Article from Bilan issue 34 (August - September 1936), issuing a powerful critique of the sacrifice of the Spanish working-class and revolution in the name of the war effort, the Popular Front and the Republic.
The simple general assertion that at the present time, in Spain, a bloody battle is taking place between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat, and, that it may lead to a terrible disaster and a massacre of the workers, doesn't enable us to establish the political positions and the forces which will permit proletarian defence and victory. In order to establish these positions first we need to establish if the masses have got dug in around their own specifically class interests, if they are capable of evolving, of finding within their ranks the forces capable of mounting an attack on the enemy.
At the moment many different perspectives occupy the political scene. We will start with the one proposed by the Popular Front which has recently been given a "theoretical" consecration by the centrists. Supposedly we are dealing with a fight to the death between "seditionaries, rebels, and fascists" and "the legal government which is defending bread and freedom". The duty of the proletariat is therefore to defend the government, allegedly a progressive Bourgeois one, in its struggle against the forces of feudalism. The workers, having contributed to this victory over the representatives of the feudal regime, may then move on to the higher phase of the struggle for Socialism. In our previous issue, we showed that even if Capitalism in Spain does find it impossible to organize a society of the same type as found in the rest of Europe, it is still, nevertheless, a Bourgeoisie which is in power and the sole protagonist of the remoulding of the economic and political machinery remains the Proletariat and the Proletariat alone.
The Popular front in Spain, as in other countries, has already shown itself to be useless as far as the workers are concerned, and that is still the case today. It is in fact a powerful arm of the enemy whose aim is to crush the working class. We need only reflect on the fact that it is under its government that the entire organization of the right has been methodically organised, whose mainspring of support lies not so much in conspiracy (an aspect which though the most theatrical is the least important), for which plenty of room for manoeuvre has been given, but rather in the social domain. Here, the operations of the Popular Front government have managed not only to demoralize the peasant masses, but also to incur the profound hostility of the workers, who were once again on the point of launching major strikes similar to the ones in 1931-32 which were crushed with the use of State terror, lawfully deployed by a left government composed of a gang very similar to the Popular Front of today.
As regards recent events, it has been clear from the start that the aim of the Popular Front was to arrive at a compromise with the right, as shown by the attempt to form the Barrios government. Also Azana must be amazed that Franco didn't arrest him on the very first day since he could have done so with minimum risk. The fact is a great unknown was hovering over the situation and capitalism, having decided on an initial frontal attack on the towns, couldn't be sure whether its right-wing would be able to achieve total victory straightaway or not. With that in view, Azana's arrest was postponed, and it is the subsequent actions of the Popular Front which have provided the capitalist offensive with the greatest chances of success.
In Barcelona, mainly, but also in all other centres with a high working-class concentration, the attack of the right clashed with popular uprisings, and because the workers were conducting their struggle totally separately from the capitalist State machine in these revolts, and asserting their class basis, it was easy to break up the army regiments, where, corresponding with what was happening on the streets, the class struggle broke out, and the soldiers fought against their officers. At that moment, the proletariat was heading towards an intense political rearmament from which only one thing could have resulted: an offensive directed against the capitalist class and the triumph of the communist revolution.
As a consequence of the proletariat's vehement and powerful revolt, capitalism realised that it had to abandon its plan of a uniform frontal attack. Faced with insurgent workers who were acquiring a powerful class consciousness, the bourgeoisie realised that there was no other way of saving itself, of winning, than by entrusting the Popular Front with the task of supervising the workers' political activity. Tolerance of the arming of the masses was accompanied by its regimentation, which Caballero wishes today to carry to perfection from the technical point of view by means of a "unified command" and by introducing a specifically capitalist political orientation. After the first phase, poorly armed in a material sense but well armed politically, there followed a second phase in which the workers, although with more technical instruments at their disposal, would find themselves gradually being drawn off the terrain of their own primitive class interests onto the terrain of their enemy, the capitalist class.
Rapidly in Madrid, less easily in the Asturias, and by means of a much more complicated process in Barcelona, the Popular Front has been successful and the masses are currently locked into the following viewpoint: that the state machinery of capitalist state must be considered sacrosanct and must function at its highest capacity in order to defeat the right; and the supreme task of the moment is the annihilation of "factionists".
Under the Popular Front the proletariat has lain down its specifically class weapons and agreed to compromise with the enemy. Onto the class fronts, which alone could have destroyed Franco's regiments and breathed confidence back into the peasants terrorised by the Right, other fronts have been grafted which are specifically capitalist. In Spain, the Union Sacrée for the imperialist massacre has been achieved by setting region against region and city against city, and by extension, State against State within the democratic and fascist blocs. The fact that it isn't a world war doesn't mean that the mobilization of the Spanish and international proletariat isn't currently being accomplished by means of the reciprocal throat-cutting going on under the imperialist banners of fascism versus anti-fascism.
After the Italian and German experiences, it is extremely sad to see politically very highly prepared proletarians who, basing themselves on the fact that the workers are armed, conclude from it that even though the Popular Front is in charge of these armies, conditions will appear, without totally disrupting the situation, which will allow the working class to defend itself and to win. No. Azana and Caballero are worthy brothers of the Italian and German socialists, they are their emulators, because in an extremely fraught situation they ended up by betraying the workers, who they had only allowed to bear arms because these arms were needed to fight a class battle, not against Spanish and international capitalism, but a battle against the working class of Spain and the entire world on the imperialist war front.
In Barcelona appearance obscures reality. Because the bourgeoisie has withdrawn temporarily from the political scene, because bourgeois persons are no longer at the head of certain enterprises, it has come to be believed that bourgeois power no longer exists. But if their power truly no longer exists, then surely there is another power should have arisen: the proletariat's? And here, tragically, events have given their cruel response: all the political formations, even the most extreme, the CNT, have openly declared that there should be no undermining of the Capitalist state machine headed by president Companys since it might be useful to the working class. Our point of view in this regard is absolutely clear: two principles stand opposed, two classes, two realities: collaboration and betrayal on one side, and struggle on the other. The situation's extreme intensity is matched by an extremely powerful collaboration. If when faced with a social conflagration of the Barcelona type the workers are driven not to attack the state machine but to protect it, then it is collaboration, not class struggle, which triumphs. The way the class struggle will unfold is definitely not through ever greater material conquests whilst leaving the enemy's instrument of domination intact, but along the opposite road which sees the unleashing of proletarian movements. The socialisation of an enterprise whilst leaving the state machinery standing is another link in the chain which binds the proletariat to its enemy, both on the internal front and on the imperialist front of the antagonism between fascism and antifascism. On the other hand, the outbreak of any strike for even a minimal class demand (and even in a "socialised" industry) is a link which may lead to the defence and victory of the Spanish and International proletariat.
It is equally impossible to deploy a hodge-podge of proletarians and bourgeoisie such as exists in the present territorial fronts, the Union Sacrée armies, and the class frontiers, the class armies. The difference relates to fundamental questions and not just matters of detail. At present there exists an apparent contradiction between details and essentials; between the composition, ardour, sacrifice and heroism of the proletarians chained to the Popular Front, and the political and historical force which the latter represents. Just like Lenin in April 1917, we must work on the heart of the problem, for it is there that the only "real" political differentiation can take place. The response to the capitalist attack must be on a proletarian footing. Those that neglect this central problem are placing themselves deliberately on the other side of the barricades and the supposed social achievements are, in the end, nothing other than shackles tying the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.
Our conception of War, as manifestation of the class struggle, appears to have been confirmed by the current events in Spain which prove that if inter-imperialist competition doesn't break out in its extreme form as imperialist world war, on the contrary the full extent of class antagonism is revealed, and international capitalism, Russia included, is able to pass to the massacre of the Spanish proletariat thereby exterminating within it the international proletariat, since the workers in other countries are mobilised around the same positions which are making the annihilation of the workers in Spain possible.
The proletariat will only be able to escape the present situation, in which it is squeezed between two capitalist forces, by taking the path to insurrection. There is no possibility that the existing armies of Catalonia, Madrid and the Asturias will evolve, will change for the better, and there needs to be a brutal, clear and unambiguous break from them. The essential condition for the salvation of the Spanish working class resides in the re-establishment of class lines, opposed to the existing territorial ones. Above all in Catalonia, where proletarian energy is still a force to be reckoned with, this energy needs to be mobilised around a class programme. We have to combat the capitalist programme which consists of crushing the peasant masses with terror, and enticing the industrial masses with political corruption, in order to lead them off to the front to fight for the victory of Spanish, and international, capitalism. No to any Union Sacrée, at any level of the struggle, in any battle, at anytime. This act of imperialist war may not be linked to an imminent outbreak of the world conflagration. In that case the present battles in Spain, unless there is a total and drastic upheaval, will aim to achieve a victory for the Right, since it devolves on the latter to kill thousands of proletarians and impose a generalised state of extreme terror of the type that has exterminated the German and Italian proletariat. The left – the Popular Front – plays a different role for the capitalists which consists of preparing the bed for reaction, a bloody bed where thousands of workers from Spain and from other countries have already been laid to rest.
The only forts of the working class are class ones and it cannot win from the moment it is imprisoned in those enemy forts which are currently the military fronts. The heroic defenders of Irün were condemned in advance; they were consigned to the enemy by the Popular Front who managed to dislodge them from their own class terrain and make them prey to Franco's armies.
The armed struggle on the imperialist front is the proletariat's grave. It must be opposed by armed struggle on social terrain. Instead of the competition to conquer the cities and the regions, it is necessary to oppose an attack on the state machine, and it is only by such an attack that the right-wing regiments will be broken up; only thus that Spanish and international capitalism's plans can be smashed. Otherwise, with or without the acceptance of the French neutrality plan, with or without the Coordination Committee composed of fascists, democrats and centrists (representing all the important countries), it is capitalist chaos which will triumph and the French, English, German, Italian, and even Soviet, arms dealers will deliver munitions to the two Chiefs of Staff, to Franco and to Caballero, so they can massacre the Spanish workers and peasants.
Against the capitalist watchword: "for or against neutrality, for or against sending munitions to Franco or to the government" you must oppose class demonstrations, strikes against the transportation of arms, battles against each imperialist power. Only on such a basis can real solidarity with the cause of the Spanish proletariat be established.