The Tragedy of Spain
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Mar 1937, p. 289-307


Description
Creator:
Griffin, Frederick, Speaker
Media Type:
Text
Item Type:
Speeches
Description:
The complex nature of the tragedy of Spain. Explaining the limits of what the speaker saw in Spain on the Government or Loyalist side. Conditions under which the speaker covered the story. The military situation. The miracle of Madrid. A review of recent events in Spain. An examination of Franco's treatment of Madrid from the viewpoint purely of a military situation, without emotion or political bias. Why Franco's shells killed no one in the Telefonica. An analysis of Franco's intentions. A look at the disparities between the conflict in Spain and the battlefield experiences of the Great War. The political background of this civil war, as seen from the government side of the lines. Examples of the values which enter into the Spanish War. Behaviour of the liberal government, the socialists and anarchists. Strikes, counter-strikes, terrorism and assassinations. Speculation by the speaker on which might have happened in Spain under different conditions. The present situation. A fair if bleak picture of the government side. The difficulties under which the government fights against the rebels and the Fascists. Spain's primitive democracy of untried, undisciplined, inexperienced people. The government as an uncoalesced ferment of republicanism, liberalism, primitive democracy and advanced, and to a considerable degree, undigested radicalisms—lacking in strong leadership and in central authority. What the government wants. The Communists in Spain. The possible future. Doubting the numbers of German and Italian troops attributed to the Franco side. Franco proving his incompetence as a military leader. Madrid's remarkable stand making everyone on the government side think that in the end the government will surely win. Anybody's war yet. What will happen should the government side win. The speaker's wish to convey the poverty of vast masses, the degradation seen over wide stretches, the sight of thousands living in earth caves and in rude huts in which we would not keep pigs. Time for the Spanish people had a chance to run Spain themselves, however radically.
Date of Original:
25 Mar 1937
Subject(s):
Language of Item:
English
Copyright Statement:
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Contact
Empire Club of Canada
Email
WWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
THE TRAGEDY OF SPAIN
AN ADDRESS BY MR. FREDERICK GRIFFIN
Thursday, 25th March, 1937

THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen: We are particularly fortunate in having as our guest-speaker, Mr. Frederick Griffin. We are fortunate in that the Star, through its usual courtesy made the arrangement that Mr. Griffin would speak to us on this, the 25th of March. We are fortunate again in, that the business policy of this great newspaper knows not the word 'repudiation.' Mr. Griffin, about a week ago today was summoned to cover a tragedy in, New London, Texas. He flew to that place where the three hundred odd school children met instant death, to relate to us as he has done through the newspaper, some of the details of that horrible tragedy. On this account it looked as 'if we would have to postpone this meeting, but through the persistence of Mr. Griffin and that great newspaper organization, he is here. No obstacle is sufficient to prevent the carrying out of an arrangement such as they made with us.

Mr. Griffin needs no introduction to you. You have read the printed word from his pen, (or his typewriter,) and you have heard the spoken word over the radio. Today, we welcome Mr. Giffin in, the flesh, some of us for the first time, and if I might be permitted to say so, the sight is a pleasant one. (Applause.)

I have now great pleasure in calling on Mr. Griffin to address us on the subject on which he is very well qualified to speak, "The Tragedy of Spain." Mr. Griffin

(Applause.) MR. FREDERICK GRIFFIN: Mr. President, Gentlemen: In some ways I would rather speak to you on the Ontario School Question than the Spanish War. It is a subject of much complexity, and any attempt to reduce it to simplicity must of necessity leave much unsaid. It has military and political, national and 'international aspects, all hopelessly interblended; feudalism and mediaevalism clash with republicanism, socialism, anarchism. Add the complication of Spanish character, Spanish topography, the Spanish church question, and the desire of the Province of Catalonia for independence, and you have a veritable jig-saw. I often felt the futility of trying in despatches to express conditions 'in terms that Canadian readers would understand. Trying to satisfy a fair enough and friendly enough but rather touchy censorship, frequently, I am afraid, made them obscure indeed.

First, I might make clear, I was not on the Rebel side, but only on the Government or Loyalist side. I spent the month of December in Madrid; the other two months I spent mainly in Valencia, the temporary capital. Thus, my view of the war and what little I learned of the Spanish question .are necessarily confined to what I saw, and felt, on the Government side.

