Obviously, depending on the point of view presented (or ax to grind) there are a million possible subjective and objective reasons that can be given for the failure. Some, such as the general European situation, the perfidious role of the Western democracies, the shortcomings of the various bourgeois governments are examples of situations that I had believed at one time to be the prime reasons. However, since I have come of political age, in short, have gone beyond the traditional liberal explanations for the failure in Spain I have looked elsewhere for an explanation.
That elsewhere hinged more on the role that the various working class organizations and their policies than the objective world situation or other factors that have been used to argue the impossibility of success. Again, some organizations came up short. For a long time I followed the reasoning, in a general sense at least, of Trotsky’s dictum, repeatedly argued out all through the 1930s, about the crisis of revolutionary leadership. With this proviso- for a long time, a very long time I absolved the POUM (Party Of Marxist Unification in English) and the Nin/Andrade leadership from political responsibility for the debacle, especially in Catalonia. I was more than happy to blame the Stalinists (blameworthy in the end on other grounds, without question), the vacillations of the Social Democrats (ditto the Stalinists) and the theoretical idiocies of the Anarchists. But not the POUM, after all they were the most honest revolutionaries in Spain (along with, perhaps, the Friends of Durritti). Honest I still believe they were but revolutionary in the Bolshevik sense. Hell, no.
The leading cause of that long time absolution of the POUM, initially in any case came from my reading of George Orwell’s “Homage To Catalonia”. Orwell found himself in a POUM military unit and spent much of his time in Spain before being wounded with that unit, as well around POUM organizations. Hey, they were fighting Franco, right? They had their own militias, right? That was enough for me for a while. But then the fatal mistake occurred many years ago. I read Trotsky’s work on Spain in the 1930s, “The Spanish Revolution, 1931-39, and, more importantly, the Trotsky/Nin correspondence in the appendix. No one who truly reads those documents and looks at the real POUM actions (including that left/right unification with friend Maurin to form the POUM in 1935) will ever be the same after. That is where every mistake that the POUM made becomes a veritable indictment against them.
Okay, so I got ‘religion’ on the POUM. So, as the linked article points out, why then, and now did serious leftist militants alibi this group. Well, read the article. But, bear this in mind, if those who defended the POUM and Nin/Andrade then, and now, are right that means that, subjectively they believe that Spain could not be a workers state in the 1930’s. That same subjectivity has led to their view of the Russian October revolution of 1917 as a failed experiment as well. But, my friends, such reasoning leaves only this conclusion. Outside the short-lived Paris Commune we have to go back to the revolutions of 1848 for our models of what is possible for the modern international working class to do. If that is the case then we better start thinking about a possibility that Trotsky pointed to in the 1930s- the working class may be organically incapable of ruling in its own name. As an orthodox Marxist I cringe at that notion. Better this- abandon this abject defense of the POUM and accept that, honest party that it may have been, however, in the final analysis it was a roadblock to socialist revolution in Spain
Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.
Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:
This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.
Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.
The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff.
The Spanish revolution in practice:why we make this invitation
However this isn’t the question. We aren’t asking Spanish Marxists outside our ranks to collaborate with reformism, far less to waste their forces under a reformist leadership. No, our position within the party is characterised by intransigence towards that tendency for whose removal we struggle. It would be wrong to try to reconcile this intransigence with the demand, in an abstract manner, for the entry into our party of other workers’ groups.
If this invitation was made in a normal period, Comrade Maurin’s reservations would be justified. But the Socialist Party is certainly not in a state of internal normality. The point has been reached where the polemic has reached the streets. Now everyone knows that in the Socialist Party there is a struggle which won’t be resolved without the elimination of one or another side: Marxists or reformists. It’s impossible to re-establish unity because the masses see clearly what the problems are. Maurin recognises this clearly in his book, Towards the Second Revolution, ‘The Socialist Party has gone through the reformist experience, confirming that it nearly produced a catastrophe in the party’. So if the party has been capable of understanding the disaster of the reformist attempt, it will also know how to purge itself to prevent catastrophe.
When we invite other groups of workers to come in, we think not of quantity but of quality. Not for them to collaborate with the right, but that they help us to throw them out by helping us to pose the problem with greater clarity and accuracy. Besides, we know the effect which the party spirit has on our masses: from inside, with the banner of the party in our hands, victory will be not just possible but probable, from outside all attempts at renewal will provoke a dangerous reaction of party spirit which will have only negative effects.
On page 81 of Towards the Second Revolution Maurin says:
The masses of workers who follow the Socialist Party have learned by experience that only by a violent revolution of the working class will they be able finally to emancipate themselves. And in the Socialist Party they have made a fundamental correction.
Observe, Comrade Maurin, our invitation isn’t at all abstract, nor does it attempt to destroy the revolutionary energies of those whom we would like to unite with us.
What would you lose by this experience even if reformism triumphs?
After all, he isn’t the only one who thinks so. We know from various sources that other working class forces, particularly official Communism, think so too. They estimate that Spanish socialism is incapable of purging itself and of taking a definite revolutionary line. In this situation, recognising the vitality of the socialist left its ideological coherence, incompatible with permanent coexistence with a reformist faction, official Communism considers it inevitable that we will break, voluntarily or not, from the Socialist Party and believes that this will give new life to the Third International.
I’ve said that I will return to this question later. But for now, imagine friend Maurin, that the victory of centralism and reformism in our party will happen anyway in spite of the entry of the Bloque, that the right are not expelled but the left are. What would you lose?
On leaving you would have more prestige than when you entered: much more. You would have been able to demonstrate to the mass of workers your desire to unify the working class, showing this by facts, not by slogans which don’t succeed. You would have gained support among the socialist masses, binding yourselves to them, educating them and attracting them to you on your departure. If your predictions as to the future of the Socialist Party should become a reality, if it falls into the hands of the right, you would be like those rivers which disappear momentarily below the earth’s surface to reappear a little further on, stronger and more powerful.
What fears should you have in attempting an experience which, even in the event of the most unfavourable outcome, a reformist triumph, would leave you strengthened? Lenin has said that the proletariat should only fear the contact with other forces when it isn’t confident of its own ideas and abilities. Why should you fear even the worst contingencies?
Because, I don’t want to believe like some do, that precisely what you fear is that the Socialist Party should Bolshevise.
The purge of Spanish socialism is probable and near
This fatalism resembles that of those who have an interest in preserving this society, and therefore reason in the following manner: ‘as there have always been rich and poor it will always be impossible to transform the existing order’.
My opponent himself affirms in his book that I have already cited, something that contradicts the basis of his argument: ‘The Austrian Socialist Party realised the gravity of the situation too late. By contrast, the Spanish Socialist Party has known how to react in time and has partially been able to prepare to fight.’
If our party has reacted in time, and has prepared itself to fight even partially, why is it impossible that this reaction should be carried through with a revolutionary purge? If the Socialist Party has shown its superiority over the rest of the Socialist International, going over at times to the camp of insurrection, why doesn’t it have the capacity to fulfil the process of Bolshevisation? Isn’t this October a stage of this process?
Besides, to claim that it is impossible that the left should triumph in the Socialist Party, basing oneself on the belief that this position is justified by previous experience is incorrect. It’s true that in most cases this has been true, however, international Social Democracy is not dead, and we don’t know what its ultimate destiny will be. But if Comrade Maurin pays attention to the history of the Russian proletariat he will see his affirmation disproved by the facts.
The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was also, until 1903, a mosaic of contradictions inherent in its composition. However, at a certain point it became Bolshevik. Why? Undoubtedly because there were objective circumstances and men capable of using them to eliminate Menshevism. One can say that the Spanish Socialist Party lacks a vanguard with an ideological grasp comparable to the Russians. But it isn’t correct to leave it at that without pointing out that neither does our Menshevism have a Plekhanov, a Martinov, a Martov, a Vera Zasulich and so other many powerful minds who raised the reformist banners in the midst of the Russian proletariat.
Objectively the revolutionary tendency looked at as a whole is better than the reformists. It has more roots in the party masses; it mainly controls the party leadership and nearly all the local and provincial periodicals. It also has the advantage of the cooperation of the best veterans who represent the healthy socialist tradition which has known how to behave in critical times. This element has a decisive influence in a party which historically still venerates its traditions.
It’s undeniable that the left vanguard, in the circumstances that our masses, because of the constant struggles which they have waged, don’t know the softness of the German Social Democracy. They are masses imbued with a spirit of struggle, of a spirit of rebellion, of an undeniable capacity for sacrifice, and with them we can undoubtedly achieve the revolutionary purge of the Socialist Party.
The Programme of the POUM in 1936
The Problem of Marxist Unity
Neither is the Spanish Communist Party our revolution’s Bolshevik Party. As an official section of the Communist International subject to the fluctuations of the foreign policy of the Soviet state, it is obliged to act, not according to the needs of the revolutionary movement in our country, but with the needs of Soviet diplomacy which are frequently contradictory ...
The Workers Party of Marxist Unification, the product of the fusion of the Workers and Peasants Bloc and the Communist Left, believes that it isn’t possible to work towards the entry of all Marxists in an already existing party. The problem isn’t one of entry or absorption but of revolutionary Marxist unity. It’s necessary to form a new party through revolutionary Marxist fusion.
