Submitted by International Review on
A few ‘Spanish’ lessons
Forty years ago, on July 19th 1936, the Spanish workers hurled themselves barehanded into battle against Franco’s ‘pronunciamento’. Their spirited resistance, emerging without any order or directive having been issued from the mass organizations, demonstrated the fierceness of their class instincts. At that point they constituted an autonomous force moving towards an ideological break with the state. By the evening of that memorable day, the working class had spontaneously created its own organ of struggle, the workers’ militia, which was made up of all those who were exploited. Sectional and trade union divisions along with differences of political maturity amongst the militiamen were disregarded. The militia was actually the only gain made by the proletariat during this time. It was the proletariat’s only material weapon at a time when the CNT leadership was trying to get the workers to go back to work for the good of the ‘social’ Republic, the same Republic which had previously massacred them and armed Franco’s insurrection from top to bottom.
The Spanish proletariat was capable of blocking the Francoist uprising - but it was too weak to seize power, to preserve and develop its own organs of struggle. An intimate cause-and-effect relationship existed between the world situation and this powerlessness. With the Moscow trials in 1936, the last sods of earth were thrown onto the coffin of the world revolution. But the shots of the firing squads exterminating the last of the Bolsheviks, were drowned out by the clamour of anti-fascism.
What kind of social revolution is it when the international conditions for world revolution are completely non-existent and the state remains intact? Generally, this question is answered with lies that explain the defeat of the class by referring to the ‘betrayal’ of the anarchist leaders, or the ‘non-intervention’ policies of Daladier and Chamberlain (sic), or by accusing the POUM of being incompetent in executing its tasks.
In the epoch of the decadence of capitalism there can be no intermediate stage between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Hence the working class is faced with an insoluble dilemma when it is fighting within a national framework: either it can carry on fighting alone or enter into an alliance with factions of the bourgeoisie. In Spain the class took the second path, dragged along by anarchist leaders who had been cured as if by magic of their phobia about ‘politics’. From a class war against the capitalist enemy, the struggle was transformed into a conflict between the democratic and fascist factions of the bourgeoisie. Instead of resolutely following the path of revolutionary defeatism - in the tradition of the October victory in Russia - the class was used as cannon fodder in a war fought to serve the ambitions of Franco and the survival instincts of the Negrin-Caballero government.
As a militant who had, together with a handful of internationalists, raised the banner of revolutionary defeatism in opposition to the slaughter of the First World War, Trotsky now opted for perjury. He inculcated in his Spanish followers the idea of defending democracy, no matter how rotten it was, under the pretext that democracy (unlike fascism) did allow the proletariat the freedom to organize. A piercing strain in the writings of all kinds of people at the time was the need to support anti-fascism in order to ensure the military victory of the legal government. When you look through issues of La Batalla, Solidaridad Obrera and Mundo Obrero it is impossible to suppress your disgust. All of them demanded a wholesale alliance of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie. All of them abased themselves before the militarist state. The ‘marxists’ of the Union Sacree and the POUM did not blush a bit when they called the Republican government an expression of the will-to-struggle of the toiling masses. The anti-statists of the CNT-FAI did not hesitate to turn themselves into its lackeys, a role which made them the alter-ego of Stalinism: “First the war (an imperialist war, mind you:) then the fight for bread!” Thanks to them the state was able to regather into its criminal hands the momentarily-broken thread of control it had lost over the class and its organs of struggle.
