THE SPANISH REVOLUTION, 1931-39, LEON TROTSKY, PATHFINDER PRESS, NEW YORK, 1973
THE CRISIS OF REVOLUTIONARY LEADERSHIP
AS WE APPROACH THE 75 th ANNIVERSARY OF THE BEGINNING OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR MILITANTS NEED TO LEARN THE LESSONS FOR THE DEFEAT OF THAT REVOLUTION.
I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was a teenager. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.
Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class revolutions after the Russian revolution Spain showed the most promise of success. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted that the political class consciousness of the Spanish proletariat at that time was higher than that of the Russian proletariat in 1917. Yet it failed in Spain. Trotsky's writings on this period represent a provocative and thoughtful approach to an understanding of the causes of that failure. Moreover, with all proper historical proportions considered, his analysis has continuing value as the international working class struggles against the seemingly one-sided class war being waged by the international bourgeoisie today.
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Trotsky's complication of articles, letters, pamphlets, etc. which make up the volume reviewed here is an exception. Trotsky was actively trying to intervene in the unfolding events in order to present a program of socialist revolution that most of the active forces on the Republican side were fighting, or believed they were fighting for. Thus, Trotsky's analysis brings a breath of fresh air to the historical debate. That in the end Trotsky could not organize the necessary cadres to carry out his program or meaningfully impact the unfolding events in Spain is one of the ultimate tragedies of that revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky had a damn good idea of what forces were acting as a roadblock to revolution. He also had a strategic conception of the road to victory. And that most definitely was not through the Popular Front.
The central question Trotsky addresses throughout the whole period under review here was the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the proletarian forces. That premise entailed, in short, a view that the objective conditions for the success of a socialist program for society had ripened. Nevertheless, until that time, despite several revolutionary upheavals elsewhere, the international working class had not been successful anywhere except in backward Russia. Trotsky thus argued that it was necessary to focus on the question of forging the missing element of revolutionary leadership that would assure victory or at least put up a fight to the finish.
This underlying premise was the continuation of an analysis that Trotsky developed in earnest in his struggle to fight the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the mid-1920's. The need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution and to extend that revolution internationally was thus not a merely a theoretical question for Trotsky. Spain, moreover, represented a struggle where the best of the various leftist forces were in confusion about how to move forward. Those forces could have profitably heeded Trotsky's advice. I further note that the question of the crisis of revolutionary leadership still remains to be resolved by the international working class.
Trotsky's polemics in this volume are highlighted by the article ‘The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning’, his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937. Those polemics center on the failure of the Party of Marxist Unification (hereafter, POUM) to provide revolutionary leadership. That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. Those conscious mistakes included, but were not limited to, the creation of an unprincipled bloc between the former Left Oppositionists and the former Right Oppositionists (Bukharinites) of Maurin to form the POUM in 1935; political support to the Popular Front including entry into the government coalition by its leader; creation of its own small trade union federation instead of entry in the anarchist led-CNT; creation of its own militia units reflecting a hands-off attitude toward political struggle with other parties; and, fatally, an at best equivocal role in the Barcelona uprising of 1937.
Trotsky had no illusions about the roadblock to revolution of the policies carried out by the old-time Anarchist, Socialist and Communist Parties. Unfortunately the POUM did. Moreover, despite being the most honest revolutionary party in Spain it failed to keep up an intransigent struggle to push the revolution forward. The Trotsky - Andreas Nin (key leader of the POUM and former Left Oppositionist) correspondence in the Appendix makes that problem painfully clear.
The most compelling example of this failure - As a result of the failure of the Communist Party of Germany to oppose the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent decapitation and the defeat of the Austrian working class in 1934 the European workers, especially the younger workers, of the traditional Socialist Parties started to move left. Trotsky observed this situation and told his supporters to intersect that development by an entry, called the ‘French turn’, into those parties. Nin and the Spanish Left Opposition, and later the POUM failed to do that. As a result the Socialist Party youth were recruited to the Communist Party en masse. This accretion formed the basic for its expansion as a party and the key cadre of its notorious security apparatus that would, after the Barcelona uprising, suppress the more left ward organizations. For more such examples of the results of the crisis of leadership in the Spanish Revolution read this book.
Revised-June 19, 2006
Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:
This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.
Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.
The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff.
