Felix Morrow

How the Workers Can Win in Spain

(October 1936)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 2 No. 9, October 1936, pp. 6–8.
Transcribed by Damon Maxwell.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive (September 2008).
Proofread by Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
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1. Catalonia Shows the Way

FEW REALIZE the significance of the successful campaign being fought by the Catalonian workers’ militia on the Zaragoza-Huesca front. In the plans of the fascist generals Zaragoza, seat of the War College and one of the biggest army garrisons, was to have been for eastern Spain what Burgos has been in the west. But the rapidity with which the Catalonian proletariat crushed the Catalonian garrisons and marched westward into Aragon, defeated the fascist plans.

The Catalonian proletariat has been able to paralyze the reactionary forces in Aragon by rousing the peasantry as Madrid has been unable to. In every village the militia from Catalonia aids in setting up a village council (soviet) to which is turned over all the property belonging to big landowners and reactionaries. The village committee then organizes production on the new basis and creates a village militia to carry out socialization and fight reaction. Having thus transformed the world of the village, the Catalonian columns can go forward, secure in the knowledge that every village behind them is a fortress of the revolution!

This revolutionary method of conducting the civil war was made possible by the fact that the Catalonian proletariat was not handcuffed to the bourgeoisie through the People’s Front. The organizations leading the vast majority of the workers and peasants of the four Catalan provinces – the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), the anarchist-led CNT and the POUM (“Workers Party”) – were able, therefore, to prosecute the civil war through all-powerful organs controlled by the working-class organizations, and with a revolutionary social program which secures the maximum incentive from the masses.

It will be recalled that the Catalonian militia is directed by a Central Committee dominated by the anarcho-syndicalists and the POUM. This is now being supplemented by councils of delegates elected from the ranks which cover not only the militia but also link it with the soldiers and police who remained loyal. In Barcelona itself, there are joint committees of workers and police in every district, in addition to the special force created by the anarcho-syndicalists and the POUM. Thus all armed forces are actually independent of the bourgeois government.

Workers’ Control In Catalonia

Direction of economic life is now in the hands of the workers themselves, through factory committees. There is also a “Council of Economy,” with five members from the anarcho-syndicalists, one from the POUM, one from the UGT, and one from the Catalonian government. Its program, issued on August 19, includes collectivization of landed estates to be run by landworkers’ unions; collectivization of public utilities, transportation, big industry, and establishments abandoned by their owners; workers’ control of banks until nationalized; workers’ control of all enterprises continuing under private ownership; and a monopoly of foreign trade. To what extent the “Council of Economy,” which is still linked by many threads to the existing regime, will become a brake or an aid to the workers, is not yet quite clear.

Catalonia’s metal plants are transformed into munitions works, its auto factories are producing armored cars and airplanes. Latest dispatches show that Madrid depends greatly on Catalonia for all-important war supplies. A considerable part of the forces protecting the Madrid front were dispatched there by the Catalonian Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias.

The Catalonian government continues to exist, but does little more than pass decrees “approving” the steps taken by the proletariat. Madrid observes the formalities of conferring with this government, but transacts all its real business with the militia and factory committees. Since the government’s attempt, at the end of July, to recoup its power by “broadening” its base with the entry of three Stalinists into the cabinet – a maneuver which failed because the anarcho-syndicalists forced the Stalinists to resign –there have been no further attempts; for the proletariat is in no mood to be hoodwinked. Durrutti, CNT chief, told the Federated Press correspondent, Pierre Van Paassen, that the proletariat was on guard against all attempts by the “loyal” bourgeoisie to seize control. Such little influence as the government still has, by virtue of its representation in the Council of Economy and the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, will undoubtedly disappear as these organs, in accordance with POUM proposals, are broadened into elective bodies of delegates from the militia and factories.

The revolutionary course of the Catalonian proletariat and its consequent successes in production and at the front constitute the most damning indictment of the Popular Front policy which is still being pursued in Madrid. Only on the road taken by the Catalonian proletariat can the Spanish masses defeat the counter-revolution!

The Popular Front in Madrid

The story on Spain in the Socialist Call of September 19, describing the socialization of production in Madrid, reflects credit on its author’s correct desire for such a revolutionary program but is scarcely an accurate account of what has taken place in Madrid. The truth, unfortunately, is very different. The workers’ committees in Madrid which at first took over the public utilities and big factories, were thereafter subordinated to the bureaucratic administration of the Giral-Azaña cabinet. This constriction is not bettered because the government now includes a socialist delegation. Until the workers are masters of the factories, those factories will not become fortresses of the revolution.

The government of Caballero is, like its predecessor, a Popular Front government. Undoubtedly the proletariat trusts Caballero infinitely more than it trusted his predecessor; and undoubtedly the premiership of Caballero, the “extreme” left wing of the Popular Front, is a distorted recognition that the masses will not fight for the maintenance of capitalism. But Caballero’s former laurels cannot and will not be a substitute for the very concrete content of a program of revolutionary socialism.

Since he has assumed the premiership, Caballero has made no statement on program. Does his program for prosecution of the civil war differ from that of the preceding government? The majority in the cabinet – the right wing socialists, the Stalinists, and the five bourgeois ministers have certainly not changed their program of limiting the struggle to a defense of bourgeois democracy. Caballero has apparently capitulated to this program.

“Only after victory shall we be allowed to defend the political and social problems of the various groups composing the Left Popular Front,” says a government spokesman. “There is only one point in our program and that is to win vistory.” (N.Y. Times, Sept. 20) In actual fact however, the coalition government slogan, “Defend the Democratic Republic,” does contain a social program; but it is the reformist program of defending the “kindest” political instrument of the bourgeois mode of production.

No civil war as profound as this has ever been won without advancing, a revolutionary social program. The slogan of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” of 1795 meant quite concretely, land to the peasants, freedom from serfdom, a new world of labor and enrichment, putting France into the hands of the revolutionary class. “Land, Bread and Freedom” in August and November 1917 successfully rallied the masses against Kornilov and Kerensky because it meant the transformation of Russia. The proletariat of Spain will raise equally revolutionary slogans, thereby arousing the great peasant masses, or it will not win the civil war.

The removal of the bourgeoisie from all strategic posts, or putting them under the control of supervising commissions of workers is an absolute necessity for successful struggle. The treachery of the republican bourgeoisie did not end in the first days, when the government concealed the scope of the uprising and refused to arm the workers. “The officers’ corps is the guard of capital,” as Trotsky has said. The crushing of this guard, the victory over the fascist forces, would make infinitely more likely the establishment of a workers’ state. Therefore, the interests of the bourgeoisie are not served by such a victory: the true interests of Spanish capitalism lie in victory of the fascist generals or, what is the same thing, a compromise with them. Surrounded by armed workers, the republicans dare not openly go over to the enemy; but their policy, at the front, and in the rear, permits the counter-revolution success after success. This was the plain meaning of the change of government after the fall of Irun. But the change of government has still left the republicans in strategic posts in the cabinet, administration, general staff, factories, etc. etc.

The result of this false policy has been seen even in the period since Caballero became premier. The republican “defenders” of San Sebastian turned it over intact to the enemy, and have so planned the “defense” of Bilbao by the 40,000 militiamen in their control, – that most of the opposing army of General Mola has been sent to Madrid and Zaragoza! The ostensible justification of the Popular Front that it secures the aid of the republican bourgeoisie, is utterly false; what it does is to enable the bourgeoisie to sabotage the struggle and prevent the proletariat from pursuing the necessary revolutionary methods.

Above all, it is intolerable that the workers shall do the drudgery and the dying, without a voice in the direction of the struggle. Caballero’s announcement that the Cortes will convene again on October 1st takes no account of the fact that ages have gone by, measured politically since the republican bourgeoisie was guaranteed a Cortes majority by the February pact of the Popular Front. The only authentic voice of the people today would be a National Congress of the elected delegates of the militia who are fighting, the workers who are producing and transporting, and the peasants who are providing the food. Only such a soviet, issuing from factory, militia and village committees, is competent to speak for Spain today.

3. Stalinism: The New Guard of Capital

Special consideration must be given to the role of the Stalinists who, having recruited most of their following under Popular Front slogans since February, have used them for the most shameless support of capitalism of which any proletarian party has ever been guilty.

The Stalinists even supported the Azaña-Giral governments’ attempt to create a new army, apart from the militia, under direct government control. “Some comrades have wished to see in the creation of the new voluntary army something like a menace to the role of the militias,” said the Stalinist Mundo Obrero of August 21. But no. “What is involved is to supplement and reinforce the militia to give it greater efficacy and speedily end the war.”

Claridad, left socialist organ, exposed this reactionary position. Having disposed of the excuses for the new army, Claridad concluded:

“To think of another type of army to be substituted for those who are actually fighting and who in certain ways control their own revolutionary action, is to think in counter-revolutionary terms. That is what Lenin said (State and Revolution): ‘Every revolution, after the destruction of the state apparatus shows us how the governing class tries to reestablish special bodies of armed men at “its” service, and how the oppressed class attempts to create a new organization of a type capable of serving not the exploiters but the exploited’.” (Claridad, Aug. 20).

Not those who usurp the prestige of the Russian revolution only to betray its principles in service to the bourgeoisie, not the Stalinists, but the vanguard of the left socialists teach the Spanish proletariat the Leninist conception of the class nature of the army!

After entering the cabinet, the Stalinists made clear their deadly opposition to a revolutionary program. “The slogan today is all power and authority to the People’s Front Government” (Daily Worker, Sept. 11). That slogan means just what it says! Lenin’s slogan “All power to the Soviets” meant no power to the coalition government. The Stalinist slogan means no power to the embryo Soviets, the factory, militia and village committees.

As Stalinism sacrificed the German revolution to the maintenance of the European status quo, so it is now seeking to sacrifice the Spanish revolution to the maintenance of the Franco-Soviet alliance. Stalinism will not raise the slogan of freedom from Morocco because that would embarass French colonial policy. Stalinism will not go over the People’s Front to a revolutionary solution because that would bring the revolution immediately on the order of the day in France; and Stalinism prefers a strong bourgeois French ally to the possibility of a soviet France. The essence of Stalinist policy is: “Socialism in one country – and in no other country.” The Stalinists have become open, shameless enemies of the proletarian revolution. Fortunately for the world proletariat, Stalinism in Spain does not command the forces it held in leash in Germany – and precisely because the lessons of Germany have entered the consciousness of the Spanish proletariat.

Catalonia is the beacon light for the Spanish proletariat. But it also points the lesson to workers everywhere: We cannot fight fascism if we let the bourgeoisie handcuff us to a bourgeois program. The French coalition government headed by Blum must play the same role that the Spanish Popular Front governments have played. So, too, the American coalition with the bourgeoisie, the Rooseveltian “American Labor Party.” Only the struggle to win t he masses to a revolutionary Socialist party, for a revolutionary assault on capitalism, can save the proletariat.


Last updated on: 21 August 2015