Bilan 37 The reality of a facade government

Printer-friendly version

How many times haven’t we heard it said: “Caballero and Companys are merely a facade. In reality the workers are in power and the proletariat is hiding the real state of affairs to prevent foreign intervention”. For four months now the workers have been served up this same old refrain, along with another one - that we’re in danger of seeing a repetition of the scenario of the Kornilov affair. No doubt about it - the demagogues are still going strong and the mere sight of thou­sands of workers’ corpses will not silence them or make them think again.

According to this refrain, Companys is just a facade. Caballero is nothing but a screen - and that’s enough to put the capitalist states on the wrong scent. Do these gentle­men truly take the workers for imbeciles? Because it is difficult to believe that the anarchists, the POUM, the Social-Centrists would have gone to so much trouble to join the government if it were only a facade. Since the national plenum of the regional organizations of the CNT in September, the CNT has been feverishly struggling to be part of the Caballero government (now sanctified by the name ‘Council’), while the POUM could find no rest until it was given a portfolio in the Council of the Catalan Generalidad.

But let’s look at things again more closely. Is it or isn’t it the case that the so-called facade in Madrid has control of the military forces of ‘democracy’? Wasn’t it this fact that forced the anarchists to demand so stridently that they be allowed to participate in this facade? It’s a funny kind of ‘revolutionary’ who says that the revolution depends on war, and who then gives the leadership of this war to Mr. Caba­llero.

But if you really want to prove that the bourgeois governments of the Spanish Popular Front are devoid of any importance, you should at least be able to show that there are other, real organs of power existing outside them. But since this is a bit dif­ficult to do it is necessary to resort to other arguments: like, for instance, the idea that the entry of workers’ organiza­tions into various ministries changes the nature of the state. Certainly, (the argu­ment goes on) in appearance the new state is quite similar to the old one, just like one drop of water resembles another. But this is, you see, just an ‘exterior facade’ .... The old reformists used the same argu­ments when they participated in the govern­ments of the bourgeoisie. But the problem is to see .who or what gets changed: the bourgeois state which absorbs the ‘workers’ ministers’, or the workers’ representatives who take on state functions. A half century of reformism has resolved this problem, and Lenin was right in October 1917 when, faithful to the teachings of Marx, he advo­cated the violent and total destruction of the capitalist state.

When we look at the concrete example of Spain, it will not be very difficult to prove that the ‘façade’ is in fact the reality of the situation, while on the other hand the so-called reality put forward by the anarchists and POUMists is truly a vulgar facade.

What does the Spanish bourgeoisie want to do? It wants to put an end to the workers’ movement for a whole period, since the lat­ter is an obstacle to the establishment of a stable regime capable of ‘peacefully’ ensuring the exploitation of the workers and peasants. It could only achieve this end by means of a monstrous massacre of the workers who rose up on 19 July; and this massacre was effected through a holy war, an anti-fascist crusade, which the workers fought in the belief that they were fight­ing for their revolution.

An essential bourgeois rule had to be ob­served: leave the mechanisms of the bour­geois state intact and reinforce it with the help of the workers’ organizations, who were given the supporting role of Peter the Hermit for the anti-fascist crusade. Of course, the factories expropriated by the workers were collectivized, big areas of land belonging to fascists were divided up; but always in conformity with the mainten­ance and strengthening of the bourgeois state, which was able to grow and develop in a situation in which the collectivized factories became militarized factories where the workers had to produce “more than before 19 July” and where they were no longer allowed to put forward the sligh­test class demand. The bourgeois state lives and strengthens itself the more the war effort prevents workers from living and strengthening themselves in the class struggle. “Everyone to the front or to the factory.” It is this situation which has allowed the bourgeois and workers’ organi­zations to replace the characteristic acti­vity of the proletariat with the character­istic activity of the bourgeoisie……..

