This is an excellent documentary source for today’s militants to “discover” the work of our forbears, whether we agree with their programs or not. Mainly not, but that does not negate the value of such work done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
There is no question that in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s the prime driving force was the working class of Catalonia, and within that province its capital, Barcelona, was the key hot-bed for revolutionary action. The role of Barcelona thus is somewhat analogous to that of Petrograd (later Leningrad) in the Russian revolution of 1917 and deserves special attention from those of us later revolutionaries trying to draw the lessons of the hard-bitten defeat of the Spanish revolution. All the parties of the left (Socialist Party, Communist Party, left bourgeois radicals, Catalan nationalists, Anarchists, various ostensible Trotskyists, the POUM, and non-party trade unionists) had militants there, and had myriad associated social and political organizations that drove the revolution forward in the early days before the working class surrendered its hard-fought gains to the bourgeoisie or in Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky’s memorable phrase, “the shadow of the bourgeoisie.”
That said, the May Days in Barcelona take added importance for those of us who believe that in the ebb and flow of revolution that the actions taken there by the various parties, or more pertinently, those actions not taken by some, particularly the POUM (and left-anarchists) sealed the fate of the revolution and the struggle against Franco. A description of the flow of the events, a fairly correct description of the events if not of the political conclusions to be drawn, in those days by a militant who was there, Hugo Oehler, is an important aid in understanding what went wrong.
Note: Hugo Oehler was noting but a pain in the butt for Jim Cannon and others in the United States who were trying to coalesce a Trotskyist party that might be able to affect events that were rapidly unrolling here in the heart of the Great Depression. Nevertheless Cannon praised Oehler as a very good and honest mass worker. That meant a lot coming from Cannon. One does not have to accept Oehler’s political conclusions to appreciate this document. Moreover, his point about trying to link up with the Friends of Durritti is an important point that every militant in Barcelona should have been pursuing to break the masses of anarchist workers from the CNT-FAI. Time ran out before these links could be made decisive. But that is a commentary for another day. Read this (and Orwell and Souchy as well) to get a flavor of what was missed in those May days.
Additonal Note On The POUM Program
The editorial comment above the programmatic points makes the correct criticisms of the "omissions" in the POUM program. I would add that another problem is the issues that are not raised, especially on the specific question of the right to national self-determination on the Spanish peninsula (and not just the question of a socialist federation of nations which is raised) and the very thorny and devastating one one the colonial question, particularly on Spanish Morocco where Franco recruited heavily for his side.