Bilan 36: The order of the day: Don't betray!
THE ORDER OF THE DAY: DON’T BETRAY!
Our position can be utterly destroyed by a single sentence. Which? That when the Spanish workers are struggling resolutely against the fascist attack, fighting like lions against an enemy which gets its arms and ammunition from Hitler and Mussolini with the complicity of Blum and Eden; when they are making barricades out of their own bodies to stop the advance of the fascist hordes; when, in every country, there are hundreds and thousands of workers who are ready to join the battle front - your position serves only to demoralize the ranks of the fighters, facilitates the advance of the fascist enemy, and fragments the fronts where the workers are contesting every inch of the ground with Franco, behind whom stands the coalition of international fascism.
However, this sentence doesn’t constitute an argument. And, even if it’s able to get a bigger hearing - because of its demagogic appeal - than that found by our position, this doesn’t mean it expresses a genuine solidarity with the Spanish workers. It represents, in short, nothing but one more twist in the rope used to bind up the proletariat before turning it over to the forces who are leading the workers, their institutions and class, to the scaffold. Let us say again that in a discussion between different currents who claim to be working for the liberation of the workers from the capitalist yoke, it is not a question of engaging in a polemical battle aimed at alienating and silencing one’s adversary and his arguments. It is a question of presenting political positions and mobilizing those forces that can shape the struggle for the defence and the victory of the working class against the capitalist enemy. It is only on this terrain that political divergence can correspond to the interests of the workers in Spain and in every other country; only on this front can the energies of the working class be concentrated on building the barricades of defence and victory.
Waves of demagogy may drown us, but the ruthless momentum of events has not only left all our political positions intact, it has also confirmed them in the most tragic way; and this only because we remain unshakably anchored to the class interests of the proletariat. If we thought it could help the Spanish workers, we would swallow our words down to the last syllable. But we have, no choice but to view the anger of those militants who oppose us, not as a positive element in the resistance of the Spanish workers, but as another expression of the triumph of our class enemy’s stratagems. Capitalism can only win this new battle if it succeeds in mobilizing the most advanced sectors of the class and the revolutionary militants who struggle within these sectors. And it is doing this with the aid of the colossal mystification of anti-fascism, which is yet again proving to be a bed for fascism.
What is happening today is a most tragic confirmation of marxism. Much more than in an intermediary situation, the position of the working class in decisive moments can only be salvaged on the basis of class positions: anything else can only lead to the worst possible massacre of the workers. The slightest compromise brings with it (in exchange for illusions about having got something out of the struggle) the dismal certainty that the enemy has penetrated the ranks of the workers and is methodically preparing their downfall.
Yes. We have taken up a firm unshakeable decision concerning the events in Spain. At no price, under no circumstances, will we fall into the trap that is being laid for us. Our reply to the enemy who calls us to arms to fight against fascism is to proclaim the necessity to struggle against our own capitalism. The millions of workers who fell in the 1914-18 war believed that they were fighting in order to uproot the main obstacle preventing the emancipation of the working class, whether this was Czarism or Prussianism. But in reality they fell in order to safeguard the capitalist system and their corpses on both sides built a macabre barricade, the barricade of the bourgeoisie against the revolutionary onslaught of the masses. We will never ever forget this tragic lesson, and our watchword will be to strike against each sector of capitalism in order to undermine the system throughout the world.
On the question of bourgeois power, our watchword is again quite clear: the lesson of 1914 has taught us that under no pretext can we collaborate with the bourgeoisie. Against the alluring idea of penetrating the capitalist state in order to work within it either for socialism, or to block an attack by the forces of reaction, the millions of workers who fell in the struggle for ‘liberation’ are proof that collaboration with the bourgeoisie means the imprisonment and ruin of the workers. It means delivering the workers into the hands of the enemy.