Let us proceed with our study and take a look at the battle fought around Madrid. Who was responsible for Franco’s advance? It’s all well and good to rail against Italy and Germany for providing arms and troops to Franco’s fascists. The truth is that the Caballero government, allowed Toledo to fall and left Franco to concen­trate his troops when its own were scattered across a vast front deprived of any chance of success. However, Caballero claimed - along with the rest of the anti-fascist front - that Madrid was the real stake in the battle. But, after the flight of the government to Valencia - determined by the entry of the anarchists into it - was the reality of the facade thought worthy of notice? But of course not, the ‘Junta for the Defence of Madrid’ placed itself under the authority of the Madrid government and assumed the appearance of the old ‘façade’. And all our fine speechifiers, our demago­gues with their pretty revolutionary phrases, our commercial travellers-in-arms did not dream that it would be monstrous and criminal to call on the workers of Madrid and the international brigades to get themselves butchered for the sake of orders coming from their worst enemies.

If the proletarian revolution had developed in Spain, the workers would have quickly demanded that the understanding of the sit­uation be translated into deeds. How can you demand, call to the workers of other countries to come to the rescue when your actions are being lied about and distorted? The transfer of power from one class to another is the least conformist and traditional act imaginable. The question of ‘facades’ just doesn’t come into it when what is demanded is the total overthrow of the old state of affairs and the establish­ment of a new one.

The reality of the situation is really quite straightforward. Those who ask the workers to applaud the ‘façade’ of Companys and Caballero are the very same people who think that you can make the proletarian revolution with the permission of the demo­cratic bourgeoisie and set up a proletarian power by reforming the bourgeois state. These intentions are what the proletariat should ponder, and not the reality of this vulgar facade.

Everything would be fine if only events didn’t speak so cruelly for themselves.The workers would get killed on the fronts, the economic and social legislation of the ‘new society’ would develop little by little and .... Franco would be advancing militarily. But facts like these tend to give rise to disquiet among the workers. Hence, the Catalan bourgeoisie lately has been sending out feelers to Franco. Perhaps by proclaiming Catalonia an independent Republic Franco would be able to finish off Madrid more quickly? The ‘conspiracy’ has been discovered, the guilty have been punished (?) and order has been restored, because the anarchists don’t want the imposition of a ‘medieval republic’. But in its 2 December issue, Avangardia - a publication controlled by the Generalidad - denounced the lack of discipline within the rearguard. Since all the workers’ parties and organizations are represented in the government, those who act without represen­tation in the government must be regarded as fascists. As you can see, the ‘façade’ government isn’t doing at all badly. The bourgeoisie can also send out feelers among the workers and nobody can act outside the state.

Then there is the POUM, bewailing its so-called pseudo ‘workers and petty bourgeois government’. The Socialist ministers of Valencia claim that a quarter of an hour after a decision has been taken, their own civil servants will transmit it to Franco. The whole of the old bourgeois state appara­tus remains intact.

And when the Cortes met in Valencia, there was stupefaction everywhere. The CNT deci­ded that its ministers would not participate in the debates - perhaps for the sake of decency. But it let the parliamentary comedy be played out without saying a word. The anarchists are great statesmen who understand Caballero’s foreign policy and want to avoid disturbing it at all costs.

The POUM allows the representatives of its left wing to blather on about the fact that the bourgeois state still exists and explain the need to base the revolution not on the Cortes but on a Congress of workers’ and peasants’ committees. Four months after July, it can write that the bourgeoi­sie is making a symbolic gesture that sig­nifies the preservation of the form and content of the bourgeois democratic state.

The ‘revolution’ in Spain is truly a ‘pro­found’ one. It is tempting to blame the massacre of the workers and peasants on the verbiage of the demagogues alone. But what is needed is struggle and an appeal to the workers of all countries to come to the aid of the Iberian proletariat, to help it get out of this massacre. Already it is impos­sible to deny that the increasingly active intervention of Germany, Italy and Russia is making the Spanish events a moment in an imperialist war. The resistance of the Republicans around Madrid is heightening the tension of the international situation and is making the real nature of the struggle quite clear.

Only through the intervention of the workers of all countries struggling against their own bourgeoisie, and only through the inter­vention of the Spanish workers turning their guns against the ‘facade’ government of Valencia and Barcelona as well as against Franco, only through the workers unleashing their defensive struggles, struggles repre­senting moments of a generalized attack on the capitalist state - only this can allow the world proletariat to rediscover the path leading to the proletarian revolution.

(Bilan no.37, November-December 1936)

History of the workers' movement: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: