Section Five: The Spanish Revolution
The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning
Menshevism and Bolshevism in Spain
The military operation in Ethiopia, in Spain, in the Far East are being studied closely by all military staffs, preparing themselves for the great future war. The battles of the Spanish proletariat, heat lightning flashes of the future world revolution, should be no less attentively studied by the revolutionary staffs: only under this condition will coming events not take us unawares.
Three conceptions fought—with uneven forces—in the so-called republican camp: Menshevism, Bolshevism, and anarchism. So far as the bourgeois republican parties are concerned, they had neither independent ideas nor independent political significance and maintained themselves only on the back of the reformists and Anarchists. Furthermore, it would not be any kind of exaggeration to say that the leaders of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism did everything to repudiate their doctrine and virtually reduce its significance to zero. Actually in the so-called republican camp two doctrines fought: Menshevism and Bolshevism.
In accordance with the viewpoint of the Socialists and Stalinists, i.e., Mensheviks of the first and second mobilisation, the Spanish revolution was to have solved only its “democratic” tasks, for which a single front with the “democratic” bourgeoisie was necessary. From this point of view every attempt of the proletariat to go outside the limits of bourgeois democracy is not only premature but fatal. Moreover, on the order of the day stands not the revolution but the struggle against the insurgent Franco. Fascism is “reaction.” Against “reaction” it is necessary to unite all forces of “progress.” Menshevism, itself a branch of bourgeois thought, does not have and does not wish to have any understanding of the fact that fascism is not feudal but bourgeois reaction, that one can successfully fight against bourgeois reaction only with the forces and methods of the proletarian revolution.
The Bolshevik point of view, consummately expressed only by the young section of the Fourth International, emanated from the theory of permanent revolution, that is, that even purely democratic problems, like the liquidation of semi-feudal land ownership, cannot be solved without the conquest of power by the proletariat; but this in turn places the socialist revolution on the order of the day. Moreover, the Spanish workers themselves posed practically, from the first stages of the revolution, not only those problems simply democratic but those purely socialist. The demand not to step out of the bounds of bourgeois democracy signifies in actuality not a defence of the democratic revolution but a repudiation of it. Only through an overturn in agrarian relations could the peasantry, the great mass of the population, have been transformed into a powerful bulwark against fascism. But the land owners are tied with indissoluble bonds to the banking-commercial-industrial bourgeoisie and bourgeois intelligentsia dependent on them. Thus the party of the proletariat faced the necessity of a choice between being with the peasant masses or with the liberal bourgeoisie. The inclusion of the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie in a common coalition could have been done with but a single aim: to help the bourgeoisie deceive the peasantry and thus isolate the workers. The agrarian revolution could have been accomplished only against the bourgeoisie, hence only through measures of the dictatorship of the proletariat. There does not exist any kind of middle, intermediate regime.
From the viewpoint of theory in Spanish politics, Stalin more than anything astounds one by his complete obliviousness to the alphabet of Leninism. After a lapse of several decades—and what decades!—the Comintern has fully re-established as proper the doctrine of Menshevism. More than that: it has contrived to give to this doctrine a more “consistent” and by that token a more absurd expression. In czarist Russia, on the eve of 1905, the formula of “purely democratic revolution” had behind it in any case immeasurably more arguments than in 1937 in Spain. No wonder that in contemporary Spain “the liberal workers’ policy” of Menshevism became a reactionary anti-working class policy of Stalinism. At the same time the doctrine of the Mensheviks, this caricature of Marxism, was transformed into a caricature of itself.
The “theory” of the People’s Front
However, it would be naïve to think that at the basis of the politics of the Comintern in Spain there lies a theoretical “mistake.” Stalinism rules not through the theory of Marxism, or through any kind of theory in general, but by the empirical interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. In their own circle the Soviet cynics laugh at Dimitrov’s “philosophy” of the People’s Front. But they have at their disposal for deceiving the masses numerous staffs of preachers of this holy formula, sincere ones and cheats, simpletons and charlatans. Louis Fischer with his ignorance and self-satisfaction, with his provincial reasoning and organic deafness to revolution is the most repulsive representative of this unattractive fraternity. “The union of progressive forces!” The triumph of the idea of the People’s Front!” The assault of the Trotskyists on the unity of the anti-fascist ranks!”…Who will believe that the Communist Manifesto was written 90 years ago?