Another thing I should like to make clear, since I understand some rather ridiculous reports have been printed in this regard: the correspondents on the government side were neither threatened nor ill-treated, and as you see, I for one, was not shot. I should call the government authorities almost naive in the way they accorded f reedom to correspondents to move abut and in their almost complete lack of any organized effort to influence them by propaganda. Only one area was forbidden and that was a certain city which was reserve headquarters of the International Column of foreign anti-fascists, predominantly German and Italian exiles, fighting for the government.

Let me deal briefly with the military situation and touch a little on Madrid, the miracle of Madrid, as it was called by General Emil Kleber, former head of the International Column, who holds, as you know, Canadian citizenship. You are all familiar with the general course of the war, of the military rebellion, backed by various reactionary interests, which broke out last July, and of how the rebels achieved almost constant early success by superior military organization and arms until they became masters of the greater half of the territory of Spain.

After easily capturing Toledo, last fall, the rebels advanced almost without meeting resistance until November 6th, last, until they crossed the threshold of Madrid. On that day, following the capture of Getafe airport and surrounding villages, Franco's Moors and other troops captured four bridges on the Manzanares River, which is Madrid's west boundary, entered University City, whose spread may be compared to that of Exhibition Park, and were in the city streets. They had only to swing on with their cavalry and tanks and Madrid, except for street fighting and mapping up, was theirs. For Madrid, on November the 6th, was demoralized and undefended. That night the government fled in panic. I was not there at the time and can only speak from hearsay. But correspondents who went out on the preceding days by automobile from Madrid to cover the rebel advance-or rather the daily retreats of the government militias-gave me an extraordinary picture of this. It was open warfare, if warfare it may be called. There was no line, there was never any attempt at a line. There were no trenches. The government forces were raw levies, almost altogether composed of units of proletarian workers raised, inadequately armed and disjointly directed by the trades unions and political organizations.

There was no real leadership, no single command, no central authority, no plan, no tactical knowledge no discipline--only Spanish individualism, Spanish fatalism, Spanish laissez-faire and Spanish courage which does not know how to fight a modern war but is not afraid of death.

Between Toledo and Madrid, a distance equal to that between Toronto and Hamilton, the government militias failed to lay down a line or attempt a stand. Lacking knowledge, they actually did not seem to know how to begin or where, and there was no cohesion between the various units of this rabble of socialist and anarchist workers.

Not even at Madrid, not even when the rebel army was entering village suburbs to the south and west, were trenches worth a fig dug at Madrid. No trenches, no barricades, no real defence. Why? I don't know. Blame it on Spanish fatalism, some quirk of Spanish temperament, some defect in the Spanish character blame it, if you like, on the weakness due to divided counsels on the Popular Front side. All I know is, that, lacking command and co-ordination, lacking adequate arms also and the knowledge of how to use them, without military leadership, divided in aim before the approach of the enemy, the Popular Front put off and put off, until Franco was across the Manzanares and in University City.

Franco was in. A defenceless city, down almost to its last round of ammunition, lay in his grip. Spaniard that he is, for he is Spanish too, which explains a lot of the war, he hesitated. The next day, the International Column, 4,000 strong, marched in, counter-attacked with the elan of crusaders against Fascism and began a defence which has lasted now for five months. Not only did the Internationals prove a focal force around which the Spaniards rallied, but they supplied a practical example of discipline and unity to the undisciplined, non-military militias.

The government levies were given a clue to how they might make a stand. A defence was established of strong trench systems, remarkably good trench systems, for I visited them. In the shattered west side streets of Madrid they built tremendous stone barricades with an army of labourers. Franco's army could not hope to have carried Madrid by direct assault, once these defence lines were built and the defenders learned something of the art of trenches. And still Madrid stands, after five months, a glorious episode in a queer, tortuous war, a magnificent landmark in the bang path which men have trod in the search of the centuries for human liberty.

