The Spanish Revolution at the Crossroads
by Albert Weisbord
(from Class Struggle, Volume 2 Number 10-11 Nov./Dec. 1932)

Recent events have exposed the fact that the Spanish Revolution still remains at the crossroads. It is still in its Kerensky Period, with a sort of dual power manifesting itself. On the one hand, there are the workers ever on the lookout, ever on guard to crush the enemies of the Republic; but not organized in Soviets and having no adequate leadership and thus incapable of seizing power for themselves. On the other hand, is the National Cortes controlled by the bourgeoisie who would themselves prefer a more stable regime even if it meant a return of the king. The Syndicates are too weak to crush the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie is too weak to crush the Syndicates (revolutionary unions).

This unstable equilibrium, though it has lasted over a year and a half already, can not continue indefinitely. Either one or the other, wither the workers will succeed in seizing power or all reactionary forces will pool together to crush the proletariat and restore the monarchy if not establish a regular Fascist dictatorship. The present unstable equilibrium must come to an end either because of a shift of class forces within Spain or by a shift in the international situation (say, Germany) or by a combination of both. There is no question, for example, that should the Nazis crush the communists in Germany, the Revolution (and the Republic) comes to an end in Spain. While everything hangs in the balance, the proletariat in Spain has shown its greatest strength when it is fighting a defensive fight, against the Monarchists for example, and in doing the work which should be done by the bourgeoisie but which the latter is too cowardly and weak to do for itself. For example, take the last Monarchist attempt of General Sanjurjo. Sanjurjo actually had the conspiratorial support of part of the government and of the Civil Guard itself. It was not the bourgeoisie which crushed this uprising, it was the savage action of the proletariat which at once smashed to bits this reactionary movement, and although the government saved the life of Sanjurjo from the wrath of the masses, even the government was thrown for a loss and compelled to move to the left.

The Bourgeoisie, frightened at the power of the masses, exposed as a weak, tiny minority, utterly incapable of dealing with the Monarchists, or saving the Republic, indeed exposed as a group allied with the Monarchists, were forced to make concessions to the revolutionary forces. The government was forced to confiscate the property of the counter-revolutionists, deport their leaders, promise a greater reform in the army and for the peasantry, and actually granted a very liberal autonomy to Catalonia. All this marks a clear step forward in the Spanish Revolution, the appreciation of which step can be better seen in connection with the past periods of the Spanish Revolution.


The first period, November 1929 to January 1930. This is a period prepared by student riots, by the discontent of the bourgeoisie ground down by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and by the economic crisis that affected them on all sides. This period is marked by the first general strike in November and December 1929. The workers here are supporting the students and the bourgeoisie, they play no distinct role; they merely push the leaders on to make the demand "Down with the King for a Republic" etc. The result of this mass pressure is the fall of the Dictator Primo de Rivera January 1930.

Succeeding Primo de Rivera is General Berenguer. He attempts to trick the people. He concedes that a National Cortes should be elected, that the absolutism of the Spanish Royalty be ended. But he means to fool the people, to have the National Cortes elected not by the masses but by the municipal delegates who have already been elected and who represent not the will of the people but the old Monarchist clique as before. The trick fails. All parties decide to boycott the fake elections. Army revolts backed up by Anarchist elements occur. The proletariat enters the fray. The Second General Strike is called. It starts from a small economic strike called in Madrid by the Socialists. It is seized upon by the Syndicalists and made into a general political strike that crushes Berenguer who falls March 1931 giving way to a provisional government headed by the Right wing Bourgeois Aznar. The King flees the country (aided by the bourgeoisie).

Real elections are then held. This marks the third period of the Revolution. A unanimous vote is cast for a Republic in the municipal elections. A republic is proclaimed April 14th, 1931. But the workers under the influence of the revolutionary Syndicalists, wish to go further. They call a general strike for April 15th It fails miserably, the Socialists fighting it tooth and nail.

