Outcast Spain

By Albert Weisbord

Anyone entering Spain today cannot but be impressed with the immense isolation of the Spanish people. The Pyrenees seem almost to constitute a natural cordon sanitaire shutting off their struggle from the everyday life which people elsewhere are leading. While in Spain, one is carried away on the current of the social upheavals. Everywhere there is the feeling of living dramatic moments in history. There is struggle and sacrifice, unbelievable heroism and constructive effort as well as devastation and horror. But once over the Pyrenees, back in Paris or Brussels or London, indifference to the Spanish struggle surrounds one on all sides.

The average Frenchman is all agog over the International Paris Exposition, but the battles going on just to the South of him, which may vitally effect the history of his own country, do not move him. And inevitably the scenes just witnessed in Spain - the ragged men and women, the great shell holes left by the bombardments and the bloody remnants of the victims, the banners of working class organizations everywhere, the collectivized factories and the soldiers in the trenches - all this great drama of life recedes into an unreality from which it is difficult to recall it. One leaves Spain determined to shout loudly and everywhere the terrible need of the Spanish people. But elsewhere in Europe one must hunt for an echo to one's voice. The fact is the People's Front and liberal coalition governments that exist in Western Europe have concentrated their efforts to channelize public opinion on strictly national problems.

It might be supposed that the People's Front administration of France would extend help to the Spanish Loyalists apparently so close to French conceptions of democracy. Such help would not violate international custom. On the contrary, tradition has long sanctioned the aid of one government to another friendly to it, though not conferring the right to aid a rebellion against the friendly power. Such mutual assistance would appear all the more to be expected when both countries are part of the League of Nations. The French government, however, at a very early stage, was one of the initiators of a neutrality pact to blockade Spain and to treat both sides on an equal footing. The effect of this agreement has been considerably to further General Franco's fight to obtain recognition from world powers as the representative of a regular government.

French neutrality has not merely closed down vigourously and tightly on all volunteers into Leftist Spain, although the overwhelming and decisive number of volunteers would have come from the working class and peasantry of France to help the cause of Spanish democracy. More than that, under cover of the international blockade, the French government is actually bending far over in the other direction to help the fascist side. We cite some examples given to us in Spain. In April, when thirty six German planes flew from Hanover over French territory to reach Burgos there was no protest from France. When, however, three Spanish government planes were blown by storms in the Pyrenees over the French border, their planes were confiscated and the aviators imprisoned. This action must be contrasted with what happened several months ago when Italian military planes were forced to come down in French North Africa territory and were released with full arms. And when a Junker plane made a forced landing in Madrid, the French government put pressure on the Spanish for the release of the plane so that it could proceed to its destination in Franco's territory.

There is no question as to the attitude of the officers of the French Navy, many of whom are members of the Action Francaise, a French fascistic organization. Nor is there much ambiguity in the activity of the French diplomatic service when the French Ambassador, since the siege of Madrid, has seen fit to install himself not at Madrid or Valencia but on the Western border of France close to fascist Spain. At one time the papers of practically all the groups in Spain (for example, La Vanguardia, the Barcelona Generality paper, Solidaridad Obrera, Syndicalist organ, Dia Graphica, republican mouthpiece, and Espagna Socialista, Socialist paper) published a series of exposures proving that the French consuls at Barcelona and Alicante were the open agents of Franco and that the French consulates were guilty of selling passports admitting Spanish reactionaries into France. The officials of the French government could hold up a Spanish ship at Dakar, Africa. Its officers had wanted to turn the ship over to the fascists, but the sailors had mutinied and imprisoned the officers and were going to return the ship to the Spanish government. Similar consideration of Franco prompted the French government to ask that general's permission before evacuating the children from Bilbao. However, when women and children were being bombed to death in the terrible massacre at the open town of Guernica, the French spokesmen actually were open to the insinuation that the town had been bombed by the Loyalist forces themselves, in spite of the overwhelming testimony connecting the cohorts of Franco to the crime.

Presumably, the blockade does not affect material such as food supplies that can not be used for military purpose. Yet the French regime prevented the departure of the ship, Le Sarastore from Bordeaux with food for Bilbao. And although the Spanish government had shipped several hundred million dollars worth of gold to be stored in France, this money, evidently, could not buy food for Catalonia. For I was able to see, while in Barcelona, the bread lines, the milk lines, the tobacco lines, the poor quality and meager quantity of all food, the lack of soap, olive oil, charcoal, adequate medical supplies, etc.

I quote here a comparative table of prices of some articles of necessity published in Solidaridad Obrera on Friday, May 21st (1937).

June, 1936 May, 1937

Outside wheat, sack of 60 kilos 26 pesetas 106 pesetas

Outside No. 4 flour, sack of 60 kilos 44 p. 126 p.

Corn, sack of 100 kilos 50 p. 130 p.

Barley flour, sack of 100 kilos 38 p. 135 p.

Red beet pulp, 1,000 kilograms 300 p. 700 p.

These items are representative of the general rise in prices, those given being really an underestimation of the actual market conditions.

So great was the need for food, that on April 14th serious food riots broke out in Barcelona. From early morning until late at night in the market districts and in front of the Generality office impressive demonstrations against the increase of food prices were staged. In some places the merchant's stocks were overturned and destroyed in the course of the fighting that ensued. There is no question, too, that the lack of food contributed mightily to the fall of Bilbao.