Sherry Mangan-Spanish Militants Describe Escape from BarcelonaWhat follows here must surely rank as one of the most vivid accounts of a political disaster ever written, and seems to concentrate in it the essence of the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War as far as revolutionaries are concerned. Datelined Perpignan, 16 February 1939, it appeared over the pseudonym of Terence Phelan in the 3 March 1939 issue of Socialist Appeal, the weekly paper of the then Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party of the USA.
Sherry Mangan (1904-1961) was one of the most talented intellectuals ever to become associated with the Trotskyist movement. A poet, journalist, and enthusiastic if somewhat naive politician, he came from an upper class family, went to Harvard, and was already well known in literary circles by the beginning of the 1930s. He was associated with the Trotskyists when they undertook entry work in the US Socialist Party, and was a founder member of the Socialist Workers Party when it was established in 1938, after which he was in Paris, from where he regularly sent articles on French affairs to its newspaper.
From July 1939 he was Secretary for the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. He worked as a correspondent for the Time-Life combine in Paris until requested to leave by the German occupation authorities in August 1940. During the Second World War he played a most important rôle as a representative (and, for a brief period International Secretary) of the Fourth International, intervening in Argentina, Britain and Greece with less than successful results. During the early 1950s he was in Bolivia, and in the split that took place in the Trotskyist movement in 1953 he supported the International Secretary, Michel Raptis. He died in Rome in 1961, practically penniless. On his fascinating career, cf. Alan Wald, The Revolutionary Imagination: The Poetry and Politics of John Wheelwright and Sherry Mangan, Chapel Hill, 1983; cf the review in Revolutionary History, Volume 3 no.1, Summer 1990, pp.43-4.
When Catalonia was overrun by Franco, Mangan went down to Perpignan to interview the revolutionary exiles struggling across the frontier. “Having barely escaped the executioners of Franco”, the introduction to the article stated, “these Spanish militants now face the constant menace of arrest by the police of Daladier, erstwhile hero of the French People’s Front who has recognised Franco’s government.” Among them was Bortenstein, the author of the text above, which was prepared for the printers by Pierre Naville. The text below makes a fitting end for the eyewitness section of our compilation.
Deliberately left locked up in prison, at the mercy of Franco’s bombers and executioners, and saved only by a daring escape that reads like the wildest adventure story, the POUM leadership and part of the leadership of the Fourth Internationalist Bolshevik-Leninists are temporarily safe in France. They are scattering rapidly for cover before the police bloodhounds of French capitalism, which persecutes them as ruthlessly as did the Stalino-bourgeois government of Spain.
Moving with the greatest caution, this correspondent of the Socialist Appeal was able to interview Julian Gorkin, General Secretary of the POUM, and Casanova, courageous Bolshevik-Leninist leader who, since the frame-up arrest of the entire previous leadership of the Spanish section of the Fourth International, has directed the underground work of our Spanish organisation.
From comrades Casanova and Gorkin, it was possible to determine that among the known saved are Manuel Fernández Grandizo (Munis), General Secretary of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists; ‘Casanova’, his successor; Julian Gorkin, General Secretary of the POUM; Juan Andrade, of the POUM Executive Committee; Pedro Bonet, POUM Trade Union Secretary; ‘Gironella’, POUM Propaganda Secretary (already arrested by the French police and now in Senlis prison); Wilebaldo Solano, General Secretary of the POUM Youth; Juan Farré, Secretary of the Lérida Province POUM Organisation; José Rodes, former POUM “Governor” of Lérida Province; and Juan Guer, Secretary of the Gerona Province POUM Organisation. 
Still missing, among others, are Adolpho Carlini, member of the Bolshevik-Leninist Executive Committee, and Luigi Zannon , the young Bolshevik-Leninist comrade who courageously revealed how Stalinist torture had been applied to obtain a bogus confession from him, and was thereupon taken back to worse torture.
Within the State Prison in Barcelona lay 24 of the POUM leadership, condemned to long years of imprisonment; two leaders of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists, whose much-postponed trial on a similar frame-up charge was scheduled by an historic irony for the following day (a week before, the unbreakable Bolshevik-Leninist leader Munis, because he had organised a hunger strike among the revolutionary prisoners, had been removed to the fortress of Montjuich); 250 members of the International Brigades arrested on various pretexts; and a great mass of convicted Fascists, whose known presence was all that protected the jail from bombardment.
