Could a CNT-UGT Alliance Have Won the Spanish Civil War?

Based on his experiences as a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War from late summer 1936 to early 1937, Franz Borkenau’s The Spanish Cockpit gives a sympathetic but critical view of the various Left and liberal factions — with a focus on anarchists in the CNT-FAI, the non-Stalinist but Marxist POUM, the Stalinist CP, and the socialists in the UGT. In his conclusion, he gives an interesting assessment about how the out-gunned Spanish republic could have defeated Franco’s alliance of fascists and others on the Far Right (although he doubts even this would be workable due to what he saw as the real desires of the Spanish people).

“To-day the communists in Spain combine both the revolutionary centralization of Robespierre and the Thermidorian policy of his successors. They make a dictatorship, but it is a dictatorship not in favour of the revolutionary classes. Such a policy could not last for a fortnight if republican Spain had to live on the enthusiastic support of the people; it can last, and will doubtless continue to last, because the Spanish people have failed to make their own revolution efficient. The Trotskyists, who complain so bitterly about this result, must blame themselves for it. In fact, they are even more to blame than any other group. They have, in their mechanical repetition of formulae from books about Marxism and the Russian revolution, been unable to create a mass movement at all. Anarchists and socialists at least succeeded in doing that. But probably in this case, as in so many others, it is superficial to blame individual groups and leaders at all.

Had the Trotskyists in Spain not been dogmatic Marxists of foreign inspiration, they would have been nearer to Spanish realities. But then they would have been a genuinely Spanish movement, which is to say they would have been exactly like those socialists and anarchists who have so conspicuously not succeeded. From whatever aspect the problems of the Spanish revolution are treated, from whatever starting-point discussed, the final result is always that things might have been otherwise provided that—Spain were not Spain. Had the Spaniards been able to create a revolutionary movement strong enough to beat a counter-revolution armed with European arms, then Russian help would have been superfluous, then things would have taken another turn, then socialists and anarchists would have gradually merged into one single revolutionary party, backed by the spontaneous enthusiasm of both workers and peasants; they would have won the war, and created a new order of things, less dictatorial, more humane and more progressive than the present Russian regime.”

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Source: Franz Borkenau, The Spanish Cockpit: An Eye-Witness Account of the Political and Social Conflicts of the Spanish Civil War, “Conclusions” chapter; originally published 1937.


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