‘Bilan’ – Lessons of Spain 1936
For a long time we have been working on the project of reproducing the work of Bilan, the publication of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, which was published during what was perhaps the blackest period in the history of the workers’ movement: the period leading from Hitler’s triumph in Germany to the second, imperialist world war. But until now our wish to do so was not, in itself, enough to surmount the difficulties and problems posed by our lack of means and scarce resources.
Bilan, a small review of the 30s, was totally unknown to the general public and hardly better known by the militants of the extreme left. Not having behind it prestigious names like Pannekoek, Trotsky or Rosa Luxemburg, Bilan was not a commercial proposition and did not arouse the interest either of the big publishing houses or the self-styled ‘left wing’ publishers. Neither was it of any interest to the student movement of the 60s, which submerged itself in ‘contestation’ and anti-authoritarian politics and, in the process, drew its sustenance from Marcuse; discovered the ‘sexual revolution’ with Reich; worshipped idols like Castro and Che Guevara; and wallowed in black, anti-racist racism and mystifications about ‘national liberation’, Third Worldism, and, support for the ‘liberating’ war in Vietnam. Indeed, as far as the SDS of Germany, the USA, and elsewhere were concerned, with their contempt for a working class they saw as being totally integrated into capitalism, what could they look for and find in Bilan except ‘old-fashioned marxist ideas’ like the class struggle and the proletariat, historical subject of the communist revolution? Che’s beard and Reich’s sex were much more attractive notions to the rebellious children of the decomposing petite-bourgeoisie than the prosaic class struggle of the workers and the writings of Bilan, which were entirely given over to that struggle. More astonishing and less understandable, superficially at least, is the complete silence displayed by the International Communist Party (Bordigist), on the subject of Bilan. If before the second world war, Bilan and the Italian fraction claimed their origins in Italian Left Communism of which they were the continuation, it seems that the ICP (Bordigist), founded in Italy after the war, does not care to remember what happened to the Italian Left in exile, after it was excluded from the Party and the Communist International. It is so proud of this exiled left fraction that, like a good bourgeois family which produces a bastard, it prefers to talk about it as little as possible. During the thirty years this party has existed, and despite its numerous publications, the number of articles republished from Bilan could be counted on the fingers of a one-armed man. Why? Why this embarrassed silence? By merely leafing through the pages of Bilan, it becomes obvious that vital principles separate it from the ICP. The ‘stammerings’ (as Bilan said of itself) of the Italian Left in exile, tried to be, and were, a critical examination of the erroneous positions and incomplete or incorrect analyses of the Third International, a living critique done in the harsh light of the experience and defeats of the proletariat, thus constituting an important contribution to the understanding, forward-movement and enrichment of communist thought. But the ‘finished’ and ‘invariant’ work of the ICP attempts only to ‘preserve’ the past. In reality it has found itself regressing purely and simply to the worst errors of the Third International (on questions such as trade unionism, parliament, national liberation, the identification of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship of the party, etc), errors which the ICP not only integrally takes as its own but exaggerates to the point of absurdity.
While the one sought to go forward, the other marches resolutely backwards. Over the years the distance separating the two has accentuated, not diminished. This is the only reason for the ICP’s bad faith and lack of interest in republishing the writings of Bilan. But there is no reason for despair. We are convinced that with the growth of class struggle and revolutionary activity, Bilan will be re-established in its rightful place in the workers’ movement and among militants who want to know more about the history and development of revolutionary thought. The little that we have published from Bilan has led many of our readers to write to us insisting on the importance of publishing more. We fully share this conviction and in order to answer this demand, while waiting for a complete re-edition of Bilan, the International Review will, from now on, undertake the publication of a greater number of articles and extracts from that review. As far as possible we shall try to group articles according to their subject, in order to give readers a more complete idea of the orientation, the clarity and political positions fought for by the Communist Left and Bilan.
In all, forty-six issues of Bilan appeared (1478 pages. The first issue came out in November l933, the last in Jaruary 1939. Beginning as the Theoretical Bulletin of the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy, it ceased publication to be replaced by the review, Octobre, the magazine of the International Bureau of the Left Communist Fractions. Excluded from the Communist Party and the Communist International at the Lyon Congress in 1926, the Italian Left Fraction reconstituted itself at the beginning of 1929 and published the journal, Prometeo, in Italian and an information bulletin in French, which was actually less a news bulletin than a theoretical publication.
Deeply involved in the international communist movement, the Italian Left in exile was to play an active part in this movement, especially in France and Belgium; participating with all its might in the struggle against the degeneration and treason of the Third International and its parties which were totally dominated by Stalinism. As a consequence it was in close contact with all the left currents and groups who one by one were ejected from what had once been the Communist International. Its struggles were conducted amid the terrible disarray and immense confusion produced by the profound defeat of the greatest revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat and the demoralization which followed its crushing.
A short-lived attempt at rapprochement with Trotsky’s Left Opposition indicated the fundamentally different orientation which separated these two currents. While Trotskyism saw itself simply as an opposition fighting for the ‘reform’ of the Communist Parties and thus was always ready to renounce its autonomous, organizational existence and re-integrate itself into the Party, the Italian Left saw that a difference of programmatic principles existed which could only be resolved through the constitution of independent communist organizations: the fractions fighting for the total destruction of the counter-revolutionary Stalinist current. The discussion arising from the situation in Germany, its perspectives, and the position revolutionaries should take towards it, was finally to render impossible any joint work. Faced with the threat of Hitlerian fascism, Trotsky advocated a broad ‘Workers United Front’ between the Stalinists and the Social Democracy. In the ‘United Front’ between the counter-revolutionaries of yesterday and the counter-revolutionaries of today, Trotsky saw the force that would bar the way to fascism; he thus completely erased the fundamental problem of the class nature of these organizations, and ignored the fact that the struggle against fascism has no meaning for the proletariat if it is separated from the general class struggle against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system. Conjuring up some brilliant images, Trotsky said that a United Front could even be made between the “Devil and his grandmother”, thus demonstrating no less brilliantly, that he had completely lost sight of the class terrain of the struggle of the proletariat. Dazzled by his own verbal virtuosity, Trotsky, under the name of Gourev (probably to show that he oould quite easily be mistaken1) even went as far as saying that “The communist revolution could even be victorious under the leadership of Thaelman.”(sic!) From this point on it became evident that the perspective appropriated by Trotsky from the counter-revolution could only lead to further shameless renunciations of communist positions, culminating in Trotskyism’s participation in the second imperialist war, in the name, of course, of the ‘defence of the USSR’.
The path followed by the Italian Left was in diametrical opposition to all this. The disaster that the triumph of fascism represented for the proletariat had been made possible and inevitable by the successive catastrophic defeats the class had suffered at the hands of first Social Democracy and then Stalinism. It was this defeat which opened the way to the capitalist solution to the historic crisis of the system: a new imperialist world war. The only alternative revolutionaries could offer to this perspective was to strive to regroup the proletariat on its own class terrain by their own intransigent defence of the fundamental principles of communism. In order to do this revolutionaries had to recognize that the principal task facing them was to subject to an exhaustive, critical examination the recent experiences of the working class, which had begun with the great revolutionary wave that had interrupted the first world war and had raised mighty hopes in the working class that the hour of its final emancipation had come. To understand the reason for the defeat, study its causes, make a ‘balance sheet’ (‘bilan’) of the gains and errors, draw the lessons of the experience, and on this basis elaborate the new programmatic political positions - all this was indispensable to enable the class to take up the fight again tomorrow, better armed and more capable of confronting its historic task: the communist revolution. It was this formidable project that Bilan, as its name suggests, resolved to tackle; the magnitude of which caused Bilan to invite all the communist forces who had survived the debacle of the counterrevolution to join with it in order that the task might be accomplished.
Few groups responded to the appeal, but then few groups had managed to resist the terrible, crushing advance of this period of reaction and preparation for World War II; and these groups were whittled down year by year. Nevertheless Bilan, kept going by the devotion of a few dozen members and sympathizers, had always, within a strict framework of class frontiers, opened its pages to thoughts and ideas which differed from its own. Nothing was more alien to it than sectarianism or the search for the ephemeral successes of localism; that is why one often found in the pages of Bilan articles of discussion and clarification written by comrades of the Dutch and German Left and the Belgian Communist League. Bilan never had the stupid pretension of having found the final answers to all the problems of the revolution. It was aware that it was often only groping towards an answer; it knew that ‘final’ answers could only be the result of the living experience of the class struggle, of confrontation and discussion within the communist movement. On many questions the answers Bilan gave remained unsatisfactory, but it is impossible to doubt the seriousness, the sincerity, the profundity of this effort and above all the validity of its method, the correctness of its orientation and the firmness of its revolutionary principles. It’s not simply a question of paying homage to this small group, which was able to keep the flag of revolution aloft in the midst of the storm of the counter-revolution; our task is to reappropriate what Bilan has left to us, to continue on their path a continuity which is not stagnation, but a process of going forward on the basis of the lessons and example made by Bilan.