On that last wild night, certain that the Fascists would enter Barcelona on the morrow, the conscientious Prison Director, an Austrian Socialist, Vicente de Vincente, telephoned to demand of the SIM (Servicio de Informacion Militar, Spanish GPU) in official charge of jails, a truck to transport his anti-Fascist prisoners farther north.
On the other end of the wire, the SIM Director, a Stalinist, Garces, snarled: “No trucks for the POUM leadership; let the Fascists finish the bastards off.” Vincente was indignant. He had the strictest orders that, whoever else he had to let go, he must hold onto the POUM prisoners. He was prepared to follow these orders faithfully, but certainly not to leave his prisoners to be butchered by the Fascists.
He set out on his own, and at last found, at about 2 a.m., a small open truck, and had it brought to the prison gate. Knowing that the Fascist prisoners would be released anyway by the entering troops, he paid no attention to them, but hastened to turn loose the International Brigaders, and to get his special prize prisoners off to some jail farther north.
Suddenly the POUMists realised that the two Bolshevik-Leninists were not with them, and demanded that they also should be transferred north. Vincente replied that another truck was coming in a few minutes, on which Carlini and Zannon would be placed together with other anti-Fascists. It was later learned that almost immediately after the first truck’s departure, Fascist elements seized the jail.
Perhaps in the general disorder, Carlini and Zannon escaped anyway. This happened in other prisons. Commandant Rovira  of the Twenty-ninth Division, POUM leader, for whom the Stalinists had demanded the death penalty a week before, miraculously managed to escape in the general wild yelling confusion when the Fascists opened the Model Prison. The widow of the murdered Andrés Nin, arrested 10 days before for bravely continuing the issue of the POUM’s illegal bulletins, escaped from nothing less than a GPU secret prison. When the young GPU officers fled that midnight, an old non-political prison functionary, his simple logic untouched by the fancier Stalinist slanders, released her with the words: “You’re a genuine anti-Fascist, and these soldiers that are coming here are genuine Fascists, so I think maybe I better let you out, eh?”
Northward rumbled the truck with its mixed load of prisoners and guards. “It was a strange relationship on that ride”, said Gorkin with a tight-lipped smile. “The guards were armed to the teeth, and we well knew that if we attempted to run for it, they’d shoot us down without a tremor. Yet, we were all jammed up together, man against man.”
Next day this strange load was deposited in the tiny isolated coastal town of Cadaques. But Franco’s troops were rolling inexorably north; it was obvious that the village of Cadaques would be cut off in a day or so. Their conscientious jailor again started phoning government headquarters in the next town to get a truck for their transport further north. Again the answer from the SIM was the same: “Leave the bastards to be finished off by the Fascists.”
Three times Vincente made a personal telephone appeal to Negrín himself. Negrín’s final remark in hanging up was: “Forget your truck. Keep them there. I don’t want even to hear about the POUMists.” The situation seemed desperate, for Vincente was equally determined not to free them.
At that moment, on the afternoon of the 28th, there marched up to the improvised prison, in defiance of their officers, the Loyalist garrison of Cadaques, led by a corporal.
“Is it true”, their spokesman asked, “that your prisoners are the POUM leadership?”
“What can we do to help them?”, the soldiers cried.
“Because”, specified the corporal, “they are the real revolutionaries.” And he added, after a pause, “Ah, if they had taken power during those days in May, we wouldn”t have been smashed and defeated now.”
Those simple words, spoken by that rank and file militiaman, are a deeply true summary, and an unanswerable accusation – an accusation that cuts both ways. It will be long engraven on the memory of those POUM leaders; it deserves to be equally engraven on many another memory.
Learning that a truck was the immediate need, the soldiers rushed back to quarters and brought round the garrison truck. Again the strange load crept off to the north.
In the dark just before dawn, under a cold penetrating rain, the open truck reached its goal, the small town of Agullana, six miles from the French frontier. Shortly after, the guards found the town jail, and duly locked their prisoners up.
This village contained, they discovered next morning, not only the Soviet Embassy, but also the GPU headquarters, the Communist Party Military General Staff, and the temporary office of Premier Negrín.
“That was a pretty nerve-racking experience”, said Gorkin. “Had they had time to learn of our presence and identity, they’d certainly have sent their killers right over to wipe us out.” But the various Stalinist organisations cleared out almost immediately, as Franco’s bombers began to demolish the town.
