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Backwaters of History No. 10 - Barcelona 1937

Just before three o'clock on the afternoon of May 3rd, 1937, three lorries were threading their way through the streets of Barcelona, heading for the huge Plaza Cataluña in the centre of the city. They emerged into the Plaza, pulled up outside the Telephone Building and a body of police guards climbed out. Their leader, Rodriguez Salas, Commissioner of Public Order, went into the building, accompanied by a few guards. As he climbed to the first floor of the ten-storey building shots were fired from the windows of the upper storeys. Reinforcements of police were rushed up and a cordon was thrown round the building; thousands of people gathered in the Plaza whilst excitement ran through the streets to all corners of the city. The tension that had gripped Barcelona during the past few weeks now broke out into street fighting.


The workers of Catalonia and of the industrial city of Barcelona have risen in revolt against their oppressors—and have been crushed. A shady mining concern with international capitalist interests involved had been established in the territory of the Riff tribes of Morocco, close by the town of Melilla, which is occupied by the Spaniards. The natives, suspecting that this forbode them no good, took steps to turn out the invaders, the representatives of the modern enslavers, the international capitalists. As a consequence the Spanish workers were called upon to turn out and, at the risk of life and limb, protect their masters property—were ordered to go to Africa and massacre a foreign people with who they have no quarrel.

The Civil War in Spain

The civil war, which began with the revolt of July 18th, is, at the time of writing, still dragging on without either side having gained decisive victory. What the outcome will be it is still impossible to say, for the issue depends to a great extent on the assistance given to the rebels by foreign governments. Before examining the struggle from the Socialist standpoint, we may pay tribute to the conduct of the Spanish workers. Believing that a vital principle was at stake, they rallied to the Government against a powerful revolt backed by the greater part of the armed forces. Workers, with little or no military training, stood up to trained and experienced soldiers. On the one side was all the advantage of organisation and equipment, and on the other the enthusiasm and voluntary discipline of a popular movement. It is true that large sections of the military forces remained loyal to the Government, but even these were hampered by treason and sabotage among the officers.

The Last Hour in Madrid

What actually caused the revolt in Madrid that took place during March is not easy to discover with certainty. One thing, however, can be said without possibility of error. Men in that beleaguered city, awaiting the final assault of General Franco, and his foreign armies, would not have tried to seize power by force of arms without having what in their eyes was a very urgent and satisfactory reason. The revolt was apparently led by Communists, and received the approval of the Communist Daily Worker, but some accounts from Madrid itself indicated that by no means all the Communists there took part in it—whether because they opposed it or were taken by surprise is again in doubt. The view held by many observers was that, after the loss of Catalonia to Franco, many elements in the Madrid political parties were favourable to seeking surrender on whatever terms could be obtained.

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