Election Section

Commentary: White Washing the Spanish Civil War By LAWRENCE JARACH

Friday May 06, 2005

I would like to comment on the announcement of the publication of The Frontlines of Social Change: Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (Daily Planet, April 26-28). Not having read the book, I cannot say anything about its contents, but the subject of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War deserves something more than the glowing pro-Stalinist whitewash usually presented in such volumes—and in Brenneman’s puff piece. 

First off, while the Lincolns may have been “poorly armed,” that is certainly not true for the bulk of the International Brigades. Being organized by the Comintern, all the IB contingents, as well as the Communist-dominated Spanish Popular Army, got the best arms supplied by Stalin (and paid for at falsely inflated prices—see Gerald Howson’s “Arms for Spain”); it was the non-Stalinist militias that received substandard arms, when they received any at all. 

Second, it is only too true that the IBs “battled for the Spanish Republic.” Unfortunately, the Republic was not worth defending from a revolutionary or radical perspective. Made up of social democrats, liberals, and other anti-revolutionary forces—including the Spanish Communist Party—the Republic was a bulwark against the collectivization of industry and agriculture by the Spanish workers and peasants. The leaders of the Republic not only gave away the gold in the Bank of Spain to pay for Stalin’s so-called aid, but they also refused to consider granting Spanish Morocco its independence (which would most likely have undercut Franco’s Moroccan shock troops’ loyalty) because they didn’t want to upset the French and British colonialists (see Antony Beevor’s Spanish Civil War.) But the defense of the thoroughly corrupt and bourgeois Republic fit in perfectly with Stalin’s foreign policy of mollifying the bourgeois governments of France and Britain by showing no interest in revolution in Western Europe; Stalin’s plan was to form some kind of pseudo-antifascist alliance with France and Britain against Hitler’s Germany. That worked so well that Stalin and Hitler formed a pact in 1939. 

The Spanish workers and peasants revolution that began in 1936 as a result of the attempted clerico-militarist coup against the Republic was actively suppressed by the Republic and its Stalinist supporters (see Burnett Bolloten’s “The Spanish Civil War” and George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia”), just as the non-Leninist Russian workers, peasants, and soldiers soviets were crushed by the Bolsheviks eighteen years earlier (see Maurice Brinton’s “The Bolsheviks and Worker’s Control”). The intentions of the Lincolns and their allies and supporters may have been sincere in terms of deliciously vague phrases like “the cause of social justice,” but their first and overriding loyalty was to the Party and its bosses in Moscow. The show trials that started in the same year as the Spanish conflict, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the military interventions in Eastern Europe just after the Second World War, the repression of the 

striking Berlin workers in 1953, the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution... the list of Marxist-Leninist duplicity, betrayal, and counter-revolution is long and brutal. Yet according to Brenneman—and presumably Bermack—it was only “after Soviet Premier Nikita Krushschev revealed the murderous crimes of Josef Stalin” that “many veterans [of the Lincoln Brigade] dropped out of the party.” As long as the amply documented counter-revolutionary misdeeds of “Uncle Joe” and his loyal gangsters remained unacknowledged by the Party, everything was fine, and “social justice” could continue to be executed. Whatever contributions to the betterment of humanity were made by Leninists and Stalinists throughout history were unintentional.  

Horizontal decision making and direct (i.e. non-representative, non-electoral) action are the forms that worker and peasant revolutionary self-organization have taken since at least the time of the Paris Commune. Such activity is always and necessarily anti-statist and anti-capitalist. Members of the anarchist mass movement in Spain (despite the stupidities of its self-appointed leaders who betrayed the most fundamental anarchist principle by joining the government) actively promoted this tradition by forming and aiding in the formation of industrial and agricultural collectives in areas where revolutionary self-organization was possible—that is, areas where the Spanish Republic was ignored. The Spanish Communists destroyed them as soon as they were strong enough militarily. So much for “social justice.”