The theoreticians of the People’s Front in essence do not go further than the first rule of arithmetic, that is, addition: the total of “Communists,” Socialists, Anarchists and liberals is greater than each one separately. Such is all their wisdom. Arithmetic, however, is not sufficient in this problem. Mechanics, at least, is necessary: the law of the parallelogram of forces has validity also in politics. The resultant, as is known, is the shorter the more the component forces diverge from each other. When political allies pull in opposite directions, the resultant can prove equal to zero. A bloc of different political groups of the working class is completely indispensable for the solution of common practical problems. Under certain historical conditions, such a bloc is capable of attracting to itself the oppressed and petty-bourgeois masses whose interests are close to the interests of the proletariat. The general force of such a bloc can prove to be immeasurably stronger than the force of each of its component parts. On the contrary, the political union of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, whose interests in the present epoch diverge upon basic questions at an angle of 180 degrees, is capable, as a general rule, of only paralysing the revolutionary force of the proletariat.
Civil war, where the force of bare coercion has little validity, demands the spirit of the highest self-denial from its participants. The workers and peasants are capable of assuring victory only if they carry on a struggle for their own liberation. Under these conditions, to subordinate the proletariat to the leadership of the bourgeoisie means beforehand to assure its defeat in the civil war.
These simple truths are least of all the fruit of pure theoretical analysis. On the contrary, they represent the unassailable conclusion of the whole historical experience, beginning, at least, with 1848. The newest history of bourgeois society is filled with the most diverse political combinations for the deception of the toilers. The Spanish experience is but a new tragic link in this chain of crimes and betrayals.
The union with a shadow of the bourgeoisie
Politically most striking is the fact that in the Spanish People’s Front there was not in essence a parallelogram of forces: the place of the bourgeoisie was occupied by its shadow. Through the agency of the Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists, the Spanish bourgeoisie subordinated the proletariat to itself, not even troubling itself to participate in the People’s Front: the overwhelming majority of the exploiters of all political shades openly went over into the camp of Franco. Without any recourse to the theory of “permanent revolution,” the Spanish bourgeoisie from the very beginning understood that the revolutionary movement of the masses, no matter what is its initial point, is directed against private property, in land and in the means of production, and that it is utterly impossible to cope with this movement by democratic measures. In the republican camp remained, therefore, only insignificant splinters from the possessing classes, Messrs. Azaña, Companys, and their like—political lawyers of the bourgeoisie but not the bourgeoisie itself. Having placed its stake fully upon a military dictatorship, the possessing classes were able at the same time to make use of their political representatives of yesterday in order to paralyse, disorganise and afterward stifle the socialist movement of the masses upon “republican” territory.
No longer representing in the slightest degree the Spanish bourgeoisie, the left Republicans still less represented the workers and peasants. They represented no one but themselves. However, thanks to their allies—the Socialists, Stalinists, and Anarchists—these political phantoms played the decisive role in the revolution. How? Very simply: in the capacity of incarnating the principle of the “democratic republic,” i.e., the inviolability of private property.
The Stalinists in the People’s Front
The reasons for the rise of the Spanish People’s Front and its inner mechanics are entirely clear. The problem facing the retired leaders of the left wing of the bourgeoisie consisted in stopping the revolution of the masses and thus gaining the lost confidence of the exploiters: “Why do you need Franco if we, the Republicans, can do the same thing?” The interests of Azaña and Companys fully coincided at this central point with the interests of Stalin, who needed to gain the confidence of the French and British bourgeoisie by proving to them in action his ability to preserve “order” against “anarchy.” Stalin needed Azaña and Companys as a covering before the workers: Stalin himself, of course, is for socialism, but one should not push aside the republican bourgeoisie! Azaña and Companys needed Stalin as an experienced executioner with the authority of a revolutionist: without this they, an insignificant lot, would never have been capable of attacking the workers. They would not have dared. The traditional reformists of the Second International, long ago thrown off the rails by the course of the class struggle, began to feel a tide of confidence, thanks to the support of Moscow. However, this support was given not to all reformists but only to the more reactionary ones. Caballero represented that face of the Socialist Party which was turned toward the workers’ aristocracy. Negrín and Prieto always looked towards the bourgeoisie. Negrín won over Caballero with the help of Moscow. The left socialists and anarchists, the captives of the People’s Front, tried, it is true, to save what could be saved of democracy. But since they did not dare to mobilise the masses against the gendarmes of the People’s Front, their efforts at the end were reduced to woeful jeremiads. The Stalinists thus proved to be in alliance with the more rightist, openly bourgeois, wing of the Socialist Party. They directed their repressions against the left: The POUM, the Anarchists, the “left” Socialists, i.e., against the centrist groupings who reflected, though in a remote degree, the pressure of the revolutionary masses.
This political fact, very significant in itself, reveals at the same time the extent of the degeneration of the Comintern during the past years. We once defined Stalinism as bureaucratic centrism, and events gave a series of proofs as to the correctness of this definition. But now it has obviously become obsolete. Already the interests of the Bonapartist bureaucracy will not reconcile with the centrist half-way policy. Searching for reconciliation with the bourgeoisie, the Stalinist clique is capable of entering an alliance only with the more conservative groupings of the international workers’ aristocracy. Thus the counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism on an international arena expressed itself definitively.
The counterrevolutionary advantages of Stalinism
We thus closely approach the solution of the enigma of how and why the leadership of the “Communist” Party of Spain, insignificant in numbers and level, proved capable of gathering into its hands all levers of power, in face of the incomparably more powerful organisations of the Socialists and the Anarchists. The usual explanation that the Stalinists merely bartered Soviet weapons for power is extremely superficial. For the supply of arms Moscow received Spanish gold. According to the laws of the capitalist market, this is sufficient. How then did Stalin contrive to get power also into the bargain?
In reply to this we are commonly told: having raised its authority in the eyes of the masses by furnishing military supplies, the Soviet government asked as the condition of its “collaboration” drastic measures against revolutionists and thus removed dangerous opponents from its path. All this is completely indisputable but this is but one, and at that the less important, aspect of the matter. In spite of the “authority” created by the Soviet supplies, the Spanish Communist Party remained a small minority and met with ever-growing hatred on the part of the workers. On the other hand, it is insufficient that Moscow put up conditions; it was necessary that Valencia accept them. In this is the essence of the matter. Not only Zamora, Companys, and Negrín, but Caballero, during his incumbency as premier, all of them more or less readily met the demands of Moscow. Why? Because these gentlemen themselves wished to keep the revolution within bourgeois limits. Not only the Socialists but the Anarchists as well did not seriously oppose the Stalinist programme. They feared a break with the bourgeoisie. They were deathly afraid of every revolutionary onslaught of the workers.
Stalin with his arms and with his counterrevolutionary ultimatum was a saviour for these groups. He guaranteed them, as they hoped, military victory over Franco and at the same time he freed them from responsibility for the course of the revolution. They hastened to put their socialist and anarchist masks into the closet in the hope of making use of them again when Moscow re-established bourgeois democracy for them. As the finishing touch to their comfort, these gentlemen could from now on justify their betrayal to the workers by the necessity for a military agreement with Stalin. Stalin on his part justified his counterrevolutionary politics by the necessity for an agreement with the republican bourgeoisie.
Only from this wider point of view does that angelic toleration which such knights of right and freedom as Azaña, Negrín, Companys, Caballero, García Oliver, and others showed toward the crimes of the GPU become clear to us. If they had no other choice, as they affirm, it was not at all because they could not pay for the airplanes and tanks other than with the heads of the revolutionists and rights of the workers, but because their own “purely democratic,” i.e., anti-socialist programme, could not be realised by any other measures except through terror. When the workers and peasants enter on the path of their revolution, i.e., to take possession of the factories, property, drive out the old owners, seize power in the provinces, then the bourgeois counterrevolution—democratic, Stalinist, or Fascist, there is no difference—has no other means to stop this movement except by bloody force, complemented by lies and deceit. The advantage enjoyed by the Stalinist clique on this road consisted in its ability to use at once methods which were not within the capacity of Azaña, Companys, Negrín and their left allies.
Stalin in his own way confirms the correctness of the Theory of Permanent Revolution
Two irreconcilable programmes thus fought on the territory of republican Spain. On the one hand, the programme of saving private property from the proletariat at any cost and—to the extent possible—saving democracy from Franco; on the other hand, the programme abolishing private property through the conquest of power by the proletariat. The first programme expressed the interests of capital through the agency of the workers’ aristocracy, the top circles of the petty-bourgeoisie, and especially through the Soviet bureaucracy. The second programme, translated into the language of Marxism, expressed the not fully conscious but powerful tendencies of the revolutionary movement of the masses. Unfortunately for the revolution, between the handful of Bolsheviks and the revolutionary proletariat, stood the counterrevolutionary wall of the People’s Front.
The politics of the People’s Front was defined, in turn, not at all by the blackmail of Stalin as a supplier of arms. There was, of course, no lack of blackmail. But the reason for the success of this blackmail is lodged in the inner conditions of the revolution itself. The growing onslaught of the masses against the regime of semi-feudal and bourgeois property was, during six whole years, its social background. The need to defend this property by the severest means threw the bourgeoisie into the embrace of Franco. The republican government promised the bourgeoisie to defend property by “democratic” measures but revealed, especially in July 1936, its full bankruptcy. When the situation on the property front became still more threatening than on the military front, the democrats of all colours, including the Anarchists, bowed before Stalin; and he found no other methods in his own arsenal than the methods of Franco.
