Felix Morrow

Proposed Solutions to the Spanish Crisis

(January 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 3 No. 1, January 1937, pp. 6–8.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Marxists’ Internet Archive (September 2008).
Proofread by Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
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1. The Italo-German Solution

DURING the great strike wave of February-July, 1936, in Spain, when time after time the number on strike vaulted the million mark and when, despite Right Wing Socialist and Stalinist expressions of loyalty to the government, the masses under Left Wing Socialist, C.N.T. and P.O.U.M. leadership gave clear evidence of their willingness to fight for socialism, the reactionaries were already in contact with the Italian and German governments. Spanish reaction saw the only out in crushing every vestige of the trade union movement, and naturally turned for aid to those regimes which had already followed that path. Surreptitious aid before and after July 17th was followed by official recognition. We have said repeatedly that the act of recognition signified that Italy and Germany were thereby tying their fate irrevocably to the fate of France; and the shipment of regular troops by Hitler and Mussolini is merely a preliminary indication of the lengths they are prepared to go.

Nevertheless, Hitler and Mussolini, despite much sentimental propaganda to the contrary, are not madmen but shrewd capitalist politicians. Their primary objective in Spain is to crush the possibilities of social revolution, to make it impossible for the Spanish proletariat to usher in a new revolutionary period in Europe; and if the other major capitalist powers can show them a better way to decapitate the Spanish revolution or, if not a better way, a sufficiently efficacious way which will have the decisive virtue of being acceptable also to France and England, then no serious person, certainly no Marxist, should doubt that Hitler and Mussolini will accept such a “compromise.”

2. The Anglo-French Solution

Such a compromise is now being offered them; by the Anglo-French bloc.

The Anglo-French proposal, accepted in principle by both the Spanish People’s Front Government and by the Soviet Government, provides for an armistice followed by an internationally-supervised plebiscite. This means, in plain language, the settlement of the Spanish crisis by the simple expedient of establishing the present division of Spain as the status quo. Because a plebiscite conducted in the territory held by Franco’s forces obviously will not mean that the plebiscite commission will guarantee any democratic rights to the population; in the midst of white terror the masses will be called to cast their ballots. Such an election will have no more reality than one held by Mussolini or Hitler. And, with diplomatic gravity, the result will be held to legalize Franco’s regime. Then, with the pressure of Franco’s police-state from one side, and with the “anti-fascist” bourgeoisie backed by the European powers on the other side, bourgeois regimes will be consolidated in Biscay, Valencia and Catalonia.

Italy-Germany will thus have their recognition of Franco validated by “the world,” for the small price of conceding a division of labor between Franco and Azaña-Companys. France-England will face their masses with the arguments that the best had to be made of a bad bargain and that in any event peace has been preserved in Europe. The Spanish people will be dismembered throwing it back to the confusion of Italy and Germany before 1870. Fascism will have registered another great triumph. The European proletariat will have received a blow; comparable only to those to which it was subjected by the triumph of Italian and German fascism.

The rapprochement between the “democratic” powers and the fascist powers on this basis is certainly nearing. The “gentlemen’s agreement,” soon to be signed between Italy and England, guaranteeing the territorial status quo in the Mediterranean, is but a beginning. But its consummation was followed by a statement, conciliatory toward England, in Germany’s semi-official Diplomatische Korrespondenz. There will be many bellicose utterances from Hitler and Mussolini, “strong” pressure declarations from Britain and France. But the main current is definitely setting in the direction of the Anglo-French solution.

3. The “Anti-Fascist” Bourgeoisie

The unofficial but authoritative spokesman for the British foreign office, Augur, reports in the New York Times of December 17 that “the British have been working to promote local armistices between the Rebels and Loyalists. The offer of the Basque regional government at Bilbao to conclude a Christmas armistice was directly due to discreet intervention by British agents who hope this may lead to a complete suspension of hostilities.” We need only add to this significant statement that from the first the Basque bourgeoisie has desired no bitter-end struggle. Catholic, masters of the second most important industrial, commercial and financial center (Bilbao), their desire for autonomy and their consequent grievances against the centralizing program of the reactionaries was not sufficient to overcome their hatred of the proletarian forces of Catalonia. The Basque bourgeoisie surrendered San Sebastian intact, and then settled down to months of inactivity, apparently waiting to see which side would win. It is not from Bilbao, but from radical Santander and the Asturias that the push against Burgos is now coming. The Basque bourgeoisie is more than ready to accept the Anglo-French plan.

