International Council Correspondence, Volume 3 Number 3, March 1937
In concluding our last article on Spain (Council Correspondence Vol. II, n. 11) we said, “from a military point of view, the fascists seem to be gaining the upper hand. Toledo has fallen; the march upon Madrid continues”. Since then – again from a military viewpoint – almost nothing has changed. Malaga is in the hands of the fascists; the siege of Madrid continues. Lately attempts were made by the loyalists to go into the offensive, at the Madrid front as well as near Oviedo, but in general the odds are still against them in spite of their strengthened resistance. As we said in the conclusion of the article mentioned above, so we have to say again today, what the further course of the Spanish civil war cannot as yet be accurately predicted. However, at present there are less probabilities to be taken into consideration than five months ago.
“Non-intervention” is again the topic of the day. Once again all capitalist powers, including the Russian, want to leave Spain to the Spaniards. Even the fascist countries speark about stopping the further influx of military aid to Franco, but this renewed play with non-intervention agreements should not be taken seriously. As before, “non-intervention” is just another form of intervention. The old rivalries among the imperialist powers are still in force. Italy still expects its pay, that is Ceuta; and Germany still hopes to get some of the islands of the Balearios and Fernando Po before Africa. England is still unwilling to yield these concessions. France and also Russia maintain their position on the side of England.
Italian and German interests are opposed to French and English interests, but these two fronts are of a temporary character. Changes in the present allignments are not exclued; only the actual outbreak of war would exclude further variations. The German-Italian front may be broken at any serious danger of war. Russia’s support of England is explained, on the one hand, by French necessity to support its interests in the Mediterranean, which run parallel with the English interests, and on the other hand as an attempt to urge England into Russia’s “United Front of the White Powers” against the “Yellow Menace”, by playing England’s game of today.
Obviously, the imperialist powers are not as yet ready for war. Their present policies are reduced to exchanges of one compromise solution with another. The general show-down is to be delayed. The unwillingness of England to go to war at present allows Italy and Germany to do some blackmailing. It is not always possible, but sometimes necessary, to call their bluff which then means a new “non-intervention” pact. The blakmailers have to withdraw temporarily just as much as England and France have to become very energetic from time do time. Situations are thereby created which seem to lead directly toward war; but up to now all powers have not really been interested in its early outbreak, and each precarious situation was dissolved into another compromise.
The question of “prestige”, behing which economic interests are hidden, plays also its part in the game. Situations arise from which a fast withdrawal might prove to be impossible. The gamblers might become victims of their own game. The fascist countries may be willing, and yet unable, to reverse their policies soon enough, and find themselves in a real war before they can help it. To eliminate the war-danger implied in the question of prestige, attempts are made to allow the fascist countries to retreat without harm to themselves. “Face-saving” compromises are discussed which, however, necessitate some more bleeding on the part of the Spanish workers. Although there may be more reasons to explain the policy of hesitation on the part of the different imperialist nations it is obvious that as yet each country carefully avoided to overdo itself.
England’s position (and with this France’ and Russia’s) is not one-sided. There are strong tendencies within these powers to favor Franco rather than to help the loyalists to regain their former position. It looks as if Italy and Germany are forced to play into the hands of England. There is no reason why a fascist government in Spain, brought into power with the help of Germany and Italy, should after that, remain the servant of those countries. A Spanish fascism might call for credits and protection from England and France; protection even against their present allies. This explains also the attitude of France and England to remain as much as possible “neutral”. Franco may become the vassal of England for which minor concessions may be granted to Germany and Italy, so that everybody might gain from the bloodshed in Spain. The questions in Spain would then boil down to the one: will Franco be able to bring a period of “peace” and “reconstruction”. And this is still questionable.
Franco must have a friendly Spain for her neighbor. She must be able to rush her African troope unimpaired to her eastern front. England fights for her supremacy in the Mediterranean; she also needs a friendly Spain. “Democratic” or “fascist” plays no part; Spain must be friendly to her interests. If Italy and Germany will not risk a war with France and England, those countries cannot then make Spain to a nation opposing England and France. If this war will not come, fascism in Spain will not be directed against the french-english interests. Democracy in Spain is meaningless for France and England; it is not that for which these countries are bargaining. They are struggling, rather, against the influential gains of the fascist countries within Spain, at present bound up with their support of Franco. Spain must be further weakened – the war must be extended – so that either possible winner accepts the dictates of England. A strong Franco will have strong demands on England. A weak Franco will have strong demands on England. A weak Franco, with a war-tired population, will not dare to force the issues between the fascist countries and England and France. England prolonged the war in Spain by equalizing the fighting forces.
On Feb. 14, the New York Times reported from pais: “The British Government, having now received from General Franco all the assurances it asked regarding the future with regard to Spanish territory and British mining concessions, has decided to abandon the non-intervention effort which it considers virtually impossible because of Portugal’s refusal to participate… Meanwhile, of course, the pretense of non-intervention will be maintained on all sides… Behind the British change of front is the unwillingness to let Italians and Germans claim credit for a rebel victory. While Italian and German troops have been fighting in Spain for the promise of concessions, the British, it is said, have been negotiating. The final word in the negotiations has thruout lain with those who have money, more than with those who supplied troops, so it is believed London has obtained all the guarantees it requires. Coupled with that purely materialistic argument is, of course, the other argument which will receive more prominence, that the recent course of the war has shown that even while the Rebel’s progress has been slow, it is evident that the Loyalist cannot win”.
