The Spanish Revolution and the Civil War, 1936-9 - A "Diary" of Events, by Leon Trotsky

Submitted by Anon on 26 July, 2007 - 2:02

Though Leon Trotsky’s writings on Spain fill a large volume, he wrote no concise overview of the Spanish revolution. Our “diary” is culled from the commentaries he produced all through the last decade of his life: the last item here is dated 20 August 1940, the day Trotsky was assassinated.

25 May, 1930

The Primo de Rivera dictatorship has fallen without a revolution, from internal exhaustion. In the beginning, in other words, the question was decided by the sickness of the old society and not by the revolutionary forces of a new society…

The workers’ struggle must be closely linked to all the questions that flow from the national crisis. The fact that the workers demonstrated with the students is the first step, though still an insufficient and hesitant one, on the proletarian vanguard’s road of struggle toward revolutionary hegemony.

Taking this road presupposes that the communists will struggle resolutely, audaciously, and energetically for democratic slogans. Not to understand this would be to commit the greatest sectarian mistake. At the present stage of the revolution, the proletariat distinguishes itself in the field of political slogans from all the “leftist” petty-bourgeois groupings not by rejecting democracy (as the anarchists and syndicalists do) but by struggling resolutely and openly for it, at the same time mercilessly denouncing the hesitations of the petty bourgeoisie.

By advancing democratic slogans, the proletariat is not in any way suggesting that Spain is heading toward a bourgeois revolution. Only barren pedants full of pat, ready-made formulas could pose the question this way. Spain has left the stage of bourgeois revolution far behind.

If the revolutionary crisis is transformed into a revolution, it will inevitably pass beyond bourgeois limits, and in the event of victory the power will have to come into the hands of the proletariat. But in this epoch, the proletariat can lead the revolution — that is, group the broadest masses of the workers and the oppressed around itself and become their leader — only on the condition that it now unreservedly puts forth all the democratic demands, in conjunction with its own class demands…

The peasantry will inevitably link the slogan of political democracy with the slogan of radical redistribution of the land. The proletariat will openly support both demands. At the proper time, the communists will explain to the proletarian vanguard the road by which these demands can be achieved, thus sowing the seeds for the future soviet system.

Even on national questions, the proletariat defends the democratic slogans to the hilt, declaring that it is ready to support by revolutionary means the right of different national groups to self-determination, even to the point of separation.

But does the proletarian vanguard itself raise the slogan of secession of Catalonia? If it is the will of the majority, yes; but how can this will be expressed? Obviously, by means of a free plebiscite, or an assembly of Catalan representatives, or by the parties that are clearly supported by the Catalan masses, or even by a Catalan national revolt. Again we see, let us note in passing, what reactionary pedantry it would be for the proletariat to renounce democratic slogans. Meanwhile, as long as the national minority has not expressed its will, the proletariat itself will not adopt the slogan of separation, but it pledges openly, in advance, its complete and sincere support to this slogan in the event that it should express the will of Catalonia…

By supporting all really democratic and revolutionary movements of the popular masses, the communist vanguard will be leading an uncompromising struggle against the so-called republican bourgeoisie, unmasking its double-dealing, its treachery, and its reactionary character, and resisting its attempts to subject the toiling masses to its influence.

The communists never relinquish their freedom of political action under any conditions. It must not be forgotten that during a revolution temptations of this sort are very great: the tragic history of the Chinese revolution is irrefutable testimony to this. But while safeguarding the full independence of their organisation and their propaganda, the communists nonetheless practice, in the broadest fashion, the policy of the united front, for which the revolution offers a vast field.

21 November, 1930

Spain may go through the same cycle as Italy did, beginning with 1918-1919: ferment, strikes, a general strike, the seizure of the factories, the lack of leadership, the decline of the movement, the growth of fascism, and of a counter-revolutionary dictatorship?

24 January, 1931

The appearance of the Spanish proletariat on the historic arena radically changes the situation and opens up new prospects. In order to grasp this properly, it must first be understood that the establishment of the economic dominance of the big bourgeoisie and the growth of the proletariat’s political significance definitely prevent the petty bourgeoisie from occupying a leading position in the political life of the country. The question of whether the present revolutionary convulsions can produce a genuine revolution, capable of reconstructing the very basis of national life, is consequently reduced to whether the Spanish proletariat is capable of taking the leadership of the national life into its hands. There is no other claimant to this role in the Spanish nation. Moreover, the historic experience of Russia succeeded in showing with sufficient clarity the specific gravity of the proletariat, united by big industry in a country with a backward agriculture and enmeshed in a net of semi-feudal relations…

