Bilan 36: The events of 19 July (1936)
The events of 19 July
First of all we must draw attention to certain facts. When news of the movement of 17 July in Morocco reached Madrid and Barcelona, the reaction of the capitalists was to wait and see how the proletariat would respond before deciding themselves what course of action to take. At first, as we pointed out in the last issue of Bilan, the Quiroga government was replaced by the government of Barrio in an attempt to carry out a peaceful move to the right. But because of the extent of the workers’ uprising in Catalonia and Madrid, this attempt failed miserably and Giral came to power. Meanwhile Barrio went off to Valencia where, in the name of the government, he tried to institutionalize the workers’ revolt.
The manner in which events unfolded after 17 July confirms our analysis. On 17 July the Barcelona seamen’s union seized a supply of arms from the ships Manuel Arnus, Argentina, Uruguay, and Marquis de Comillas (150 rifles plus ammunition). The union took them to its local. On the 18th, the eve of the military uprising, the police took away some of these arms.
After the 17th, leaders of various workers’ parties went to ask Companys for arms since it was public knowledge that the army would be out on the street at dawn on the following Sunday, only to have the leader of the Generalidad assure them that the Civil Guard and the Assault Guard were perfectly capable of dealing with the situation, and in any case, if they were beaten, the workers could then take the rifles from the dead and go into action. For Companys the best thing the workers could do on Saturday night and Sunday was to go home and wait for the outcome of the struggle.
But the turbulence of the Barcelona proletariat was reaching bursting point. On Sunday morning the entire proletariat – some armed in a make-shift way, but most unarmed – was in the streets. At five o’ clock the battle, broke out. Surrounded by the workers the Assault Guard and part of the Civil Guard were forced to march against the army. Soon the courage and heroism of the workers (among whom the militants of the CNT and FAI particularly distinguished themselves) had enabled them to take command of the most important positions in the city; here and there the soldiers fraternized with the workers, as for example at the Tarragona barracks. By that same evening the soldiers had been defeated and General
Goded capitulated. At this point the armament of the proletariat became general.
As for the Generalidad, it hid itself timidly in the face of the workers’ combativity. But despite the fact the workers who had previously asked it for arms had now taken them by force, it did not believe they would turn their guns against the Generalidad itself.
On Monday the 20th, the CNT followed by the UGT called for a general strike throughout Spain. But everywhere the workers were already in the streets. They had taken up arms but were putting forward their own class demands. The old differences between the CNT and the UGT, over the 36- or 40-hour week and the question of wages, all came up again during the course of the struggle since the workers had already begun to take over a number of companies. Also, on the 20th, militias to clean up Barcelona were formed. The Generalidad published a decree on the 21st which said, “First: citizens’ militias have been set up for the defence of the Republic and the struggle against fascism and reaction.” The Central Committee of the militias was comprised of a delegate from the advisory committee to the government, a delegate from the general commission for public order, and representatives of all the workers’ or political organizations struggling against fascism.
Thus from the 21st onwards, the Generalidad was trying to set its stamp on the initiative of the armed workers in order to contain their struggle within the limits of’ bourgeois legality.
On the 24th, the general strike continued and the POUM spoke of carrying on with it until fascism was crushed everywhere. But already the CNT, which dominated Barcelona, was calling for a return to work in the food industries and public services. The POUM published this appeal without criticism. However, class demands were still being discussed. The workers expropriated the central tram depot – the Metropolitan – and all other means of transport, including the railways. Once again, the Generalidad intervened to legalize the situation by making its own expropriations. Later on it took the initiative of expropriating certain companies before the workers could do so.
On the same day, the Esquerres front, which regrouped all the parties of the bourgeois left, received a letter from the POUM. At Companys’ invitation the POUM agreed to collaborate with all parties against fascism; but, after discussing it in its Executive Committee, refused to collaborate in a Popular Front government.
It seems that from the 24th onwards, under the pressure of the Generalidad, the majority of the workers’ organizations tried to hold back the movement of class demands. The social-centrists of Barcelona were against the strike; the CNT was calling for a return to work; the POUM still kept up its programme of demands but didn’t say whether it was for or against a return to work.
After the 24th, the departure of the militia columns to Saragossa was being organized. But it was necessary that the workers should go off feeling that their demands had been met. The Generalidad issued a decree saying wages for the strike days would be paid. But here again in the majority of the factories the workers, arms in hand, had already obtained some partial concessions.
Since the bourgeoisie had managed to bring the general strike to an end thanks to the role played by parties and trade unions who claimed to be a part of the proletariat, and since in the factories occupied by the workers, the 36 hour week had been established ipso facto – the Generalidad issued a decree on 26 July introducing the 40 hour week with a 15% increase in wages.
And so, while the Generalidad is strengthening its efforts to tame this outburst of social conflict, we come to the 28th, which already marked an important turning point in the situation. The POUM, which through the F.O.U.S. controlled the employees’ union (‘Commercial Union’) and a few other small companies, called on those workers who were not in the militias to return to work. It was necessary for them to create a mystique around the march on Saragossa. Let’s take Saragossa, the workers were told, then we can settle our scores with the Generalidad and Madrid.
