Monday, January 15, 2007



Arms for Spain

By A B Elsbury

The slogan “Arms for Spain” has been an extremely popular one in all the democratic countries since the inception of the Spanish Civil War. It has been shouted with great enthusiasm, not only in working class demonstrations of the Labour, Socialist and Communist parties, but also in those of the liberal and other democratic parties. It has been publicised in the press of these parties, on the hoardings, on banners, in every possible form. It conveyed not only the sympathy of its users with the Spanish Popular Front Government in its war against Franco and his allies, but was represented as a programme for this government.

How does the fascist Franco maintain the fight against the legitimate Spanish Government?

“Obviously by means of his access to superior armaments from the hands of his fascist allies, combined with the deprivation of arms to the government forces resulting from the application of the non-intervention agreement on the part of the democratic countries. Such is the background of the slogan “Arms for Spain”, one of the most popular international slogans since the famous “War to End War”.

Is it a good slogan from the point of view of the workers, whether Spanish, British or International? Does it represent their attitude and objectives? Is it likely to further the interests of the workers in Spain or elsewhere? Did it furnish a means of attacking the fascist enemies of the workers in Spain and I other countries?

An answer to these questions is of vital importance to the working class movement in its fight for working class power and socialism. If the slogan is a fitting one judged by this criterion, it should be supported. If not, it should be mercilessly exposed. Let us examine it in this light.

Would a sufficiency of arms have brought victory to the Spanish government? This is the major question posed by the slogan “Arms for Spain”, and upon its answer depends the correctness or error of the movements which supported it. The question is one of the utmost seriousness and its answer is by no means as simple as has been assumed. Let us preface our reply by an extract from one of the master tacticians in revolutionary strategy in 1919 as follows:-

“How can we explain the miracle that the Soviet power has managed to maintain itself for two years in a backward, impoverished and war-weary country, in spite of the obstinate struggle waged against it, at first by German imperialism, which at that time was regarded as omnipotent, and then by the imperialism of the Entente… Regarded from the standpoint of a simple calculation of forces, of a calculation of military strength, that is indeed a miracle, for the Entente was, and is, immeasurably more powerful than we… We have deprived the Entente of its soldiers. We replied to its immense military and technical superiority, thanks to the solidarity of the toilers against the imperialist governments”.

(Lenin, Selected Works, Vol 1. VIII, pp. 51 and 54).

Lenin here, with his usual acuteness, brings an entirely different outlook to the problem. “Military and technical superiority” are by no means “things in themselves” to him, and with the overwhelming example of the Russian revolution to support his thesis, he proves what has been proved a thousand times in history in a practical manner.

From the days of the Spartacist revolt in ancient Rome up to the time of the French revolutionary wars and also in the Boer War and Irish struggle, innumerable examples are to be found of the definite superiority of unarmed and semi-armed masses over highly equipped mercenary forces, providing their morale is superior. Dependence on military superiority is a fetish of the brainless militarists and is, in fact, being abandoned by the most modern military statesmen - themselves taught their lesson most painfully and efficiently by Lenin and Trotsky, in the years 1918-1921. We declare categorically that the answer to the question we have posed is a decided negative. Franco is not winning by reason of his superiority of arms, and the reason must be sought elsewhere.

“Even the best arms are useless”, admits a Fascist military strategist, “if nobody is willing and able to use them”. (Maj. Gen. Franke, quoted in “Germany, Poland, World Empire or World Revolution” by G. Reimann).

A striking illustration of this point comes with the news of the fall of Barcelona that “100 modern American machine-guns were actually found by the fascists in their crates UNPACKED!” (Workers International News” Feb 1939). Of the vast stores of other equipment similarly found we shall not speak (the 10 million gallons of petrol, for example) the main point we wish to make here being that the Spanish Government, despite its undoubted deficiencies in war material, possessed a vast supremacy in man power, combined with equipment far in excess of the Bolsheviks of Russia during the years 1918-21.

We thus see that lack of arms is not the explanation for the Spanish debacle, nor the explanation for its major cause, the lack of morale, to which alone it can be attributed.

This was known before hand by most of the organisations responsible for, and participating in the “Arms for Spain” movement, and obviously by the Communist International, for whom the lessons of the Russian Revolution and the works of Lenin should have been a guide.

On the official communist parties of the world rests the heaviest responsibility for this pernicious slogan. These parties, trained in Leninism knew without question the menace which was involved in the specious and lying formula “Arms for Spain”.

They knew that the slogan took responsibility for the Spanish conflict away from the workers’ movement, Spanish and international, and placed it on the shoulders of their class enemies, the Chamberlains, Hitlers and Mussolinis, whose capitalist responsibility is implicit and inherent. To blame the tiger for acting as it must is almost the limit in idiocy.

They knew that “Arms for Spain” divorced the workers from real activity on behalf of the Spanish workers and forced them instead into empty parliamentary phrase-mongering against their political governments for futile demands for “recognition”.

