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Spain and Peace
By Howard Fast
How will people describe Spain when the story of our time is told? Are there cold facts, figures, statistics to measure the heart of the Spanish people, to define their passionate love for freedom, to measure their dignity, to weigh their strength? It is such a long time since the Spanish struggle began that sometimes it seems as if all our lives have been lived against the background of their unending resistance. And as so many here in America surrender their consciences, the role of the Spanish people becomes even more glorious and more accusing of those who abandoned them.
Spain fights on, and in those three words there is a miracle. It is my purpose here to tell something about this miracle and what it means to us; for there is no question but that it has meaning. There is no Spanish worker, professional, intellectual or peasant who strikes a blow for freedom without our being intimately concerned. We must understand this.
On the 12th of March, in 1951, an event occurred in Spain that was without precedent in our era. That is a good point to begin any story about Spain today.
Yet there must be a background.
You cannot simply say that on the 12th of March, 300,000 Spanish workers downed their tools in one of the strangest, most militant and most glorious strikes of modern times. It wasn't simply a strike in the terms we know and understand. It was a strike in a land where strikes had been outlawed for years, a land of terror, fascist dictatorship, a land of the firing squad, the whip and the concentration camp.
Yet in this land for two days and for two nights, beginning in the early morning of March 12th, 300,000 strikers paralyzed the industrial and commercial life of Barcelona, Badalona, Sabadel, Tarrassa, Mataro, Pueblo Nuevo, and other Catalonian cities.
Anyone who has ever participated in a strike knows that such things cannot arise spontaneously. They must be planned, calculated, deliberated upon, organized down to the last detail. How does one plan, deliberate, organize, and lead such a mighty movement as this in a land which has lived under the official hood of fascist darkness for twelve years? The answer is contained in the great heart and soul and the indomitable spirit of the Spanish people.
THE SPANISH PEOPLE AND AMERICA
One cannot write, even in passing, about Spain and the Spanish struggle without linking it with America. There is a mighty interconnection in man's struggle for freedom, a singleness of purpose and endeavor which binds together those who struggle for human liberation, whatever land they live in, whatever tongue they speak, whatever race bears them. But particularly is this true of the Spanish struggle and the place it occupies in the hearts of the American people. The Lincoln Brigade, enlisted here in the United States, and which went to fight on the soil of Spain—so many of them to die on the soil of Spain in the cause of Spanish freedom—was not an accident of history. Quite to the contrary: the Lincoln Brigade was part of the deepest and the most splendid logic of the history of the United States. It was proof apparent and proof absolute that the heritage of American freedom was part of the heritage of all free men, and this proof was spelled out in blood and signed with the death of many gallant young Americans.
There is hardly a town or hamlet in all of our land that did not give one of its sons to this unforgettable group. And when Franco, like a bloated spider who feasts on human blood and human hopes, took over with the aid of Hitler and Mussolini the whole of Spain, the cause of the Spanish people was not forgotten here in America. When the monstrous hoax of "non-intervention" was invented by the governments of the West, including our own, to prevent the Spanish Republic from buying arms to defend itself against this aggression of fascism, the cause of Spain had become woven into the fabric of our lives. It was deeply understood by the simplest and most isolated of Americans—because it was a cause akin to that for which their own ancestors had fought and died in their own struggles for liberation.
In the years that followed, a national organization was created to bring aid and relief to the hundreds of thousands of Spanish fighters, workers and intellectuals and mothers and children too, who had never laid down their arms, never surrendered, but had fled across the Pyrenees into southern France—so that at some future time they might fight again in the cause of freedom. This organization became known as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, and for a full decade it has occupied a singular and fine place in American history. It was an organization which involved in its work tens of thousands of the best Americans. It built hospitals; it sent an unending flow of medical supplies, food and clothing to the Spanish Republican exiles. But more importantly even than these very important things, it has kept alive in the hearts of the American people the glory and the wonder of Spanish resistance to tyranny.
For many years I had the honor to be associated with the executive board of this committee. To them as to me, it was no surprise when in 1946 the Government instituted its present terror with an attack against the board members of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee. In the years that followed, our case became internationally known, and many thousands of the American people came to our support. In spite of this, we were sentenced to prison; and thirteen of us served prison terms because we had persisted in the cause of Spain's freedom.
