Morrow’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain remains the best Marxist
analysis of the Spanish revolution of 1936-37 and its tragic
works, written since and drawing upon extensive new source
material, give a more detailed account of the events and
struggles (social and political) which marked these dramatic
years, and of those which led up to them. (1)
But none are equal, leave alone superior, to Morrow in
their analysis of the basic class forces at work, the inevitable
clash between them and the outcome of the contest, decided by
the lack of revolutionary leadership or clear political
consciousness on the part of the toiling masses. Morrow explains the key episodes of revolution and
counter-revolution in Spain in terms of social forces.
He confirms to the hilt Trotsky’s diagnosis that the
strategy of the Stalinists and their various allies and
hangers-on (‘First win the war, then complete the
revolution’), ignoring the realities of the class struggle and
seeking to replace it by political manipulation, could only lead
to disaster: first strangle the revolution and then lose the
extensive memoir literature which has sprung up since Morrow’s
book was first published in 1938 has brought to light new
evidence which, if anything, further strengthens Morrow’s
basic analysis. The
key responsibility of Stalin and the Soviet bureaucracy in
imposing their counter-revolutionary course upon the Spanish
Communist Party has been confirmed by witnesses from the top
leadership of that party. (2)
The grim details of the GPU’s attempts to export to
Spain its techniques of mass arrest, torture, murder and
frame-up trials of revolutionists (slandered as being
‘Franco’s fifth column’) are well-known today – as is
its political failure. Nobody
believed the Stalinist slanders.
The workers were dismayed by the political terror.
Franco could play on and utilize the tremendous
demoralization created in the Republican ranks.
When the surviving POUM leaders were finally brought to
trial, they were sentenced not for being ‘agents of Franco’,
but for the ‘crime’ of advocating… the dictatorship of the
interesting that even inside the Soviet Union, and in spite of
the tight thought control which the bureaucracy maintains upon
all fields of social science, the Komintern and Spanish CP line
of the period 1936-9 is today being questioned, albeit in
cautious terms. (3)
This line – together with the theory and practice of
‘social-fascism’, which made a decisive contribution to
Hitler’s rise to power in Germany; the policies of forced
collectivization, which created more than thirty years of
continuous crisis in Soviet agriculture; and the mass purges of
1936-8, which murdered the whole surviving cadre of the
Bolshevik party and the cream of the Red Army command, thereby
paving the way for the military disasters of summer and autumn
1941 which brought the Soviet Union within an inch of military
collapse – is one of the major crimes of Stalin upon which
history has already unequivocally spoken its verdict.
of the Spanish revolution was not just a minor incident on a
secondary battlefield. It was the key event which led to the second world war and
the spread of fascism over the whole continent of Europe, up to
the gates of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad.
Hitler’s conquest of power in Germany started to tip
the scales in favour of counter-revolution on that continent. It dealt a deadly blow to the largest, best organized and
politically most conscious part of the European proletariat. But Hitler’s victory was by no means stable, nor was his
conquest of Europe inevitable.
The tremendous upsurge of revolutionary militancy of the
Spanish working class in 1936, supported by a wave of general
strikes in France and Belgium and by a world-wide radicalization
of working-class struggles which even hit the USA (with the
powerful sit-down strikes leading to the emergence of the CIO),
could have pulled the rug from under Hitler’s feet.
In summer 1936, his army was still very weak, and no
match for the Red Army. A
victorious Spanish revolution spreading to France would have
provoked a powerful working-class echo in Italy and Germany. (4)
History could have taken an entirely different course.
A defeated Spanish revolution condemned the working-class
upsurge in France, Belgium and elsewhere to decline and
demoralization and opened the road to Hitler’s conquest of
sense, Stalin’s policy of sacrificing the Spanish revolution
to his diplomatic game with the French and British imperialists
cannot even be seen as a subordination of world revolution to
the ‘national interests’ of the Soviet Union. For his betrayal of the Spanish revolution dealt a powerful
blow to the immediate interests of military self-defence of the
USSR as well. This
policy reflected the basic conservatism of the privileged ruling
stratum of Soviet society, its panic fear lest any important
extension of world revolution upset the status quo of social
forces internationally and nationally – a status quo which
determines the political passivity of the Soviet working class
and makes the bureaucracy’s rule possible.
hostility against any proletarian revolution, anywhere in the
world, was shown by Stalin and his successors towards the
Yugoslav, Chinese and Cuban revolutions. The Vietnamese communists are witnessing a repetition of this
sordid spectacle at this very moment.
The basic difference between Spain 1936 and the postwar
developments is the change in the international balance of class
forces. In the
first instance, the change in the strength of the revolutionary
upsurge has precisely meant that whereas it was possible for the
Soviet bureaucracy to strangle the Spanish revolution, its
subsequent efforts to achieve analogous results have culminated
in failure. This has been due not only to the change in the balance of
class forces, but also to the fact that local communist parties
or independent revolutionary forces have been ready to break
decisively with the Menshevik orientation Stalinism.
revolution also gave the most convincing historical testimony
against the spontaneist view which implied that a mass upsurge
in itself would be sufficient to bring about a victorious
socialist revolution, provided it be broad enough. Never before in history had one witnessed a generalized
upsurge such as that of July 1936, when the Spanish workers
broke the fascist army’s insurrection in practically every
major city of the country, and in a significant part of the
countryside as well. Never
before had the spontaneous taking over of factories, public
service centres, big landholdings, by the toiling masses been so
widespread as in these days in Spain.
the revolution was not victorious.
