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The New International, December 1934


Juan Arenillos

The Socialists’ Errors in Spain

(November 1934)

From New International, Vol. I No. 5, December 1934, pp. 139, 151.
Translated by Russell L. Blackwell.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


FOR A revolutionary movement to be successful, it is absolutely necessary to have a pre-conceived plan and a general strategy to be followed out with secondary variations, adapted to the circumstances of the moment, and that can be worked out only in the course of the insurrection itself. If this is not the case, not only does one incur the risk of falling short of the goal, but by taking a series of measures that have no concrete and well-defined object, the road leading to victory is likely to be blurred, making impossible an immediate triumph and setting back to a future period the hour of proletarian emancipation.

If the Spanish proletariat had heeded these Marxian principles, it would today be the dominant class in Spain. But the leaders of the movement, lacking in intelligence and decision did not know what they were doing. They had no military plan adapted to conditions in the various regions, with the result that they maintained a waiting attitude, waiting for what might happen in other regions, and above all, waiting for something to happen in Madrid.

Once again in the history of the labor movement, the petty bourgeoisie (Esquerra, socialist leadership, leaders of the “Basque Labor Solidarity”) has shown itself incapable of leading a revolutionary movement to its conclusion. The moment chosen for the armed uprising was premature; but once commenced, it became necessary to carry it through to the end. The defeat of the revolt was caused by having maintained a defensive attitude in most sections of Spain instead of launching an immediate offensive. The insurrection is not a game for children; it is an art that must be understood in minutest detail. When two forces meet in battle formation, it is necessary to know the precise state of morale of the enemy, his forces and his plans as well as his weak points in order to hurl the main attacks of the revolution against them. At a time when the balance inclines in favor of the adversary, experienced and intelligent strategists must be able to retreat in an orderly fashion so as to keep the forces under their command as intact as possible.

When the Samper ministry resigned on the night of October 5, no advantage was taken of the weakness and vacillation of the ruling class. As soon as the railway workers union of the UGT found itself incapable of paralyzing traffic, the insurrection was already lost. It was recognized that the railway strike must be the backbone of the general strike. The attempt to tie up the railways having failed due to the suicidal stupidity of the anarcho-syndicalists, the government was able to mobilize the necessary materials and personnel for the transportation of loyal troops to the vital centers of the revolt. The cabinet ministers wept with joy when they saw that the anarchists were not supporting the movement, and demoralization was spread among the lukewarm and semi-sympathetic elements by means of the radio.

The general impression among the reactionary forces and especially among the Fascist officialdom that directed the repressive apparatus of the state, was that if on the night of October 5 to 6 (Friday–Saturday), the insurgents had thrown themselves into the armed struggle with determination, the victory of the revolt would have been inevitable. They also commented that if there were three Asturias in Spain, the revolution would have swept everything before it. On Friday night it would have been possible to win the army for the uprising by means of the conspirators among the army officers. On the other hand, by Saturday morning this had already become impossible because the officers and soldiers involved in the conspiracy had been placed under arrest and the morale of the troops had altered completely. On this occasion a phenomenon observed in other insurrections was repeated. First, there is a moment of neutrality on the part of the army; then it becomes clear which way the balance inclines, at which moment the regular army takes an active part in the service of the stronger force.

Fundamentally the Spanish revolution was a sectarian movement based exclusively on the members of the socialist party. It rested on Secret Committees instead of basing itself on the most advanced class; on officials of the army instead of on the soldiers and the revolutionary will of the toiling masses. This sectarian uprising has brought defeat to the Spanish proletariat, with the particular circumstance, however, that the labor movement has maintained itself intact in most localities, due to the fact that the working class was held in reserve. The proletariat’s energies were not utilized, it was kept waiting for orders and instructions from the socialist chiefs – instructions that never arrived.

The united front organizations, that is, the Workers’ Alliances with their combat organizations – the workers’ militia – composed of all proletarian tendencies united for the common purpose of combatting the enemy class, did not exist excepting in a minority of localities. And where the Alliances did exist they were as yet without a history, without a tradition – they had not as yet attained any moral ascendancy over the masses. Asturias, however, was an exception. Here they played a very important role. In many places, last minute attempts were made on Friday the 5th, to organize and popularize the Workers’ Alliances. In such cases, however, they did not function because neither the leaders, the militants or the masses had understood the role of these Alliances beforehand. The role that should have been played by the Workers Alliances in the insurrection, had been hidden from them. As a result, the leadership of the movement was in the hands of Secret Committees, the functions of which were usually concentrated in the hands of a single individual with very few assistants. There were cases in which the chairman of the Secret Committee was arrested on the first day, leaving the whole network in the hands of a couple of comrades who were unacquainted with the arrangements and connections with the other committees, there being nothing else for them to do but await orders from Madrid and give evasive answers to all questions asked them.

