By Alan Woods
The publication of a new Spanish edition of Felix Morrow’s classic book Revolution and Counter-revolution in Spain is an occasion to celebrate. When I was in Spain in the 1970s as an active participant in the revolutionary struggle against the Franco dictatorship, one of the first initiatives I took was to get this important work translated into Spanish (it was completely unknown in Spain at that time). We circulated it in a rather primitive duplicated format, in which it was passed from hand to hand until the pages were falling to bits.
I recall that it made a profound impact on people at that time, and I am sure that its impact will be no less now. Four decades after the fall of the hated dictatorship a new generation of young fighters is being forged in the fire of the class struggle. I write these lines only a few days after a huge demonstration in Madrid protesting against the vicious austerity policies of the right wing PP government.
The Spanish Revolution
On July 17th 1936 fascist and Monarchist officers based in North Africa proclaimed a military rebellion against the Republican government. But this was the inevitable result of a process that had begun five years earlier when the reactionary Bourbon Monarchy fell like an overripe fruit and the masses came onto the streets to proclaim the Republic on April 14, 1931. With the precision of a master surgeon, Felix Morrow traces this process step by step through all its stages, laying bare the class mechanics that lay behind it.
Morrow explains how the bourgeoisie was incapable of solving the problems of Spanish society. Like the Russian bourgeoisie it had developed too late to accomplish the progressive role that had been played by the French bourgeoisie in the 18th century. The Republican and Liberal bourgeois lived in fear of the workers and peasants who were pressing for their own demands. Once the Spanish ruling class understood that they could no longer rule through ‘democratic’ means, they prepared for the overthrow of the government.
With a wealth of detail and quotes from contemporary newspapers, Felix Morrow exposes the unwillingness and complete incapacity of the Republicans to fight the fascists from the very beginning. When the fascist officers launched their counterrevolutionary rebellion against the Republic, they deliberately suppressed the news and refused to arm the workers. This was no accident. It flowed from their class point of view. The Republican bourgeois were more afraid of the workers than they were of the fascists.
But the victory of Franco was not inevitable. What was lacking in Spain was the presence of a genuinely revolutionary party and leadership that was prepared to go to the end. In Russia in 1917 that role was fulfilled by the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The tragedy of the Spanish Revolution was that no such party existed. In the moment of truth all the existing leaderships betrayed the Revolution and handed the workers and peasants to the tender mercies of the fascists.
The Popular Front
Today, many people on the left confuse the popular front with Lenin’s idea of a united front. This is a very serious mistake. In reality the popular front has nothing to do with a united front, a workers’ or left front. It represents a policy of class collaboration, which subordinates the workers’ parties to the parties of the liberal bourgeoisie. Lenin originally put forward the idea of a united front as a united front for action between workers’ parties (Socialist and Communist) against the bourgeois parties. It was the Mensheviks, not the Bolsheviks, who advocated a “democratic” front between the workers parties and the parties of the so-called progressive and liberal bourgeoisie – a policy which Lenin vehemently denounced.
In 1917, Lenin broke with Kamenev and Stalin when they advocated critical support for the bourgeois-liberal provisional government, demanding that the workers and peasants take power into their own hands (“All power to the Soviets”). The popular front in Spain was based not on Lenin’s conception but that of the Mensheviks, and it had disastrous results.
In 1936 the Socialists and Communists united, not with the “progressive bourgeoisie” but with the shadow of the bourgeoisie. The real capitalists, bankers and landlords had in the main fled to the side of Franco at the beginning of the civil war. The only social force which remained to fight against fascism was the workers and peasants. After the victory of the Popular Front in 1936 the working class, which had learned to distrust the liberals through bitter experience between 1931 and 1933, immediately moved into action. Within days, by direct action they carried out the Popular Front programme from below. There were constant clashes between workers and employers. The peasants began to seize the land. But whereas in Russia the land was divided up into small peasant property, in many areas of Spain the peasants established collectives. The reaction grew more and more alarmed.
Behind the screen, under the protection of the Popular Front government, the conspiracy of the Generals, monarchists and fascists began immediately. The Popular Front Government did not take any action against the Fascist Army Officers. How could they when it meant the destruction of the state machine on which the ruling class relies? While the government did nothing, the big capitalists, unleashed their reserve weapon: the Fascist bands against the organisations of the working class, supplying them with funds and arms. Had it depended on the liberals, the fascists would have won without a struggle.
