From Socialist Appeal, Vol.3 No.1, January 1937, pp.10-12.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
LOCAL New York of the Socialist party deserves the highest praise for starting a movement which should have been set into motion by our party many months ago. The announcement that a Debs Column of five hundred volunteers was being organized to be sent to Spain to participate in the struggle against the Spanish, German and Italian fascists created an enthusiasm amongst class conscious workers which it would be criminal to permit to be extinguished by inactivity. A campaign is now in order to collect money to send the volunteers over to Spain and to ship arms and ammunition to aid our Spanish brothers.
He is a philistine who sneers at the idea of sending men and ammunition from this country to help in the struggle in Spain. It is so easy to show that the help that We can possibly raise for the Spanish workers is insignificant in comparison with the actual requirements. For a revolutionary Socialist the amount of money that we can raise for arms and the number of men we can send, although very important, are not the only significant factors. What is just as important is the beginning of a campaign to show our solidarity with the Spanish workers and on the basis of that campaign to teach the American workers some elementary lessons in the class struggle.
I do not claim that only revolutionary Socialists would contribute money to send arms and men to Spain. Even liberal democrats will donate for such a purpose. But only revolutionary Socialists will emphasize the need for such a campaign and will conduct it with the greatest zeal and enthusiasm. And it is as certain as anything can be that in connection with such a campaign only revolutionary Socialists will point out that we are sending men and money over to defeat the fascists not simply for the purpose of retaining a decaying capitalist democracy but in order to defeat capitalist democracy as well as fascism through the instrumentality of a workers’ government fishing for socialism. And only revolutionary Socialists will point out the lessons of the Spanish civil war to the American workers.
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If the campaign initiated in New York has no other value it certainly will be justified by the fact that it will begin the process of rooting out all remnants of pacifism in the ranks of our party. The consistent pacifists, those who will not permit such a trifle as a civil war against the fascists to move them a hair’s breadth from their Tolstoyanism, cannot find a place in such a campaign and what is more they will undoubtedly leave the party. A consummation devoutly to be wished for.
In a letter to Norman Thomas, published in the NEW LEADER, John Haynes Holmes expresses his “amazement and outrage” at the idea of sending men to fight the fascists. “I am shocked beyond words,” writes the reverend pacifist, “to discover that officers, or representatives of the party have in true fascist fashion arrogated to themselves this awful privilege of war and peace ...” He writes as if he were a member of the party and if he is I wonder why he raised no squawk at the war resolution passed at the Cleveland convention. Perhaps he is one of those members who doesn’t bother reading resolutions until they are called to their attention by some unexpected event. Or perhaps Holmes did read the resolution and saw nothing to kick about. Which does not speak so much for the resolution. The poor reverend will have his eyes opened to the fact that the Socialist party is becoming Something altogether different from the pacifist organization he Would like it to be.
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The NEW LEADER, on the other hand, attacks the campaign from a different viewpoint. It does not agree with the pacifism of Holmes but contends that the “scheme” is bad because the Roosevelt Government will be compelled to react against it and thus prevent any kind of help being sent to the Spanish people. The idea seems to be that if men and arms should be sent to Spain it should be done without any public campaign so that no one will know about it and thus not give the reactionaries a chance to organize a counter campaign.
We are not at all surprised at the attitude of the NEW LEADER. It is in consonance with the whole social democratic conception of avoiding any kind of a mass movement and attempting to accomplish things through peaceful maneuvering. Leaving aside the question whether or not it is possible to gather aid on a large scale by means of a secret campaign, the problem still remains for revolutionary Socialists of arousing the American workers to a sense of solidarity with the Spanish workers and to prepare for the struggle against the American capitalists and fascists. And for this purpose an open, vigorous campaign is essential.
Socialists do not see how the possible adverse action of Roosevelt should deter them from carrying on such a vital campaign for the help of the Spanish workers. On the contrary, the opposition of Roosevelt will show how hollow his defence of democracy really is and it will then become necessary, as part of the campaign to enlist men and collect money, to broaden out the campaign to include a movement against Roosevelt and his supporters.
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An argument that has been advanced by some timid members of the party against the kind of campaign initiated by the New York local is that it will alienate liberals and will not get a favorable response from the workers who would give clothing and medicine but not arms. They will undoubtedly point to the attitude of Holmes as confirmation of their contention. To that revolutionary Socialists will answer that alienating such liberals is quite a gain for the party. And as far as the workers are concerned no one who has the least experience with their readiness to struggle with all weapons in their hands in strikes will fail to understand that the American workers if they react at all to the struggle in Spain, will adopt the idea of sending arms to the Spanish workers with the greatest enthusiasm. It is a language that they understand.
Revolutionary Socialists will push the campaign for arms and volunteers to help the Spanish workers to the limit. Let the Communists and Social Democrats worry about the liberals and pacifists; we must worry about the Spanish workers.
REVOLUTIONARY Marxists have always recognized that the confusion which is part of anarchism would in a critical moment be dangerous to the working class.
Anarchism with its flamboyant revolutionary phraseology, its attitude of hostility to all authority, its apparent intransigence in the struggle against the capitalist masters, its open hatred of all reformism, gave the impression to the uninitiated that of all working class currents it alone would never compromise. But critical Marxists understand that a working-class movement requires something more than revolutionary phraseology and good intentions; it demands a correct revolutionary theory and without such a theory the workers will be led into a blind alley whether by anarchism or opportunist socialism.