It is no accident that we have chosen for this first publication a series of articles relating to the events in Spain, More than an analysis of the Spanish situation in itself, the study of these events had a more general importance and provided the key to an understanding of the evolution of the world situation, of the class forces involved, of the different political formations within them and their effective strength, their orientation and political options. Above all, it offered a direct vision of the immense tragedy into which the international proletariat, and in the first instance the Spanish working class, had been propelled.
Once again, today, Spain is at the centre of the rapidly developing international situation. While it is absolutely right and necessary to clearly establish the difference between the events in Spain in the 1930s (which took place in the wake of a long series proletarian defeats forming part of an inexorable process whereby the proletariat was dragged into the imperialist war and the present period (which is one of re-awakening class struggle, of rising oombativity on the part of the workers), it is no less important to underline what the two periods have in common. And that is the decisive role Spain will once more play in the evolution of the world proletarian struggle. As a result of particular historical circumstances, Spain finds itself for the second time at the turning point of two periods. 1936 saw the last gasp of the proletariat stifled; this massacre was the culminating point in a long series of defeats suffered by the class world-wide and was to throw open the way to world war. Today, events in Spain presage immense social upheavals in the rest of Europe. Thus Spain is once again a focal point, a point of departure in the class struggle which will probably have the same decisive importance for the coming period as it did in the 1930s. Spain will again be a highly significant test of the balance of class forces. World capitalism, and in particular the ‘European Community’, will intervene in force in the situation there, giving all their support to the forces of ‘democratic’ order, which are alone capable of erecting a barrier before the surging tide of working class struggle. The strategy of capital will be to put forward its left wing, led by the various political forces who base their activity in the working class: Communist Party, Socialist Party, and the other :leftists. The battalions of the left are already being feverishly prepared for this task.
In the days to come the Spanish proletariat will once again find itself up against the same forces who in 1936 succeeded so masterfully in first diverting the class and then bleeding it white. The leftists will use to the utmost the experience they gained in 1936 as a weapon to attack the proletariat, a weapon which, since then, they have had many opportunities to perfect. Their greatest deceit is to preach hypocritically to the workers that they should ‘forget the past’ in the name of national reconciliation. In other words, the workers should forget the lessons learned from the bloody experience of the class struggle.
The history of class struggle is strewn with defeats. Defeat is the painful school through which the proletariat must inevitably pass. In a particular sense and up to a certain point, it is only through defeat that the proletariat can ultimately be victorious. It is through defeat that the class becomes conscious of itself, of its goals, of the road which leads to them. In this way the proletariat learns to correct its errors, to recognize false prophets, avoid dead-ends, to organize itself more effectively, and to weigh up more precisely the balance of forces at a given moment. Because it is a class deprived of any other power within society, its experience is its only real trump-card and this experience is built to a great extent on lessons learned through defeat.
On the eve of the great battles which the proletariat in Spain is about to wage, battles whose consequences will weigh heavily on the struggles of the world proletariat, we can prepare ourselves in no better way than by re-examining, re-investigating the great experience of that bloody defeat euphemistically known as ‘the Spanish Civil War’.
Bilan was bitterly aware of the ever-increasing state of isolation with which it had to contend, and which it rightly saw as one of the manifestations of the tragic defeat of the proletariat. The isolation grew in proportion to the degree that the hysteria of war seeped into the bodies and brains of the workers. Like all great and decisive events, the war in Spain left no room for flexible attitudes. The choice was glaringly clear: with capitalism and for the war, or with the proletariat against the war. The isolation to which Bilan was condemned was the unavoidable price it paid for its loyalty to the principles of communism, and this was to its merit and its honour, at a time when so many left communist groups allowed themselves to fall into the traps laid by the class enemy.
In contrast to Bilan we today can have the firm conviction that by renewing the same class positions we no longer have to swim against the stream, but will find ourselves being carried along by the new wave of the communist revolution, and able to make our own contribution to its growth.
From the first months of its existence the Spanish Republic showed that when it came to massacring workers it had nothing to learn from the fascist regimes. Probably the only difference is that fascism quite clearly massacres workers as workers and as revolutionaries, whereas (‘democracy’ massacres them while simultaneously slandering them with accusations of being ‘provocateurs’, ‘agents of reaction’, of the monarchy or of fascism. Right from the beginning Bilan made this point quite clear, in contrast to all those who attempted to mobilize the workers ‘in defence of the Republic’.
M. C.The massacre of workers in Spain
How many were there? It is impossible to give even an approximate figure for the number of victims crushed in this orgy of blood, this worthy ceremony for the opening of the Cortes of the ‘Spanish Workers’ Republic’. The agrarian and monarchist Right, the Republican Left, the radical Left, the Socialist Party, the Catalan Left, all grouped together in an admirable united front, are satisfied with this victory of ‘order’. Now that the Spanish workers have abandoned their ‘bad leaders’ - in this case the anarchists of the Iberian Anarchist Federation - everyone from Macia, ‘Liberator of Catalonia’, to Maura; and from Lerroux to Prieto can pay such opportune homage to the “wisdom of the Spanish workers”. Of course it was never a question of a workers’ movement being crushed by machine guns and cannon; no, no, it was, quite simply, a sort of purification rite performed by the bourgeoisie in the interest of the workers. Once the ulcer has been cut out, wisdom, that innate wisdom, can re-emerge and the workers can rush to thank the executioners who saved them from the anarchists.
Now it is high time to draw up a balance sheet of the victims of the Republic of Azana-Caballero, and of the new Cortes; much more than a thousand theoretical controversies, this task will enable us to grasp the significance of the Republic and of the so-called ‘democratic revolution’ of 1931. This record will make the monarchy’s work seem pale in comparison and will show to the proletariat that it cannot defend any form of bourgeois organization, that there are no ‘lesser evils’ for the workers, and that, as long as the day of the insurrectionary struggle has not yet dawned, all the proletariat can do is to defend the class positions that it has conquered, and prevent them from being confused with the organizational forms of the government of its enemy, however democratic they may be. The Spanish workers have once again undergone this experience, like the workers of the ‘democratic paradises’ or the fascist countries.
‘An anarchist movement!’ That is what this uprising, now drowned. in blood, has been called. Obviously, the organizations of the bourgeois left, the Socialists as well as the liberal, Macia, will say that among these anarchist ‘leaders’ were monarchist ‘provocateurs’: thus their Republican ‘conscience’ can remain unsullied. But the proletariat knows its own. It knows that the police have not been cutting down provocateurs, but its bravest sons who rose in revolt against the oppression of Republican capitalism.
(Bilan, no.2, December 1933)
As the massacres perpetuated by the Republic in the name of ‘the defence of democracy’ grew more and more massive, Bilan posed in extremely clear terms the question of the meaning of the so-called democratic regimes. Is democracy a step on the way to the revolution, as the Left and Leftists claim in their appeals to the workers to support and defend it; or is it really nothing but a weapon of capital which at a given moment is the most appropriate one to be adopted to divert the proletariat so as to be able to crush it all the more effectively later on? Two million deaths and forty years of Francoism have provided a tragic but definitive answer to this question, which absolutely confirms the calls for alarm and vigilance which Bilan issued prior to the events of 1936.
M. C.The crushing of the Spanish workers
There are two criteria for understanding these events; two opposing vantage points the working class has to understand. Only thus can we analyze the recent sacrifices of thousands of workers in the Iberian Peninsula; shot, machine-gunned and bombarded by the ‘Spanish Workers’ Republic’.
Either the Republic and democratic liberties are nothing but a powerful diversion which capital utilizes when it is unable to resort to violence and terror to crush the proletariat, or the Republic and democratic liberties represent a lesser evil and even, a favourable precondition for the victorious advance of the proletariat, thereby imposing on the workers a duty to support democracy in order to facilitate their ultimate offensive in their fight for emancipation from all the chains of capitalism.
The terrible carnage of these last days in Spain must obliterate all the idiocy which presents the Republic as a ‘proletarian conquest’ which the workers must defend but only, of course, under ‘certain conditions’ and especially ‘only to the extent’ that democracy is not what it is; or on condition that it ‘becomes’ what it cannot become; or finally ‘if’, far from having the meaning and objectives that it really has, it sees fit to become an organ of working class power. This 1ittle game became equally difficult to play in the period preceding the Civil War in Spain when capitalism made a show of strength against the proletariat. Indeed, from the foundation of the Spanish Republic in April 1931 up to December 1931 - the ‘swing to the left’ and the formation of the Azana-Caballero-Lerroux government, followed by the subsequent ejection in December 1931 of its right wing represented by Lerroux - none of this provided more favourable conditions for the growth of revolutionary consciousness within the proletariat or for the growth of forms of organization suitable for the direction of revolutionary struggle. It is not a question here of seeing what the republican, radical. socialist government ought to be doing for the good of the communist revolution; but what we do have to ask is whether or not this movement of capitalism to the left or the extreme left, this unanimous chorus appealing for the defence of the Republic and comprising everyone from the Socialists to the syndicalists, has created the conditions for the development of the class struggle for the onward march of the revolutionary proletariat? Or else whether this movement to the left was dictated by the necessity for capitalism to throw the workers, already intoxicated by their own revolutionary enthusiasm, into confusion and. thus prevent them from channeling this enthusiasm into a truly revolutionary struggle? In other words, was the road the bourgeoisie was free to take in October 1934 too big a gamble in 1931? At that moment could the workers have been victorious, since capitalism was in no position to recruit an army for the purposes of savage repression?