Up to this point the Spanish Revolution has followed classic lines. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the French Revolution of 1848 are the models. There is this difference, among others, with the Russian Revolution: There is no Bolshevik Party, the working class is thus weaker and the bourgeoisie relatively stronger. The King is not executed but allowed to escape. The Monarchists while driven to cover, still control the army and government posts. Spontaneous Soviets are not set up. But we see the same phases in the Spanish as in the Russian Revolution; the King is overthrown, the Miliukov-Gotchkov regime is ended and the "Bulygin Duma" period of 1905 is quickly passed through (Berenguer period). A provisional government is set up that represents the Kerensky period of the Spanish Revolution. As in Russia so in Spain. At first the Socialists take part. But when the Monarchy is overthrown, the Socialists defend the capitalists and fight the general strikes. As in Russia so in Spain, the theory of the Socialists is that since the capitalists are too weak to establish their rule, the workers must help them to establish capitalism, since capitalism must come before Socialism. As in Russia, the Socialists of Spain refuse to take power and bring in Socialism.

As in the French Revolution of 1848, the Revolutionary masses first demand a republic, then a republic with Social reforms. The ruling powers too weak to stop the masses must grant certain reforms for a time. The weak Louis Blancs (the Socialists) are taken into the government and flattered (The Spanish Republic was actually called a "Workers Republic"!) but the ruling class bides its time. It waits for its "June Days" to massacre the toilers. If the "June Days" have not yet come around in Spain it speaks volumes for the strength of the proletariat, the weakness of the bourgeoisie, and the instability of the international situation: it bespeaks the fact that we are in 1932 and not 1848. As the "June Days" period is delayed, the workers grow bolder. They move from Social Reforms to Socialism, to a demand on the part of the Communists that the workers seize power.

The elections of July 28, 1931, to the National Cortes showed the situation clearly. The Right Wing reactionaries got but 41 delegates out of a total of 470. The Radicals, Radical-Socialists and Socialists together got about 275 seats and forming a bloc took over the government, the Socialists taking three cabinet seats (labor, public instruction, public works) and were quite content to remain in a minority. But such a government can not crush the revolutionary forces which mount steadily in this period.

The fourth period (to October 1931) of the Revolution sees the Revolution move to the left. Many violent strikes break out all over the country. A peasant movement is organized strong in Andalusia led by the agricultural workers. The government is forced to confiscate the property of the King. The Monasteries and church's are attacked and the church and State separated. The Jesuits are dissolved (but not banished, note). The separate government of Catalonia is recognized and agrarian and military reforms promised. A fourth general strike is attempted which is marked by a great deal of violence. It is crushed.

This period is followed by another (October 1931 up to the time of the Sanjurjo attempt). The movement seems set back. The trade union Syndicalist movement, falls from one million members to less than half. The Socialists grow. Insurrections in the Potassium mines and in the textile factories of Catalonia are put down. In November a drastic Safety Law of the Republic is put over. The fifth general strike (January 1932) is quickly put down ............. the Tarrasa insurrection in March.

What can we say about these last two periods?

1. The Socialists openly take the role of shooting down the workers.

2. The workers "experiment" with the attempt to seize power. (Note the similarity with the "July Days" of the Russian 1917 Revolution). They fail. A more sober mood sets in. The difficulties have become more apparent. The Syndicalist movement becomes split. The foolish putschist tactics of the Anarcho-Syndicalists become thoroughly exposed. A "group of 30" headed by Pestana, denounces the attempt to use the trade unions as revolutionary organs. This group fights for a moderate policy and going further, really fights against the revolution itself. The Syndicalists are split. It is this split that provokes the Anarchists to really seize the factories (fourth general strike). From that time the Anarcho-Syndicalists decline.

3. Refomism and liquidation tendencies grow. The Socialist Party, in spite of its open treachery increases its influence due to the failure of the revolutionary forces.