They knew that “Arms for Spain” was mere claptrap which meant no solidarity with the workers of Spain, but did mean solidarity with the Liberals and other anti-Socialist enemies of the workers who took up the cry enthusiastically - precisely because it involved only polite, parliamentary “demands” which they themselves, when in power, would certainly refuse.

All this both the Communists and their allies have known. “Arms for Spain” provided a brilliant and resounding phrase which served as an attractive façade behind which they could act as a “Popular Front” towards the workers, exuding their sympathy - and even a few thousands of surplus cash, some of which has filtered into selected channels in Spain. Of working class action, a minimum, of sympathy, a surplus, of real explanation of the Spanish situation, a complete albescence.

Of the real facts of Spain, from a workers’ standpoint, we have space here for only an outline.

When Franco revolted against a Popular Front Government on June 17th 1936 that government for the space of 48 hours refused to arm the workers and even attempted to allay their alarm with lying communiqués.

The workers of Madrid and Catalonia, mainly syndicalist, took up arms and themselves drove out the fascists and along with them their big employers and landlords. A revolutionary situation developed. Factories were occupied , land was seized, the sole power was that of the workers and peasants. The morale of these workers and peasants was invincible. With bare hands, often, they faced the misled troops, fraternised with them, and enrolled them in the workers’ army. The “heroic” government came to Catalonia and pleaded for assistance from the triumphant workers’ organisations. Instead of booting them out as Kerensky was kicked out, the workers’ leaders, Anarchist, POUM, (equivalent to the British ILP) and Communist, agreed to collaborate with them and even to join them. Gradually the workers’ revolution was sabotaged, more and more power was relinquished to the government, mainly at the insistence of the Communists (whose revolutionary reputation based on the Russian Revolution was still effective). Gradually the period of “Dual Power” (Workers’ Government and state machine) ended in favour of the state. The workers learned gradually through the Government, Communist and even Anarchist press that they were fighting for a “democratic” Government and not for a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic. All the leaders who had doubts about it were arrested, kidnapped or shot by the police who were now under Communist Party control. Durutti, Bernieri, Nin, Erwin Wolff, etc. the prisons were filled with Anarchists and Socialists, many of whom were foreigners who had come to fight for the Spanish revolution as so many fought for Russia in 1918-21. The voluntary army which had freed Catalonia completely from the fascist hordes and displayed the initiative which had produced the Russian “miracle” of which Lenin speaks was formalised, at Communist Party insistence, (!) into a capitalist military force with the usual accompaniments of well-paid officers and poorly paid privates, salutes, etc. The morale of the army slumped and the period of fascist triumphs commenced. The land and factories were taken back from the workers and peasants and restored to the returning landlords and owners who had been reassured by the government of their “democratic” rights of property. The Moors who had been the spearhead of the fascist attack, and who could have been converted into allies or at least neutralised by a declaration of Moroccan independence by the Government, were used as tools by Franco and almost eliminated in front line fighting. City after City fell without a shot into Franco’s hands, even the impregnable Bilbao. And now comes the fall of Barcelona in the first chapter of the “democratic” as opposed to the revolutionary fight against Franco.

Once again the bitter lesson is being learned that the alternative of “Fascism versus democracy”, the Stalinist and liberal slogan, is as false as its kindred slogan of “Arms to Spain“. It leads everywhere to defeat, outrage and slaughter of the workers. Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and now Spain give the irrevocable answers. The alternative is not between black slavery and pink slavery, between open fascism and disguised democratic fascism. The alternative is Fascism (in all its forms) versus Socialism.

Despite all the lies of renegade socialists and communists, the lessons of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky must be hammered home to the only class which can fight fascism, the working class. Not only theoretically but practically this is the finding of history. As Reimann proves, “A proletarian revolutionises military strategy and tactics, because the soldiers of a revolutionary army, who know how to handle modern machines and arms, know at the same time what they are fighting and dying for.

When the Workers fight for themselves instead of for capitalist myths then, and then only, are they irresistible. Socialism is the only hope. All else is illusion.

Revolutionary Booklets no. 1
Published by Revolutionary Socialist League, 20/2/39
Pioneer Bookshop, 268 Upper Street, Islington.

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The quote from Lenin is a bit mendacious however, as the survival of the Soviet republic was based upon forging a modern army.

During the Risssian Civil war Trotsky damned this approach of relying upon the class struggle to defend the republic, and instead argued "against artillery, only artillery is effective".
True, of course, but I think you are being unfair to Elsbury whose point, in my estimation, is not that irregular forces can prevail over regular troops at all. Rather he is arguing that only be relying on working methods of struggle can fascism be defeated. Hispamphlet should be seen in the context of the more general propaganda that the Bolshevik leninists carried out at the time against the class collaborationism of the Popular Front.
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