Much has been written about Madrid and I do not intend to go deeply into my personal experiences or impressions. In many ways this capital city under partial siege presents an extraordinary spectacle. Roughly, one-fifth of the city, the whole west side belt through parks, boulevards, fine streets into the crowded north-west quarters of Cuatro Caminos and Tetuan, working class districts, have been savagely pounded into a most terrible desolation. The photographs you may have seen do not begin, to do justice to the completeness, the awfulness, the foulness of the wreckage of stores, homes and streets.

In addition to these completely wrecked areas, the central business area part of it, at least, what we should call the downtown, centering around the Puerta del Sol and the Gran Via, which is within half a dozen blocks of the devastated zone-has been both bombed and shelled but has not been systematically laid waste like the broad west side belt to which I have referred. Life and business still continue there, in spite of the periodical hammering. That is, the stores do business, the cafes are crowded, street cars run in the Puerta del Sol arid on the Gran Via and the subways function.

Outside these areas, in, roughly, four-fifths of Madrid at least when I was there during December, and I think there has been little change, while occasional shells or bombs have fallen here and there, little extensive damage has been done.

Let us regard Franco's treatment of Madrid from the viewpoint purely of a military situation, without emotion or political bias. Viewed thus I should say he has behaved with a real or forced restraint, even leniency. That part of the west side which he destroyed he destroyed from military necessity. It was the side or section which he hoped to enter. The fact that a couple of working class districts were pounded to pieces was, I believe, only incidental to the fact that they were, in reality, part of his objective of potential infantry attack. Even his shelling of the downtown area, while it may have had purely terrorist angleslike his shelling of it on the midnight of the New Year and his frightful Christmas afternoon blasting--it also was largely dictated by military necessity. You have all heard of the Telefonica skyscraper or Telephone Building of thirteen storeys and a tower which was frequently sprayed by shrapnel or banged with high explosives. It was press headquarters and headquarters of the press censorship. We had adjoining rooms on the fourth floor. I could not say this in despatches--lest, forsooth, Franco should learn--but the reason it was shelled by Franco, and a perfectly good military reason, was because its tower was Madrid's principal artillery observation post-that and, of course, the fact that it was the city's nerve center of telephonic communication. It was not at the foreign newspapermen that Franco was potting though I have a feeling he would not have been sorry if he had winged some of us. He did not wing any correspondent in the Telefonica. He did not kill anyone in the Telefonica, strange as it may seem. I have a record of it being hit up to, the end of January 38 times by high explosive shells, six inch and over, and not one of those 38 shells, many of them entering rooms and gutting them, killed a single person, and wounded only four. They did not stop the elevators running, at least never for long.

The fact that Franco's shells killed no one in the Telefonica was a matter of pure chance. The reason was this: The first shell fired, usually around the tea hour, rarely hit the building flush but dropped short or beyond or into one of the narrow streets alongside--where, such shells killed plenty. The first shell warned, and people moved out of the front and side offices into the central hall in front of the elevators, and then, if the shelling grew too intimate, gradually down to the basement.

Maybe Franco showed restraint. Maybe, much more likely, he did not have the guns, shells, aeroplanes and bombs in sufficient quantity really to plaster Madrid. I believe he did not, in spite of all you have heard about the amount of German and Italian help he has received. At no time since the siege of Madrid really settled down has Franco shown .a big superiority of armaments or aeroplanes. In the air over Madrid the government planes in December, and I think since, had a decided edge and bombings were scarce. In the main, these planes of the government were, I believe, Russian, and they were largely manned by foreign airmen, a number of them French, with some English and some Americans, but many of the pilots were Russian. It may interest you to know that these Russian machines, especially when piloted by young ardent Soviet pilots were generally credited with out-flying and out-fighting the German and Italian machines and pilots of Franco,

I will merely add this: If Franco had had the guns, the aeroplanes and the will, in a week of merciless, unrelenting bombardment he could have made Madrid at once a shambles and a hell in which the surviving civilian population, yes, even these stoic Spanish people, accustomed to suffering, inured to fate, would have gone mad. No such continuous bombardment of the city at large for days or even for hours was at any time practised, except in the deliberately devastated zone of the west side.

