Ted Grant

The Spanish revolution—past and present

Source: Militant, no. 128 (October 27, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Niklas 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010

The Labour Party Young Socialists have undertaken a campaign of support for the Spanish socialists, the trade unionists of the UGT (General Union of Workers) and the Spanish Young Socialists, in their struggle against the military-police dictatorship of Franco. They have issued an excellent broadsheet which we can recommend to all workers.

In this they demonstrate their internationalism, their socialism and their understanding that the struggles of the workers of all countries against their capitalist masters are indissolubly tied together to the struggles of the British workers.

It is significant that they are the only tendency in the labour movement to launch such a campaign—of material solidarity by campaigning for funds, and, as important, a demonstration to the Spanish socialists and the working class that they do not stand alone in their heroic struggle against the dictatorship.

It is of great significance that not a single “communist” party internationally has organised a similar campaign. Neither the powerful “communist” parties of France or Italy nor the smaller ones of Western Europe have lifted a finger in mass activity on this question.


A few articles in the press of sympathy to their brother parties constitute only platonic gestures This is because of the nationalist orientation of the leadership of these parties, who look at events from a narrow nationalist point of view, although they talk sometimes spuriously of “internationalism”. Internationalism is of the deed and not of a few pious words!

Yet Spain today is the key to the international situation as Germany was in the 1930s. A victory of the Spanish workers in the coming revolution would be of as great significance to the workers of Europe and the world in the 1970s as that of the Russian revolution was after 1917.

But the myopia of nationalism and reformism afflict the leadership of the CP and they are incapable of rousing the workers internationally to give material, social and theoretical support to the struggle of the Spanish workers, which is in its early stages.

Conditions in Spain are reaching revolutionary maturity. Lenin defined 4 conditions for revolution, these are developing in Spain:

1) The ruling class of capitalists and landlords are in an impasse. Economically and politically they are worse off than the capitalists of the “democracies”. Spain is weak in industrial competitive capacity, and the very development of industry during the last 25 years makes her dependent on industry.

Agriculture, already facing a crisis, faces the prospect of tariffs by Britain, when she enters the European Economic Community.

The ruling class understands that the country cannot continue in the strait-jacket of the corrupt dictatorship of Franco. They know of the discontent of the overwhelming majority of the population. They fear the future as the capitalists of Russia dreaded it. Like the Russian regime of absolutism the country is finding the ignorant and merciless dictatorship unbearable.

They have access to the reports of Franco’s secret police and they realise that the regime cannot be maintained indefinitely. But this has provoked a split in their ranks as some sections have demanded a return to completely unbridled terror as the only way to maintain capitalism while others are in favour of concessions to try and pacify the workers. That is the first condition of revolution, a split among the ruling class.

2) The middle class must be vacillating between the rulers and the workers, as the second condition. But the Spanish middle class is not vacillating. It is overwhelmingly against Franco. The mass of the students, who are mainly the sons and daughters of the capitalists, landlords and the middle class are against Franco.

Lawyers, doctors and professional people feel the burden of the dictatorship and want a change of the system. The shopkeepers and small businessmen find all the exactions and tyranny of the dictatorship, the lording over them of the hated bureaucratic officials as a heavy burden. They are disgusted by the favouring of big business and the monopolies at their expense.

In Vigo and other cities when the workers struck the small shopkeepers closed their shops in sympathy. The small businessmen look with favour on the struggle of the workers as perhaps a means of lifting the iron vise of the dictatorship from which they cannot get any redress of its abuses.

3) The workers of Spain have already shown themselves as worthy successors to their magnificent fathers and grandfathers in their heroism in the Spanish revolution of 1931 to 1937.

Under the greatest repression and difficulties they have launched the biggest strike wave in Europe, next to that of the Italian workers, in proportion to population, despite the fact that strikes are illegal and the leaders face torture and imprisonment. In practically every area of Spain there have been strikes for higher wages, better conditions and more rights for the workers.


