Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Spanish Civil War remembered

This week in 1936 saw the start of the Spanish Civil War. The Socialist Party position then and now is opposition to all of capitalism's wars:

"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers the expression of our goodwill and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to the work for the overthrow of capitalism and triumph of Socialism." (August 25th 1914)

This is not to say, however, that all members in 1936 were in agreement. Indeed, a small number left .Similarly, the Falklands War was the source of some disagreement (the August 1982 Socialist Standard has a letter from one member expressing doubt as to whether the Socialist Party's position that wars are the result of capitalist rivalries for markets, trade routes, etc. applied to this particular conflict). But our position remains valid. Below is part of an article which analyses the Spanish civil war from a Socialist perspective.

"The Civil War, which cost 600,000 lives, ended with a Franco victory in March 1939, and the fascist dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975. In Britain, the civil war was largely presented in ideological terms of "democracy versus dictatorship", and "atheism versus religion", with supporters of both sides levelling charges of atrocities, but the reality was very different inside Spain. Franco was backed by the Catholic hierarchy and the big landowners but many of the poorer priests supported the Republican government, as did most of the air force and part of the army and navy. It was estimated in 1931 that more than half the land was owned by less than one per cent of the population, the Catholic Church being the biggest landowner. It was not the Spanish capitalists who backed Franco. Avowedly capitalist political parties belonged to the Popular Front and although in 1936 the Spanish "Socialist" Party were the largest party in parliament, they were not represented in the government until six months after the war started.

The whole question was overshadowed by the rivalries of other powers, of Germany seeking a base in Spain which would give them control of the Mediterranean and Britain, France and Russia wanting to prevent it. Germany and Italy gave massive support to Franco, as did Russia to the Republicans. The German condition for giving support was an agreement giving them control of the rich Spanish iron ore deposits. The Russian government insisted on being paid for the aid it provided. In Britain most Labour and Liberal sympathy was with the Republicans. The Tory government maintained a policy of "non-intervention" but an influential section of the Tory Party favoured helping the Spanish government against the Franco rebellion. Thousand of volunteers from outside Spain fought for the Republicans and others for Franco.

It was clear from the outset that the issue in the civil war would be largely determined by the amount and type of aid coming from Germany, Italy, France and Russia. As the war took its course, first one side and then the other gained the advantage. It was the view of Hugh Thomas in The Spanish Civil War that "Germany committed enough war material to tip the balance finally towards the Nationalists". According to the Penguin Dictionary of Modern History (p. 306) what led to the final collapse of the Republican armies was a change of Russian policy "which cut off aid from that source". As a Republican writer complained, within six months of the Russian government backing the Spanish Republicans against German arms and troops, Stalin and Hitler were "hobnobbing" under the Stalin-Hitler pact of September 1939. The aid-giving powers, Germany, Italy and the Popular Front government in France were all using the war to test out their new weaponry.

The League of Nations was quite impotent to prevent the civil war or the intervention by the other powers. Its successor, the United Nations, condemned the Franco dictatorship and resolved that member nations of the UN should withdraw their ambassadors. This was largely ignored and it did not prevent the British government allowing a Spanish ambassador in Britain and a British ambassador to be based in Franco Spain. The United States government in 1953 concluded an agreement with the Franco government to give military and economic aid in return for the lease of air and naval bases in Spain. It was the turn of American capitalism to see a vital interest in controlling the Mediterranean, against Russia.

When the popular Front finally had to admit defeat. some of those who had uneasily worked and fought together during the war began to lay at least part of the blame for defeat on each other. The Communist Party view was put by Jose Diaz in Lessons of the Spanish War 1936-1939:

"The Communists were the only party to realise how important it was to secure the Unity of the Working Class. That is why the Communist Party strove so stubbornly for the creation of a united trade union centre. But the "Socialist" and Anarchist leaders persistently worked to defeat this end. For they knew that the effect of such a unity would be to strengthen the influence of the Communists in the trade unions and would lead to victory over the forces of reaction. The Communists redoubled their efforts to create a single party of the working class based on the the principles of Marxism-Leninism. But the "Socialist" leaders steadily opposed the formation of such a party, which would have ensured the hegemony of the proletariat in the People's Front and the government."

The counter-version of the Anarcho-Syndicalist and Anarchist organisations and the "Socialist-Communist" General Workers' Union was given in Three Years of Struggle in Spain 1936-1939. This accused the Communist Party and "Agents of the USSR" of wanting to impose their forcible control on the Spanish Libertarian Movement; of murdering thousands of non-Stalinist comrades; of Stalinist intrigues which brought about "despair and the loss of their best men". About unity it said that in the first two years the slogans of the Communist Party can best be summed up in "Better lose the war than allow the Revolution":

"What unity did the Communist Party respect or attempt to establish? - none whatsoever" and finally, "Neither in war nor revolution has anti-fascist Spain had a worse enemy than Stalinism".

The simple truth was that at the time there never existed the basis for unity on the Republican side.

The government, backed by the "Socialist Party" and some trade union elements, could proclaim the establishment of a parliamentary system as the aim of their resistance to the Franco rebellion but the Communist Party, with its Russian links, and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalists, each from a different standpoint, were both violently opposed to that aim. Oliveira, a supporter of the aim of the government, writing in the British Labour Party magazine Labour at the beginning of the war (September 1936) said that the conditions for a successful parliamentary system did not exist in Spain at the time." (Socialist Standard, August 1986)

Further reading: -


1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

I think the 1937 article reflects much more accurately the Party positon than the 1986 one which is being quoted and which after all has the advantages of hindsight .

It is one that is of Socialists being on the side of the exploited - and although we temper our support with reservatuions about the tactics employed to defend working class democracy , we fully sympathised with the struggle in Spain .This is not the same case as we put forward in our opposition to capitalist wars in 1914 , or 1939 , or the Falklands War .

The 1937 re-iterates The SPGB case for support of the working class in struggle in the class war and in particularly in its defence of democracy that was taking place within Spain during the Civil War . We were on the side of the workers to defend the rights they had fought for and gained and which the Falangists were threatening .