From nobody Fri Jun 20 21:15:27 2003
From: (Feoldora Baroni)
Subject: How Popular Front made fascist victory possible in Spain
Newsgroups: soc.culture.african
Sender: Eva Kilpatrick
Distribution: world
Organization: Amarante Boudreaux
Message-ID: <>
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2003 23:13:06 GMT

The Lessons of Spain: the Last Warning (excerpts)

By Leon Trotsky, 17 December 1937, reprinted in The Militant, as “How Popular Front made fascist victory possible in Spain”

[Publisher's note: The extract and introduction illustrate the troubled relation of Trotsky and the working-class movement.]

Printed below are excerpts from “The Lessons of Spain: the Last Warning,” an article by Leon Trotsky dated December 17, 1937. Trotsky was a leader of the October 1917 Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik party that led the working-class and its allies to power in Russia. The entire article can be found in The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), a collection of Trotsky's writings on the Spanish civil war published by Pathfinder Press.

Spanish dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera resigned in January 1930. King Alfonso XII appointed a short-lived interim government. In April 1931, a coalition of republican and socialist parties swept the country's municipal elections and Alfonso went into exile. The next month clashes began between monarchists and workers in Madrid. The Spanish revolution had begun.

In the midst of the fascist victory in Germany, and with war clouds gathering over Europe, workers and peasants in Spain opened a series of battles that challenged the rule of the wealthy landlords and capitalist class. Their struggles showed a road out of the wars and economic crises of capitalism.

As worker uprisings spread from Catalonia to the rest of the country, the Spanish rulers turned to fascist general Francisco Franco. Based in the Spanish-occupied Morocco, Franco launched a war against the republican government in 1936 with support from other imperialist powers.

In June 1931, elections to a constituent assembly (Cortes) had given an overwhelming majority to pro-republican parties. The social-democratic Socialist Party was the largest in the Cortes.

Over the next five years, the dominant forces in the workers movement—social democrats, Stalinists, anarcho-syndicalists, and centrists—increasingly allied themselves with representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie. The Popular Front won the national government in the 1936 Spanish elections. It was a coalition of liberal bourgeois parties with the Socialist and Communist parties, which was backed by the anarchists and centrists.

The class-collaborationist policy of the Popular Front was promoted by the regime of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.

After the death of Lenin, the central leader of the Bolsheviks, in 1924, Stalin had become the foremost representative of a bureaucratic caste that led a political counterrevolution, resulting in the degeneration of the Soviet Communist Party, the Communist International (Comintern), and of the Russian Revolution. Along with collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie, the Stalinists in Spain used thuggery—including arrests and murders of anarchists, centrists, and others in the workers movement. Their counterrevolutionary efforts were aided by the refusal of anarchist and centrist forces to lead the rising working-class and peasant masses to establish a government of the exploited majority.

By subordinating the interests of the workers and peasants to the liberal capitalist parties, the Popular Front led the Spanish revolution to defeat, making possible the victory of Franco's fascist forces.

Trotsky was the central leader of the international fight to continue Lenin's course in the face of the Stalinist counterrevolution in Russia. He was expelled from the Stalinized Soviet CP and forced into exile. Trotsky argues clearly in this article and the other documents in The Spanish Revolution for a course that could have averted the Stalinist betrayal in Spain and the fascist victory, which—along with the earlier victories of fascism in Italy and Germany—was crucial in making possible the outbreak of the second world inter-imperialist slaughter.

All general staffs are studying closely the military operations in Ethiopia, in Spain, in the Far East, in preparation for the great future war. The battles of the Spanish proletariat, heat lightning flashes of the coming world revolution, should be no less attentively studied by the revolutionary staffs. Under this condition and this condition alone will the coming events not take us unawares.

Three ideologies fought—with unequal forces—in the so-called republican camp, namely, Menshevism1, Bolshevism, and anarchism. As regards the bourgeois republican parties, they were without either independent ideas or independent political significance and were able to maintain themselves only by climbing on the backs of the reformists and Anarchists. Moreover, it is no exaggeration to say that the leaders of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism did everything to repudiate their doctrine and virtually reduce its significance to zero. Actually two doctrines in the so-called republican camp fought—Menshevism and Bolshevism.

According to the Socialists and Stalinists, i.e., the Mensheviks of the first and second instances, the Spanish revolution was called upon to solve only its “democratic” tasks, for which a united front with the “democratic” bourgeoisie was indispensable. From this point of view, any and all attempts of the proletariat to go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy are not only premature but also fatal. Furthermore, on the agenda stands not the revolution but the struggle against the insurgent Franco.

Fascism, however, is not feudal but bourgeois reaction. A successful fight against bourgeois reaction can be waged only with the forces and methods of the proletarian revolution. Menshevism, itself a branch of bourgeois thought, does not have and cannot have any inkling of these facts.

The Bolshevik point of view

Even purely democratic problems, like the liquidation of semi-feudal land ownership, cannot be solved without the conquest of power by the proletariat; but this in turn places the socialist revolution on the agenda. Moreover, during the very first stages of the revolution, the Spanish workers themselves posed in practice not merely democratic problems but also purely socialist ones.

The demand not to transgress the bounds of bourgeois democracy signifies in practice not a defense of the democratic revolution but a repudiation of it. Only through an overturn in agrarian relations could the peasantry, the great mass of the population, have been transformed into a powerful bulwark against fascism. But the landowners are intimately bound up with the commercial, industrial, and banking bourgeoisie, and the bourgeois intelligentsia that depends on them. The party of the proletariat was thus faced with a choice between going with the peasant masses or with the liberal bourgeoisie.