Similarly the Catalan and Basque separatist movements have been seen as an open breech in the forces of capitalist domination, a breech which, it is said, should be widened as much as possible in order that the proletarian revolution can go forward. Was not the real potential of separatism revealed in the constitution of a Catalan Republic which lasted only for a few hours? (The Republic came to an ignominious end under the heel of General Batet - whom President Companys had called to the defence of Catalonia when proclaiming its independence.) And, in the Asturias, weren’t the forces of the army, police and the air force hurled for weeks against the miners and other workers, who were deprived of any guidance in their heroic struggle? Didn’t the upsurges of Basque separatism do nothing more than give warning of the suffering which was to come? Is it not true that the Basque separatists allowed the struggle in the Asturias to be crushed? Crushed, what is more, by the forces of government terror, led by a separatist, who tomorrow will no doubt once again swear his allegiance to the Republic and regional autonomy.
From 1930 to 1934 there has been a harsh logic in the development of events. In 1930 Berenguer was called in by King Alfonso XIII, who hoped to be able to repeat the manoeuvres of 1923 when he managed to contain the consequences of the Moroccan disasters within the framework of monarchical legality. In 1923 Primo de Rivera was substituted for the ministers who were seen to be responsible for the Moroccan disaster; and this change of government made it possible to hold off an attack by the masses. Naturally, the masses paid the price of this manoeuvre by having to suffer seven years of an agrarian, clerical dictatorship. But in 1930 the economic situation had been totally transformed by the appearance of the crisis and it was no longer sufficient to resort to simple governmental manoeuvres. In February 1931 the conditions for a proletarian movement were already ripe, and there was a threat of a railway strike: thus the need arose for a big theatrical display - offering the masses the heads of Berenguer and the king. At the instigation of the monarchist, Guerra, and in agreement with the Republican, Zamora, the king’s departure was organized even before the workers had walked out of the factories. The leftward movement of the government continued until the end of 1931, and this was the only way that the bourgeoisie could place obstacles in the path of the masses to prevent them from forging the weapon necessary for their victory: the proletarian party. Since it was impossible to suppress class conflicts, all capitalism could do was to make sure that these conflicts only ended up in confusion. And the Republic served this aim. At the beginning of 1932, the left wing government made its first move, and launched a violent attack on the general strike which had been proclaimed by the syndicalists. At this point, the forces of the bourgeoisie were concentrated around its left wing, and a reactionary like Maura was able to make a plebiscite for the Azana-Caballero government through the Republican Cortes.
The e1an of the masses, which had been a product of economic conditions, was diverted onto the path of the Republic and of democracy, and was then broken by the reactionary violence of the radical-socialist government. From this resulted an opposite movement within the bourgeoisie towards its right wing: in August 1932 we saw the first skirmish with the right, Sanjurjo’s revolt aimed at the concentration of the right wing forces. A few months afterwards, in December 1933, the workers were again plunged into a bloodbath during another strike launched by the syndicalists at the very time when, elections were providing the opportunity for the Spanish Republic to move right. As a result, in 1934 a frontal attack aimed at annihilating all the forces and organizations of the Spanish proletariat took place. And as a sad, cruel epilogue to the errors of the syndicalists, we saw the anarchist Confederation of Labour abstains from action in the face of the carnage, on the grounds that it could not get mixed up in political movements…….
Left or right? Republic or monarchy? Support for the Left and the Republic against the right and the monarchy in order to further the cause of the proletarian revolution - these are the alternatives put forward by the different currents operating inside the working class and the solution they defend. But the real alternative is the one between capitalism and the proletariat, between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie which aims to crush the workers, and the dictatorship of the proletariat which aims to set up a bastion of the world revolution dedicated to the abolition of states and classes.
Although the Spanish economy was able to take advantage of the benefits of neutrality during the war, its structure is such that it has only been able to put up a very weak resistance to the effects of the economic crisis. Its industrial sector is too limited in relation to what is very much an agrarian economy still dominated by non-industrialized forms and forces of production. It is because of this economic foundation that the industrial regions have provided the arena for the separatist movements which have no real future and which can only have a reactionary character; under their rule capitalism would continue to extract surplus value from the workers and surplus labour from the peasants, by expropriating the banking organizations who presently control this operation for the big magnates. Such an economic basis puts the Spanish workers in a very similar situation to that of the Russian workers: faced by the capitalist class which can only enforce its rule through a dictatorship of blood and iron, the workers must smash this ferocious oppression, but they can only do so by means of a victorious insurrection
And the Spanish tragedy, like its counterpart in Austria, has unfolded before the helpless passivity of the world proletariat, immobilized by the counter-revolutionary acts of the centrists and socialist. A simple overture by the Communist International towards the Social Democratic International would even be rejected on the grounds that the right moment had passed. As if after Hitler’s victory when the right moment had also passed, the Social Democratic International didn’t propose a joint action with the Communist International! But the decay and corruption of organizations which still dare to call themselves working class is so great, that all that these traitors of yesterday and today would do on the very graves of the workers, would be, any case, to agree on some manoeuvre which would allow them to continue with their betrayals. And they will continue until the day when the workers succeed in overthrowing, along with the class that oppresses them, all the forces which have betrayed them. Thousands of Spanish workers have not died in vain, because the blood spilled by the Spanish Republic will be the seed of a new struggle for the communist revolution, a struggle which will cast down all the obstacles which the enemy class ceaselessly puts in the way of the proletariat’s march to freedom.
(Bilan, no. 2, October 1934)
The bloody savagery of the Republic did not stop short at mass slaughter: it also resorted to individual executions to ‘serve as an example’. The resonant appeal for international class solidarity which Bilan issued as far as its weak voice would carry, was easily smothered by the din created by those who sang the ‘virtues’ of the Republic and democracy, in defence of which the workers would be massacred in their millions in the ‘anti-fascist’ war.
It is hardly necessary to point out that, when it came to saving the lives of workers who were going to be shot one by one by the Republic, neither the democratic governments, nor the parties of the left, nor the defenders of the ‘rights of man’, nor the Pope himself, raised a single protesting voice. And Bilan never dreamed of appealing to them and their humanitarian feelings.
M.C.Appeal for international working class solidarity
The guns are silent now in Spain, Thousands of proletarians have been pitilessly massacred. Here is another trophy which the bourgeoisie can display alongside the February massacres in Austria and the decapitations in Germany.
The world proletariat lies drawn and quartered on the ground, and its blood has been sullied by the boots of bourgeois tyranny which has imposed order with shrapnel and cannon-fire. From East to West the bestial terror of the ruling classes reigns supreme over the carnage, whose sole purpose was to strangle the revolutionary struggle of the workers.
We want to pay homage first of all to the Asturias fighters. They fought to the death, sacrificing women and children for their class, for the revolution, but, without any guidance, they were defeated. They, like the miners of Oviedo will now understand the meaning of the ‘peaceful construction of socialism’ in Russia. For those who have been bombed to shreds and torn by the bayonets of the Moroccan Legions, the seventeenth anniversary of the USSR will have a particular meaning. In mourning its dead the Spanish proletariat will also see that it can only count on its own struggle, the struggle of the world proletariat, which Russia has now abandoned.
After its orgy of blood in the Asturias, the bourgeoisie now wants to carry out the murder of rebel workers through its military courts, in order to intimidate those who dare to take up arms to emancipate themselves.
November 7: Jose Larredo Corrales and Guerra Pardo have therefore been shot as an example to others: one at Gijon, the other at Leon. Others will follow if the international solidarity of the proletariat does not vigorously assert itself.
(Bilan no. 13, December 1934)
The next piece is a short account of the ‘noble’ role played in Spain by the Socialists of the right and the left, from Prieto to Caballero. One lesson among others that the workers must never forget.
M.C.What happens when there is no proletarian party……….with respect to the events in Spain
.... After the war, encouraged by the economic recovery which took place in all countries, including neutral Spain, the Social Democracy supported no less directly the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and collaborated with it. When the dictatorship fell, Social Democracy appeared as the only force organized on a national scale (the Republican groups - both the old ones and those recently hatched - having only a local existence), and it gained an influence far in excess of its real strength: 114 deputies were elected to the Constituent Assembly. This fact allowed it to put itself forward as the principal agency for the safeguarding of capitalist order at dangerous moments and for consolidating that order when the counter-offensive against the proletariat could be undertaken.
During the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, established in 1923, and under Berenguer’s transitional government which succeeded it in January 1930, the two ‘historical’ parties of the bourgeoisie began to fragment and this opened the door to the parties which claimed to represent the middle classes: various republican groupings which were not greatly distinguishable from one another and which were concentrated around the Radical Party of Lerroux and the Radical Socialist Party which was created by the left wing of the Radical Party.
