Saturday, October 09, 2010

*From The Pen Of James P. Cannon-How To Organize And Conduct A Study Class (1924)

Click on the headline to link to the James P. Cannon Internet Archives for an online copy of the article mentioned in the title.

Markin comment:

James P. Cannon, old time Wobblie (IWW) organizer, Left-wing Socialist Party leader, founder of the American Communist Party and of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, is assuredly qualified to give some advice to us today on organizing classes on the study of socialism, and the political struggle to build an organization to fight for that goal. Particularly, as recent events have demonstrated, when there is a crying need for young and old to learn about socialism as an alternative to this capitalist malaise.

Song From Popular American Folklore-The Walkabouts' "Bonnie And Clyde"

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Bonnie and Clyde as video accompanying The Walkabout's song on the pair.

Markin comment:

See today's entry on the film Bonnie and Clyde.

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- Book Reviews

Markin comment:

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.



Martin Alexander and Helen Graham (eds.), The French and Spanish Popular Fronts: Comparative Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, pp277, £27.50

The appearance over the last decade or so of all-class organisations based upon liberal politics around such issues as racism, women's rights, the environment and militarism, issues on which a Marxist approach is sorely needed, demonstrates the necessity to examine earlier analogous manifestations, the Popular Fronts of the late 1930s. The recent calls by certain Stalinists, Labour Party members and academics for electoral pacts involving outright bourgeois parties, make this task even more pressing. Britain of the late 1980s is not France or Spain of the late 1930s, but the lessons of Popular Frontism have not lost their relevance.

`The picture is full of complications and no more than a fraction of the potential questions have been touched on here.' The words of one contributor sum up some of the problems with this collection. There are over 20 contributions, averaging a dozen pages apiece, covering a very wide range of subjects; the origins of the Popular Fronts, the attitudes of the churches and military towards them, the governments' economic policies, political organisations and regional and cultural studies. It's an eclectic brew, rather too skimpy for the expert - can one cover adequately, say, the left wing opposition to French Stalinism in 12 pages? - and often too obscure for the newcomer; take, for example, the essay `Popular Tourism and Mass Leisure in the Vision of the Front Populaire.' Readers of some knowledge will find plenty of interest, but the eclecticism, each author with his or her own specialised subject, style and outlook, leaves the collection with a decided lack of cohesion. There again, this is always a problem with this type of book.

The centrality of Stalinism to the Popular Front, and its crucial r61e in the subsequent demoralisation and defeat of the French and Spanish working class, are downplayed. We learn very little about how the French Communist Party undermined the mammoth strike wave that shook France in June 1936, other than the albeit telling fact that the Stalinists wouldn't challenge the unions' reluctance to fight for equal pay for women. There's a wealth of material not yet translated into English on French Stalinism which could have been drawn upon. Similarly there's next to nothing on the Stalinists' reign of terror in Spain. It's not just a question of the GPU's methods, horrible as they were, but the fact that outright terror was an essential part of the Popular Front, and that the most militant workers and peasants had to be killed or terrorised if the Popular Front's all-class alliance was to survive. The complex relationships between a Stalinist party and the internal pressures of the capitalist and working classes and the external pressures of the Soviet bureaucracy are only mentioned in passing.

Whilst the formation of the Popular Fronts is well covered, little space is devoted to their demise. Commenting on the social and economic policies of the Spanish left, Jose Manuel Macarro Vera recognises that the Popular Front was historically unviable. The reinforcement of the `proletarian bloc' implied `the whole question of the seizure of political power' and this would have spelt the end of the Popular Front. Conversely, making the Popular Front economically viable meant attacks upon the working class, thus provoking class conflict. And there it's left. Just how this dichotomy worked itself out, either in France or in Spain, is not outlined in this book, which is a serious omission.

The Popular Front governments in both Spain and France were brought into office on tremendous waves of working class militancy, which exploded in response to Fascist provocations. In both countries, this militancy had to be defused, dissipated by the workers' parties supporting the Popular Front to ensure that their bourgeois partners in office would not split the coalition governments. The French and Spanish Stalinists played a key part in this, demoralising the masses and, in Spain, physically exterminating those who attempted to expose the charade. There are no `comparative perspectives' on Stalinist treachery here. Reliant upon the demobilisation of the masses and unable to satisfy them with petty reforms, which only raised the resentment of the capitalists, the Popular Fronts led to disaster.

The Popular Front administrations in France were rapidly followed by Edouard Daladier's increasingly repressive government, which overturned what gains the workers had won, and delivered them to the tender mercies of Marshal Petain. In Spain, the Republic fell victim to Franco's Falangists. The real lesson of the Popular Front is that the democratic rights of the working class can only be defended in and through the struggle for state power. Any attempt to stop half way, or to subordinate politically the labour movement to the liberal end of the ruling class will only lead to disaster. The most important aspect of the Popular Front is that the French and Spanish working classes were defeated precisely because of it, and it's a shame that this central issue is only hinted at in this collection.

Paul Flewers

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- Book Reviews

Markin comment:

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.



Karl Kautsky, The Materialist Conception of History, translated by Raymond Meyer and John H. Kautsky, annotated and introduced by John Kautsky, Yale University Press, New Haven 1988, pp.558, £35.00

John Kautsky, the grandson of Karl Kautsky, the ‘Pope of Marxism’, has rendered an immense service in presenting this book in a form that English readers can use. The measure of his achievement (and even more so, that of his grandfather, the author) can be gauged from the fact that this version is smaller than either of the volumes of the German text, but by judicious editing none of the coherence of the original is lost.

The book’s value can hardly be overestimated. Kautsky was the literary legatee of Marx and Engels, and the great systematiser of their work. This volume is thus a synthesis, if not an encyclopaedia of the world view of the German Social Democratic Party, and indeed of the Second International as a whole.

It also represents, of course, the background against which Lenin and Trotsky developed their ideas. Kautsky’s negative attitude to Freud, for example (pp.58, 93, 106-7, 511), stands in marked contrast to Trotsky in Culture and Socialism, and readers of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism will be interested to learn that Kautsky placed far more value on Mach’s work than Lenin did (p.31). Those who are fond of holding forth on the superiority of Lenin’s dialectics over Kautsky’s alleged ‘mechanical materialism’ will be surprised to find out that he is very critical of Engels’ concept of the ‘dialectics of nature’, holding that “like Hegel, we assume that the dialectic in which the thesis itself generates its own antithesis holds good only for human development in society” (p.218).

Coming to the broad sweep of history, students of the Marxist theory of historical development will note that Kautsky identifies and describes the Asiatic Mode, in which he includes Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian and especially Chinese society (pp.140, 278), whose basic mechanism he accepts as hydraulic works (pp.214, 307-10), and delineates the causes of its limitation and stagnation (pp.317-8, 331, 337-8, 543). He even anticipates the theories of Umberto Melotti’s Marx and the Third World when he explains the state form of the Soviet Union as a reversion to “a new despotism, a bureaucratic military despotism under the leadership of a dictatorship of intellectuals’ (p.414). He has none of the reservations of our modern quasi-Marxists at describing Classical society as slave-based (pp.346-7) and ascribes the ultimate failure of the city state to the inbuilt tendency of the slave mode of production to stagnation and decline (p.352).

There is, of course, a weaker side to the book. Kautsky’s Olympian detachment deserts him when he goes over once again his polemic with Bolshevism, which he accuses of holding “that every antagonism among peoples and classes can only be fought out by bloody war” (p.320), and it is inevitably over the question of revolution and the class theory of the state that he appears most limp. He assures us that “there is no longer room for armed struggle as a way of carrying on class conflicts” in a democratic state, in which even the mass strike “hardly seems applicable” (p.376). Industrial capital, we are told, “cannot simply be expropriated without economic damage to society and to the workers themselves” (p.377). Considerable exegetical violence is done both to Marx, whose concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is identified with a democratic republic (p.390), and to Engels, whose forecast of the state taking possession of production as “an act” is put down to an inability to understand that “this transition can only be a more or less slowly advancing process” (p.446).

Kautsky’s book was published in 1927, in the middle of the palmy days of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Stresemann Era, and its trouble-free, evolutionary, unproblematic conception of gradual upward human progress seemed to be a reasonable assumption at the time. Hegelian discontinuities and dialectical leaps are noticeably absent from it. As he admits in several places (pp.6, 66, etc.) he came to his theory of historical change through Darwin rather than Hegel or Marx, and in the end his work is really no more than an immense Darwinian evolutionary rationalisation. History was shortly to deal it a series of rapid and cruel blows. Two years later came the Wall Street crash and another two more years were to see Hitler in power and Kautsky in exile in Prague, where he died in 1938 witnessing the massive wreck of the German workers’ movement.

