The great Spanish revolution of 1936-7, tragically betrayed and defeated, has gone down in history as “the Spanish Civil War” (1936-9). Civil war it surely was, but that designation, civil war, embodies the politics and the slant on history of those who crushed the workers’ revolution in Catalonia and elsewhere.
It was buried in life by Stalin’s political police and its collaborators in Spain; it is “buried” in history under a grave stone mislabeled “the Spanish Civil War”. This was one of the most important working class revolutions since October 1917 in Russia. (See Workers’ Liberty pamphlet issue No. 6: www.workersliberty.org/taxonomy/term/540)
The long poem Spain was written by WH Auden in 1937. We print excerpts here. It was published as a pamphlet by the British “Communist Party”. In its time it had great influence. Its last line is as true for socialists today as it was when Auden wrote it: “We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and/History to the defeated/ May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.”
And the poor in their fireless lodgings, dropping the sheets
Of the evening paper: “Our day is our loss, O show us
History the operator, the
Organiser, Time the refreshing river.”
And the nations combine each cry, invoking the life
That shapes the individual belly and orders
The private nocturnal terror:
“Did you not found the city state of the sponge,
“Raise the vast military empires of the shark
And the tiger, establish the robin’s plucky canton?
Intervene. Descend as a dove or
A furious papa or a mild engineer, but descend.”…
On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot
Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe;
On that tableland scored by rivers,
Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever
Are precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
To the medicine ad and the brochure of winter cruises
Have become invading battalions;
And our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruin
Are projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb.
Madrid is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom
As the ambulance and the sandbag;
Our hours of friendship into a people’s army…
To-morrow the rediscovery of romantic love,
The photographing of ravens; all the fun under
Liberty’s masterful shadow;
To-morrow the hour of the pageant-master and the musician,
The beautiful roar of the chorus under the dome;
To-morrow the exchanging of tips on the breeding of terriers,
The eager election of chairmen
By the sudden forest of hands. But to-day the struggle.
To-morrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.
The stars are dead. The animals will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.