I mention this in terms of the continuity I spoke of before. The Spanish struggle and the American struggle are inseparable. Since the first moves of the House Committee on Un-American Activities against the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, a whole series of actions—calculated actions—have been instituted by the Truman government to build and cement an alliance between Franco Spain and the United States of America.
Today as I write, this alliance is quite complete. American military and economic missions are swarming all over Spain, checking on bases, reviewing Falangist troop maneuvers, studying plants, mines, statistics. Airfields have been built in every corner of the land and ports on all coasts have been widened and modernized—under U.S. military direction. American money pours into Spain in an endless stream so that Franco and his satraps may live in ease and comfort, regardless of how their people suffer. And through the less direct labyrinth of high finance, American corporations have won commanding positions in the Spanish fields of petroleum, the production and distribution of electric power, the communications and transportation systems and the production of strategic metals—tungsten, zinc, wolfram, mercury and aluminum. Before World War II the Nazis controlled the chemical, pharmaceutical and metallurgical industries of Spain; today control of these industries has passed to their conquerors, the Americans. Slowly, the British and French beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan are being pushed out of their monopolist positions in Spain.
Today the American people are told that this unspeakable, and once unthinkable, alliance is for the benefit of America. Today the American people are assured that turning Franco Spain into one vast fortress is a defense against war; that Franco, the vile creature of fascism who knows only how to war against his people and their freedoms, has become a custodian of world peace.
Twelve years, however, is not long enough for the American people to forget. The butcher Franco survived his two allies, Hitler and Mussolini, but who can forget the aid and comfort he gave them during the second world war when the Spanish Blue Division fought in the ranks of the Nazi army? Who can forget how he was the eyes and ears of the Nazi Luftwaffe and submarines that sank our ships and our men in the Mediterranean, or how he supplied the Nazi war machine with vital materials during history's greatest war? The memories of men are not so short.
When Spain's despot is enlisted to aid our country defend freedom in the fastnesses of the Pyrenees, we must ask, insistently and endlessly, what kind of freedom and for whom? For our own sake, we must know with certainty the aim of this American scheme to outdo the British and make of all Spain a Gibraltar. We must know why Franco is so accommodating and why Washington is so willing to "let bygones be bygones."
The Spanish people are not disposed to let bygones be bygones. A cry of pain, a cry of suffering comes unbearably from the Spanish soil. But above it comes a fierce shout of resistance, and we would be fools and traitors to the cause of human freedom if we did not hear this too.
A LAND OF MISERY AND POVERTY
What is the situation in Spain itself? It is important that we know, for the truth of Spain is the most naked truth in all the world, and Spanish fascism is the symbol of fascism everywhere. The story of the Spanish struggle thereby becomes a symbolic story for all people who hate fascism and love freedom.
I spoke before of the great general strike that began in Barcelona and spread from there to the other important cities in Spain. This strike was touched off by a streetcar fare increase in Barcelona. But behind that are many years of slow starvation and indescribable misery. Poverty in Spain has been cumulative, and not only is the poverty of the average Spaniard greater, but there are more poor, proportionately, in Spain than in any other European country. This is the result of 12 years of looting on the part of Franco and his henchmen. The damage of their bombs during the civil war has not been repaired even to this day. There are not enough hospitals in Spain even for one-tenth of its population. The rate of tuberculosis is the highest, and illiteracy is more prevalent than anywhere in Europe.
Travelers in Spain are at a loss to describe the misery and the suffering of the people. Two-thirds of the Spanish population has neither plumbing nor electricity. And in many parts of Spain, children are denied even the most minimum clothing.
In Barcelona, for example, an unskilled worker pays half of his day's wages for a loaf of bread. To buy two pounds of average beef he must work 14 hours, but since meat can be bought only in the black market, it is beyond the reach of most Spaniards. The official prices quoted by the government have gone up 700 per cent since 1945, and had already gone up perhaps as much as that during the war years; for the black market prices, you can double the quoted one. After 12 years of fascist rule, the Spanish people still live under a system of food rationing, including bread, that sanctifies starvation.
During the early years of his regime, Franco waged a savage campaign to smash the working class of Spain and its organizations. There was never a day, never a night when the firing squad was not active somewhere in Spain. The best and the finest leaders of the Spanish working class were driven into exile or put to death. At one point some five years ago, there were literally hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants in the jails and concentration camps of Spain. Free trade unions became unlawful, strikes were outlawed, membership in all opposition political parties and the Masonic Order was punishable by death, and the public practice of religion, other than Catholic, was forbidden.