The Workers Party believes that the basic agreements for the achievement of revolutionary Marxist unity are these:
The Communist Party Denounces the POUM
The Communist Party Calls for a Professional Army
We don’t intend here to analyse the causes of the fascists’ easy entry into Malaga. Rather than bemoan the causes of this or that loss, however recent, we wish to insist on the only measures which will ensure the triumph of our cause and make possible lhe regaining of all our losses.
A Popular Army is what all the organisations want, but it encounters many obstacles which impede its realisation.
Working people of all tendencies are able to judge for themselves and are clamouring for the victory which some people’s suicidal irresponsiblity puts in peril.
Malaga has fallen into the hands of the fascists just as San Sebastian, Bodajoz and Toledo, while there are still people who believe that we can win without doing anything. We have repeatedly said that the people must be told the truth. We have to tell the truth whether it’s favourable or unfavourable and decide to do what the situation demands.
The people want victory. It’s necessary because millions of families want to return to their ruined lands occupied by the enemy forces.
And time presses. We don’t have much time to act. The enemy is lurking in ambush and is preparing new attacks.
We lack a Popular Army, the mobilisation of the necessary recruits for whom we have arms, and the others whom we need to give military training: strengthening of the fortifications. Live for the war! It’s time to finish with everything which gets in the way, with everything which attacks us in the rear, with everything which opens the doors to the enemy! Genuine unity, unity in war, unity for victory! A strong, new, determined campaign by the whole country will encourage the popular will for victory.
The POUM attacks the Nationalism of the Spanish Stalinists
However, that’s not the worst of it. Trying to explain the fact of the invasion by the German and Italian armies, they put their hands on their hearts and speak about the independence of ‘our’ country. They mention the Napoleonic invasion and, the more erudite ones, the Arab invasion. Pelayo, El Cid Campeador, Mina, El Empecinado, Velarde, and many others are the heroes of the day. They justify reactionary movements in this way and, what is worse, claim them as our own. The so-called re-conquest prevented the Arabs extending their superior civilisation over the peninsula and the war of independence prevented the fresh wind of the French Revolution from entering our country. This is the tone of 100 per cent superpatriotic Stalinism.
The official bulletin of the Committee for the Defence of Madrid, of 20 March, publishes a cartoon with a slogan, ‘In opposition to Mussolini and his friends raise the old banner of Bailen’. Here one doesn’t know what sticks out most, ignorance of today’s problems or ignorance of history. The flag of Bailen? Do you know what this flag of Bailen is? It’s the red and yellow symbol of the monarchy which Franco has decreed the ‘national’ flag.
Faced with this we can ask for nothing but a little sobriety.
The POUM’s central committee held on Sunday of last week, published a note regarding the crisis of the council of the Generalidad, reiterating a 13-point programme which a government formed by all the workers, political and trade union forces would apply as the only rational, logical and viable solution of the crisis. We reproduce these specific points as they are of interest at this time.
- Socialisation of the big transport undertakings.
- Nationalisation of the banks.
- Municipalisation of housing.
- Formation of an army controlled by the working class.
- Constitution of a single internal security force based on the security patrols and the investigation force, created by the revolution, incorporating the previous forces which have shown their loyalty to the working class.
- An immediate offensive in Aragon.
- Reduction of high salaries.
- A monopoly of foreign trade.
- The creation of a strong, rigidly centralised, socialised war industry.
- Nationalisation of the land, giving its use to those who work it, and extending the necessary credits to them. Collective working of the large estates and economic aid to collective enterprises created in the course of the revolution which have demonstrated their viability.
- An implacable struggle against profiteers and hoarders through a rigorous and direct control of goods and prices.
- The calling of a conference of workers’ and peasants’ unions and of soldiers’ organisations which will establish the basis of the new regime, and elect a workers’ and peasants’ government which will be the most democratic we have ever known, as it will express the unequivocal will of the immense majority of the country and will have the authority to maintain the new revolutionary order.
The Anarchists Defend the Gains of the Spanish Revolution Against the ‘Communists’
We are forced to the conclusion that it arouses hostility precisely because it is revolutionary. It would be better if we were told this clearly so that we knew what attitude we should take with regard to the persecutions of anarcho-syndicalist periodicals.
What we know is that the persecution to which the confederation is being subjected, by capriciously suspending periodicals, is part of a plan and shows irresponsible hatred to those for whom a true revolutionary would have nothing but respect.
Everything has a purpose and so does the campaign to kill our press. But unless our press has full freedom to propagate and develop our ideas we will have to stop asking and start demanding. They are playing a dangerous game.
Consider the counter-revolutionary campaigns – to oppose the socialisation of industry is to wreck the revolutionary economy.
Opposition to the socialisation of industry is one of the counter-revolutionary defences of those who fight to destroy the workers’ gains, of those who prefer to be the left wing of imperialist capitalism rather than the right wing of a workers’ Spain.