4. The Communist influence grows. The workers see not the trade unions alone, not putschism but a strong political party deeply embedded in the masses can succeed. A period of reflection and of study has set in.

The Reactionary forces mistook this period as one of defeat. They attempted through General Sanjurjo to turn the defeat into a rout. They in turn were routed. The Revolution enters into its sixth period with a decided swing to the Left.

As in the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Revolution has witnessed a great flowering out of all parties and groups. Large finance capital and secret adherents of the Royalty are represented by the newspaper "A.B.C.", while the large agrarians have their reactionary paper "Debate" and their group headed by Zamora. These groups occupy the extreme Right Wing. Next to them are the out-and-out bourgeois parties. The Radicals have the old fox Lerroux as their spokesman who was the "Legal Left" under the king but who is now far to the Right. In Catalonia, La Liga Regionalista occupies the Right Bourgeois position. This league has a non-separatist position and have Cambo, who was Minister of Law under Alphonso, as their leader. Since the Revolution, the group "Accio Catalana" bourgeois, but advocate of Catalonian Separatism has been organized. Its organ is the paper "La Publicitat".

To the left of the bourgeois groups are the petty-bourgeois groups now flourishing since Alphonso's exile. There is the "Partido Radical-Socialista" whose chief is Domingo and in Catalonia the group of Macia which takes a separatist position and whose organ is "L' Opinio". Today it is the Radicals and Radical-Socialists supported by the Socialists who dominate the government.

We turn now to the Labor movement.There are two trade union centers in Spain: 1. The Union General de Trabajo (U.G.T.) and the Confederacion National de Trabajo (C.N.T.). The Union General de Trabajo (U.G.T.) has already a half century of history behind it, having been organized in 1888 and having been the only organization of labor tolerated and permitted by Alphonso and actually participating in the government under the King. It is controlled by the reformist Socialist Party and today has about 250,000 to 300,000 members. Large Caballero, up to recently its head, is also now the Minister of Labor of the Spanish Republic. It is particularly strong in Madrid, in Biscay (in the metal and mining industry) and in the Asturias (coal mining) although it is extremely weak in Catalonia, which after all, is the labor and revolutionary center of the country. Besides its labor members of the U.G.T. has a considerable peasant affiliation.

The second labor center is the C.N.T. This organization, controlled by Anarcho-Syndicalists and overwhelmingly strong in Catalonia (Barcelona especially) whose metal, textile and general proletariat comprise the vanguard of Spanish labor, is an extremely important revolutionary instrument. It was organized in 1911 and during the revolutionary wave of 1919 under the secretaryship of Andres Nin (now Trotskyist) the C.N.T. reached the enormous membership of almost 1,000,000 members. It was due to this threat of the proletariat that Alphonso XIII established the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera under whose ruthless blows in 1923 the unions were smashed. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera saw the virtual annihilation of the C.N.T.

With the new revolutionary wave that arose in 1929-1930 and that resulted in Rivera's downfall the C.N.T. rapidly reorganized itself and soon regained its strength of a million members. As we have seen it has launched time and again extremely powerful and violent general strikes throughout the country, many of them, due to the Anarcho-Syndicalists leadership, of an adventurous and wearying character. As a result of this false line, of late the C.N.T. has lost its membership steadily so that in 1932 toward the end of the year it had not much more than 400,000 workers.

The C.N.T. is controlled by a so-called Federation of Iberian Anarchists (F.I.A.). The false adventurist utopian direction which the F.I.A. has given to the unions has resulted in a split, another "Group of 30" headed by Pestanya arising. If the Anarchists think of political action and want to smash the state by a conspiracy supported by the unions, the Pestanya group stands against revolution and wants the syndicates to be pure and simple economic organizations fighting for everyday reforms only. This group declares it stands for a "practicable view" of the role of the trade unions in Spain. Between these two groups then there goes on a struggle which bids fair to convulse the whole C.N.T.

