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Spanish Civil War Essay, Research Paper

Ever since the fall of 1930 when the Spanish Revolution began there has been no surcease of the struggle in Spain. For a long time there was a deadlock of forces, an equilibrium in the tug of war between the property holders and the destitute. Now the equilibrium is being definitely broken. The issue before Spain is either Communism or Fascism. The matter is being fought out not with ballots but with bullets and ruthless civil war. Slowly the political revolution is being definitively turned into a social revolution.

From the very beginning, the mass of workers of Spain, both in the city and in the country were the decisive elements. When the students rioted before the universities in 1930 it was only when the workers joined them with a vast general strike that the regime of the military dictator, Primo de Rivera, fell and the temporary regime of General Berenguer set up. When General Berenguer tried to hold fake elections without extending the franchise to all, it was another general strike that overthrew the regime, compelled new elections, forced the king to flee and established the republic in April 1931.

At this point the Syndicalist and Anarchist workers began to miscalculate their forces. Syndicalism and Anarchism, in spite of their revolutionary phraseology were able only to overthrow the old regime and to allow the new democratic republic to be set up; but these movements could not go forward to the positive constructive tasks of setting up the rule of the workers. These antiquated movements were good enough to accomplish the negative and critical tasks of overthrowing an antiquated monarchy; they did not know how to deal with a modern bourgeois republic.

In the course of the revolutionary movement there was set up what in fact amounts to a dual power, the masses respecting the authority of the unions and the revolutionary organizations, the government being forced at times to yield to the opinions of these mass organizations on vital questions. At one time the bourgeois government was even forced to declare that Spain was a workers republic and to feign friendliness toward the Soviet Union.

The leaders of the toilers’ organizations, however, did not know what to do with their power. The lending groups were composed of four principal elements: the Anarchists, the Syndicalists, the Socialists and the Communists. The Anarchists were powerful enough within the trade union movement to exercise decisive influence for a time upon the whole situation. With their Bakuninist idealism they did not appreciate the necessity of preparing for revolt by building powerful organizations in all discontented strata of the population. They attempted one adventure after another and believed that the State could be abolished and all oppression ended by one blow struck by a militant minority. After each failure of the Anarchist workers, the working class would lose some of its strength, the reaction would pick up its head, the government would consolidate its position. All that the Anarchists could do was to wear out the working class in ill prepared battles, in fruitless adventures and to strengthen the reactionary forces.

The failure of the Anarchists who controlled goodly sections of the trade union movement brought about with it also a failure of the Syndicalist movement. A split occurred among the Syndicalists, some breaking from Anarchism and urging the formation of centralized authoritarian bodies leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat. These Syndicalists, however, agreed with the Anarchists in boycotting the State and in ignoring the work of the political parties, in failing to reach the widest strata of the population, etc.

As the Syndicalists too began to be discredited and the working class forces to turn a bit weary, the masses began to flock to the Socialist party banner. In the beginning of the revolution the million organized Spanish workmen had been divided somewhat as follows: about 200,000 belonging to the General Labor Union controlled by the Socialists and about 800,000 under the control of the C.N.T. , the National Federation of Labor led by the Syndicalists and Anarchists. With the deepening of the revolution, however, the masses began to move from the Anarcho-Syndicalists and to join the General Labor Union, so that by 1934 the relation was changed the other way around, 800,000 workers being members and sympathizers of the General Labor Union of the Socialists.

In the meantime the Socialists themselves had undergone somewhat of a change. In the early days of the republic it was the Right Wing Socialists typified by Prieto who controlled the Socialist Party. These were the gentlemen who took office in 1932 together with the Liberals and who at that time declared that they hoped they would not receive a majority of the votes since Spain was not yet ready for Socialism, the masses evidently, being too dumb, to understand our Socialist heroes. Within the government the Socialists aided the Liberals to put the people back to work under capitalist control, to stop the revolution and restore order. If hitherto the revolutions in Spain had mostly of a palace and camarilla variety now it was to be a superficial political revolution only, leaving the basic problems entirely untouched.

Thanks to the Socialist Party, none of the chief demands of the masses were carried out. The land of the wealthy was neither confiscated nor partitioned and given to the poor peasantry, thus the land question still remained a burning one. Inflation robbed the workers of any gain that they might have won through strikes, thus the labor question remained unsolved. The church property which was supposed to be confiscated was left intact and the government proved very slow in separating church from state and in disbanding the disloyal religious orders. Thus the religious question has been left for mass direct action to solve. On their part, the leaders of the workers organizations made no attempt really to arm the people and to establish a workers militia; they did not try to raise the question of workers’ control over production to guaranty to each worker security and life; they did not make the slightest effort to set up revolutionary organs, soviets, to take state power.

Thus, the workers, after turning from the Anarchists and Syndicalists to the Socialists, could not find any better solution to their problems. In time of revolutionary advance it was the Syndicalists that led the way, but since these advances were always defeated, it was the Socialists that gained ultimately. In times of retreat, the workers took to parliamentary actions and to day-to-day economic struggles that placed them under the banner of the Socialists without involving them in a battle for political power. At least under the Socialists the workers were able to build authoritarian centralized mass organizations that recognized that the workers had to capture the state. Only the Socialists believed that they could take control of the state in a peaceful and parliamentary manner.

The Stalinist Communist Party showed itself completely bewildered and futile in all of this action. The entire Spanish revolution caught the Communist International unprepared. In the beginning the Communist Party did its best to attack the Socialists and rejected the united front of all workers’ organizations to fight the capitalist enemy. Instead of the united front they began their crazy tactics of building paper unions, splitting up labor’s forces, etc. The result of this was miserable failure. In the end the Stalinists gave up their special trade union organizations and fused them with the Socialists’ General Labor Union.

In the meantime the Spanish reactionaries had taken heart at the defects and disunity of the workers and prepared one blow after another. They were able to see to it that all the revolutionary measures which the masses had favored were postponed by the Liberal-Coalition government which continued to live only because of the collaboration of the Socialists with it and because the workers did not know what to do with the power they had organized. Having stalled the revolution, the monarchist reactionaries then began their counter-offensive, the most important phase being the attempt of General Sanjurjo with part of the army and Civil Guards.

It was in such periods when reaction threatened that the masses were able to isolate the reactionary cliques and give them crushing blows. The Sanjurjo revolt was quickly put down and the masses demanded death to the traitors and the confiscation of their property. Again the Liberals of the Zanorra-Azana stripe ran to the aid of the reactionaries to protect them from the wrath of the people. Thus the deadlock continued for a number of years. However, this unstable equilibrium could not last forever. The intensifying contradictions throughout the world and within Spain compelled the political movements to give permanent answers to the burning problems of the day.

The great growth of Fascism in Europe, particularly its brutal victory in Germany and Austria, compelled the masses of France and Spain to draw the necessary lessons that the ruling class would never give up its power without a fight. The murder of so many Socialists broke up the Socialist International and caused certain parties to revise their position on legalism and parliamentarism. The Socialists got angry because, in spite of their servility to capitalism, capitalism in its Fascist phase, was kicking the Socialists out of office and making them lose their social reform and nice jobs. These reformists saw that they would have to fight to keep their reforms. The masses, under Socialists influence, were demanding action against Fascism. As the Socialist International now split into fragments, in France and in Spain the Right Wing began to lose influence and to separate itself from the Socialist Party proper. Now it was the turn not of Prieto, but of Caballero, leader of the Socialist “Left” to take control.

The rise of Fascism also occasioned the bankruptcy of Stalinism; these Stalinists now rushed to hide behind the mass organizations of the Socialists and in joining forces with the Socialists, the Stalinists could not but add to the Left Wing strength. The Trotskyites also capitulated and joined the Socialist Party. Thus encouraged by this unification, the Socialist workers demanded that the aims of the Spanish revolution begin to attain realization. The workers called for social insurance, for workers’ control over production, for the division or confiscation of estates, for the real separation of church and state, etc. Then the Liberal-Radical government, now thoroughly under the influence of reactionary forces led by Lerroux, Robles and March, tried to deny the will of the masses, in 1934 there took place, under the banner of the united alliance of Socialists, Communists and certain elements of the Syndicalists who broke away from the Anarchists, the great insurrectionary movement among the miners and other workers in the Asturias region of Spain. The revolt was put down by the government with much cruelty, many hundreds being shot and thousands perishing in the battles.

The Asturias revolt was of enormous significance to the Spanish people. In the first place, it showed the capitalists and large land holders that the people were not going to wait further but were going to divide the land and control their jobs. These reactionaries now began to mobilize their power in earnest. The monarchist agrarian elements now began to cement their close alliance with the capitalist city forces led by Juan March and Gil Robles and others who were forming Fascist groups. As the property even of the Liberal Azana began to be invaded by the peasants, these worthies, the Azana Liberals, leaned all the more closely to the reactionaries, permitting them to have the greatest leeway politically, especially in the organization of their forces in the army. The Liberals no longer would form a coalition with the Socialists under the new terms that the Socialists were compelled to ask but formed a coalition with the rightist element and thus the Socialists were placed outside the ruling bodies of the government. However, by this action the government only made itself still more unpopular and made the Socialist Party lend itself even more to activities of the left groups. The Socialist politicians saw that they could hold their jobs and their heads only by yielding to the demands of the masses and organize them for action.

In the second place the Asturias revolt taught the masses that to win they would have to knock out the state apparatus and set up their own dictatorship. The workers broke forever with rotten Anarchism that had stood aside in the most treacherous manner while the masses were fighting and being shot down. The C.N.T. had refused to take part in the Asturias action; this damned the Anarcho-Syndicalists forever in the eyes of the conscious workers of Spain.

In the third place the fighting gave the masses many lessons in the art of civil war. While it had unified all forces temporarily under the banner of the opportunist Socialist Party, whose opportunism and cowardice was directly responsible, incidentally, for the defeat and isolation of the workers of the Asturias, it had taught the workers and toilers the value of unity in action and the meaning of revolution. The defeat of the workers forced the revolutionary masses to take to parliamentary activity for the time being. This they could do only under the banner of the Socialist Party and at the next election the mass of people for the first time sent an overwhelming leftist delegation to the Cortes. This leftist delegation was made up of Communists, Socialists and Left Radicals, who being more responsive to the masses, at once made an attempt to execute the decrees already passed in 1931 but not yet executed. It is to be noted that the Socialist Party of Spain, under the pressure of the Left Wing, did not take part in forming the government but kept in opposition. By this fact alone, the Socialist Party of Spain showed how more advanced it was than the Socialist Party of France, whose leader, Leon Blum, is premier to do the dirty work for the capitalist class of France and who uses the government to prevent the French from attaining Socialism. In this respect the Spanish revolutionary movement is far more advanced than the French.

In order to execute the decrees desired by the people, the government had to take real control of the army and thus was forced very timidly to begin the reorganization of the army by removing certain Fascist and reactionary generals and officers. The reactionists, however, could not afford to lose the army. They would have to fight rather than give up their chief weapon. At the moment time was pressing heavily against the reactionists. The government in Spain was being pushed to the Left not only by the Spanish masses but by the “People’s” government in France. The great general strike movement in France had shown that the workers were not following the “People’s Front” government in France so much as the “People’s Front” government was following the workers. It was the workers that were taking the initiative and spontaneously forcing the hand of the government, compelling the government to yield on one demand after another. Faced with such powerful support the Leftist government of Spain could not help but go forward and allow the masses to have their will. And in this they were aided by the great strike movement that began to shake Spain as it shook France. The workers were becoming increasingly bolder. Now was the time for the Fascists to strike their blow or never. Such, at least, was the opinion of those sections of the former ruling class and land owners who could no longer wait for favorable world conditions to break for them.

It should be remembered, too, that in Spain the army had always been a paramount political force in the country. He who controlled the army, controlled Spain and the army men had been accustomed to make and unmake governments. This was owing to the fact that for centuries Spain had stagnated and up to recently there had been no class capable of challenging the will of the monarch who ruled through the army and ____ who was displaced by palace revolutions led by men controlling that army. The Spanish army was no good in foreign war. It was, however, an invaluable weapon internally to ________ any resistance to the dictatorships set up within Spain. The Spanish army was also a place where grandees could regain their lost fortunes and get fat salaries doing nothing.

The Spanish revolution, however, had unleashed new forces that were changing the entire character and role of the army. No longer was the army necessarily a decisive force in Spanish history. It was the people who were speaking now in their own name, who demanded the entire dissolution of the old army and the establishment of a workers militia. Up to 1934 the Socialists and others were able to sabotage that demand for a workers’ militia, but with the Asturias uprising and afterward the workers army became a fact and showed its great potentialities. The day of the mercenary standing army with its great pack of generals and officers was doomed, once the revolution was allowed definitely to swing to the Left. No wonder these officers, as one man, looked with hatred and fury upon the revolution and aspired to crush it.

But to put down the masses, the Rightists now had to put down the Leftist parliamentary regime that showed itself so weak before the people. The revolt, therefore, had to be a revolt against the government itself. Thus the Spanish revolution now shows itself to be a replica of the Russian Revolution, as the Revolution had moved to the Left, the Right Wing capitalist elements had conspired against it and were forced to fight the government of the Liberal-Radicals of Kerensky. And in Russia, too, although the masses hated Kerensky and the whole parliamentary frame work and wanted to give all power to the Soviets, yet the workers were compelled to defend Kerensky and parliamentarism. but in the course of this defense the masses were taught to go still further to the Left and wipe out both Kerensky and parliament and establish the Soviet regime and the dictatorship of the proletariat.


spanish civil war by adlofo desefer

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