Augur goes on to say that “the French are exercising similar influence in Barcelona, where their success is less marked because the desires of President Luis Companys of the Catalan Generalidad to end the bloodshed have been overawed by the Communists and Anarchists.” So Companys is ready “to end the bloodshed,” i.e., to adopt the Anglo-French plan. A considerable section of the Catalan “anti-fascist” bourgeoisie, indeed, tried to carry out that plan before its sponsors announced it. A Catalan delegation proposed over a month ago in Paris – the matter leaked into the press – to have the European powers agree to recognition of an independent bourgeois republic in Catalonia, which in turn would recognize Franco’s regime. A plot to carry this out by assassinating the workers’ leaders and seizing control of Catalonia was frustrated, thanks to the vigilance of the CNT, which uncovered the plot on November 27. The Commissioner of Public Order, Robertes, a leader of Company’s party, the Esquerra, was arrested as one of the ring-leaders. Altogether over a hundred prominent liberal-bourgeois figures are in jail for complicity in the plot. The plot and Companys’ attitude toward the Anglo-French proposal are two hefty straws in the wind. And the Basque and Catalonian bourgeoisie are the decisive sectors of the “anti-fascist” non-proletarian elements. Needless to say that Azana & Co., who lack even the radicalizing tendency supplied to the Catalan and Basque bourgeoisie by the problem of national minorities, are scarcely lagging behind their colleagues.

4. The Caballero-Stalinist Solution

IS IT not clear that the bourgeoisie, inside and outside Spain, are the mortal enemies of the Spanish proletariat today? But the rulers of the Spanish proletariat cling precisely to these mortal enemies. One can no longer distinguish by a little the policy of Caballero from that of the Stalinists; he has fused with them completely; and the policy they dictate is collaboration, nationally and internationally, with the bourgeoisie.

Pravda of November 25th displayed prominently on its front page a special dispatch from the Soviet News Agency office in Valencia:

“Contrary to certain assertions being spread abroad,” it quoted Caballero, “the Government of the Republic is not striving toward the establishment of a Soviet system, in Spain. The basic aim of the Government is to preserve the regime of the parliamentary democratic republic ... The program of my Government is the program of the unification of all democratic forces, ready to defend parliamentary liberties against the Fascist dictatorship. The coming session of the Parliament in Valencia is a symbol of this complete unity between the Government and the overwhelming majority of the people.”

The preposterousness of pointing to the Parliament (Cortes) as a symbol of unity scarcely requires pointing out. Ages ago, historically speaking, back in February, this Cortes was elected under an agreement which Caballero himself then criticised as giving completely false weighting to the liberal-bourgeoisie on the coalition tickets; a large part of its membership has gone over to the fascists or fled the country. To this outlived, decrepit body Caballero assigns “the unification of all democratic forces!” And woe to the revolutionary Socialist who demands that in its place be created a National Congress of Delegates of Factory, Militia and Peasants’ Committees; Caballero and the Stalinists denounce him as a “Trotskyist-fascist,” “provocateur,” etc. etc.

If there is any doubt about the “line,” Ambassador Rosenberg and Consul-General Ovseenko’s speeches, redolent with praise of Azaña, Companys & Co., point the way.

Complete subordination to the bourgeois-state: that is the solution of Caballero-Stalinism. But the bourgeoisie itself is linked to the Anglo-French bloc, which in turn arrives at agreement with the Italo-German bloc. And if the logic of this situation is permitted to unfold to the end, we shall have from; the heavy pen of Comrade Ercoli, or another trained seal of the Hotel Lux, a series of articles in Inprecor, telling how the relation of forces turned out to be unfavorable to the Spanish proletariat ...

5. The Anarchists

The Anarchists make no bones about their distrust of their bourgeois allies. When the bourgeois and Stalinist press attempted to minimize the thwarted Catalan plot as the work of individuals, the CNT Solidaridad Obrera bluntly described the plot as a class phenomenon. When Ovseenko attacked the POUM and the bourgeois press eagerly seconded him, the CNT served notice that it had not forgotten that this self-same liberal-bourgeoisie had so far despaired of democracy but a few months before as to call for a “strong regime to put an end to the anarchy.”

But in practice the Anarchists are little better than the Socialists. After a whole series of controversies in which it solidarized itself with the POUM against the bourgeois-Stalinist combine, the CNT agreed to solve the recent cabinet crisis in Catalonia by throwing the POUM out. The price of CNT agreement was to relinquish to it the Ministry of Defense; but the whole point of the new governmental combination was to destroy the power of the workers’ committees in the militias and to centralize military control in the remnants of the military caste. The CNT sold out for nothing.

Yet the Stalinists do not trust the CNT, as the vicious editorial in the Daily Worker of December 18 demonstrates:

“Unable themselves to confront the workers desiring unity, regardless of their political affiliation, those Anarcho-Syndicalist leaders who have fought against a unified command, centralized discipline, and the strengthening of one central state power, find the Trotskyite counter-revolutionaries valuable forces to instigate rifts in the anti-Fascist front.”

The Stalinists are right, too, in their distrust. For though the Anarchists, having no consistent proletarian policy, deserve no confidence whatsoever, yet they are so deeply imbued with anti-capitalist traditions that even when they align themselves with the bourgeoisie, they balk at the concrete implications of the alliance. That means only one thing: that a really revolutionary force could carry the masses of the CNT along with it in the fight for a really revolutionary war against the Fascists. But left to themselves, the Anarchist solution, despite all mitigating factors, will be the solution of Caballero-Stalinism.

6. The POUM

The tragedy of the immediate situation of the POUM scarcely lies in the success of the Stalinist-bourgeois combine’s ousting of the POUM from the government. The tragedy, rather, is that the POUM’s entry into the Peoples Front Government set up on September 26th left no revolutionary force to continue the campaign for a revolutionary war against fascism. It requires no copious quotations – though available – to prove that the POUM could not both be in the government and build independent workers’ organs of action, nor could the POUM carry on a consistent campaign for the revolutionary slogans – land to the peasants, workers control of production, freedom for Morocco, etc. etc. – which were completely alien to the POUM-endorsed cabinet. To defend before its own left wing the entry into the Generalidad, the POUM had to characterize the new government as a revolutionary-socialist instrument; then why any other instrument? The POUM, it is true, occasionally and particularly when it suffered some set-back, remembered to repeat one or another of its old slogans; but they could not carry conviction. Why, for example, so much heat against subordinating the workers’ militia to the cabinet in which the POUM itself sat? As a result, the inevitable course unfolded: enhanced by the prestige of all the workers’ organizations but with all strategic ministries, posts, etc. in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the government moved from September 26 to December 14 not left but right. So much so that even the POUM, though still clinging to the government, was compelled to admit the unraveling of the revolution (it was Juan Andrade, one of the POUM theoreticians, who had been completely silent during the previous months, who was permitted to say this in the last weeks).

Nevertheless, willy nilly, the POUM is out of the government. The significance of this fact is not to be underestimated, even though the POUM was not consulted in precipitating the situation. Certainly the POUM no longer has the grand opportunity which it had in September, when all the instincts of the great masses of the CNT, its traditional anti-capitalist heritage, could have been mobilized by a bold refusal of the POUM to participate in any but an All-Workers Government. That opportunity is lost, irrevocably. Now, the POUM will at the best win adherents more slowly. Nevertheless, the opportunity now open to the POUM is the most significant, perhaps, that faces any proletarian party anywhere in the world.

The POUM has only to cease its gyrations and resolutely to unfurl the banner of revolutionary Marxism and to inscribe upon it the necessary tasks of this moment: Land to the peasants! Freedom and Independence for Morocco! Workers’ control of the factories! For democratically-elected committees in the factories, fields and militias! For a National Congress of Committee Delegates! All Power to the National Congress!


Last updated on: 21 August 2015