The baiting of the “Trotskyists,” POUMists, revolutionary Anarchists and left Socialists; the filthy slander, false documents, tortures in Stalinist holes, murders in dark alleys—without all this the bourgeois regime, under the republican flag, could not have lasted even two months. The GPU proved to be the master of the situation only because it defended more consistently than the others, i.e., with the greatest baseness and bloodthirstiness, the interests of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.
In the struggle against the socialist revolution, the “democrat” Kerensky at first sought support in the military dictatorship of Kornilov, then tried to enter Petrograd in the baggage train of the monarchist general Krasnov. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks, in order to bring the democratic revolution to a conclusion, were compelled to overthrow the government of “democratic” charlatans and babblers. Through this they incidentally put an end to every kind of attempt at military (or “fascist”) dictatorship.
The Spanish revolution again demonstrates that it is impossible to defend democracy against the revolutionary masses other than by the methods of fascist reaction. And vice versa, it is impossible to lead the actual struggle against fascism other than by methods of the proletarian revolution. Stalin waged war against “Trotskyism” (proletarian revolution), destroying democracy by the Bonapartist measures of the GPU. By this again, and definitively, is overthrown the old Menshevik theory, adopted by the Comintern, which divides the democratic and socialist revolutions into two independent historical chapters, separated in time from each other. The work of the Moscow executioners confirms, in its own way, the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution.
The role of the anarchists
The anarchists had no independent position of any kind in the Spanish revolution. They did no more than waver between Bolshevism and Menshevism. More precisely: the anarchist workers instinctively tried to go on the Bolshevik road (July 1936, the May days 1937) while their leaders, on the contrary, with all their might drove the masses into the camp of the People’s Front, i.e., the bourgeois regime.
The Anarchists revealed a fatal lack of understanding of the laws of the revolution and its problems when they tried to limit themselves to their own trade unions, permeated with the routine of peaceful times, ignoring what went on outside of the bounds of the trade unions, in the masses, in the political parties, and in the apparatus of the government. Were the Anarchists revolutionists, they would first of all have called for the creation of Soviets, uniting the representatives of all the workers of the city and the country, including the more oppressed strata who had never joined a trade union. The revolutionary workers would naturally occupy the dominating position in these Soviets. The Stalinists would prove to be an insignificant minority. The proletariat would convince itself of its own invincible strength. The apparatus of the bourgeois state would be suspended in the air. One strong blow would be needed to pulverize this apparatus. The Socialist revolution would have received a powerful impetus. The French proletariat would not for long have permitted Léon Blum to block the proletarian revolution beyond the Pyrenees. Neither could the Moscow bureaucracy permit itself such a luxury. The most difficult questions would prove soluble of themselves.
Instead of this, the anarcho-syndicalists, attempting to hide themselves from “politics” in the trade unions, proved to be, to the great surprise of the whole world and themselves, the fifth wheel in the cart of bourgeois democracy. But not for long: no one needs a fifth wheel. After García Oliver and Co. helped Stalin and his collaborators to take the power away from the workers, the Anarchists themselves were driven out of the government of the People’s Front. Even then they found nothing better to do than to run behind the chariot of the victor and assure him of their devotion. The fear of the petty-bourgeois before the big bourgeois, of the petty bureaucrat before the big bureaucrat, they covered up by lachrymose speeches about the holiness of the united front (between the victims and the executioners) and about the inadmissibility of every kind of dictatorship, including their own. “But we could have taken power in July 1936….” “But we could have taken power in May 1937….” The anarchists begged Negrín- Stalin to recognise and reward their treachery to the revolution. A disgusting picture!
This self-justification alone: “We did not capture power not because we could not but because we did not wish to, because we are against every kind of dictatorship,” and the like, contains in itself an irrevocable condemnation of anarchism as a fully anti-revolutionary doctrine. To renounce the conquest of power means voluntarily to leave the power with those who have it, i.e. the exploiters. The essence of every revolution consisted and consists in the fact that it puts a new class in power and thus gives it the opportunity to realise its own programme. It is impossible to lead the masses towards insurrection without preparing for the conquest of power. No one could have hindered the Anarchists after the conquest of power from establishing such a regime as they consider necessary, if, of course, their programme is realisable. But the Anarchist leaders themselves lost belief in this. They hid from power not because they are against “every kind of dictatorship”—in actuality, grumbling and whining, they supported and support the dictatorship of Negrín- Stalin—but because they completely lost their principles and courage, if in general they had ever possessed them. They were afraid of Stalin. They were afraid of Negrín. They were afraid of France and England. More than anything did these phrasemongers fear the revolutionary masses.