Now we come to the events in Spain. What remains of the tragic lessons of 1914? Some people began to talk about the emergence of a revolutionary situation, only to add immediately that to unleash class struggle, to attack the capitalist state, destroy it and set up a proletarian power - all this would not be in the interests of the workers, but rather the fascist aggressors. One thing or the other is true: either a revolutionary situation does exist and you have to fight against capitalism, or it doesn’t. If the latter is the case then to speak of revolution to the workers, when unfortunately what is on the agenda can only be a defence of partial gains, is to hurl the masses into an abyss where they will be slaughtered. “The workers believe that they are fighting for socialism” Of course! It couldn’t be otherwise. It was the same in 1914. But is the task of revolutionary militants to go among the workers and say that the road to socialism is the one which leads to the destruction of the capitalist regime or the one which leads to the imprisonment of the workers within that regime?
But, we are told, we are not in 1914. In Spain there is not a confrontation between two imperialist armies in the service of contending states - or in any case, not yet. Today, fascism is on the attack and the workers are defending themselves. By participating in the armed struggle of the workers, by working for a military victory over fascism, we are not at all repeating the actions of those who led the workers to slaughter in 1914.
The lesson of the last war is indeed still cruelly vivid in the memory of the workers. Even the bait of a war against fascism is insufficient, and as soon as the workers see the various capitalist states enter the lists they will quickly understand that they are fighting and dying not for their own interests, but for the interests of their class enemy. Before the last war, the nationalist movements of each country were directed against each other, while socialism raised the banner of the unification of all peoples in order to maintain peace. Today the rightist movements in each country have established themselves everywhere, and it’s here that we have a re-edition of 1914 in a new form. The difference in form is a result both of the extreme tension in the relationship between the classes and the fact that capitalism today is forced to mislead and deceive the workers in order to be able to slaughter them by putting a new emblem on the same old flag - the flag defending and safeguarding the capitalist system. But, we are so often told, the events in Spain have not yet unfolded in the same way as the events in 1914, though they may do tomorrow. Still, as long as they haven’t reached that point, we must defend territories threatened by the fascist attack.
But isn’t the future something real? Can tomorrow be anything else than the development of what is happening today? The moment the workers set foot on a path which could lead to war, they have left their own path and have become the victims of forces which they can no longer outwit, because they have been politically disarmed by those forces the moment they get mixed up with them. Of, course a militant or a group can wash his hands of the whole thing as soon as there is no longer any doubt about the situation and the contending imperialist states intervene openly, but how can the mass of workers disengage themselves from the resulting turmoil? Moreover, wasn’t it clear that from the very beginning of the events in Spain, the different capitalist states were pulling the strings of the situation in order to ensure that the Spanish workers got crushed? And that means all states, the fascist and the democratic states, as well as the Soviet state. And what other way is there of dislodging these states except the class struggle in every ‘country? Doesn’t the slogan “Lift the blockade” simply prepare the ground for the next imperialist war? Isn’t it simply to go the way of Jouhaux, of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals, who have succeeded in suffocating movements of the class (the only response of the workers which can really express solidarity with the Spanish workers) by tying the workers to the capitalist state and pushing the latter towards a new imperialist war?
Our central position follows from the thesis (which everyone seems to admit as being beyond dispute) that fascism is simply the most savage expression of capitalism, so that it is only by attacking capitalism that the proletariat can defend its interests and thwart the enemy’s offensive. And it is really disconcerting when we hear that waging a class struggle against capitalism could actually serve the interests of capitalism. It is obvious that when we compare Barcelona to Seville there is a much greater possibility in Barcelona of waging a struggle against, capitalism, and it is incomprehensible that the energies of the proletariat there should be channelled not towards the struggle against the bourgeoisie, but in the opposite direction: towards the integration of the proletariat into the capitalist state. It should be recalled that the anarchists, in order to justify their entry into the Caballero government, argued that this was the only way of permitting the real arming of the workers which had been sabotaged by previous governments. We can understand the panic suffered by those who are caught up in the whirlpool of events, but to us this argument of the CNT is simply a repetition of what the reformists have always said: that we have to enter the ‘state’ apparatus in order to prevent it serving the interests of capitalism. The Spanish tragedy has added a new and dismal note to the tragedy of 1914.
“Unleashing the class struggle in regions which are not under fascist control would result in the fall of these territories and their occupation by Franco’s hordes.” That is the reply we get, an attempt to prove the impossibility of applying the positions we have defended since these events began. Apart from the fact that this has in no way been proved, there is another consideration: even if the defence of a class position had the result of hastening the tragic outcome of the situation - which would in any case show that the situation had been an extremely unfavourable one for the workers - then at least the arrival of the fascists would take place when the energies of the proletariat or at least part of the proletariat would still be strong. In such a situation, after a struggle which could only result in defeat, the enemy would at least have been unable to strangle the best elements of the proletariat by demoralizing the class as a whole.
Immediately after the workers’ uprising of 19 July Spanish capitalism followed a dual strategy in its efforts to strangle the proletarian class struggle. In the rural areas it resorted to the White Terror; in the working class centres it integrated the masses into the state apparatus, putting them under a general staff which would inevitably lead them into a massacre. Right from the beginning there were two main aspects to the situation. On the one hand, we saw capitalism each day gaining new positions of strength within the proletariat until it was able to direct the workers onto the fronts where they were slaughtered; on the other hand, we saw the workers, after fighting on their own class terrain in the first week, being pushed off it by the very forces in whom they had put their trust. Each time that the workers could have redressed the situation and rediscovered their terrain (ie after each military defeat), capitalism widened its field of manoeuvre and went from the Giral government to the Caballero government, and in the end to a government in which the anarchists participated. Thus capitalism was able to prevent the proletariat from drawing the lessons from its defeats, ensuring that the workers would continue to put their trust in those who could only lead them to the slaughter. Once you have been integrated into the apparatus of the class enemy, you are no longer working for the proletariat, but for capitalism.
In today’s extremely difficult situation, when the chances of resistance and victory are becoming more and more limited, those militants who still defend the need to return to struggle on a class basis find themselves exposed to the blows of a capitalist apparatus which in Valencia and in Catalonia can count on the support of all the organizations operating inside the proletariat. As in 1914 - indeed, even more so than in 1914 - the means for silencing the sightest voicing of class positions seem to have been found. Our fraction, which in Spain as in other countries has not neglected any possibility open to it, no matter how modest, of defending its positions; our fraction, which has always been guided, by the principle that, in order to earn the confidence of the masses, you must remain firmly on the terrain of the class struggle, and that any position won by the workers by struggling on a capitalist front is a position which can only, serve the interests of the class enemy; our fraction, which finds itself in a situation of agonizing isolation tragically illustrated by the corpses of the Spanish workers, remains convinced that what is being buried today is not the proletariat, but all those ideologists and forces which, because they are not armed with marxism, with the theory of the proletarian class, can do nothing but lead the workers to the slaughter.
The fascist hyenas can cynically say that, confronted ,with only 50,000 of its assassins, millions of workers have been unable to resist and win. But the hyena well knows that this has only been made possible because the workers have been forced from their own class terrain, because they have been led by the direct accomplices of Franco: the anti-fascists of all varieties.
The only way of remaining on the side of the workers, even if the crushing superiority of the enemy precludes any possibility of reversing the situation, is by refusing to betray, just as Lenin did in 1914. To desert the military fronts in Spain as an example for the whole proletariat is to disassociate oneself from capitalism. It is to struggle against capitalism and for the working class.
In every country to struggle against one’s own capitalism is to fight in solidarity with the Spanish workers. Any other position, no matter whether it is embellished with socialist, centrist, or anarchist justifications, can only lead to the crushing of the proletariat in Spain as in the rest of the world.
(Bilan, no.36, October-November 1936)