Bullets, Machine Guns and Prison

... That’s the Popular Front’s Response to the Workers Who Dare to Resist Capitalist Attacks

From Bilan, Theoretical Monthly Bulletin of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left , No. 41, May-June 1937

Proletarians!

On July 19th 1936, the workers of Barcelona crushed the attacks of Franco’s battalions who were armed to the teeth with their bare fists.

On May 4th 1937, these same workers now supplied with weapons left more of their number dead in the streets than they did in July, when they had to repel Franco, but now it is the anti-fascist government - containing the anarchists, with the indirect support of the POUM - which has unleashed the scum of the repressive forces against the workers.

On July 19th the proletarians of Barcelona were an invincible force. Their class struggle freed it from all links with the bourgeois state, and had repercussions within the Francoist ranks, leading to their disintegration and awakening the class instincts of the soldiers: this was the strike that halted Franco’s rifles and cannons and broke up his offensive.

History doesn’t just record those momentary episodes in the course of which the proletariat acquires its full autonomy from the capitalist state. In the days after July 19th, the Catalan proletariat reached a crossroads. Either it would go on to a higher phase in its struggle, since the bourgeois state was destroyed, or capitalism would rebuild its apparatus of domination. At this stage of the struggle where class instinct is no longer enough, or where consciousness becomes the decisive factor, the proletariat can only win if it is prepared with the theoretical capital, patiently and relentlessly accumulated by its left fractions raised up as political parties, under the pressure of events. If today the Spanish proletariat is also living through a dark tragedy, this is because of its lack of maturity to form its class party, the brains which alone can give it the force of life.

In Catalonia, from July 19th, the workers spontaneously created, on their class terrain, autonomous organs of struggle. But there immediately arose an agonising dilemma: either to take part in a more profound way in a political battle for the total destruction of the capitalist state, and thus to complete their economic and military successes, or to leave the oppressive machinery of the enemy still standing, and allow it to adulterate and liquidate the workers’ gains.

Classes struggle with the means which the situation and the degree of social tension imposes upon them. In the face of a class conflagration capitalism cannot even dream of a recourse to the classical methods of legality. What frightened it was the independence of the proletarian struggle which prepared the way for the next revolutionary stage, that of the abolition of bourgeois domination. Capitalism had to revive the instruments of its control over the exploited. These instruments which had formerly been the judiciary, the police, and the prisons, in the extreme situation of Barcelona, the Militia Committees, the socialised industries, the workers’ unions managed the commanding heights of the economy, the vigilance patrols, etc.

Thus, history posed again in Spain the problem which in Italy and Germany had already been resolved with the crushing of the proletariat: the workers preserve for their class the tools which they have created in the struggle only in so far as they turn them against the bourgeois state. The workers arm their future hangmen if, lacking the strength to beat their class enemies, they let themselves be drawn once again into the net of their domination.

On July 19th the proletarian militia was a proletarian body. A week later the "proletarian militia" was a capitalist body appropriate to the situation as it then stood. And to carry out its counter-revolutionary plan the bourgeoisie appealed to the Centrists, the Socialists, to the CNT and the FAI and to the POUM. who all led the workers to believe that the State changes when the personnel which direct it change. Disguised in the folds of the red flag, capitalism patiently sharpened its sword of repression, which by 4th May was prepared by all the forces which had already broken the back of the Spanish workers struggle on the 19th July.

Noske’s offspring was the Weimar Constitution and Hitler, Giolitti and the "management of production" led to Mussolini, and the offspring of the Spanish anti-fascist front, of its "socialisations", of its "proletarian" militias, is the carnage in Barcelona on 4th May. (1)

And only the Russian proletariat responded to the fall of Tsarism with October 1917 because it alone succeeded in building a class party through the work of its left fractions.

Proletarians

It was in the shadow of the Popular Front Government that Franco was able to prepare his attack. It was in the way of conciliation that on July 19th Barrios had tried to form a single ministry allowing the whole of Spanish capital to carry out its programme, whether under the leadership of Franco, or under a mixed leadership of right and left fraternally united. (2) But it was the revolt of the workers in Barcelona, Madrid, in Asturias which forced capitalism to double up its government, and to share out its functions between its republican and military agents, linked by an indissoluble class solidarity.

In those areas where Franco couldn’t gain an immediate victory, capitalism called on the workers to follow it in order to "defeat fascism". In this bloody trap of believing that led by the Republicans they could crush capitalism’s other legitimate offspring, fascism, they have paid with thousands of corpses. And they left for the hills of Aragon, the mountain of the Guadarrama and Asturias to win victory in the anti-fascist war. (3)

Once again, as in 1914, it is on the gravestones of the proletariat that History inscribes, in bloody deed,s the intrinsic opposition between bourgeoisie and proletariat. The military fronts: a necessity imposed by the situation? No! A necessity for capitalism in order to surround and crush the workers! The 4th May 1937 brought the clear proof that, after July 19th, the proletariat should have fought Companys, Giral as much as Franco (4). The military fronts were only the gravediggers of the workers because they represented the front line of capitalism’s war against the proletariat. In this war the Spanish proletariat, following the example of their Russian brothers in 1917, should have adopted revolutionary defeatism against both bourgeois camps, republican and fascist, and transformed the capitalist war into a civil war with the aim of the total destruction of the bourgeois state.

