Felix Morrow

Fight Repressions in Spain

Workers in Madrid Battle New Junta

Communist Party Leaders Abandon Fight at Critical Hour;
Miaja Seeks Franco Favor Through Blood-Bath

Wage Heroic Struggle

(March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 15, 14 March 1939, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Battles in a dozen cities between the forces of the Madrid Defense Junta and troops opposed to surrender to-Franco were still going on late Thursday night, in spite of two previous announcements by the Junta that it had succeeded in suppressing its opponents.

Labelled indiscriminately “Communists” by the Popular Front Junta, the resisting troops definitely included regiments never identified with Communist party leadership. Moreover, the fighting broke out Tuesday, whereas the top leadership of the Communist party and the Negrin cabinet had fled the country the previous day.

A Paris dispatch dated Tuesday to the Stalinist Daily Worker already reported that “More than 400 Loyalists, including many Communist leaders, escaped by plane and boat to Oran and other French North African ports.” Among the Stalinist chieftains who fled were La Pasionaria, vice-president of the Cortes; Vincente Uribe, Minister of Agriculture; Jesus Hernandez, Minister of Education; Col. Hidalgo de Cisneros, Negrin’s air force chief; Gen. Juan Modesto, Col. Enrique Lister, Gen. Antonio Cordon, Garcia Antonio Compaz, Pereda Goiri, and Carlos Nunez Mazas. With the main leadership of the Communist party out of the country before the outbreak of fighting on Tuesday, it is difficult to credit the Junta’s claim that their opponents are exclusively “Communists.”

Communist Leaders Defied

Moreover, such leaders as remain appear nowhere in the reports by name as active figures. On the contrary the United Press stated Thursday afternoon that “It was reported the Communists defied orders of their leaders to surrender and renewed the revolt.”

Furthermore, the Communist party press here, serviced by Comintern cable service, gives no indication of accepting responsibility for leadership of the fight against the Junta. It describes the resistance as “spontaneously” developed.

Had the Communist party actually planned to resist the Junta’s program of capitulation to Franco, it would have arranged, it seems reasonable to assume, for its leadership to remain in Spain, if necessary in hiding, instead of ignominiously fleeing to foreign soil.

Certainly the allegation of the Popular Front Junta that the resisting troops are fighting at the behest of the Negrin cabinet is nonsense, for Negrin himself has refused to support the opposition to the Junta.

Negrin “Reconciled”

In an interview while on the way from Toulouse to Paris on Tuesday, Dr. Negrin “expressed himself as reconciled to the failure of his long effort and hopeful that peace could now be made between the generals in charge of Spain.” (N.Y. Times, Mar. 9)

Later attempts to get Negrin to declare himself proved unavailing. The most that was published was a statement by a person near Negrin “duly authorized” to speak. And this – published in the Daily Worker under the misleading heading, “Negrin aide gives facts behind Casado betrayal” – not only did not denounce the Junta in any way but made no bones about the fact that Negrin himself was seeking to make peace with Franco.

The Negrin ministers, it said, “were mainly concerned with one task – to save the lives of tens of thousands of their comrades, Republicans, Socialists and Communists, who would become victims of reprisals from Franco if peace were to be signed without guarantees.”

In other words, the Negrin ministers did envision a peace without really binding guarantees of amnesty, and at most justified their course on the basis that they would precede the peace by evacuating from the country the Popular Front’s leading elements.

It is clear, then, that this shade of difference – if there is even a shade – between the Negrin government and that of Miaja – can scarcely be the issue over which tens of thousands of troops are refusing to yield to the Junta.

Fighting Widespread

All of the Junta’s claims to the contrary, the fighting is of major proportions. The Junta has had to bring a whole army corps into Madrid to attack the fighters in the working class district of Cuatro Caminos. Thursday afternoon, it was officially admitted that the “rebellion” was gaining ground in Ciudad Real, south of Toledo, and that Almeria had been captured by the “rebels.”

Valencian troops of the Junta were preparing to defend the city against advancing “Communists.” Communications between Madrid and Valencia had been cut. Previously the Junta had claimed suppression of uprisings in Albacete, Valencia, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Alcala Henares, Jaen and Murcia.

One can only conclude from the extent and the scope of the “uprising” that it has deep roots in the situation, far deeper than those available to be tapped by the Communist party leadership after, contrary to all its expectations, it was suddenly expelled from the Popular Front on Sunday night.

Bolt out of Blue

That expulsion was a bolt out of the blue to the Communist party. It was riding higher than ever. Negrin had just abolished the existing army and navy commands and was turning them over to generals adhering to the Communist party. Never was a party caught off guard more than that night when the Stalinist leadership learned that the non-Stalinist generals with the support of every other party and group of the Popular Front, had decreed the expulsion of the Communist party.