This unthinking calculation attributes everything which is wrong in the rearguard to the attempts at socialisation. Any shortage, difficulty or mishap is included in the indictment against this idea, which after all is nothing less than the supreme aspiration of the working class which fascism tries to crush with the valuable help of our ‘comrades’. At a Communist meeting they spoke of the chaos of the Catalan economy produced solely and exclusively by premature attempts at socialisation; these words, spoken by one of the leading members of the Party which organised the meeting, are counterrevolutionary and aid the enemy who lies in wait.
Many arguments are used against the idea of socialisation; one of these – the most delightful – says that by socialising an industry we simply take it over and run it with the consequence that we have flourishing industries where the workers are privileged, and unfortunate industries where the workers get less benefits but have to work harder than workers elsewhere.
We will be generous and accept that such anomalies exist. There are differences between the workers in prosperous industries and those which barely survive. For example the workers in war industry are obliged by the circumstances they find themselves in, to work longer than the legal working day and get wages which are linked to the sacrifice of all working class Spain faced with the menace of reaction.
Such anomalies, which we don’t deny exist, are attributed to the attempts at socialisation. We firmly assert that the opposite is true; such anomalies are the logical result of the absence of socialisation.
The socialisation which we propose will resolve these problems which are used to attack it. Were Catalan industry socialised, everything would be organically linked – industry, agriculture, and the trade union organisations, in accordance with the council for the economy. They would become normalised, the working day would become more equal or what comes to the same thing, the differences between workers of different activities would end.
One of the measures which would do most to eliminate these inequalities would be the institution of a family wage. The workers would earn a just system of remuneration and we would see the disappearance of the remnants of barbarous feudal times which are seen today in the last intermediaries between the producer and consumer: all the industries would unite their forces for victory over the fascist hordes; commerce, socialised and controlled by the trade unions, would be freed from the abuses which the workers and peasants, the true heroes of the revolution, are subjected to, who put their face to the furrow to harvest the food for those who fight for the cause; they will be free of exploiters and of uncontrolled elements who grab the fruit, of their efforts.
Socialisation is – and let its detractors hear it – the genuine authentic organisation of the economy. Undoubtedly the economy has to be organised; but not according to the old methods, which are precisely those which we are destroying, but in accordance with new norms which will make our people become an example to the world proletariat.
Negrete and Oehler report from Barcelona
Hugo Oehler (1903- ), ‘a very capable mass worker’ according to James P Cannon, was a veteran militant from the US Communist Party with a brilliant record as a trade union organiser in the southern textile mills and the mines of Colorado. He was the organiser of the Kansas district of the CPUSA when he sided with the Trotskyists in 1930. Two years later he was sent on a speaking tour of Germany to help alert the German working class to the menace of Hitler. In 1933 he played a notable part in the hotel strike in New York led by B.J. Field and organised the unemployed to assist the strikers during the famous Minneapolis strike in 1934. He opposed the French Turn to entryism at the plenum of the international Trotskyist movement in October 1934 and, continuing to oppose the practice of entryism, was expelled from the US Trotskyists in October 1935. His organisation, the Revolutionary Workers League, persisted for some years, but then disintegrated into a bewildering variety of groups-Stammites, Marlenites, etc.
Rosalio Negrete was the party name of Russell Blackwell (1904-1969) who joined the CPUSA in the l920s and was sent to Mexico to help build up the Communist youth movement there, working with Vittorio Vidali (Carlos Contreras) who was later to play such a sinister part in Spain and in the murder of Trotsky. Negrete was converted to Trotskyism by reading the US Militant and founded a Trotskyist group inside the Mexican Communist Party, for which he was expelled from the country. He handled the Spanish language correspondence of the US Trotskyists, but left them along with Hugo Oehler. Whilst in Spain he allied with the ‘Cell 72’ opposition inside the Barcelona POUM. He was twice arrested by the GPU working through the Spanish police and was twice released on the intervention of the US authorities.
These reports describing the gathering tensions in Barcelona were written for the US Revolutionary Workers League and appeared in Fourth International, Vol.2 No.12 1937, pp.l7, l8 and 25.
From a Marxian point of view the ideological level of the speeches were low, but considering the present position of the CNT in collaboration with the Generality the speeches was a left reaction to the whole past trend. Whereas the small Anarchist Group of the Ideal that has distributed some leaflets has swung back to ‘pure’ Anarchism, the Friends of Durruti are of a far higher and more serious type.
They are not against collaboration in bourgeois governments in principle, but are against the collaboration in the Generality and Valencia governments today. They are against it today because they say the Stalinists are not sincere. They demand that their leaders leave at once. This is a fundamentally false position. But the demand for the leaders to leave the government must be utilised by the revolutionists to show these workers the road to the revolution.