No one denies the revolutionary qualities of the anarchist workers, their heroism and devotion to the cause of their class. They have been in the forefront of all revolutionary struggles and at the present moment in Spain the courage of the anarchist proletarians is unexcelled. All the more tragic is it that such courage should fail of its goal because of the confusion of anarchist thought. In critical moments anarchist confusion is unable to solve the problem confronting the working class in a revolutionary manner and consequently, wherever it must assume a responsible attitude because it controls working class organizations, its policies coincide with the policies of opportunist socialists.
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If the anarchist movement had any possibilities of leading the workers to victory the situation in Spain afforded it the grandest opportunity. It controlled the majority of the organized workers in the revolutionary center of Spain (Barcelona) ; it had great influence in all other centers (Madrid, Valencia); it had no recognized reformist group to hold it back such as the Prieto group in the Socialist party; it is not bound to the Soviet bureaucracy as is the Communist party; its prestige amongst the workers is exceedingly great. What else does a movement need, what else can it expect to be able to lead the workers to victory?
And at the beginning of the fascist revolt the anarchist leaders gave the appearance of knowing what they wanted and of acting decisively to get it; they gave the appearance of understanding that it Was necessary for the workers to take over complete power and conduct the struggle against the fascists on the basis of that power and not on the basis of the democratic bourgeois regime. The anarchist leaders went along with and aided the masses when they seized the factories; they participated in a united front with other working class organizations ; they organized workers committees everywhere; they refused to have anything to do with the bourgeois government which was nothing but an empty shell.
But their confusion in theory brought them into an impossible situation and they extricated themselves by surrendering their cherished dogmas and accepting the ideas not of revolutionary Marxism but of plain and simple opportunism. Opportunism is the certain consequence of confusion of all kinds.
The workers under the leadership of the anarchists seized the factories. That was as it should have been. But then the anarcho-syndicalist idea about the workers operating their own factories, meaning thereby that the workers of a particular shop should control all the operations of that shop, created tremendous confusion. A revolutionary Marxist party would have immediately proceeded to centralize all operations with the workers of every factory participating in the control through their representatives or delegates. It was not long before the need of such centralization became apparent.
At the very beginning of the fascist revolt every political grouping, including the anarchists, had its own militia. Obviously a civil war, or any other kind of war, can not be won without centralized control. The trade unions created their own militia to keep order and fight the counter revolution.
Centralization was absolutely essential. Confronted by a situation which made impossible the functioning of their theories of decentralization, the anarchist leaders readily consented to the need of centralization. But, alas, centralization to them meant a return to the bourgeois democratic state. Instead of accepting the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, which would, have meant the creation of centralized and democratic organs of control of the army, for industry and for the police, through the creation of a workers’ government, the anarchists accepted centralization through the instrumentality of a democratic bourgeois government.
And by the action of the anarchist leaders as well as of the leaders of the other working class groups life was breathed into the hollow form of the Company’s Government and the task of placing the workers in their “proper” position as a class to be governed but not to govern has been well accomplished by the working class “leaders.”
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What is the theoretical and practical justification offered by the anarchist leaders for their actions in Catalonia? One can hardly expect a thorough theoretical justification from the anarchists but we find an attempt made in the INTERNATIONAL REVIEW of December 1936. Read that attempted apology and you will not have to read the pages of the reformist socialists for their justification. The arguments are cut out of one cloth.
According to the article of Roberto, the anarchists in Barcelona had to enter the Companys government because otherwise the Madrid government would not have given any money and no arms could be obtained. And in addition to that Mussolini would not tolerate a Catalonian commune and the democratic governments of France and England would not come to the aid of a workers’ Catalonia in case of an attack by Mussolini. Under these conditions is it not better for the anarchists to enter the bourgeois government so that the workers can “ride and manipulate the engines that some good people might want to use against them after the job of defeating the rebels is done”? Where have we heard such arguments before if not in the press of the pitiful and hesitating social democrats?
The logic of the whole argument is as follows. If the workers of one country or of one section of a particular country dare take power into their own hands the foreign capitalist governments will attack them and alone they are too weak to withstand such an attack. Therefore the advanced workers of any one country must wait until the workers of all other countries are ready to make the revolution. We the workers of any particular country must not begin until our brothers of the other countries are ready to do the same thing. And in practice that “theory” works out so that the working class is defeated in each country separately.
A revolutionary Marxist does not say that the Catalonian workers can defy the whole capitalist world. He contends merely that when the Catalonian workers are able to take power they must do so confident that their seizure of power will have inevitable repercussions on the workers of the rest of the world. The workers of one country must begin the revolution and struggle to extend it to all other countries.
Only they who have no faith at all in the revolutionary spirit of the workers can imagine for one moment that the Madrid proletarians would tolerate a government that would sabotage the revolution in Barcelona. Far more likely is it that a single appeal from the Barcelona workers would cause the Madrid Government to change its mind or suffer annihilation at the hands of the workers.
And would the French proletariat remain quiet if the Catalonian workers would appeal for help directly to them and urge them to overthrow the Blum Government if such help were prevented? A bold revolutionary policy on the part of the Catalonian proletarian organizations would mean that Blum and Stalin would be compelled to act or suffer the consequences. And would Mussolini and Hitler attack a Catalonian Workers’ Republic? Undoubtedly! But then the only way, following the logic of the reformists, to prevent such an attack, is to consent to remain under capitalist slavery.
Revolutionary Marxists readily grant all the difficulties in the way: the readiness of both the fascist and “democratic” capitalist powers to pounce upon a workers’ government; the hesitation and treachery of many a working-class leader. But is there any way out other than by a reliance upon the class war on an international scale? Any other path means remaining under capitalism with its inevitable danger of fascism. There are no guarantees of victory but they who are opposed to a bold revolutionary policy guarantee defeat.
Last updated: 11.12.2008