Fortunately, the masses took matters into their own hands. When the fascist generals tried to broadcast their call to mutiny to mainland Spain the message was intercepted by the radio operators in the Spanish fleet. The crews upped anchor, radioed Madrid to warn the government and threw their officers overboard. It was the working class that saved the situation. Socialist, Communist and Anarchist militias and their comrades in the army and navy led the counterattack against the fascist onslaught. Under the inspiring slogan of the Asturian Commune, “Union de Hermanos Proletarios”, they fought with ferocious bravery and saved the situation.
How the Revolution could have won
The great majority of the landlords and capitalists supported Franco and had fled to the National zone. But the Republicans acted as a reactionary brake on the movement of the masses. They feared the workers and peasants much more than the fascists, to whom they were quite prepared to capitulate. Therefore the only correct policy would have been to break with the bourgeois Republicans and form a workers’ government based on the Socialists, Communists and the CNT. The only way to defeat Franco was by linking the military struggle against fascism to the revolutionary struggle for the liquidation of the economic dictatorship of the landlords and capitalists.
All the forces of the old society thus conspired to defeat the heroic movement of the Spanish working class. In the moment of truth, the leaders of all the workers’ organisations passed over to the camp of the capitalist class. They justified their policy of class collaboration on the grounds of the need to fight fascism, “for democracy”. The workers understand the need to fight against fascism and to defend those democratic rights won in struggle against the very “Republican” employers, bankers and capitalists.
The arming of the working class and the establishment of organised committees of workers or Soviets would turn every factory, workers’ district and village into a bulwark of the Revolution and a formidable force of resistance to the fascists. The workers were practically the only armed force. The workers were taking over the factories and the peasants moved to seize the land. The masses had already gone far beyond the limits of the bourgeois democratic revolution and were instinctively striving towards the socialist revolution. What was missing was a revolutionary party and leadership. But who could provide it?
The right wing socialists led by Prieto and Besteiro stood openly for collaboration with the republican bourgeoisie. But they could never have succeeded without the support of Largo Caballero and the left wing of the Socialist Party. If Caballero and the left socialists had maintained an independent position, the whole situation would have been different. But they clung to the right wing, which in turn clung to the shirt tails of the Republicans, who were striving for a deal with the reaction and did everything in their power to paralyse the resistance of the workers.
Revolution in Catalonia
In July 1936 the workers of Barcelona saved Spain from the fascists. When the local army garrison declared its support for the fascist uprising the workers rose up spontaneously, seizing knives, sticks, old hunting rifles and came onto the streets. After some bloody fighting, they smashed the fascists. At that moment, power was in the hands of the working class of Barcelona. Public services were running smoothly under the direction of the unions, who had taken over all transport including the Catalan railways and key industries. There is an inspiring account of this in George Orwell’s famous book Homage to Catalonia.
Power is, in the last expression, armed bodies of men. In July 1936, the workers of Spain rose against the fascists in reply to Franco’s military uprising. The old army was effectively destroyed and replaced by workers’ militias. These were the only armed forces that existed in the territory of the Republic. The only thing that prevented the working class from taking power was the leadership of their own organisations, but the leaders of all the workers’ parties – anarchists, socialists, communists, and even the POUM – entered the bourgeois popular front government and became the main obstacle in the path of the revolution.
What of the anarchists? The “theories” of anarchism, as Trotsky once observed, are like a leaky umbrella – useless precisely when it rains. The Spanish Revolution proved the truth of these words in laboratory fashion. In the moment of truth the anarchist leaders betrayed every principle of anarchism and socialism. Even when the power was in their hands, they refused to form a workers’ government in Catalonia. But the same leaders subsequently entered the bourgeois Government precisely at a time when the basis of such a Government had disappeared.
The POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) was a party which, in words, stood for a socialist policy. But the lack of theoretical clarity and inconsistency of Nin, Andrade and the other ex-Trotskyist leaders of the POUM proved fatal to the workers’ cause. In the short space of six weeks it grew from a party of 1,000-1,500 to 30,000. According to some reports this rose to 60,000 members. This was proportionately far more than the Bolsheviks had in the early days of the Russian revolution.