The renunciation of conquest of power throws every workers’ organisation into the mire of reformism and turns it into a plaything of the bourgeoisie: it cannot be otherwise in view of the class structure of society. To oppose the aim: the conquest of power, the anarchists could not in the end fail to be against the means: the revolution. The leaders of the CNT and FAI helped the bourgeoisie not only to hold on to the shadow of power in July 1936, but to re-establish bit by bit what it had lost at one stroke. In May 1937, they sabotaged the uprising of the workers and by that token saved the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Thus anarchism, which wished to be anti-political, proved in reality to be anti-revolutionary, and in the more critical moments—counterrevolutionary.
The Anarchist theoreticians, who after the great test of 1931–37, repeat the old reactionary nonsense about Kronstadt and affirm: “Stalinism is the inevitable result of Marxism and Bolshevism,” simply demonstrate by this that they are forever dead for the revolution. You say that Marxism is in itself depraved and Stalinism is its legitimate progeny? But why do we, revolutionary Marxists, find ourselves in mortal combat with Stalinism throughout the world? Why does the Stalinist gang see in Trotskyism its chief enemy? Why does every approach to our view or to our methods of action ( Durruti, Andrés Nin, Landau, and others) compel the gangsters of Stalinism to resort to bloody reprisals? Why, on the other hand, were the leaders of Spanish anarchism, during the time of the Moscow and Madrid crimes of the GPU, ministers under Caballero- Negrín, i.e., servants of the bourgeoisie and Stalin? Why, even now, under the pretext of fighting fascism, do the Anarchists remain voluntary captives of Stalin- Negrín, i.e., of the executioners of the revolution, who have demonstrated their incapacity to fight fascism?
The lawyers of anarchism, hiding behind Kronstadt and Makhno, will deceive nobody. In the Kronstadt episode and in the struggle with Makhno we defended the proletarian revolution from the peasant counterrevolution. The Spanish Anarchists defended and defend bourgeois counterrevolution from the proletarian revolution. No kind of sophism will erase from history the fact that anarchism and Stalinism in the Spanish revolution were on one side of the barricades, and the working masses with the revolutionary Marxists—on the other. Such is the truth which will forever remain in the consciousness of the proletariat!
The role of the POUM
Not much better is the record of the POUM. Theoretically it tried, it is true, to base itself on the formula of the permanent revolution (that is why the Stalinists called the POUMists Trotskyists).
But a revolution is not satisfied with theoretical avowals. Instead of mobilising the masses against the reformist leaders, including the Anarchists, the POUM tried to convince these gentlemen of the advantage of socialism over capitalism. On such a pitch pipe were tuned all the articles and speeches of the leaders of the POUM. In order not to quarrel with the Anarchist leaders, they did not build up their nuclei, and in general did not conduct any kind of work inside the CNT. Evading sharp conflicts, they did not carry on revolutionary work in the republican army. Instead of this they built “their own” trade unions and “their own” militia which guarded “their own” buildings or occupied “their own” part of the front. Isolating the revolutionary vanguard from the class, the POUM weakened the vanguard and left the class without leadership. Politically, the POUM remained throughout immeasurably nearer to the People’s Front, whose left wing it covered, than to Bolshevism. If the POUM nevertheless fell victim to bloody and base repression, it was because the People’s Front could not fulfil its mission of stifling the socialist revolution except by cutting off, piece by piece, its own left flank.
Despite its intentions, the POUM proved to be, in the final analysis, the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party. The platonic or diplomatic defenders of the Fourth International who, like the leader of the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party, Sneevliet, demonstratively supported the POUM in its halfway measures, indecisiveness, evasiveness, in a word, in its centrism, took upon themselves the greatest responsibility. Revolution does not tolerate centrism. Revolution exposes and crushes centrism. In passing, it compromises the friends and lawyers of centrism. That is one of the chief lessons of the Spanish revolution.
The problem of arming
The Socialists and Anarchists who tried to justify their capitulation to Stalin by the necessity of paying for the Moscow arms with principles and conscience simply lie and lie unskillfully. Of course, many of them would prefer to disentangle themselves without murders and frame-ups. But every aim demands corresponding means. Beginning with April 1931, i.e., long before the military intervention of Moscow, the Socialists and Anarchists did what they could to throttle the proletarian revolution. Stalin taught them how to carry this work to a conclusion. They became criminal accomplices of Stalin only because they were his political co-thinkers.
If the leaders of the Anarchists had resembled revolutionists at all, they would have answered the first blackmail from Moscow not only by continuing the socialist advance, but by disclosing Stalin’s counterrevolutionary conditions before the working class of the world. Thus they would have forced the Moscow bureaucracy to choose openly between socialist revolution and the dictatorship of Franco. The Thermidorean bureaucracy fears and hates revolution. But it also fears to be stifled in a fascist ring. Besides this it depends on the workers. Everything speaks for the fact that Moscow would have been forced to supply arms and, possibly, at a more reasonable price.
But the world is not limited to Stalinist Moscow. During a year and a half of civil war, the Spanish war industry could and should have been strengthened and developed, adapting a series of non-military factories to the purposes of war. This work was not carried out only because Stalin—and equally with him his Spanish allies—feared the initiative of the workers’ organisations. A strong military industry would have become a powerful instrument in the hands of the workers. The leaders of the People’s Front preferred dependence upon Moscow.
It is precisely on this question that the perfidious role of the “People’s Front” was strikingly exposed; it thrust upon the workers’ organisations the responsibility for the treacherous agreement of the bourgeoisie with Stalin. So long as the Anarchists were in the minority they could not, of course, immediately hinder the ruling bloc from assuming whatever obligations they pleased toward Moscow and the masters of Moscow: London and Paris. But they could and they should have, without ceasing to be the best fighters on the front, openly kept clear from the betrayals and betrayers; explained the real situation to the masses; mobilised them against the bourgeois government; [and] increased the forces from day to day in order in the end to conquer power and with it the Moscow arms.
And what if Moscow, in the absence of a People’s Front, should in general refuse to give arms? And what, we answer to this, if the Soviet Union in general did not exist in the world? Revolutions have been victorious up to this time not at all thanks to great foreign patrons who supplied them with arms. Usually the counterrevolution enjoyed foreign patronage. Must we recall the experience of the intervention of French, English, American, Japanese, and other armies against the Soviets? The proletariat of Russia won over inner reaction and foreign intervention without military support from the outside. Revolutions succeed, in the first place, with the help of a bold social programme which gives to the masses the possibility of seizing weapons that are on their territory, and disorganising the army of the enemy. The Red Army seized French, English and American military provisions and drove the foreign expeditionary corps into the sea. Has this really been forgotten already?
If, at the head of the armed workers and peasants, i.e., at the head of the so-called “republican” Spain, there were revolutionists and not cowardly agents of the bourgeoisie, the problem of arming would in general not have played a paramount role. The army of Franco, including the colonial Riffs and soldiers of Mussolini, are not at all immune to revolutionary contagion. Surrounded from all sides by the fire of the socialist uprising, the soldiers of fascism would have proved to be an insignificant quantity. Not arms and not military “geniuses” were lacking in Madrid and Barcelona; what was lacking was a revolutionary party!
The conditions for victory
The conditions for victory of the masses in a civil war against the army of exploiters in essence are very simple.
- The fighters of a revolutionary army should clearly be aware of the fact that they are fighting for their full social liberation and not for the re-establishment of the old (“democratic”) forms of exploitation.
- The workers and peasants in the rear of the revolutionary army, as well as in the rear of the enemy, should know and understand the same thing.
- The propaganda of their own front, as well as on the front of the adversary and in both rears, should be completely permeated with the spirit of social revolution. The slogan: “First victory, then reforms,” is the slogan of all oppressors and exploiters beginning with the Biblical kings and ending with Stalin.
- Those classes and strata who participate in the struggle determine the policy. The revolutionary masses should have a government apparatus directly and immediately expressing their will. Only the soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies can act as such an apparatus.
- The revolutionary army should not only announce but immediately carry out the more pressing measures of social revolution in the provinces won by them: the expropriation of provisions, manufactured articles and other stores on hand and transferring them to the needy; the redivision of lodgings in the interests of the toilers and especially of the families of the fighters; the expropriation of the land and landowners’ inventory in the interests of the peasants; the establishment of workers’ control and of the soviet power in place of the former bureaucracy.
- Enemies of the socialist revolution, i.e., exploiting elements and their agents, even when covering themselves with the mask of “democrats,” “republicans,” “socialists” and “anarchists,” should be mercilessly driven out from the army.
- At the head of each military unit there should stand a commissar possessing the irreproachable authority of a revolutionist and a warrior.
- In every military unit there should be a tempered nucleus of the more self-sacrificing fighters, recommended by the workers’ organisations. The members of this nucleus have but one privilege: to be the first under fire.