There is a tragic, ruthless struggle in Spain, and very many people have died on both sides, and not always on the battlefield, but you cannot think of it in terms of what many of you experienced as soldiers of a highly organized, fully equipped, strongly disciplined army in the Great War. There is no continuous front such as existed in Europe from 1915 to 1918 from the North Sea to the Swiss border. For one thing in Spain there is not enough of an army on either side to make such a continuous front possible. For another thing, Spain is criss-crossed by mountains. Besides Madrid, which has several fronts, there is a series of fronts, many to a degree isolated from the others. These fronts are not only physically isolated but are independent of one another; little co-ordination has been achieved between them.

That brings me to the point of attempting to picture briefly the political background of this civil war, as seen from the government side of the lines. Let me first etch a couple of illustrative incidents. When I returned to Valencia from Madrid on January 2nd, it was to find an army of labourers constructing scores of shelters as a refuge from air bombing. Not a piece of modern machinery was in use, none of the steam shovels or other equipment we use in Canada to dig holes quickly. Everything was done by hand. Men with mattock-spades dug laboriously and even more laboriously used little woven baskets to pass the stuff: to the surface. In these excavations, when they yawned sufficiently, other men began to construct, yet more laboriously, what looked like circular pipes of concrete and then to fill these over with concrete and earth. Considering the long effort and the time involved, each shelter--and I saw none actually finished after more than two months of construction--seemed ridiculously small. Whether they would have stood up under a direct hit from a 500 or 1000 kilo bomb, I cannot say. Personally, I would not have entered one of them 'during an air raid on a bet. I would have been afraid of being smothered or trampled to death.

But the point is this: Valencia was constructing these elaborate shelters but Valencia, vulnerable from the sea and within 90 miles of the Teruel front, had not dug a trench. In spite of the lessons of the war, Valencia had made no more preparation against the possibility of a rebel advance than Madrid had made last November.

I found the same thing in Almeria, the next city along the coast from Malaga, which I visited following the fall of Malaga, and in Alicante and other places.

Let me give you a second picture. I referred to General Emil Kleber, the defender of Madrid, leader of the International Column, a man of military knowledge, of striking personality, a practical hard-headed tactician. A picturesque fellow, as well as able, it was natural that he should prove interesting to the foreign newspapermen. We dramatized him; so did the Madrid papers. The picture tabloids carried many photos of his dark, strong, Slavic face. They hailed him as the saviour of the city. Our paper, Socialista, even demanded that he be given supreme command of the government forces.

Was he? No. Miaja, head of the junta de Defensa of Madrid grew jealous. The Spaniards grew jealous of the implications that a foreign leader and foreign volunteers had saved Madrid. And Kleber was relieved of his command.

Kleber is a member of the Communist party and under party discipline. About the time he was relieved of his command of the north-west front of Madrid from University City to the mountains, the attack on Malaga was beginning. The Communist party sent Kleber to Malaga to help save it. Instead of using him adequately, the Spanish commander of the Malaga front gave him what amounted to Captain's rank and a small bit of front to defend. The Communist party withdrew him to Valencia. There, again, -on Communist orders, he went to Largo Caballero, Minister of War, as well as Premier, and asked to be sent to the front as a common soldier-a smart political move on the part of the Communists, but not war. Of course, Largo Caballero could not send General Kleber to the front as a private and so he stayed in Valensia with nothing to do.

Two days before I left Valencia for Barcelona and home, I sat with Kleber in the Cafe Vodka. He was in civilian clothes. We chatted. Kleber was smiling and philosophical-but, unemployed. He said evasively that he was doing special work. Special work! He should have been in command of the army fighting against fascism, his enemy and the enemy of the Spanish people.

I might give many odd examples of the values which enter into the Spanish War. As you know, the Popular Front government was elected in February, 1936, a little over a year ago. It was--it must be emphasized again--a purely republican government. Azana, the Prime Minister then, and his Cabinet were all Republicans there was not a so-called "Red" in the Ministry-but they held office with the support of Socialists, Communists and Anarchists. But the tail wagged the dog-or, perhaps, more correctly, failed to wag it, in the sense that Azana, a liberal intellectual bourgeois, shrank considerably from the revolutionary aspects of the Popular Front groupings. The Republican Government was weak-and the socialists and anarchists, who supported it, embarrassed it, no doubt, not only by their desire for fast radical reform, but by the struggle which they were conducting among themselves. At the moment I shall merely mention the Communits, for the Communists had a mere fifteen deputies in a Cortes of more than 470 seats, and did not count much.