In words the POUM described itself as Marxist. However, the POUM were not Trotskyists but rather centrists, that is to say, a tendency standing between reformism and Marxism. Instead of taking an independent class position, the POUM leaders in Catalonia dragged at the tail of the anarchists and entered the bourgeois Government in Catalonia. In so doing they prepared the way for their destruction at the hands of the Stalinists and ensured the defeat of the Revolution. Even when they were expelled from the Popular Front government as a result of pressure from the Stalinists, they demanded re-entry.
Large sections of the CNT – especially the youth – were disgusted with the sell-out of their leaders and looking for an alternative. Internal differences began to appear in the ranks of the anarchist workers. The “Friends of Durruti” represented a genuinely revolutionary tendency which was in the process of breaking from anarchism and moving towards Marxism. Had the leaders of the POUM maintained a real revolutionary policy, they could have now won over the majority of the CNT activists. But the policies of the POUM disorientated the leftward moving workers who were looking to it for a lead. By joining the popular front, the POUM leadership threw away the opportunity of providing that alternative.
Stalin’s foreign policy
“Howard: Does this statement of yours mean that the Soviet Union has to any degree abandoned its plans and intentions to bring about a world revolution?
Stalin: We never had any such plans or intentions.
Howard: You appreciate, no doubt Mr Stalin, that much of the world has long entertained a different impression?
Stalin: This is the product of misunderstanding.
Howard: A tragic misunderstanding?
Stalin: No, comic. Or perhaps tragi-comic…”
(Roy Howard, Stalin interview, Communist International, March-April 1936.)
Far from desiring the victory of the socialist revolution in Spain, Stalin was terrified that a successful socialist revolution in Spain would undermine the power of the bureaucracy and lead to its overthrow. The workers of Russia were enthusiastic about the revolution in Spain which stirred them more than any event since the usurpation of power by Stalin. It is no accident that Stalin unleashed the infamous Purge Trials precisely at this time. The bloody extermination of all those who had been connected with the democratic and internationalist traditions of Lenin and the October Revolution was a one-sided civil war of the Stalinist bureaucracy against Bolshevism. It was meant as a pre-emptive strike to prevent the danger of a resurgence of a Leninist opposition in Russia, inspired by the movement of the Spanish workers.
Under Lenin and Trotsky the foreign policy of the Soviet state was always subordinate to the interests of the world socialist revolution. But Stalin and the bureaucratic caste he represented were guided by purely nationalist considerations. They wanted at that time to placate the capitalists of Britain and France, to gain an alliance against Germany. They did not wish to upset this by a revolutionary conflagration which would have spread to France and destroyed entirely the world political and social equilibrium. For their part, the so-called democracies of Britain and France did all in their power to help Franco, while masquerading under the hypocritical banner of non-intervention. Stalin’s counter-revolutionary policy in Spain did not persuade the British and French imperialists to become allies of the Soviet Union but, on the contrary, placed the USSR in the gravest danger.
The strangling of the Spanish revolution was intended to prove Stalin’s “respectability” to London and Paris. But it failed to produce the desired effect. The policy of the British and French capitalists was not dictated by their alleged love of “democracy” but by naked class interests and, above all, fear of the revolution in Spain. Hiding behind the monstrous policy of “non-intervention” they hypocritically turned a blind eye to the help given by fascist Germany and Italy to Franco. Stalin sent limited arms supplies to Spain – not enough to achieve the decisive military defeat of Franco, but more than enough to help the Republicans – in cahoots with the Spanish Stalinists – to rebuild the shattered capitalist state machine.
Following orders from Moscow, the Spanish Communist Party dropped the ultra-left theory of “Social Fascism” without explanation. In its place they adopted the line of coalition with the “Liberal” bourgeoisie, which Lenin had always implacably condemned. In order to disguise the counterrevolutionary character of this Menshevik class collaborationist theory, they presented it under the guise of the “People’s Front”. Having abandoned Lenin’s revolutionary internationalist policy, which based the defence of the Soviet Union fundamentally upon the support of the world working class and the victory of socialism internationally, the Russian bureaucracy attempted to get the support of the “good”, “democratic”, capitalist states (Britain and France) against Hitler. At one stage, they even supported “good” Italian fascism against the “bad” Germany variety!