Among other things this period was characterized by the San Sebastian Pact in August 1930, concluded by the various Catalan parties and the anti-monarchist parties (Socialist, Radical Socialists, Radicals, the Republican Right) and which attempted to deal with the thorny problem of the autonomy of the Catalan and Basque provinces; this led to the premature adventure of December 1930, involving the uprising of the Jaca garrison and the proclamation of the Republic in Madrid.
Capitalism possesses a remarkable flexibility which allows it to adapt to the most difficult situations; the monarchist bourgeoisie soon saw that it would be better in the short term to peacefully cede power to the ‘friendly hands’ of the Socialists and Republicans rather than to risk provoking a resistance that would threaten their class interests. Moreover all the political disagreements that were to come to light within the Republican camp would operate to their advantage later on. Overnight the bourgeoisie changed from monarchism to Republicanism: when the municipal elections of 12 April gave the anti-monarchist opposition parties a majority - they won 46 out of 50 provincial capitals - a peaceful change of political window-dressing took place and Alfonso XIII abdicated. His place was taken by a provisional government made up of the Republicans and Socialists who had signed the December 1930 manifesto.
In the first coalition government the Socialists held the Ministries of Labour, Justice and Finance - these last two having been taken in exchange for the Ministries of Education and Public works.
For over thirty months of coalition government, the Socialists endorsed and covered up all the heinous crimes of the ‘liberal’ bourgeoisie: the repression of workers’ and peasants’ movements including the massacres at Arnedo and Casas Vierjas, the law for the defence of the Republic, the law on public order, the reactionary law on associations and the mystification of the agrarian law.
The main historical function of the Social Democracy is to maintain democratic illusions within the working class, thus preventing their radicalization and in the end smothering their revolutionary elan.
It’s worth saying here that there has been too much talk of a ‘revolution’ in Spain, particularly when it was a question of a simple manoeuvre by the bourgeoisie and this talk exaggerated the possibilities for a ‘proletarian revolution’. Above all the lack of a class party and the negative influence of anarcho-syndicalism had undermined any chance of success.
When Social Democracy got a kick in the arse, that is to say when capitalism felt strong enough to be able to dispense with its good services, the Socialists who had intensified their verbal demagogy in proportion to their loss of influence within the government, gave birth to a ‘Left’ which did all it could to keep the flags of treason flying within the working class. And so Largo Caballero, the Minister at the time of Casas Vierjas, threatened the bourgeoisie with the proletarian dictatorship and a soviet regime…….
There really is an iron law which makes Social Democracy concentrate the proletariat around democratic slogans, then. go over to, a ‘leftist’ oppositional stance, in order to get ready to betray the class the day after, while the parties of the middle class join the forces of reaction preparing to attack. And this whole pattern of events unfolds with an implacable speed and logic.
Thus in Spain, in order to pave the way for new elections, the coalition government was succeeded by a Radical transitional government, which, after the November 1933 elections which were such a debacle for the Socialists, gave way to a right-wing Radical government led by Lerroux himself. But the bourgeoisie did not yet feel able to mount a violent offensive and Samper took the place of Lerroux. But already the positions of command were in the hands of the open partisans of reaction.
The facts are well-known: in response to the reconstitution of a Lerroux government in which the most important Ministries,- Justice, Agriculture, and Labour - were held by the Catholic populists (thus by the most reactionary party in the Iberian Peninsula), the Socialists proclaimed a general strike for 5 October. It was to be a ‘legal’ strike aimed at causing the fall of Lerroux and replacing him with the old Republican-Socialist coalition.
As in Italy in 1922, when the strike called by the Labour Alliance was aimed against the ‘fascist menace’ of Mr Mussolini and sought to put in his place a ‘better government’ under Turati-Modigliani, in Spain the Social Democracy was also fighting against the ‘fascist menace’ and for the reconstitution of a Republican-Socialist coalition government. But this latter phase - to which must be added the joke of the proclamation of the Catalan State - was short-lived, and gave way to a second phase characterized by a working class struggle unaffected by the separatist deviations which had appeared particularly in Catalonia and the Basque provinces; a struggle which developed above all in the coal fields of the Asturias, where a working class unity around the bitter struggle for power took place.
The government ended up sending an army of 30,000 men against ‘Red Asturias’, equipped with ultra-modern destructive power: bombers, assault tanks, etc. Only the most reliable troops were sent to quell the rebellion: the Foreign Legion, made up of the dregs of society, and the Moroccan sharpshooters were the ones used to deal with the insurrection. Today we know that this was no idle precaution: at Alicante the sailors themselves attacked the arsenal; at Oviedo 900 soldiers, although besieged, refused to fire on the workers who were marching to attack the barracks. In addition to this, certain garrisons in the province of Leon where bitter struggles were taking place had to be transported with the utmost urgency to more tranquil regions.
But in the end, isolated while the rest of Spain didn’t budge, the heroes of the Asturias were crushed, though not vanquished - because even today there are still groups o f rebels in the mountains carrying on the struggle.
(Bilan no.14, January 1935)
This long article, in which Bilan attempted to make a detailed analysis of the evolution of capitalism in Spain, is of considerable interest. Though the backwardness of capitalist development in Spain explains the particularities of that country, we cannot analyse the events in Spain on the basis of these particularities, but only from the historical period of capitalism, of the general crisis of the system which is ravaging the whole world; this is also the only way we can hope to understand the present situation and the social upheavals which are brewing today.
The underlying basis of these events is not a bourgeois democratic revolution directed against so-called feudalism, but the struggle between capitalism in open crisis and the proletariat. Bilan categorically rejected the references some people made to Marx and Engels, misusing their writings to justify the position that the workers should support the democratic Republic in Spain. If one compares the writings of Bilan on this point with the positions defended today by Proletaire, the paper of the ICP, concerning the so-called ‘bourgeois democratic revolutions’ in the underdeveloped countries, one is struck by the enormous regression represented by the latter’s positions. Proletaire ignores the historical era and only looks at geographic areas. Hence it continues to talk about the democratic-bourgeois revolution in the underdeveloped countries, where it distinguishes between ‘progressive’ classes struggling against ‘reactionary’ classes. This is the way Proletaire analysed the war between North and South Vietnam, as well as the struggle between Pinochet and Allende; regarding Allende, the main reproach it directed towards him concerned his indecision and Pro1etaire in its great wisdom recommended that he should follow the example of firmness provided by the Jacobins.
The Bordigists’ arguments about Chile and other underdeveloped countries would have been equally valid for Spain in 1936, when it too was an underdeveloped country. This is how Bilan counteracted in advance arguments of this kind:
“But October 1917 exists to show us that the continuation of the work of Marx does not consist in repeating in a profoundly different situation, the positions our mentors defended in their era. In Spain, as in all other countries, the democratic forces of the bourgeois Left have shown themselves to be not a step towards the final victory of the proletariat, but the last bastion of the counterrevolution.”
The following article was written at the end of July 1936, the very time of the Franco uprising and the workers’ response to it. Bilan still lacked a good deal of information on the development of events. But it saw straight away the dangers of the mobilization of the proletariat behind the defence of the Republic, and, it warned the workers of Spain and other countries of that danger.
We should emphasize the concern displayed in this article by Bilan (faced with the events in Spain which were a prelude to the world imperialist war) regarding the regroupment of the scattered revolutionary nuclei of that period. If the regroupment of revolutionaries was recognized to be necessary to withstand the effects of a period of proletarian retreat, it is an imperious necessity in a period of mounting class struggle. It is absolutely necessary to insist on this point to better counter the confusions of those groups, who, having failed to comprehend this need, prefer instead to maintain their isolation in the name of ‘their’ autonomy and ‘their’ freedom of movement.
M.C.In Spain: the bourgeoisie against the proletariat The structure of Spanish capitalism (extract)
Especially before the advent of the Republic in April 1931, the economic structure of Spanish society, because of its extremely backward characteristics, could give the impression that the bourgeoisie had not yet won power and therefore what is confronting us today is a revolution of the same type as the bourgeois revolutions of last century but with one important difference in its ultimate perspective: since we are in a new historic situation in which capitalism no longer has a progressive role to play but has entered into its period of decline, the proletariat’s task is to circumvent the capitalist stage and set up instead its own class dictatorship. But in fact none of this is the case because Spain is one of the oldest bourgeois nations, and if it has not gone through a sequence of historic events analogous to those which led capitalism to power in other countries, this is solely a result of the exceptionally favourable conditions in which the Spanish bourgeoisie arose. Since it possessed an immense colonial empire, Spanish capitalism was able to evolve without huge internal upheavals and in fact was able to avoid them precisely because the basis of its domination was not - as it was for other capitalisms - a radical change in the foundations of the feudal economy, resulting in the establishment of large scale industries in the cities and the liberation of the peasants from serfdom. On the contrary, that basis was established by adapting the old feudal system to the demands of a capitalism which possessed immense territorial outlets for investment, and could thus hold back from industrializing its home economy. It is worthwhile pointing out that the old colonies were lost to the Spanish bourgeoisie the very moment they began to go through the whirlwind of industrial transformation. The nobility and the clergy as well as owning the big landed properties, also possessed shares in banking and industrial concerns and the Madrid Tramway Company; similarly some of the mines of the Asturias, subcontracted to foreign capital, were controlled prior to 1931 by the Jesuits.
