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Democracy or Dictatorship

Thirty years ago this month the Spanish Civil War began. It continued until the defeat of the government forces in March, 1939; it killed about 600,000 people (many of them murdered, assassinated or executed) and it roused passions of one sort or another all over the world.

The war was regarded by many people as a straight-forward struggle between a democratically elected, humane government and a band of bloodthirsty rebels; in other words, as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship.

The supporters of the Republican government even played upon whatever colour prejudice they could find by citing the fact, as evidence of Franco's brutality, that he was using Moorish troops.

A few months after Franco's victory the Second World War began and again this was said to be a fight for democracy. The effect of all this was to make democracy versus dictatorship one of the great political issues of the Thirties and Forties.

A typical reaction from the so-called Left Wing was the demand for the formation of a Popular Front. Nothing is heard of this idea now; no Left Wing party suggests an alliance against the dictatorship in Russia.

In any case the Spanish Civil War showed up the fallacy of the idea. The organisations which united in the Popular Front never succeeded in sinking their differences; many of them were too busy murdering each other. Many of the participants were anything but supporters of democracy.

There were, for example, the Communists, who stood for dictatorship on the Russian model. There were the separatists who bitterly opposed the entire concept of central government, and there were the Anarcho-Syndicalists, who rejected the use of Parliamentary election and who stood for violent insurrection.

The war was used by the great European powers partly as a rehearsal for the clash which came in September, 1939, and partly for what economic advantage they could get out of it.

The Nazis practised their dive-bombing; the French tested their aviation equipment. The Germans were after the rich deposits of iron ore in Spain; the Russians drove a hard bargain for the arms they supplied to the Spanish Government and insisted on prompt payment for them.

The details of the 1939/45 war, perhaps to the dismay of many who supported it, were similarly sordid. Far from being a clear-cut conflict between democracies on the one hand and dictatorships on the other, it was one in which both sides had their share of despotisms.

It is true that there was nothing among the Allies to quite match the refined sadism of Nazi Germany. But there was the Stalin dictatorship glowering over Russia, and there were minor countries like Greece and Poland which were under the iron heel.

When the war was over and the truth began to filter out, it was time to take stock. The first thing which was clear was that the world was no safer for democracy than it had been before the war.

The military conflict had been won and lost; the economic threat from expansionist German, Italian and Japanese capitalism had been contained, at least for a time. Yet millions of people lived — and still live — under oppression.

The simple fact is that the wars of capitalism are not fought to defend democracy. This is impossible, for democracy depends on a popular desire for it and not on which country wins a war. If the majority of people want democracy they will have it; if they do not want it they will surrender it.

In this issue of the Socialist Standard we set out to discuss democracy. For Socialists this is a vital matter, for our existence would be in jeopardy if the working class should abandon their democratic rights.

When the workers have realised how vital democracy is, when they have realised that it cannot be defended by making war, and when they have grasped the fact that it is an important part of the process to be used in establishing Socialism, they will have taken a big step nearer the new society which will be organised by the people, of the people and for the people.