By calling for a return to work, the POUM clearly expressed the change that had taken place and the success of the bourgeoisie’s manoeuvres. The bourgeoisie had managed to bring the general strike to an end first by issuing decrees to stifle the workers’ response, and finally by pushing the workers outside the towns towards the siege of Saragossa. But in Saragossa the general strike continued through phases of retreat and acceleration, and it was only much later that the workers would accede to Cabanellas’ ultimatum to return to work or be massacred. After that the workers no longer hoped for a resurgence of the strike movement, but for the victory of the government forces, and this allowed Cabanellas to organize the ferocious and bloody repression of the class.
According to the 29 August edition of La Batalla, the POUM’s newspaper, the workers of Saragossa continued the general strike for fifteen days. This is what their paper says: “On Sunday morning, 19 July (when the army came out onto the streets – editorial note), the workers immediately organized their resistance and the struggle lasted for a number of days. The strike was absolutely general fifteen days later and the shooting at the workers’ barricades continued long after that. There were still some unconquerable heroes who preferred to die rather than accept the rule of fascism.”
From 28 July onwards, the movement in Catalonia took on a different aspect. The expropriation of factories and the election of workers’ councils continued, but all this took place with the agreement of the delegates of the Generalidad, which obviously didn’t try to resist the armed workers since it knew that as long as the majority of the workers were engaged in the war, it would get what it wanted.
Already the outline of Spanish capital’s plan of attack was becoming clear. In the agricultural regions that had already experienced ‘repression at the hands of the Popular Front and where there was no longer a concentrated proletariat, the agrarian problem would be resolved by Franco through ferocious and bloody repression. In this department Franco is quite the equal of Mussolini or Hitler. In the industrial centres, especially in Catalonia, where the agrarian problem does not exist, it was necessary to attack the proletariat sideways on. Push it into a military trap, fragment its unity from within, but at all costs succeed in liquidating it as a class. In Madrid this task fell to the Popular Front. By making formal insubstantial concessions in Catalonia concerning economic management and political leadership, the Generalidad managed to incorporate the CNT and the POUM (that opportunistic party attached to the London Bureau, which has as one of its leaders the ex-Trotskyist, Nin, who is today Minister of Justice).
In Madrid after 19 July the general strike was simply the prolongation of the big building strike, which had lasted since June. And it came to an end only a few days after the strike in Catalonia was over, owing to the extreme state of confusion in the capital. Here the workers went out onto the streets on the Monday only, when in Barcelona the army had already been crushed. The Barrio government only lasted a few hours and its successor, formed by Giral, promised to give everything except the arms that the workers’ organizations had asked for. On Monday, without arms, the workers of Madrid made for the Montana barracks, which they soon took over. From then on all the barracks in Madrid began to fraternize with the workers and there was also a short battle on the outskirts of Madrid when the army tried to march on the city. On Tuesday the workers, now on general strike, were looking for their enemies and since everyone from the CNT to the social-centrists was proclaiming that the Popular Front was their ally – the avenging hand of the armed proletariat – the workers dispersed to the provinces of Madrid and took on the army at Guadarama. Here after a bloody but confused struggle the workers withdrew and the majority of them went back towards Madrid. There and then came the call for an end to the strike and the organization of the columns.
As in Barcelona and the rest of Spain, the workers, who from February 1936 had been told to regard the Popular Front as a trusty ally, had gone into the streets on 19 July without being able to use their arms in a way that would have allowed them to smash the capitalist state and beat Franco. They left Giral in Madrid and Companys in Barcelona at the head of the state apparatus contenting themselves with the burning of churches and the ‘cleaning up’ of capitalist institutions like the social security, the police, the Civil Guard and the Assault Guard. Certainly in Catalonia they expropriated the essential branches of production, but the banking system was left intact with the same capitalist function as before.
We shall examine these events in greater detail elsewhere, when we have more thorough documentation.
From the 19-28 July, the situation was such that the armed workers, at least in Barcelona, could have taken power – albeit in a confused manner, but nevertheless in such a way as to constitute a powerful historic experience. The march to Saragossa saved the bourgeoisie. La Batalla, organ of the so-called ‘marxist’ party, declared that the eyes of the world revolutionary movement were concentrated on Saragossa. But from 27 July the bourgeoisie was already cautiously feeling its way forward. At Figueras, after beating the fascists, militants of the CNT were disarmed by the Civil Guard and the militias of the Popular Front. At this point the CNT issued an appeal to the masses, calling on them to shoot anyone who tried to disarm them. The Generalidad took heed of the warning. From now on it would use other methods.
On 2 August there was a new attempt by the Generalidad to institutionalize the situation: it decided to call several classes to arms. The soldiers refused to go off to the front unless they were in the militias. The CNT immediately took up a position: “Militiamen - Yes! Soldiers - Never!” Meanwhile the POUM called for the dissolution – not the destruction – of the army. Of course the Generalidad tolerated all of this, satisfied with being able to tie the Central committee of Anti-Fascist militias to the Generalidad’s Department of Defence.
The composition of the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist militias was as follows: 3 delegates from the CNT, 3 delegates from the UGT, 2 delegates from the FAI, 1 delegate from the Republican Left, 2 from the United Socialists, 1 delegate from the ‘League of Rabassaires’ (small farmers under the influence of the Catalan Left), 1 delegate from the coalition of Republican parties, 1 delegate from the POUM and 4 representatives of the Generalidad (the defence councillor, Colonel Sandino; the general commissioner of public order, the prefect of Barcelona; and 2 delegates of the Generalidad without fixed responsibilities).