From the moment the proletariat allowed itself to be drawn away from its own class terrain, the road was open for capitalism to massacre it. What was the proletariat defending? A fundamental position from which to launch a revolutionary offensive, or the cardboard conquests of agrarian reform and workers’ control over production? We have no choice but to insist that even while they were crushing the fascist hydra under the leadership of the Republican government, the Spanish workers were rapidly and decisively being led into defeat. While the proletariat everywhere was rushing to attack the fascist menace (had this monster arisen from the putrid mould of a decaying bourgeoisie or the fevered brain of the disloyal military staff?) capitalism was able to celebrate in blood - dancing a saraband over the corpses of hundreds of thousands of ‘blacks’ and ‘reds’. Franco came to power and managed to keep Spain out of the second imperialist war, for which Spain (like the Sino-Japanese conflict and the Italian military operations in Abyssinia) was simply a preparatory episode, sealed with the blood of thousands. Once again in the name of humanist and democratic principles, peacetime production was transformed into the production of human cadavers on an unheard of scale.
As soon as the imperialist brigands signed the diplomatic agreements putting an end to hostilities, the bourgeoisie could set about restoring the world from a state of smoking ruin. At the price of terrible exploitation and unspeakable deprivation, the capitalist order was able to heal the awful wound of war, which the bourgeoisie presented as a humanitarian operation. ‘In the name of humanity I wreak havoc; in the name of humanity I reconstruct the ruins!’ Such is the ship that capitalism will sail until it is broken on the reef of proletarian struggle.
Today, a new act in the world-wide struggle of the proletariat against capitalist society is being played out on the Spanish stage, precipitating a whole development of events. Far from leading to a stabilization of the system, the death of Franco (who counted on the church as the most stable mainstay of his dictatorship) has opened up a new era of instability for Spain.
The recent decades of capitalist reconstruction brought with them profound changes in the structure of the Spanish economy. Taking advantage of the possibilities of the boom, the Spanish bourgeoisie developed and concentrated Spain’s productive apparatus. Shining new industrial sectors sprung up on soil fertilized by a rain of cash, generously splashed about by other western countries. But the post-war boom was followed by a world-wide recession in industrial production and trade. Today the world economy is forced to breathe the stale air of protectionism. For Spain the changing situation has taken the concrete form of a fall in demand for its products.
Despite the active support given the Spanish economy primarily by the US and the Common Market countries in the hope of integrating Spain fully into the Atlantic community, the Spanish bourgeoisie under Juan Carlos has shown itself to be incapable of undertaking a quiet transition to a post-Franco regime. Spanish capitalism so infatuated with its success that it believed some of its factories were about to eclipse their French and Italian rivals, now appears to the proletariat in the light of the hideous reality of hunger, falling wages, material insecurity, and state violence. The false perspective of a continual improvement in workers’ living standards under capitalism and the theory of the smoothing-out of class contradictions, once triumphantly put forward by the ‘transcenders’ of marxism - all this has had its day. The working class in Spain had to pay a heavy tribute for the industrialization of the previous decade which reached a growth rate of more than 10%; it also had to be content with a meagre reward for its labour. Today not only is it being told to pull in its belt, but also to identify with the policy of national reconciliation.
Political life in Spain is a swamp exuding the pestilential stink of decadence. Who would have thought that one day Stalinists and monarchists would be allies? Who could have predicted that those ‘proud rebels’, the anarchists, would shamelessly enter the vertical trade unions in order to “play off corporatism in favour of the workers”? But those whose eyes are open and who know their history will not be astonished. All factions of the Spanish bourgeoisie are able to join together in a Union Sacree in order to save their economy. However, this does not mean they can control class antagonisms. Today we are faced with the historical exhaustion of the bourgeoisie, a class totally incapable of resolving a problem which has outdistanced it: the increasingly explosive contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the form of social organization in which they are contained.