- The commanding corps of necessity includes at first many alien and unreliable elements in its staff. A verification and selection of them should be carried through on the basis of military experience, the recommendations of the commissar, and testimonials from the rank-and-file fighters. Simultaneously there should proceed an intense preparation of commanders drawn from the ranks of the revolutionary workers.
- The strategy of civil war should unite the rules of military art with the tasks of the social revolution. Not only in the propaganda but in the military operations it is necessary to take into account the social composition of the different military units of the opponent (the bourgeois volunteers, the mobilised peasants, or as with Franco, the colonial slaves), and in choosing an operative line, to take into consideration the social structure of the corresponding regions of the land (the industrial regions; the peasant regions, revolutionary or reactionary; the regions of the oppressed nationalities, etc.). Briefly: revolutionary policy dominates strategy.
- The revolutionary government, as the executive committee of the workers and peasants, should be capable of winning full confidence of the army and of the toiling population.
- The foreign policy should have as its chief aim the awakening of the revolutionary consciousness of the workers, the exploited peasants, and oppressed nationalities of the whole world.
Stalin guaranteed the conditions of defeat
The conditions for victory, as we see, are quite simple. In their aggregate they are called the socialist revolution. There did not exist in Spain even one of these conditions. The basic reason is that there was not a revolutionary party. Stalin tried, it is true, to transfer to the soil of Spain, the outer forms of Bolshevism; the Politburo, commissar, nuclei, the GPU, etc. But he emptied these forms of their social content. He renounced the Bolshevik programme and with it the soviets as the necessary form of the revolutionary initiative of the masses. He placed the techniques of Bolshevism at the service of bourgeois property. In his bureaucratic limitedness he imagined that the “commissars” by themselves could guarantee victory. But the commissars of private property proved capable only of guaranteeing defeat.
The Spanish proletariat displayed first-class military capacities. In its specific gravity in the economy of the country, in its political and cultural level, it stood in the first day of the revolution not lower but higher than the Russian proletariat at the beginning of 1917. On the road to its victory, its own organisations stood as the chief obstacles. The commanding clique of the Stalinists, in accordance with its counterrevolutionary function, consisted of the hired agents, careerists, declassed elements, and, in general, every kind of social refuse. The representatives of other workers’ organisations—flabby reformists, anarchist phrasemongers, helpless centrists of the POUM—grumbled, groaned, wavered, maneuvered, but in the end adapted themselves to the Stalinists. As a result of their aggregate work, the camp of social revolution—workers and peasants—proved to be subordinated to the bourgeoisie, more correctly to its shadow, void of individuality, spirit, life. There was no lack of heroism on the part of the masses and courage on the part of individual revolutionists. But the masses were left to themselves and the revolutionists remained disunited, without programme, without plan of action. The “republican” military commanders occupied themselves more with crushing the social revolution than with winning military victories. The soldiers lost confidence in their commanders, the masses—in the government; the peasants stepped aside; the workers got tired; defeat followed defeat; the demoralisation grew. All this was not difficult to foresee from the beginning of the civil war. Taking as its task the rescue of the capitalist regime, the People’s Front doomed itself to military defeat. Having turned Bolshevism on its head, Stalin, with full success, played the role of the grave digger of the revolution.
Incidentally, the Spanish experience again demonstrates that Stalin did not understand either the October Revolution or the Civil War. His sluggish provincial thought lagged hopelessly behind the tempestuous course of events in 1917–21. In those of his speeches and articles in 1917 where he expressed his own thought, his later Thermidorean “doctrine” was fully lodged. In this sense, Stalin in Spain in 1937 is the Stalin of the March conference of the Bolsheviks in 1917. But in 1917 he merely feared the revolutionary workers; in 1937 he throttled them. The opportunist became the executioner.
“Civil war in the rear”
“But for victory over the governments of Caballero and Negrín, a civil war would be necessary in the rear of the Republican army!”—the democratic Philistine exclaims with horror. As if in Republican Spain, even without this, no civil war ever existed, and at that the base and most ignominious one, a war of the owners and exploiters against the workers and peasants. This uninterrupted war finds expression in the arrests and murders of revolutionists, the crushing of the mass movement, the disarming of the workers, the arming of the bourgeois police, the abandoning of workers’ detachments without arms and without help on the front, finally, in the artificial impeding of the development of the military industry. Each of these acts represents a severe blow to the front, direct military treason, directed by the class interests of the bourgeoisie. However, the “democratic” Philistines—including the Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists—regard the civil war of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, even in the immediate rear of the front, as the natural and inevitable war, having as its task the safeguarding of the unity of the “People’s Front.” On the other hand, the civil war of the proletariat against the “republican” counterrevolution is, in the eyes of the same Philistines, a criminal, Fascist, Trotskyist war, breaking up…“the unity of the anti-fascist forces.” Dozens of Norman Thomases, Major Atlees, Otto Bauers, Zyromskys, Malraux, and petty traders of lies like Duranty and Louis Fischer spread their slavish wisdom along the face of the earth. At the same time the government of the “People’s Front” moves from Madrid to Valencia, from Valencia—to Barcelona.
