Chapter 16: The Prelude to the May Events in Catalonia

Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

When, before the fall of Bilbao, it looked as if Franco was minded to accede to the proposals of the Anglo-French diplomats for mediation, it concerned the latter above everything to render the Valencia government well-disposed toward their plans. They had already been employing all the instruments of political pressure to that end and, no doubt, had found an open ear in certain circles of the old government. But Largo Caballero had at least learned that acceding to the plans of England and France would be equivalent to outright betrayal of the Spanish people, and he uas not willing to lend himself to that. For this reason he refused to yield to the pressure from without and accused his Republican and Communist opponents in the government of "having shown too great receptiveness to suggestions from certain exalted circles beyond the Pyrenees."

That was enough to bring about the fall of the Caballero government. Again it was the Communists who provoked the crisis in the Valencia government in order to help the Negrin government into the saddle, a government consisting exclusively of bourgeois Republicans, Catholics, Right Socialists, and Communists, and which is therefore only too much inclined to accede to the wishes of the foreign imperialists. And again it was the Russian ambassador who made further assistance from his government dependent on the overthrow of the Caballero cabinet.

That the new government, whose first act was to exclude the two big workers' organizations, the C.N.T. and the U.G.T., from representation, openly serves the ends of the counter-revolution recent events in Spain and the persecution of the best fighters in the anti-Fascist front, have sufficiently proved. It is significant that in its first manifesto the new government announced that in the interest of the war it was particularly "necessary that the present cabinet be of an exclusively political character."

Of course! Only politicians of the worst sort can bring themselves to sacrifice the interests of the Spanish people to the pretensions of foreign capitalists and to rob the toiling masses of the fruits of the revolution. The Communists, however, readily lent themselves to these reactionary proposals and offered a façade behind which the old powers of darkness today are waiting their hour. On this "La Correspondencia," organ of the U.G.T. in Valencia, comments sarcastically:

"It almost gives the impression that the U.G.T. and the C.N.T. play a very unimportant part in the affairs of our country. Their members have the right to make their contributions and die at the front like good fellows. In all other matters, however, they are to leave the politicians a free hand and permit them to lead them where they will."

But even before the recent crisis in the government at Valencia had reached its end they poised for a mighty blow at the revolutionary workers of the C.N.T.-F.A.I., so as to prove to the foreign capitalist powers that it was their firm intention to put an end to the efforts of the syndicates at socialization. As always, so this time also, the Stalinists were the executive instrument for the professional bourgeois politicians and middle-class reactionaries whose intentions coincided with those of the foreign imperialists.

That in the May events in Catalonia we are not dealing with a revolt of the Anarchists and the P.O.U.M., as the foreign press almost unanimously reported, was clear to everyone who had even a glimpse into the conditions. The assertion that the C.N.T.-F.A.I. in alliance with the P.O.U.M. intended to seize the entire governmental power in Catalonia was, in fact, so silly that it could only impress people who had not the faintest glimmering as to the actual state of affairs in that province. If the C.N.T.-F.A.I. had really entertained any such plans, they had for a long time after the nineteenth of July the best opportunity to put their wishes into effect, for their tremendous moral and physical superiority over every other faction was such that simply no one could have resisted them. They did not do so, not because they lacked the strength, but because they were opposed to any dictatorship from whichever side it proceeded.

Over 120,000 members of the C.N.T.-F.A.I. were fighting in its military formations on every front. An uprising in the hinterland would have been contemptible treachery to these men, who at every instant were risking their lives to prevent the advance of Franco and his allies. Moreover, the C.N.T. was represented in the Generalidad of Catalonia, and people do not usually revolt against a government in which they are themselves participating. Every effort of the C.N.T. after the nineteenth of July was centered on winning the war and the revolution. They were by far the strongest and most sacrificing factor in the anti-Fascist front, influenced by no partisan political interest of any kind and having in view solely the social liberation of the great masses. Their whole behavior in the desperate struggle against the hordes of Fascism bears splendid testlmony to this and can be interpreted in no other way.

No, the occurrences in Catalonia were not the result of an "Anarchist and Trotzkyist conspiracy" against the government, but of a long and carefully prepared plot against the Spanish working class in which the Communists and their allies, the Catalonian Nationalists, played the most important role. The most important, not the sole part, for all the reactionary elements collaborated in this conspiracy, from the compromise-ready politicians of Valencia and Barcelona to the most exalted circles of foreign diplomacy. The plans had been made for months, as is clearly shown by numerous indisputable facts.

