Jose Diaz, General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party

On The Lessons Of The Spanish People’s War

Published in Bolshevik, February 1940. Translated from Russian by Geoffrey Swain.

For almost three years the Spanish people led a long and difficult struggle to defend with arms in their hands the independence of their country and their social conquests. For almost three years it struggled heroically, taking terribly sacrifices. In spite of this the Spanish people were defeated. But that defeat is only temporary. The ruling dictatorship in Spain, which represents bourgeois land-owner reaction, in spite of its bloody terror, is not able to overcome those things which made the Spanish people struggle, not able to destroy the hate people feel towards this regime of oppression and reaction. The working class, the peasantry, the laboring masses of Spain, as well as the oppressed peoples of Catalonia and the Basque country, have known better times; have experienced life without big capitalists and landowners. The Spanish people are continuing their struggle in new circumstances, are reorganizing and concentrating their forces, overcoming the present difficulties and preparing for new battles.

Apart from the victorious October socialist revolution in Russia, the just war of the Spanish people was one of the greatest events in the international liberation movement of working people. This war armed the working class and all the oppressed peoples of capitalist countries and colonies with tremendous experience of struggle against internal and external reaction, against force, oppression and exploitation.

The military rebellion and the armed struggle of the Spanish people for freedom and independence

Exploiting the hesitation, weakness, and cowardice of the petty bourgeois political parties and the social democrats, who had been indecisive and not taken firm action against reaction after their victory in the elections of 16th February 1936, the counter-revolution staged its uprising aimed at holding back the development of the revolutionary movement in Spain…

The working masses of Spain started on the path of armed struggle

The so-called civil war, from the very first weeks, was turned into a war for national independence, for the political rights of the Spanish peoples, for economic, social and cultural gains of the working masses, and for the extension of these rights and gains.

In the process of struggle, the Spanish people transformed the political and economic face of the country, putting it on the road to progress.

The situation in the countryside was dramatically changed, where previously semi-feudal landowners had held sway. More than four million hectares of land was confiscated from the landowners, the church and the monasteries. This was given free to the peasants. All peasant debts were annulled, and peasants were given credits, seed and agricultural machinery.

For workers salaries were significantly increased and new legislation passed to protect them at work. Workers were widely involved in the running of industrial enterprises and the other large economic concerns of the country. The working class became a powerful force, which successfully reconstructed the economy left destroyed and derelict by the counter-revolutionary rising.

In the course of the war the peoples of Catalonia and the Basque country consolidated and developed their national freedoms.

Instead of the old army, the arm of Spanish reaction, a new genuinely popular army was created for the defense of the people’s interests.

Women, who gained equality, actively participated in the political and economic life of the country.

Young people won the opportunity to study and prepare for the future in a free and independent country. Culture ceased to be a class privilege. Schools and universities opened their doors to the people.

All this creative work, all these achievements, were made possible in the main by the union between the working class with the laboring mass of the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie, united under the banner of the Popular Front…

The Popular Front was a peculiar and original form of revolutionary development at that time. Spain, which was at the start of the struggle a bourgeois democratic republic, was transformed in the course of the war into a people’s republic, without big capitalists, without landowners, without reactionaries, a republic which relied on the popular masses themselves and a regular people’s army.

It was a republic where the popular masses received the possibility and the right to take part in leading political and economic life. A republic where, alongside the protection of private property, heavy industry, the banks and transport were nationalized, where land was confiscated from the large landowners, and where voluntary co-operative farms received generous aid from the state…

The attitude of the “democratic” states to the struggle of the Spanish people

The “democratic” governments of the imperialist powers Britain and France did everything they could throughout the war to prevent the victory of the Spanish people. Revolutionary Spain would have given such a boost to the struggle of workers there in the struggle against capitalism that English and French capitalism could not allow this to happen. The policy of “non-intervention” reached its apogee in the Munich Agreement. Under the proposal for “neutrality” and the localization of the conflict, the instigators of war in Europe went so far as to impose a total blockade on republican territory, as the first step towards indirect intervention to break the resistance of the people’s republic…[Collaboration of the British fleet with Franco, internment by the French authorities of Republicans, support for Casado coup.] Without the help of the British and French reaction, and the social democratic leaders in those countries, revolutionary Spain would not have been defeated…

[The support of the Soviet Union, the Communist International, the CPSU.]

What was the situation inside Spain?

[United in the 1936 elections.] As a result of that militant unity, the moving force of which was the communist party, the popular front was formed. But this militant unity did not have a sufficiently firm base, its backbone — the working class — was divided.

Only the communist party understood how important it was to achieve unity within the working class on a principled basis. As a result the communist party consistently struggled for the formation of a united trade union centre. But the “socialist” and anarchist leaders always opposed this. They knew that such unity would strengthen communist influence in the trade unions, which would give victory over reaction.