From the point of view of the political evolution of the situation the proletariat of Madrid was quickly shunted on to the bourgeoisie’s terrain; in Barcelona this process took several weeks more of war and further manoeuvring.
On 30 July in Madrid, La Pasionaria declared that it was a question of defending the bourgeois revolution, which still had to be completed. On 1 August the police remained active in Madrid and Mundo Obrero, following Giral’s attempt to take away the militia’s right of arrest, spoke of the need to clear up the ‘confusion’ by convincing the Popular Front that the militias were acting in the interest of order.
On 3 August Mundo Obrero proclaimed that it would defend the property of the friends of the Republic. And it also said: “No strikes in democratic Spain.” There was to be no rest for the workers on the labour front! Its whole programme can be summed up in a few words: after having beaten fascism, the Republican Left would remember the workers’ actions leading up to 19 July and would do everything possible to prevent a return to that situation.
On 8 August, Jesus Hernandos made a resounding speech, toasting the workers’ struggle for the bourgeois democratic Republic and nothing else. On 18 August the centrists were able to say that the struggle in Spain had taken on the aspect of a national war, a war for the independence of Spain. For them what was necessary was the creation of a new peoples’ army composed of the old officers and the militias. From this point on they would become the partisans of severe discipline.
When the Giral cabinet came into being all the Caballeros and the Prietos called for the formation of a Commission of the Popular Front, linked to the Ministry of War, in which they would participate. By this means they would become ‘official’ ministers.
As for Barcelona – now that it had entered into the latest phase of the war for Saragossa, which was presented as a precondition for ‘resolving’ the social question, Solidaridad Obrera (Workers’ Solidarity) of 1 August greeted the dawn of a new era, the beginning of the period leading to the establishment of libertarian communism.
When the Casanova administration was set up following the departure of the delegates of the PSUC (United Socialist Party of Catalonia, members of the IIIrd International) from the government, the CNT insisted that while the newly formed government was not a true expression of all the gains the workers had made, nonetheless, the CNT would give it total support.
Throughout the first week of August, the CNT mobilized the masses to fight on the Aragon front, insisting that this was no regular army, but a battalion of volunteers in which every officer of the old army would be supervised by a militiaman. In the end, it put forward an idea previously completely unknown to the anarchists: that of military discipline. But then the CNT was soon to be absorbed in the problem of controlling the initiative of the workers in the economic sphere as well, in order to keep up maximum output for the war.
On 14 August, Solidaridad Obrera openly declared that relations of war production had been set up in the economic sphere. We will however examine this aspect of the question separately when we look at the economic measures and the new social and political institutions that emerged in Catalonia.
We have yet to mention the position of the POUM. Far from being a party capable of moving towards revolutionary positions, the POUM is simply an amalgam of opportunist tendencies (Left Socialists, Communists of the extreme Right, Trotskyists), and an obstacle to any revolutionary clarification. The schema that has determined the POUM’s intervention has been more or less the following: the Bolsheviks fought first against Czarism, then against the bourgeoisie and its Menshevik agents. Without the Cheka and the Red Army, the Bolsheviks would have been unable to defeat their internal and external enemies (La Batalla, 4 August). Thus, the POUM should fight first against fascism, then against the bourgeoisie: just like Nenni fighting Mussolini first, then the bourgeoisie: just like Breitscheid fighting Hitler first, then the bourgeoisie… As if Lenin in April 1917, in opposition to Stalin and Kamenev, did not defend a programme of struggle against all forms of bourgeois rule. As if it were possible to fight against fascism without engaging in a struggle against the whole capitalist system.
The meaning of the new institutions
First of all we must mention something of central importance that sheds a great deal of light on the whole situation. When the capitalist attack came in the form of Franco’s uprising, neither the POUM nor the CNT even dreamed of calling the workers to go out into the streets. They organized delegations to go to Companys for arms. On 19 July the workers came out spontaneously – by calling for a general strike the CUT and UGT were simply acknowledging a de facto state of affairs.
Since Companys, Giral, and their ilk were immediately regarded as allies of the proletariat, as the people who could supply the keys to the arms depot, it was quite natural that when the workers crushed the army and took up arms no one would think for a moment of posing the problem of the destruction of the state which, with Companys at its head, remained intact. From then on an attempt was made to spread the utopian idea that it is possible to make the revolution by expropriating factories and taking over land without touching the capitalist state, not even its banking ‘system.
The constitution of the Central Committee of the militias gave the impression that a period of proletarian power had begun; while the setting up of the Central Council of the Economy gave rise to the illusion that the proletariat was now managing its own economy.
However, far from being organs of dual power, these organs had a capitalist nature and function. Instead of constituting a base for the unification of the proletarian struggle – for posing the question of power – they were from the beginning organs of collaboration with the capitalist state.
In Barcelona the Central Committee of the militias was a conglomeration of workers’ and bourgeois parties and trade unions; not an organ of the soviet type arising spontaneously on a class basis and capable of providing a focus for the development of proletarian consciousness. The Central Committee was connected to the Generalidad and disappeared with the passing of a simple decree when the new government of Catalonia was formed in October.