This archaic social structure was profoundly affected by the war which intensified the industrialization of Spain, especially in Catalonia where a powerful manufacturing industry developed. But this development only took place in certain ‘islands’ - the North, Barcelona, Madrid; the rest of Spain remained almost in the same condition as before. However, the necessity to find a dictatorial solution to social unrest was felt very quickly and Primo de Rivera took power in 1923, backed mainly by the industrial circles in Barcelona under the leadership of Cambo. This was at a time when Alfonso XIII was rather more inclined to see the Moroccan enterprise through to the end in spite of the rude defeat his troops had suffered there. The Primo de Rivera experience, although in no way comparable to Italian or German fascism, is also explained by the necessity to prevent the proletariat from intervening autonomously in social struggles, and it was under Primo de Rivera’s government that various institutions of labour arbitration developed: Largo Caballero, who today is being called the Spanish Lenin was then an official; the Socialist organizations were allowed to exist, and even the anarchist CNT (National Confederation of Labour) managed to survive in that period. (It’s easy enough to insult great men when they are dead, and for some people it isn’t enough that Stalin should be hailed as Lenin successor.)
In 1930, when Primo de Rivera fell like a rotten fruit, the Spanish bourgeoisie believed that it could carry on with the same system, and his place was taken by a general; only this time, there was a different political direction. It was no longer just a question of solving social issues with the aid of state intervention, but of trying to channel the working masses toward a liberal democratic regime. The world economic crisis had broken out and a military-type authoritarianism was no longer any use in keeping the resulting social turmoil within manageable limits.
These factors allow us to arrive at a brief definition of the Spanish social structure. We are dealing with a capitalist regime where any repetition of the events which accompanied the victory of the bourgeoisie in other countries is to be ruled out: far from repeating the work of the Jacobins in 1793, or the bourgeoisie of 1848 on its way to the Cavaignacs of June, the Azanas and Caballeros are much more orientated towards playing the role of the Noskes, with however a profound difference resulting from the particularities of the Spanish situation. Spanish capitalism has entered the world economic crisis not only without any room for manoeuvre, on a world market which is less and less able to absorb agricultural exports, but also with an economic scaffolding which is one of the least capable of resisting the hammer of the economic crisis. As a result there was absolutely no way of avoiding the outburst of powerful social movements; and, as with the fall of Primo de Rivera, which seemed to have been provoked by the collapse of the Barcelona exhibition, it was again an element of secondary importance, historically speaking, which presaged the great events which were brewing: in October 1930 the Pact of San Sebastian was drawn up laying the foundations of the Republic under the guiding hand of the monarchist, Zamora; and on 14 April, 1931 through the mediation of Romanones, Alfonso XIII abdicated following the communal elections, which led to the proclamation of the Republic. In a like manner the events which followed in 1931, 1932 and 1933 permit us to better explain social reality and the significance of the advent of the Republic. This latter event from the point of view of the social movement and its onward progress, represented a completely subsidiary element and could in no way be compared to the establishment of bourgeois republics last century; on the contrary, it represented nothing but a new form of bourgeois domination, a new attempt by Spanish capitalism to deal with the problems which confronted it.
Never has there been a more ferocious repression against the workers’ movement than the one unleashed in 1931 and 1932 under the left wing governments in which the Socialists participated. It is obvious that the fundamental cause of this repression resided in the powerful growth of working class struggle; but those who couple the upsurge of the workers’ movement with the taking of power of left wing governments should pause to reflect upon the events which followed the proclamation of the Republic and which proved conclusively that such governments are nothing but the most ‘appropriate’ form (to use the formulation put forward by Salengro in the French Senate, when he said that the government would use all the ‘appropriate’ methods to bring the factory occupations to an end) for the defence of the interests of the bourgeoisie. There is thus no direct relationship between the Republic and the workers’ movement, but only a bloody opposition between them as events has proved.
When we look at such a backward social structure, which can be compared to that of Tsarist Russia, the following question arises: how is it that, against such a chequered social canvas, in the presence of a bourgeoisie so incapable of solving the alarming problems posed by the economic crisis just as it was in Russia, how is it that, in such a favourable social milieu, no marxist nuclei with the power and scope of the Russian Bolsheviks, have been formed? It seems to us that the answer to this question is to be found in the fact that the Russian bourgeoisie was still moving along an ascendant path, while the Spanish bourgeoisie, which sprang up centuries ago, is in a state of putrefying decay. This difference in the positions occupied by the two bourgeoisies also reflects a difference in the positions of the two proletariats; and the fact that the Spanish proletariat has been unable, in the course of huge struggles, to give rise to the class party so indispensable to its victory seems to us to be a result of the backward condition of this country which capitalism has condemned to remain in the rearguard of the present social and political evolution.
The anachronistic nature of Spanish capitalism, it’s extremely backward structure, the impossibility of the bourgeoisie of this country finding any solution to the complex and involved problems of its economic structure - all this explains for us the powerful movements which have emerged over the last five years in Spain, the fact that the proletariat has found it impossible to create its own party, and the fact that its movements have appeared as fruitless upheavals rather than events which could lead to the only result worthy of the heroism the Spanish workers have shown: the communist revolution. In the light of all this we can well interpret the words of Marx in 1854, when he said that a revolution which could happen in three days in another European country would require nine years in Spain.The birth of the Spanish republic
Marx, writing about the events of 1808-1814, and Engels about those of 1873, advocated the same tactics for Spain that they had elsewhere applied to Germany. They advised socialists of other countries to take up a position of ‘innoculating’ the bourgeois revolution with the virus of proletarian struggle in order to propel the situation towards its final goal: the victory of the working class. But October 1917 exists to show us that the continuation of the work of Marx does not consist in repeating, in a profoundly different situation, the positions our mentors defended in their era. In Spain, as in all other countries, the democratic forces of the bourgeois left have shown themselves to be not a step towards the final victory of the proletariat, but the last bastion of the counter-revolution. In 1854 Marx wrote that the Central Junta could have brought about changes in the Spanish social structure. If these changes were not realized at that time this could be put down to wrong tactics, but the Republic of 1931 had an entirely different function from that of the Junta of 1808: the latter had a progressive character, while the Republic represented a weapon of the most savage reaction against the workers’ movement. The same applies to Engel position with respect to the Republic of 1873 where he foresaw the possibility of a parliamentary workers’ group acting effectively both to aid the victory of Pi y Margall against the right and also to push the left towards taking up the demands of the workers. Within the Constituent Cortes of 1931 and the others which followed there was no lack of a ‘workers’ group, but since it was rooted in a very different social terrain, a terrain upon which the Republic showed its real nature as a bloody expression of anti-working class repression, the ‘workers’ group could only be a tool in the bands of the bourgeoisie.
In this epoch, the regroupment of the working class cannot be achieved on the basis of a dual programme agitating for partial demands while making propaganda for the ultimate goals of the movement. There is no possibility of linking the partial conquests of the working class to a Republic which could conceivably evolve towards a progressive transformation of Spanish society and so would become favourable to the interests of the masses. The years 1931, 32, 33 saw the government moving further and further left, going from the Azania-Caballero-Lerroux bloc to the exclusion of the Radicals; and at the same time the strike movement of workers and peasants was being subjected to the bloodiest repression. Indeed, the left turn of the government was a signal for an even stronger anti-working class repression.
Engels rightly criticized Bakunin and the Alleanzistes of the day, who were advocating an immediate struggle for the liberation of the workers on the basis of the extension of the movement of partial demands. The marxist viewpoint is against putting forward the slogan of insurrection when conditions for it do not exist, just as it is against raising the slogan of the struggle for the Republic or for its reform at a time when historical analysis has shown that this Republic has become an essential instrument for the subjugation of the proletariat; and that the proletariat, again because of the development of the historic situation, now finds itself in a position to put forward one demand only: the dictatorship of the proletariat, through insurrection and destruction of the capitalist state.
This analysis can be confirmed by reviewing briefly the events of 1931 32, 33, 34. This is indispensable if we are to be able to examine the current situation and to indicate the position which the proletariat both in Spain and internationally will have to take up, if the heroic acts of the Iberian workers are going to lead to the victory of the communist revolution.
We have already shown that the proclamation of the Republic was simply a signal for much more important events, events which were to hurl all the Spanish workers and peasants into the arena of class struggle. Let us begin by noting that capitalism rushed to give Alfonso XIII a one way ticket out of the country in order to prevent a railway strike, a movement which, because it would have paralyzed economic life, would have had profound repercussions on the national situation. It is quite obvious that the Spanish bourgeoisie was in no way aware of the situations which would develop over the years 1931-2 and 1933, but in attempting to foresee the course of events it did have recourse to a change in the form of its regime from the monarchy to the Republic. Capitalism is doomed never to be able to clearly foresee the pattern of future events: this is an expression of the contradictory basis of its power. It can only do one thing: fights against its class enemy and in any given situation find the solution which seems to defend its privileges the best. When in April 1931 the proclamation of the Republic appeared a necessity, the Spanish bourgeoisie did not hesitate to resort to it; and this was a good move at that time, because, in the face of all the social movements which followed, it would have been extremely risky to have opposed them with brutal, head-on methods. A balance was needed and this was provided by the left wing governments supported by the Socialists, who were numerically the strongest group of loyal and sincere ‘Republicans’.
