The Spanish Revolution (1931-39) by Leon Trotsky, a leader of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, is one of Pathfinder’s books of the month for January. After the death of V.I. Lenin, the central leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, the revolutionary program developed by the Communist International under his guidance was reversed by the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. Trotsky led the fight around the world to continue Lenin’s proletarian internationalist course. The excerpt below is from his 1937 “Interview with Havas,” a French news agency.
Less than a year before, Gen. Francisco Franco, a fascist, had launched a civil war against the republican government in Spain, which arose in 1931 out of revolutionary struggles by workers and peasants. Leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties formed a coalition with liberal capitalists, the Popular Front, backed by anarcho-syndicalists and centrists like the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). This class-collaborationist government couldn’t advance a class-struggle road forward, leading to defeat.
Copyright © 1973 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY LEON TROTSKY
Only cowards, traitors, or agents of fascism can renounce aid to the Spanish republican armies. The elementary duty of every revolutionist is to struggle against the bands of Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler.
On the left wing of the Spanish governmental coalition, and partly in the opposition, is the POUM. This party is not “Trotskyite.” I have criticized its policies on many occasions, despite my warm sympathy for the heroism with which the members of this party, above all the youth, struggle at the front. The POUM has committed the error of participating in the electoral combination of the “Popular” Front; under the cover of this combination, General Franco during the course of several months boldly prepared the insurrection which is now ravaging Spain. A revolutionary party did not have the right to take upon itself, either directly or indirectly, any responsibility for a policy of blindness and criminal tolerance. It was obliged to call the masses to vigilance. The leadership of the POUM committed the second error of entering the Catalan coalition government; in order to fight hand in hand with the other parties at the front, there is no need to take upon oneself any responsibility for the false governmental policies of these parties. Without weakening the military front for a moment, it is necessary to know how to rally the masses politically under the revolutionary banner.
In civil war, incomparably more than in ordinary war, politics dominates strategy. [Confederate General] Robert Lee, as an army chieftain, was surely more talented than [Union General Ulysses] Grant, but the program of the liquidation of slavery assured victory to Grant. In our three years of civil war the superiority of military art and military technique was often enough on the side of the enemy, but at the very end it was the Bolshevik program that conquered. The worker knew very well what he was fighting for. The peasant hesitated for a long time, but comparing the two regimes by experience, he finally supported the Bolshevik side.
In Spain the Stalinists, who lead the chorus from on high, have advanced the formula to which Caballero, president of the cabinet, also adheres: First military victory, and then social reform. I consider this formula fatal for the Spanish revolution. Not seeing the radical differences between the two programs in reality, the toiling masses, above all the peasants, fall into indifference. In these conditions, fascism will inevitably win, because the purely military advantage is on its side. Audacious social reforms represent the strongest weapon in the civil war and the fundamental condition for the victory over fascism.
The policies of Stalin, who has always revealed himself as an opportunist in revolutionary situations, are dictated by a fear of frightening the French bourgeoisie, above all the “200 families” against whom the French Popular Front long ago declared war—on paper. Stalin’s policies in Spain repeat not so much Kerensky’s policies in 1917 as they do the policies of Ebert-Scheidemann in the German revolution of 1918. Hitler’s victory was the punishment for the policies of Ebert-Scheidemann. In Germany the punishment was delayed for fifteen years. In Spain it can come in less than fifteen months.
However, would not the social and political victory of the Spanish workers and peasants mean European war? Such prophecies, dictated by reactionary cowardice, are radically false. If fascism wins in Spain, France will find itself caught in a vise from which it will not be able to withdraw. Franco’s dictatorship would mean the unavoidable acceleration of European war, in the most difficult conditions for France. It is useless to add that a new European war would bleed the French people to the last drop and lead it into its decline, and by the same token would deal a terrible blow to all humanity.
On the other hand, the victory of the Spanish workers and peasants would undoubtedly shake the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. Thanks to their hermetic, totalitarian character, the fascist regimes produce an impression of unshakable firmness. Actually, at the first serious test they will be the victims of internal explosions. The victorious Russian revolution sapped the strength of the Hohenzollern regime. The victorious Spanish revolution will undermine the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini. For that reason alone the victory of the Spanish workers and peasants will reveal itself at once as a powerful force for peace.
The task of the true Spanish revolutionists consists in strengthening and reinforcing the military front, in demolishing the political tutelage of the Soviet bureaucracy, in giving a bold social program to the masses, in assuring thereby the victory of the revolution and, precisely in that way, upholding the cause of peace. Therein alone lies the salvation of Europe!