Felix Morrow

Lest We Forget the Lessons of Loyalist Spain

(30 December 1939)

(3 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 95, 30 December 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Among those who have now joined the flight from Stalinism is Ralph Bates. His case is worth examining for a number of reasons. Bates was one of the most valuable agents whom the Stalinists had during the civil war in Spain. Although in Spain it was a matter of public record that he was a member of the PSUC (the Stalinist party of Catalonia) he passed in England and America, on his propaganda tours, as a “non-partisan anti-fascist”; under this guise his articles, in the New Republic and elsewhere, appeared to give “independent” weight to Stalinist alibis.

In, the very act of breaking – it takes the form of an article in the December 13 New Republic – Bates whitewashes the Stalinist record of betrayal and murder in Spain; once again he repeats his praise of its policy and execution of that policy. In casual sentences following his lavish praise, he makes his only criticism of the Stalinists:

“The theological bitterness of the Communist party, however, could be seen in its attitude toward the POUM party. That party’s policies would have been disastrous had they been put into effect. That indisputable truth was made the basis for the utterly unscrupulous charge that the POUM was in actual contact with Franco and was working exclusively and consciously in the interests of the fascists.”

But this criticism is so carefully phrased and so placed that the sum total of what Bates has to say on Spain is that the Communist Party played a glorious role in the anti-fascist struggle.

Bates Conceals More Than He Reveals

It is no wonder, therefore, that Bates confuses instead of enlightens his readers on the present course of Stalinism. Bates begins his article by saying: “... we have the duty of understanding how the Russian crime against Finland came to be perpetrated. Only in that way shall we, free liberals and radicals, learn what we have to do.” But “we” never learn what we have to do from the article; how the Russian crime against Finland came to be perpetrated is left an impenetrable mystery.

Stalin’s policy in Spain was, in reality, an even greater crime against the international working class than his present crimes, for in Spain Stalin intervened against a full-fledged social revolution, forcing the masses back within the limits of bourgeois “democracy” and, in the process, destroying the morale of the workers and peasants and decisively facilitating the victory of Franco and his Italo-German allies. To turn the clock of the revolution backward, to destroy the collectivization of the factories and the land, Stalin had to destroy the very flower of the Spanish revolutionists. I have tried to tell this terrible story in Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain. But even in book-space I could record only a name here and there – Camillo Bemeri, Andres Nin, Alfredo Martinez – of the thousands upon thousands of POUM, anarchist, left socialist, Trotskyist and dissident Stalinist workers who were assassinated by the Stalinist murder squads in order to crush the revolution. Bates whitewashes all this, even today, because he was an accomplice in this bloody work and has not the character to come clean now.

Bates and the New Republic in 1937

Read again the sentences I have quoted from Bates in which he mildly criticises the Stalinist attitude toward the POUM. One would never guess from his detached words that he was one of the most effective agents in securing “non-partisan anti-fascist” acceptance of the Stalinist murder policy!

I cite, almost at random, two of his articles, in the New Republic, October 20 and 27, 1937. There we read that "three days before the Twelfth International Brigade attacked Huesca in an attempt to help Bilbao, the POUM troops were playing football with the fascists in no man’s land.” There are venomous sneers at “the revolutionary mystics” who called Negrin’s government – the agent of Stalin – counter-revolutionary and who said a professional bourgeois army could not win against the fascists. Free political discussion is denounced and its suppression justified because “this atmosphere was one in which enemy agents could work with ease.” When even such an observer as H.N. Brailsford uneasily noted that the remnants of the bourgeoisie were finding a haven in the Communist Party, Bates sought to explain it away with a literary phrase: “Perhaps, after all, a grocer may have ideas about freedom, democracy or even revolution.” “Often deliberately dishonest bodies such as the POUM,” “the May rising of the POUM and their sympathizers,” “partisan control of the front enabled arms to be illegally returned to Barcelona to be used against the Popular Front government,” “the POUM proposal would have meant military disaster and was therefore counter-revolutionary,” “the enormous stock of arms since found in the illegal possession of the POUM and uncontrolled anarchist groups” – these Stalinist frameup slanders were written by Bates.

At that time I exposed what Bates was doing, confronting him with indisputable facts. One article I wrote was condescendingly published by the New Republic as a communication, with Bates having the last word and with an editorial in the same issue (November 10, 1937) upholding him against me. In the two and a half years of the civil war, that was the only article published by the New Republic giving the revolutionary side of the Spanish story.

Bates’ reply included an especially sinister touch. “Possibly Mr. Morrow believes those funny little notes that were ‘secretly’ sent to Mr. Trotsky [from the Aragon front] by the Belgian Lutte group. The joke is on Mr. Morrow.” Note those quotation marks around “secretly”! That was Bates’ coy way of making clear that he, thanks to the GPU, was in possession of the mail sent by our comrades – almost all of them murdered by the Stalinists afterward.

Let Bates Keep That Promise!

There is one sentence in particular of which Bates should now be forcibly reminded. Referring to “Mr. Morrow’s obvious debater’s trick concerning personalities of the Spanish political scene” – the “personalities” were those assassinated by the Stalinists! – Bates said:

“Some day, if by any chance any honest supporter of the Spanish government were troubled by these things, I would be prepared to debunk Mr. Morrow’s uninteresting farrago.”

Well, Bates, that day is here. Thousands of honest workers and liberals who supported the Stalinist Spanish committees in this country are now evidencing their troubled thoughts about the connection of Stalinism in Spain with Stalinism in Finland. Are you prepared to discuss “personalities”? Are you prepared to defend your role as accomplice to the GPU murder squads?

Last updated on 27 Junel 2018