The discrepancies between the motor forces of the revolution and the leadership of the movement, became very evident. The leaders followed democratic will-o’-the-wisps and the masses sought the social revolution. This is why the former backwatered from the first moment, curbing the enthusiasm of the masses and failing to call out the troops under the officers who had promised their support. No party was in a position to reach the masses with an analysis of the state of the movement throughout the country in order to counteract the demoralizing influence of the radio which, by its lying and biased reports, was one of the best instruments at the service of the counter-revolution.

The socialist and Basque Solidarian leaders, as well as the Esquerra and the Estat Catala, had a mortal fear of the communist, socialist and anarchist masses. The leaders of all the organizations showed their inability to lead the masses. The socialist leaders showed indecision, a low political level and cowardice. Those of. the communist party, with their organizational weakness, demonstrated their incapacity and tail-endism. The Basque Solidarians, the Esquerra and the Estat Catala covered themselves with ignominy and treachery, and the anarchists, wherever they had greatest influence and control, proved to be traitors with no understanding whatever of events.

Using the organizational weakness of the CP as an excuse, the socialist leaders in many localities refused to allow a communist party representative on the Revolutionary Committee. The socialist leaders, in their sectarianism, wanted to know nothing of the thoughts of the masses which, in the last analysis, they were only interested in using as cannon-fodder. This truth became quite evident from the very outset. In times of peace and slight risks, the Stalinist party placed itself, or claimed to place itself, at the head of the movement; but when the day arrived to stake everything on the trump card of revolution, the communist party became the tail of the socialist party, without any initiative of its own, and entirely devoid of revolutionary decision, surprising everyone by its attitude, not least of all its own membership. The masses in their enthusiasm asked that someone, any organization at all, should place itself in the leadership of the movement, that it lead them into the fight, for there had never been a better opportunity of achieving victory. But there was no revolutionary party to lead the working class and the movement was run into the ground. The masses strained at their bonds and their leaders feared they might get out of hand. The combativity of the Spanish workers was much greater than was the initiative of their organizations. The Spanish proletariat has showed itself to be one of the best prepared working class of the world, but all of its organizations have treated it like an infant, belittling its impulsive spontaneity, its combativity, class consciousness and initiative. They have always judged it to be a mass that struggled only when forced to do so, a mass that could be easily led and easily restrained, with the understanding that it would follow blindly wherever it was led. Revolutionary reality has given the lie to all this. In truth, the leaders have fallen short of the stature of the masses. The Spanish proletariat has come of age, it is ready for decisive actions while its leaders fall into senility and infantilism.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the workers had an abundance of armament hidden away in many different places. But as soon as the movement was recognized as lost (and this was evident from the first day), the location of the arms deposits were revealed at once. There is considerable evidence that the information leading to these discoveries came from socialist leaders themselves. No sooner was the material transferred to the workers’ neighborhoods for distribution among the militants, than the police came rushing to the scene, surprising the workers in the act of arming themselves or in time to frustrate the distribution. Rats and talebearers appeared as thickly as crows after a slaughter. The mis-leaders did not wish to suffer the consequences of the defeat. Rather than arm the people or prepare an orderly retreat, they preferred to turn their services over to the disposal of the police.

In no section of Spain did the peasants support the general strike. It was a movement of the proletariat, the urban middle class and the industrial bourgeoisie. How is this defection of the peasantry to be explained when the democratic bourgeois revolution in Spain has not as yet been accomplished? First, by the inherent anarchic mentality of the peasants who never see beyond the immediate horizon; secondly, because the propaganda of the Agrarians and Popular Actionists [CEDA, the bloc led by Gil Robles] against the movement, when it was in preparation. Wherever they had any influence throughout the countryside, the reactionaries represented the revolt to be a separatist movement of Basque and Catalonian bourgeois nationalists with socialist support, a movement tending to destroy the unity and economic stability of the fatherland; thirdly, as a result of the incurable lack of understanding by the socialists of the problem of nationalities. So long as they occupied government posts, the socialists denied the very existence of this problem only to take it up afterwards as a means of agitation for the purpose of regaining their lost influence; fourthly, due to the influence that the anarchists have always enjoyed in the Spanish countryside, and which they regained as a result of the agricultural workers’ strike provoked by the socialists on June 6, 1934, for the purpose of embarrassing the Samper government and which failed miserably because of the lack of either economic objectives or decent loyal leadership.

Thus the members of the Federation of Toilers of the Soil, a mass organization composed of hundreds of thousands of agricultural laborers, peasants and semi-proletarians, did not join the general strike, nor did they do anything to aid the industrial regions that had rebelled against the central government and the national bourgeoisie of Spain proper.


OVIEDO, November 1934

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