For there were others who also took their inspiration from Darwin, and developed his insights in unforeseen ways. As opposed to Kautsky, who took over the theory of evolution, others were more interested in natural selection and the survival of the fittest. In several places Kautsky has to argue against racial theories erected on just these Darwinian premises (pp.12,4-5, 137, 149). For the moment Hitler’s movement was no larger than a cloud, the size of a man’s hand, in an otherwise clear sky. “If the expression ‘intensification of class antagonisms’ means that the class struggles assume increasingly violent forms“, Kautsky notes, “then the view implicit in that expression would certainly not be correct” (p.428). He writes his political epitaph, and unfortunately that of the German proletariat as well, with massive if unconscious irony:

The question of whether the capitalists will undertake an armed attack on democracy comes down ... to the question of whether they will be able to find an adequate armed force that is available to them for this purpose ... Today it is the Fascists who have become the paid executioners of the people’s freedom. They are certainly dangerous, but fortunately only under certain conditions that the capitalists cannot conjure up as they choose. In order to be politically effective, the Fascists must appear in large numbers ... In Germany, they will have to be almost one million strong in order to attain this proportion. In an industrialised country, it is impossible to get hold of such a large number of scoundrels in the prime of life for capitalistic purposes (p.394).

Al Richardson



Max Adler, A Socialist Remembers, Duckworth, London, 1988, pp174, £16.95

This memoir, with its dedication:

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- Book Reviews

Markin comment:

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.


Charles Yelland, Dulcie Yelland, 1907-1987: A Socialist of Our Times, Gipton History Group, Leeds 1988, pp143, £2.50

This is an affectionate personal tribute by a retired printer to his late wife. It tells with wry humour and rich irony many reminiscences of their personal and political lives from the 1930s onwards. Here the picture is not of the Leeds working class deferentially accepting its lot, but of struggle in the labour, trade union and co-operative movements, centred on those past decades during which Labour could still hope to govern. Dulcie’s friends will not forget her humour and liveliness, of which the writer gives numerous reminders.

Yet, does not a book which opens with a foreword by Denis Healey, immediately followed by Dulcie’s favourite quotation from Trotsky (“Civilisation can be saved only by the proletarian revolution”) suggest unresolved problems?

Historians will do well not to overlook this unpretentious account. The author tells how Dulcie sympathised in the late 1930s with the Trotskyist view of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state. But that is not the whole story. Dulcie was one of the early recruits whom Mary Archer won to the local cell of the Militant Group, which was then made up almost entirely of industrial workers, few of whose names history has recorded. She denounced the Moscow Trials when you needed courage to do so. But she understood that they raised political and not exclusively ‘moral’ questions, and campaigned as a Trotskyist, in the Labour Party, to ensure that the independence of the working class was not undermined by supporters either of ‘official’ Labour or of the Popular Front, or harnessed to the war aims of British imperialism.

Chapter Four does indeed describe, with relish, how during the Second World War, she organised into the trade union movement a series of engineering workplaces in Leeds, how wage rises were won and victimisations blocked, and how a notoriously anti-union boss had a heart attack. Her reputation as a shop steward lived on for many years.

But it omits to mention how she became a target for the Communist Party’s historic pamphlet, Clear out Hitler’s Agents, which in the event did not in the slightest weaken her support among her fellow workers.

She joined the Revolutionary Socialist League in 1938, supporting the leadership of Denzil Dean Harber and Starkey Jackson and, in the fusion of Spring 1944, joined the Revolutionary Communist Party, where she continued her mass activities.

Dulcie’s understanding of workers’ lives and minds contributed much to her immediate circle of comrades. After the war she tended, like many women militants, to turn back to family life after the separation and hardships; and, at the same time, the struggles among the Trotskyists for theoretical clarity in the largely unforeseen conditions of the late 1940s were going clown channels where she could not follow.

Unswerving in her sympathy for Trotsky’s ideas, she refused to be uprooted from the activity of her local Labour Party, in which she became absorbed for the benefit of the advancement of others in the apparatus rather than that of her own ideas. How often was she to hear that she could have commanded eminence – had she but had the ‘right’ rather than the ‘left’ ideas!

Chapter Six is a lively account of how Dulcie supported Vyvyan Mendelson’s motion at the 1957 Labour Party Conference. This sought to pledge a future Labour government to refuse to test, manufacture or use nuclear weapons, and took on not only the traditional pro-American right, but Aneurin Bevan and the Stalinists as well – but the book does not mention that the motion, from the Norwood Labour Party, was initiated by the ‘Healyites’, or that its attempt to place the workers’ movement in the leadership of the struggle against nuclear weapons was quickly followed by the interposition of CND.

It must be said that Dulcie, like her women comrades, did not let herself be over-impressed by leaders of either gender, however eminent or pretentious. There was no petty-bourgeois feminism among them. They took particular notice of the struggles of women workers, and they did not let men dominate them. But they saw the main enemy in the capitalist class and not in men as a gender.

On this political basis, Dulcie contributed frequently to the Newsletter in the later 1950s. The ‘turn’ of the Socialist Labour League (SLL) in 1964 out of the Labour Party was incomprehensible to her, but she continued to help the local comrades until the exclusion of close friends associated with Alan Thornett led her to distance herself from Healy’s apparatus. She had already become increasingly suspicious, not merely of the sectarian evolution of the SLL’s politics, but of the fabricated accounts of the history of Trotskyism in Britain on which he based his claim to predominance. From personal experience, Dulcie knew that these accounts were false, because they wrote out of history both the Workers International League (WIL) majority and all the experience of the tendency to which she had belonged.

Dulcie has been greatly missed by many, not least among militants far younger than herself. In 1983 she was one of the principal speakers at the memorial meeting in Leeds for Mary Archer, who had been her close personal friend for 45 years – and at least half of her audience were under thirty!

Charlie’s book is interestingly written, well produced and very reasonably priced. It is not merely a piece of local working class history ‘from below’; it raises questions which some may find at first disturbing and may feel moved to follow up. Dulcie may have relied heavily on her precious gifts of intuition and imaginative sympathy, which, alas, by themselves are no substitute for Marxism. But the spark which was ready in 1937-38 for Trotsky’s ideas to light, never burnt out.

John Archer

Friday, October 08, 2010

From The Lynne Stewart Defense Committee Website- Happy Birthday Granma Stewart! Free Lynne Stewart Now!

Click on the headline to link to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee Website

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Women and The French Revolution

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Women And The French Revolution

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 2001, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Women and The French Revolution-Spring 2001

We publish below an edited version of a presentation given by our comrade Susan Adams at a Spartacist League forum to celebrate International Women's Day 2000 in New York City, first published in Workers Vanguard No. 752, 16 February 2001. Susan, who died this February (see obituary, page 2), was a longtime leader of the ICL's French section and maintained an intense commitment to the study of history and culture throughout her years as a communist. These interests were put to particular use in her work as a member of the Editorial Board of Women and Revolution while that journal existed.

International Women's Day originated in March 1908, with a demonstration here in Manhattan by women needle trades workers. They marched to oppose child labor and in favor of the eight-hour day and women's suffrage. March 8 became an international day celebrating the struggle for women's rights. And then on International Women's Day in 1917, right in the middle of World War 190,000 textile workers, many of them women, went on strike in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the capital of the Russian tsarist empire. They rose up from the very bottom rungs of society, and it was these most oppressed and downtrodden of the proletariat who opened the sluice gates of the revolutionary struggle leading to the October Revolution, where Marx's ideas first took on flesh and blood.

The Soviet state was the dictatorship of the proletariat. It immediately enacted laws making marriage and divorce simple civil procedures, abolishing the category of illegitimacy and all discrimination against homosexuals. It took steps toward replacing women's household drudgery by setting up cafeterias, laundries and childcare centers to allow women to enter productive employment. Under the conditions of extreme poverty and backwardness, those measures could be carried out only on a very limited scale. But they undermined the institution of the family and represented the first steps toward the liberation of women. The collectivized planned economy laid the basis for enormous economic and social progress. Fully integrated into the economy as wage earners, women achieved a degree of economic independence that became so much a matter of course that it was barely noticed by the third generation after the revolution. We fought for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution up until the very last barricade.

The great October Russian Revolution has now been undone and its gains destroyed. Surrounded and pounded by the imperialists for seven decades, the Soviet Union was destroyed by capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. The responsibility for that lies primarily with the Stalinist bureaucracy which usurped political power from the working class in 1923-24 and betrayed the revolutionary purpose of Lenin and Trotsky's Bolshevik Party and the revolutionary Communist International that they founded. Not the least of the Stalinists' crimes was the glorification of the family and the reversal of many gains for women. We called for a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.

In celebrating International Women's Day, we reaffirm that the struggle for women's rights is inextricably linked to revolution and we honor the women fighters through the centuries whose courage and consciousness has often put them in the vanguard of struggles to advance the cause of the oppressed. The Russian Revolution was a proletarian socialist revolution; it overthrew the rule of the capitalists and landlords and placed the working class in power. The Great French Revolution of 1789-94was a bourgeois revolution, the most thorough and deep going of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The French Revolution overthrew the rule of the monarchy, the nobility and the landed aristocracy and placed the bourgeoisie in power. It swept Europe with its liberating ideas and its revolutionary reorganization of society. It transformed the population from subjects of the crown to citizens with formal equality. Jews were freed from the ghettos and declared citizens with full rights; slavery was first abolished on the territory of the French nation. It inspired the first successful slave revolt in the colonies, the uprising led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in what became Haiti. And, within the limitations of bourgeois rule, it achieved gains for women that were unparalleled until the time of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Today's capitalist ruling class is unsurpassed in bloody terrorism against working people around the world in defense of its profits and property. As hard as it is to imagine, the ancestors of this bourgeoisie played a historically progressive role then, sweeping away the backwardness, irrationality and inefficiency of the previous feudal system. The leaders of the French Revolution, who represented the most radical sector of the French bourgeoisie, spoke with—and for the most part believed—the words of the Enlightenment, justifying its fight to destroy the nobility as a class and take political power itself as the advent of "liberty, equality and fraternity" for all. They could not, and the majority of them did not intend to, emancipate the lower classes. Nevertheless, something changed in the world.