In the speeches the Stalinists were bitterly assailed as bourgeois and agents of the bourgeoisie. One speaker pointed out that the Russians promised them modern arms if they would carry through centralised military work through the government, which the CNT agreed to, but to this day the supplies have not been sent. (They have been sent to the Valencia government). The speaker said they would only get arms if the CNT troops give up their flags, etc. He pointed out that one Durruti Column had already pulled down its red and black flag, and stated that the CNT had yielded too much already.
One speaker stated that Lenin’s method of revolution was correct but the Stalinist method in Spain is completely false.
At no time during the meeting did any speaker mention the POUM.
A message was read from a group, ‘Those of Yesterday and Those of Today’ of adherence to the meeting. It seems as though the Friends of Durruti are organising throughout Spain.
They demand the cleansing of the CNT union. They want complete socialisation of industry. They are alarmed at reaction showing its head more every day. ‘If the rear does not improve we will bring up the armed forces from the front and will again clean up. If necessary we can be master of the situation again in 24 hours.’ This was greeted with an uproar. Although it is an exaggerated statement with excellent intention it shows the sentiment of the workers attending.
One speaker wanted to know why the national guard was not sent to the front. Against whom was it going to be used in the rear? They understand, or are beginning to understand, the bourgeois policy.
They demand the syndicates take over power and coordinate their local power through a national executive committee and establish workers’ rule. Any revolution that does not create its own organs of power, economic and political, is not a revolution.
The Anti-Fascist Committee of 15 was the embryo organ of the revolution. The Council of Defence of the Generality is bourgeois power. The first big mistake of the CNT was to agree to dissolve the Anti-Fascist Committee of 15 and the local committees.
One speaker gave a fairly good analysis of the imperialist conflict in Spain and the two bourgeois groups in Spain, and said we must fight both groups.
- The government crisis is solved for the bourgeoisie by the ‘suspension of cabinet meetings’ and the establishment of dictatorial power.
- Dissolution of the People’s Courts.
- Individual terror practised by organisations with representatives in the government against each other.
- Armed struggle and resistance by lower units of the CNT and the POUM.
- Disarming of many workers by the Civil Guards.
- Arresting of CNT-FAI regional leaders by the Generality.
- Leadership of CNT and POUM represented reformist positions, and capitulated before the pressure of the bourgeoisie.
- Left wing of anarchists, the Friends of Durruti, and the left wing of the POUM are driving forward, with a conect line for the situation, and are giving backbone to the struggles, but as yet are not sufficiently strong to openly take direct lead of a concentrated struggle.
- Workers reveal readiness to fight if they have leadership.
- The bourgeois forces are represented by the Esquerra, other left bourgeois parties and the Stalinists and Socialists. The proletarian forces are represented by the CNT and the POUM with a fundamental contradiction between the leaderships on the one hand and the membership and the left wings on the other.
In Valencia the united front May Day meeting of the youth of the anarchists and POUM was called offby the CNT leaders to allow a united front meeting of the CNT and UGT.
May Day, Saturday, was ‘Work and War’ Day to prevent a workers’ demonstration. But Sunday 2 May, a bourgeois holiday day, the factories did not have to work. Furthermore, the evening indoor meetings in the large halls in the city usually start at about 10 or 10.30. Even an evening indoor meeting, after the workers came from ‘work for war’ the POUM did not see fit to call.
Manifesto of the POUM During the Barcelona May Days
- The resignation of Rodriguez Salas, Commissioner of Public Order who is directly responsible for the provocations.
- Abolition of the public order decrees.
- Public order in the hands of the working class.
- A revolutionary workers’ front of the organisations which fight for triumph over fascism at the front and victory of the revolution in the rear.
- The creation of Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in all the districts, towns and places of work.
Executive Committee of JIC.
POUM Policy During the May Events
As soon as the attack on the Barcelona Telephonica (telephone exchange) brought the expected results – the insurrection of the Barcelona prolelariat – the central committee of the Communist-controlled UGT called for the suppression of the POUM. The central committee of the POUM replied with this resolution, published in La Batalla on 13 May 1937.
- The constant provocations of the counter-revolution embodied in reformist parties of the PSUC and of the petty bourgeoisie, provocations that in the fields of the war, the economy and of public order tend to liquidate the revolutionary conquests gained by the working class on the 19 July, arms in hand, which culminated on the 3 May with the attempt to seize the telephone buildings, produced the working class’s armed protest.
- The POUM’s political position cannot be other than active solidarity with the workers who spontaneously declared a general strike, raised the barricades in Barcelona’s streets and with exemplary heroism knew how to defend the endangered revolutionary conquests.
