Civil War in Catalonia – Paul Mattick

International Council Correspondence, Vol. III (1937), No 5-6 (June)

The recent upheaval in Catalonia as well as General Francos purge have proven conclusively that the outcome of the war will not be decided on the battlefronts alone. Indeed, unless we follow the conflict brewing in the hinterland we lose sight of the whole meaning of the revolution.

The clash between the Generalidad and the Anarchists is a natural outgrowth of the politics of the “Peoples Front”. On the one side we have a decentralized organization of politically conscious workers on the other a centralised state apparatus controlled by the Socialist and Communist Paries (P.S.U.C.) subordinated to the Moscow International. The logic of the Peoples Front politics dominated by Russian diplomacy makes the shooting and suppression of revolutionary workers inevitable.

The treacherous role of the Peoples Front was nowhere more obvious than in Catalonia, economically and politically the most progressive part of Spain. The rise of the generals has brought about a new chain of contradictions in the revolutionary process of republican Spain. These contradictionsarose from the beginning of the upheaval in Catalonia where the anarchists were the most dominant political factor. We must not forget that it was the spontaneous rise of the anarchists that prevented the immediate victory of the Generals. The spontaneous counterattack of Catalonian workers consisted of taking over of factories, transportation and the telephone Station of Barcelona, and with it the setting up of Councils and Committees. Because of its organizational form so well fitted to the spontaneous mass-struggle methods of the workers it immediately found itself in the forefront of the counter offensive. Thus it came about that the anarchists politically opposed to the council idea, were in fact the activisers of the factory – and militia – councils. This brought them into sharp opposition to the P.S.U.C. which has, since the Russian intervention, and because of an increasing influx of the left-bourgeois elements, increased its influence in the Generalidad. The P.S.U.C. though still adhering to the soviet idea in its program on paper, advocates a bourgeois-democratic authoritarian policy. Cabbalero has only recently declared that the spanish Communist Party is with the bourgeois-liberal parties of the Peoples Front government on the right of the Spanish Republic of which the Socialist Part is the Center.

Because of their anti-centralization, anti-state doctrine the anarchists failed to give its comittees the necessary methods of control, which the logic of its mass power demanded. The third political organization of the Catalonian workers, the P.O.U.M., though confirming to the central idea of political power for the masses, does not all fit into the spanish scene dut to its leninist character. There were two governments: the hundreds of de-centralized comittees reigned from below and the State apparatus from above. A double reign which must give rise to dangerous conflicts. The anarchists remained aloof and failing to centralise the power of the masses sought to ameliorate this failure by entering the Generalidad. With this they succeeded in obscuring the contradictions between the committees and the central power but did not do away with them. The tension increased and gave rise to continual friction between organs of the state and the committees and thus resulting in repeated government crises. If the anarchists did not try to solve the conflict by insisting upon a council system with all the power at its disposal, then the Generalidad and also the Valencia government could set out to make an end to this rival power by insisting upon the disarming of the anarchist workers. The recent collision has brought the problem to the fore: either total control of centralised councils or a central government in the interest of bourgeois democracy. The struggle in Barcelona indicates that the anarchists at the same time went too far and also not far enough in their struggle within the framework of the Peoples Front policy.

About the Barcelona collision itself we will bring a few facts which the newspapers friendly to the “Peoples Front” preferred to overlock.

1) The hostilities war the spontaneous reaction of the anarchist masses to the decrees of the Valencia Government which tried to subordinate the catalan militia to the military general staff. Politically the government attacked the anarchists and not vice versa. To justify its decree, the government pointed to the stagnation of the offensive on the Aragon front, blaming the anarchists for this situation. The inactivity of the catalan militia is due mostly to its inadequate military supply, especially artillery. Furthermore, even if the Catalonians have no great victories to point to, neither have they suffered any such catastrophic defeats as Toledo and Malaga. They have hold the Aragon front.

2) The shooting began in Barcelona on May 3 when upon the orders of the Generalidad, the anarchists were ordered to leave the Telephone Station which they have held from the beginning. The military attack also was initiated by the government and not by the anarchists. It is proven beyond doubt that the anarchists did not undertake a “putch”.

3) The leadership of both the F.A.I. and the C.N.T. had no hand in the spontaneous resistance. For even on the first of the three day struggle they have used press and radio to urge their followers to make and end to the shooting and to enter negotiations with the socialist unions and the governments. Hostilities ceased when the anarchists left the Telephone Building upon the condition that no reprisals were to be taken against them. The government waived police occupation.

The fight in Barcelona ended in a compromise; that is, on the surface everything remained as before. The opposition press is appearing again, though with blank spaces deleted by the censor. The funeral of the victims was turned into a mass demonstration. The arrested were all freed, with the exception of a few leftist radicals who were taken to the private jail of the Communist Party. The local committee of the P.O.U.M. declared openly in its La Batalla, May 12, with armed hands have we answered the provocation of the Reformists”. The change in the Generalidad, too, was a result of the compromise. The C.N.T. is, as before, represented in it. Only the P.O.U.M. was ousted from the Comittee of Defense, but is not curbed in its political activity.

Meanwhile the Valencia Government has used the conflict to solidify its own position by decreeing the militarization of the catalan militia, by the disarming of the civilians and the councils, using 5000 civil guards from Valencia for the task. It has also appointed two executives to take over both civil and military power. General Pozas for the army and Colonel Escobar of the national guard as police chief. The disarming, however, pertains only to the civilian population. The militia of the C.N.T. and the P.O.U.M. are closed politically unfied bodys which cannot be touched without provoking a new slaughter and endangering the Aragon Front.

The attack against Catalonian Anarchism was instituted against the will of Caballero who resisted it sharply. In his paper “Adelante” of May 11 appeared an article condemning the control of the Comintern over the spanish Communist Party and taking a stand against the sudden request to oust the Anarchists from the Valencia Government. The article ends with the following: “A government composed mainly of working class representatives cannot resort to methods that are reserved for reactionary and fascist states… Under no circumstance will we tolerate any attacks upon legally functioning organizations”.

It is clear that the offensive against the anarchists was Moscow inspired and that the methods, as Caballeros organ states, were reactionary and fascist. It is further clear that the doing away with the Caballero Cabinet was due to his stand against it. With the C.N.T., the Socialist Trade Unions and the left wing of the Socialist Party from the new Cabinet the situation assumes far reaching political significance.

Is Moscow striving for a, “moderate regime” to facilitate a compromise with the Insurgents? Is Russian foreign policy paving the way for British and French intervention? Whatever its aims the question facing the Peoples Front is: who is ruling the Republic of Spain?

The occurrences in Catalonia have shown the danger of these political developments. The Generalidad has sought an understanding with the anarchists without which no solution is possible. Should the Central Government attempt the insane adventure of subjection it will face not only the workers but all Catalonia which has repeatedly risen against Castillian dictatorships.

Police action will not solve the problem. The inner contradictions of the spanish Peoples Front continue unabated. Franco of course will not be put down by the Governments crusades against the anarchists or by its forceful methods of conquest in Catalonia.