The leaders of the Spanish “Communist” Party became the most fervent defenders of capitalist “law and order”. Under the slogan “first win the war, then make the revolution”, they systematically sabotaged all independent movement of the workers and peasants.
The Stalinists of the PSUC helped the Catalan bourgeois nationalists to rebuild the old capitalist state machine in Catalonia, which had been destroyed by the workers in July 1936. In order to do this, the anarchist and POUMist workers had to be crushed. The Stalinists assumed the main responsibility for this dirty work. Towards the end of 1936, they began to agitate in favour of the dissolution of the workers’ committees under the slogan: “All power to the Generalitat!” By degrees, the elements of workers’ control were being whittled away. The leaders of the CNT did nothing to halt the Stalinist-led onslaught.
Having prepared the climate of reaction for six months, in May of 1937, the Stalinists struck. They attempted to seize the telephone exchange in Barcelona which was under the control of the CNT. In reply to this provocation, the anarchists and POUMist workers staged an insurrection in May 1937. This movement had the overwhelming support of the workers of Barcelona, even the rank and file communists and socialists. For four days power was in the hands of the workers. But once again the POUM and the CNT refused to take power.
This was the last chance to carry out the revolution in Spain. With correct leadership, the May days could have ended in victory for the workers. Had the POUM and the CNT called upon the workers to take power, nothing could have stopped them. After the event, the anarchist newspaper Solidaridad Obrera wrote: “If we had wished to take power, we could have accomplished it in May with certainty. But we are against dictatorship.” It is impossible to imagine a more shameful confession of bankruptcy.
The example of a workers’ and peasants’ revolutionary government in Catalonia would have spread like wildfire through the rest of Spain. But the leaders of the CNT and the POUM came to the rescue of the capitalist state each time it appeared in danger of overthrow. The leaders of the anarchists, Garcia Oliver and Federica Montseny, at that time Ministers in the Popular Front government, called on the workers to lay down their arms and return to work. The anarchist centre, the Casa CNT ordered the workers to leave the barricades. Reluctantly, the workers obeyed.
This unleashed an orgy of counter-revolution. Within six weeks, the POUM was illegalised and the CNT disarmed. Stalin’s GPU agents in Spain began to round up anarchists and POUMists. Andres Nin and other leaders of the POUM were murdered in the secret dungeons of the GPU. The workers’ committees and collectives were destroyed. In his excellent film Land and Freedom, Ken Loach shows how the Stalinists disarmed the workers’ militia and disbanded the peasants’ collectives. This was approximately like a man sitting on the branch of a tree and sawing the branch he is sitting on.
Of course, the rank-and-file members of the Communist Party and the Communist Youth cannot be blamed for the policies pursued by their leaders. In the ranks of the Communist Party there were many courageous class fighters whose only desire was to defeat fascism and defend the interest of the workers and peasants. They made great sacrifices and many of them lost their lives in this bloody battle with reaction. The tragedy of the Spanish Communist Party was that, unknown to the working class rank-and-file, the leaders were blindly following the dictates of Stalin and the Moscow bureaucracy, which was pursuing its own interests with cynical disregard to the cause of world communism and the socialist revolution. In the end, it was the working people and the Communist Party itself who paid the price for these betrayals.
The liquidation of the revolution led inevitably to the disaster that Trotsky had predicted. The PCE backed the so-called government of victory of Negrin, the right-wing socialist, which in fact presided over the most terrible defeats. That was inevitable once the bourgeois counter-revolution had triumphed behind the Republican lines. In revolution even more than in war, morale is the key factor. In purely military terms, the revolution can never triumph against the professional army with trained officers and military experts. The much-heralded offensive on the Ebro ended in defeat, which placed Catalonia at the mercy of Franco. The working class was disillusioned and demoralised.