The Central Committee of the militias represented a superb weapon of capitalism for leading the workers out of their towns and localities to fight on the territorial fronts where they are being ruthlessly massacred. It is the organ that established order in Catalonia, not in conjunction with the workers, but against the workers who had been dispersed to the fronts. It is true that the regular army was practically dissolved, but it is gradually being reconstituted within the militia columns whose general staff – Sandino, Villalba and Co. – are clearly bourgeois. The columns are made up of volunteers and this will probably remain the case until the intoxication and illusion in the ‘revolution’ is over and capitalist reality is restored. Then we will soon see the official re-establishment of a regular army and obligatory service.
Far from being the embryo of a Red Army, the columns were set up on a basis having nothing whatever to do with the proletariat. If this were not the case, we would have seen the workers destroying the capitalist state and taking power, or at least turning their guns against the state. The militia columns did nothing of the sort. All that happened was that the Catalonian columns went off, to Saragossa and Huesca; the Madrid columns to Toledo and Guadarama. The armed workers were thrown into the struggle against fascism, not against capitalism in all its forms. Under these conditions all the democratic forms that in the beginning existed within the columns, have no real importance. What is important is the tendency the militias follow and this was quite clearly that of the Popular Front: the anti-fascist struggle which not only respects the organs of capitalist domination, but actually strengthens them, thanks to the support given them by the anarchists and the POUM who have entered into the ministries of government.
In Madrid the militias were practically under the control of Caballero’s Department of War, which supplied non-commissioned officers to the different organizations that were forming columns.
While the main part of the regular army went over to Franco, the Popular Front and its allies, by organizing the militias, have been trying to push the workers away from the terrain of the class struggle towards the formation of a new regular army. This is why, despite all their courage, the workers are being crushed. On the military terrain Franco is in his element, whereas men like Companys and Caballero are pursuing a social not a military strategy, designed to get the workers massacred. With their incorporation into the army, the workers have lost the strength needed to rediscover the path that allowed them to beat the army in Barcelona and Madrid on 19 July.
Let us now take a look at the other instruments of capitalist rule. The Civil Guard (which distinguished itself in the massacre of the workers under the monarchy) was transformed into a Republican National Guard. It is true that in Barcelona the CNT proceeded to clean up this institution, but it still remained intact and was even embellished by the entry of anarchist militants into its ranks. In Madrid the Civil Guard remained intact and jealously guarded the strong-boxes of capitalism: the banks.
The only real exception occurred in Valencia where the workers of the Iron Column (CNT) opposed the agreement fixed on by their own organization, which merely asked the Civil Guard to give up its rifles. In this instance the workers came back from the front, forced the Civil Guard at the point of their machine-guns to disarm itself completely, and burnt the police archives. In Madrid it was soon understood that it would be best to withdraw the Civil Guard and the Assault Guard and allow the setting up under the auspices of the Popular Executive Committee (a sort of Popular Front) of an Anti-Fascist Popular Guard, which would also maintain order behind the lines. The Assault Guard (which the workers came up against under the Republic) remains intact and in Barcelona is extremely well armed.
Concerning the Department of Criminal Investigation, there was simply a clean-up operation of this institution, which remained intact. In France Blum replaces functionaries by decree and democratizes the state: in Spain functionaries are replaced at gunpoint in order to ‘proletarianize’ capitalist institutions. In Barcelona the anarchists have taken command of the Department of Criminal Investigation first in the form of an Investigation Section of the Central Committee of the militias, today in the form of the Department of Safety whose general secretary is the CNT militant, Fernandez.
In Madrid, at the beginning of October, after the proclamation of the militarization decree, all the vigilance committees of the political and trade union organizations were subordinated to the Department of Public Safety. Neither in Barcelona nor in Madrid have the lists of spies, sent by the political police into the workers’ organizations, been published. And this is significant.
Tribunals were quickly set in motion again, through the utilization of the magistrate apparatus of the old regime and the participation of the ‘anti-fascist’ organizations. The popular tribunals of Catalonia, both the initial version, then the ‘extremist’ version (following the decree by the POUM minister, Nin), were always based on collaboration between the professional magistrates and the representatives of all the parties, though Nin’s suppression of the popular jury was an innovation. In Madrid the percentage of professional magistrates was higher than in Barcelona, but after October Caballero issued decrees aimed at simplifying the procedure for passing judgment on fascists. Thus he achieved the same exalted ends as Nin.
Only one institution was swept away in earnest in Catalonia: the Church. Since the Church is not an essential instrument of capitalist rule, this simply gave the masses the impression that a real transformation had taken place, whereas it is actually very easy to rebuild churches and equip them with new priests as long as the essentials of the capitalist regime still exist.
If one considers another, factor, it can immediately be seen that the Church is not the nub of the problem. The banks and the Bank of Spain remained intact, and everywhere precautionary measures were taken to prevent them being taken over by the masses, by force of arms if necessary. The contrast between the extremism exhibited in the demolition of the churches and the passivity displayed in regard to the banks is the key to the present events, in which the masses have been pushed to demolish the marginal elements of the capitalist system, but not the system itself.
Let us now look at two forms of organization that were set up in opposition to each other: the factory councils and the Council of the Economy of Catalonia.
When the workers went back to work in the factories where the bosses had fled or had been shot by the masses, factory councils were set up as an expression of the expropriation of these companies by the workers.
Here the trade unions intervened very quickly, setting up a procedure that would allow proportional representation in places where the CNT and the UGT had members. Moreover, although the workers returned to work on condition that they would be getting a 36 hour week and a wage increase, the unions intervened to defend the need to work at full output for the war effort, without worrying too much about the regulation of work or about wages.