Thus, on March 5, 1937, there appeared at the arsenal in Barcelona, a group of men who, presenting an order from Vallejo, the director of war industries, demanded the delivery of ten armored cars. The superintendent of the arsenal complied with the order. Later, however, doubts arose, and he telephoned Vallejo to ask whether he had given such an order. It was then revealed that the whole thing was a fraud and that Vallejo's signature had been forged. It was quickly discovered that the armored cars were in the Voroshilov Barracks, the military headquarters of the Communist Party. At first, they simply denied the fact there. But when the Catalonian Prime Minister, Tarradelles, intervened and threatened a search by force, they had to admit the theft. What was the purpose of this act? One does not steal armored cars unless one intends to use them. But against whom else could they have been employed in Barcelona if not against the workers of the C.N.T. and F.A.I.? No human being who is in possession of all five of his senses will deny that one only undertakes a trick like that if he has some special plan in his mind.

But that is not all. "Pravda" reported as early as March 22 that the P.O.U.M. was preparing an uprising against the government in Valencia. That was, of course, a deliberate lie, and on top of that, a thoroughly stupid lie; for the P.O.U.M. was only a small organization, which had no influence with the great mass of the organized workers. To think that such a body could plan an uprising against the government is simply an insult to human intelligence. But in Russia even the stupidest lie is quite good enough.

But it was not onIy in Russia and in the leading circles of the Spanish Communists and the Estat Catalá that people were so suspiciously well informed about the coming "uprising." In diplomatic circles abroad they were likewise possessed of the best possible "information" about the matter. Diego Abad de Santillan, who for a while held the office of Minister of Economy in the Catalonian government and who is known all over Spain and South America as one of the most honorable of men, whose regard for truth and sense of responsibility no one can question, shortly after the occurrences in Barcelona issued the following statement, which speaks for itself:

"There is no doubt that the recent events were the result of a deliberate plot, such as has never before been seen in the history of the social movement. This is plain from the fact that two weeks before they happened, people were talking about them in foreign diplomatic circles and were prepared for their occurrence. It was discussed there quite openly that now that the C.N.T.-F.A.I. had been forced out of the leading positions in Madrid and Valencia the Anarchists in Catalonia were to be given a fight. The same statements were being made in Paris by persons who stand very close to the Catalonian government.

"And how else can one explain the sudden arrival of foreign warships in our harbor just a few hours before the outbreak of hostilities? Is not that another proof that we are here dealing with a plan determined in advance? Long before the first shot was discharged in Barcelona, English and French cruisers were hurrying toward the port as if they had a prophetic presentiment of the things to come. If one takes all this into consideration, one asks oneself how much faith in the triumph of the anti-Fascist cause still exists among those people who invoke foreign protection against the workers of their own country?" (Solidaridad Obrera, May 13, 1937.)

The bloody occurrences in Barcelona were merely the last in a long series of unheard-of provocative acts having for their sole purpose to incite the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. to retaliation, so that later the moral responsibility for the inevitable consequences could be shoved off on them. Thus, the government in Valencia, all on the quiet, organized a special troop of revenue officers, carabineros, made up entirely of Communists and Right Socialists. In April of this year a section of this troop uas suddenly sent into Catalonia to occupy the French border, which up to then had been guarded by the workers' militia of the C.N.T., who were everywhere with unimpeachable punctiliousness looking after the public .safety. This act, which had even no legal justification, can only be interpreted as a provocation directed against the C.N.T.

On April 27, the carabineros, without any reason whatever, brought on a clash with the residents of the little city of Puigcerda, whose population consisted exclusively of Anarchists, in the course of which Antonio Martin, President of the City Council, and two comrades of the C.N.T. were shot by Catalonian Separatists. The town was known for its exemplary economic and political arrangements, which had even been highly extolled on several occasions by correspondents of foreign newspapers. Still the C.N.T., even this time, did not let itself be drawn into retaliatory measures, since it was well aware of the enormous responsibility that rested on its shoulders. If, along with all this, one takes into consideration the continual crises in the Catalonian government which were being provoked by the Communists, one understands at once that the alleged "revolt of the Trotzkyists and the Anarchists" in Catalonia was in reality a well-planned assault of the counter-revolution, by which it was sought to batter down the strongest bulwark of the Spanish labor movement and clear the field for the schemes of the foreign imperialists.