Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin
Leon Trotsky-The Spanish Revolution-1931-1939
I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was a teenager. My first term paper was on this subject. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish Fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.
Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class uprisings Spain showed the most promise of success. Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky's writings on this period represent a provocative and thoughtful approach to an understanding of the causes of that failure. Moreover, with all proper historical proportions considered, his analysis has continuing value as the international working class confronts the one-sided class war being waged against it today.
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Trotsky's complication of articles, letters, pamphlets, etc. which make up the book reviewed here is an exception. Trotsky was actively trying to intervene in order implement a program of socialist revolution most of the active forces on the Republican side were fighting, or believed, they were fighting for. Thus, Trotsky's analysis brings a breath of fresh air to the historical debate. That in the end Trotsky could not organize the necessary cadres to carry out his program or meaningfully impact the unfolding events in Spain is one of the ultimate tragedies of that revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky had a pretty good idea of what forces were acting as a roadblock to revolution and had a strategic conception of the road to victory.
The central question Trotsky addresses throughout the whole period under review here is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. That question entails, in short, a view that the objective conditions for the success of a socialist program for society had ripened. Nevertheless, until that time, despite several revolutionary upheavals, the international working class had not been successful anywhere except in backward Russia. Thus it is necessary to focus on what condition is missing that would assure success or at least put up a fight- witness the failure of the German Revolution in 1923). This is a continuation of an analysis that he developed in earnest in his struggle to fight the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the mid-1920's. It is a question that still remains to be resolved. The need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution and to extend the revolution internationally was thus not a merely a theoretical question. Spain, moreover, represented a struggle where the best of the various leftist forces were in confusion about how to move forward. Those forces could have profitable heeded Trotsky's advise.
Trotsky's polemics are highlighted by the article "The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning", his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937, They center on the failure of the Party of Marxist Unification (hereafter, POUM) to provide revolutionary leadership. That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. He had no illusions about the roadblock to revolution of the policies carried out by the old-time Anarchist, Socialist and Communist Parties. Unfortunately the POUM did. Moreover, despite being the most honest revolutionary party in Spain it failed to keep up an intransigent struggle to push the revolution forward. The Trotsky - Andreas Nin (key leader of the POUM and former Left Oppositionist) correspondence in the Appendix makes that problem painfully clear.
The most compelling example of this failure - As a result of the failure of the Communist Party of Germany to oppose the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent decapitation and the defeat of the Austrian working class in 1934 the European workers especially the younger workers of the traditional Socialist Parties started to move left. Trotsky observed this situation and told his supporters to intersect that situation by entry into those parties. Nin, and later the POUM failed to do that. As a result the Socialist Party youth were recruited to the Communist Party en masse. This accretion formed the basic for its expansion as a party and key cadre of its notorious security apparatus that would after the Barcelona uprising suppress the more left-wing organizations. For more such examples of the results of the crisis of leadership in the Spanish Revolution read this book.