Sympathy strikes, doubly illegal, have taken place in many areas. Openly political strikes in the Basque country against the death sentences passed on “terrorists” took place in 1970.

Fascism or a military police state can only hold power when the workers are disorganised and atomised and their political and trade union organisations are utterly crashed. Now the workers are heroically and painfully reconstructing these organisations in the teeth of repression and police agents. The working class has recovered from the terrible defeat of the civil war of 1936-39.

The illegal strikes and demonstrations and barricade fighting show the capacity of struggle of the Spanish workers. That is the third condition for the socialist revolution.

4) But history over and over again in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and of course Spain, show that that is not sufficient for the socialist revolution.

If they are to be successful, the Spanish socialists must study the lessons of the defeated revolution of 1931-1937. This period is replete with the lesson that it is impossible to trust the capitalists and their Liberal political representatives. The Republican-Socialist Coalition of 1931-33 prepared the way for the reaction of the church, the monarchists the right republicans and the clerical fascism of Gil Robles.

Against the resistance of the workers, it was impossible to establish fascism in a “cold” way. The capitalists pushed power to the “Popular Front” while preparing seriously to crush the workers. What is the “Popular Front”? According to the Communist Party who invented this “theory” it is an alliance of the “democratic capitalists”, the middle class and the working class against fascism.

Popular Front: “a strike breaking conspiracy”—Leon Trotsky

Trotsky called it a “strike-breaking conspiracy”. In February 1936 the Popular Front was victorious in the elections. The Liberals of Azaña and company took power. The workers did not trust them because of their experience of 1931-36 and themselves carried through the programme put forward by the Popular Front in 24 hours! They did this through direct action in the factories. They forced the employers to concede higher wages, holidays with pay, the 8 hour day and other demands.

They stormed the jails and tore down the walls, releasing the tens of thousands of political prisoners put in jail after the defeat of the general strike and the Asturian insurrection of 1934, against the protests of the Liberals who said they should wait until Parliament met. They carried through measures not in the Popular Front programme. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of workers had been victimised and lost their lobs. Fascists had been taken on in their place. The workers re-instated their victimised comrades and mates and forced the employers to pay them two years back pay! They expelled the fascists, who took their jobs, from the factories.

The Liberal government helped the capitalists to prepare their revenge. Increases in prices and inflation rapidly cancelled out most of the gains of the workers. Consequently the working class felt themselves betrayed. The middle class and small business people were being revived.

The workers saw their gains being rapidly whittled away. As a result there was a general strike in Span in every city and even the smaller towns.

The ruling class found this intolerable and behind the scenes reaction prepared to strike against the working class. The pages of the workers’ press, including that of the “Communist” Party appeared with empty white spaces because the Liberal censor mould not allow them to print warnings against the preparation of an army coup.

The Liberals—the “Popular Front” government did nothing against the armed forces, conspirators in the army, navy and air force. The officers and generals prepared to strike almost without hindrance. The government played musical chairs and transferred the generals conspirators round the country.

Franco was sent from Madrid to the Canary Islands garrison the conspirators were shuffled round and the conspiracy proceeded merrily on.

Marxists would explain this “pacifist” forbearance very simply. It lies in the class nature of the state. Had these been rank and file privates plotting socialist revolution they would have been court-martialed and shot for treason. But how could the “democratic” capitalist government take action for treason against the generals and officers? The “state” leaned on these as a protection for the capitalists against the working class. To take action would have meant undermining the capitalist state itself.

Civil war

The fascist conspiracy thus went on under the cloak of the Popular Front government. When generals Franco and Sanjurjo organised the fascist revolt in July of 1936, in Morocco the Popular Front government tried to hide the news from the Spanish people. They then offered, in secret negotiations, the posts of Minister of the Interior and Minister of War in the government to Franco’s conspirators! That would have meant a “cold” switch to fascism. Those were the posts that Mussolini and Hitler insisted on in the first “coalition” governments of fascism in Italy and Germany.