Immediately after the foundation of the new regime, a wave of strikes swept the country, notably the telephone strike and. the strikes in Andalusia, followed by others in Bilbao, Barcelona (building workers), Valencia, Manresa, etc. During the course of these events the following happened: the government under Zamora’s presidency moved more and more towards savage repression; the Minister of the Interior, Maura, who had slaughtered thirty peasants in Seville, replied. to questions by saying that “nothing happened”; and on 20 October of the same year, the ‘Law for the Defence of the Republic’ was voted in order to prohibit strikes, impose on all labour disputes compulsory arbitration through Parity Commissions, and outlaw all union organizations which did not give ten days warning before a strike. At the same time the Socialist UGT (General Union of Workers) openly organized the sabotage of the movements called by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT, when it was not actually advocating armed struggle against the workers organized by the CNT. And it must be said that the policy of the Socialists met with a certain amount of success since, except for a few rare instances where the workers of the two unions made common cause, the UGT managed to keep its members at work. If these methods did not always lead to the defeat of the workers’ movements, it made them much more difficult, and, when the Civil Guard intervened, much more bloody.
On the other side of the barricade were the unions of the CNT around which the workers’ struggles polarized. But the political positions of the anarchists in no way corresponded to the needs of the situation and although its militants often displayed great courage, the leaders, from a political point of view, never succeeded in formulating an overall plan for reconstituting the unity of the working class in order to lead it to victory over the bosses. The constant succession of aimless strikes ended up exhausting the masses, who found it impossible to gain real improvements in their living standards; this led some to have recourse to desperate adventures like the ones in Catalonia and Andalusia where Free Communes were proclaimed for the organization of a libertarian society. It should be said that these extreme movements did not even win the solidarity and support of the CNT leadership; this was also what happened with the delegate from the Free Commune of Figola who “came to Barcelona to canvas the support of the proletariat of the city: he returned somber and saddened; he had been unable to obtain any promises of support for the Figola movement”. (Revolution Proletarianne, February 1932, reported by Lazarevitch). We do not intend to criticize the CNT for not once again proclaiming the general strike, We only refer to this episode in order to demonstrate that the policies of the anarchosyndicalist leaders could only serve to bottle up the general movemet of the Spanish workers, certain sections of whom were led to engage in desperate acts, cruelly repressed with the unconditional support of the Socialists. The sequence of events of 1931, 32, 33 thus give us a left wing movement supporting itself on the UGT, while the only position of defence the working class could take up was to entrust itself to the CNT. This essential point about the role of the CNT, which is in no way peculiar to the brief period we are discussing, must lead communists to ask whether, in contrast to other countries where the communist movement found its roots in the socialist parties and trade unions which had emerged from the struggle against, and break with, the anarchists, it is not the case that in Spain the trade union movement that can move towards communism will find its source in the CNT unions as well as in the UGT.
The anarchists, lacking an overall plan for the great class combats that were now unfolding, were in a state of total confusion on the political level. Although they were hostile to the Republic, to ‘all’ parties, they did not fight against the separatist movements of the bourgeois extreme left. This obviously led the masses to put their trust in these movements which engaged in deeds of indisputable bravery, but which could have nothing in common with the interests of the working class.
As we have said, the government’s slide to the left coincided with the extension of the strike movement but the repression became even more savage and they even began deporting anarchist militants. Already in August 1932 the bourgeoisie began to manoeuvre in the opposite direction: Sanjurjo attempted to make a coup in Madrid and Seville, and prior to this the June auxiliary elections in Madrid had been a great success for the son of Primo de Riliera. With the failure of Sanjurjo’s attempted coup, the Republic was saved; and in Barcelona, Valencia and Cadiz in January 1933; in Malaga, Bilbao and Saragossa in May, the workers, thanks to the bullets of the Civil Guard, would soon discover the price of being unable to direct their struggle against the bourgeois left as well as against the right.
On 8 September 1933, Azana resigned and after an interregnum of twenty-three days under the Lerroux government, Martinez Barrios dissolved the Cortes in apparent violation of Article 75 of the Constitution. This Barrios, who was given the job of effecting the passage from left to right in 1933, had the same job at the beginning of the current series of events, but this time he has been unable to succeed in this task. And so ended the first phase of the Spanish Republic. This leads us to clarify a point which relates to recent events. We are often told that the Republic, as well as other governments of the Left, should be seen as a fruit of the class struggle, an imperfect fruit it is true but still an expression of re-awakening working class struggle. At the same time the bourgeoisie, in the face of a rising class struggle, can do nothing except entrust its destiny to a government of the Left. In reality, the people of the Left who defend these ideas are deceiving themselves in two ways: firstly when they put their trust in a bourgeoisie which will get rid of them at the first opportune moment, secondly when they believe that the workers will be satisfied with mere verbiage and renounce the struggle for their own class interests. For us political events can never be explained by examining the desires of this or that bourgeois formation: a given institution, in this case the Republic, must be analyzed according to the role it plays in the class struggle.
Now, the Republic has appeared as the specific form for anti-working class repression, the form which best corresponds to the interests of capitalism, because as well as being able to resort to bloody repression it can count on the support of the UGT and the Socialist Party. One might object that capitalism could have had recourse to another form of government and that if it has not done this it is solely because the pressure of the workers’ struggle has forced it to move towards the Left. This kind of hypothetical discussion is of little interest to us and seems somewhat inconclusive, but what seems to us essential is that capitalism must be fought against whatever governmental form it makes use of, whether that of the Right or the Left. Only the autonomous, independent struggle of the proletariat on its own class basis can allow it to get out of the dilemma between the left and right wings of the bourgeoisie, to avoid aiding the Right when struggling against the Left and, conversely, to avoid supporting the Left when struggling against the Right. The Spanish Republic is what it is, not what one might want it to be. Its function of brutally opposing the workers’ interests shows that it is rooted solely in the bourgeois camp; it is an insult to the workers who have fallen victim to the bullets of the Republic to say that they were the ones who made the victory of the Republic possible.
Before undertaking an examination of the current situation, which we will begin by dealing with the agrarian question, we must say a few words on the events of 1934, on the Asturias insurrection. We lack the space here to go into this colossally important event in any detail; we will simply indicate its basic meaning. After the right wing electoral victory and the violent repression of the 1933 November strike, the situation evolved slowly but surely towards the predominance of the CEDA (Spanish Confederation of the Independent Right), and the return of the forces that had been pushed aside when the Republic was set up. The Socialists made a sudden left turn and renewed their contacts with the workers, even leading strikes. In October 1934, a general strike was proclaimed as a response to the constitution of the Lerroux government with its four CEDA representatives. The leaders of the strike obviously did not expect it to spread the way it did among the most tried and tested section of the Spanish working class, the Asturias miners. Condemned to starvation wages and seeing their leaders initiating the struggle, the miners believe that at last the hour had come when, in contrast to 1932 when the UGT had sabotaged their actions, it would finally be possible to do something about their miserable living conditions. Unfortunately the insurrection remained isolated and was violently crushed. Throughout the year 1935, the working class was subjected to continuous repression, both through legal channels and through extreme forms of persecution.
At the end of 1935 likes the end of 1933, the insoluble problems of the Spanish situation reached a new point: the demonstration in Madrid glorifying Azana marked the beginning of a new stage and in February 1936 came the electoral victory of the Popular Front.The agrarian problem
We have attempted to show that the proclamation of the Republic in 1931 cannot be fitted into the two classical schemas by which we have explained events in other countries. In no way did it represent a phase in the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the feudal structure of an agrarian economy since capitalism has been in existence for centuries in Spain, and it grew up precisely by adapting itself to this economic structure, living a parasitical life thanks to the colonial territories under its control. Neither was it a form, through which the bourgeoisie resisted a revolutionary attack by the proletariat, since the latter - owing to the extreme state of decadence of Spanish capital - has found it impossible in the midst of an extremely heterogeneous social milieu to engender its own class party, the only historic agent capable of leading the revolution to victory. The Republic of 1931 was an expression of the formidable social upheavals which burst out immediately after it was set up; but because of the isolation of the Spanish proletariat internationally, these convulsions were doomed tragically to end up in an impasse. The same is true for the victory of the Popular Front in February 1936. But before dealing with current events, we must briefly discuss the agrarian and economic questions, which will enable us to say that the Left and the extreme Left, no less than the Right and the extreme Right, find it impossible to offer any solution to these problems. The noisy suggestions for political reform coming from various quarters can only serve to cover over capitalism’s inability to change the economic basis of Spanish society. The proletariat is the only class capable of changing the foundations of the Spanish economy; outside of that change no solution is possible.
