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The New International, June 1938


Bernard Wolfe

The Truth About Spain


From New International, Vol.4 No.6, June 1938, p.190.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain
by Felix Morrow
195 pp. New York. Pioneer Publishers. 50c.

There is no dearth of literature, in the form of sprightly reportage, adventure stories, and political apologetics, on the Spanish civil war. The more degrading the betrayal of the workers’ struggle, the bloodier the defeats, the greater is the need for the variegated partisans of the People’s Front to dress up each new disaster as a triumph for the cause of progress. The publishers’ lists abound with brightly-bound volumes purporting to give the real lowdown on the anti-fascist struggle. Each morning the lovers of democracy go to their libraries, swallow their painless literary pills, and are emboldened to Carry On.

Every day a hairy-chested Hemingway gives birth to some new popular-fronting pæan to the thrilling Spanish combat; a Ralph Bates or Louis Fischer or Harry Cannes brings forth another political treatise, shiny with the gloss of authority, castigating the revolutionists and seeing a bright pink dawn in every defeat; a Rudolph Rocker or a Bertram Wolfe labors with might and main and produces a literary mouse which shouts, albeit somewhat squeekily, that the Poumists, or the socialists, or the anarchists, as the case may be, were right, intelligent, justified, and correct, but ... The terrible setbacks, the routs, the anguish of the revolution as it goes down in a sea of blood – somehow these things seem not to exist in the fictional narratives and “analyses” of these special pleaders.

Felix Morrow’s book marks an abrupt point of departure in this literature on Spain, already bulky in volume but meager in comprehension or sincerity. His purpose is to explain and clarify the Spanish events. The method he has chosen, although not especially new, is refreshingly novel in the literature on this subject: it is to tell the truth, plainly and baldly, without reading victory into defeat nor political sagacity into blundering and treachery.

Unlike some, more superficial Marxist writers, Morrow has not been content with a repetition of abstract phrases and slogans. The skeleton of revolutionary doctrine takes on flesh and blood in his book: the strategy and tactics of the proletarian revolution are not catchwords, superimposed on a neutral material, but part and parcel of the story itself, inescapable lessons growing out of the concrete experiences of the Spanish masses.

In this sense Morrow’s book is not “objective”, for the author does not stop with mere portrayal and fact-recording. Morrow has a point of view: he is biased in his solidarity with the revolution and his hatred of capitalism, fascist and “democratic” alike; he is a partisan of the struggle of the workers and peasants for power, and his concern is with the program and strategy necessary for the conquest of that power. But the author’s “partial” convictions are not offered as a substitute for sober appraisal or scientific analysis. Careful documentation makes this a valuable source-book for every student of the Spanish events and of the proletarian struggle in general.

Out of the panorama of facts and the concrete analysis a grim picture emerges. It is a picture of the treachery and vacillation, the cringing before the stern might of the “democratic” nations, the hatred of the masses and their desire for liberation which permeate the leading circles of the People’s Front and the Loyalist government. It is a picture, above all, of the straightforward alternative which history has posed – either fascism or socialism – and the ruthless way in which all those who seek to pursue a middle course are ground to bits by forces greater than they.

If the last twenty years of social strife have not presented us with proof a-plenty that when worker is pitted against boss, class against class, all attempts to mediate, to establish collaboration, to bridge the gap by combing the enemy camp for “allies”, can lead only to catastrophe, Morrow’s detailed history of the Spanish People’s Front drives that point home with irrefutable logic. And the method which he has chosen is a happy one: the chronological presentation is interrupted from time to time with backward flashes and analytic remarks so that the implications of each development are fully drawn out.

The manifest absurdity of a “government of victory” which suppresses every move towards social reform in the interests of military efficiency is made strikingly apparent by Morrow’s presentation, which shows how insolubly military strategy is welded to politics. To the land-hungry Spanish peasants, to the lean workers and the colonial slaves, anti-fascism means nothing if it does not mean dividing the estates, seizing the factories, granting independence to the subject peoples – in short, if it does not mean government by the workers and peasants (for who else will grant them these things?) and not by their exploiters, even though they wear a halo of “democracy” conferred on them by anarchist, Stalinist and socialist misleaders. The military history of the civil war is here, in every pertinent detail, and it does not make a pretty story. The sections of the bourgeoisie dominating the People’s Front are exposed for what they are, and the treachery which resulted in the ignominious defeats of Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo, and the collapse of the Biscayan, Aragon and Asturian fronts in general, is placed where it belongs, at their door and at the door of the labor “leaders” who shielded them at every turn. At every stage, the magnificent Spanish working class has been sacrificed on the altar of a democratic capitalism which is itself resorting more and more to the totalitarian methods of fascism, all for the greater glory and profit of the Spanish, French and British capitalists. That is the bitter story of the Spanish war, and no writer until now has dared to tell it in such merciless detail.

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