Bilan 34: Against the imperialist front and massacre of the Spanish workers

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The simple general assertion that in Spain today there is a bloody struggle in progress between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, far from helping to take up a political position favourable to the defence and ultimate victory of the proletariat, could actually lead to the most terrible disaster and massacre of the workers. In order to arrive at a positive assessment it is first of all necessary to see whether the masses have been fighting on their own class terrain, and thus whether they are in a position to move forward, to develop the capacity to drive back the attacks of their class enemies.

At the moment there are several explanations of the political situation. Let us deal first with the one put forward by the Popular Front, to which the centrists have given a ‘theoretical’ gloss. According to them ‘the dissidents, the rebels, the fascists’ are fighting a life or death struggle against the ‘legal government which is defending bread and freedom’. The duty of the proletariat is thus to defend the government which represents the pro­gressive bourgeoisie against the forces of feudalism. Once the workers have helped it to defeat these feudal elements, they can then advance to the next stage of the struggle: the fight for socialism. In our last issue we showed that while Spanish capitalism was incapable of achieving the same kind of social organization as exists in other European countries, nevertheless, it is the bourgeoisie which is in power in Spain, and only the proletariat and it alone is capable of overhauling Spain’s economic and political structures.

The Popular Front in Spain, as was the case in other countries, has in the course of events shown itself to be not an instru­ment of the workers but a powerful weapon of the bourgeoisie in its effort to smash the working class. We only have to recall that it was under the Popular Front government that the Right was able to organize its activity in a methodical way; thus the Right was given all the room it needed to prepare its plots and conspiracies (though this more theatrical side of its activities was actually the least important). More signi­ficant than this was the fact that the actions of the Popular Front government have led to the demoralization of the peasant masses and to a profound hostility on the part of the workers, who once again had been moving towards another big wave of strikes like those of 1931-2 that were crushed by the terror carried out by a left-­wing government, by a crew very similar to today’s Popular Front government.

Right from the beginning of the present situation the Popular Front adopted a policy of compromise with the Right, as can be seen by the setting up of the Barrios government. Hence there is nothing surpri­sing in the fact that Franco did not arrest Azaña right at the beginning, even though he could have done so without any problem. The point is that the whole situation was very uncertain and, although the capitalists opted for a frontal attack in every town, they were unsure as to whether their extreme right wing would be able ‘to immediately win a complete victory. Because of this the arrest of Azaña was put off, and it was really the subsequent actions of the Popular Front which gave the capitalist offensive its greatest chance of succeeding.

First in Barcelona and then in other working class centres, the right-wing attack was met by a popular uprising which, because it took place on a class basis and came into conflict with the capitalist state machine, could have very quickly led to the disintegration of the army: as the events of the uprising unfolded on the streets, the class struggle broke out in the regiments and the soldiers rebelled against their officers. At this point the proletariat was moving directly towards an intense political armament, which could only have resulted in an offensive directed against the capitalist class and towards the communist revolution.

Owing to this vehement and powerful response of the proletariat, capitalism felt that it had to abandon its original plan of a uni­form, frontal attack. In the face of the insurgent workers who were developing a powerful class consciousness, the bourgeoisie saw that the only way it could save itself and win out was to give the Popular Front the task of directing the political action of the workers. The arming of the masses was tolerated only so that it could be strictly contained within the limits of a ‘united command’ with a specifically capi­talist political orientation. Today Caballero is in the process of perfecting this instrument from the technical point of view. At the beginning the workers were poorly armed in material terms but well armed politically; after this, however, the workers were laden with sophisticated arms but they were no longer fighting on their own instinctive class basis: they had been gradually shifted onto the opposite terrain, the terrain of the capitalist class.

Rapidly in Madrid, less easily in the Asturias, and after an even more complicated process in Barcelona, the Popular Front was able to achieve its aims and today the masses find themselves trapped by a logic that maintains the capitalist state machine is inviolate, that it must be allowed to function as freely as possible so that the Right can be defeated, since the crushing of the ‘rebels’ is the supreme duty of the hour.

The proletariat has laid down its own class weapons and has consented to a compromise with its enemy through the medium of the Popular Front. In the place of a class line-up (the only one which could have put Franco’s regiments out of joint and res­tored confidence in the peasants who had been terrorized by the Right) a new line ­up has emerged, a specifically capitalist one, and the Union Sacrée (trans. ‘Holy Alliance’) has been achieved. Now the imperialist carnage can set town against town, region against region in Spain, and by extension, state against state in the struggle between the two democratic and fascist blocs.

The fact that a world war has not yet broken out does not mean the Spanish and international proletariat has not already been mobilized for the purpose of butchering itself under the imperialist slogans of fascism and anti-fascism.