- As the workers who fought in the streets lack concrete objectives and a responsible leadership, the POUM is unable to do more than order and organise a strategic retreat, persuading the revolutionary working class of the need for this and preventing a desperate action which could degenerate into a putsch and which would result in the total crushing of the most advanced part of the working class.
- The experience of the May Days demonstrates unequivocally that the only progressive way out of the present situation is for the working class to take power, and for this it is essential to coordinate the revolutionary action of the masses by the creation of a Workers’ Revolutionary Front that unites all the organisations which intend to fight for the total crushing of fascism which can be achieved only by a military victory on the fronts and by the victory of the revolution in the rear. The enlarged Central Committee considers that the political line followed by the party during the events has been entirely correct and it solidarises with the executive committee, convinced that it knew how to defend the interests of the revolution and of the mass of workers.
Manifesto of the National Committee of the CNT regarding the May Days in Barcelona
Nobody knows, for instance, that Casanovas, Lluhi Vallescá, Xicota Sancho, Polo and Ventura Gassol were travelling about France last January, working for the ‘independence of Catalonia’. The process of preparation was similar to that carried on during the dictatorship. But with a difference. At that time, Italian fascism operated through the agent-provocateur, Garibaldi. Now Mussolini uses Dencas, the agent-provocateur separatist of October in Catalonia.
As far back as December a conspiracy came to light, which resulted in the execution of Roberter, Commissioner of Public Order, and the flight of Casanovas, President of parfiament, who had given away his complicity in the frustrated coup d’état.
The separatists, bourgeois in the last analysis, could not reconcile themselves to the fascist uprising that resulted in proletarian victory and threatened them with the loss of all their wealth. And in their search for some substitute solution, they entered into negotiations with Italy, in order to provoke internal strife that would furnish the opportunity for foreign intervention and facilitate the recognition of Catalonia as an independent state, thereby undermining the anti-fascist front at the same time. All those who wanted Catalonia to return to the status quo prevailing on 18 July, accepted these proposals.
They carried on their conspiracies in France. Many prominent individuals were involved. An agent of the intelligence department at the service of Spanish anti-fascism discovered certain documents.
Just as he was completing his startling investigations that would have unmasked all the traitors in our midst, this agent was assassinated. By whom?
He was working for the government of the Republic. He was therefore assassinated by those who were conspiring against the government, and yet by some means or other, knew all about the work of this important agent.
We must recall that Aiguadé was the Councillor of Internal Security; that he is a member of the Estat Catala and that he fell under suspicion of being implicated in the conspiracy.
On 20 April, Comorera, leader of the Communist Party in Catalonia, was in Paris. Among the people he visited was the secretary of Ventura Gassol and a certain Castañer. Who is this Castañer? We are told an ‘Agent of the Generality’. Investigators have found out that he is in contact with a certain Vintro, secretary of Octavio Saltó, journalist in the service of the Spanish fascists. He has also been seen with other well-known members of the fascist movement living in Biarritz and St Jean de Luz. He also maintains close relations with members of the Estat Catala, especially with Dencás and Casanovas. The former visits Castaner in his house, and the latter is visited, in turn, by Castañer.
Polo, another police agent of the Generality, who was in the confidence of Badia, operates in France under the orders of Vizcaíno, agent of the fascist counterespionage, which is functioning under orders of Beltrán and Musitu. What is the meaning of this peculiar mixture of fascists and separatists? Can we not find the cause of certain provocations here? We are convinced that we can. And whoever examines the case objectively must agree with us.
In addition to all this the fascists were making preparations to land both men and materials on a large scale all along the coast from Almeria to Rosas. They failed to carry this plan out because they could not get together the necessary war materials. The project was postponed until the middle of May. And if they have still failed to carry it out, it was due to the fact that their plans fell into the hands of the police of a neutral country.
We must also add, incidentally, that the Estat Catala had concentrated all the armed forces at its disposal in France on the frontier.
And one thing more. The Gazette of the Republic published a list of officers and privates who were to be discharged from the National Republican Guard, as well as being subject to the punishments established by the decree of 21 July. However, one captain, four ensigns, 19 brigadiers, four lieutenants, 18 sergeants, 23 corporals, and 55 guards among those included in the discharge were not dismissed, either because of the charity or the direct complicity of Artemio Aiguadé, ex-Councillor of Internal Security of the Generality and in the forefront of the May events.
We must point out that large contingents of guards were sent to the frontier during these days, and when one of these contingents arrived at Figueras, instead of presenting himself to the town council, the commanding officer went directly to the local headquarters of the PSUC, demonstrating by this simple action, that they were an armed force, not at the disposal of the people or of the government, but of the Communist Party.
All these details clearly prove that the events in Barcelona had been carefully planned, and that the spark that caused the outbreak did not come from the CNT.