Particularly since "death of communism" propaganda has filled the bourgeois press and media following the destruction of the Soviet Union, there's been a real attempt to demonize not just the Russian Revolution but any revolution, the French Revolution in particular. The push for retrograde social policies has been historically justified with a virtual flood of books and articles attacking the humanist values of the Enlightenment philosophy which laid the ideological basis for the French Revolution. Today, while the bourgeoisie in its decay disowns the rationalist and democratic values it once espoused, we Trotskyists stand out not only as the party of the Russian Revolution but the champions of the liberating goals of the French Revolution.

Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin identified with the Jacobins, the radical wing of the French revolutionary bourgeoisie, whose most prominent leaders were Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat and Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just. Lenin wrote that the "essence of Jacobinism" was "the transfer of power to the revolutionary, oppressed class" and that Jacobinism was "one of the highest peaks in the emancipation struggle of an oppressed class." You can better understand why Lenin was inspired by the Jacobins from the following words by Saint-Just: "Those who make a revolution, with half-measures are only digging their own grave."

Women's Oppression and Class Society

In the early 19th century, a French socialist named Charles Fourier carefully studied the French Revolution. He wrote biting, witty and humorous criticism of existing social relations, including working out a whole scheme—kind of nutty but fun and food for thought—for perpetually satisfying sexual relations. Needless to say, he thought sexual monogamy was a curse worse than death. In a famous statement quoted by Karl Marx in his 1845 book The Holy Family, Fourier said:

"The change in a historical epoch can always be determined by women's progress towards freedom, because here, in the relation of woman to man, of the weak to the strong, the victory of human nature over brutality is most evident. The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation."

And that quite profound observation guides us today in our understanding of society.

Women's oppression is rooted in the institution of the family and has been a feature of all class societies. At one point before recorded history, it didn't much matter who the father of a child was, since children were largely cared for communally. But then inventions such as agriculture made it possible to produce more than the producers could actually consume. This ability to produce a surplus meant that a leisure class could live off the labor of others and accumulate property. It became important to know who the father of a child was so that he could pass on his property to his own children. Monogamy appeared, making the man dominant and the woman subservient, enslaved.

The family is a key social unit for the maintenance of capitalism. For the capitalists, the family provides the basis for passing on accumulated wealth. And where there is no property to pass on, the family serves to rear the next generation of workers for the capitalists and to inculcate conservative social values. It is the family—and the necessity to control sexual access to the woman to ensure that the man knows who his real heir is—which generates the morality codified in and reinforced by religion. It is the family which throughout a woman's life gives definition to her oppressed state: as daughter, as wife, as mother.

We Marxists fight to rip the means of production out of the hands of the capitalists in order to put them at the service of the needs of the working people that create the wealth. Only then can household drudgery be replaced with socialized child-care, restaurants, laundries and so on. The program of communism is for a classless society in which the family is transcended by superior sexual and social relations which will be free of moral or economic coercion. Our slogan is: "For women's liberation through socialist revolution!"

Marx said that revolution is the locomotive of history. In the Great French Revolution, the women of Paris were often the engineers in that locomotive. I'm going to be talking about the role of thousands of women leaders, military commanders, propagandists and organizers whose role at key junctures of the French Revolution was quite simply decisive. Groups like the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women literally shaped history. Count Mirabeau, one of the major actors in the beginning of the revolution, was an extremely sleazy guy, firmly in favor of a constitutional monarchy, occasionally in the pay of the king. But even he said: "Without women, there is no revolution."

Most histories of the French Revolution concentrate their chief attention on the upper levels of society and the top layers of the plebeian masses. In recent years, a number of French and American women historians have done very interesting and important research into the dusty archives of the revolution in Paris—police reports, newspaper articles. Some of these historians are feminists; that is, they see the fundamental division in society as that between the sexes.

At the time of the revolution, a movement focused specifically on women's rights was in the minority. One person who was what you would call a feminist today, at least as far as I have been able to put together her history, was Olympe de Gouges. In her pamphlet, The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen, written in the fall of 1791, she implicitly called for the vote for women, for a women's assembly and for equal rights with men. She also dedicated her pamphlet to the despised queen Marie Antoinette! De Gouges was not an aristocrat but a butcher's daughter from outside Paris, yet she remained a royalist throughout most of the revolution and was guillotined in November 1793.

Some of the recent analysis by feminist historians feeds right into today's reactionary climate. Taking aim at the French Revolution itself, they claim that the failure of women to secure the right to vote for national parliaments and the suppression of the exclusively women's political clubs during the most radical period of the revolution proves that misogyny triumphed. This view is also promoted in an article in the New York Times Magazine (16 May 1999) called "The Shadow Story of the Millennium: Women." The article states that the French Revolution's "new philosophy of rational natural rights placed all men on an equal footing in regard to citizenship and the law" but adds: "Men of the revolution said that women should stay home and rear their sons to be good citizens."

Let us allow a participant to refute this falsehood. Mere Duchesne was a domestic servant, a cook, who, unlike most domestic servants then, defied her aristocratic masters. She was described in a police report as "the satellite and missionary to all women under Robespierre's orders, a most ferocious woman." The Mere Duchesne newspaper wrote in September 1792:

"In the past, when we wanted to speak, our mouths were shut while we were told very politely, 'You reason like a woman'; almost like a goddamn beast. Oh! Damn! Everything is very different now; we have indeed grown since the Revolution."

"The Columns of French Liberty"

Now I want to go into some detail about the French Rev¬olution itself. A revolution is a monumental military and social battle between classes. The dominant class in any society controls the state—the police, courts, army—which protects its class interests. In modern society there are two fundamental classes: the big capitalists who own the means of production (the mines, factories, etc.) and the workers who own absolutely nothing except their personal effects and are compelled to sell their labor power to the capitalists. At the time of the French Revolution, there were essentially four
classes. The king and the nobility who owned nearly all of the land, the rising bourgeoisie, the peasants (who constituted over 80 percent of the population) and the urban sans culottes. The latter consisted of artisans, who worked either at home or in very small workshops, shopkeepers, day laborers, the poor and unemployed. Those who did manual labor wore loose trousers and were sans—without—the tight silk leggings worn by aristocrats and those imitating them.

A revolution happens when the ruling class can no longer rule as before, and the masses are no longer willing to be ruled in the same way. We're talking about a political crisis in which the rulers falter and which tears the people from the habitual conditions under which they labor and vegetate, awakening even the most backward elements, compelling the people to take stock of themselves and look around. That political crisis was provoked in France by the 1776 American Revolution.

France had taken the side of the American colonies against its perpetual enemy England and so had emerged on the side of the victors, but totally broke. In May 1789, King Louis XVI convened an Estates General—a meeting of representatives of the nobility, the clergy and the non-noble property owners and lawyers (the so-called Third Estate)— at Versailles, where his palace was located, about 12 miles from Paris. He hoped to convince some of them to pay more taxes. But they refused, while every village throughout the country wrote up its grievances to be presented at Versailles. The meeting of the three estates transformed itself into a National Assembly.

It was clear that the king was gathering troops to disperse the National Assembly. The negotiations out at Versailles might have gone on forever, except the Parisian masses took things into their own capable hands and organized to arm themselves, seizing 60,000muskets from armories like the Invalides and the Bastille prison fortress around the city on 14 July 1789. You know of this event as the storming of the Bastille. The freeing of the handful of prisoners was incidental; it was the arms that were the goal. The Paris garrisons had been deeply influenced by revolutionary propaganda following a massacre of rioters in the working-class quarters of Faubourg Saint-Antoine some months earlier. In June, the troops paraded through the streets to shouts of "Long live the Third Estate! We are the soldiers of the nation!"

The king backed down, but the monarchy still had its army and its throne. The bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, mutually hostile classes, were relying on essentially incompatible government institutions, the National Assembly and the royal throne. One or the other would have to go. Either the king (and his many royal cousins and relations by marriage ruling other countries of Europe) would crush the National Assembly or the king would meet up with what came to be known as "Madame la Guillotine."

The weeks following the July 14 events were known as the "Great Fear," the fear that the aristocrats were coming to take the land back and were organizing brigands and robbers and bands of pirates and so forth. So the peasants armed to protect themselves. Then it turned out to be a rumor, but there they were, armed and ready, and being practical sorts, they turned on the landlords' manor houses and made use of the arms that they'd gotten.

