Sunday, March 30, 2014

***On The 75th Anniversary Year Of The Dismal Conclusion Of The Spanish Civil War- All Honor to Those Who Fought On The Republican Side- In Honor Of The Working Class Militants In The Spanish Civil War


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

I am re-posting an entry commemorating the anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War when there were many possible outcomes short of defeat and suppression by the victorious Franco regime. The dismal end to the revolution brings forth many lessons but the heroic struggles of the rank and file militants should still be recognized as such. As should the big lessons to be learned. To aid that effort there is no better source than Leon Trotsky’s Spain: The Last Warning for a general overview. That essay is part his collection of essays and writings on Spain-The Lessons of the Spanish Revolution-1931-1939 appended below.             

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

In Honor Of The Working Class Militants In The Spanish Civil War- An Anniversary, Of Sorts

I have noted in other posts that some of our working-class anniversaries like the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917, and the establishment of the Communist International are worthy of yearly commemoration. So, let us say, the 94th anniversary of the Russian revolution while awkward as a milestone is nevertheless, because of its world-historic importance (both in its establishment and its demise), an appropriate yearly commemoration. Others, like the Russian Revolution of 1905 are worthy of the more traditional five, ten and multiples observations. I have also noted previously my dismay (although that may be too strong a word) at the rise of odd-ball year anniversaries (30th, for example) and rise in the number of mundane occasions for such celebrations although I am not immune to that fever myself. Here, as the headline notes, I am observing a traditional milestone. However, the event itself, that I am observing has far less historic importance (actually far, far less importance) than as an occasion to make some point about the Spanish Civil War. The 50th anniversary designation is to commemorate the first time that I seriously studied the “lessons” of the Spanish Civil War. And the form that that study took was as the subject my very first high school term paper in 9th grade Civics class. I can hear the air being let out of the tires now. But hear me out on this one.

I make no pretense that I can zero in on when I first became interested in the subject of the Spanish Civil War but I was driven by two things in that direction- the general hatred of fascism as transmitted by family and others, the other, and this one is less precise as to origin, was a devotion to the fighters in the American-led Abraham Lincoln battalion of the 15th Brigade of the International Brigades. I believe it may have been hearing Pete Seeger doing a version of Viva La Quince Brigada but I am just not sure. In any case by the spring of 1961 I was knee-deep in studying the subject, including time after school up at the North Adamsville branch of the town’s Thomas Crane Public Library. My first stop, I remember, was looking through the Encyclopedia Americana for the entry on the Spanish Civil War for sources and then turning to the card catalogue. For those not familiar with those ancient forms of research the Encyclopedia was like the online Wikipedia today (except no collective editing, for good or evil, at a touch) and the card catalogue was just a paper version on, well, 3X5 cards, of the computerized systems in most libraries today. But enough of this history of research back in the Dark Ages because what this entry is about is the lessons of that event.

I have noted before, although here too I cannot remember all the details of the genesis of the notion, that on the subject of the Spanish Civil War I have been “haunted” (and still am) by the fact of the lost by the Republican side when in July and August of 1936 (and for about a year later as well) victory against Franco’s brutal counter-revolutionary forces seemed assured. In a sense Spain, and the various stages of my interpretation of events there, represents kind of a foundation stone for my political perspectives as I gained more understanding of the possibilities. I have, more recently, characterized 1930s Spain as the last serious chance to create a companion to the original Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia and so we had best look at its lesson closely, very closely.

Of course as a 9th grade political neophyte I was not even close to making that kind of observation just mentioned. I distinctly recall, and it was reflected in my liberal politics at that time, that the center of my argument on that term paper was the perfidy of the Western democracies in not coming to the aid of the Spanish republicans and further in not allowing the republicans to get arms from them or other sources, other than the Soviet Union. Mainly I was incensed that the British and French did not do more except cave in to Hitler when he called a tune. Now that was pretty raw stuff, pretty raw analysis, although probably not bad coming from that perspective. But depending on outside forces to save your bacon (or revolution) is always tricky and so as I moved leftward in my own political perspective I spent more time looking at the internal political dynamics driving the revolution. For an extremely long time I was under the spell (the proto-Stalinist derived spell) as articulated by the majority of the pro-republican organizations.- it was first necessary to win the war against Franco and then the revolution, presumably socialist, would be pursued under which all manner of good things like workers control of production, land to the tiller, some justice on the various national questions (Catalonia, Basque country) could take place, co-operative and collective government established, etc.

As I moved further leftward, leftward not just politically but also organizationally away from left-liberal and social democratic operations, and began to study more closely radical and revolutionary movements for social change I began to chaff under that war-revolution dichotomy and look more closely as the policies of the various organization within the republican camp. That was rather more eye-opening than not. The gist of it was that all the major organizations were working at cross purposes but most importantly they were putting brakes on the continuation of a revolutionary thrust in Spain. An so in the final analysis, although this was hardest to finally see in the cases of the CGT-FAI and POUM organizations and some individual militants, it was the failure to seek revolutionary solutions that would have galvanized the masses (or could have, rather than after 1937 left them indifferent, mainly, to the republican cause).

What was lacking? Obviously since even opponents agree there was a revolutionary situation in that period a party willing to go right to the end to achieve its goals, a Bolshevik-style party. Such things, as we are now painfully aware of, make all the different. And it is that little pearl of wisdom that makes this anniversary entry worth thinking about for the future.

The Lessons Of The Spanish Civil War- From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky





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

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