The factory committees and the committees for the control of industries which were not expropriated (out of consideration for foreign capital or for other reasons) were thus immediately smothered; transformed into organs for stimulating production, they lost their class content. They were not organs created during an insurrectionary strike in order to overthrow the state; they were organs whose function was the organization of the war, and this was an essential precondition for the survival and reinforcement of the state.
After being put under the control of the unions to further the anti-fascist war effort, from 11 August onwards the factory committees were linked to the Council of the Economy which, according to official decree, was “the deliberative organization for the conclusion of agreements on economic matters between the various organizations represented on it (Catalan Republican State, 3; United Socialist Party, 1; CNT, 3; FAI, 2; POUM, 1; UGT, 3; Catalan Action, 1; Republican Union, 1) and the Generalidad government, which would carry out the agreements reached through these deliberations.”
Henceforward the workers became prisoners inside the factories, which they thought they could take over without destroying the capitalist state. Soon afterwards, in October, the workers in the factories were militarized under the pretext of opening up a new era and winning the war. Right from the beginning, the Council of the Economy claimed to be working for socialism in harmony with the Republican parties and the Generalidad. No more, no less. The man who – on paper – was carrying out this “first step from capitalism to socialism” was Mr. Nin, who elaborated the Council’s eleven points. By the end of September the new ‘workers’’ minister in the Generalidad was given the task of making this first step, but by then the mystification and dupery of the whole thing was more obvious.
The most interesting fact here is this. Following the expropriation of companies in Catalonia, their co-ordination through the Council of the Economy in August, and the government decree of October laying down the norms for ‘collectivization’, after each one of these steps came new measures for disciplining the workers in the factories – discipline they would never have put up with under the old bosses. In October the CNT issued an order forbidding defensive struggle of any kind and stating that the workers’ most sacred duty was to increase production. Apart from the fact that we have already rejected the Soviet fraud, which consists of the physical assassination of the workers in the name of “building socialism”, we declare openly that for us the struggle in the factories cannot cease for a moment as long as the domination of the capitalist state continues. Certainly the workers will have to make sacrifices after the proletarian revolution, but a revolutionary will never advocate the cessation of defensive struggles as a way of achieving socialism. Even after the revolution we will not deprive the workers of the strike weapon, and it goes without saying that when the proletariat is not in power – as is the case in Spain – the militarization of the factories is the same as the militarization of the factories in any capitalist state at war.
To become the weapon of the revolution, the factory councils would have had to allow the workers to enter into a struggle against the state; but since the workers’ organizations immediately allied themselves with the Generalidad, this was impossible without a struggle against the CNT, UGT, etc. Thus all talk of ‘dual power’ in Catalonia is just empty chatter. It is obvious that these forms of working class struggle did not appear in Valencia or Madrid, but we lack the space to examine in more detail the initiatives taken by the workers in these two centres.
Before returning to an analysis of the actual events, we would like to say a few words about the agrarian question. It is true that there were a lot of innovations in this sphere. In Catalonia a decree was issued for the obligatory ‘syndicalization’ of various agricultural activities (sale of products, buying of agricultural materials, insurance, etc). In addition, it is clear that after 19 July the ‘rabassaires’ (small holders) got rid of a whole series of rents and taxes, while in areas where the land belonged to owners suspected of fascist sympathies, the land was divided up under the auspices of anti-fascist committees. But following this, first the Council of the Economy, then in October the Council of the Generalidad, set about containing these initiatives and channelling them towards the needs of the war economy which was being set in motion.
Already in August, part II of the programme of the Council of the Economy spoke of “the collectivization of big, landed property which will be cultivated by the peasants’ unions with the help of the Generalidad” (our emphasis). Following this, and particularly in September and October, the slogan of the CNT and the other organizations was: “We respect the property of the small peasants”. In other words, peasants, get back to work! Finally, there was a reaction against forced collectivization and the Agricultural Council hastened to reassure the peasants who were only interested in certain general measures to do with the selling of goods and the purchase of materials, that “the collectivization of land must be limited to big landed properties that have been confiscated”. In Valencia when things went into a reflux, there was also a tendency to set up committees for the export of oranges, rice, onions, etc, while the land belonging to fascists was confiscated by the peasants who worked these estates in a collectivized manner because of the sheer necessities of cultivation (eg the problem of irrigation).
In Madrid the Communist Minister of Agriculture, Uribe, issued a decree in October in which he specified “the authorization of the expropriation, without compensation and with the state’s favour, of agricultural properties of whatever size or type, belonging after July 1936 to natural or legal personages who intervened directly or indirectly in the insurrectionary movement against the Republic.”
In essence these were no more than the measures of war which any bourgeois state would take against the ‘enemy’. The only difference was that Uribe and Co. had to take into account the intervention of the peasant masses, who after 19 July went much further than the provisions set out by such decrees. But even if it were conceded that an ‘agrarian revolution’ was carried out in Spain, it would still have to be shown that this was the crux of the situation and not the reinforcement of the capitalist state in the cities, which is precisely what makes such a mockery of any idea of a profound and lasting revolutionary transformation of agriculture and economic relations. We have not exhausted all these problems in the brief examination we have attempted here. We will deepen this analysis in further studies with the aid of documentation.