The people's representatives, who were deliberating out at Versailles, took note of the insurrection and on August 4 passed laws eliminating feudal privileges, which had been the original issue all summer. The problem was that you had to buy your way out of your feudal duties and pay 25 times your feudal taxes in order to free yourself from them. Most peasants simply ignored that and had been seizing the land all over the country since July 14. They also would burn down the lord's manor house, where the records and the deeds were kept. You know, straightforward and practical.

The next major event is crucial to our understanding of the women's role. It was October and the people of Paris were starving again. October is usually a cold and wet month in Paris. It was indeed raining at 8 a.m. on the morning of 5 October 1789. Thousands of women—eventually some 8,000—had already gathered in front of City Hall. They knew where to find the arms because it was they who had helped store them here after July 14.

The king had allowed the symbol of the revolution—the red-white-and-blue cockade (rosette)—to be trampled underfoot by some foreign troops brought in to protect him and his Austrian queen, Marie Antoinette. The women intended to stop this anti-revolutionary activity and they wanted bread. Huge stores of fine white flour waited at Versailles. They began to walk there. They couldn't get anyone to come with them, but later in the afternoon about 20,000 troops of the National Guard—which had been formed by the bourgeoisie—forced the very reluctant General Lafayette, whom you might know as a hero of the American Revolution, to lead them there. One of the women was Pauline Leon, a chocolate maker, who was later to lead the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. That day she was armed with a pike, which was known as the people's weapon, because it was so easy to make. You could pull something off the top of a railing and attach it to a good hefty stick. It was said that "the pikes of the people are the columns of French liberty."

This was no protest march—it was a sea of muskets and pikes. The women were determined not to come back without the king and his family. There were still plenty of illusions in the king, but they wanted him under their watchful eye, in Paris. At one point the crowd apparently invaded the palace and was wandering through Marie Antoinette's chambers and some things were getting broken and stepped on and stomped and so forth. One very respectable woman in a velvet hat and cloak turned around and said very haughtily, "Don't do that, we're here to make a point, not to break things." And a woman from the artisan class turned around and said, "My husband was drawn and quartered for stealing a piece of meat." Finally the women demanded that the royal family get into their carriage. Lafayette's troops led the way and the women marched in front carrying on their pikes loaves of fresh, very white bread—the kind reserved for the upper classes—and the heads of two of the king's bodyguards.

The Revolutionary Jacobin Dictatorship

While pretending to be happy with the situation, the king was secretly corresponding with the other royal heads of state and nobles began to emigrate en masse, establishing counterrevolutionary centers outside the country. In June 1791, the king and queen disguised themselves and tried to escape, intending to return with the backing of the Austrian army. But an observant revolutionary recognized them in the town of Varennes, and they were brought back to Paris. This destroyed the people's remaining illusions in the monarchy and triggered an upsurge in revolutionary agitation. But the bourgeoisie, fearing things could get out of hand, sought to maintain the monarchy and clamp down on the mass turmoil. A month after the king's arrest, a petition to abolish the monarchy was being circulated among the crowd on the broad expanse of the Champs de Mars. The National Guard fired on the crowd and many were killed. Commanded by the aristocrat Lafayette, the National Guard had been organized as a force not only against the king but also against the threat that the bourgeoisie had already seen coming from the Parisian working people.

The Champs de Mars massacre marked a split within the bourgeois revolutionary forces. The two main factions that emerged—the Girondins and the Jacobins—represented the same social class, but they were deeply politically divided. The Prussian monarchy and the rest of royal Europe were mobilizing militarily and in April 1792 revolutionary France went to war. The Girondins sought a "negotiated solution" with the reactionary feudal armies combined with concessions to the nobility and the clergy. The Jacobins were ready to make temporary concessions to the hungry urban masses in order to thoroughly vanquish feudal reaction. You could say that the Girondins were the reformist wing and the Jacobins the revolutionary wing of the bourgeoisie.

In June 1792, thousands of armed marchers, including numerous women armed with sabers, paraded through the Assembly in the first of what became known as journees, or days of action. One official observed at the time, "The throne was still standing, but the people were seated on it, took the measure of it." The monarchy was finally overthrown by a second journee on 10 August 1792, when the masses invaded the king's residence at the Tuileries Palace in Paris and imprisoned the royal family.

The war was not going well. Most of the former officers, aristocrats, had emigrated. A government representative appealed for recruits by invoking "the heartbreaking thought that, after all the efforts that have already been made, we might be forced to return to the misery of our former slavery." While the best of the revolutionaries volunteered for the front, they were untrained and assumed to be undisciplined. Most of the new recruits were trades people, artisans and journeymen, not the sons of the bourgeoisie as before. The road to Paris seemed open to the Prussian royal armies.

The king of Prussia expected the French troops to scatter in disarray when his troops moved to drive them out of a strip of land near Valmy in eastern France. But not a man flinched as the French general waved his hat in the air on the point of his sword, shouting "Long live the nation!" The sans-culottes fired straight and repeatedly at the enemy. With a torrential rainstorm some hours later, the armies fell back. The German writer Goethe was present at Valmy, and as he looked out over the battlefield that night he said, "This day and this place open a new era in the history of the world."
He could not have been more prescient. On that day, the Assembly gave way to the Convention, which was elected by universal male suffrage and convoked expressly to give the nation a constitution which codified the overthrow of the king. Also, as we will see, the most progressive marriage and divorce laws until the Bolshevik Revolution were passed on exactly the same day as the victory at Valmy. Five months later, the king was beheaded.

In a third uprising in June 1793, the people of Paris and 80,000 National Guard troops surrounded the Convention and demanded the arrest of the Girondins and a comprehensive program of revolutionary defense of the country. This ushered in the Jacobin revolutionary dictatorship, which irremediably abolished seigneurial (feudal) rights, instituted the price controls (referred to as the "maximum") demanded by the sans-culottes and destroyed the resistance of the feudal order through a reign of revolutionary terror carried out by the Committee of Public Safety.

A month after the foreign troops were driven from France in mid-1794, on July 27 (9 Thermidor in the revolutionary calendar), the conservative wing of the bourgeoisie took the reins of power. The next day Robespierre followed the Grindings to the guillotine. The Thermidorians thought they could do without the alliance with the lower classes. That calculation was proved false, and they were themselves replaced in 1799 in the coup of the 18th Brumaire (November 9) by Napoleon Bonaparte, who subsequently declared himself emperor. But the Jacobin dictatorship had irreversibly consolidated the central achievement of the French Revolution, the rooting out of feudal relations in the countryside.

Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance

As materialists, we understand, as Marx put it, that "Law can never be higher than the economic structure and the cultural development of society conditioned by that structure." The rising capitalist class was firmly committed to the preservation of private property, as indeed it had to be. It was precisely this which staked out the limits of the revolutionary social changes that could be carried out, although the most radical years of the French Revolution went very far indeed.

The family was temporarily undermined in order to serve the needs of the revolution against its enemies, the feudal nobility and Catholic church. This is one demonstration of the fact that social institutions which seem to be immutable, to be "natural" and "eternal," are in fact nothing more than the codification of social relations dictated by the particular economic system that is in place. After the bourgeoisie consolidated its power as the new ruling class, it re-established the constraints of the family. But nothing would ever be the same again. The contradictory reality of the French Revolution—the breathtaking leap in securing individual rights and the strict limits imposed on those rights by the fact that this was a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution—was captured by Karl Marx in The German Ideology:

"The existence of the family is made necessary by its connection with the mode of production, which exists independently of the will of bourgeois society. That it was impossible to do without it was demonstrated in the most striking way during the French Revolution, when for a moment the family was as good as legally abolished."

The feminists who want to dismiss the bourgeois revolution as anti-woman end up echoing those who justify suttee (widow-burning) in India and the imposition of the chador in Iran and Afghanistan as "cultural differences." Where the bourgeois revolution did not triumph, the status of women is qualitatively inferior. It is enough to contrast the condition of women today in West Europe with Afghanistan, groaning under the rule of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban.

I'll give you a very small example of what it meant to have a society in which a rising, vigorous, productive class—the bourgeoisie—was held in check by outmoded institutions. France was a Catholic country. In 1572, tens of thousands of French Protestants were killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and more fled the country. The 1598 Edict of Nantes assured them the free exercise of their religious beliefs, but this was revoked in 1685. Some of the richest merchants were Protestant, but marriages performed by their own pastors were not officially recognized. At the death of a spouse, you would have distant Catholic relatives claiming the inheritance, because legally there was no spouse and the children were illegitimate. Both Protestants and Jews accepted divorce. In 1769, according to James Traer in his Marriage and the Family in Eighteenth-Century France (1980), a respected author advocated permitting divorce on the grounds that "the Protestant nations of northern Europe were enjoying both population growth and prosperity while the Catholic states of southern Europe were suffering from declining population and poverty." But the conservatives always managed to get the law postponed.

Under the Old Regime, women had the right to exactly nothing. The monarchy consistently sought to reinforce, supplement and extend the father's control over the marriage of his children. Women found guilty of adultery were sentenced to public whipping or imprisonment. Women were also put into convents for life for adultery. Marriage was indissoluble—a life sentence. If you were a man, you couldn't marry until you were 30 without your parents' permission. If your family had property, your father could get the king to issue a lettre de cachet, something like an unlimited arrest warrant, and you could be locked up indefinitely. If you married a minor (under the age of 25 for women) without permission, the penalty was death for rape notwithstanding the woman's consent. By the way, actors and actresses couldn't marry either, because their profession was viewed by the church as immoral.