However, the C.N.T. is still the most powerful revolutionary organization in Spain. It issues two daily papers: "Solidaridad Obrera" put out in Barcelona and "C.N.T." published in Madrid. In its structure the C.N.T. stands as a sort of cross between French Syndicalism and the I.W.W. Gradually it is outgrowing its earlier Anarchist theory in the course of the Revolution. Its local unions are now industrial and not close to the local trade union centers. In 1919 these local centers had a great deal of autonomy but the Trade Union Congress in 1931 in Madrid definitely declared for the formation of National Centralized Industrial unions and a centralized national general center. Thus more and more a Communist ideology is taking hold in the C.N.T., an ideology stimulated by the work of the Spanish Left Opposition and supported by the fact that the mass of members are not skilled craftsmen but the bulk of miserably exploited unskilled proletarians.

To this report we must add that in June 1932 a new trade union center was organized by the Communist Party of Spain. This is a direct result of the sterile disloyal policy of Stalin. The history of this new trade union center which now has the name of the Trade Union Unity Committee, is briefly as follows: It must be recalled that during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera the C.N.T. had practically disappeared. Under Berenguer it already began rapidly to revive. At that time the C.P. had organized a "Committee of Reconstruction" to reconstruct the C.N.T. and used the trade unions of Seville as a base. But already the C.N.T. had been thoroughly reorganized so that the Seville actions were really acts of schism, splitting the C.N.T. and drawing the fire of the workers on that account. Originally it was a method of the Party to penetrate into the C.N.T.

However, in 1931 the "new turn" of the Comintern hit Spain and the Communist Party transformed the Committee of Reconstruction to a "Unity Committee". The Communist Party claimed it had 700,000 workers behind it. Really it had but 80,000. To the conference in 1932 only small unions in the provinces and the trade unions of Seville responded. The tobacco and commercial workers of Madrid came as observers only and withdrew. When we consider that after the Revolution at times 85% of the Spanish proletariat were organized in the C.N.T. and U.G.T. we can appreciate better the correctness of the Stalinists line of breaking up the old unions. The weekly paper of the "Trade Union Unity Committee" called "Unidad Syndicale" has become the symbol of the new splitting policy of the C.I.

We turn now from the trade union organizations of the working class to their political organizations. First, the Socialist Party. The S.P. has between 15,000 to 20,000 members at an estimate. It is strong in places where its unions are strong and besides in Andalusia and Castille where it has peasant connections. In Catalonia the separate Socialist Party which had existed there and which had its own paper "Justitia Sociale" has now fused with the Spanish Socialist Party. As we have seen the Socialist Party supports the bourgeois regime, refuses to take power, but is part of a ministerial coalition in which it has received the ministries of Labor, Public Instruction and Public Works.

Between the Socialists and the Communists and nearer to the Socialists stands the Maurin Group, all of whose original membership came from the Communist Party but split in 1930 when about 500-600 followed Maurin. This group is strong only in Catalonia and there more in the province than in the city of Barcelona proper.

After the split Maurin formed an Iberian Communist Federation with about 1,000 membership and a weekly paper "La Batalla". In 1930 it was able to get the "Communist Party of Catalonia" a separate and rationalist Communist Party to fuse with it and thus strengthened itself. In 1931 the Iberian Communist Federation organized a so-called "Workers-Peasants Bloc" a loose organization which now has close to 5,000 members (1,000 in Barcelona). The Maurin group is a typical nationalist centrist body losing more and more of its character as a Communist organization.

Before the Revolution, the Communist Party had about 2,000 members which were not well organized. Now it has about 5,000 until very recently headed by Bullejos and Trilla. As we have reported in the last issue of Class Struggle (see Volume II no. 10-11) suddenly the whole Political Committee of the Spanish Communist Party has been expelled including Bullejos and Trilla, as "traitors". --- TRAITORS no less! The Communist Party puts out two weekly papers: "Frente Rojo" issued in Madrid with about 2,000 circulation and "Las Masas" published in Barcelona and having 5000-6000 circulation. The Communist Party also publishes irregularly a theoretical organ "Bolshevismo". This is put out mainly as a counter to the theoretical organ of the Spanish Left Opposition "Comunismo".