But the news leaked through to the workers of Spain through the sailors who seized the Spanish warships and radioed the news to the workers of Spain.

In future articles we will trace the course of the Civil War. Here it is only necessary to point out that the workers reacted to this news by mass demonstrations. Beginning with the immortal workers of Barcelona, they marched against the army barracks. Even according to the capitalist press armed with a few shotguns, knives and even table legs, they smashed the army by appealing to the soldiers to come over to the workers. The workers of Madrid, Valencia and other cities followed the lead of Barcelona. In five-sixths of Spain the workers were victorious.

The state

The state, says Lenin, in The State and Revolution can be reduced to “bodies of armed men”. The police and army, navy and air force apparatus had been swept away in Spain. There was only one armed force—the workers’ militias! There was nothing in the way of the workers taking power. The workers had the power!

They seized the factories and in Catalonia and Aragon, the peasants seized the land and collectivised it! The Popular Front government was suspended in mid-air. They had neither police nor army owing them allegiance. It was a far more favourable situation for the socialist revolution than in Russia after the revolution of February 1917.

The leaders of all the workers parties frustrated this initiative of the workers, pushed the power back to the “Popular Front” i.e. capitalist government and thus they prepared the betrayal of the workers and the defeat of the revolution and thus the victory of Franco. (This also will be dealt with in future issues as Spain, past and future, is of vital importance to, not only the Spanish, but the international working class).

In Chile, at the moment, as we predicted, the policies of coalition with the Liberal and democratic capitalists by the CP and SP is pushing the middle class into the arms of reaction. Thus the unprecedented strike of the small business owners of lorries and buses, of small businessmen and shopkeepers. This is the consequence of partial measures of nationalisation, which has resulted in 3o to 50 percent inflation and the discontent of the middle class, which is being pushed into the arms of reaction by the sabotage of the capitalist parties of big business. Thus the mirage of an alliance with the “democratic” capitalists and the middle class is shown to be an alliance with the “democratic” political exploiters of the middle class which can only repel them and push them into antagonism against the working class which reaction exploits.

It is just at this time that the Spanish “Communist” Party has published again their policy for Spain, according to the Morning Star of October 17th: Mundo Obrero publishes the following details, which are quoted verbatim from the translation in that paper:

“The political revolution which Spain requires” says the resolution, “has no need to be a civil war or an insurrection of classic type.

“With a relation of forces favourable to political change, isolating the ultra-right, this political revolution will require less violence than that habitually used by the Franco regime to maintain itself in power.

“The political revolution will be a democratic and national change in which the largest possible number of forces desirous of political liberty should take part.”

Who these anonymous “forces” are is shown in a succeeding paragraph it calls for “an end to repression and vote and voice for Spaniards giving each social class and each party the opportunity to act democratically” (our emphasis)

What has this in common with Lenin’s policy in Russia? It is an all-class i.e. capitalist policy not one based on the class struggle. This policy of non-class coalitionism or popular frontism prepared defeats in the past. It is now intended to save the capitalists in their hour of danger.

The capitalists supported Franco and if some of them are seeking other means of rule it is only because they see the danger of the overthrow of the regime leading to the overthrow of capitalism as well.

The national or democratic revolution to which they refer in Spain cannot be carried out under capitalism. The capitalist or bourgeois-democratic revolution is now impossible of achievement by the capitalist class. The history of China, Russia and Spain demonstrates this irrefutably.

Lenin, analysing the conditions in Russia very similar to those in Spain, of capitalist-landlord absolutism, instead of conciliation declared irreconcilable struggle against the Liberal capitalists. We could give thousands of quotations from the articles of Lenin. But taking a couple at random in Volume 11, page 53 in the Collected Works in English; Lenin says:

“The fundamental mistake of the opportunist Social Democrats lies in their failure to understand what the decisive victory of the bourgeois revolution means. Our Russian opportunists who, like all opportunists belittle the theory of revolutionary Marxism and the role of the proletariat as the vanguard, constantly labour under the illusion that the liberal bourgeoisie must inevitably be ‘the boss’ in the bourgeois revolution.”


