International Socialist movement? Already their heroic fight has spurred British, French, Belgian. American, Mexican workers to new hope of world Socialism. It has fanned into flame the smoldering ashes of working class internationalism in the Soviet Union. It has forced International fascist-capitalism to drop its cloak of patriotic nationalism and parade before the world as an international organization for the suppression of the working class. Contrariwise it has confronted the working class with the choice between counter-solidarity on a world scale or division and defeat. It has posed for the world the issue of Capitalism or Socialism.

Defeat or Victory

Defeat for the Spanish workers would mean a morale-shattering addition to the long parade of reverses that has marched steadily downward from the triumphant peak of October, 1917. Defeat will set back for many years the conquest of a workers’ world.

Victory for the Spanish workers, providing that victory is promptly ratified by worker-control of a nation won by workers’ arms, will mean the turning of the tide. It will give new courage, decisiveness, and a glorious example to the workers of France. Together Spanish and French workers can reach out the hands of comradeship in struggle, and lend real hope for victory, to the workers of Germany and Italy.

Again, as in the post-war days, the IMMEDIATE ISSUE for every European nation will be Capitalism or Socialism – Socialism routed from lethargy and despair, and done for all time with fatal compromise and retreat. at last taking the offensive.

The Campaign

In this world perspective the campaign in the United States is almost insignificant. Yet it is lent significance by the fact that it is, or should be, a part of the world struggle. It is the sole American expression of the issue which Spain poses for the world – Capitalism or Socialism! To separate the two, to set one against the other as an either-or choice is to fly in the face of the international character of the class struggle under modern capitalism. It would be the Socialist party of the United States, not the Marxian analysis, which would suffer by such a division.

Let us look at the record of the relations between the American campaign and the Spanish issue. First of all, we failed completely to step into the vanguard of the campaign. Our national leadership lagged behind that of locals of the party, behind Dubinsky and many other trade unionists, behind even the inept and befuddled American League Against War and Fascism. Six weeks of life-and-death struggle for the future of Europe and the world were allowed to go by without action of any significance from our NEC. The “revolutionary vanguard” failed completely to foresee or to adjust to the one issue which for weeks has wiped the presidential campaign from the headlines of the capitalist press.


Inevitably, non-Marxian, reformist leadership has led to confusion, not clarification, of the fundamental issues of the struggle. Now that, at last, we are in, our task is to undo the confusion which exists inside as well as outside party ranks.

How shall we aid the Spanish workers? “Neutrality,” say many working-class leaders in Europe and America. “Let the Spanish antagonists settle their fight without intervention from the rest of the world. Get international agreement to an embargo on arms to both sides. Do nothing to endanger neutrality.” This argument rests on three false assumptions. First, that the working class of the world can or should be neutral in a fight which is fundamentally one of capitalism against socialism. Second, that the capitalist governments of the world will carry out pledges of neutrality contrary to their superficially rival imperialistic interests and their fundamentally united interest in the preservation of capitalism. Third, that appeals to honor, international law, and treaties made and administered by capitalist governments will aid the working class and limit the power of the capitalist class.

An elementary knowledge of the class struggle gives the lie to all these assumptions. Capitalism protects and defends its own; the state is its executive committee; to go begging to it is to admit defeat.

Neutrality Defined

In the light of the class character of the state, what does “neutrality” mean? Bluntly it is a state means for tying the hands of legalist leaders of the working class while giving a free hand plus protection to the capitalist class. Let us illustrate by what has actually happened in America, apparently remote from the scene of conflict. The State Department has satisfied the naive liberals and pacifists in and out of the working class by “urging” American manufacturers not to make or ship materials of war to the combatants in Spain. Just in case some capitalist might misunderstand the “urging,” on August 26, the State Department announced that it would insist on the right of American ships to land cargo in ports held by Spanish rebels. Liberals are happily blind; realistic capitalists are happily at trade; where are the realistic Marxians?

In essence, capitalist state neutrality means “free trade” by capitalists with capitalists protected by capitalist naval power. Under capitalism it can mean nothing else. The neutrality of the United States is made of the same cloth as that of “democracy-loving” capitalist Great Britain and “democracy-hating” capitalist Germany. Even “free trade” is free only for capitalists and in line with capitalist interest. The first mass effort of American workers to buy and ship arms to the workers of Spain will strip off the mask, and expose the real character of free trade “neutrality.”


Arms? “Arms” seems to be a frightful word. The National Office calls for a “Spanish Solidarity Fund,” the trade unionists for “Labor’s Red Cross for Spain,” my correspondence with the members of the NEC brings a proposal for raising funds for “medical supplies.” Why all this soft-pedaling? Pick up any capitalist paper, the right hand front column will tell you that the issue is being fought out in Spain on the basis of arms. Italian and German military planes give brutal testimony to the clarity of these governments on the issue involved. The Mexican government, a long way from a clear-cut Socialist viewpoint, is quite clear on the needs of the Spanish workers. There is no wing of Social-Democracy so lost to Marxian fundamentals as not to insist, at least by resolution, upon forceful, armed suppression of counter-revolution against a workers’ government.

The Socialist party of the United States has always held at least to this minimum of class struggle realism. The last sentence of the 1936 Declaration of Principles adopted without a dissenting voice reads “In defense of the workers’ rights and in enforcement of the democratically expressed will of the masses, the Socialist Party calls upon the workers to stand ready to meet reactionary violence with every means at their disposal.” The Spanish class war is a clear-cut cause for practical demonstration in action of our traditional theoretical position. The educational advantages of this opportunity for both American Socialists and American workers are inestimable. On this subject American workers are ready to listen to “class struggle education.” NOW, not after the campaign and after the struggle. The real question to be asked is not “Arms?” but “why not arms?”

The answers I have received to a concrete proposal of this kind sent to the NEC seem to be that it would be misunderstood by American voters, shock certain pacifists and liberals, hinder rather than help the funds to be raised and the sympathy to be won for the Spanish workers. There is a grain of truth in the argument that requires examination. Undoubtedly an open, nationwide campaign for “Arms for the Spanish Workers” would draw a sharp class line through our society. The entire capitalist press would wax hysterical. The stark realism of arms would shock those who like to look at class relations through a rosy haze. They would be forced to take one side or the other just as they are forced to do, on a small scale, in every strike. Unless we are simon-pure parliamentarians, we are going to give that shock to them eventually anyway. This should be good training.

A Workers Fight

But is not all this “exploiting” the cause of the Spanish workers? Boosting a campaign in the United States at the expense of the immediate and terribly pressing need of the Spanish workers? Such charges are true only if the Marxian concept of a world struggle, the requisite of world clarity, and the necessity of world independent working-class action are false. Only the workers and those who accept the workers’ struggle can help Spain’s workers. Only the workers, by workers’ sanctions can stop the shipment of arms to the counter-revolution in Spain. Only the workers will send arms to the workers of Spain (sale or arms by capitalist governments to the Spanish Government will be conditional on guarantees that it continue as a capitalist government).

Money for machine guns can be collected in greater volume than money for bandages, and it will mean more to both the Spanish and American working class. Arms can lie delivered by, and only by, workers to the workers of Spain.

Above all, the workers can win. All history, all economics, is on our side, not on that of a crumbling capitalism. Our task is truly to “speed up class struggle education in America and emphasize our international solidarity” – Workers’ Sanctions Against Arms to the Capitalist Counter-Revolution! Workers’ Arms to the Workers of Spain!

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