While the government behaved weakly as all liberal governments are inclined to behave weakly in such a situation, the socialists and anarchists staged a struggle for power. There were strikes and counter-strikes. There was gangsterism. There was terrorism and assassination, not only of fascists, but of one another. In Madrid and Castille, generally, the U.G.T., the socialist trades union, had the principal strength. In Catalonia, in the great industrial city of Barcelona, it was the anarchists who through the C.N.T., the anarchist-dominated trades union, and through the F.A.I., its philosophical counterpart, who were strong. These bodies split the Spanish proletariat on two widely different radical or revolutionary principles and indulged in bitter, often bloody struggle. Thus, in spite of apparent unity of the Popular Front, there was disunity, incoherence, weakness.

My own feeling is that if the reactionaries had held their hands for a few months, the Popular Front would have crumpled, and the country would have fallen into their hands easily, possibly by parliamentary process. But they struck. And after they struck they diverted the attention of the conflicing Popular Front elements to a common enemy. Even that, however, did not bring complete unity to the divided Popular Front, and it did not bring discipline to the undisciplined, long repressed, suddenly freed, highly individualistic Spanish masses. It has not brought that yet entirely.

When the rebellion broke out, the purely republican government was still in power, weak, indecisive. It proved hopelessly inadequate to win a co-ordinated effort against the rebels arid, following a series of republican premiers, Largo Cabellero took office as Prime Minister. He was a well-known labour leader, as a chief of the U.G.T. He was a left wing socialist. In September he formed a Cabinet, retaining Republicans but including right and left Socialists and later a couple of Communists. So far no anarchists or syndicalists, though they supposed generally the Popular Front, had joined the government--true to their doctrine which is against government, the state, authority and' an imposed discipline. It was only on November 4th, a day or so before the siege of Madrid began, that four anarchist-syndicalists broke all precedent and joined the government of Largo Caballero.

It was now, on the eve of its flight from Madrid, a fusion or union government really representative of all the elements, from moderate and liberal to the most extreme radical which made up the Popular Front. It was, broadly, and is today, such a government as Leon Blum heads in France. You might have thought that such a government would be able to unify, act, advance, rule. But no. First of all, there was its flight from Madrid on the night of November 6th. Far be it from me to criticize it for lack of courage. The city at the moment seemed surely doomed and it if fell, every member of the government caught would have died before a firing squad. But that flight weakened it tragically and it has since never been able to establish a commanding authority.

In addition, it lacks a real figure, real leadership, for Largo Caballero, while honest, sincere and respected, does not inspire. Beyond that there is the weakness that comes from the clash that still goes on among some of its elements, with the enemy within ninety miles of Valencia. The anarchist element has proven up to the time I left particularly recalcitrant.

The war, you must understand, was not altogether on the government side--and still, to a degree, is not being fought-by the government, by a central authority. It is being fought, still, by the various trades unions and political organizations. It is as if this country found itself at war and armies were raised not merely by the government but by the Rotary Clubs, the Orange Order, the United Church, the Knights of Columbus, and the C.C.F. It was, of course, inevitable when the officers staged a rebellion and the government, finding itself without an army, had to arm the unions.

Not only did the various parties and unions raise their own armies, but they officered and disciplined them or failed to discipline them, according to their particular ideas. They munitioned them, fed them, supplied them by maintaining their own transport systems. An alleged army of the government simply consisted of a number of loosely knit commands. Questions of movement or attack, of unity or co-operation, were discussed not always so much from a military as from a political point of view by the various political advisers of such military forces. Only in the Madrid area, by a miracle, as I have said, did something like cohesion and a real military unity develop, but even in the Madrid area the political divisions still obtain and battalion or brigade political advisers have authority in matters of strategy which should be solved by a single command on a strictly military basis.

Indeed, the whole thing has been even more irregular than this, for provincial and local divisions entered also. For example, Catalonia, not merely dominated politically by the strength of the anarchist organizations but complicated by the strong Catalan demand for home rule, has largely run is own show, both political and military, without much reference to the Madrid or Valencia government. At best, Catalonia is simply an ally of the rest of loyalist Spain--even though Catclan anarchists hate the rebels and no doubt dread, if they think about it at all, a fascist victory. Catalans have served at Madrid and Catalonia sends supplies to the rest of Loyalist Spain anal munitions, but first with Catalonia comes its own home front, the Huesca front in Aragon, where there has been little action for months.