To aim the weapon of the revolution against the remnants of the Spanish Middle Ages means to aim it against the very roots of bourgeois rule…

Only pedants can see contradictions in the combination of democratic slogans with transitional and purely socialist slogans. Such a combined program, reflecting the contradictory construction of historic society, flows inevitably from the diversity of problems inherited from the past. To reduce all the contradictions and all the tasks of one lowest common denominator — the dictatorship of the proletariat — is a necessary but altogether insufficient, operation. Even if one should run ahead and assume that the proletarian vanguard has grasped the idea that only the dictatorship of the proletariat can save Spain from further decay, the preparatory problem would nevertheless remain in full force: to weld around the vanguard the heterogeneous sections of the working class and the still more heterogeneous masses of village toilers. To contrast the bare slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the historically determined tasks that are now impelling the masses towards the road of insurrection would be to replace the Marxist conception of social revolution with Bakunin’s. This would be the surest way to ruin the revolution.

Needless to say, democratic slogans under no circumstances have as their object drawing the proletariat closer to the republican bourgeoisie. On the contrary, they create the basis for a victorious struggle against the leftist bourgeoisie, making it possible to disclose its anti- democratic character at every step. The more courageously, resolutely, and implacably the proletarian vanguard fights for democratic slogans, the sooner it will win over the masses and undermine the support for the bourgeois republicans and socialist reformists. The more quickly their best elements join us, the sooner the democratic republic will be identified in the mind of the masses with the workers’ republic…

In reality, in spite of the mighty sweep of the struggle, the subjective factors of the revolution — the party, the mass organisations, the slogans — are extraordinarily behind the tasks of the movement, and it is this backwardness that constitutes the main danger today.

The semi-spontaneous spread of strikes, which have brought victims and defeats or have ended with no gains, is an absolutely unavoidable stage of the revolution, the stage of the awakening of the masses, the mobilisation, and their entry into struggle. For it is not the creams of the workers who take part in the movement, but the masses as a whole. Not only do factory workers strike, but also artisans, chauffeurs, and bakers, construction, irrigation, and, finally, agricultural workers. The veterans stretch their limbs, the new recruits learn. Through the medium of these strikes, the class begins to feel itself a class.

However, the spontaneity — which at the present stage constitutes the strength of the movement — may in the future become the source of weakness. To assume that the movement can continue to be left without a clear programme, without its own leadership, would mean to assume a perspective of hopelessness. For the question involved it is nothing less than the seizure of power. Even the stormiest strikes do not solve this problem — not to speak of the ones that are broken. If the proletariat were not to feel in the process of the struggle during the coming months that its tasks and methods are becoming clearer to itself, that its ranks are becoming consolidated and strengthened, then a decomposition would set in within its own ranks…

Anarcho-syndicalism disarms the proletariat by its lack of a revolutionary program and its failure to understand the role of the party. The anarchists “deny” politics until it seizes them by the throat; then they prepare the ground for the politics of the enemy class…

Practical agreements with revolutionary syndicalists are inevitable in the course of the revolution. These agreements we will loyally fulfil. But it would by truly fatal to introduce into these agreements elements of duplicity, concealment, and deceit. Even in those days and hours when the communist workers have to fight side by side with the syndicalists workers, there must be no destruction of the principled disagreements, no concealment of differences, nor any weakening of the criticism of the wrong principled position of the ally. Only under this condition will the progressive development of the revolution be secured…

For a successful solution of all these tasks, three conditions are required: a party; once more a party; again a party!

July 1936

For the second time in five years, the coalition of the labour parties with the radical bourgeoisie has brought the revolution to the edge of the abyss. Incapable of solving a single one of the tasks posed by the revolution, since all these tasks boil down to one, namely, the crushing of the bourgeoisie, the Popular Front renders the existence of the bourgeois regime impossible and thereby provokes the fascist coup d’état. By lulling the workers and peasants with parliamentary illusions, by paralysing their will to struggle, the Popular Front creates the favourable conditions for the victory of fascism. The policy of coalition with the bourgeoisie must be paid for by the proletariat with years of new torments and sacrifice, if not by decades of fascist terror.