There could only be one reason to include the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie in the same coalition at the same time: to help the bourgeoisie deceive the peasantry and thus isolate the workers. The agrarian revolution could have been accomplished only against the bourgeoisie, and therefore only through measures of the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no third, intermediate regime.

From the standpoint of theory, the most astonishing thing about Stalin's Spanish policy is the utter disregard for the ABC of Leninism. After a delay of several decades—and what decades!—the Comintern has fully rehabilitated the doctrine of Menshevism...

‘Theory’ of Popular Front

It would be naive, however, to think that the politics of the Comintern in Spain stem from a theoretical “mistake.” Stalinism is not guided by Marxist theory, or for that matter by any theory at all, but by the empirical interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. In their intimate circles, the Soviet cynics mock Dimitrov's “philosophy” of the Popular Front.2 But they have at their disposal for deceiving the masses large cadres of propagators of this holy formula, sincere ones and cheats, simpletons and charlatans. Louis Fischer3, with his ignorance and smugness, with his provincial rationalism and congenital deafness to revolution, is the most repulsive representative of this unattractive brotherhood. “The union of progressive forces!” “The triumph of the idea of the Popular Front!” “The assault of the Trotskyists on the unity of the antifascist ranks!”...

The theoreticians of the Popular Front do not essentially go beyond the first rule of arithmetic, that is, addition: “Communists” plus Socialists plus Anarchists plus liberals add up to a total which is greater than their respective isolated numbers. Such is all their wisdom. However, arithmetic alone does not suffice here. One needs as well at least mechanics. The law of the parallelogram of forces applies to politics as well. In such a parallelogram, we know that the resultant is shorter, the more the component forces diverge from each other. When political allies tend to pull in opposite directions, the resultant may prove equal to zero.

A bloc of divergent political groups of the working class is sometimes completely indispensable for the solution of common practical problems. In certain historical circumstances, such a bloc is capable of attracting the oppressed petty-bourgeois masses whose interests are close to the interests of the proletariat. The joint force of such a bloc can prove far stronger than the sum of the forces of each of its component parts. On the contrary, the political alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whose interests on basic questions in the present epoch diverge at an angle of 180 degrees, as a general rule is capable only of paralyzing the revolutionary force of the proletariat.

Civil war, in which the force of naked coercion is hardly effective, demands of its participants the spirit of supreme self-abnegation. The workers and peasants can assure victory only if they wage a struggle for their own emancipation. Under these conditions, to subordinate the proletariat to the leadership of the bourgeoisie means beforehand to assure defeat in the civil war...

Alliance with the bourgeoisie's shadow

Politically most striking is the fact that the Spanish Popular Front lacked in reality even a parallelogram of forces. The bourgeoisie's place was occupied by its shadow. Through the medium of the Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists, the Spanish bourgeoisie subordinated the proletariat to itself without even bothering to participate in the Popular Front. The overwhelming majority of the exploiters of all political shades openly went over to the camp of Franco. The Spanish bourgeoisie understood from the outset that the revolutionary mass movement, no matter how it starts, is directed against private ownership of land and the means of production, and that it is utterly impossible to cope with this movement by democratic measures.

That is why only insignificant debris from the possessing classes remained in the republican camp: Messrs. Azaña, Companys,4 and the like—political attorneys of the bourgeoisie but not the bourgeoisie itself. Having staked everything on a military dictatorship, the possessing classes were able, at the same time, to make use of their political representatives of yesterday in order to paralyze, disorganize, and afterward strangle the socialist movement of the masses in “republican” territory.

Without in the slightest degree representing the Spanish bourgeoisie, the left republicans still less represented the workers and peasants. They represented no one but themselves. Thanks, however, to their allies—the Socialists, Stalinists, and Anarchists—these political phantoms played the decisive role in the revolution. How? Very simply. By incarnating the principles of the “democratic revolution,” that is, the inviolability of private property.


1 The Russian Social Democratic Party split into two groupings, the Bolsheviks (majority), led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks (minority), led by Martov in the party's second congress in 1903. The Bolsheviks advocated a revolutionary course of an alliance of the working class and peasantry that could overthrow the tsar and establish a government of the toilers. The Mensheviks called for an alliance with the bourgeoisie in the struggle to get rid of the monarchy. When the tsar was toppled in February 1917, the Mensheviks took part in a coalition government with sections of the bourgeoisie, which was subsequently overthrown in the October revolution.

2 Georgi Dimitrov was a Bulgarian communist who had moved to Germany. He attracted world attention in 1933 when the Nazis imprisoned and tried him and others on charges of having set the Reichstag on fire. He defended himself courageously at the trial and was acquitted. He became a Soviet citizen and served as executive secretary of the Stalinized Comintern from 1934 to 1943. He is credited with being the chief author of Comintern's Popular Front policy adopted at its seventh congress in 1935.

3 Louis Fischer was a European correspondent for the U.S. magazine The Nation whom Trotsky accused of sympathies with Stalinism during the Moscow trials.

4 Manuel Azaña y Díaz was prime minister of the Spanish republican government in June 1931 and again in 1936. He was president of the republic from May 1936 until his resignation in Paris in 1939.

Luis Companys y Jover became head of local government of Catalonia for a period during Spanish civil war. He belonged to Catalan Esquera, a bourgeois nationalist party.