Again, on page 54:

“The Bolshevik draft resolution for the congress clearly stated that the liberal bourgeoisie is trying to make a deal with the old regime, is wavering between revolution and reaction [like the Spanish—EG] is afraid of the people, and afraid of the free and all-sided development of their activities; and all that is not due to chance, but to its fundamental interests.” (Our emphasis)

Again on page 70:

“What is the main flaw in all these opportunist arguments? It is that in fact they substitute the bourgeois theory of ‘united’ social progress for the socialist theory of the class struggle as the only real driving force of history.”

The “Communist” Party of Spain appeals to “all social classes”. Lenin replies that the proletariat in its struggle against absolutism must wage an implacable struggle against the capitalist class.

“Communist” Party

The Spanish capitalists will only agree to democratic reforms when the Franco regime is threatened with overthrow by the working class when in order to prevent the socialist revolution they will try to save their system as in Russia of February 1917 by temporarily accepting democracy while they prepare the way for a new Franco.

Spain is now more developed industrially than Russia was before the revolution. Industrial production per head of population is higher than it was in the latter. Even in absolute terms Spanish production is higher. In 1914 the highest figure for Tsarism, Russia produced 4 million tons of steel. Spain produces more than 7 million, nearly double. In Russia the industrial working class was one tenth of the population in Spain it is nearly half.

The absolutist military-police state of Tsarism was very like the military-police state of Franco. Now, Spain like Russia is approaching revolution. The conditions for revolution are even more favourable in Spain than they were in Russia. The only difference—a mighty difference—is in the strategy and tactics of the leadership of the working class. The policy of the Spanish “Communist” Party leaders is worse than that of the Mensheviks whom Lenin fought in Russia.

If their policy succeeds, the Spanish revolution will suffer an even bigger disaster than in 1931-37.

Russia 1917

The leaders of the Spanish CP have never analysed or explained the reasons for the defeat of the last Spanish revolution. Lenin meticulously analysed on the basis of the works of Marx and Engels the experience of the defeated Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution of 1905. That is how he prepared the advanced workers for the victorious revolution of October 1917.

Yet the Spanish CP has published no works analysing the strategy and tactics of the workers’ parties that guaranteed defeat in an exceptionally favourable situation in 1931-1937. Those who fail to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. The only difference in the policy of the CP leaders is that their present policy is even worse than the strategy and tactics of support for the “liberal capitalists” at a time when the latter are powerless and looking for a way to stultify the inexorable movement of the workers to overthrow the Franco dictatorship.

The social set-up in Spain is very similar to that of Russia before 1917, a capitalist-landlord regime leaning on absolutism. The complete rottenness of the Liberal capitalists in both, has been demonstrated historically. The proletariat must conduct a ruthless struggle against the capitalists who fostered, nurtured supported and gave the power to Franco.

Despite phrases about “socialism” the CP statement talks about being in favour of “association” with the Common Market once Franco is removed. That shows that in reality they look to a purely capitalist “democratic” development (by the way, the British CP leaders, who have waged a nationalist campaign against British entry publish this without comment! That’s the Spanish CP’s business, nothing to do with us Britishers!)


Thus, as in 1931-1937 the CP is preparing to play a reactionary role which could lead the Spanish people to a catastrophe.

The fate of the coming revolution in Spain now rests on the shoulders of the Spanish Socialist Party. The Spanish Young Socialists and the UGT (the Spanish trade unionists), above all on their leading and active elements. They have got rid of the right-wing leadership. Now what is needed is Marxist policies. With the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky as their guide they could rapidly assume leadership of the working class.

They could win over most of the rank and file of the CP. While fighting for every democratic right, free speech, the right to vote the right to organise, the right to strike, these must be seen as transitional demands that can only be guaranteed by the dictatorship of the proletariat—workers’ democracy.