No unified and centralized power structure was set up by
the toiling masses. Confronted with this key question of any revolution, the
anarchist leaders, who had been educating the masses in the
doctrine of immediate ‘suppression’ of the state, were a
decisive force in preventing the revolutionary masses -- many of
whom were anarcho-syndicalists – from setting up their own
workers’ state – thereby accepting de facto the resurgence of a bourgeois state, complete with
repressive apparatus. The
fact that the same anarchist leaders first participated in this
resurgence as members of a coalition government with the
bourgeoisie, and then became in their turn victims of the
repression which they had helped to make possible, only tends to
underline the main lessons of July 1936.
The anti-capitalist militancy, revolutionary drive and
heroism of the masses can, under specific circumstances, go
beyond anything foreseen by revolutionaries themselves.
But without the actual destruction of the bourgeois state
machine and its replacement by a new workers’ state, no
socialist revolution can be victorious.
And such a new workers’state cannot be built without a
centralized leadership, by spontaneous struggles alone.
diplomatic game -- largely built on illusions – was the
immediate cause which led to the defeat of the Spanish
Soviet bureaucracy’s interests as a parasitic social layer in
society provide, in the last analysis, the material explanation
for these counter-revolutionary policies.
But an important mediating factor between the two was
wrong, Menshevik theory of ‘revolution by stages’, applied
to Spain (with a special ‘anti-fascist’ variant) not only be
the main Comintern politicians, but also by not a few of their
social-democratic and centrist allies (not to speak of the
‘liberal’ bourgeois politicians who swallowed the theory
with great enthusiasm). Spain
being a backward country, the revolution on the agenda was
supposed to be a bourgeois-democratic one.
Thus the task was seen as being to defend bourgeois
democracy, the democratic Republic, against fascism, the
monarchy and the ‘semi-feudal landowners’: not to carry to
its logical end the workers’ and peasants’ struggle against
exploitation and oppression, by a process of permanent
revolution which would lead to workers’ power and solve in
passing those tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution which
the peculiar history of Spanish capitalism had left unsolved.
Franco still in power thirty-odd years after the end of the
civil war, the Spanish CP and the various centrist groupings are
desperately clinging on to the same fundamental strategy.
They are more firmly attached than ever to their
disastrous conception of a ‘revolution by stages’.
The first stage must be the restoration of
fact, the CP is even ready to abandon the concept of a
democratic Republic, and to accept the restoration of the
monarchy, provided democratic liberties could be restored in
that way. Then will
come a stage of parliamentary democracy, during which the CP and
‘other democratic forces’ will fight for reforms.
Only when in this way the ‘majority’ of the Spanish
people has been won over (presumably in elections), the struggle
for socialism – through a new intermediary stage of an
‘advanced democracy’ – will be put on the agenda.
hope of the CP has been that somehow the capitalists themselves
would gradually ‘liberalize’ the senile bonapartist military
dictatorship of Franco (the absence of any petty-bourgeois mass
base in support of the regime makes it impossible to call it
fascist anymore). That
is why it has favoured Spain’s entering the Common Market (the
Spanish social-democrats ardently share these same hopes and
democracy granted from above has shown itself to be an utter
illusion, the line shifts towards ‘democracy’ conquered from
below, through a ‘peaceful general strike’, supported by all
‘democratic’ political forces (including the liberal
monarchists). As in
1936, political manoeuvres completely replace any sober
assessment of basic social forces.
It would be
foolish to deny that many changes have occurred in Spanish
society since the civil war of 1936-9.
After many years of isolation, Spanish capitalism was in
the fifties sucked into the big boom of the Western European
tourist boom and through the massive emigration of rural and
urban unemployed absorbed by the Western European economy, the
home market was significantly broadened to trigger off an
important industrialization process.
Today, Spain has become essentially an industrialized
country, in which the absolute majority of the population is
living in towns and in which the industrial working class has
become the numerically most important class in society.
Of course it
remains significantly backward compared to imperialist countries
like West Germany, Britain, France, or Italy.
Its industry is still unable to sustain real competition
on the world market. Its
exports are still overwhelmingly agricultural.
Many of its southern and western regions remain sharply
nationality question, especially among the Basques, remains an
uncured cancer. Nevertheless,
if presenting Spain as being on the threshold of a
bourgeois-democratic revolution was already utterly wrong in
1936, it is simply ludicrous today.
