War and Revolution


The Spanish Republic was born in April 1931 out of a political revolution that was almost peaceable. A Spanish Socialist leader recognised that this revolution 'no habia removido las entranas del pais.' The mass of the people were deceived by the Republic which was not given any social consolidation since it did not give land to the peasants. The agrarian reform voted for by the Cortes dragged on from scheme to scheme and was applied in homeopathic doses.

In October 1934, an Andalusian peasant represented several million of his fellows when he said to Bertrand de Jouvenel, "The Socialists promised us land. We are told that the application of agrarian reform is a very complicated business. And we are still working for three pesetas a day."

The Republic had equally deceived the mass of the people in the towns. When Ernest Toller asked a Catalan worker what he thought of the Republic, he received the following very significant response, "It's just the old dog with a new collar."

A Republic that showed itself determined to improve social conditions would have been politically strong enough not to fear a Fascist insurrection. The Republic did not protect capitalist interests solidly enough; no more did it encourage the emancipation of the proletariat; it has historically been the accomplice of Fascism in its obstinacy in searching for a compromise by means of governmental groupings instead of consolidating its position by means of firm, Socialist policies.

When the Fascist insurrection broke out, the Republic had succeeded in politically polarising all the progressive trade union organisations and parties solely because it appeared free of obvious reactionary infiltration, as the only line of defence behind which the attack on conservative forces could be sustained. It was the State that was accepted more than the Government. It appeared to be an indispensable organ of liaison between the various organisations of defence and the new administrative bodies, and also as a regulating and unifying centre for the diverse left-wing political forces.

Beneath this apparent union, a deep split persisted. On the one hand there were the 'loyalists', simply Republicans and more or less progressive. Close to them were the Social Democrats for whom the struggle between Fascism and the Social Revolution could be reduced to a war between Fascism and anti-fascism. On the other hand one could find the anarchists and the cream of the proletariat, both convinced that the instruction, 'to win the war' only had any real meaning as an indication of an immediate aim. Achieving this aim was a vital absolute necessity for all the left-wing parties and for all the trade union organisations; it was also the condition for the political and social progress of the whole nation. But that did not mean that the Social Revolution had to be limited to a war 'between Madrid and Burgos', to a war 'between the Republic of Azana and the government of Franco.'

The 'war' is in Spain a 'civil war,' that is a political and social armed struggle. And it is this all the more from the fact that it is not a matter there of straightforward factions fighting among themselves and having few contacts with the life of the masses. This event has none of the characteristics of a fight in hermetic isolation. A struggle between the supporters of Franco and the supporters of Azana could have presented enough analogies in which the social conquests of Catalonia, Aragon and the Levant have been started; with this struggle in which the winners will transform the whole life of the nation following a pre-determined political and social direction; with this struggle which could not end in a retreat of troops, but only in the exodus of the conquered.

The nature and extent of the conflict, its modes of development, the inevitable conditions of its resolution are such that the features of this armed struggle are those of 'war,' but that its essence is that of the 'Social Revolution.'

The proletariat is engaged in a struggle with the bourgeoisie while the high clergy and the military class are waging war on it, 'money provides the sinews of war' as the French say.

The economic burden of the war can no longer be born by the bourgeoisie; a new 'war economy' must therefore be stressed. An indispensable condition of a powerful 'industry of war' is a 'war economy' which to exist as an economy must have as its aim and as its essential raison d'etre widespread usefulness.

Financial and monetary problems, like all other economic problems, can not be solved 'in economic terms' without damaging the interests of certain social classes. However, we must not, under the pretext of the necessity of winning the war, fall to the opposite extreme from the conservatives, into Socialist extremism which would not take its inspiration from the necessities of the armed struggle but from the formulae and programmes whose achievement is very far off.

The most fruitful position is the 'centrist' position. I am going to depend, in order to avoid all ambiguity, on a clear example. I think that the socialisation of large and medium scale industry is a 'necessity of the war' and an indispensable creation of 'the economy of war.' Certain anti-fascists are as much persuaded of this as I am, but they are not as a matter of principle collectivists. By supporting the 'current necessity' of the socialisation of large and medium-scale industry, I shall have on my side these anti fascists who will consent to it and will eventually come to assist.

I have, on the other hand, many reservations about the socialisation of small scale industry with regard to the 'necessities of the war' end I am obliged to enter into dispute with comrades who would want to extend industrial socialisation to its maximum.

I call my position 'centrist.' On my right I have those who are opposed to socialisation, on my left those who favour it absolutely and who have maximalist tendencies; in the centre I find myself in the company of all the collectivists who think like me and of plain anti-fascists, who retaining the belief that the creation of a firm war economy is indispensable, think that one of the principal factors of this economy is the socialisation of large and medium-scale industry. The centrist position does not take account solely of the strictly economic and current reasons which militate in favour of tolerance as regards the petty bourgeoisie, but it also takes account of psychological reasons.

The Russian petty bourgeoisie fought on the side of the proletariat from 1917 to 1920; during the insurrection of March and April 1920 in the Ruhr, the petty bourgeoisie took part in the struggle against Kapp and against the black Reichswehr; in October 1934 in Madrid and in Catalonia the petty bourgeoisie again took an active part in the insurrection, and it was the same in the Asturian insurrection. Today while we are fighting against Fascism, we must remember that if the peasants who were deceived by the failed agrarian reform participated only weakly in the Spanish Socialist insurrection of October 1934, it was the armed intervention of the Rabassaires (vine-growers' association) which in July 1936 was one of the principal factors in the defeat of Fascism in Catalonia.

Between the conservative declarations of Caballero and certain doctrinally maximalist criticisms of the opportunism of the CNT and the FAI, I believe that we must in a fair and timely fashion give a place to a straight forwardly rational solution to the problems of the 'war economy.'

Such a restatement will certainly not suffice to set up bridges between us and the POUM on the one hand and the controlling groups of the PSUC on the other. But it will be able to facilitate a sincere and active understanding among all true anti-fascists, and secondly will allow a more intimate collaboration among all those who are sincerely Socialists.

Article which appeared in 'Guerra di Class' No. 13, 21st March 1936[7?].


Translation published in 'The Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review' Number 4, 1978


Writings by Camillo Berneri

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