One week later this statement was apparently contradicted and yet verified by the agreement of the non-intervention powers to declare a ban on foreign volunteers for service on either side in the Spanish conflict, and for a blockade to enforce the agreement. “The Commitee for non-intervention in Spain has been saved from wreck at the eleventh hour”, writes the New York Times of Feb. 21. “Even when general Franco triumphs, as the British expect he will eventually, what will be his relations with the foreign allies who have enabled him to win? If foreign troops stay to maintain him, how will Spaniards react to that? A continued official attitude of non-intervention will mitigate the German and Italian dilemma; to withdraw their troops without loss of prestige.. Germany and Italy are rejoicing that they are scraping out of a tight place. Neither wants war now. Even the Russian government is probably relieved, for it has been caught in a similar trap. The difficulty of face-saving at home still remains, but so does the necessity of saving Mr. Blum’s government in France. The Soviet Union is no more desirous of a European upheaval than any of the rest. A non-intervention stand together with the rest of Europe is its own excuse while leaving Soviet orators free to emulate their opponents bu fulminations against fascism at home”.
Seemingly the powers involved in Spain have come to an understanding. By what kind of a bargain cannot be seen as yet. The only thing that is clear is that all powers are convinced that capitalism is saved for Spain regardless of who wins, Franco or Caballero. The powers have found a temporary solution for themselves and trust that Franco will find one for Spain.
There remains, as far as the imperialist interests are concerned, two possibilities. First: that the present agreement continues to be in force. This means that the loyalists don’t get any further help, and that there will be no interference in supplying Franco with war materials to help him to victory. By this the war will be continued in Spain to the point where all opposition to Franco is sufficiently crushed. It will also enable his dictatorship to rule unhampered for a considerable lenght of time. The other possibility is, that further shifts in the international allignment of the imperialist forces will disturb the present balance of power and force England to grant further concessions to maintain world peace. A change of the German-Russian relations would be sufficient to make this possible.
For Spain this situation allows three possibilities: (1) that Franco wins and, after a tremendous blood-bath, establishes his dictatorship; (2) that he cannot win in spite of help from the outside, (a help which is limited in order not to indebt him too much to the fascist nations) and that he accepts a compromise solution. There is no reason to believe that the Valencia government would not accept such a compromise under the formula of the “lesser evil”; (3) if this compromise is excluded by the action of the non-conformist elements in Spain, and if Franco does not win, Caballero will have to undertake Franco’s job and do away with all opposition to the continuation of capitalism in Spain. A real economic to the continuation of capitalism in Spain. A real economic revolution after the possible defeat of Franco would mean at once the open intervention of all the capitalist powers. The last months have shown sufficiently that in such a case the international working class would not arise to help their fellow-workers in Spain.
The job of making Spain safe for capitalism has been allotted to Russia. We remember that Russia entered the non-intervention pact and at first refused help to the loyalists. Later this policy was changed; some food-stuffs and war material were sent to Spain. At present, reversing her policy again, she ceased to send help. Russia, believing at first that the Madrid government would be able to crush the rebels in a short time, tried to avoid all complications for herself. She wanted a Spain friendly to France in order to fulfill the needs of the Russian-French military pact. The intervention of Germany and Italy into the civil war excluded and early sucess of the Madrid government. The whole thing became a little word war in which Russia had to partake to serve the French and English interests with which Russia is at present alligned. The extent of the civil war, the anarchist element in it, allowed for the possibility that in Spain capitalism itself may be wiped out. This would have meant the open intervention of many capitalist powers in Spain and a sudden clash of imperialist interests which probably would have marked the beginning of the world war.
The precarious political situation in France, at the time, allowed for the possibility that the Spanish revolution would have spread over her borders. This would have meant a civil war also in France which, under the then existing conditions, could only, if successful for the revolutionists, have lead to conflagrations with Germany and so to a world war. If unsuccessful, it would have brought fascism to France and a possible shift of policy with the probability of a scraping of the french-russian pact. It was necessary to bring about a balance of power, to exclude an early outbreak of the coming war and to exclude the spreading of the revolution in Spain towards and economic overturn. To prevent the latter situation, a capitalist power had to influence the revolutionary movement itself.
The existence of the C.P. in Spain was not sufficient. Its work was largely counterbalanced by the anarchists. Even the swallowing of the Socialist Party still left 50% of the political forces in the hands of the anarcho-syndicalists. The latter could not be met in battle. They had to be bribed and outwitted. Recognizing that Franco would win, in case help from the outside was denied to the loyalist, the anarchists had to accept the Russian bribe and domination of the anti-fascist front which automatically worked against the anarchists, Russia became very popular in Spain. The political influence of the Valencia government became stronger, the anarchist position weakened considerably. Russia’s help became her weapon with which it started out to kill the revolution from the inside. If Russia would not be pleased it would withdraw its help. If the bolchevist forces were attacked, the anti-fascist front would break down. All political organizations had to fight Franco and postpone the settlement of all other questions. There was no other way out of this situation. The real conditions proved to be stronger than the political programs. It would be foolish to blame the revolutionary groups for the one or the other wrong step, as even a correct policy would have meant nothing.
International capitalism, including the Russian brand and its instrument, the Valencia government, were, under the present world situation, too much for the revolutionaries in Spain. The anarchists were at a disadvantage. They tried to make the best of an unfavorable situation. They became opportunists and it is idle to ask if they liked to be opportunists; that is, if they betrayed the cause’ because they had no other choice. Even if their opportunistic policy did arrive at no more than the postponement of their own end, nothing else could be done. The circunstances forced the policies of the anarchists, not their own decisions. That a part of the anarchists saw in the situation, forced upon them, their own smart policy which they then tried to defend, is nothing new. Many people believe that they are pushing when they are being pushed. By the force of necessity, the anarchists became Bolsheviks, and not Bolsheviks of 1917, but of the 1936 brand.
Russia’s help created a kind of blind enthusiasm for Russia and the Third International. Even in Catalonia where the “communists” were insignificant, they grew very fast and increased their influence in the U.G.T. They captured the leading role in Spain and played and ever greater part in Catalonia. This growing influence was illustrated by their undisturbed fight against the P.O.U.M. “Trebal”, a daily paper of the United Communist and Socialist Party of Catalonia, wrote in November that the members of the P.O.U.M. were “agents of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini”. The Russian Embassy in Barcelona handed a note to the press in which it was said that the P.O.U.M. “was bought over by international fascism”. In the middle of December the P.O.U.M. representative was expelled from the Catalonia government. The leaders of the C.N.T. became somewhat uneasy on account of the growing influence of the C.P. They are afraid that the C.P. may take the whole power into their hands, but they are unable to oppose the C.P. To save themselves today, they have to nourish their deadly enemy of tomorrow. Some of the anarchists still believe that in the long run they will be able to outwit the C.P., but as they lose influence continuously this will prove to be an illusion. There are only two possibilities for them, either to go Bolshevik entirely as it is expressed today in the Valencia set-up, or to be eliminated in the coming struggle against the Valencia government. Only a success of Franco would change this situation.
The Valencia government and also the anarchists have unified the military forces of the nation. The struggle in Spain is no longer one of the working class against fascism and capitalism, but a struggle between two armies of two different governments. There was no choice in the matter. Durrutti explained this situation to a reporter as follows: “For many anti-fascists the revolution is not yet a social fact, but a phase of transformation between two periods of ‘normality’.” When he was asked, “Don’t you thing the militarization might endanger the revolution, should the war go on very much longer?”, he answered. “Yes. Certainly! That is why we must win the war soon”. (Boletin de Informacion, Nov. 18, 1936).
But the war still rages on. The revolutionary elements become less and less important. The “spirit of today” has nothing to do anymore with a revolutionary outlook. Desperation may change this and bring back a real revolutionary situation, but at present Dolores Ibarruri fumes: “Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, Republicans, Catholics, all who love their country, all united.” And Espla declared at a conference in Valencia (Jan. 18.), “it is necessary to organize and win the war. Thereafter it will be possible to seek a way of organizing Spain in conformity with the people’s desires”. Carillo proclaimed: “Our immediate necessities are a powerful defense – an army, air force and fleet that oan assure victory and guarantee the freedom of our coasts and our commerce”. And everybody declared that “the collectivization measures taken in some parts of Spain had been premature and ill-considered, and would have the effect of making the small proprietor regard us as enemies”. This ‘small proprietor business’ is only the phrase begind which is concealed the general refusal towards all real socialization. The agrarian decree of Oct. 7, for which the communist minister of agriculture, V. Uribf, was responsible, provied only for the confiscation of the property of those landowners who have taken and active part in the rebellion. Big-landed property, as such, therefore is not to be confiscated. Many peasants and tenants have actually confiscated the land without waiting for any government decree, but unless this process is legalizes, none of them know whether a bourgeois Republic might not take the land away from them again.
The collectivization in industry has the same character of uncertainty. There is no provision for the continuation of the present industrial organizations after the civil war. What has taken place so far had more the character of a war-necessity, the control of production for war needs, than of actual socialization. The workers councils in industry can at any time be taken away from the workers as long as the government controls the army. The collectivized enterprises run on a capital-wage relation basis and nothing else is possible as long as the whole of society is not socialistic. If there is no total socialization, then the return to the old capitalist relations is inevitable. A state capitalism a ‘la’ Russia might be a temporary solution, but seems to be a precluded as matters stand today.
Socialism is not as yet established in Spain, nor is it growing. To have such a situation, it would be necessary to deepen the revolution; but at present only attempts to flatten it further are made.
(More on Spain in following issues of the C.C.).
All transcriptions were done by Felipe Andrade. Did you find any mistakes? Suggestions? Send e-mail to: