The Spanish imperialist war and the massacre of the Asturian miners - Bilan

Asturian miners

From Bilan issue 44 (October-November 1937).

Submitted by Craftwork on July 3, 2016

A new Union sacrée is spreading through the Spanish republic. There is "Rearguard entente", "cordiality amongst the anti-fascist sectors" and everyone would like to relive the weeks which followed the formation of Caballero's first government. Around the Asturian miners despicable campaigns are being engineered to erase from proletarian minds the crimes of the Negrín government and its social-centrist and anarchist accomplices. In our villages the "Bilbao Committees" have changed their name and become the "Asturian Committees".

Poor proletarians! After more than a year of imperialist war, horrifying carnage and ferocious repression by both Franco and the republican leaders, once again they will be dupes to the traitors who are exploiting the Asturian tragedy to maintain and consolidate the Union Sacrée.

When we see the capitalist machine determining the course of events in the Iberian peninsula, how can we not reflect? How can we continue to cling on to stupid illusions? Precisely because of its historic role, the proletariat is incapable of fighting for "anti-fascism" (a name which disguises the massacre of the workers) and fighting for the proletarian revolution. It was necessary to choose whether to fight on class terrain where the workers proved on July 19 they could win, or on capitalist terrain, where for months and months the bourgeoisie has shown it is they who know how to win the day.

So the mirage which blinded so many would-be left-wing communists, Don Quixotes of non-existent revolutions, what remains of it? Words and declamations, and when the imposing reality of capitalism rears up and slaps them in the face, they take it lying down, protesting: "we never said this, or never said that". Poor "revolutionaries" who haven't the courage to recognise their monstrous aberrations and who, despite everything, continue to navigate in the waters of anti-fascism.

Now that a wind of "harmony" is blowing through the Republican zone, and the sons of a new act of chauvinist mobilisation are making their appearance, they'll probably start yelling again about the "triumphant" revolutionary forces "imposing" the Union Sacrée; "imposing" their presence in the Valencia government; "imposing" every possible measure of class collaboration in the name of the future interests of the "revolution".

And yet, for us, never had a situation made clearer the need for a class position based on Marxist theory if the workers were to get out of the terrible situation they were in.

What, in fact, have the events of these last months taught us? The Negrín government came to power after the "victory" in the Madrid area, against the Italian troops and the offensive in the Basque Country, and it continued the ferocious work of repression which Negrín's colleague Caballero had begun in Barcelona on May 4. From then on, up until the fall of Bilbao and Santander, the proletariat was under permanent attack, the workers' committees purged, the POUM militants and the "Friends of Durruti" massacred. It was a case of the complete and unadulterated triumph of bourgeois legality.

Scarcely has Santander surrendered when Madrid and Valencia are immediately seething with fascist plots in which the Republican army corps are fully implicated. As soon as the military "victories" allow the launching of repression and for the "traitors" to get ready for the big day, the Negrín government with its centrist rabble is born from the total defeat in Biscay. Everything was so clear in the way the republicans consigned Santander to Franco that it is not surprising that the Francoists have made a big push for Madrid and Valencia, almost certain of benefiting from the goodwill of Negrín and his centrist allies.

At a stroke we have seen the situation reversed. Military defeat and desperate appeals from the Asturian miners have prompted a campaign to re-establish the Union Sacrée. They are going to kill two birds with one stone: since the situation is becoming impossible in Barcelona and Valencia where the masses are suffering from extremely severe rationing, where the cost of living is rising and where the UGT/CNT pact has already attempted to channel the discontent of proletarians working in the war industries, the Asturian miners will serve as a rallying point for all the anti-fascist sectors who – including the CNT – will put their faith in Negrín.

Thus, both victory and military defeat serve in their turn as means of strangling the proletariat. But the working class opposes capitalist war with its own class war and doesn't realize the Union Sacrée at the moment of defeat in order "to fight fascism" for it knows that this lesser victory will mean its own massacre. The conditions required of proletarians to help the Asturian miners, to attack Aragon, are the abandonment of their class spirit and their submission to the capitalist State (in Aragon the offensive started only after the anarchists had been forced to accept the republican general Pozas and military directives from Valencia). And when progress is made on military terrain, the right conditions are realized for bourgeois repression.

The situation in Spain at the moment is really exceedingly tortuous. Contradictory fact piles upon contradictory fact, only going to show that it is a war of capitalism against the proletariat. Thus, we have on one side the public declarations of the centrists ordering their adherents to cease any campaign against the anarchists so as to maintain the anti-fascist front; the campaign of the CNT for "the integration of all the anti-fascist sectors and organisations in a war government which must include, first of all, the two main trade unions" ("Solidaridad Obrera"). On the other side, the Cortes are opened with the participation of Miguel Maura, head of the conservative party, and Portela Vallandares, the influential leader of the republican right, both of whom had fled in July 1936. Writing in the Dépèche de Toulouse, Portela Vallandares made declarations which are worth reporting: "the government of the Spanish republic acts as a government of order, of authority and respect for the Law; it acts in conformity with the constitution. The rights of its citizens are assured. The Control Committees, more or less arbitrary, are dissolved. One sole authority exists: that of the Law: the same for all citizens. There is more. There has been the will to examine the past and punish the crimes committed at a time when power didn't have authority, etc...".

What significance can we attribute to this dual movement : the attempt to reconcile all the organisations in a consolidated Union Sacrée, and the possible reappearance of the republican right in the political arena using the authoritarian language which so characterises it?

The need for the 'Popular Anti-fascist Front' campaign (the additional adjective indicates the integration of the main trade unions into the Popular Front, particularly the CNT) derives from the manoeuvre which will need to be carried out to allow the complete annihilation of the Asturian miners and to stifle the discontent that has arisen as a result of Negrin's policies; Negrin, who whilst massacring the workers, consigned the Bay of Biscay to Franco. It is very much in the interests of the centrists, direct accessories in this affair, to publish open letters in which anyone who works against unity and who don't wish to adopt a friendly attitude towards the CNT is considered a "provocateur or agent of fascism". And yet only yesterday the anarchists were considered as allies of the "fifth column" and arrests rained down on them like manna from heaven.

The Asturian miners shouldn't draw lessons from the surrender of Santander and eliminate the counter–revolutionary gang which wanted to consign them to the executioner. The workers of Barcelona and Valencia shouldn't raise the alarm and revolt against the Valencia government, which is allied to Franco: their laxity in this war must be combated.

And here the manoeuvre is clear: the bourgeois state has re-established order and authority everywhere: well then! an appeal will be made to those same anarchists who permitted the May massacre so as to better manipulate the workers. However, this time the CNT will have to openly evolve onto the terrain of bourgeois legality.

They will respond to the bourgeoisie's appeal, by declaring in one of their manifestos, that Bakunin would certainly have acted like them if he had lived in Spain. Their reasoning would be simple: "they chased us out of government because we were dangerous and could prevent 'betrayal'; by returning to government the proletariat will achieve, by means of the anarchist ministers, a success". And in the Cortes, Negrin would subtly indicate that he was extending the hand of friendship to these new traitors who had shown no hesitation about getting workers' blood on their hands when part of the Caballero government. The POUM too would fight to regain its place in the capitalist government of Companys', but it wouldn't save them from the centrist guns. The anarchists have given fine proof of their attachment to the regime, by participating, along with the centrists, in the patriotic demonstration of September 11 which celebrates Casanova's revolt against Philip V, by refraining from making any attacks against Russia (conforming to the Irujo decree), and by discovering a certain significance in defending the country (Garcia Oliver's speech in Madrid, published by "Frente Libertario"). But it won't achieve anything. The bourgeoisie is using them today in order tomorrow to hand them over to the prisons or to the red and black executioners. Praise will be heaped on them for helping the Asturian miners, and they will forget everything: the dead, the prisoners, the betrayals, just so they can concentrate on a veritable "anti-fascist front" by forming a war government to beat fascism.

Meanwhile, close to them a curious phenomenon taking place and we still don't know how the CNT is going to react. The UGT would perceive the victory of the reformist-centrist tendency (that of Gonzalez Pena, the Asturian deputy) under the dual aspect of the centrist campaign against Caballero and pressure from the Negrin government. The "Spanish Lenin" would be defenestrated with an unprecedented ease and the person of Pena would symbolically indicate to the masses that these changes were going to allow the UGT to participate better in the antifascist war, particularly in the Asturias. For the anarchists to contrast the homogeneity of the CNT with the quarrelling amongst the Marxist currents in the UGT will no longer suffice. Yesterday they were opposed to the campaign against Largo Caballero, leader of the UGT, and now, in the name of "cordiality", are they going to applaud Pena, who represents the sudden U-turn of the official communists towards the CNT?

And yet, there is also the return of the opposition politicians to the Popular Front, who have been warmly welcomed into the Cortes. It is because Negrin's state machine is strong and all illusions of revolution are dead and buried. The move to the right also allows the right-wing politicians to go back into a calm atmosphere and the Union Sacrée, which the anarchists are so keen to consolidate, becomes al the more significant : not only the pact with Negrin, but also with Maura and Vallandares.

That is the reality of a situation which sees the opening out of a manoeuvre which will sanction pushing the Asturian workers, to the very last one, under Franco's bombs, whilst the workers of other regions are supposed to applaud and as Negrin continues to roll out the arms of State repression.

In an article by M. Chaves Nogales, former editor of the Madrid "Ahora", the question is put, "Why isn't the war in Spain over?" and the author clearly emphasises that, on both sides, the reasons given in July 1936 no longer apply : Negrin massacres workers and re-establishes democracy: Franco is trying to call in the politicians of the monarchy and the republic and reining in the falangists. Why don't they agree to stop the war since they are struggling neither for communism nor fascism, but in the name of the capitalist system?

And the question, in fact, still remains: why, and for what, does the war in Spain continue? Economically the Iberian peninsula is on its last legs ; politically the workers have fallen in their tens of thousands and the bourgeoisie rises up victorious in both zones.

What is going on? It is the international situation which is governing the lassitude which exists in both camps, and which prevents the evolution of tendencies towards compromise (the famous fascist plots) prepared to bring matters to a close. Even the declarations of Companys on the absurdity of "we Catalans" ceasing the fight against fascism and negotiating separately with Franco are not so orthodox as to hide the preoccupations of the Catalan bourgeoisie.

The war in Spain continues because it has become the axis of the global situation of imperialist war which we in, in all countries, particularly from the point of view of relations between classes. It is the democratic, fascist and centrist countries – in collusion with the Spanish bourgeoisie – who are maintaining and operating the political and military game which allows the offensive in Aragon when Franco occupies Santander ; which lets France organise the Nyon conference in order to "legalise" the "piracy" in the Mediterranean or, at least, to allow Italy to be both cop and robber at the same time, conference which appears to assist the Valencia government ; it is Russia, and Mexico, with their provision of arms ; it is England with its capital provided to both sides ; it is Italy, and Germany, despatching their army corps.

Over the corpses of the Spanish proletariat the Union Sacrée can be maintained in all the democratic countries whilst in Italy, and in Germany, there are formidable and fully operational slaughterhouses. Who can end the Spanish war (by now a truly international war)? The government in Valencia? It fears the workers too much and would prefer to allow Franco to press forward with his advances until the very last moment! Besides, doesn't it have the power of the democratic and centrist countries behind it who want "to localise" but not end the slaughter? Franco? It is Italy and Germany who can't stop without causing a collapse in their own systems of domination.

Like the last world war, which from the end of 1916 appeared as a killing field without end, without "logic", without even the initial "ideals" of 1914, so appears the Spanish war today: and only the proletariat with its class uprising can put an end to the carnage; now, as then.

But here the awful truth is revealed : just as the Russian workers are currently proving themselves to be incapable of overthrowing the centrist domination without the help of the world proletariat, so also the Spanish workers are showing they can't transform the imperialist war into civil war unless revolutionary movements break out outside Spain against capitalism and its war. From this point of view the outlook in other countries is none too brilliant, especially if one looks at the labour movement and the isolation in which the struggles of the communist left fractions take place. But, the Sino-Japanese conflict shows us that the bubbling over of the conflicts within capitalist society has become the dominant element in the situation, and these same conflicts which compel capitalism to throw itself into war also constantly agitate the world proletariat, as expressed in the progressive work of the left fractions; finally, where a vanguard has arisen out of the bloody martyrdom of the workers, they may explode the revolutionary bomb.

The war in Spain has been decisive for everyone: for capitalism it has been the means to broaden the front of forces working for war, to incorporate into anti-fascism the Trotskyists – the so-called left communists – and to suffocate the workers' revival which occurred in 1936 ; for the left fractions it has been the decisive test, the selection of men and ideas, the necessity of confronting the problem of war. We have held firm, and, against the current, we are holding firm still.

And yet anarchists and Trotskyists, centrists and socialists, haven't they showered us with insults and slanders? We dare to defend the destruction of the capitalist territorial fronts, the immediate fraternisation of all the exploited, over the enemy trenches, against all exploiters. To the civil war of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat we oppose the civil war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. And if the events of the past year have confirmed our opinion, justified out slogans, yet the bellicose ardour of the traitors, old and new, remains unabated. Let them accuse us of being agents of Franco, Hitler, or Mussolini or whoever. Proletarians will come to understand that the true agents of capitalism, fully paid up, receiving their stipend like common lackeys, are the centrist butchers of the May days in Barcelona; the anarchist ministers of yesterday and maybe today; the executioners from Russia. And if the Trotskyists want to collude in all this to give proof of republican "loyalty", they will be in a good position to get the response they deserve.

Our fraction will continue to hold high, in the face of the bourgeois provocateurs, the banner of the transformation of the imperialist war in Spain into civil war, through the destruction of the military fronts, the fraternisation of proletarians, the sole basis on which to unleash, in the republican and in the fascist zones, the struggle for the destruction of the capitalist State.

Having lived through the experience, we need to know how to choose between proletarian class positions and the positions which capitalism dissimulates in its various different versions. All the parties or groups have revealed their bankruptcy in Spain: Trotskyism too is a "malodourous corpse" and none of Trotsky's declamations will be able to revive it. Militant communists must draw the balance sheet from recent events: they must break with the traitor organisations: set to work in order to reconstruct an organisation which is based on class: a fraction of the communist left.