The aristocracy was hardly committed to the sanctity of marriage. It was said at the court of Louis XIV some decades before the revolution that the aristocracy frowned on marital fidelity as being in bad taste, and a German visitor noted, "I know of not a single case of mutual affection and loyalty." I introduce this to make the point that marriage for the upper classes was all about property. Many of the sans-culottes did not marry at all. But in the Paris of the French Revolution, women were still largely dependent on men for economic reasons (whether or not they were legally married).

Much debate and several pieces of draft legislation on marriage and divorce had already been considered by the National Assembly before September 1792. All proposed to make marriage d simple civil affair. However, what stood in the way of this was the Catholic church. Those clergy who refused to swear an oath of loyalty were threatened with deportation. But the Pope forbade it, and a lot did refuse. Though some were deists or free thinkers, the bourgeois deputies in the Assembly had no intention of suppressing religion; they nearly all agreed that some kind of religion was necessary to keep the people pacified. But now they had a big problem on their hands as the village priests became organizers for counterrevolution.

The local priests not only carried out marriage ceremonies, baptisms and funerals, but also recorded them. If these records were in the hands of hostile forces, how could you count the population? You wouldn't even know if you had enough draftees for the army. When in June 1792 the Minister of Justice wrote that the civil war launched by the aristocracy and the church in the Vendee region in southwest France had completely disrupted the keeping of records, one delegate rose to propose that the marriage ceremony be abolished with the cry, "Freedom or death!" So in some ways, the progressive marriage and divorce laws enacted in September the same day as the victory at Valmy were war measures.

The age of adulthood was lowered to 21 and marriage without parental consent was legalized. This was followed by a June 1793 decree that proclaimed the right of illegitimate children to inherit from both their mothers and their fathers. At a stroke, the institution of the family lost one of its main functions as the framework for the transfer of property from one generation to the next. While inheritance rights didn't mean much to those without property, the new laws also tended to legitimize "free unions." For example, soldiers' common-law wives could receive government pensions.

Divorce had not been high on the list of grievances before the revolution, but as the pamphlets flowered, so did the notion that divorce was a necessary right in society. Probably rarely in history had a simple law so delighted the female population. When a certain citizen Bellepaume came to the town hall intending to oppose the divorce demanded by his wife, he found that she had organized "a considerable number of citizens of both sexes, but chiefly women" who pursued him in the corridors, abused him and tore his clothes. In the first year after the divorce law was passed, women
initiated over 70 percent of all divorces. One woman wrote to the Convention:

"The female citizen Govot, a free woman, solemnly comes to give homage to this sacred law of divorce. Yesterday, groaning under the control of a despotic husband, liberty was only an empty word for her. Today, returned to the dignity of an independent woman, she idolizes this beneficial law that breaks ill-matched ties and returns hearts to themselves, to nature, and finally to divine liberty. I offer my country six francs for the expense of war. I add my marriage ring, which was until today the symbol of my slavery."

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women

The question of women's status in society had been a subject of debate throughout the Enlightenment. The Encyclopedia, published just before the revolution and intended as a compendium of all knowledge, contained four contributions under the category "Women": one in favor of equality, one ambiguous and two against. Even in a very radical work like Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), woman's role as subordinate to man inside the family was not seriously called into question. Wollstonecraft was part of a circle of British radical-democratic revolutionaries who supported the French Revolution against English monarchical reaction, even participating in the French government.

Most of the Enlightenment thinkers and writers concentrated on education for women, and that was about it. Now, this is undeniably a very important question, and it refuted the prevalent idea that women were inferior to men and their brains worked in an inferior way. Only about a third of French women at the time were literate. You'd find them during the revolutionary years at the corner cafe with their glass of red wine, reading or listening to someone else read Robespierre's latest speech. The hunger for knowledge was totally linked to the desire to change society. Before 1777, France had no daily newspaper. Two years later, there were 35 papers and periodicals and by 1789 there were 169. Thousands of political pamphlets rolled off the printing presses.

One of the novels based on the new research published in the last few years has the Enlightenment philosopher Condorcet, who wrote very eloquently about women's rights, and his lovely young wife enjoying long mornings reading a bit of Voltaire or the equivalent of the Sunday New York Times in bed with their cafe au lait, making love, and then getting up in the afternoon to walk in the garden and do their very serious intellectual work. Not a bad life, right? But it wasn't available to most people, of course. Condorcet ended by opposing the execution of Louis XVI, ostensibly on the grounds of opposition to the death penalty.

The working women of Paris who were a motor force in the revolution lived very different lives. Perhaps 45,000 women in Paris, some 20 percent, were wage earners; a similar percentage of women in cities like Lyon and Rouen worked. Because of the war, women were able to break into traditionally male professions and they were also employed at sewing, as domestic servants. Some were proprietors of shops. Wives, legal or otherwise, of soldiers at the front were given subsidies. The Paris municipal government and the political clubs set up spinning workshops that at a certain point employed several thousand women, though the wages were miserable. They were centralized by the government office responsible for producing clothes for the troops.

It was from among these women of the sans-culottes that the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women was formed in the spring of 1793. One of the leaders of the society was the chocolate maker Pauline Leon, whom we last saw with her pike on the October 1789 march to Versailles. Another was the actress Claire Lacombe, who always followed her signature with "A Free Woman." A third was Anne Felicite' Colombe, who owned a print shop. Typography was generally a man's job, so she was already exceptional for this. In 1791, she had been one of the four women arrested when the National Guard shot down demonstrators at the Champs de Mars calling for the overthrow of the monarchy. Colombe printed the revolutionary newspapers of Jean-Paul Marat, L'Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People) and L'Orateur du Peuple (The Orator of the People). She was dragged into a libel suit, which she eventually won, and distributed the 20,000-//vre settlement to the poor in her neighborhood.

While women did not win the right to vote for delegates to the Convention, especially after the establishment of the Jacobin dictatorship in 1793 they played a full role in the Parisian sectional assemblies, intervening, presenting positions, voting and being elected as delegates. They refused to be "servile women, domestic animals," as one put it in May 1793. Interestingly, the one widespread demand for formal equality was for the right to bear arms. In March 1792, Pauline Leon had led a delegation to present a petition to the Assembly declaring:

"You cannot refuse us and society cannot remove from us this right which nature gives us, unless it is alleged that the Declaration of Rights is not applicable to women and that they must allow their throats to be slit, like sheep, without having the right to defend themselves."

The women demanded the right to arm themselves with pikes, pistols, sabers and rifles, and to assemble for maneuvers on the Champs de Mars. After much debate, the Assembly moved to put the petition in the minutes with honorable mention. Dozens of women actually went to the front when the war began, a few as officers.

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women solidly backed the Jacobins as the revolutionary government and politically supported the extreme left Enrages around Jacques Roux, who spoke for the popular masses. Just after the Revolutionary Republican Women was founded, they mobilized the support of the masses in the streets for the Jacobins, whose battle to oust the Girondins was then coming to a head. As the split deepened, there were many more women than men in the street gatherings, according to police reports. The Revolutionary Republican Women dressed in military clothes and carried sabers. One account has them waging a military battle in the Convention to get back the seats which had been taken from them by supporters of the right-wing Gironde.

Reversal of Gains Under Thermidor

In October 1793, the society became one of the first organizations to be banned by the Jacobin government. Those feminist historians I mentioned earlier claim that this proves that the French Revolution was essentially hostile to women. That's wrong. The society was banned not because it was composed of women, but because it was one of the most radical expressions of the sans-culottes.

Here's what happened. The Enrages and the Revolutionary Republican Women fought for strict price controls, especially on food, and an upper limit on the size of personal fortunes. In October, the Revolutionary Republican Women launched a campaign to force all women to wear the revolutionary cockade. They brought their campaign to Les Halles, the central marketplace in Paris. The market women were of course hostile to the price maximum on food that had just been imposed by the Jacobin government as a concession to the sans-culottes. The question of the cockade was just the pretext for the major-league brawl that ensued between the market women and the women revolutionaries. This fight represented an early split in the Jacobins' base, and the Jacobins sided with the market women, banning the Revolutionary Republicans.

The peasants wanted maximum food prices, the artisan-proletariat in the cities wanted minimum ones, pointing to the spectre of a civil war which the sans-cullotes could not win. The Jacobins could have tried to strike a deal, but ultimately they could not satisfy the conflicting demands of the urban poor and the peasantry. When revolutionary Russia in the early 1920s was confronted with the "scissors crisis," as the price of scarce manufactured goods rose and the price of agricultural products fell 3nd the peasants threatened to withhold their produce, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky proposed a course of planned industrialization to make more manufactured goods available to the peasants and maintain their support for the proletarian dictatorship. Trotsky's proposal was rejected at the time (only to be implemented at forced-march pace a few years later by Stalin). But such an option was objectively unrealizable in the capitalist economic system of pre-industrial France.