Both from the agrarian and industrial point of view, Spain can broadly be divided into two parts: the first, the smaller of the two, is composed of forms of cultivation and industry similar to those that have provided the basis for capitalist domination in other countries. The second part, on the other hand, is composed of huge tracts of partially uncultivated land in which the peasants and agricultural workers are condemned to an extremely miserable existence. The peasants of the east coast are subjected to heavy taxation by a central power which can only survive by depriving these smallholders of any chance of getting a reasonable price for their products, which have to be exported as cheaply as possible in order to compete internationally. The smallholders find themselves with no option but to sell their goods as best they can, since they have an immediate need for capital in order to continue cultivating the land. As for the big landowners, they also have a hostile attitude towards a centralizing state which compared to the large financial contributions they have to make to it, does not give them any real advantages in exchange. It is from these elements that the separatist movements arise; these movements have also extended to other parts of Spain, to the central plateau, where the big landowners squeeze out of the enslaved peasants rents which are immediately put into the big banks and are never used for reclaiming land or buying agricultural machinery without which it is quite impossible to make these landholdings profitable. Carving up these huge properties would farther complicate this problem since mechanized cultivation cannot be carried out on the basis of small plots of land; it requires large expanses of land and centralized management. We have already said that the big landowners have nothing to do with their landed property except exact their rent, while leaning on a hierarchy of tenant and sub-tenant farmers which makes the exploitation of the peasants and agricultural workers all the more intolerable. These big landowners never dream of investing their capital in the land and they obviously look askance at any government intervention which might diminish their power and ‘expropriate’ the least productive landholdings. The transformation of the agrarian economy can only take place through industrialization, and only the proletariat can carry out this task.
When we look at industry we are dealing with very similar phenomena. The Asturias coalmines are very unproductive and the workers there are forced to work under starvation conditions analogous to those of the workers of Andalusia and Estremadura, while the rich iron ore mines which are partially controlled by foreign capital produce solely for export. As far as the industrial transformation of Catalonia is concerned, it is likewise not directed towards the internal market, which, because of the extremely low buying power of the masses, is unable to absorb its products. It thus works almost exclusively for the world market. Of course, the basic essentials for the resolution of these economic problems already exist in Spain. The country has sufficient resources to be able to cultivate the land in an effective way. But this transformation can only take place if the whole social structure is overturned, if this parasitical capitalism is extirpated and replaced by the conscious direction of the proletariat aiming at the construction of a communist society.
When the Republic was set up, just as after the victory of the Popular Front, a great deal of noise was made about the Agrarian Reform, but these measures only took effect at a political level (expropriation and redistribution of land). However, since the solution to the problem can only lie in the industrialization of agriculture, these projects were doomed to disappear as soon as the masses began to struggle in earnest, even though their movement was incapable of winning any real improvements. Certainly there is a difference between the economic programmes of the Right and the Left. The first is fighting for the rigid preservation of the specific social structure of Spain, the second for changes in the juridical and political manifestations of this structure. But since neither is able to get to the heart of the problem, it was inevitable that the masses, after e period of desperate struggle would feel that there was no solution and would go through a period of demoralization. This was easily exploited by the Right, which is least able to maintain capitalist exploitation without disruption; whereas the Left make things complicated by spreading the belief that under its guidance the struggle has real possibilities, that reforms can be won if only the big landowners can be opposed. But the latter will remain unassailable as long as the basic structure of the Spanish economy remains unchanged. The Republic of 1931 played the same role as the Popular Front in 1936, and it is not surprising that by 1934 the social situation was ripe for a victory of the agrarian Right and that in 1936 Franco had been able to find a favourable echo in the countryside.Origins of the present situation
In April 1936 the first skirmish took place. During the demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Republic, a ‘revolt’ broke out (to use the terminology of the Popular Front), Following this, rigorous measures were decreed by the government: Azana declared that “the government has taken a whole series of measures; fascists who were in positions of command have been transferred or replaced. The Right has been seized by panic, but it will not dare to come out into the open again”. (See l’Humanite, 26 April 1936). In the subsequent debate in the Cortes, the spokesman for the centrists, in complete agreement with his Socialist confederates, gave a vote of confidence in the government, which had committed itself to the suppression of ‘sedition’ And l’Humanite praised the government for its courageous struggle. The promises of agrarian reform were then made more concrete: discussions began around Article 44 of the Constitution which provides for nationalization without compensation. Azana declared that we should not stop at the distribution of communal estates, that it was necessary to envisage the sharing out of the ‘baldios’, the lands lying fallow which the big landowners reserved solely for hunting. He even said that we should not exclude the possibility of distributing the big cultivated estates to the peasants. Meanwhile the leftward movement within the Socialist Party gathered pace: on 23 April the Madrid Assembly pronounced itself in favour of the dictator ship of the proletariat and a split seemed inevitable. Two and a half months passed after the April events. The masses who had been hoping for an improvement in their lot were demoralized once again and the Right now judged that the s moment had come. Those self-same right wing elements who would not “dare to come out in the open again” went onto the offensive, using as a pretext the murder of the monarchist leader Sotelo, who had been killed as a reprisal for the assassination of Lieutenant Castillo. At this point we don’t want to try to analyse in any detail the subsequent events. (Information concerning these events could not be more contradictory.) Our aim is rather to explain them, to show their real meaning in order to define the class positions around which the Spanish and international proletariat must regroup itself if it is to prevent the sad impasse in which the masses now find themselves from once more leading to demoralization in their ranks. If this happens capitalism will use the present bloodletting as another step towards the mobilization of the workers of all countries for a new world war. Since our main aim will be the clarification of political positions, we shall have to postpone a more detailed analysis of events to a later date.The meaning of the Spanish conflict
The idea that, because capitalism dominates society today, it is possible for it to establish a social discipline that allows it a total control over all events, is very far from any political or historical reality. Capitalist society is by definition filled with contradictions which give rise not only to basic class antagonisms, but also to friction between the various intermediary strata, between these strata and the bourgeoisie, and finally to rivalry between capitalist groups and individuals. Certainly the bourgeoisie would like to reign in an atmosphere of social peace, but such tranquility is rendered impossible by the nature of capitalism itself. Thus the bourgeoisie is forced to accommodate itself to every situation and to learn not how to avoid any manifestation of social conflict, but how to canalize all such conflict in a direction which does not threaten their power, and which prevents the proletariat from mounting an offensive that would destroy their system. But it should not be thought that these opposition currents within the bourgeois camp can undermine or threaten the basis of capitalism. In spite of appearances, we will not find the real origins of the struggle between the militarists and the Popular Front in the opposition between their political programmes or between the bourgeois social strata that they represent. Moreover, it would be quite difficult to see the Azana front, which includes even the anarcho-syndicalists, as a coalition of industrialists, and the Franco bloc as the simple representative of the big landowners, exploiting the peasants’ dissatisfaction with the Popular Front in order to strengthen their hold over Andalusia and Estremadura, regions which witnessed powerful uprisings under the Republic.
Social events are determined by antagonisms linked to the conflict between the evolution of the productive forces and the existing form of social organization. What is being played out in Spain today is the historic antithesis between a bourgeois regime incapable of solving the economic and political problems which confront it and a proletarian regime which cannot come to the surface owing to the absence of a class party. Bourgeois factions, Left and Right, express the upheavals of a capitalist society which finds itself in an impasse, but the struggle between these two tendencies cannot be confined within the class boundaries of the bourgeoisie. It encompasses the proletariat because the proletariat alone holds the key to historical development. The real conflict is not between Azana and Franco, but between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Whichever one of these is beaten, the real loser will be the proletariat who will pay the cost of the victory of either Azana or Franco. Far from remaining indifferent to the present events simply because the struggle is one between two factions of the bourgeoisie, the duty of the proletariat is to intervene directly in the situation because it alone is the object of these ideological battles, and it alone will be the victim of the present struggle.
In his study of the Spanish Revolution Trotsky shows the particular character of the Spanish army in which the different kinds of military specializations correspond to various political positions: the artillery, for example, has always been higher up the social ladder. This profoundly correct observation of Trotsky’s allows us to understand that if the army in Spain maintains a particular position - and is not above the struggle between the different political parties of the bourgeoisie - this is a result of the social structure of Spain where capitalism was not able to destroy feudalism with violence but chose to identify itself with the surviving vestiges of feudalism. There is nothing surprising in the fact that generals occupy centre stage in today’s social upheavals and that they are able to play a political role of considerable importance. We make this observation in order to show that military sedition has not emerged out of internal army affairs and cannot be brought to an end by a quick pronunciamiento. It is not something which, if it is not .immediately successful, will be doomed to certain failure; rather it expresses a social struggle whose components we discussed when we looked at the social activity of the Popular Front government and the disappointments it brought to the peasants and the workers.
Just as at the time of the proclamation of the Republic which was a signal for the outbreak of formidable class struggle, the present struggle between the Popular Front and the generals simply camouflages a much more important social struggle. That struggle has been ripening in the sub-soil of a society dislocated by the dual anachronism of a capitalism unable to bring the slightest solution to the problems it faces, and a proletariat unable to build its class party and raise the flag of revolution in a social milieu bristling with contradictions which cannot be resolved in themselves.
The working class, which was hurled into epic struggles in the years 1931-33, is once again at the threshold of new uprisings which will be all the more powerful since the economic crisis has aggravated all the fundamental problems unresolved by either the left or right wing governments which followed each other in 1934-35,or by the Popular Front government. There was of course the legalized reaction which lasted throughout 1935, after the defeat of the Asturia insurrection, but this repression did not succeed in removing the proletariat from the social scene: the working class has once again been thrown into the arena by the impact of accentuated economic problems which have proved to be insoluble. In our opinion, it is here that the explanation of present events is to be found. It should be said at once that the first reaction of the Popular Front government to the Morocco mutiny was to manoeuvre towards a compromise with Franco. The resignation of Quiroga, President of Council was the first gesture made to the Right: to Quiroga had been attributed a phrase which was interpreted as giving encouragement to the punitive action against the monarchist, Sotelo.
Immediately afterward it was Barrios (same man who had undertaken at the end of 1933 the rightward passage of the previously left wing regime and presided over the elections which subsequently gave a victory to the Right) who tried to constitute a government - again, the same Barrios who, after the assassination of Sotelo declared the situation had become impossible because the regular corps of the Civil Guard might organize outrages. The attempted compromise failed, but this did not mean that the government immediately went on to arm the workers. As soon as his Cabinet was set up, Giral tried to divert the masses with vague anti-fascist proclamations and the enlistment offices were only set up when it had already become clear that the workers in the industrial towns had mounted a vigorous resistance and had gone over to armed struggle, Once this had become unavoidable, the bourgeoisie saw that it could only defend its interests by legalizing the arming of the workers which was the only possible method of politically disarming the masses. Once the workers had been incorporated into the state, there was a considerable lessening of the danger that they would take advantage of that illegal instrument par excellence, armed force, and go over to that illegal struggle par excellence - the assault on the social citadel of capitalism, the state.
One might suppose that the arming of the workers is an act containing, some innate virtue from the political point of view and that, once they’ve got arms, the workers could get rid of their traitorous leaders and go on to a higher form of struggle. This is not the case. The workers whom the Popular Front have incorporated into the bourgeois state, because they are fighting under the leadership and for the victory of a bourgeois faction, are by that very fact deprived of the possibility of struggling on the basis of class positions. Here we are not dealing with a struggle begun under the leadership of a bourgeois formation, but capable of taking on a proletarian character because it is based on fundamental class demands. What we are dealing with is this: the workers have taken up a cause which not only is not their cause, but which is fundamentally opposed to their interests. There is no need to refute the vulgar arguments about the possible responsibilities of the workers or about the demonic abilities of the traitors. For us, the workers are discovering the impossibility of seeing the way to victory without a minority of the class forming the party. And this has happened because of the way capitalism has exploited, brutalized, and prevented them from achieving a consciousness of social reality and the road that leads to victory. The masses in their entirety can attain a perfectly conscious understanding of their role, but this can only happen in particular circumstances arising out of a historical situation, ie, during a revolution, when the maturation of consciousness makes victory possible under the leadership of the class party. The workers have never fought willingly for the traitors, for the Popular Front; they still believe that they are fighting for the defence of their own interests. It is only the particularities of the situation which have allowed the traitors to force into the hands of the masses a flag which is not their own the flag, the flag of the bourgeoisie.
The development of events so far seems to exclude the possibility of the Spanish workers affirming themselves along class lines. We will quite probably see the kind of heroic exploits that took place in 1932; they may be even more heroic, but unfortunately they will simply be part of a bloody social upheaval which has no chance of reaching the level of an insurrectional movement. At the time of writing there is no documentation at all on these events, but what allows us to put forward the political positions we do is the fact that there is an enormous disproportion between the arming of huge numbers of workers and the rare episodes of class struggle that have taken place. Very recently we have been able to read the appeals made by the Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists - appeals that seemed to have been listened to – asking the workers to go back to work in order to ensure the victory of the government.
These considerations allow us to assert that, even during the second phase of events when it will be a question of physically disarming the workers, a revolutionary perspective will not unfortunately be opened up. If the government wins it will be easy to root out the pockets of resistance formed by workers who don’t want to give up their aims; to massacre them like the Zamora and Azana-Caballero governments did in 1931-32 when the class as a whole was caught up in the intoxication of the anti-fascist victory. In the event of a right wing victory, news now coming out of the zones presently occupied by the generals shows quite clearly how they will go about massacring the revolutionary workers.
The positions we have put forward may lead some to accuse us of pessimism. The question of optimism or pessimism is of no interest for marxists unless it is based on class criteria. Thus for the proletariat, the greatest pessimist is he who quibbles most about the revolutionary perspectives opening up under the leadership of the Popular Front, because he is displaying the darkest pessimism with regard to the proletarian programme and the historic role of the workers. On the other hand the greatest optimist is he who bases himself solely on the politics of the working class and expresses not only distrust, but a ruthless opposition towards the traitors, even when they hide behind the scarlet mask of the ‘general armament of the proletariat’, It is well-known that Marx, even though an analysis of the epoch had led him to oppose insurrections in 1870 (see letter to Kugelmann), raised the flag for the defence of the Commune against all its democratic detractors and its republican and reactionary butchers. The proletarian struggle does not follow the pre-established schema of the academics, but is a result of the contradictory course of historical evolution. The present events in Spain, however wasteful they may appear to armchair revolutionaries, are nevertheless a step along the road towards the emancipation of the world proletariat. It will not be in vain that the heroic workers have fallen; it will not be in vain that the Spanish women and young girls have dedicated themselves to urging the workers to “storm the heavens” (Marx), making a vital contribution to the class struggle beside which all the proclamations of feminism pale into insignificance.
But apart from these considerations about the ultimate repercussions of current events, it is necessary to show on what basis the proletariat can move towards victory, and on what terrain the proletarian groupings who seek to act as the nuclei of the class party must struggle from now on. The dilemma for or against the Popular Front, however seductive it may seem in the present circumstances; the fear of a right wing victory which would lead to the extermination of the workers, however justified it may be for militants who have experienced the ferocious repression of fascism: none of this must make us forget that the proletariat cannot pose the problem in these terms, because capitalism is the only arbiter in the choice of its governmental personnel. The only way forward for the workers is to regroup on a class basis: to fight for partial demands, for the defence of conquests already made, while at the same time preparing for the moment when the development of events will make it possible to put forward the only real governmental solution: the dictatorship of the proletariat. In other words, to raise the slogan of insurrection when the conditions for it have ripened. Such an approach to the problem could certainly weaken the stability and the possibilities for success of the Popular Front government; but the right wing victory which would result from it would lead nowhere, because the proletariat would have at last constituted itself as a class and would be in a position to smash the forces of capitalist reaction once and for all. The proletariat would not then allow a repeat of what happened in Italy and more particularly in Germany, when the Socialists and centrists prepared the way for bloody repression by the Right. This position obviously has nothing in common with that which the centrists in Bulgaria defended in 1924 when they remained indifferent in the face of a struggle between two bourgeois factions. We have explained that the essence of this conflict is not the struggle between Franco and Azana but between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and we conclude from this that the proletariat must intervene with all its strength in the present situation - but only on its own class terrain.
From the international point of view, the demonstrations of solidarity by workers of other countries can only link up with the struggle of the Spanish proletariat if they break with the Popular Front, which is calling for the intervention of the democratic armies in order to thwart the manoeuvres of the fascists. Such appeals are an excellent way of mobilizing the masses for war. These demonstrations of solidarity can only lead somewhere if they are directed against the respective bourgeoisies of each country. Our fraction is attempting such work among Italian emigres.
Finally, the bloody alarms issuing from Spain, where the workers are dying in the struggle for communism even if they find themselves under the banners of the Popular Front, are another warning to left communists in different countries of the need to constitute an international centre so that, after a profound discussion of the experiences of recent years, the basic premises for a new Revolutionary International can be laid down. Will this tragic lesson, learned at the cost of the lives of many Spanish workers, be the last one before the outbreak of a new world war? But even if capitalism can delay that fateful day there is no excuse for the inertia displayed by the various left communist groups in response to the initiatives of our fraction to begin the work of political clarification needed to lay the iron basis for an organization capable of leading the struggle of the working class towards the triumphs of the world revolution.
(Bilan, no. 33, July-August 1936)
The ‘Communists’ are making a bourgeois revolution! They want a great, prosperous, happy Spain. The bourgeoisie also wants it and the fascists wouldn’t say no to such a programme. As for a democratic Spain, that’s another kettle of fish. It is precisely democratic Spain - in so far as a capitalist country can still be democratic - that has developed the antagonisms between capital and labour that have led to the present Civil War. By talking about democracy, the ‘Communists’ hope to be able to stay silent about the class conflicts that are rending Spanish society. It is no less probable that the Spanish syndicalists and anarchists have an even clearer vision of the struggle now unfolding. For a long time the CNT and FAI (Iberian Anarchists Federation) have supported the petit-bourgeois government of the Catalonian Generalidad. They offer no programme for social transformation.
(Bilan, no. 33, July-August 1936)
* The Bilan texts have been translated from French.
1 The verb, gourer, in French means to be deceived or mistaken.