The communists put great effort into creating a unified working class party based on Marxist-Leninist principles. But the “socialist” leaders always opposed the formation of such a party, which would have ensured the hegemony of the proletariat in the popular front and the government.

The absence of unity in the labour movement allowed the political parties of the petty bourgeoisie to play a big role which did not correspond to their actual strength and influence. It was this which weakened the war-preparedness of the republican army, prevented the implementation of a determined policy to transform the war economy, and gave comfort to all enemies of the popular front. It was the absence of proletarian unity which prevented the formation of a strong popular government, capable of leading the national-revolutionary war with firmness.

The war showed the total emptiness of anarchist theory and practice. [Attack on anarchists, followed by attack on Caballero and his supporters.]

A lack of faith in the struggle of the working class and a denial of its leading role in the struggle meant that the socialist leaders, spurred on by their colleagues in the Second International, took the path of capitulation and betrayal. The socialist leaders lost all shame and willingly betrayed the interests of the working class. There was no control, no discipline: each socialist minister did and said what he thought without regard to a party line or personal responsibility. [Attack on Prieto, Besteiro, and Caballero.] It is not without cause that the Spanish proletariat considers the socialist party leaders responsible for the defeat of the Spanish people…

The republican parties constantly hesitated. Their fear of popular liberation and the development of the revolution pushed them towards reaction by hiding under the slogan “the republic ought to be led by republicans.” They wanted to remove the working class from its leading positions, and in every way complicated and delayed the work of the popular front governments, preventing firm measures being taken against enemies…

To a considerable extent the Republican Government mirrored these weaknesses. The Spanish People’s Republic needed a firm policy if it was to win, a policy which corresponded to the interests of the national-revolutionary war. In industry, agriculture, transport, supply, military supply, military training, foreign policy, financial policy and social order — in all these areas a firm policy against capitulation and intrigue was needed. But for that policy to be implemented a new state apparatus was needed which corresponded to the popular character of the republic.

However the old state apparatus was not completely destroyed. It continued to exist in part even during the war and at difficult moments acted against the interests of the people…The communists demanded the creation of a militant people’s government capable of uniting all the forces of the Spanish people in a struggle under the leadership of the working class. However, that government was never formed, although everything necessary for its formation was in place.

[Survey of the various republican administrations: butter attack on Prieto and his policy by Spring 1938.] Taking note of the tremendous danger which threatened the country, and recognizing that the government was paralyzed by the capitulationist activity of Prieto, the people and the soldiers struggled to save the situation and change the government. At the will of the people and the soldiers Negrin sacked Prieto from his post as Minister of Defense and formed a new national unity government. [Negrin damned with faint praise: he organized the victory on the Ebro, but still hesitated to purge the army of defeatists. The bloody confusion of March 1939, Casado’s coup against Negrin.]

The communist party in the war for freedom and independence

[Praise for their role as ministers. Praise for their role in the army.]

But there were also weak elements in the work of the communist part. Struggling to preserve the popular front, the party did not at the same time signal to the people how the representatives of other parties and organizations used the slogan of the popular front as a cover for their betrayal. In the face of the inevitable enemy attack and concerned above all with the situation at the front, the party disregarded the requirement to mobilize the masses in the struggle against betrayal and did not put down the rebellion of the traitors, even though they had the forces to do so…

What then are the lessons of the war of the Spanish people for its independence? The experience of the war and the activity of the communist party show how the strength of the working class is increased one hundred fold if in its vanguard there is a united, monolithic revolutionary party and a united trade union organization led by that party.

The basic condition which guarantees the union of the working class to the peasantry and lower middle class is the revolutionary unity of the proletariat with the communist party at its head.

The war of the Spanish people showed that in difficult and dangerous situations, when the outcome of the struggle was at stake, all other parties and organizations, except the communist party, gave up and capitulated: their policies and activities resulted in the disorganization of the masses.

Strengthening the communist party at every link in the chain, strengthening its initiatives, its close links to the masses and especially its independent activity — these are the conditions essential to reducing to a minimum the hesitations of one’s allies and overcoming any possible betrayal.

To overcome the external enemy, it is essential at the same time to destroy the internal enemy.

To defeat the enemy in the people’s revolution, it is essential to break the old state apparatus, which serves reaction, and replace it with a new apparatus which serves the working class.

[The horrors of Franco’s regime. The war has made things worse.] In this way, there can only be one conclusion about Spain since the defeat of the republic: the victory of reaction is insecure, Franco’s regime has not found a firm base in the country and the instability of the regime is increasing…In these circumstances the communist party is continuing, despite bloody repression, to reorganize and strengthen its ranks and collect around it forces ready to struggle against internal and external reaction…