In terms of its own objectives, the Communist party leadership had no alternative except to flee the country the next day, when it became clear that the whole Popular Front leadership, itself excepted, was backing the Junta. The final blow was Miaja’s agreeing to head the Junta, for so far as it lay within its power the Communist party had taught the masses not only to put all faith and trust in the Popular Front, but equally had preached unquestioning obedience to General Miaja, whom the Communist party had christened “the savior of Madrid.”

Peace Was Sought

Apparently the Communist party, between Sunday night and Monday afternoon when its leadership fled, had attempted to make its peace with the new Junta. An early Monday United Press dispatch actually listed the Communist party as among the organizations tendering their allegiance to the Junta!

Monday’s Daily Worker and Freiheit, appearing on the streets long after the tabloids had screamingly reported the coup, had not a word to say on the subject; attempts were still being made to secure toleration for the Communist party.

The Communist party press during the last few weeks has sought to picture Negrin as determined on a last-ditch fight, in the face of the daily reports, never denied by Negrin, authoritatively describing his readiness to make peace, if only Franco would guarantee the hides of the Popular Front’s leading elements. But these fairy tales in the Stalinist press were designed to let the faithful down easy; certainly the Communist party leadership has understood where Negrin is going.

Miaja’s Main Purpose

If further proof of this were needed, the Stalinist press treatment of Azana’s maneuvers in Paris gives the show away. The Stalinists covered Azana up until the day of his formal resignation.

Hence the capitulatory policy of the Popular Front Junta, identical in essence with that of Negrin, could scarcely have repelled the Stalinist leaders.

Nevertheless, they were expelled from the Popular Front. They were expelled, not because they would not come to terms, but because the Popular Front would not keep them on any terms at all. On the contrary, the primary function of the assumption of power by the Junta, backed by the Popular Front, was for the purpose of expelling and outlawing the Communist party. “Greater Good”

Why? In language discreet enough to get past the censorship, the N.Y. Times reporter at Valencia, George Axelsson, provides the clue:

“People outside Spain may say the Communists were thrown to the lions or offered up as a sacrifice to the gods, and even assuming this is true – which is by no means sure – editorials hereabouts are unanimous in asserting that the sacrifice has been for the greater good of the greater part of the Spanish people.”

The second clue is provided by the British Tory press, which warmly praises the establishing of the Junta and Miaja’s “statesmanship,” and predicts that now the forthcoming peace negotiations will be an “officers’ club affair.”

Putting these two clues together the answer is obvious: the Stalinists, despite all their servility to the “democratic” capitalists, their strangling of the Spanish revolution, their yoking of the French workers to Daladier’s war machine, etc., are still considered “Reds” – i.e., the agents of Moscow. The Popular Front therefore served these reds up as a sacrificial offering to Franco, hoping thereby to mollify him sufficiently to secure amnesty for the non-Communist Popular Front leaders.

Franco’s Move Next

With the Communist party not only eliminated from the government, but also condemned in the most violent terms by every sector of the Popular Front, Franco can now, if he so desires, conclude an “officers’ club” peace without loss of face. The true Spaniards having repented of their liaison with the Communists, he can say, he is justified in being generous to them.

Whether Franco will actually do so, however, is another matter. If Franco now smashed the Loyalist army by force, it will not be the first time that would-be capitulators ended up before firing squads.

This cynical and treacherous maneuver of the Popular Front Junta found the Communist party defenseless.

Not actually, physically defenseless, for the ensuing resistance of the troops to the Junta indicates that a boldly-led and well-organized fight against the Junta might have won overnight.

C.P. Could Not Fight

But the Communist party could not possibly make that fight. It was politically defenseless against its expulsion from the Popular Front. For to actively resist this expulsion would mean to present the world with a picture of the Communist party alone (alone among the organizations, that is, though undoubtedly backed by a great section of the masses, in spite of all its previous crimes, fighting a combination of all its allies of yesterday.

Precisely this picture of the Communist party fighting alone against the enemy – even when the enemy is not the “democratic Popular Front” of Spain, but the vilest fascist group, like the Nazi Bund at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20 – is what the Stalinist leadership the world over is determined shall not appear anywhere. “Unity of the democratic forces” – never to appear as an independent camp – is the most fundamental goal of the Stalinist leadership.

With roughly a third of Spain’s population and land still unconquered by Franco, the masses know that resistance could be continued, for Franco’s hold on the rest of Spain is purely military and vulnerable to revolts from within.

This mass opposition had been developing against the Negrin-Stalinist regime; the Junta merely inherited it. But the flight of the Communist party leadership provided the Junta with the best possible propaganda against the opposition.

Identifying all opposition wits the Communist party, the Popular Front Junta skillfully appealed to the opposing masses.

“The members of the Negrin government are in France,” said a Junta broadcast. “The government betrayed the people and the directors of the Communist party have betrayed their own party.