The massacre of the workers
Throughout the month of August the rush towards the territorial fronts continued, amid the enthusiasm of the workers. “We are threatening Huesca, we are marching triumphantly on Saragossa, now we are encircling Teruel.” Such was the recurring theme all the organizations repeated to the workers for two months. But parallel to this, all the organizations intervened in an attempt to substitute the decisions and initiatives taken among themselves for the initiatives taken by the workers behind the lines.
On 19 August the POUM intervened with an editorial whose main message was: “The regular organs created by the Revolution itself, are the only organs responsible for the administration of revolutionary justice.”
Round about the same time, the Barcelona edition of Anti-Fascist Spain published an interview with Companys in which the latter insisted that the CNT and FAI are today representatives of order and that the Catalan bourgeoisie is not a capitalist bourgeoisie, but a humanitarian progressive bourgeoisie…(1)
On the 22nd, under the slogan “Hasta el fin!” (To the end!), an expedition to Majorca was organized. Thousands of Catalan workers were thrown into this adventure, the majority of whom had to be evacuated back towards Barcelona, amid a total silence on the part of the anti-fascist front. This experience, which clearly showed the willingness of the ‘humanitarian’ bourgeoisie of Catalonia to plunge the workers into a military massacre, led to the establishment of a closer liaison between the War Committee of the Central Committee of the militias and the Generalidad’s Department of War.
On the 25th, the aggravation of the military situation had its repercussions on the relationship existing between the various organizations. The POUM echoed this by demanding that the cordial relations between the militiamen at the front should also exist behind the lines. Addressing the CNT, the POUM said that they both totally shared the same revolutionary élan and that the masses’ unity of action must be maintained at all costs. But on the 25th Solidaridad Obrera wrote that at its last plenum, the CNT had drawn up an agreement providing for the disarmament of 60% of the militiamen belonging to the different parties. The militiamen would carry out this act themselves or else the CNT would make sure it was done. The main slogan of the plenum was: “all arms to the front.”
The CNT thus made it clear that as far as it was concerned the violent struggle behind the lines – in the cities – was now finished and there was only one front left for the workers to fight on: the military front.
All the parties shared this point of view. On the 29th a decree of the Central Committee of the militias was published, saying that those who were in possession of arms must immediately hand them over or go off to the front. From now on Companys could rub his hands together in satisfaction.
All this time the whole farce of non-intervention was going on. All the capitalist states and Soviet Russia were in agreement about facilitating the dispatch of powerful arms to Franco and the expedition of columns of foreign workers to Companys and Caballero. All the states were keen to intervene in Spain in order to lend a hand to the massacre of the workers, all within the framework of ‘non-intervention’. Italy and Germany supplied arms to Franco, Blum facilitated the formation of “proletarian foreign legions” (Solidaridad Obrera), but kept watch over the sending of arms.
From this point on, the POUM and the CNT understood the help of the international proletariat to mean the workers putting pressure on their governments to send “aeroplanes to Spain”. These aeroplanes and tanks would come from Russia when militarization had been carried out in Spain and the Spanish workers had lost any chance of avoiding a massacre at the hands of Franco. We will examine all this later on.
On 1 September Mr. Nin, at a meeting of the POUM, defended the idea that “our revolution is more profound than the one Russia made in 1917”. Perhaps the reason for this is that in Spain the masses are being called upon to make the revolution without destroying the capitalist state? For him, the originality of the Spanish revolution resides in the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat is being exerted by all the parties and trade union organizations (including the parties of the bourgeois Left under Mr. Companys). But on 1 September during the time leading up to the fall of Irún, the Barcelona newspapers and above all La Batalla issued a joyful cry: “The fall of Huesca is imminent.” The day after they were saying that, “We are in the outlying streets of Huesca”, but the days and weeks passed without any outcome and, in the end, they were whispering that the Commander-in-Chief of the government forces, Villalba, was a traitor, that it was all his fault, etc… On 2 September, the POUM further ‘deepened’ the revolution by dissolving its trade union organization into the UGT (2) under the pretext of injecting a revolutionary vaccine into the latter.
But the defeat at Irún, and the betrayal by elements of the Popular Front, was soon known about. In La Batalla and Solidaridad a campaign was launched against those who, like Prieto, were in favour of a compromise with the fascists.
“What happened at Badajoz? What happened at San Sebastián?” asked the POUM. And the POUM’s answer was that what was needed was a workers’ government.
The reaction of the CNT and the social-centrists in Barcelona to the Majorca adventure and the betrayals at Badajoz and Irún was to launch a mighty campaign for the unification of the command and centralization of the militias. But at this point, the attention of the masses was directed towards Huesca, since it was being said everywhere that “the encirclement of Huesca is complete” and that its fall was imminent.
Here the Caballero government made its debut, presenting itself with a ‘constitutional programme’ and setting itself the task of creating a unified command for waging the war. “Hasta el fin!” Badajoz and Irún were quickly forgotten and when the Basque nationalists handed San Sebastián over to Franco’s armies, the Caballero government set up a Basque Department to formulate legal statutes for a free Basque state.
Caballero, who had tried to bring the CNT into his ministry, now contented himself with the technical support the latter gave him, and got down to organizing the defeat at Toledo and the fall of Madrid.