On the evening of the 31st, as the bombardment got worse and worse, their jailor Vincente set doggedly out to obtain further instructions wherever he could find them. He left behind him in the jail office his briefcase, containing his official seal and blank forms of various sorts.
Aided by the sympathetic prison doctor, Gorkin got hold of this treasure, and by the light of a candle in his cell, with cool daring filled out and officially stamped liberation orders for himself and his 23 companions. The guards, presented with documents, were puzzled but persuaded: the papers were certainly official. So at midnight, the 24 revolutionary leaders walked out of the jail and set off through the night for the French frontier.
The French Gardes Mobiles  expelled them back over the border again, where by this time, Spanish Republican Guards had already started a man-hunt after them. Hiding for days without food or shelter in the mountains, first from these and then from the even more dangerous man-hunters, they finally succeeded, in one group of 10 and smaller knots of two or three, in getting secretly over the frontier into France.
A last meeting at Perpignan to settle methods of communication, and these two dozen men, over whom the Damoclean sword of Stalinist assassination (on Nin it has fallen already) had hung for 21 months of imprisonment, scattered to temporary hiding all over France.
Fourth Internationalists have grave political differences with the centrists of the POUM; but when they are ruthlessly hunted by the bloodhounds of French imperialism at the very time it is making friends with the butcher Franco, it is not these political differences, but our class solidarity which is uppermost in our minds.
“Our plans?”, echoed Gorkin as we separated. “Well, for one thing, we are determined not to be a futile emigré party. Only about 100 of the most recognisable have left Spain; and even they”, he added, with a narrowing of the eyes, “only temporarily. Most deliberately chose to remain in Spain, invisible but present, working already on the long hard task of rebuilding a revolutionary party. Our day will come again. We must be readier next time.” 
So much for the story of their escape. Now for their description of the collapse of Catalonia’s defences. Stalinist Russia had sent no arms whatsoever since April 1938. But it was not overwhelming military supremacy that won for Franco.
“Though our inferiority in armaments did not enable us to carry out a sustained offensive policy”, a non-political technician on the Loyalist army staff admitted to this correspondent yesterday, “there were nevertheless plenty of arms for the defence of unlimited duration. No, it just suddenly fell apart.” What actually caused the rout was the final collapse of morale under the pressure of hunger and counter-revolutionary repression.
During the last year, the food shipments from the Soviet Union had been cut down to a mere trickle, consisting mostly of wretched canned milk and half-bad bully beef, paid for, like all Russian aid, not only in gold in advance, but also in concessions to Stalin’s demand that the Spanish revolution be ruthlessly crushed. Food from other quarters grew less and less.
The masses might have borne this, as did the Petrograd workers during the civil war in Russia, but recurrent and increasingly noisesome food scandals, proving that the ‘liberal’ bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy and military leaders were greedily banqueting while workers, women and children came closer and closer to the line dividing hunger from starvation, became a major factor in breaking down waning morale.
An even more important factor in breaking down morale was the steady, savage repression of all the workers’ organisations. In the Stalinist concentration camps, to give one vivid and characteristic example, all revolutionary prisoners were divided into groups of five. If one man out of such a group managed to escape, the Stalinists immediately executed the other four and the two groups nearest them: 14 murders to punish one escape. “That’s to encourage the others to try it”, was the coldly sneering explanation of Assault Guard Lieutenant-Colonel Astorga  in one of these camps at Omells de Nagaya in Lerida Province.
Thousands upon thousands of revolutionary fighters, who asked only for the chance to get back to the struggle against Franco, were thus immobilised, terrorised and slaughtered, lest their fight for Socialism should compromise the Loyalist government in its mad clamour for the support of Anglo-French imperialism, which is at this very hour, of course, completing its work of strangling Loyalist Spain for the benefit of its own investors and Franco Fascism. Such is the end product of the Stalinist policy of ‘realism’.
Over 80 per cent of these imprisoned workers have never even had a formal charge preferred against them. Four or five months passed before they could even get themselves brought before a judge for interrogation. And even when the judge and prosecutors had to admit that they didn’t know why they were being held, they were kept in prison. How this could occur is now being revealed by the escaped comrades. GPU terrorist pressure was equally exercised against the examining magistrates, who knew it was suicide to issue an order for the release of revolutionary anti-Fascists. This was the ‘democracy’ being defended against Fascism.
The last stage of the degeneration of morale essentially began with the publication of Negrín’s famous 13 points , which definitely pointed to capitulation to Franco. Like Negrín’s latest terms for ‘peace’, the 13 points asked only such empty formulas as ‘national independence’ and no reprisals. Those who were among the troops report that these fell like a bomb-shell among the last illusions of the Loyalist soldiers. In helpless rage, they stormed furiously: “What the hell are we fighting for? For those damn 13 points? Why, they might as well have been written by Franco! What’s the real difference between them and Franco’s programme? No! No! No! We’ve been tricked and betrayed!” On the one hand mutinies broke out, on the other hand despair set in. And the censorship smothered all.
It was in vain that such sadistic martinets as the notoriously brutal Stalinist General ‘El Campesino’  tried to maintain discipline by terror, shooting his men by hundreds. Speeches about ‘democracy’ were booed or received in stony silence. The tough veterans who had grimly stuck out two and a half years of a bloody and losing fight weren’t fighting for any abstract concept of democracy, and even less for the maintenance of capitalism as they had experienced it. Tricked into grudgingly accepting the abandonment of the struggle for Socialism “until the war is won”, hoping blindly that it would somehow come out alright, they suddenly saw at last how they had been trapped and tricked into fighting the battle of their class enemies, and realised that whoever won, the Spanish workers had lost. And the heart and the fight went out of them.
Ever since the Negrín ‘Government of Victory’ had been formed, it had been Stalinist practice to assassinate officers who would not follow in complete detail the Stalinist military policy. For an officer to let his men, for example, dynamite a town’s armament and other factories before making a forced retreat from it was to sign his own death warrant; a shot in the back from some Stalinist planted in his regiment. At the last National Council of the Socialist Party, the situation had grown too horrible even for Prieto, who presented a list of more than 200 Socialist officers who had been thus assassinated. The CNT had an even longer list of well-documented cases. But the facts heretofore had never leaked out of well-censored Spain.
Even in the Stalinist-dominated International Brigades, with their fierce discipline, a feeling of revolt mounted, and mutinies broke out. The military observer mentioned above estimated that at least 50 per cent of these internationals were in either secret or open revolt against the Stalino-bourgeois policy of crushing the workers’ revolution and supporting Spanish capitalism. Nearly 500 of them who had mutinied in favour of a workers’ revolution were in a prison camp under his immediate jurisdiction at Castel del Fels, near Sitges. Hundreds of others were scattered in concentration camps and prisons elsewhere in Loyalist Spain: there were 250, for example, in the State Prison at Barcelona, with the POUMists.
It was a moving and vivid picture that comrades Casanova and Gorkin painted of the feelings of rage and indignation of these revolutionary fighters at the counter-revolutionary uses to which the Stalinists put them. They had come from all over the world to fight for the Socialist revolution against Fascism! In the light of these revelations, it is easier to understand Premier Negrín’s ‘idealistic’ haste to get these internationals out of Spain before they all began to wake up.
Nor has the terror ended. In Central Spain, thousands of revolutionary militants still languish in the prisons of Valencia and the concentration camps of Almeria Province. In Valencia, for example, sentenced to 15 years, is Luis Portela , Secretary of the Valencia Province POUM organisation, the man who, with Andrés Nin (murdered by the GPU), Juan Andrade and Julian Gorkin, was one of the founders, in 1921, of the Communist Party of Spain. Also imprisoned in Valencia are approximately 450 agricultural workers, representing 46 out of the 47 committees that in the early days of the war collectivised orange growing and other large-scale farming in Valencia Province. Long before the war, grouped in the UGT union, the Federación de Trabajadores de la Tierra, they had fought against the reactionary large estate owners belonging to Lerroux’s Partido Radical or the Derecha Regional Valenciana, affiliated with Gil Robles’ CEDA.  After the farmers’ federation had collectivised the farms, the reactionary elements were rallied together again by the Stalinists to form a rival ‘union’, the Federación Campensina. Aided by their private army, the Stalinists gradually smashed collectivisation, jailed the collectivising committees, and re-established the old bosses.
The final destruction of all the gains made by the workers – the Stalino-bourgeois return of property to even such self-avowed Fascists as Portela Valladares  – these facts filtering through to the front, finally sapped away the militancy and courage of the Republican Army. Hence although, as a matter of historic record, it was the inexplicable collapse of sections of the Stalinist Fifth Regiment which was responsible for the loss of Tarragona (involving such bad faith, not to use any harsher term, on the part of the Stalinist officers Lieutenant-Colonel Galán  and Commandant Vega that they had to be removed), the real reason for the military defeat was not merely the Fascists’ overwhelming material superiority, but the total collapse of Loyalist morale. The bravest men, if they finally don’t know for whom and what they’re fighting, sink into fatalism, apathy and defeat.
When the Franco military juggernaut started to roll, the bourgeois ministers called on the workers to defend every inch with their lives, shouted that the “very stones of Barcelona will rise to defend it” – and rented apartments in the chic quarters of Paris.
So fierce was the Stalinist terror in the army that it was worse feared than that of the Fascists. This had sharp military effects. Voluntary enlistment fell to nothing. The severest military coercion was necessary to enforce conscription measures. Thousands of young workers, who were eager to enlist in the forbidden militia formations of the Anarchist youth to fight against Franco for the revolution, simply hid from the draft into a republican army where shooting in the back seemed even more likely than in the front.
More and more panicky grew the bourgeois government as the defence disintegrated. It called desperately on the faithful Anarchist hack García Oliver to turn on again the faucet of militancy and confidence which he had so many times before turned on and off at the behest of his capitalist masters. It was useless.
Closer and closer pressed the Fascists; and for Barcelona, long bombed at intervals from Majorca, there began the hell of constant uninterrupted bombardment, the Italian vultures shuttling back and forth from nearby Reus like commuting trains.
Revolutionaries demanded that Negrín take the only measure which even the Fascists admit would have lessened the bombardment: retaliation on the bourgeois business and residential quarters of Salamanca, Burgos and Seville. Bourgeois to the end, he refused; and the infernal rain poured down its steady death. Every bombing objective was known like the palm of a hand. For while the SIM (Stalinist-controlled intelligence service) was spending all its time and money on the persecution of the revolutionaries, the Fascist espionage service flourished unchecked, even high in the government ministries, communicating with impunity with the enemy.
Having by its counter-revolutionary repressions imprisoned and murdered the most sincere and most intransigent fighters against Fascism, and drained the spirit of resistance from the rest, the government was finally reduced to summoning aid out of its own raving imagination. Comrade Casanova reports on the different wild rumours the government deliberately set afoot in the doomed city:
Three French divisions have just crossed the frontier ... The British Navy is steaming at forced draft to bombard Ceuta ... War between the democracies and the dictatorships is only a few days off ... One hundred French Air Force planes have just landed, will take to the air again immediately after refuelling ... French tanks are at this moment rumbling through Figueras.”The Barcelona population listened in silence and distrust. True news, filtering through, told them that the Fascists were advancing 15 to 20 kilometres a day; that the fortifications, on which eight months’ effort had been expended, at Balaguer, the Segre, and Las Borgas Blancas, had fallen almost without a struggle. On the last Monday night the ‘Government of Victory’ met. It called on the CNT militants whom for 19 months it had been murdering and imprisoning, to fight to the last drop of blood, established a “state of war”, swore to stay in Barcelona to lead the resistance, and hastened home to pack valises and warm up their automobiles. That night the government exodus began: high functionaries rolling north in their high-powered cars past the plodding thousands they had betrayed and led to disaster. On Tuesday they did not even bother to get out the press; the radio grew spasmodic, broadcasting more and more dance music and less and less news, and dried up.
The doomed city, these eye-witnesses report, was curiously quiet, fatalistic, hopeless. As comrade Casanova grimly stated it, with a fierce, cold anger: “Barcelona, the city of barricades, died without a barricade being raised.”
For the departing government had not overlooked this point: by its last orders, Assault Guards patrolled the streets to prevent the raising of barricades, to protect private property, and to see that the Anarchists did not destroy arms stocks or munition works. This task – a dastardly act of treachery to the Central Front – was carefully carried out: all Barcelona’s arms and munitions works were perfectly protected by the Assault Guards till they could fall intact into Franco’s hands.