Attitudes during the events
And when on Thursday the CNT and the UGT issued the order to return to work, and the city became rnore calm, bands of separatists and Communists roamed the streets, stopping and searching people, tearing up CNT membership books and attacking CNT locals. The members of the CNT who had already stopped fighting, were compelled to set up their defences again. When the first trolley car started to make its run down the Paseo de Gracia toward Plaza de Catalonia, guards and members of the Estat Catala shot at it from behind their barricades at the streets of Paris and Diagonal, and so that the public services were unable to resume functioning.
The repair squads who had gone out to repair the lines were also shot at. When, on Friday morning, at the hour agreed upon, the firing stopped, the Communist and separatist strongholds started all over again in the hope of renewing the conflict. And on Friday night, when the car carrying the secretary of the national committee passed the commissariat at the Calle de Paris on his way to Valencia, some 70 shots were fired at him by the guards of the Estat Catala. The affair becomes more serious when one realises that the car was an official car of the Ministry of Health, and the shots might well have been intended for Federica Montseny, Minister of Health at the time.
The national committee immediately sent delegates to all regions in order to avoid repercussions in other parts of Catalonia.
At the same time a delegation was sent to the Aragon front to prevent the troops from leaving the trenches. None of the libertarian forces left the front. We would like to point out the assassination of the well-known anarchist, Professor Berneri, respected by anti-fascists all over the world. He was arrested, ostensibly, by agents at the service of Rodriguez Salas. Why? We suspect that he was killed more for possessing irrefutable documentary proof of Italy’s preparations, over a period of time, for the military uprising in Spain, than for being an Anarchist. These documents, which were to be turned over to the government of the Republic, were very dangerous for Italy.
And now, after the movement has been stopped, the conduct of those sectors who want to crush the CNT and anarchism in Catalonia has been more despicable than ever.
In the first place, the barracks of the Communists and the Estat Catala could be seen everywhere weeks after the May events had been ended, while our barricades disappeared on the same Friday that the fighting stopped. Secondly, a wave of blood and terror devastated the towns of Catalonia. Assassinations, with full impunity for the murderers, have been the order of the day. Our libertarian movement has remained silent and suffered the loss of our best militants without resisting. We have tolerated, not through cowardice but out of an exalted sense of discipline and responsibility, the assault upon the collectives and the destruction of the constructive work of the proletariat.
We assume the full responsibility for everything we have said. We have said nothing that is not in full accord with reality, and no one can deny our statements, because they were based upon the facts and documented evidence.
Aiguadé, Dencás, Mussolini, Casanovas, Lluhí Vallescá, Ventura Gassoh, Sancho, Xicota, Castañer, and many others whom we are not mentioning, all grouped together in a series of sinister plots and treason. These are the responsible agents of the bloody events of Barcelona.
No one can say that the CNT is a provocateur, a disrupter, or a traitor to the anti-fascist fight. The CNT has a much cleaner conscience than these despicable men who cannot attract the masses by honourable means, and therefore resort to underhanded deals, gangster-like intrigues and conspiracies, in order to suppress us.
But the CNT will not be liquidated by such traitors. They can only overcome the CNT by operating with greater honour, nobility, and austerity, and those who participated in the Catalonia intrigues are incapable of that.*******
Counter-Theses for the Conference of the POUM
Since the beginning of April, discussion has been quite lively inside the POUM, and a left current has begun to crystallise, as these counter-theses published in the Internal Bulletin put out by the Barcelona local committee show, which we will try to demonstrate in L’Internationale.
In this issue we are only giving an article from one cell, an article which provides some explanation of certain points in the counter-theses.
The Leadership of the POUM During the July Days
However, the fundamental problem for which a revolutionary Marxist party must provide a solution is the problem of power, what it consists of and the method of seizing it....
We take the following from Avant (organ of the POUM):
21 July: ‘ What is required is the formation of a government with the participation of all the components of the Popular Front ...’ that is to say, a government of those whom we have accused of being responsible for the military insurrection!
23 July: Dealing with how the armed workers must get their pay, Avant says: ‘We believe that it is the government of the Generalitat which must provide the soldiers’ pay.’
What this presupposes is implicit recognition of the government of the Generalitat.
In an article entitled La terra ha d’esser repartida, Avant restricts itself to saying about the power that could assure the poor peasants’ possession of the land: ‘The workers’ army will overthrow the power of the cacique and will institute a system of justice and security among the poor peasants’. So fully ‘installing a system of justice’ is talked about. How? On this the leadership of the POUM maintains a prudent and diplomatic silence.
24 July: The EC of the POUM to All Workers is the title of 12 demands proposed to the working class. The only point which in an indirect manner concerns the question of power is no.8, ‘Revision of the Statute of Catalonia in a progressive sense’. No doubt it is by means of this revision that workers will later attain the dictatorship of the proletariat that comrade Nin tells us about.
Concerning the land problem, we see in the same issue of Avant that it comes out in favour of a Popular Committee of Distribution.
Distribution under the political domination of the bourgeoisie? Fortunately, the peasants are following another road.
26 July: Whilst maintaining the most profound silence on the question of power, Avant gives over its headlines to the victory obtained in the payment of wages to workers in arms. It celebrates it in the following terms: ‘Our party was the first fo launch the demand for wage payments to the workers who, by the general strike and their armed struggle, put fascism to rout and won the victory’. A victory, in the final reckoning, for the petty bourgeoisie and for the PSUC, which did not as yet even exist.
27 July: The POUM declared: ‘Not only do we envisage no obstacle to getting in contact with your committee (The Esqerra Front), but we consider this contact to be indispensable for examining current problems and establishing unity in action on all guestions in which an agreement will be possible’. The first step towards the Popular Front.
28 July: Nor could the JCI (POUM Youth) find a better way in these critical days: ‘Our militias and our guns are the only guarantee, the sole guarantee of our liberty, our rights, and our lives’ (Solano in his radio broadcast, reproduced in Avant of the 28th). In order to constitute a guarantee, it was necessary for the militias and their guns to be under control of working class power, not under the control of the Generalitat, which then made them into its regular people’s army.
29 July: At last, ‘Revolutionary Workers’ Alliances’, that is the slogan launched by Avant. But through editorial negligence, this slogan has not been mentioned for a good deal of time already.
30 July: It does not talk about the destruction of capitalism and its form of political domination, but that ‘what is necessary is the requisition of the property of the church and of all the reaction’. This partial attack without posing the question of power could only lead to the working class having to pay for the property of the church and the reactionaries.
1 August (last issue of Avant): Referring to the first governmental crisis of the Generalitat since 19 July, it expresses itself thus in its editorial: ‘A total crisis of the government has passed unnoticed by the working class’. It is evident that this was the fault, neither of the government, nor of the working class, but of its supposed guide, the revolutionary Marxist party, which confined itself to comment without pointing out the revolutionary solution: ‘All power to the Central Militia Committee’.
And further: ‘We can affirm from today that the government that has been formed is a thousand leagues from reality...and does not correspond to the present stage of the revolution’. What was the reality? What form of government did correspond to that phase of the revolution? In the same editorial: ‘For all over Catalonia new institutions arise that are destined to transform themselves into mass popular organs’. Yes – destined to transform themselves into true mass popular organs, thanks to the ‘Government of the Revolution’ (in which the POUM took part), that abolished the Central Militia Committee and all the anti-Fascist committees by decree.
The POUM drifted aimlessly in the stormy seas of July, like a ship that had lost its captain.
The Programme of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists
The group, only eight people altogtlher, left after the entry of the Izquierda Communista into the POUM, put out La Voz Leninista and three issues of its journal. (During this period of demoralisation the Spanish Trotskyists had split, the other group putting out a paper called El Soviet.) The money for this actually came from Leon Narvitch, an agent of the GPU who had penetrated the Spanish Trotskyists after the work he had already done in informing on the POUM. After a POUM action squad had avenged the death of Andres Nin and Narvitch’s body was found at the start of February 1938 in the environs of Barcelona, practically the entire Spanish Trotskyist organisation was rounded up on 12 February and charged with killing him, spying for Franco, striking, sabotage, and organising the May Days insurrection. Just for good measure was added the accusation that they were planning to kill Negrin, Prieto, and Stalinists Comorera, La Pasionaria, and José Díaz.
After much pressure and torture the trial was fixed for 29 January 1939, but three days before it was to take place Franco’s troops entered Barcelona. Both jailers and prisoners scrambled to escape, and Munis and his comrade Carlini got across the French border. From there he proceeded to Mexico, from which he led the Spanish Trotskyists in exile, and became a close political ally of Trotsky’s widow, Natalia, in objecting to what they believed to be the rightward drift of the US SWP during the Second World War. They opposed the American Military Policy, the support for the actions of the Red Army in Eastern Europe, and later the support for Tito and Mao Tse-tung. Munis returned to Spain to take part in the Barcelona strike of 1951, and was picked up again the following year and given another 10 years in prison. After his release he retired to France where he led a small far-left organisation.
What do the Trotskyists want?
With the enthusiasm of those days and the arms and experience of today, we shall celebrate July 1936 in a socialist Spain free from the capitalist yoke.
To all revolutionaries who feel that they are approaching us, we appeal; come and join our ranks! In friendly discussion we shall clear up points of disagreement and, united in struggle, we shall put to rout our common enemy!
Down with Fascism and capitalism!
Long live the Spanish proletarian
Long live the world revolution!
Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain