How the Stalinists killed workers' control in the 1936-37 Spanish Revolution

Author: 

M Casanova

The workers took control of the factories. The revolution came from below. From above, in other words from the leadership of the workers’ parties, came only curbs. The decrees of the Taradellas government of the Generalitat on collectivisation, for example were only a tardy confirmation of an already established state of fact.

The economy of governmental Spain reflected the contradictory tendencies that tore the anti-fascist camp apart. On the one side there were the measures of nationalisation, in other words the state takeover of “abandoned” factories and enterprises, those factories where the workers had forced out the capitalists, and on the other the collectivisation, which reflected the desire of the workers to run the economy, and which were particularly inspired by the anarchists, who saw in them the start of the realisation of their theories of a union of free communes. These collectives quite often had features of petty-bourgeois socialism: the workers would seize an enterprise, and often even shared the proceeds. In spite of this false orientation these collectivisations could obviously have served as a starting point for a socialist economy in the event of revolutionary developments.

Despite the methods of the trade union bureaucracy that prevented them functioning democratically, the factory councils constituted a proletarian organisation arising from the movement of 19 July. Hence the government’s constant struggle against the factory council.

The Popular Front government was torn between capitalist concepts of the economy, the anarchist concept of free communes and the socialist conception.

The general orientation of the Popular Front obviously pointed down the road towards the suppression of the collectives. They did not fit inside the framework of the democratic republic, and formed an obstacle to winning Chamberlain’s frozen heart.

Despite this tender and persistent courtship of Chamberlain, the leaders of the Popular Front could not go all the way to the suppression of the collectives. They could not break with the workers, neither the CNTers in particular nor the workers of the UGT, who did not want the destruction of the collectives either.

In a word, our democrats were placed between two fires. They wanted to reconcile the good God and the Devil. It was difficult. It was even impossible. But by their very class nature these petit-bourgeois could do not other than attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

The economic policy of the Popular Front is an exact reflection of this contradiction.

The Communists were naturally the supporters of the state taking over the whole war industry. This was the leitmotiv of their propaganda: “War industry and transport into the hands of the government.” But it was easier said than done.

The workers had no confidence in Negrin’s state, in other words the bourgeois state. The centralisation of the entire war industry, transport, and the economy in general was obviously necessary as far as we Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists were concerned as well, but it could be only realised under proletarian power, which is called the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Communists, however, were impatient. They pushed the government in the direction of energetic measures — new measures of nationalisation, in other words. For these heroes of gangsterism every thing came down to energetic and dictatorial measures. These “Marxists” imagined that everything could be resolved by administrative measures and the methods of a “strong government”. Thus they believed that strong and dictatorial measures would bring order into the war industry, that decrees would suppress flourishing speculation etc. And this, moreover, is easy to understand. Did they not, by police measures, “crush” Trotskyism and assassinate Andrés Nin, our Erwin Wolf, Moulin, etc. Only it is far easier to carry out an order to kill working-class militants than it is to solve an economic problem by decree.

We Trotskyists are opponents of the theory of “Socialism in One Country” and this is one of our cardinal sins, but even more so we understand the foolishness of the theories and practices of socialism in a single village, as well as in a single factory and on a single farm. In fact the collectives could only develop and prosper when centralised and generalised and with the continued help of a proletarian government. But yet again, this did not exist in Spain.

The economy of Republic Spain was therefore very diverse: nationalised industry, run by either the central government or the Generalitat, each waging war on the other, the collective competing with each other; and finally, private capitalism, which little by little rebuilt itself. Add to this a flourishing speculation, the influx of a number of foreign adventurers and traders against whom the policy of the Popular Front could do nothing, the almost complete breakdown of exchange between town and country, as the peasant shut himself up in his collective or on his little plot, not wishing to sell anything because he would only receive banknotes from the town whose value diminished by the day — and we get a return to a primitive economy etc.

Negrin’s economy was not and could not be an organised capitalist economy, any more than it was a ‘socialist’ economy either (that is to say, the economy of the transitional period and of the dictatorship of the proletariat). It was neither chalk nor cheese. It was a nonsense, erected into a system.