Before this had happened, the POUM (La Batalla, 11 September) saluted the Caballero cabinet as a progressive government compared to Giral, but declared that if it was to be a true workers’ government, it would have to incorporate all the proletarian parties and above all the CNT and FAI (and of course the POUM). For these reasons it stuck to its slogan of a workers’ government based on a Constituent Assembly of workers and soldiers. Mundo Obrero, organ of the Madrid centrists, who held several ministries in the government, issued an appeal which demanded “everything for the government and by the government.”
On the 12th we were “on the outskirts of Huesca”.
But on the 13th Huesca had still not been taken, and it became necessary to try to normalize life in Catalonia in expectation of a long war. The CNT made an address to the peasants, stating that it only wanted to collectivize the big estates and that it would respect the small-holders. Its slogan was: “To work, peasants”. The POUM publicly expressed its agreement with this and continued miserably to tail-end the CNT, regularly throwing bouquets in its direction, only to have them publicly disavowed by the CNT.
On the 20th a campaign began in Madrid in favour of re-establishing a regular army. The social-centrists were the ones who started it. The POUM accepted the principle of ... a Red Army. The CNT maintained a disdainful silence and got on with organizing the national plenum of its regional bodies in Madrid.
This plenum took the following decisions: to begin a campaign for the creation of a National Council of Defence based on regional Councils, which would have the task of leading the struggle against fascism and the struggle for the construction of a new kind of economy. The composition of the National Council of Madrid should be: five representatives for the CNT, five for the UGT, four for the Republican parties. Largo Caballero would become President of the Council with Azaña remaining at the head of the Republic. The programme included the elimination of voluntary service, a unified command, etc....
These propositions immediately gave rise to an animated polemic. But two essential things had happened: the anarchists would enter the ministries providing they changed their names. Claridad, Caballero’s paper, said this was not too much of a problem. Secondly, the anarchists accepted the principle of militarization – the same anarchists who on 2 August had told the workers of Barcelona to refuse to be soldiers, to agree only to be the people’s militiamen.
In the meantime, the military situation got worse. Toledo was about to fall and we were still “in the outlying streets of Huesca.” The threat to Madrid grew sharper.
On 26 September the crisis of the Generalidad government began. The next day the new government was constituted: the CNT, the POUM, and the social-centrists participated in it. The programme of this ‘workers’ government’, in which the parties of the bourgeois Left participated as representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, included a unified command, discipline, elimination of voluntary service, etc
A few days later Mr. Caballero judged that the moment had come to issue his famous decree on the militarization of the militias and the application of the military code in this new military army. In Madrid the decree came into force after 10 October; in the surrounding regions where it was necessary to manoeuvre much longer against the proletariat, the decree wasn’t put into effect until the 20th. The setting up of the new Council of the Generalidad and Caballero’s decree came just in time to prevent workers from asking: “What happened at Toledo? Why are we always ‘about to take Huesca’? How come Oviedo, which was going to be taken by the miners, was so easily rescued by fascist reinforcements? Why are we getting massacred, and for whose benefit? Caballero, Companys, Sandino, Villalba, the whole Republican general staff – now joined by people like Grossi, Durruti, Ascasso – aren’t they the same people who in 1931, 1932, and 1934 made a red carpet out of our corpses and laid it at the feet of the Right? When we’ve got traitors leading the military operations, is it any wonder we are being defeated and massacred?”
The workers didn’t have time to ask themselves these questions. If they had’ve had it would have meant abandoning the territorial fronts and unleashing an armed struggle against both’ Caballero and Franco. The workers didn’t have time to take such a course of action, which is still the only one that would make it possible for the workers to put an end to fascism because they would be putting an end to capitalism as well. The new Council of the Generalidad is keeping them in line in Catalonia. The decree concerning the militarization of Madrid, with its threat of serious punishments for those who resist, is doing a similar job in the other regions.
Things now began to develop very quickly. In Catalonia a simple decree dissolved the anti-fascist Central Committee (that had lent a ‘revolutionary’ gloss to the manoeuvres of capital), since as the CNT delegate Garcia Oliver said, “We are all represented on the Council of the Generalidad.” All the anti-fascist committees were dissolved and replaced by ‘ayuntamientos’ (the traditional municipalities). Not one institution from 19 July survived, and a second decree stated that any attempt to reconstitute organs outside the municipalities would be considered an act of sedition.
On 11 October came the CNT’s “Trade union regulations”: the decree on the militarization and mobilization of Catalonia. On the same day the Soviet ship, Zanianine, put in at the port of Barcelona to indicate with much pomp that the USSR had broken with the policy of ‘non-intervention’ and had come at last to the aid of the Spanish workers.
The trade union regulations of the CNT absolutely forbade any demands for new working conditions “as long as we are at war”, especially if they threatened to aggravate the economic situation. They stated that in branches of production directly or indirectly related to the anti-fascist struggle, it was not possible to demand the maintenance of working conditions, either in terms of wages or the length of the working day. Finally, the workers could not ask to be paid for the extra hours put into production useful for the anti-fascist war; instead they had to produce even more than before 19 July.
It was up to the trade unions, the committees, and delegates from factory, shop and yard, with the “co-operation of revolutionaries”, to make sure that these regulations were enforced. The militarization of the militias replaced the levy of workers and peasants collected to fight on the fronts in the name of a war for ‘socialism’; the appeal to class interests was replaced by an appeal to the whole population to fight fascism as an ‘armed nation struggling for freedom’.
