Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The last volunteer

The last Scottish veteran of Spanish Civil War has died. Thomas Watters was a Glasgow Corporation bus driver who took his first-aid skills to Spain in the Scottish Ambulance Unit. He said the people who made up the International Brigades were not fighting men, but individuals who felt strongly about the need to combat the spread of fascism. "They went out there in ones and twos and the whole body was formed from all sorts of nationalities and languages. It was a huge job but they became very effective."

Socialist Courier takes the opportunity of his passing away to remind its readers of the Socialist Party's attitude to The Spanish Civil War.

Socialists are on the side of the exploited in their struggles against the landed and monied classes. This is true whether the workers concerned are socialist or not, organised or unorganised, and whether the struggle is a strike or a lock-out, or whether it is concerned with gaining "elbow room" for the working class movement, i. e., the right to organise, to carry on propaganda, to secure the franchise and parliamentary government. If there is no democracy, how could socialist ideas be spread? These struggles are all expressions of the class struggle and are in the line of development towards socialism. It is the plain duty of the organised workers in the more advanced countries to support and encourage such struggles, both at home and in the less advanced countries. While our members individually take part in struggles for objects other than Socialism the SPGB as a party does not. It exists and seeks support solely for Socialism, i.e. for activities which the non-Socialist organisations, including the reformist political parties, do not and cannot undertake. Therefore the SPGB only gives material support to socialist organisations.

Whether the Spanish workers were wise in participating in a struggle so costly in human lives may be debatable, but as they have decided to take the plunge, and as they have the most violent partisans of capitalism against them, socialists are, of course, on their side. It must be assumed that the Spanish workers weighed up the situation and counted the cost before deciding their course of action. That is a matter upon which their judgement should be better than that of people outside the country. It is difficult to blame anarchists who took up arms to defend themselves and their unions from murderous bosses; but we can perhaps look to the rejection of political democracy that preceded the civil war and gave the armed authoritarians the support they needed to break cover and launch their assault.

One thing shown is that is the difficulty or the impossibility of achieving real unity by merging together in a Popular Front parties and individuals who differ fundamentally in aim, outlook, and method. It was obvious in 1936 that it would be an enormous task to secure unity between long standing opponents like the Spanish Labourites, Anarchist-Syndicalists, Communists, Trotskyists, Liberal Republicans, Catholic Basque Separatists, etc. The frequent inability to secure effective and loyal co-operation, show that, even the stress of war will not make men who think differently work to a common programme. Neither in war nor revolution has anti-fascist Spain had a worse enemy than Stalinism. The Communist Party can best be summed up by the slogan "Better lose the war than allow the Revolution".

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

A war within capitalism could only be fought on capitalist terms. You can't have a democratic army, as the anarchists in the CNT found out. Party rivalries made it impossible to build up an efficient army. There was not one view of what kind of army to build, but three incompatible views—a revolutionary popular army like that of the French after the revolution, a "political" army like that of Russia, or a non-political army like the British. The Anarchists favoured the first, the Communists the second, and the army officers and Liberal-Republicans the third.

"Arming of the people is meaningless. The nature of military warfare is determined by the class directing it. An army fighting in defence of a bourgeois state, even if it should be antifascist, is an army in the service of capitalism . . . War between a fascist state and an antifascist state is not a revolutionary class war. The proletariat's intervention on one side is an indication that it has already been defeated. Insuperable technical and professional inferiority on the part of the popular or militia-based army was implicit in military struggle on a military front" - Agustin Guillamon, Friends of Durruti.

If you have an overwhelming majority, you don't need any army anyway. No amount of oppression can be made to work against it, as the Communist Party found out in Moscow in 1989. But that overwhelming majority has to know what it is about. And that is what the Friends of Durruti concluded:
"What happened was what had to happen. The CNT was utterly devoid of revolutionary theory. We did not have a concrete programme. We had no idea where we were going . . . By not knowing what to do we handed the revolution on a platter to the bourgeoisie and the Communists who support the farce of yesterday."

Murray Bookchin also writes "Not only did the CNT lack the support of a majority of the Spanish people, they argued, but it lacked the support of the majority of the Spanish working class. Anarchosyndicalists were a minority within a minority. Even within the CNT membership, a large number of workers and peasants shared only a nominal allegiance to libertarian ideals. They were members of the CNT because the union was strong in their localities and work places. If these people, and the Spaniards generally, were not educated in Anarchist principles, warned the moderates, the revolution would simply degenerate into an abhorrent dictatorship of ideologues." - Spanish Anarchists.

The International Brigades to this day hold a place of honour for many, who revere them as defenders of democracy and anti-fascists leading the way in a war that could have stopped fascism before the great slaughter of world war two. Many died, bravely; and their defence of Madrid reads like something from an epic poem. Their enthusiasm was not enough to actually save political democracy in Spain. Heroism is not enough, although there was plenty of that. We, in the Socialist Party, nevertheless, hold that it was not in the best interests of the socialist movement, or democracy, or of the conditions of the workers, to participate in wars such as the Spanish Civil, taking into account the consequences of these wars, participation could not be justified either by the hope of achieving socialism, the safeguarding of democracy or the improvement in the conditions of the working class. We could make the World Socialist Movement very much more popular by not constantly challenging popular working class thinking. We could adopt popular concerns as or own and jump on any number of bandwagons. We could quickly grow in numbers by lying and deceiving our fellow workers. But it almost goes without saying that by doing so we would abandon the struggle for socialism.

The "anarchist revolution" was first stopped by the Republican government with the Stalinist "Communists" in the lead and then savagely crushed by the Franco fascists. The losers, as always, were the common people, pawns in a struggle between power brokers. Those who weren't killed were crammed into Franco's concentration camps, penal labour battalions, or settled down to a hungry future. The country swarmed with 57 varieties of police. The Spanish Civil War cost 600,000 lives, ended with a Franco victory in March 1939, and the fascist dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975. Rubble doesn't make a good basis for building socialism.

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