Having done the dirty work, the Stalinists were unceremoniously ditched. The slogan of the PCE was: “First win the war, then carry out the revolution.” But the destruction of the revolution inevitably led to defeat in war. The final disaster that flowed from the false policy of popular frontism occurred between 26 March and 1 April 1939. The overthrow of the popular front government was not brought about by Franco but came from within, when the “republican” Colonel Segismundo Casado and the right wing socialist Julian Besteiro organised a coup d’état against the government and formed a military junta headed by Colonel Miaja. Their aim was to negotiate a peace deal with Franco and to purge all Communists from the government and armed forces. Casado crushed the Communist forces. The PCE’s newspaper Mundo Obrero was closed and Casado ordered massive arrests of Communist commissars and militants. This was the Communist Party’s reward for loyally collaborating with the “progressive” bourgeoisie.
Over a period of nearly three years, the Spanish revolution was gradually strangled. In the first stage the Liberals leaned on the Communists to crush the left wing (the anarchists and the POUM). This prepared the way for the crushing of the Communists by their bourgeois liberal allies, who were themselves crushed by Franco. Casado had entered into negotiations with Franco in the believe that he and his friends would be spared. The British government told him that Franco would guarantee the lives of the Republicans. The Fifth Columnist agent, Colonel José Cendaño, also promised him that Franco would guarantee the lives of the republican officers who “had committed no crimes”. But from the standpoint of the fascists, all the republicans had committed crimes. Franco was only interested in unconditional surrender.
There was now nothing to prevent Franco’s armies from taking over. Negrín fled to France, followed shortly afterwards by La Pasionaria and most of the other CP leaders. Hundreds of thousands of Republicans, Communists and Socialists were arrested and interned in concentration camps and countless numbers were murdered or disappeared in Franco’s prisons. On midday, March 27, 1939, Franco’s forces occupied Madrid with virtually no resistance. On April 1, 1939, Franco declared victory. A long nightmare began for the people of Spain that lasted almost four decades.
Counter-revolution in a democratic disguise
The Spanish working class paid an appalling price for the false policies, cowardice and outright betrayal of its leaders. The fascists took a terrible revenge on the workers. Up to one million people were killed in the Civil War itself. Thousands more were murdered in the immediate aftermath of defeat. The whole world paid a terrible price also. That defeat of the Spanish workers removed the last obstacle to a new World War that ended with the deaths of 55 million people.
It took a long time before the Spanish proletariat could recover from the trauma. But despite the harsh and dangerous conditions the Spanish workers gradually regained their fighting spirit. In the 1960s the first miners’ strikes in the Asturias announced the re-emergence of the proletariat as a revolutionary force. And for the entire period that followed it was the working class that led the struggle against the dictatorship with extraordinary bravery and determination.
When Franco finally died on November 20th 1975, Spain was once more in the grip of a revolutionary upsurge. The most advanced workers understood instinctively that it would not be enough to overthrow the Franco dictatorship, but rather what was required was to destroy its roots. The movement had a clearly anti-capitalist character. The general strike in Vitoria in March 1976, with the emergence of elements of dual power, was the high point of this magnificent movement. The massacre of workers in Vitoria in March could have been the signal for an all-out general strike. But yet again the leaders of the PCE put their search for a pact with the bourgeoisie first.
In January 1977 the brutal murder of five lawyers of the Workers’ Commissions in the Atocha district of Madrid by a group of fascist gunmen provoked a mood of fury in the working class. The mood, as I well remember, was white hot. But yet again the PCE put the brakes on. The funeral of the lawyers turned into a mass demonstration that brought Madrid to a standstill. The whole country would have responded to a call for a general strike or even an uprising. But CP stewards silenced any slogans or chants and banners and prevented the display of any placards. The workers were compelled to march in silence, choking on their rage.
The leaders of the PCE were anxious to demonstrate to the bourgeoisie that they could be trusted to keep the masses in check. What they wanted was not revolution but a deal with the bourgeoisie. They had launched the “Democratic Junta”, which included former fascists. Not to be left out of the act, the leaders of the Socialist Party (PSOE) launched their own Popular Front, the “Democratic Platform”. Behind the backs of the working class and the rank and file of the CPE, Carrillo reached a deal with Adolfo Suárez, the leader of the fascist Movimiento appointed by King Juan Carlos as prime minister.
In order to clinch the deal, the workers’ leaders not only agreed to renounce the struggle against capitalism. They even abandoned the most elementary democratic demands, such as the abolition of the Monarchy. All this was anathema to the overwhelming majority of workers, both Socialist and Communist, who had for years been risking their lives in a struggle against the Franco regime.
The “Transition” – the fraud of the century
Pacts, deals, consensus, coalitions with the bourgeoisie: all this had become the daily bread of the Stalinists for decades. Of course, we are speaking here of the leaders. The rank and file Communists had never abandoned their loyalty to the class struggle and socialism. They submitted with gritted teeth to the dictates of the Leaders, consoling themselves that these sell-outs were merely “tactical”, that they were dictated by necessity but that in future the Party would come out in its true colours. But it never did. This unprincipled opportunism was not tactical but organic.
When Santiago Carrillo died the liberal bourgeois press published the most flattering tributes to the man who saved them. A grateful Juan Carlos came to visit his deathbed just two hours after he had died, saying that the former general secretary of the PCE had played a “fundamental role” in the establishing of democracy in Spain. That is the plain truth. Carrillo and the other leaders of the PCE played a key role in undermining the revolutionary movement of the working class and helping the bourgeois restore control when it has slipped out of their hands. Of course the leaders of the PSOE were not one whit better, but they did not command the kind of support that was in the hands of the PCE and the Workers Commissions that they controlled at that time.
The result of these palace intrigues was that abominable abortion that was baptised the “Democratic Transition”. This was the fraud of the century. The so-called Democratic Transition was a betrayal of everything the workers of Spain had been fighting for. The old regime remained virtually intact, though now anointed with a little “democratic” oil. The old repressive bodies remained in being. The Civil Guard continued to shoot demonstrators, torture and murder prisoners in the gaols. The monstrous privileges of the Roman Catholic Church, that bulwark of fascist counter-revolution, were to be left intact, an intolerable burden on the people of Spain. The vast armies of nuns and priests were to remain in charge of their schools, their salaries paid by the taxpayer.
Not a single person was punished for the crimes, murders and atrocities of the dictatorship. The murderers and torturers walked freely in the streets where they could laugh in the faces of their victims. The people of Spain were simply supposed to forget the one million who were killed in the Civil War. The history books were rewritten in such a way that none of this was supposed to have happened. The mass graves, where thousands of nameless corpses lay beneath olive groves and mountain passes, were to be left undisturbed so as not to prevent tourists from admiring the view.
Hardest of all for the workers to accept was the recognition of the Monarchy. There was a mood of bitter disappointment. Thousands of activists who had sacrificed so much, risked their lives, lost their jobs, suffered imprisonment, beatings and torture, resigned from the Socialist and Communist parties in disgust. This prepared the way for prolonged ebb in the workers’ movement, which has lasted until quite recently.
The revenge of history
Santiago Carrillo and the other leaders of the PCE stood for a “historic compromise” between conservatives and Communists. In reality, it was the former who gained all, while the Communists lost everything. The PCE paid the price for the opportunism of its leaders. Its vote fell sharply, while that of the Socialist Party increased. Of course! If there are two workers’ parties, one big and one small, with similar policies and programmes, the workers will vote for the bigger of the two. In the years that followed, the PCE has seen its influence decline, its membership and vote slump. It has become a shadow of its former self. This once powerful party has been virtually dissolved into the United Left (Izquierda Unida). It is a tragic fate for a party that was built through the heroism and self-sacrifice of a generation of working class militants who risked their lives in the clandestine struggle against the Franco dictatorship.
However, in the heat of the current economic and social crisis in Spain, both the Communist Party and the United Left are experiencing a recovery. That is quite natural. The workers and radicalized youth are looking for a way out from the impasse of capitalism. They are looking for the banner of Communism – the banner of socialist revolution. The Communist Party today remains by far the largest contingent within the United Left, and has recently shown signs of moving to the left, which is to be welcomed. The rank-and-file Communists are increasingly becoming critical of their own past, in particular of the so-called democratic transition.
They instinctively feel that the privileged position of the Church and the Monarchy are an intolerable violation of basic democratic rights, and they seek to return to the genuine traditions of Communism, to the ideas of Marx and Lenin. They are saying: “The regime of 1978 is finished”. Yes! But what is necessary is a thorough and honest debate about the past and an analysis of the mistakes that were made. It is necessary to break completely with the policies of “consensus”, pacts and alliances with the bourgeoisie. The Communist Party must defend a Communist policy, a Leninist policy based on complete class independence and a struggle against all forms of privilege, oppression and class rule. The Communist Party must fight for socialism, not in words but in deeds, not in the dim and distant future, but right here and now.
More than three decades after the betrayal of the Transition, Spain is moving once again towards a revolutionary upsurge. The country is now faced with huge unemployment and the deepest economic crisis for decades. After a long period of relative quiescence, there are clear signs of a revival of the class struggle. In 2011 we had the impressive movement of the revolutionary youth with hundreds of thousands of indignados occupying the main squares of the cities in Spain. Over six million people according to an IPSOS opinion poll said that they had participated in one way or another in the movement.
There have been mass protests against the austerity measures of the Rajoy government, general strikes and the impressive movement of the miners, which recalled the traditions of the 1930s. In 2012 alone there were two 24h general strikes. There have also been massive movements against education cuts, a successful movement against privatisation of health care in Madrid, huge demonstrations and direct action to resist evictions and repossessions, the victorious movement in Gamonal, Burgos, against urban redevelopment, the all out strikes of Balearic teachers, the Coca Cola workers, Panrico workers.
However, in order to succeed these movements require an organized political expression. The new generation of activists are searching for ideas, a banner and an organisation. But the leaders of the main workers’ parties have learned nothing and forgotten everything. It is therefore hardly surprising that the young display distrust and scepticism towards the leaders and parties that provide no clear alternative to the injustice, chaos and criminality of capitalism. And they are looking for answers to the many unanswered questions left over from the past. The sudden eruption of Podemos onto the scene was a graphic expression of this fact. It has provided a channel for the expression of all the anger and frustration that has been accumulating in Spanish society for decades.
The rapid rise of Podemos is a reflection of the inability of the old leaderships to put forward a revolutionary programme that could appeal to the workers and youth. It has attracted many of the most active and energetic layers of society. It has aroused great hopes. But it lacks many things: a coherent democratic organisation and a clear and unambiguous socialist programme. There is an ongoing debate, which may resolve these deficiencies. But the prior condition for this is a serious, honest and critical analysis of the mistakes of the past. The only road for the Spanish workers to ensure their future victory is to learn the lessons of the Spanish revolution of 1931-1937 and of the civil war. Without this understanding they would be doomed to make similar mistakes and suffer the fate of their fathers and grandfathers.All the attempts to bury the past have failed. In its search for the “historical memory”, the new generation is digging up the graves, rescuing the mortal remains of the victims of fascism. In so doing, they are not only fighting for justice. They are also struggling to recover the genuine traditions of the past generations. After all, what hope is there for a nation that has lost its past? When a man or woman suffers from amnesia, they go to a doctor for treatment. When a whole people suffers from collective amnesia more drastic treatment is called for. Powerful vested interests wish to keep Spain’s past under lock and key. But the working class and all the living forces of Spain demand the truth and will not be satisfied with anything less.
On the order of the day is a return to the 1930s and 1970s, but on a qualitatively higher level. After decades of living a lie, people are questioning the very nature of the infamous “Transition to democracy.” Republican flags are again flying defiantly on demonstrations. They are seen by many in the Communist movement and in United Left as a symbol of struggle against a bankrupt and reactionary regime that was imposed on the people as part of a “democratic” swindle. They are quite right. No further progress is possible until this swindle is exposed and overthrown.
Today the Spanish Revolution remains a source of immense inspiration. Trotsky said that the Spanish working class was capable of making not one but ten revolutions. They displayed tremendous courage, initiative and élan. But in the last analysis they failed, and the people of Spain paid a terrible price for that failure. It is therefore essential that the new generation pay careful attention to the reasons for that defeat. And there is no better way of understanding the lessons of the 1930s than to read this book.
It is the task of the Spanish Marxists to carry the lessons of the past to the working class and the youth. The reformist leaders no longer have the same stranglehold over the working class that they had in the past, while anarchism in Spain is a mere shadow of what it was. The world crisis of capitalism will once again place on the order of the day the socialist transformation of society. It is the duty of all conscious workers to study the lessons of the Spanish revolution, and Felix Morrow’s book provides the key to the understanding that it is a necessary precondition to carry through the struggle to a victorious conclusion. In the words of George Santayana: “He who does not learn from history will forever be doomed to repeat it.”
London 1st May 2014