Felix Morrow

Why the Defeats in Spain?

(February 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 5, 4 February 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“The salvation of Spain lay, first of all, in following a policy of class struggle in Spain, and it was abandoned for the fatal perspective of currying favor with the ‘great democracies.’ The unutterable tragedy of the Spanish workers is that the criminal policy of their Stalinist-socialist-anarchist leadership prevailed to the bitter end.”

Why was Barcelona abandoned without a fight? Why is the Loyalist army fleeing, disorganized and demoralized? Why is Franco winning? Every anti-fascist wants to know the answer to these questions. Every anti-fascist must know the answer, if we are to defeat fascism elsewhere.

The social-democrats, the Stalinists and the anarchists answer by blaming the “great democracies” for not providing the Loyalists with food and ammunition. This explanation of the Loyalist failure to make a stand at Barcelona is given weight by reports that military experts on the scene make the same explanation. Indeed, it seems as simple as two plus two equals four: the Loyalists couldn’t be expected to fight without food and ammunition. Hence, the blame for the collapse of the Loyalists must be laid at the door of the “great democracies.”

Fear of Revolution

But this answer explains nothing. For it could be foretold – and we did tell this, over and over, since the outbreak of the Spanish civil war – that the “great democracies” would not provide the Loyalists with the means of warfare. We pointed out that the rulers of the “great democracies,” the capitalist class in France, England and America, could not be shaken from their realization that a Loyalist victory in Spain would mean a socialist revolution in Spain. No amount of protestations that the future Spanish government would be a democratic-capitalist regime, no amount of Stalinist-Socialist repressions of the revolutionary elements in Spain, could reassure the Roosevelts, Chamberlains and Daladiers. Why should the Spanish masses maintain capitalism after they had finished off Franco? And a socialist revolution in Spain would light up Europe.

The “democratic” rulers were therefore determined from the first to give no decisive aid to the Loyalists. No matter who stood at the head of the government in the democracies, that decision of the capitalist class was enforced. When “comrade” Blum was Premier of France, his People’s Front government obeyed that decision, for so long as the capitalist class retains its property, it is the real ruler of a country, and socialists and Stalinists who sit in the government act as capitalist flunkeys.

Workers’ Aid Stemmed

The only conceivable situation in which the capitalists would consent to substantial exports of arms to Spain would be if to say “No” meant revolution at home. Had the French working class directly threatened overthrow of capitalism, then to save themselves for the moment the French capitalists might have agreed to open the frontiers.

But the Stalinist and socialist leaders, when the great revolutionary strike wave of June-July, 1936 threatened like a tidal wave to engulf the capitalists of France, turned that wave into the channels of collaboration with the capitalists in the government. The capitalists, having thereby been saved from the danger of revolution, were able to refuse to provide arms for Spain.

Therefore, even if we accept the simple explanation that the collapse of the Loyalists is due to lack of arms and ammunition, we must blame for this lack, not the “great democracies,” but the Stalinist and socialist traitors to the working class who made it possible for the French and other capitalists to refuse arms for the Loyalists.

Furthermore, if outside food and ammunition were so decisive, we must stigmatize the Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union as a betrayer of the struggle against fascism. Why didn’t Stalin provide arms and food for Spain? Could not a country of 170,000,000 people covering one-sixth of the earth provide the Loyalists with enough supplies to prevail in a country of 25 millions?

Stalin’s Alibis

The Stalinist alibi, in the first months of the civil war, was that the sea-route from Odessa to Barcelona and Valencia was too long to make possible arms and food shipments. But in November 1936 supplies were sent from Russia, especially for the defense of Madrid. Why did these shipments cease?

The fact is that Stalin, seeking an alliance with France and England, sought to demonstrate his usefulness and reliability to the “democratic” capitalists by relieving them of the fear of social revolution in Spain. In return for scanty supplies, he got the anarchists and socialists to agree to a governmental coalition with the “progressive” bourgeoisie in Spain, and secured a free hand for the Spanish Stalinists to destroy, by all methods including assassination, the revolutionary elements in Spain.

When Stalin was through with this bloody and counter-revolutionary work, the French and English rulers were still determined to “appease” Hitler and Mussolini by letting Franco win in Spain. Whereupon Stalin washed his hands of Spain altogether; no more supplies came from Russia.

Even if one accepts the explanation that the Loyalists have collapsed because of lack of food and ammunition, therefore, it is clear that those responsible are: the Second and Third Internationals which, subservient to the “democratic” capitalists and Stalin, made it impossible for the Loyalists to secure outside supplies.