Within this context one understands that the Spanish struggle is a miracle of human resistance and valor. The horror of Spain and the bestiality of Franco become a background for the courage and glory of the Spanish people.
Four years before, on May 1, 1947, a strike was called in Bilbao which involved 50,000 workers. This strike was crushed with the fiercest repressive measures, and dozens of the workers involved were put to death. But the lessons of this strike were carefully learned. While the workers faced torture and firing squads, the guerrilla movement in other sections of the country struck again and again at the Franco civil guards.
Bit by bit the partisan bands in the countryside, in the mountains, increased their strength. For the next two years Spanish partisan groups carried out raids in Galicia, Exstre-madura, Andalucia, Santander, Valencia and Catalonia.
In the cities, the workers set out to build a solid front which would include every section of the Spanish population except those within the Franco dictatorship. At the end of 1949 more than 3,000 taxi drivers in Madrid went on strike. During the 12 months preceding the great general strike of Barcelona, small, isolated strikes broke out in city after city throughout Spain.
The Barcelona general strike began with a boycott of streetcars, an action that forced cancellation of the fare increase. On underground presses, tens of thousands of leaflets were printed and distributed. Posters denouncing the Franco regime appeared on walls all over the city.
Patiently, tirelessly, the united front had been welded together. It included students, intellectuals, professionals, shopkeepers, and small business men—grouped around the core of workers. After four years of work and preparation, the Spanish people were ready to engage in the mighty demonstration of March, 1951.
THE GENERAL STRIKE MOVEMENT
Consider that even in those countries where trade unions are legal and have the fullest freedom of operation, a general strike is the most difficult operation for workers to carry through.
Nevertheless, all accounts of the great general strike movement of 1951 in Spain agree that it was complete from the start. The machinery of life ground to a halt. The Catalonian people went out on the streets.
But the morning of the second day after the strike had started, Franco began to mobilize. Four warships arrived in the Barcelona harbor, landing marines to reinforce the police and the elite civil guards. Three thousand civil guards were brought in by train from Madrid. Five thousand additional police and troops had already been brought into the city during the streetcar boycott. Barcelona was an armed camp. Everywhere were troops, bayonets, guns, armored cars.
Thousands of strikers were arrested. Some of them, suspected of being key leaders, were put to torture. Corrupt and renegade fascist trade union leaders warned employers that if any workers on strike were paid, the employer would be punished. The fascist government instructed employers that any striker arrested must be immediately discharged.
For all of this, the strike held firm and ended as it had begun—with discipline, with order and with firmness. On Wednesday, the third day, the workers began to return to work. They had carried through successfully their greatest demonstration of strength and unity since 1939. They had maintained a united front with almost every section of the population, and they had demonstrated to the rest of Spain that it is possible, even under fascist terror, to fight against Franco. The mobilization had been so powerful and so massive that the threats and the reprisals were nullified. Virtually all prisoners were released, the strikers kept their jobs and won pay for the time on strike.
They had put forth their demands and made all Spain aware of them. Cheaper food and clothing were the main basis of their demands. But beyond that they never allowed themselves to be diverted from their purpose of uniting the Spanish people against the Franco dictatorship. Showers of leaflets fell, even on the helmets of the guards patrolling Plaza Catalonia. The leaflets appealed to the police and soldiers, telling them, "You are all sons of the people. Fraternize with your brothers. Don't be partners of the hangmen. Down with the murderers! Long live the Republic!" This was the great Barcelona strike that set off the wave of general strikes and demonstrations in the next two months.
On April 23rd, more than 250,000 seasoned workers in the Bilbao area shut down this great industrial port for the same ominous 48 hours; the arms plants, the metal factories, the iron and steel mills, the textile plants ground to a halt. From Guipuzcoa to Alava to Navarre—from one end of the Basque provinces to the other, the weeks that followed were in the same pattern. And everywhere there was the same widespread support.
Excerpted from Spain and Peace by Howard Fast. Copyright © 2011 Howard Fast. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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My enemy, my ally; or how politics makes for such strange and transitory bedfellows. This short propaganda pamphlet was quite interesting. It presented many statistics as well as a very bleak look at life in Spain in the early 1950's. Much of the publication consists of photos and a biography of the author.
The eBook was well formatted with no obvious errors.
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