By the fall of 1793, the Jacobins and revolutionary France were gasping for air. Mandatory conscription had provoked mass uprisings in the Vendee; there had been treachery at the front; the armies of the European monarchies had reinvaded France; and Girondin provinces were seceding; Marat, the "friend of the people," had been assassinated by the royalist Charlotte Corday. Against this backdrop, the Revolutionary Republican Women, in their revolutionary zeal against the market women, threatened to get in the way of prompt and regular deliveries of food to the city from the countryside, without which the Jacobins would have lost the allegiance of the urban masses.

Many of the revolutionary women continued to be active as individuals. Even after being arrested by the Jacobin government, Claire Lacombe stayed loyal to Robespierre. She never renounced her support, and after Robespierre's execution she always refused to point out that she had been arrested by his revolutionary government because she hated the idea of becoming a hero of the Thermidorians. Women played a vanguard role in the last uprising of the French Revolution in the spring of 1795, after Thermidor. The rallying cry was "Bread and the Constitution of 1793!"

The modern feminist historians believe that the role of women who rose up from the "cellars and catacombs" has been largely obscured because of prevailing patriarchal attitudes in society. Or they seek to show that women acted only on "women's issues," mainly food shortages. While there's some truth in both these observations, they fundamentally miss the point. The mass of active women in the French Revolution did not fight and organize as women but as revolutionaries. And, as the October 1789 march that brought the king back from Versailles showed, it wasn't simply the question of bread that motivated them.

Thermidor marked the end of the radical phase of the revolution, and women were among the first to feel this. This was especially true for divorced women, who would have trouble finding work and maintaining themselves under the conservative Thermidorians. Divorce became identified with the "ruin of society" and the "torrent of corruption that invaded the cities and especially Paris" during the Terror and the months that followed it. Proof of a legitimate marriage became a requirement for soldiers' wives seeking to receive aid. After May 1795, the Convention banned women from "attending political assemblies," urging them to withdraw to their homes and ordering "the arrest of those who would gather together in groups of more than five."

The Napoleonic Code saw a further reversal of the gains of women. It's reported that the only part of the deliberations on the Napoleonic Code that Bonaparte sat in on was the Family Code enacted in 1804. The Family Code again made women minors from the standpoint of the law, mandating that they had to have the approval of their husbands for all contracts and so forth. In 1816, a year after Napoleon was overthrown and the monarchy restored, divorce was abolished.

For Women's Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

I want to briefly trace the revolutionary continuity extending from the French Revolution through the 19th century. The French Revolution, refracted through Napoleon's armies, brought the first notions of women's equality to hideously backward tsarist Russia. Following Napoleon's defeat, Paris was occupied by Russian troops for a period of time. A number of young officers spent a lot of time in the cafes talking to people about what had been going on, and went back to St. Petersburg and led the Decembrist Uprising against the tsarist autocracy in 1825. They fought, among other things, for women's equality.

The very first communist ideas came out of the analysis developed by some of the radical Jacobins while in prison after the defeat of the Jacobin dictatorship. Revolutionaries like Gracchus Babeuf, who organized the Conspiracy of Equals, and Philippe Buonarroti came to believe that private property itself was the cause of oppression. They provided a living link to Marx and Engels, who issued the Communist Manifesto as the next revolutionary wave swept Europe in 1848, declaring: "The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital." In France, a program was advanced for women's emancipation that called for replacing domestic slavery with socially organized and financed services. I found this 1848 program reprinted in an early 1920s women's journal published by the French Communist Party, L'Ouvriere (The Woman Worker).

In the Paris Commune in 1871, women once again played an extremely important role. Marx described the Commune as the first realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though it lasted less than three months. The women of the Paris Commune were called the "incendiaries" by the reactionary press, and a correspondent for the London Times wrote, "If the French Nation were composed of nothing but women, what a terrible nation it would be." But Marx hailed them: "The women of Paris joyfully give up their lives on the barricades and execution grounds" (quoted in Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries [1967]). When the French capitalist rulers finally defeated the Commune after heroic resistance, they slaughtered at least 30,000 people in one week, and many thousands more were sent to penal colonies.

Today, bourgeois France is an imperialist power, where the July 14 storming of the Bastille is celebrated as a chauvinist glorification of the "grandeur of France"—much like July 4 here—while French colonial atrocities are carried out to the music of the once-revolutionary hymn, the Marseillaise.

We Trotskyists know that it will take world socialist revolution to do away with the institutions which are the root cause of women's oppression. In our fight to reforge Leon Trotsky's Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to lead new October Revolutions around the planet, we are guided by the words of the Fourth International's founding document, the 1938 Transitional Program: "The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class, consequently among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness, and readiness to sacrifice." Join us!

*From The Archives Of The Socialist Workers Party (America)- The Eleventh National Convention of The Socialist Workers Party (1944)

Click on the headline to link to the article described in the title.

Marxism, no less than other political traditions, and perhaps more than most, places great emphasis on roots, the building blocks of current society and its political organizations. Nowhere is the notion of roots more prevalent in the Marxist movement that in the tracing of organizational and political links back to the founders, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Communist Manifesto, and the Communist League. A recent example of that linkage in this space was when I argued in this space that, for those who stand in the Trotskyist tradition, one must examine closely the fate of Marx’s First International, the generic socialist Second International, Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Revolution-inspired Communist International, and Trotsky’s revolutionary successor, the Fourth International before one looks elsewhere for a centralized international working class organization that codifies the principle –“workers of the world unite.”

On the national terrain in the Trotskyist movement, and here I am speaking of America where the Marxist roots are much more attenuated than elsewhere, we look to Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor League, Deb’s Socialist Party( mainly its left-wing, not its socialism for dentists wing), the Wobblies (IWW, Industrial Workers Of The World), the early Bolshevik-influenced Communist Party and the various formations that made up the organization under review, the James P. Cannon-led Socialist Workers Party, the section that Leon Trotsky’s relied on most while he was alive. Beyond that there are several directions to go in but these are the bedrock of revolutionary Marxist continuity, at least through the 1960s. If I am asked, and I have been, this is the material that I suggest young militants should start of studying to learn about our common political forbears. And that premise underlines the point of the entries that will posted under this headline in further exploration of the early days, “the dog days” of the Socialist Workers Party.

Note: I can just now almost hear some very nice and proper socialists (descendents of those socialism for dentist-types) just now, screaming in the night, yelling what about Max Shachtman (and, I presume, his henchman, Albert Glotzer, as well) and his various organizational formations starting with the Workers party when he split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1940? Well, what about old Max and his “third camp” tradition? I said the Trotskyist tradition not the State Department socialist tradition. If you want to trace Marxist continuity that way, go to it. That, in any case, is not my sense of continuity, although old Max knew how to “speak” Marxism early in his career under Jim Cannon’s prodding. Moreover at the name Max Shachtman I can hear some moaning, some serious moaning about blackguards and turncoats, from the revolutionary pantheon by Messrs. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. I rest my case.


*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- Jean Rous-Spain 1936-39: The Murdered Revolution

Click on the headline to link to the Revolutionary History journal entry listed in the title.

Markin comment:

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.


Leon Trotsky
The Tragedy of Spain

Written: 30 January 1939.
Originally Published: Russian Bulletin of the Opposition, No. 74.
Source: Socialist Appeal [New York], 19 February, 1939
Translated: Socialist Appeal.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Martin Falgren & D Walters.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2008. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

One of the most tragic chapters of modern history is now drawing to its conclusion in Spain. On Franco’s side there is neither a staunch army nor popular support. There is only the greed of proprietors ready to drown in blood three—fourths of the population if only to maintain their rule over the remaining one—fourth. However, this cannibalistic ferocity is not enough to win a victory over the heroic Spanish proletariat. Franco needed help from the opposite side of the battlefront. And he obtained this aid. His chief assistant was and still is Stalin, the gravedigger of the Bolshevik Party and the proletarian revolution. The fall of the great proletarian capital, Barcelona, comes as direct retribution for the massacre of the uprising of the Barcelona proletariat in May 1937.

Insignificant as Franco himself is, however miserable his clique of adventurists, without honor, without conscience, and without military talents, Franco’s great superiority lies in this, that he has a clear and definite program: to safeguard and stabilize capitalist property, the rule of the exploiters, and the domination of the church; and to restore the monarchy.

The possessing classes of all capitalist countries—whether fascist or democratic—proved, in the nature of things, to be on Franco’s side. The Spanish bourgeoisie has gone completely over to Franco’s camp. At the head of the republican camp, there remained the cast—off “democratic” armor—bearers of the bourgeoisie. These gentlemen could not desert to the side of fascism, for the very sources of their influence and income spring from the institutions of bourgeois democracy, which require (or used to require!) for their normal functioning lawyers, deputies, journalists, in short, the democratic champions of capitalism. The program of Azaña and his associates is nostalgia for a day that has passed. This is altogether inadequate.

The Popular Front resorted to demagogy and illusions in order to swing the masses behind itself. For a certain period, this proved successful. The masses who had assured all the previous successes of the revolution still continued to believe that the revolution would reach its logical conclusion, that is, achieve an overturn in property relations, give land to the peasants, and transfer the factories into the hands of the workers. The dynamic force of the revolution was lodged precisely in this hope of the masses for a better future. But the honorable republicans did everything in their power to trample, to besmirch, or simply to drown in blood the cherished hopes of the oppressed masses.

As a result, we have witnessed during the last two years the growing distrust and hatred of the republican cliques on the part of the peasants and workers. Despair or dull indifference gradually replaced revolutionary enthusiasm and the spirit of self—sacrifice. The masses turned their backs on those who had deceived and trampled upon, them. That is the primary reason for the defeat of the republican troops. The inspirer of deceit and of the massacre of the revolutionary workers of Spain was Stalin. The defeat of the Spanish revolution falls as a new indelible blot upon the already bespattered Kremlin gang.

The crushing of Barcelona deals a terrible blow to the world proletariat, but it also teaches a great lesson. The mechanics of the Spanish Popular Front as an organized system of deceit and treachery of the exploited masses have been completely exposed. The slogan of “defense of democracy” has once again revealed its reactionary essence, and at the same time, its hollowness. The bourgeoisie wants to perpetuate its rule of exploitation; the workers want to free themselves from exploitation. These are the real tasks of the fundamental classes in modern society.

Miserable cliques of petty—bourgeois middlemen, having lost the confidence and the subsidies of the bourgeoisie, sought to salvage the past without giving any concessions to the future. Under the label of the Popular Front, they set up a joint stock company. Under the leadership of Stalin, they have assured the most terrible defeat when all the conditions for victory were at hand.

The Spanish proletariat gave proof of extraordinary capacity for initiative and revolutionary heroism. The revolution was brought to ruin by petty, despicable, and utterly corrupted “leaders.” The downfall of Barcelona signifies above all the downfall of the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of anarchism, rotten to its core.

Forward to a new road, workers! Forward to the road of the international socialist revolution!

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- José Rebull-On the Slogan of ‘A UGT-CNT Government’

Click on the headline to link to the Revolutionary History journal entry listed in the title.

Markin comment:

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.

Leon Trotsky
Once again on the causes of the defeat in Spain

Written: 4 March 1939.
Source: Socialist Appeal, March 21, 1939. Unsigned.
Transcription from Socialist Appeal Martin Falghren
HTML Markup: D. Walters
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

The inventors of the umbrella

An old French humorist once wrote an account of how a petty bourgeois came to invent the umbrella. Walking the street in the rain, he began pondering how fine it would be if the streets were covered with roofs. . . . But that would interfere with the free circulation of air. . . . It would have to be moved by the pedestrian, holding some sort of lever in his hands, etc., etc. Finally, our inventor exclaimed, “Bah! Why, that’s an umbrella!” Inventors of the umbrella can nowadays be encountered at every step among the “leftists”!

In its time, Bolshevism discredited reformist politics for a number of years. But with the coming of reaction, the Stalinists together with all their underlings have begun inventing anew the umbrella of reformism: “the Popular Front” (coalition with the bourgeoisie); the duty of the proletariat to defend the democratic fatherland (social patriotism); and so on. And they do it with all the vigor of ignorance!

Another newly invented umbrella

In the Mexican newspaper El Popular, which has achieved almost international fame for the profundity of its erudition, its honesty of thought, and the revolutionary character of its politics, Guillermo Vegas León, who is not altogether unknown to our readers, comes to the defense of the policies of the Spanish Popular Front with the aid of a newly invented umbrella. The war in Spain, you see, is not a war for socialism but rather a war against fascism. In the war against fascism, it is impermissible to engage in such adventures as the seizure of factories and land. Only the friends of fascism are capable of proposing such plans. And so forth and so on. Historical events obviously exercise no sway over people who live in the kingdom of cheap newspaper copy.

Mr. León is unaware that the same umbrella was used in their operations by the Russian Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (the party of Kerensky). They never tired of repeating that the Russian Revolution was “democratic” and not socialist; that in a war with Germany, which was menacing the young democratic republic, any attempt to engage in such adventures as the expropriation of the means of production was to give aid to Hohenzollern. And inasmuch as there were not a few scoundrels among them, they also asserted that the Bolsheviks did all this for some secret reason....

The class character of the revolution

Whether a revolution is “antifascist” or proletarian, bourgeois or socialist, is determined not by political labels but by the class structure of a given nation. For León, the development of society from approximately the middle of the nineteenth century has passed unnoticed. Yet this development in capitalist countries has washed away the petty and the middle bourgeoisie, pushing them into the background, degrading and lowering them. The principal classes in modern society —including Spain— are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie cannot— at all events, for any lengthy period — wield power; that must be either in the hands of the bourgeoisie or in the hands of the proletariat. In Spain, the bourgeoisie, driven by fear for its property, went completely over into the camp of fascism. The only class capable of waging a serious struggle against fascism is the proletariat. It alone could have rallied the oppressed masses, above all, the Spanish peasantry. But workers’ power could only be socialist power.

The example of China and Russia

But, objects Mr. León, the immediate goal is the struggle against fascism. All our forces must be centered on this immediate goal, etc., etc. Of course, of course! But tell us, pray, why during a struggle against fascism must the land belong to the landlords and the factories and mills to the capitalists, all of whom are in Franco’s camp? Is it perhaps because the peasants and workers “have not matured” for the seizure of land and factories? But they proved their maturity by seizing on their own initiative the lands and factories. Reactionaries, who tall themselves republicans, under the leadership of the Stalinists, were able to smash this powerful movement allegedly in the name of “antifascism”, but in reality in the interest of bourgeois proprietors.

Let us take another example. At present China is engaged in a war against Japan, a just, defensive war against plunderers and oppressors. With this war as a pretext, the government of Chiang Kai-shek, aided by Stalin’s government, has crushed all revolutionary struggle and above all the struggle of the peasants for the land. The exploiters and the Stalinists say: “Now is not the time to solve the agrarian question. Now it is a question of a common struggle against the Mikado.” Yet it is self-evident that were the Chinese peasants precisely at the present time in possession of the land, they would defend it tooth and nail against the Japanese imperialists. We must recall once again that if the October Revolution was able to triumph in a war of three years duration over countless enemies, including the expeditionary forces of the mightiest imperialist powers, it was only because this victory was assured above all by the fact that during the war the peasants had gained possession of the land while the workers held the mills and factories. Only the fusion of the socialist overturn with the civil war made the Russian Revolution unconquerable.

Gentlemen like Mr. León determine the character of a revolution by the name given it by bourgeois liberals and not by the manner in which it is expressed in the actual class struggle, nor by how it is sensed — even if not always clearly understood —by the revolutionary masses. But we look upon the Spanish revolution not through the eyes of the liberal philistine Azaña but through the eyes of the workers of Barcelona and Asturias, and the peasants of Seville who were fighting for the mills and factories, for the land, for a better future, and not at all for the old parliamentary umbrella of the Popular Front.

The empty abstraction of “antifascism”

The very concepts of “antifascism” and “antifascist” are fictions and lies. Marxism approaches all phenomena from a class standpoint. Azaña is “antifascist” only to the extent that fascism hinders bourgeois intellectuals from carving out parliamentary or other careers. Confronted with the necessity of choosing between fascism and the proletarian revolution, Azaña will always prove to be on the side of the fascists. His entire policy during the seven years of revolution proves this.

On the other hand, the slogan “Against fascism, for democracy!” cannot attract millions and tens of millions of the populace if only because during wartime there was not and is not any democracy in the camp of the republicans. Both with Franco and with Azaña there have been military dictatorship, censorship, forced mobilization, hunger, blood, and death. The abstract slogan “For democracy!” suffices for liberal journalists but not for the oppressed workers and peasants. They have nothing to defend except slavery and poverty. They will direct all their forces to smashing fascism only if, at the same time, they are able to realize new and better conditions of existence. In consequence, the struggle of the proletariat and the poorest peasants against fascism cannot in the social sense be defensive but only offensive. That is why León goes wide of the mark when, following the more “authoritative” philistines, he lectures us that Marxism rejects utopias, and the idea of a socialist revolution during a struggle against fascism is utopian. In point of fact, the worst and most reactionary form of utopianism is the idea that it is possible to struggle against fascism without overthrowing the capitalist economy.

Victory was possible

Truly astonishing is the total ignorance of these people. They have no inkling of the existence, beginning with Marx and Engels, of a world literature in which the very concept of the democratic revolution and its inner class mechanism have been subjected to analysis. It is obvious that they never read the basic documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International nor the theoretical research of the Fourth International, which prove and explain and enable even an infant to digest the fact that the struggle against fascism is unthinkable in modern conditions other than by the methods of the proletarian class struggle for power.

These gentlemen picture history as painstakingly preparing the conditions for the socialist revolution, apportioning roles, inscribing in large letters on a triumphal arch: ENTRANCE TO THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTION, guaranteeing victory and then politely inviting the honorable leaders to assume the prominent posts of ministers, ambassadors, etc. No. The question stands somewhat differently; it is far more complex, difficult, and dangerous. Opportunists, reactionary blockheads, and petty-bourgeois cowards never have recognized and never will recognize the situation that places the socialist overturn on the agenda. To do so one must be a revolutionary Marxist, a Bolshevik; to do so one must be able to despise the public opinion of the “educated” petty bourgeoisie, which reflects only the egotistic class fears of capitalism.

The proletariat was strong enough

The leaders of the CNT and FAI themselves declared after the uprising of May 1937: “Had we wished, we could have seized power at any time, because all the forces were on our side, but we did not want any dictatorship,” etc., etc. What the Anarchist servitors of the bourgeoisie did or did not want is in the long run a secondary issue. They did, however, admit that the insurrectionary proletariat was strong enough to have conquered power. Had it possessed a revolutionary and not a treacherous leadership, it would have purged the state apparatus of all the Azañas, instituted the power of the soviets, given the land to the peasants, the mills and factories to the workers — and the Spanish revolution would have be-come socialist and unconquerable.

But because there was no revolutionary party in Spain, and because there was instead a multitude of reactionaries imagining themselves as Socialists and Anarchists, they succeeded under the label of the Popular Front in strangling the socialist revolution and assuring Franco’s victory.

It is simply ridiculous to justify the defeat by references to the military intervention of Italian fascists and German Nazis, and to the perfidious conduct of the French and British “democracies”. Enemies will always remain enemies. Reaction will always intervene whenever it can. Imperialist “democracy” will always betray. This means that the victory of the proletariat is impossible in general! But what about the victory of fascism in Italy and Germany itself? No intervention there. Instead we had there a powerful proletariat and a very large Socialist Party and, in the case of Germany, a large Communist Party as well. Why then was there no victory gained over fascism? Precisely because the leading parties tried to reduce the question in both these countries to a struggle “against fascism” when only a socialist revolution can defeat fascism.

The Spanish revolution was the supreme school. It is impermissible to allow the slightest frivolity toward its dearly bought lessons. Down with charlatanism, phrasemongering, smug ignorance, and intellectual parasitism! We must study seriously and honestly and prepare for the future.

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal-August Thalheimer-Notes on a Stay in Catalonia

Click on the headline to link to the Revolutionary History journal entry listed in the title.

Markin comment:

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.


Trotsky and the POUM

From Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.2, Summer 1988. Used by permission.

Despite Trotsky’s trenchant criticism of the political parties in the workers’ camp in Spain there were few people in Spain who were listening to him. A Spanish section of the International Left Opposition had been formed by Andres Nin after his expulsion from the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in 1927. For two and a half years – from September 1930 to February 1933 – Trotsky corresponded with Nin who was virtually alone in Barcelona. Relations with other supporters in Madrid were slight, a fact which already revealed a chronic provincialism (an adaptation to Catalan nationalism) in Nin’s political make-up.

During these years Nin oriented himself almost exclusively to the Catalan Federation which was a split from the PCE. It was led by Joaquim Maurin who was a right-centrist who only objected to the ultra-leftist excesses of Stalinism. Nin refused to criticise Maurin openly and refused to build a left opposition faction within Maurin’s group. Indeed, Nin went further in his opportunism and even helped to write the Federation’s documents and edit its paper.

Trotsky’s political ties with Nin were effectively broken in 1933 although Nin did not publicly break with Trotsky until 1935 when he joined forces with Maurin to form the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). In the intervening period Trotsky upbraided Nin for failing to enter the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Party) and its union (UGT) whose rank and file were undergoing massive radicalisation in 1934 and 1935.

Despite these failings Trotsky recognised that the POUM, small as it was, organised some of the best vanguard elements in the Catalan working class. (Its influence outside this region was negligible.) It was a lone voice in Spain in unmasking the crimes of the Stalinists in the Moscow Trials. Also during 1935 the POUM developed the best formal criticisms of the Popular Front and the Second Republic in the pages of its paper La Batalla. Its leftism earned it the hostility of even the CNT and UGT leaders who sought to exclude POUMists from their unions.

The POUM was small. Before the Civil War estimates of its size vary from 3000 to 8000. Like most of the left groups it grew during the Civil War and by September 1936, it was about 30 000 strong, with l0 000 in its own militia. Yet much more than to contribute to its numerical growth, the Popular Front government and the Civil War cruelly exposed the centrist politics of the POUM leaders. Capable of left criticisms, the POUM consistently refused to carry through a break with the leaders of the CNT and UGT. Fearful above all of ‘isolation’ from these leaders they diplomatically refused to be critical of their practice. Worse still, they acted as a ‘loyal opposition’ in the Popular Front, often arguing against the PCE’s proposals but accepting to abide by them and even taking responsibility for them when they were defeated.

It is for this reason that Trotsky ruthlessly called the POUM ‘the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party’. Unlike Stalinism, which refused for a second to adapt to the revolutionary impulses of the masses after July 1936 and instead derailed and destroyed all radical initiatives, the POUM wanted revolution, proclaimed its necessity and even on occasion proposed correct tactics. However, it did this alongside covering-up the weaknesses and betrayals of the anarchist, socialist and even Stalinist leaders. For one whole year La Batalla refused to criticise the CNT leadership!

The best example of the POUM’s centrism was to be found in its attitude to the Popular Front itself. Before the February 1936 elections the POUM campaigned against any coalition with the republican bourgeoisie. Then, on the very eve of the elections, they actually entered the Popular Front – only to renounce it again when the elections were over. However, Nin’s criticism of the Popular Front after February was not that it tied the workers’ organisations to the programme of the bourgeoisie but that it was not genuinely a Popular Front. La Batalla of 17 July 1936 on the eve of the Civil War, called for ‘an authentic government of the Popular Front, with the direct participation of the Socialist and Communist parties’.

Yet, when the Civil War erupted and the initiative was with the masses, the POUM shifted direction sharply and gave voice to the demands of the socialist revolution. In those early weeks the POUM exercised the leadership in the Lerida revolutionary committee. It was the only committee in Catalonia to refuse to have a representative of the republican bourgeoisie on it.

But even here the POUM stopped halfway. It could and should have used its revolutionary influence in towns like Lerida and Gerona to agitate for the formation of district and provincial Soviet-type bodies which would have developed into a decisive challenge to the authority of the Generalidad.

Not only did they refuse this road but Nin went out of his way to explain at great length that Soviet-type bodies were unnecessary and ‘alien’ to Spain. This unforgivable rationalisation for the prejudices and libertarian localism of the anarcho-syndicalist masses was typical of the POUM. Instead of ‘saying what is’, the POUM tried at every turn of events to minimise the differences and above all to conciliate with the leaders of the CNT.

Nin was to get his wish for a ‘genuine’ Popular Front in September 1936. Up until 7 September La Batalla denounced ‘bourgeois ministers’, unlike the PCE which heaped praise upon them. But once the Caballero cabinet was formed (ie, the PSOE leader and the leftist face of the bourgeoisie) in Madrid and the offer was made to the POUM of a seat in the provincial government in Catalonia, all this ceased.

In its place Nin assured the readers of La Batalla that a revolutionary orientation was ‘assured’ whenever there was a majority of ‘socialists’ in the government. Nin went so far as to define the dictatorship of the proletariat as a united front of workers’ parties and trade union leaders who assume governmental power! Nin ‘forgot’ the little matter of the democratic control and accountability of the mass of workers and poor peasants!

Once the POUM took its seat in the Catalan government it also took responsibility for the measures of the government. Of course, the POUM proposed radical measures to its Stalinist and bourgeois allies: an industrial and credit bank; no compensation to factory owners, etc. But these were rejected and the POUM remained respectfully silent. Worse, when the government proposed that there should be a government agent in each factory, or that there should be no further elections of factory councils for two years, the POUM agreed.

Worse even than that – indeed criminal – was Nin’s readiness to accompany President Companys on a tour of Lerida to convince the workers that the powers of the revolutionary committees should be dissolved. Nin argued:

These revolutionary committees, whether Popular Executive Committees, or Committees of Public Safety, represent only part of the workers’ organisations, or else represent them in incorrect proportions ... Obviously, the suppression of their revolutionary initiative is to be regretted, but one must recognise the need to codify ... the various municipal organisations, as much with the aim of replacing them uniformly as of setting them under the authority of the new General Council.

After having performed these valuable services for the bourgeoisie, on 16 December 1936 Nin was kicked out of the government. The POUM’s usefulness was at an end. Trotsky commented:

In the heat of the revolutionary war between classes Nin entered a bourgeois government whose goal it was to destroy the workers’ committees, the foundation of proletarian government. When this goal was reached, Nin was driven out of the bourgeois government.


Despite the record of Trotsky’s criticism of the POUM it is sad to reflect that the British Trotskyists grouped around Reg Groves, the Marxist League, and their paper the Red Flag tended to obscure these criticisms and parade the POUM as a revolutionary organisation. The September 1936 Red Flag argued that ‘upon the rapid evolution of POUM into a Bolshevik Party depends the fate of the Spanish Revolution’. This does not reflect Trotsky’s own view of the POUM at the time. The Bolshevik-Leninists of Spain were only formed in the spring of l937 but they were formed in opposition to the POUM.

Keith Hassell