After a long
slumber, determined by both terrible repression – that which
followed Franco’s victory was as murderous as the civil war
itself – and by lack of perspective or self-confidence, the
Spanish working class, since the early sixties, has begun
steadily to rise again. Innumerable
strikes and other skirmishes have started to form a new militant
vanguard in the factories, the working-class districts and the
the capitalists tried consciously to limit this upsurge to
immediate economic demands (‘trade-unionism pure and
simple’). But the
very nature of the dictatorship caused this strategy to fail.
The new militancy could not but take up the struggle to
free political prisoners; the struggle for autonomous trade
unions; the struggle for freedom of the press; of organization
and of demonstration; the struggle for self-determination of the
oppressed nationalities. Thereby,
economic and political demands were closely intertwined.
After some ups and downs, and in spite of the state of
emergency proclaimed by the dictatorship, since 1969 large
strike waves have spread in the Basque country, in the Barcelona
region, in Madrid, in Asturia and even in the backward areas of
Galicia, linking economic demands with solidarity movements
weight of the working class is absolutely decisive in all these
struggles, and as this class has started to fight for its own
independent class interests, it is absolutely unrealistic to
expect it to limit itself voluntarily ‘in a first stage’ to
the restoration of bourgeois democracy.
Workers who start to occupy factories, who are learning
to take on the police and the army, will not engage in a
decisive test of strength with brutal opponents just to hand
over the fruits of their victories meekly to their own
exploiters. It is
inevitable that the coming Spanish revolution will have a
proletarian, socialist character from the beginning, i.e. will be determined by working-class actions
and will open the possibility of the conquest of power by the
does not mean that democratic demands cannot play an important rôle
in triggering off this revolution, nor that no intermediary
period of even a few months is possible between the overthrow of
the Franco regime and the establishment of the dictatorship of
the proletariat. It only means that the leadership of the working class will
once again – as in 1936 – be the decisive factor in the
chances for such an interregnum
to last would be even more limited than they were between 1931
and 1936. If
anything, the industrial development which Spain has known since
then has made the social contradictions in that society even
more explosive than they were at that time.
The misery of the unemployed, the rural poor, the victims
of structural decline, would rapidly combine with the much
increased objective strength of the working class to shake
bourgeois society to its very foundations. The capitalist class would rapidly find out that it has not
got the means to buy off the revolutionary social forces with
repression would quickly become once again the basic strategy of
the ruling class. Having
tasted the wine of organizational freedom, the working class
would not submit passively to that repression, any more than it
was ready to do so in 1934 or 1936.
likely variant in any case is that only a revolutionary general
strike could overthrow the Spanish military dictatorship
(whether under Franco or under Juan Carlos); that dual power
would arise from that revolutionary general strike; that the
question of a Federation of Iberian Workers Republics would
therefore be put on the agenda through the very downfall of the
dictatorship itself. Because
it is conscious of that likely perspective, the Spanish
bourgeoisie continues to prefer the dictatorship, lacking any
generation of Spanish revolutionaries is being created today, in
conjunction with the rise of mass worker and student struggles.
This generation is assimilating the lessons of the 1936-9
civil war. It is still weak in comparison with the gigantic tasks which
history has placed before it – but it is much stronger than
the handful of Trotskyists who existed in Spain during the
crucial weeks and months described by Felix Morrow in this book.
The coming Spanish revolution will play a key rôle in
the unfolding of the socialist revolution in Western Europe –
a process which has started again with May ’68 in France.
To help the Spanish revolutionary Marxists build a strong
Leninist party, a powerful Spanish section of the Fourth
International, is today one of
the most urgent tasks of revolutionaries the world over. The republication of this book is a timely contribution to
Article: Felix Morrow, Revolution
and Counter-Revolution in Spain, New Park Publications, £1.25
For instance: Pierre Broué and E. Témime, La
et la Guerre d’Espagne,
Paris 1961. Hugh
Thomas, The Spanish Civil
War, London 1965.
A former member of the Political Bureau of the Spanish
Communist Party during the civil war, Jesus Hernandez, in 1953
published a stinging indictment of Stalin’s and the GPU’s
intrusion into CP politics during the civil war, Yo
fui un ministro de Stalin, (‘I was Stalin’s
order to destroy a convenient legend, it is necessary to insist
upon the key rôle which Togliatti played, as the main Comintern
representative in Spain, both in imposing upon the Spanish CP
the right-wing line of ‘revolution in stages’ (see his
article ‘On the particularities of the Spanish revolution’,
reprinted in his collected essays: Sul
Movimento Operaio Internazionale, Rome 1964) and in the
actual organization of the GPU terror in Spain.
Fernando Claudin also confirms this analysis in his La
Crisis del Movimiento Communista, Paris 1970 (French
E.g. by K. L. Maidanik, The
Spanish Proletariat in the National-Revolutionary War,
Moscow 1960. The
author admits that in July 1936 the workers had actually started
to conquer power, and had far outgrown the limits of a
His book was later the subject of violent criticism in
the Soviet Union.
Desertions did indeed occur, not merely among the Italian
troops engaged in Spain against the Republicans, but even among
the selected pilots of Hitler’s air force sent to help Franco,
the Condor Legion (see Walter Görlitz, Der Deutsche Generalstab, Frankfurt, p. 442).