As for the Left Opposition in Spain we can do no better than quote from our article in Vol II no. 9 of the Class Struggle entitled: "A Report on the European Sections of the International Left Opposition".

"The first conference of the Spanish Left Opposition was held in Luxemburg in 1929 with La Croix and five other members present. In 1930 another conference was held this time in Madrid with about the same number of people (Nin, La Croix, Andrade, Ferson) but it was only in the earlier part of 1931 that the Left Opposition really began to grow. The recent conference held in April 1932 with 25 delegates represented over 1100 members. Within a year it has put out a paper "El Soviet" now struggling to become a weekly, with 5,000 circulation. It has issued a theoretical organ, "Comunismo" with 1500 circulation and over 15 popular pamphlets have been printed with a large sale. A youth paper "Young Spartacus" has recently appeared which it it claimed sells 2,000 copies. In quality the Left Opposition is stronger than the Party (though not numerically, the Party having about 5,000 members) and in many places the Left Opposition has groups where the Party has not (as in Salamanca).The last conference found the Left Opposition best developed in Biscay, Asturias, Castille, Andalusia, (Seville, Cadiz) Barcelona and Madrid. (However, the group in Barcelona is numerically relatively small, considering the importance of the place).

"The last conference of the Left Opposition accomplished a good deal and worked out elaborate theses on the situation in Spain, the position of the Left Opposition on the national and agrarian questions, their relation to the Party and to the syndicalists and on the trade union question. Within the Left Opposition differences are arising as to the correctness of the Spanish comrades but two things stand out clearly: 1. The great growth of the Spanish Left Opposition due to its bold independent working class activity. 2. The recogition it has received as the most dangerous revolutionary force in Spain. In Catalonia only the Left Opposition is illegal (the Communist Party is legal there) and the Chief of Police in a special brochure has declared that Spain must account it as a stroke of good fortune that the Communist Party has ejected the Left Opposition and that the leaders of the Left Opposition are not the head of the Party. (see Maurice Karl: Communism in Spain pg.91)".

What are the perspectives of the Revolution? It is very clear that after the Sanjurjo defeat the Revolution has taken a new turn to the Left. It is also very clear that the Revolution is at a crossroads, that the unstable equilibrium which now exists cannot long endure. Either the triumph of reaction or the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But for the dictatorship of the proletariat there is needed a complete transformation of the subjective element, the proletariat. In no country in the world has the opportunist adventurist criminal blunders of the anarcho-syndicalists become so decisive as in Spain. The Syndicalists know how to use the general strike to defend the republic, that is the republican bourgeoisie, but they do not know how to use it to break the bourgeois republic and to seize power! By their ignorant blunders they know only how to play into the hands of the reformist Socialists, to weary out the masses and to prepare the way for Fascism.

The legalist and bourgeois character of the Spanish Socialist Party has become patent to all. Indeed Prieto its leader has declared the Socialist Party does not want power in Spain as Spain is in no condition to have Socialism. To help the bourgeoisie, to pave the road even for the return of Alphonso, to defeat at all costs the victory of the working class, this is the despicable role of the Socialists.

As usual the crimes of the Socialist Party are matched by the blunders of the Communist Party. The bureaucratic splits, the theory of democratic dictatorship, the general bankruptcy and vulgarity of the Communist Party has isolated it and rendered it impotent.

Only the Left Opposition can lead the working class out of the impasse. The works of L.D. Trotsky stand as a beacon light showing the way. The Spanish Left Opposition has a glorious opportunity. Let us boldly use it and it may be that the Left Opposition will yet lead the Second Soviet State on to victory.