The working class in Spain never fell on its knees and renounced its struggle. Even before the end of the ‘Spanish miracle’ (blown away like a straw in the wind by the world crisis), the spares of social conflagration were being lit in the majority of the country’s economic centres. The determination of the workers was manifested not only in work stoppages, but also in street-fighting. As intrepid as ever, braving the bullets of the Civil Guard, the Spanish proletariat toward the end of the 60s, resolutely launched itself into the struggle. In recent weeks hundreds of thousands of strikers have made an indelible imprint on Spanish social life. The bourgeoisie is finding it extremely hard to make the working class accept the need for sacrifices. The strike movement broke out in full force when the Arias-Navarro government stupidly tried to impose a wage freeze while lengthening the working day. Beginning with the strike of the Madrid metro, the chain of class solidarity was forged link by link in the heat of the struggle against the militarization of the strikers and the intervention of the troops. Of its own accord, the movement took on a political character. The dockers of Barcelona, the electricians of Standard in Madrid, the bank employees of Valencia and Seville had only to show themselves to be fighting on their own class terrain to inflict insomnia on the government and the opposition, which aspires to install itself in power with a minimum of social unrest.
The heroic Spanish proletariat has come to the fore in this political setting, indicating capitalism’s entry into a whole series of violent upheavals. The class which the ‘innovators’ and ‘transcenders’ of marxism saw to be a non-revolutionary class; the class which the system thought it had domesticated with the crumbs of its much vaunted prosperity - once again that class is on the move.
Their combativity has put the Spanish workers in the vanguard of the world proletarian movement. In the 30s, owing to its tragic isolation in terms of the international situation, each battle-field of the proletariat in Spain became a mass grave. But today the Spanish proletariat constitutes the advanced detachment of that immense proletarian army in the process of raising its head from east to west. As one of the most decisive centres of world class struggle, the situation in Spain allows us to understand the magnitude of the effort the international bourgeoisie is making to shore up the last ramparts of its system.
The proletariat has re-emerged on a terrain which will enable it to propel events toward a revolutionary conclusion. That terrain is the class autonomy of the proletariat; that conclusion is the seizure of political power. The chances for the whole of humanity to extricate itself from the mire in which it has languished for three-quarters of a century depend on the proletariat’s ability to take up this banner, a banner which has been raised by the class ever since its first efforts to storm the heavens.
The enemy and its weapons
Faced with a whole number of strikes which have developed like a powder-trail despite the firm vigilance of the workers’ commissions in their efforts to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy, the forces of the Left are putting all their skills into action. They are trying to derail the workers’ response, to cut it down to ‘peaceful’ dimensions, to transform the workers’ consciousness into a vulgar ‘public opinion’.
Long before the military victory of Franco the Stalinists and Social Democrats were terrorizing the workers in the 30s. Give yourselves up body and soul to the needs of the struggle against fascism or we will strike you down like dogs: In May 1937 the Stalinist-reformist riff-raff engaged in the armed destruction of the final battle of the proletariat of Barcelona and other working class suburbs, when the workers had the audacity to go on strike in sectors that were supposed to be ‘conquests of the revolution’. Once again they asked the workers to show themselves to be ‘responsible’ by respecting the law. For them, any will to autonomous struggle or any independent action of the class was akin to the proverbial bull in the china shop. The holy alliance concluded by the Stalinists, POUMists, Socialists, and anarchists functioned to smother any sign of strength in the proletariat as soon as it appeared.
Every democratic slogan, every transitional demand pushes the proletariat into a union with the left wing of the Spanish bourgeoisie. The leftists play the role of gadflies. The Stalinists will respect “the verdict of the ballot, no matter what the result”. The Trotskyists will also respect it so as not to cut themselves off from the masses. The Stalinists will make the workers go back to the very factories they have deserted in order to come out onto the streets. The Trotskyists will issue warnings against provoking the ‘reactionaries’ who-are-only-waiting-for-an-excuse-to-repress-us. In all cases, the leftists will reveal their intention of guaranteeing social peace for the bourgeoisie by holding back the increasingly huge numbers of workers who are coming to consciousness.