Certainly the POUM and CNT had to carry on with their manoeuvres in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses, to disguise militarization as a vital necessity which class vigilance (?) would prevent from being transformed into a measure for strangling the workers. But the essential point is that militarization was strictly carried out. All this shows us that capitalism had succeeded in crucifying the workers at the front, that Caballero and his ‘revolutionary’ allies had meticulously prepared these military catastrophes. Henceforth, the massacre of the workers in Spain took the form of an essentially bourgeois war in which the workers were slaughtered by two regular armies – that of democracy and that of fascism.
And on the same day that the militarization decree was passed, in Barcelona the Soviet ship Zanianine docked, symbolizing Russia’s turn towards Spain. Russia intervened with arms and technicians only after the constitution of Caballero’s regular army had clearly shown that what was going on was a bourgeois war. Let us not forget that at the beginning of these events, Russia had been busy with the murder of Zinoviev, Kamenev and all the others. Now it could pass directly on to the business of murdering the Spanish workers, for whom Russian tanks and planes would be a powerful argument in favour of their being incorporated into a bourgeois army, led by men well versed in the massacre of workers.
In Madrid up until the constitution of the new ministry (or Council as the anarchists called it), the CNT was against militarization. In Frente Libertario (the publication of the confederated militias of the CNT in Madrid) of 27 October, one could still find this position: “Militias or National Army? We are for popular militias!” But here again the position of the CNT was based on shameful opportunism. As long as it was not part of the government and was unable to control military operations, it kept up a token opposition.
As we know, Caballero managed to kill two birds with one stone, reshuffling his cabinet eight days before fleeing to Valencia. The anarchists entered the ‘Council’ and thus sanctioned not only militarization and the creation of a National Army, but also the whole work of Caballero, who after the fall of Toledo allowed and even facilitated the fascist advance on Madrid. Each time the proletariat was plunged into a bloodbath, the bourgeoisie took another step towards the extreme left. From Giral to Caballero in Madrid; from Casanovas to Fabregas-Nin in Catalonia; and today Garcia Oliver is a minister and representatives of the Socialist and Libertarian Youth of Madrid have entered the Defence Junta.
This then was the rhythm of events. In Catalonia under the banner of the ‘revolutionary’ Council of the Generalidad, we had the alliance between the anarchists and the social-centrists to prevent the workers from struggling for their class interests and to keep them out in the murderous rain of bullets and shells. “Hasta el fin!” In Madrid Caballero left for Valencia, but the workers stayed behind to be massacred – the price they paid for the tragic aberration that had led them to entrust their fate to agents of capitalism and traitors. How right was General Mola when he said: “I have five columns marching on Madrid: four outside the city and one on the inside.” The fifth column – Caballero and Co. – has done its work in Madrid and now, fraternally united with the CNT and the POUM, they are going to follow up that work in the other regions. After Madrid capitalism will mount its frenzied assault on the proletariat of Barcelona and Valencia.
Here we must finish our study of the events in Spain, even though we are well aware of the insufficiency of our analysis of this period we describe as that of “the massacre of the workers”. We will come back to this in the next issue of Bilan; right now we must finish with a brief declaration of the positions our fraction defends against the mystification of anti-fascism.
We address ourselves vehemently to the proletarians of all countries so that they may not sanction the massacre of the workers in Spain by sacrificing their own lives. They must refuse to go off to Spain in the international brigades, but instead engage in class struggle against their own bourgeoisie. The Spanish proletariat must not be supported at the front by foreign workers, whose presence gives the impression that the struggle is really for the international cause of the proletariat.
As for the workers of the Iberian Peninsula, they have but only one road today, that of 19 July: strikes in all industries whether engaged in the war or not; class struggle against Companys and against Franco; against the ukases (edicts) of their trade unions and the Popular Front; and for the destruction of the capitalist state.
And the workers should not be alarmed if people proclaim that to fight like this would be to do the work of fascism. Only charlatans and traitors can pretend that by fighting against capitalism – which holds sway in Barcelona no less than in Seville – you are doing the work of fascism. The revolutionary proletariat must remain loyal to its own class conceptions, its own class weapons; every sacrifice that it makes in this cause will bear fruit in the revolutionary battles of tomorrow.
(Bilan, no.36, October-November 1936)
 “Question: Isn’t the daily preponderate role of’ the CNT in Catalonia injurious to the democratic government?
Companys: No. The CNT has taken up the responsibilities abandoned by the bourgeois and fascists who fled: it is establishing order and defending society. It is now the incarnation of Strength, Legality, and Order.
Question: Don’t you think that once the revolutionary proletariat has crushed fascism it will then wipe out the bourgeoisie?
Companys: Don’t forget that the Catalan bourgeoisie is different from the bourgeoisie of certain democratic countries in Europe. Capitalism is dead, completely dead. The fascist uprising was its suicide. Our government, though bourgeois, doesn’t defend financial interests of any sort; it defends the middle classes. Today we are moving towards a proletarian order. Our interests will perhaps suffer a bit because of this, but we see it as our duty to remain useful to the process of social transformation. We don’t want to give exclusive privileges to the middle classes. We want to create democratic individual rights without social or economic compulsion.” , (From an interview Companys gave to the News Chronicle on 21 August and reproduced by La Vanguardia of Barcelona, paper of the Catalan government, and by Anti-Fascist Spain, the publication ofthe CNT-FAI, 1 September.)
 General Union of Workers (reformists).