After the Italian and German experience, it is extremely depressing to see politically developed workers, basing their analysis on the fact that the Spanish workers are armed, come to the conclusion that, even though the Popular Front is leading these armies and in the absence of a total change in the situation, the conditions exist for the victory of the working class. No, Azaña and Caballero are worthy brothers of the Italian and German socialists whom they have ably emulated - in an extremely difficult situation they have succeeded in betraying the workers. They have allowed the workers to keep their arms only because they are being used in a class struggle which is not that of the proletariat against Spanish and international capital, but that of capital against the working class of Spain and the whole world - a struggle that has taken the form of an imperialist war.

In Barcelona reality is hidden behind a façade. Because the bourgeoisie has tempor­arily withdrawn from the political scene, and because certain enterprises are being run without bosses, some people have come to the conclusion that bourgeois political power no longer exists. But if it didn’t really exist then we would have seen another power arise: the power of the pro­letariat. And here the tragic answer provided by the reality of events is cruel. All the existing political formations, even the most extreme (the CNT), openly proclaim that there can be no question of attacking the capitalist state machine - for even headed by Companys it can be ‘of use’ to the working class. Our position on this question is absolutely clear: there are two principles opposing each other here, two classes, two realities. It is a question of either collaboration and treason, or struggle. In such an extreme situation the forces of collaboration also resort to extreme methods. If in the course of a social conflagration like the one that took place in Barcelona, the workers are pushed not towards attacking the capitalist state, but towards defending it, then it is class collaboration and not class struggle which has won the day. Class struggle does not develop through a series of material con­quests which leave the enemy’s apparatus of power untouched, but through the outbreak of genuinely proletarian actions. To soci­alize an enterprise while leaving the state apparatus intact, is a link in the chain which ties the proletariat to its class enemy, both on the home front and on the imperialist front of struggle between fascism and anti-fascism, whereas the out­break of a strike based on the simplest

class demand and even in a ‘socialized’ industry can be a moment in the eventual triumph of the Spanish and international proletariat.

It is just as impossible to identify the proletariat with the bourgeoisie as it is to identify the present territorial front, the armies of the Union Sacrée, with a class line-up and a class army. The differ­ence between the two is fundamental and is not a question of detail. At the moment there is an apparent contradiction between the details and essentials, between the ardour, the sacrifices, the heroism of the workers enrolled in the armies of the Popular Front and the historic political function of the latter. Like Lenin in April 1917, we have to go to the heart of the problem and it is here that the only real political differentiation can be made. The capitalist attack can only be answered on a proletarian basis. Those who ignore this central problem are deliberately placing themselves on the other side of the barri­cades. As for the much-vaunted social conquests, they are nothing but a mesh tying the workers to the bourgeoisie.

In the present situation in which the proletariat is caught between two capitalist forces, the proletariat can only go forward by following the path that leads to insur­rection. It is impossible for the armies of Catalonia, Madrid, or the Asturias to evolve in a positive direction: a brutal, unequivocal break with them is the only course open to the class. The essential precondition for the salvation of the Spanish working class is the re-establish­ment of class frontiers in opposition to the present territorial divisions. Above all in Catalonia, where the energy of the proletariat is still powerful, it is nece­ssary to channel this energy towards class strugg1e. It is necessary to foil the plans of the capitalists, which consist in crushing the peasant masses with naked terror while using political corruption to seduce the industrial masses into joining the ranks of Spanish and international capital. NO to the Union Sacrée, at any stage of the struggle, at any moment of the battle! It may be that this step in the imperialist war may not immediately lead to a world-wide conflagration. In that case unless there is a total change in the situation, the present conflict in Spain will end in a victory for the Right, because the Right has the role of massacring the workers in their thousands, of installing a regime of total terror like the ones that exterminated the Italian and German prole­tariat. The Left, the Popular Front, has a different capitalist function: its role is to make a bed for the reactionaries, a bloody bed in which thousands of Spanish workers and workers of other countries have already lain.

The working class has only one bastion: its own class struggle. It cannot be victorious when it is imprisoned in the bastion of the enemy and that is what the present military fronts represent for the class. The heroic defenders of Irún were condemned in advance. They had been led onto the capitalist terrain by the Popular Front which succeeded in obliterating their own class terrain and in so doing made them a prey for the armies of Franco.

Armed struggle as part of an imperialist front is the grave of the proletariat. The only response of the proletariat is an armed struggle on its own class terrain. Instead of competing for the conquest of towns and regions, the class must mount an attack on the state machine. This is the only way to disintegrate the regiments of the Right; the only way of foiling the plans of Spanish and international capital. Otherwise, with or without the French proposals about non-intervention, with or without the Coordination Committee composed of fascists, democrats, and centrists (all the important countries are represented on it), capital will have its bloody triumph and the arms merchants of France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the Soviet State itself will deliver the goods to the two general staffs - Franco’s and Caballero’s - so that they can finish off the massacre of the Spanish workers and peasants.

In all countries, whether the bourgeoisie is for or against neutrality, for or against sending arms to Franco or the government, the workers must respond with their own class demonstrations, with strikes against the legal shipment of arms, with struggles against each imperialism. Only in this way can they express their solidarity with the cause of the Spanish proletariat.

(Bilan, no.34, August-September 1936)

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