Depended on False Allies

But this is only a partial explanation. Real light must be sought within Spain itself. Indeed, we say without hesitation: the collapse of the Loyalists is due to their dependence on Stalin and the “democracies.” The Caballero and Negrin governments staked everything on securing the aid of Stalin, Daladier and Roosevelt. To secure this aid, they became the puppets of those whom they were courting, and were therefore partners in the “appeasement” of Hitler and Mussolini. One has only to recall that the Caballero and Negrin governments agreed to the infamous “non-intervention” system!

To secure the outside aid which never came, the Stalinist-socialist-anarchist bloc destroyed the inner forces and program which could have led to victory. They had it in their power to disintegrate Franco’s forces in Andalusia and Morocco: the peasant boys and Moorish peasants who constituted his army. How? By two fundamental moves:

Revolutionary Program

1. Nationalization of the land. The most powerful weapon the Russian Revolution had in defeating Allied and White Guard armies on twenty-two fronts was the rousing of the peasantry by giving them the land. The Spanish peasantry were even more land-starved than the Russian. The decree nationalizing the land and turning it over to the peasant committees for tilling brought the peasantry of Russia over to the Bolsheviks. Not only in Bolshevik-controlled territory, but behind the Allied and White Guard armies, where the peasants seized every occasion to conduct guerrilla warfare, spy on the enemy, desert and cause desertions. Before this elemental power of the peasantry, the White Guard armies melted away.

The same process could have taken place in Spain. Instead, currying favor with the Anglo-French bloc (and with Stalin who demanded subordination to this bloc), the Stalinist-socialist-anarchist leadership maintained private property in Spain, sent punitive expeditions of police to destroy the collectives which sprang up in the first months, restored their lands to landowners, and gave the peasants no hope for economic betterment.

Instead of word seeping into Franco Spain of a new life under the Loyalists, peasants in territory captured by Franco could report only the repetition of the old regime. The Loyalist policy made it possible for Franco to retain his army of peasant sons.

Freedom for Moors

2. Freedom for Morocco. The Moors had no reason to look upon the Spanish workers as their brothers. For both the Socialist-Azana government of 1931–1933, and the bourgeois-socialist-Stalinist government of February 1936 left the

Moors under the dictatorship of the Foreign Legion. A break with this past policy, a decree granting absolute independence to Morocco, would have opened an entirely new period in the relations between the Moorish peasantry and the Spanish masses. If overthrowing Franco would mean independence for their country, the Moors would have revolted against Franco.

But, subservient to England and France, the Caballero and Negrin governments would not decree freedom for Morocco. The “democracies” wanted no revolt in Morocco as a flaming example to the French and English colonies! Abd-el-Krim, the leader of the Moroccan Riffs, exiled by France, asked Premier Blum to let him go to Morocco to organize a revolt against Franco. Blum refused! (The negotiations on behalf of the Riff leader were conducted by Moise Rosenberg with Blum; an interesting sidelight is that the facts are in the hands of the Anarchist international organization, which has never made them public!)

With no perspective of freedom, the Moors wreaked their vengeance for past humiliations on the Spanish mainland ... under Franco’s leadership.

Traitors at the Helm

Azana, Barrios, Companys, the Basque capitalists, all the “left” bourgeoisie, disloyal to the core, finding themselves only by accident on the workers’ side of the barricades, were permitted to “lead” the fight against Franco. The result was the open betrayals at Bilbao, Santander, Gijon, Malaga, Toledo, etc., etc. The worker and peasant militias could not prevent these betrayals; their elected officers were deposed, their committees dissolved, and they were ordered on pain of death to give unquestioning obedience to their bourgeois officers.

The roster of the crimes committed against the Spanish masses by their Stalinist-socialist-anarchist leadership cannot be continued in detail here. Enough has been indicated, however, to make clear our point: the salvation of Spain lay, first of all, in following a policy of class struggle in Spain, and it was abandoned for the fatal perspective of currying favor with the “great democracies.”

The unutterable tragedy of the Spanish workers is that the criminal policy of their Stalinist-socialist-anarchist leadership prevailed to the bitter end. Imprisoned, terrorized, assassinated, crushed by every conceivable means by the loyalist government, the revolutionary elements never were able to establish the revolutionary party that could challenge the treacherous reformist leadership.

That is the real tragedy of Spain. Let it not be repeated in France and America!

Last updated on 28 November 2014