The Italian Fraction of the Left in its tragic isolation has only been supported by League of Internationalist Communists of Belgium who have founded the Belgian fraction of the international communist Left. Alone, these two currents have sounded the alarm whenever and wherever the need to safeguard the gains of the revolution, or of beating Franco the better to defeat Largo Caballero later, has been proclaimed.

The latest events in Barcelona have ominously confirmed our original thesis and they reveal that the Popular Front, flanked by the anarchists and the POUM, has thrown itself against the insurgent workers of May 4th with a cruelty equalling that of Franco.

The outcomes of the military battles have given so many opportunities for the Republican Government to tighten its grip on the exploited. In the absence of a proletarian policy of revolutionary defeatism, the success and the failures of the Republican army have just been stages in the bloody defeat of the working class: at Badajoz, Irun, San Sebastian (5), the Republic of the Popular Front makes its contribution to the concerted massacre of the proletariat to further tighten the grip of the Union Sacrée (Holy Alliance), as, in order to win the antifascist war, a disciplined and centralised army is needed. The resistance in Madrid on the other hand allowed the Popular Front to go on the offensive and rid itself of its former servant, the POUM, and thus prepare the May 4th attack. The fall of Malaga revives the bloody threads of the Union Sacrée whilst the military victory of Guadalajara (6), which opens this period, ends with the firing squads in Barcelona.

At the same time, Spanish capitalism’s war of extermination supports international bourgeois repression in every country, and the fascist and anti-fascist deaths accompany the Moscow murders, and the shootings in Clichy (7). It is also on the bloody altar of anti-fascism that the traitors gathered the workers of Brussels around capitalist democracy in the 11th April 1937 elections.

"Arms for Spain": this has been the main slogan which has resounded in the ears of the proletariat. And these arms have shot their brothers in Barcelona. Soviet Russia in cooperating with the arming of the anti-fascist war has also represented the capitalist framework in the recent carnage. On the orders of Stalin - who showed his rabid anti-communism on March 3rd - the PSUC of Catalonia took the lead in the massacre.

Once again, as in 1914, the workers used arms to kill each other instead of using them for the destruction of the regime of capitalist oppression.

Proletarians!

On 4th May 1937 the workers of Barcelona have resumed the path which they had followed on July 19th and which capitalism had been able to reject by leaning on the support of the multiple forces of the Popular Front. In unleashing their strike, especially in the sectors presented as gains of the revolution, the workers had made a stand against the republican-fascist bloc of capitalism. And the Republican government responded with even greater savagery than Franco at Badajoz or Irun. If the Salamanca Government (8) has not exploited this shock on the Aragon Front to push forward an attack this is because it felt that its leftwing accomplice was admirably fulfilling its role as the hangman of the proletariat.

Exhausted by six months of war, of class collaboration by the CNT, the FAI and the POUM the Catalan proletariat was wiped out by a terrible defeat. But this defeat is also a step towards tomorrow’s victory, a moment in the proletariat’s emancipation because it signals the death blow to all the ideologies which have allowed capitalism to safeguard its domination in spite of the huge leap of July 19th.

No, the fallen proletarians on May 4th cannot be called upon by any of the currents who on July 19th dragged them away from their class terrain in order to throw them into the abyss of anti-fascism. The fallen proletarians belong to the proletariat, and only to it. They represent the brain tissues of the world working class, of the class party of the communist revolution.

The workers of the whole world bow in front of all the dead and claim their corpses against all the traitors: those of yesterday as of today. The whole world proletariat salutes in Berneri, one of themselves and his sacrifice to the anarchist ideal is yet one more protest against a political school which has collapsed in the course of the Spanish events: that is under the leadership of a government with anarchist participation whose police have repeated on the body of Berneri the exploits of Mussolini on the body of Matteotti! (9)

Proletarians!

The carnage in Barcelona is the forerunner of even more bloody repression of the workers in Spain and throughout the whole world. But it is also the harbinger of social storms which will break over the capitalist world.

Capitalism, in only ten months, has had to exhaust the political resources on which it was counting to commit to the destruction of the working class and to blocking the work which that class was accomplishing to found its class party, the main weapon of its emancipation and of the construction of a communist society. Centrism and anarchism, in rejoining social-democracy have, in Spain, reached the end of their evolution, as was the case in 1914 when the war reduced the Second International to the status of a corpse.

In Spain, capitalism has unleashed a battle of international significance: the battle between fascism and anti-fascism which, in the ultimate form of weapons, announces an acute class tension in the international arena.

The deaths in Barcelona have cleared the ground for the construction of the working class party. All the political forces which called the workers to struggle for the revolution, to engage them in a capitalist war, have all passed to the other side of the barricade. Before the workers of the entire world a luminous horizon is opening up where the dead of Barcelona have written in their blood the class lesson already traced out in the blood of the dead of 1914-18: the workers struggles are proletarian only on condition that they are directed against capitalism and its state; they serve the interests of the enemy, if the proletarian bodies which the situation gives rise to, are not directed against that enemy, at all times, in all places and in all forms.

The world proletariat will struggle against capitalism even when that has gone over to the repression of its former servants. It is the working class, and never its class enemy, which has to settle accounts with those who have expressed a phase of its evolution, a moment of its struggle for emancipation from capitalist slavery.

The international battle which Spanish capitalism is engaged in against the proletariat opens up a new international chapter in the life of the fractions of all countries. The world proletariat, which has to continue its struggle against the “builders” of artificial Internationals, knows that it can only found a proletarian International through a global upheaval in class relations, opening the way to the communist revolution, and only thus. Faced with the war in Spain which foretells revolutionary birth pangs in other countries, the world proletariat feels that the moment has arrived to establish the first international links of the fractions of the communist left.

Proletarians of All Countries!

Your class is invincible; it represents the motor force of the evolution of history: the events in Spain have proved it because it is only your class which can provide a way out of a struggle which convulses the whole world!

It is not defeat which can discourage you: from this defeat you will draw the lessons for your victory tomorrow!

On a class basis you will rebuild your class unity beyond all frontiers and against all the mystifications of the capitalist enemy!

In Spain, respond to the attempts at compromise, which tend to establish a peace for capitalist exploitation, with the fraternisation of the exploited of both armies for a simultaneous struggle against capitalism!

Stand up for the revolutionary struggle in every country!

Long live the workers of Barcelona who have turned a new bloody page in the book of world revolution!

Forward to the constitution of an International Bureau with the aim of promoting the formation of left fractions in every country!

Raise the banner of communist revolution which the fascist and anti-fascist hangmen could not prevent the defeated proletarians from passing on to their class heirs!

Be worthy of our fallen brothers!

Long live the world wide communist revolution!

The Belgian and Italian Fractions of the International Communist Left

(1) Noske, was the leading member of the German Social Democratic Party which had supported the Kaiser in the First World War. In 1919 he recruited some of the Kaiser’s former troops as Freikorps to crush the Spartakist Revolt against the Weimar Republic. It was the first act of “National Socialism” in defence of bourgeois rule. Many of the members of Hitler’s Nazi Party came from the same milieu as the Freikorps. In a wider sense, the defeat of 1919 paved the way for the Nazi overthrow of the Weimar Republic in 1933. Giolitti was the Italian Liberal Prime Minister who gave the Fascist Party 35 seats in Parliament as part of a coalition of the Right in 1921 as reward for their role in defeating the factory occupations in Turin. This was the springboard for their demand for power the following year which was quietly accepted by the monarchy. The reference to the "management of production" refers to how the state operation of industry during the war became a model for the form of state capitalism in Italy which Mussolini called “the corporate state”.

(2) For the details of this, see the opening page of the introduction to this text.

(3) These were the main battle fronts. The Sierra de Guadarrama was west of Madrid, the Aragon front was before Zaragoza which was in Franco’s hands, and the northern front of the Asturias was near Santander and Oviedo.

(4) For explanations of the Spanish characters in this text, see our historical introduction.

(5) All early victories for the Francoists. Badajoz was a particularly brutal event with thousands of workers shot in cold blood afterwards.

(6) The Battle of Guadalajara took place in March 1937 and was a rare Popular Front success in that it prevented the encirclement of Madrid as well as demonstrating direct Italian Fascist involvement in the war.

(7) French workers, occupying a factory in Clichy as part of a campaign of sit-in strikes in 1936, were forcibly removed by the Popular Front Government of Leon Blum using the Army. Five workers were gunned down and a general strike followed. The Moscow murders is a reference to Stalin’s show trials which started in earnest in the same year.

(8) Franco’s headquarters at the time were in Salamanca.

(9) Camillo Berneri was an Italian anarchist who, being forced to leave Fascist Italy, wandered around Europe (doing time in Belgian prison), until the outbreak of the civil war when he organised a column of Italian anarchists - although he did not join this himself as he produced the paper Class War. For his murder see the introduction to this text. For Matteotti, the Socialist MP murdered by Fascist thugs see "The Matteotti Murder" in Revolutionary Perspectives 33.

Revolutionary Perspectives

Journal of the Communist Workers’ Organisation -- Why not subscribe to get the articles whilst they are still current and help the struggle for a society free from exploitation, war and misery? Joint subscriptions to Revolutionary Perspectives (3 issues) and Aurora (our agitational bulletin - 4 issues) are £15 in the UK, €24 in Europe and $30 in the rest of the World.