The fact that capitalism can no longer govern within the framework of Francoist authoritarianism is shown by the relaxation of the ‘sumarismo’ procedure and by the amendments to the anti-terrorist law passed during the summer of 1975. The Spanish bourgeoisie must move toward making the necessary political changes the situation requires. A country which for thirty-five years has lived under the single-handed reign of an autocrat needs the democratic envelope to serve as a lightning conductor for social electricity. In Spain, anti-Francoist sentiments are rife and slogans about ‘winning democratic rights’ have an exceptional importance in attempts to dupe the working class. The democratic parties will be legalized, the CSN will be converted into ‘genuinely representative trade unions’ in order to cushion as much as possible a direct confrontation with the working class.
The proletariat must not allow itself to be taken in by this. It must be aware what all those who talk about ‘democratic rights’ are on about. The state, whatever its constitution, remains a machine for oppressing the working class. When the class struggle has reached a higher level and the workers move toward the seizure of power, this ‘purified’ state will spill the blood of the workers as they pursue the path leading to armed insurrection.
The sirens of democracy make all kinds of noises, promising the working class a journey to a land of milk and honey. But this formal democracy is nothing but bourgeois dictatorship in disguise. The more decrepit the tart, the more she uses rouge and make-up. The bourgeoisie uses the same seductive weapons in its period of decadence. It is true that Franco, like the Hindu Thugs, practised state murder with the aid of the garotte. But what did the Spanish Republic get up to during its interregnum?
As each successive dictatorship fell like a rotten fruit, the bourgeoisie achieved a more advanced concentration of its forces in preparation for the physical crushing of the working class. From 1931 to 1936, the government of the social Republic machine-gunned, bombed, and deported to its African prisons whole batches of insurgent workers. It more or less integrally maintained the police and judicial apparatus of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. The coalition of Republicans and Socialists in the Azana government very quickly showed its worth. The 114 Socialist Deputies in the Constituent Cortes covered up all the crimes committed by the liberal cannibals. Among the interminable series of legal murders perpetrated in the name of ‘democracy’ there was Arnido and Casas Viejas. Even more horrible was the repression in the Asturias. The conscripts, both regulars and legionaries of the ‘Tercio’, plunged the miners of Oviedo and the workers of Giron into a bloodbath, with the full blessing of the Church. It was the Republic which gave its soldiery a licence to spread terror through the working class districts; and today the creation of a Republic is being called for once again by the whole crowd of the ‘Left’ and the ‘extreme Left’.
Fifteen years earlier, at its first Congress, the Communist International honoured the victims of the White Terror, a terror which was being further incensed by the calumnies of the Social Democrats against the soviet power in Russia. It declared that: “In its struggle to maintain the capitalist order, the bourgeoisie is using the most outrageous methods, in the face of which all the cruelties of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition and colonization pale into insignificance.”
As the inheritor of a coherent communist programme through the Fractions which came out of the Third International, the ICC insists that the establishment of a Spanish Republic elected by universal suffrage will in no way create constitutional conditions favourable to the proletariat. On the contrary, the setting up of such a Republic will result from the need of the bourgeoisie to carry out repression under the cover of juridical rules and regulations ‘legalized’ by the will of the majority of the ‘people’. As the somewhat rickety last hope of capitalism, it is logical that the ‘democratic’ parties should now come forward with their soporific phrases about the ‘need for compromise’ and ‘anti-fascist unity’. To oppose these parties, to denounce them for what they are - strike-breakers, butchers of workers’ uprisings - is one of the fundamental political duties of a revolutionary.
The proletariat in Spain has given itself with ardour to the revolution, but the bourgeoisie is making use of all its supporters - its lawyers, journalists, parliamentarians, and separatist agents in an effort to reduce the class to impotence.
The political lessons of events in Spain stand out in particularly bold relief. The Spanish tragedy of yesterday must serve as a guide to the struggle today and as a warning to the world proletariat. The class must first of all take political power since in contrast to previous revolutionary classes, it has no economic base within society. This is the sine qua non for any socialization of the productive forces. Though strikes are a vital necessity of working class struggle, they are simply the point of departure for the movement toward the complete emancipation of the working class which can only come into being after the destruction of the state.