“Under these conditions who has the right to speak to the soldiers, not alone in the name of a government which does not exist, but even in the name of a party whose principal chiefs have taken flight?

“Communist comrades, you still love Spain. Comrades, there are no planes at your disposal to take you to France! Communist comrades, there is no place reserved for you In a distant country where you can take up a secure life!”

Casado referred to “Communists trying to stage a daring coup,” “while their despicable leaders, with La Pasionaria and Jesus Hernandez are in shameful flight to Oran (Algiers).”

Borrow from Stalinists

Declaring that revolting troops had been misled into believing that the air fleet was under Communist control, the Junta issued a communique asserting that the only planes in the hands of Communists were the planes which Communist leaders had used to flee the country.

In its violent language against the Stalinst scapegoats, the Popular Front Junta, having observed Stalinist methods at close range for 32 months, borrowed from them: identify your rival with the hated enemy: “Franco never had a better ally than the Communists,” the Junta declared in a Thursday noon broadcast, reminiscent of the Communist party’s campaigns against “Trotskyist” militants.

Having created the necessary hateful atmosphere, the Popular Front Junta could be ruthless. Nineteen “Communists” were shot on Thursday in Valencia in cold blood, not to speak of the hundreds already killed in the fighting. More than 2,500 “Communists” have been arrested at Cartagena and Valencia, and great numbers of others are being held at Madrid, Alicante, Murcia and other points. Miaja, the “savior of Madrid,” is saving Franco some of his work.

No Alibi Now

Among the butchers are all the heroes of the Popular Front, whom the Stalinists taught the masses to revere: some of them, safely out of Spain, applaud the butchery and sanction it from afar: Azana, head of the Left Republican party; Martinez Barrio, head of the Republican Union party; Ambassador to United States Fernando de los Rios, sage of the right wing of the Socialist party, who on Wednesday cabled his support to the Junta. On the spot, directly leading the butchery, are other saints haloed in the Stalinist press until yesterday, above all of course, General Miaja.

When the Barcelona workers – the same who had smashed the fascists on July 19, 1936 – were being shot down by the police and troops on May 3–7, 1937; when scores and hundreds of the flower of the working class were assassinated or formally executed, and tens of thousands of others were being imprisoned during the last two years – the U.G.T., C.N.T. and Socialist leadership whined: “It is not our fault. It’s the work of the Communists and their G.P.U.”

But now the Stalinists are gone. What alibi now for the corrupt labor bureaucrats who are sanctioning Miaja’s slaughtering of the workers? It is now clear that the “Socialist” and “anarchist” leaders were not passive partners in crime of the Stalinists!

Cover Up Butchers

One would think that the counter-revolutionary course of the C.N.T., U.G.T. and S.P. leadership would now be the object of bitter denunciation by the Communist party. On the contrary, however, the Stalinists have set themselves the fantastic task of denying that these organizations are supporting the Popular Front Junta!

The line is set in a dispatch from Moscow in the Daily Worker, March 9. Calling the Junta the “Fifth Column,” it proceeds to belittle the composition of the Junta. “All honest Socialists have long since repudiated Bestelro, a schemer and old friend of the British secret service.”

True enough, but when did the Stalinists discover it? Not when they were voting, in the cabinet, to send Besteiro as the Spanish government’s representative to King George VI’s coronation!

“Who are the other members of the committee of traitors: Wenceslao Carillo, a friend of Largo Caballero, a friend of the POUMites. How could the traitors do without their Trotskyist agent?” The description, of course, is invented for the occasion; the Stalinists worked with Carillo until yesterday cheek by jowl in the U.G.T. – which has now officially designated A.P. Garcia as its representative in the Junta.

“Also two petty anarchists and one Left Republican of secondary importance joined the committee.” Not a word about the fact that the left republican parties – headed by Barrio, Azana, and Aguirre of the Basque Nationalists – support the Junta.

The “petty anarchists,” it now appears, are to be joined by Mariano R. Vasquez, General Secretary of the C.N.T., who on Wednesday wired his support to the Junta, adding that he was returning from Paris.

The Stalinists are driven to this fantastic move of covering up the crimes of their allies of yesterday, because above all in America they propose to repeat the experience of the Popular Front. They dare not, therefore, admit that it is the Popular Front as a whole – i.e., all the corrupt leaders who worked with them yesterday – which is butchering the workers in Spain.

Honor Their Memory!

And while the Stalinists play this insane and impotent politics, the best militants of the civil war against fascism are falling under the artillery, warplanes, tanks and machine guns of the Popular Front. Honor their memory! Above all, the only kind of honor that counts: to learn from their defeats, to avenge them, against Franco, against the Popular Front, against the Stalinists who led them to the slaughter.

Last updated on 28 November 2014