The attitude of France and England, however surprising at first sight, is, after all, easily explained in regard to the new Spanish Republic. To begin with, the chief capital investments of these countries in Spain were made in the days of the old regime. French and British capitalists are not so sure now that the Republic will treat them as handsomely as did Alphonso. The modernization of Spain under the Republic will mean the rise of a native capitalist class of far greater power than hitherto, a class that strives to liberate itself from the semi-imperialist bondage that British capital, above all, has been able to impose upon Spain. A modern capitalist Spain may mean the fortification of the sea coast opposite Gibralter and the consequent end of British domination of the Straights there, a vital link in Britain's imperialist policy. Britain can always look at Mexico for an example of how Spanish-speaking capitalism can modernize itself.

But what weighs even more heavily upon the minds of the politicians controlling affairs in Western Europe is the fact that by no means is there any guarantee that the Spanish Revolution will "stay put" at the present level. There is the constant fear that the Valencia government will not be able to deal with the revolutionary workers who, under the leadership of the Anarcho-Syndicalists and the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (P.O.U.M.) may try to take the power and set up a workers' rule confiscating all capital investment in Spain. If the Valencia regime really forms a dependable army of its own headed by "responsible" officers, if it disarms the workers and drives them out of the factories they have taken over, the attitude of France and England will change considerably.

The role of the Soviet Union in Spanish affairs has been equally decisive with that of the democratic countries of Western Europe. Although not actively on watch in the Mediterranean, Russia is also part of the blockade. Before the blockade, Russia sent arms and equipment to Spain. Russian tanks, Russian airplanes and Russian aviators did much to stave off the advance of Franco in the beginning. But none of this stuff was donated by the Russians. I was assured by officials high in the Spanish government, who, of course, did not want to be quoted, that they had paid in gold the full price of everything sent and furthermore, that some of the equipment had been stuff of inferior quality which the Russians had evidently wanted to get rid of.

While I was in Barcelona, a huge campaign was being launched by the Generality of Catalonia to raise money to pay for the Russian ship, Komsomol, that had been sunk while delivering supplies to Spain. In the heart of the city, over the broad avenue of Las Ramblas and facing Plaza Catalunya was an enormous banner calling on the people of Spain to give money for this purpose. Committees were spread all over the city asking the poorest worker to contribute his share. And this at a time when the people could scarcely obtain bread and milk and were in dire need, embattled on all sides by fascist forces that had launched their bombs on that very city.

I asked myself how far the Russian Revolution would have got, during the bitter days of intervention from 1918 to 1921, had the European workers insisted on being paid for all the help they gave the Russians then. In America everywhere I had been given the impression that the Russian regime was the true friend of popular Spain. Yet, here in Barcelona, I saw miserably poor Spaniards whose wage of ten to fifteen pesetas a day was barely sufficient to keep them alive, coerced to give their money to repay the cost of the ship that rich Russia, with its Five Year Plans - which had supposedly built Socialism in one country all by itself - had lost in sending supplies to aid the people of Spain in fighting Russia's fascist enemies.

In return for even this aid that Russia was giving, the Spaniards had been forced to make concessions in policy to Stalinist ideas. Thanks to Russian aid, the Communist Party of Spain had grown from a tiny sect to a great party of over three hundred thousand members with decisive influence in the government. It was Russian influence that kept Spain in the League of Nations and allied to France and England. Only when the Loyalist government had pledged itself to drive the representatives of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, who stood for the proletarian revolution, out of all posts of influence and to use its efforts to disarm the Anarcho-Syndicalists did Russia consent to allow the supplies of arms that were at hand to be unloaded in Spanish ports. Premier Caballero, before being ousted, is reported to have said "I can do nothing. Russia demands complete curbing of the P.O.U.M. as the price of military aid which we must have." Russian influence in Spain has been as decisive as it was in China in the days of Borodin's alliance with Chiang Kai Shek in 1926-1927.

Thus we have the paradox of the leading functionaries of the Russian Revolution using their influence and prestige to prevent the development of a similar Spanish Revolution to the end where the workers will triumph. The Soviets of Russia become instruments to forestall the formation of Soviets in Spain. The Russian Stalinists who preach the possibility of building Socialism in one country (as if there would not be interference from the international community) are doing their utmost to reach beyond the limits of their own land to stop the creation of a Socialist regime in a country a thousand miles away.

It is entirely superfluous to discuss the well-known aid of the fascist countries to monarchist Spain. The Spanish government has published a White Book on the subject filled with irrefutable facts obtained from prisoners captured by the Loyalists. Even after Germany and Italy joined the non-intervention commission it is notorious that Franco has never been in need of artillery, airplanes, tanks and the equipment and men that go with them. But I have visited the front line trenches on the Aragon Front near Huesca where Loyalist soldiers had been supposed to hold the lines with twenty cartridges each, with no bayonets, with no bombs, with no cannon, with no tanks, with no airplanes, with about three per cent of the material that the situation urgently called for.

Truly the bleeding people of Spain can rely on no foreign government as their real friend in this parlous period of international rivalry. Each country that meddles in Spain has its own selfish ulterior motives to carry out. Not one of them will hesitate for a moment to use the Spanish people as pawns in their own lust for world power.