Not only has this lack of unison, essentially Spanish as well as political, been evident on a broad scale but it has extended into the very villages. It is impossible to go with any detail into the matter. Committees rule villages, dominate districts--and some of the attempts at rule have been weird. Sometimes these are socialist committees, sometimes anarchist, according to the local seizure of power--and sometimes there are two conflicting committees, and incidents, meaning bloodshed. Each committee is running its own private idea of war-far from the front line--and its own private idea of revolution. It is all most confused.

Not only did the different parties recruit, maintain and direct their own armies, but they had their own guards and police. They had earlier their own justice, summary justice. Sometimes as you approached a village by car you would come on three sets of guards at barricades. One might the republican guards representing the government; the second might be U.G.T., and the third would be C.N.T. Each would demand your passes and you would show them.

The government was making a considerable effort to assert its authority and with considerable success. It issued a decree banning the carrying of revolvers by "unauthorized" people and cut down greatly the fearsome custom of a gun on every man's hip. Further, it issued a decree seeking to do away with the private guards and police of the organizations and parties, to have only republican guards .and police, in order to subdue, the irregular arresting and irregular shooting going on still. This had very great success. I do not know that it did away altogether with party guards and police but it regularized them and somewhat controlled them by incorporating them as government officials, and it did cut out irregular arrests and irregular shootings.

Not without incidents, however. At this time, while I was in Madrid, the Food Commissioner of the junta de Defensa of Madrid was one day driving along a road outside the city on business. He was a Socialist, a member of the U.G.T., a baker, but he was also Food Commissioner, a big shot, and it irked him when some road guards at a barricade stopped him and demanded his pass. Especially when he discovered they were C.N.T., or anarchists. "What right have you to be asking for passes?" he said. "The Government has done away with you." Angrily he told his chauffeur to drive on. Immediately five rifles fired into the back of the moving car. They did not kill him but they wounded him badly. That night, right in Madrid, in the midst of the siege, there was a vendetta and hot-heads of the U.G.T. wiped out a few C.N.T. people to even up the attack on their comrade, the Food Commissioner.

Now, it may seem that I have painted a somewhat bleak picture of the government side, but it is a fair picture, I hope. I certainly do not wish it to be an unfriendly one. At the same time I do not wish you to get the whole thing out of perspective. I have been seeking to show you the difficulties under which the government fights against the rebels and the Fascists. Unorganized, almost chaotic, at first defenceless, without arms; friendless, refused help, except for such limited help as Soviet Russia has given; with their coast partially blockaded, the government side has put up a great fight against a fascist military rebellion for eight months. The Loyalist Spaniards, in spite of conditions of which I have given you a most inadequate outline, are still holding Franco back, even though he has the open aid of Hitler and Mussolini.

Do not think that conditions have not been progressing. I would like you to remember that it took Britain two years, and a munitions scandal, before Lloyd George arose to direct something like full effort in the Great War. It took nearly three years before a Union Government took office in Canada and longer than that to pass conscription. It took some four years of war to get a single, unified command on the Western Front.

And we in Canada, Britain and France were educated, disciplined, experienced democracies. Spain is a most primitive democracy, a raw democracy of untried, undisciplined, inexperienced people. They have no background of self-government, no background of mechanics or organization, no experience in cooperation. Why, they scarcely know of the kind of things we do so simply by telephone. There is democracy in the raw, there is no dictatorship on the government side. If there only were a dictatorship, Franco would be doomed. People speak, unfriendly people I mean, speak of the government side as "Red." It is not red. It is an uncoalesced ferment of republicanism, liberalism, primitive democracy and advanced, and to a considerable degree, undigested radicalisms-lacking in strong leadership and in central authority. Mind you, there has been a spread of unison, of discipline, of government authority. Men of sense and goodwill of all parties, including the anarchists, are trying to extend it. Men of sense and goodwill are striving to create a national people's army out of the militias of the organizations and parties. They are striving to establish a central command, a general staff. They are hoping to bring in conscription. They are seeking sincerely to find a political formula which will overcome the clash of radical theories and win the war, not for socialism or anarchism or any other ism, but for the Republic of Spain and Spanish democracy. They are compromising and succeeding in compromise. In the three months I was in Spain, slow though it was, there was a growth in all these things. The Republicans, the Socialists, right and left, and the Communists had effected a very considerable unity. The Socialists and the Communists particularly had achieved an almost complete co-operation.

That brings me to a brief mention of the Communists in Spain. Many people in Canada and elsewhere are inclined to think of the Spanish Loyalist side as Red or Communist, and to think that a Communist Spain must emerge if the government side wins. The Spanish Loyalist side is definitely not Communist. The Communist party in Spain was at the outbreak of the rebellion almost insignificant in numbers. The proletariat, beginning with the 1870's, I think, had been long since captured by, on the one hand, Socialism, and on the other, Anarchism. There is no time even to outline the subsequent growth of Socialist and Anarchists movements in the big cities or of the spread of primitive ideas of Socialism and Anarchism among the peasant peoples of such horribly depressed provinces as Estremadura and Andalusia.

At any rate, Communism, with the sad and cruel soil of Spain a fertile one for revolutionary upthrust, got little foothold there because the other radical movements already had it. But since the outbreak of the civil war the Communist Party has been growing. Why? Because of its realism in this land of unrealities, because of its intelligence, moderation and organizing capacity in this land of ignorance, extremes and disorganization and because of its single-mindedness in seeking a common front for Spanish democracy and the primitive elements of this young Republic against the onslaught of a common enemy. Communists, being realists, learned a bitter lesson, when the divided front of democracy in Germany fell' like a ripe plum into the hands of Hitler. Socialism, Communism, is their eventual aim, of course, everywhere, but in such a situation as Spain they see clearly that Fascism must be beaten and democracy saved before there can be even the beginnings of Socialism.

There are many other things on which I should like to touch, but it is impossible in the time. I shall merely in conclusion say a word about the possible future. Will Franco win? From a military point of view, with the help he has allegedly had from Germany and Italy, I cannot see why he did not win long ago against the unorganized, unco-ordinated Popular Front which I have tried to describe. I am inclined to doubt the numbers of German and Italian troops attributed to the Franco side. If he had 80,000 or 100,000 such troops, surely except at Madrid he could have ripped his way through the lines of the Loyalists armies.

Franco, with all the breaks, sweeping everything in front of him for weeks, with crude, unorganized, inadequately armed levies opposed to him, has proven his utter incompetence as a military leader. He is still trying to take Madrid--when he did not have to take Madrid. He had only to hold Madrid occupied, to have switched to the Teruel front and to have driven fast down towards Valencia, to have cut off not merely Madrid but practically all of government territory outside Catelonia and to have ended the war.

In jumps, at different times, I drove along the whole government coast from Almeria, down near Malaga, through Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona to the border. There are over 500 miles of coast and it is virtually undefended. It is vulnerable at places without number. Do you realize that the highway and the railroad from Barcelona to Valencia and from that to Madrid and the rest of Loyalist Spain-the only single means of communication existing-runs for scores of miles within a stone's throw of the sea? In many places the road and the railroad skirt the sea along the edge of cliffs. Franco has command of the sea. At a hundred or a thousand places he could have put in landing parties large or small, to have blown up bridges, viaducts, tunnels. He could have had his big cruisers, the Canarias and the Baleares, lie offshore and make that road impossible. He could utterly have disrupted government communications. He did not do it. He made no attempt to take the important port of Malaga which could have been his at any time for the taking, until the Italians allegedly took it for him.

Madrid's remarkable stand made everyone on the government side think that in the end the government would surely win. The fall of Malaga, following a sharp, ruthless, powerful attack by Franco's troops with Italian aid showed how weak the government side and the government organization really were. I remember how shocked I was when I drove down to Murcia, Alicante and Almeria and found how undefended and unorganized they were. And when I grasped the vulnerability of the coast line I did not see how the government should possibly hold out. Indeed, the wonder was that it had survived so long.

Yet, Franco may not win. It is, in the terms in which it is being fought, anybody's war yet. Franco may break before the government side does. If he should win well, he may win but he cannot hold it. A few years, at most, and he would be out done. For one thing he will never, even if he were capable of it, be able to organize and regiment Spain as Hitler arid Mussolini have done in their countries. The Spaniards are neither Germans, Italians nor Russians to be dragooned and for long suppressed. The masses have felt power, have tasted strength. They will never lie back still. They will be an armed proletariat, with rifles arid machine-guns, for Franco will never, should he win, clean them all up. And there will be the countless hills. Franco might hold out for five years as ruler, but I doubt it.

Should the government side win, what then? It is hard to say. If the war lasts long enough the various elements may learn complete compromise and a new and balanced democracy may emerge. Such a democracy would be, as it is, a republic, but it would be highly socialized and at the same time libertarian, to meet both socialist and anarchist aspirations. On the other hand, there might be further struggle and blood' if the various radical elements continued their struggle for supremacy.

In Spain the pendulum is swinging and I think it will continue to swing. Spain has a time lag of one, two or three centuries to make up in various aspects of its life. This is only another chapter in Spain's late, violent emergence from medievalism and semi-slavery. Our fore fathers wrought democracy and forged liberty slowly, if sometimes violently at that. Have sympathy then with Spain, with the Spanish people. I wish I might convey to you the poverty of vast masses, the degradation seen over wide stretches, the sight of thousands living in earth caves and in rude huts in which we would not keep pigs. Spain has been grievously messed by its possessing classes. They have had the country for hundreds of years. They have done nothing for it; it is the most backward, most depressed white country in the world. It is time the Spanish people had a chance to run it themselves, however radically. Surely they will make a better fist of government, education, economics, agriculture, industry, society, than an incompetent General, active for decadent interests, who seeks to weigh down with brutal chains, not merely their bodies, but their souls and minds. Already the freedom of the Spanish people has been deferred too long. A Franco victory may postpone; it cannot prevent a Spanish Renaissance. (Prolonged Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT; Mr. Griffin, may I, on behalf of this very large meeting of our members, and also on behalf of all who have been fortunate enough to listen to you on the air, thank you for this address today. If, as Shakespeare says, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players," surely such journalists as Mr. Frederick Griffin provide the eyes for a vast audience. We have learned today of some of the tragedy, we have had a picture of the conditions in Spain, an analysis of what 'it all means, and we will go, away from this meeting with a better understanding than even people who will read history in the future will have of what is going on today in Spain.

I thank you, Mr. Griffin, and I also thank the Toronto Star for enabling you to address us today. (Applause.)

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit




My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.










The Tragedy of Spain


The complex nature of the tragedy of Spain. Explaining the limits of what the speaker saw in Spain on the Government or Loyalist side. Conditions under which the speaker covered the story. The military situation. The miracle of Madrid. A review of recent events in Spain. An examination of Franco's treatment of Madrid from the viewpoint purely of a military situation, without emotion or political bias. Why Franco's shells killed no one in the Telefonica. An analysis of Franco's intentions. A look at the disparities between the conflict in Spain and the battlefield experiences of the Great War. The political background of this civil war, as seen from the government side of the lines. Examples of the values which enter into the Spanish War. Behaviour of the liberal government, the socialists and anarchists. Strikes, counter-strikes, terrorism and assassinations. Speculation by the speaker on which might have happened in Spain under different conditions. The present situation. A fair if bleak picture of the government side. The difficulties under which the government fights against the rebels and the Fascists. Spain's primitive democracy of untried, undisciplined, inexperienced people. The government as an uncoalesced ferment of republicanism, liberalism, primitive democracy and advanced, and to a considerable degree, undigested radicalisms—lacking in strong leadership and in central authority. What the government wants. The Communists in Spain. The possible future. Doubting the numbers of German and Italian troops attributed to the Franco side. Franco proving his incompetence as a military leader. Madrid's remarkable stand making everyone on the government side think that in the end the government will surely win. Anybody's war yet. What will happen should the government side win. The speaker's wish to convey the poverty of vast masses, the degradation seen over wide stretches, the sight of thousands living in earth caves and in rude huts in which we would not keep pigs. Time for the Spanish people had a chance to run Spain themselves, however radically.