If, as facts bear witness, only the socialist revolution is capable of crushing fascism, then on the other hand a successful uprising of the proletariat is conceivable only when the ruling classes are caught in the grip of the greatest difficulties. However, the democratic Philistines invoke exactly these difficulties as proof of the impermissibility of the proletarian uprising. If the worker waited until the democratic Philistines showed him the hour of his liberation, he would forever remain a slave. To teach the workers to recognise reactionary Philistines under all their masks and to despise them independently of these masks is the first and chief duty of a revolutionist!
The dictatorship of the Stalinists over the republican camp is in its essence not long-lived. If the defeats conditioned by the politics of the People’s Front will once more launch the Spanish proletariat into a revolutionary assault, this time successfully, the Stalinist clique will be swept aside with an iron broom. If, as is unfortunately more probable, Stalin will succeed in bringing the work of a grave digger of the revolution to its conclusion, he will not even in this case earn thanks. The Spanish bourgeoisie needed him as an executioner, but he is not at all necessary to it as a patron and a tutor. London and Paris on the one hand, and Berlin and Rome on the other, are in its eyes considerably more stable firms than Moscow. It is possible that Stalin himself wants to cover his tracks in Spain before the final catastrophe; he thus hopes to put the responsibility for the defeat on his closest allies. After this, Litvinov will plead with Franco for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. All this we have seen more than once.
However, even a full military victory of the so-called republican camp over General Franco would not signify the triumph of “democracy.” The workers and peasants twice placed the bourgeois republicans and their left agents in power: in April 1931 and in February 1936. Both times the heroes of the People’s Front ceded the victory of the people to the more reactionary and more serious representatives of the bourgeoisie. The third victory, gained by the generals of the People’s Front, will signify their inevitable agreement with the fascist bourgeoisie on the backs of the workers and peasants. Such a regime will be but a different form of a military dictatorship, perhaps without monarchy and without an openly dominating Catholic Church.
Finally, it is possible that the partial victories of the republicans will be utilized by the “disinterested” Anglo-French intermediaries in order to reconcile the fighting camps. It is not difficult to understand that in the case of this variant the final remnants of the democracy will prove to be stifled in the fraternal embrace of the generals Miaja (Communist!) and Franco (fascist!). Once again: victory will go either to the socialist revolution, or to fascism.
It is not excluded, incidentally, that tragedy will yet at the last moment give place to farce. When the heroes of the People’s Front have to desert their last capital they will, before embarking on steamers and airplanes, perhaps announce a series of “socialist” reforms in order to leave a “good memory” with the people. Nothing will help them. The workers of the whole world will remember with hatred and scorn the parties that ruined the heroic revolution.
The tragic experience of Spain is a threatening—perhaps the last warning before still greater events—addressed to all the advanced workers of the world. “Revolutions,” according to the words of Marx, “are the locomotives of history.” They move faster than the thought of half-revolutionary or quarter-revolutionary parties. Whoever lingers falls under the wheels of the locomotive, whereby—and this is the chief danger—the locomotive itself is also not infrequently wrecked. It is necessary to adapt policy to the basic laws of the revolution, i.e., to the movement of the classes in conflict and not the prejudices and fears of the superficial petty-bourgeois groups who call themselves “people’s” and all kinds of other fronts. The line of least resistance proves in a revolution to be the line of greatest disaster. The fear of “isolation” from the bourgeoisie means isolation from the masses. Adaptation to the conservative prejudices of the workers’ aristocracy signifies the betrayal of the workers and the revolution. A superfluity of “cautiousness” is the most baneful rashness. Such is the chief lesson of the destruction of the most honest political organisation in Spain, that is, the centrist POUM. The parties and groups of the London Bureau evidently do not wish or are not capable of drawing the necessary conclusions from the last warning of history. By this token they doom themselves to catastrophe.
But then a new generation of revolutionists is now being educated by the lessons of the defeats. It has in action verified the base reputation of the Second International. It has learned how to judge the Anarchists not by their words but by their actions. It is a great inestimable school, paid for with the blood of innumerable fighters! The revolutionary cadres now gather under the banner of the Fourth International. Born amid great defeats, it will lead the toilers to victory.