Frente Rojo, organ of the Stalinist PSUC, shouted speciously for resistance, for barricades, while the Stalinists saw to it that there were none. Those of its own International Brigaders who wanted to make a stand like that at Madrid, mobilising every quarter, cleaning out sniping Fascists, and making every house a defensible fortress, were publicly treated as ‘Trotskyite irreconcilables’ and ‘scum of the Fifth Column’.
“The roads, that night of the 28th”, said one of the eyewitnesses, “were something I shall never forget. I have been through several kinds of hell in my time, but never have I seen such a tragic sight. The bourgeois press has characterised it to the best of the literary powers of its star correspondents, but no words can even approximate to it. If I could only convey to you somehow – well, things like the look on those faces of the plodding civilian refugees caught in the ghastly half-dimmed headlights as, in response to an arrogant horn, they stumbled into the ditch to let pass a Hispano-Suiza containing some functionaries of ‘their’ government. But ...”, he raised his hands hopelessly, “it’s just beyond words.”
It is equally impossible to convey in words the dismal, tragic, heart-rending spirit that pervades the whole area of the concentration camps, where, shattered and shelterless, the hundreds of thousands of refugee Loyalist soldiers lie coughing on the bare ground under the fine, cold, piercing rain, their teeth chattering in the icy winds that sweep down from the snow-clad Pyrenees, their hearts heavy with defeat, their thoughts grim with the probability that ‘democratic’ France will shortly send them back to Franco’s executioners. Towns like Perpignan and Bourg-Madame swarm with spies (both of the French police, of the Stalinists, and of Franco), and with a miserable half-world of harpies who batten on the misery of the internees, bartering for example a few hunks of bad meat for a treasured family gold watch. Here are infuriatingly and dramatically visible some of the final bitter fruits of the ‘Government of Victory’, which proposed to beat Franco by smashing the Spanish workers who were leading the fight against Fascism.
Notes1. Pedro Cuito Bonet (1901- ) was in charge of the POUM’s trade union work; he was subsequently arrested again in France but was released at the Liberation. Juan Farré Gasso (1892-1944) was the Secretary of the POUM organisation in the province of Lerida; he was arrested again in France in 1940 and liberated in 1944. Shortly afterwards he was murdered, probably by the Stalinists. José Rodes Blay (1895-1968) was president of the workers’ council of Lérida; he was arrested again in France, and deported to Germany in 1944, but was liberated again on the fall of Hitler. ‘Gironella’ was the pseudonym of Enrique Adroher Pascual ( -1968), the Commissar for Transport for the Council of the Anti-Fascist Militias of Catalonia in 1936. He left the POUM in 1949. For Gorkin, cf. above p.217 n118; for Andrade, cf. p.217 n113; and Solano, cf. p.283 n10.
2. For Luigi Zannon, cf. Carlini’s account above p.258 and p.241 n10.
3. For Rovira, cf. above p.252 n7.
4. The Gardes Mobiles are the paramilitary arm of the French police force, still much hated for their severity when dealing with ‘civil disorders’.
5. Gorkin’s optimism was premature. When the repression eased off and it was possible for the left groups to organise in Spain again, the POUM leadership as a whole failed to return and so passed out of effective history as far as the Spanish working class was concerned.
6. Astorga Vayo, the hated SIM commander in charge of the Omells de Nagaya concentration camp in Lérida, was taken by some of his victims to a secluded part of the camp and buried alive on the collapse of the Stalinists in 1939.
7. On Negrín’s 13 points, cf. the account by Jean Rous below, pp.380.
8. El Campesino was the pseudonym of Valentin González (1909-1985), an ex-sergeant in the Spanish Foreign Legion and one of the more prominent Stalinist commanders during the Civil War. In exile in the Soviet Union he broke with the regime, and escaped incarceration on several occasions, finally getting across the border. He was assisted in writing his colourful memoirs by Gorkin. The English edition of them appeared as Listen Comrades, New York 1952.
9. Luis Portela (1902- ), the leader of the right wing of the POUM, in fact escaped in 1939.
10. For Lerroux and Gil Robles, cf. above, p.213 n60.
11. Manuel Portela Valladares (1868-1952) was the bourgeois politician who acted as Prime Minister at the time of the election of the Popular Front government, and was already negotiating with Franco at the time. He was succeeded by Azaña.
12. Francisco Galán Rodríguez ( -1971) was a Stalinist colonel. He was so discredited that when Negrín appointed him commander of the fleet base at Cartagena it mutinied and defected to Franco.