27 July, 1936

The Popular Front government in Spain was not a government, but simply a ministry. The real government resided in the General Staff, in the banks, etc. The French Radicals were authorised to form an alliance with the workers on condition that they did not touch the officer corps. But as the workers continue to press their demands, the entire state machine will ultimately come down upon their heads. The SAPists consider the Popular Front an enrichment of proletarian tactics. If they cannot see its class character, that is because they are good for nothing. The Radicals are seen only as the right wing of the Popular Front; in reality they are there to represent the ruling class, and it is through them that finance capital maintains its rule, both within the Popular Front and over the proletariat.…

Today we can also grasp more clearly the crime committed at the beginning of this year by the POUM leaders Maurin and Nin. Any thinking worker can and will ask these people: “Did you foresee nothing? How could you have signed the Popular Front program and have us put our confidence in Azaña and his associates, instead of instilling in us the greatest distrust in the radical bourgeoisie? Now we must pay for your errors with our blood.” The workers must feel particular anger towards Nin and his friends because they belonged to a tendency that a few years ago, had provided a precise analysis of Popular Front politics, concretising and clarifying it at each stage. And Nin cannot invoke ignorance as his excuse — a wretched excuse for any leader — because he ought to have at least read the documents he once signed.

30 July, 1936

Some people (for example, Rosmer) consider my sharp critique of Nin’s policies to be sectarian. If it is sectarianism, then all of Marxism is only sectarianism, since it is the doctrine of the class struggle and not of class collaboration. The present events in Spain in particular show how criminal was Nin’s rapprochement with Azaña: the Spanish workers will now pay with thousands of lives for the reactionary cowardice of the Popular Front, which has continued to support with the people’s money an army commanded by the executioners of the proletariat. Here it is a question, my dear Victor Serge, not of splitting hairs, but of the very essence of revolutionary socialism. If Nin today were to pull himself together and realise how discredited he is in the eyes of the workers, if he should draw all the necessary conclusions, then we would help him as a comrade; but we cannot permit the spirit of chumminess in politics.

30 July, 1936

Even now, in the midst of civil war, the Popular Front government does everything in its power to make victory doubly difficult. A civil war is waged, as everybody knows, not only with military but also with political weapons. From a purely military point of view, the Spanish revolution is much weaker than its enemy. Its strength lies in its ability to rouse the greater masses to action. It can even take the army away from its reactionary officers. To accomplish this, it is only necessary to seriously and courageously advance the program of the socialist revolution.

It is necessary to proclaim that, from now on, the land, factories, and shops will pass from the hands of the capitalists into the hands of the people. It is necessary to move at once toward the realisation of this program in those provinces where the workers are in power. The fascist army could not resist the influence of such a program for twenty-four hours; the soldiers would tie their officers hand and foot and turn them over to the nearest headquarters of the workers’ militia. But the bourgeois ministers cannot accept such a programme. Curbing the social revolution, they compel the workers and peasants to spill ten times as much of their own blood in the civil war. And to crown everything, these gentlemen expect to disarm the workers again after the victory and to force them to respect the sacred laws of private property. Such is the true essence of the policy of the Popular Front. Everything else is pure humbug, phrases and lies!…

The workers’ party that enters into a political alliance with the radical bourgeoisie by that fact alone renounces the struggle against capitalist militarism. Bourgeois domination, that is to say, the maintenance of private property in the means of production, is inconceivable without the support of the armed forces for the exploiters. The officers’ corps represents the guard of capital. Without this guard, the bourgeoisie could not maintain itself for a single day. The selection of the individuals, their education and training, make the officers as a distinctive group uncompromising enemies of socialism. Isolated exceptions change nothing. That is how things stand in all bourgeois countries. The danger lies not in the military braggarts and demagogues who openly appear as fascists; incomparably more menacing is the fact that at the approach of the proletarian revolution the officers’ corp becomes the executioner of the proletariat.

To eliminate four or five hundred reactionary agitators from the army means to leave everything basically as it was before. The officers’ corps, in which is concentrated the centuries-old tradition of enslaving the people, must be dissolved, broken, crushed in its entirety, root and branch. The troops in the barracks commanded by the officers’ caste must be replaced by the people’s militia, that is the democratic organisation of the armed workers and peasants. There is no other solution. But such an army is incompatible with the domination of exploiters big and small. Can the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois republicans agree to such a measure? Not at all. The Popular Front government, that is to say, the government of the coalition of the workers with the bourgeoisie, is in its very essence a government of capitulation to the bureaucracy and the officers. Such is the great lesson of the events in Spain, now being paid for with thousands of human lives.

But here we are interrupted by the exclamation, “How can one dissolve the officers’ corps? Doesn’t this mean destroying the army and leaving the country disarmed in the face of fascism? Hitler and Mussolini are only waiting for that!” All these arguments are old and familiar. That’s how the Cadets, the Social Revolutionaries, and the Russian Mensheviks reasoned in 1917, and that’s how the leaders of the Spanish Popular Front reasoned. The Spanish workers half-believed these rationalisations until they were convinced by experience that the nearest fascist enemy was to be found in the Spanish fascist army. Not for nothing did our old friend Karl Liebknecht teach: “The main enemy is in our own country!”

August 16, 1936

The question most on my mind concerns relations between the POUM and the syndicalists. It seems to me it would be extremely dangerous to let oneself be guided exclusively or even primarily by doctrinal considerations. At all costs, it is necessary to improve relations with the syndicalists, despite all their prejudices. The common enemy must be defeated. The confidence of the best syndicalists must be won in the course of the struggle. Before October we made every effort to work together with the purest anarchists.

The Kerensky government often tried to use the Bolsheviks against the anarchists. Lenin resolutely opposed this. In that situation, he said, one anarchist militant was worth more than a hundred hesitating Mensheviks. During the civil war the greatest danger is lack of decisiveness, a spirit of equivocation, in a word — Menshevism.

25 February, 1937

One does not demonstrate one’s friendship for a revolutionary organisation in a difficult situation by closing one’s eyes to its mistakes and the dangers arising from them. The situation in Spain can be saved only by an energetic, radical, and heroic comeback of the left wing of the proletariat; thus an immediate regroupment is necessary. It is necessary to open up an implacable campaign against the bloc with the bourgeoisie, and for a socialist program. It is necessary to denounce Stalinist, Socialist and anarchist leaders precisely because of their bloc with the bourgeoisie. It is not a question of articles more or less confined to the columns of [the POUM journal] La Batalla. No. It is a question of marshalling the masses against their leaders, who are leading the revolution to complete destruction.

The policy of the POUM leadership is a policy of adaptation, expectation, hesitation, that is to say, the most dangerous of all policies during civil war, which is uncompromising. Better to have in the POUM 10,000 comrades ready to mobilise the masses against treason than 40,000 who suffer the policies of others instead of carrying out their own. The 40,000 members of the POUM (if the figure is accurate) cannot by themselves assure the victory of the proletariat if their policy remains hesitant. But 20,000, or even 10,000, with a clear, decisive, aggressive policy, can win the masses in a short time, just as the Bolsheviks won the mass in eight months.

20 March, 1937

The different intermediate groups (between the Stalinist Communist International and Trotskyist), terrified by their own inconsistency, seek support at the last minute from the Spanish revolution. All the leaders of the ILP and SAP, in supporting Nin against us, have done everything they could do to hamper victory in Spain. They think now they can hide their definitive bankruptcy in the shadow of the heroic Spanish and Catalan proletariat. In vain. Victory is possible only by the road that we have indicated time and again. Either Nin, Andrade, Gorkin must change their policy radically, that is to say, change from the path of Martov to that of Lenin, or they will lead the POUM to a split and perhaps even to a terrible defeat. Revolutionary words (editorials, solemn discourses, etc.) do not advance the revolution a step. The struggle of the POUMist workers is magnificent, but without resolute leadership it cannot bring victory. It is a question of rousing the masses with supreme courage against the traitorous leaders. There is the beginning of wisdom.

Break with the phantom bourgeoisie who stay in the Popular Front only to prevent the masses from making their own revolution. That is the first order of the day. Rouse the anarchists, Stalinists, and Socialists against their leaders, who do not want to break with the bourgeois ministers, those scarecrows protecting private property. That is the second step. Without that, everything else is verbiage, prattle and lies. They have wasted five years for Leninist policy. I am not sure that they still have five months or five weeks to try to correct the errors committed.

23 March, 1937

For six years, Nin has made nothing but mistakes. He has flirted with ideas and eluded difficulties. Instead of battle, he has substituted petty combinations. He has impeded the creation of a revolutionary party in Spain. All the leaders who have followed him share in the same responsibility. For six years they have done everything possible to subject this energetic and heroic proletariat of Spain to the most terrible defeats, and in spite of everything the ambiguity continues. They do not break the vicious circle. They do not rouse the masses against the bourgeois republic. They accommodate themselves to it and then, to make up for it, they write articles from time to time — on the proletarian revolution.

Do not tell me that the workers of the POUM fight heroically, etc. I know it as well as others do. But it is precisely their battle and their sacrifice that forces us to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Down with diplomacy, flirtation, and equivocation. One must know how to tell the bitterest truth when the fate of a war and of a revolution depend on it. We have nothing in common with the policy of Nin, nor with any who protect, camouflage, or defend it.

23 April, 1937

The longer the politics of the Popular Front keep their hold over the country and the revolution, the greater the danger of the exhaustion and disillusionment of the masses and of the military victory of fascism.

The responsibility for this situation rests entirely upon the Stalinists, Social Democrats, and anarchists, more precisely, on their leader, who, on the model of Kerensky, Tsertelli, Ebert, Schiedemann, Otto Bauer, and the like, subordinated the revolution of the people to the interests of the bourgeoisie…

“What kind of revolution do you have in mind,” the philistines of the Popular Front demand of us, “democratic or socialist? The victory of Largo Caballero’s army over Franco would mean the victory of democracy over fascism, that is, the victory of progress over reaction.”

One cannot listen to these arguments with a bitter smile. Before 1934 we explained to the Stalinists tirelessly that even in the imperialist epoch democracy continued to be preferable to fascism; that is, in all cases where hostile clashes take place between them, the revolutionary proletariat is obliged to support democracy against fascism.

However, we always added: We can and must defend bourgeois democracy not by bourgeois democratic means but by the methods of class struggle, which in turn pave the way for the replacement of bourgeois democracy by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means in particular that in the process of defending bourgeois democracy, even with arms in hand, the party of the proletariat takes no responsibility for bourgeois democracy, does not enter its government, but maintains full freedom of criticism and of action in relation to all parties of the Popular Front, thus preparing the overthrow of bourgeois democracy at the next stage.

Any other policy is a criminal and hopeless attempt to use the blood of the workers as cement to hold together a bourgeois democracy that is inevitably doomed to collapse regardless of the immediate outcome of the civil war.

“But you ignore the peasantry!” cries some muddlehead. The Spanish peasantry has shown well enough its eager desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with the proletariat. All that is necessary is for the proletariat to actually enter the road of expropriation of the landed exploiters and usurers. But it is precisely the Stalinists and their new pupils, the “Socialists” and the “anarchists”, who have prevented the proletariat from putting forward a revolutionary agrarian program.

The government of Stalin-Caballero tries with all its might to imbue its army with the character of a “democratic” guard for the defence of private property. That is the essence of the Popular Front. All the rest is phrase mongering. Precisely for that reason, the Popular Front is preparing the triumph of fascism. Whoever has not understood this is deaf and blind.

Is a military victory of the democratic guardian of capital possible over its fascist guard? It is possible. But since in the present epoch the fascist guard corresponds much more to the requirements of capital, the military victory of Stalin-Caballero could not be firm or lasting. Without the proletarian revolution the victory of “democracy” would only mean a round-about path to the very same fascism…

Nin says: “From the time that we were expelled from the Catalan government, reaction has intensified.” In fact it would have been appropriate to say: “Our participation in the Catalan government more readily provided the bourgeoisie with the chance to strengthen itself, drive us out, and openly enter the road of reaction.” The POUM as a matter of fact even now partly remains in the Popular Front. The leaders of the POUM plaintively try to persuade the government to take the road to socialist revolution. The POUM leaders respectfully try to make the CNT leaders understand at last the Marxist teaching about the state. The POUM leaders view themselves as “revolutionary” advisors to the leaders of the Popular Front. This position is lifeless and unworthy of revolutionaries.

It is necessary to openly and boldly mobilise the masses against the Popular Front government. It is necessary to expose, for the syndicalist and anarchist workers to see, the betrayals of those gentlemen who call themselves anarchists but in fact have turned out to be simple liberals. It is necessary to hammer away mercilessly at Stalinism as the worst agency of the bourgeoisie. It is necessary to feel yourselves leaders of the revolutionary masses, not advisors to the bourgeois government.…

A military victory paid for with the blood of the workers would raise the self-consciousness and determination of the proletarian vanguard. In other words, the victory of the republican army of capital over the fascist army would inevitably mean the outbreak of civil war in the republican camp.

In this new civil war, the proletariat could conquer only if it has at its head a revolutionary party that knows how to win the confidence of the majority of the workers and the semi-proletarian peasants. If such a party is not present at the critical moment, the civil war with the republican camp threatens to lead to a victory of Bonapartism that would differ very little in character from the dictatorship of General Franco. That is why the politics of the Popular Front are a round-about path to the very same fascism…

It is necessary to break sharply, decisively, boldly — the umbilical cord of bourgeois public opinion. It is necessary to break from the petty-bourgeois parties including the syndicalist leaders. It is necessary to think the situation through to the end. It is necessary to descend to the masses, to the lowest and most oppressed layers. It is necessary to stop lulling them with illusions of a future victory that will come by itself. It is necessary to tell them the truth, however bitter it may be. It is necessary to teach them to distrust the petty-bourgeois agencies of capital. It is necessary to teach them to trust in themselves. It is necessary to tie your fate to theirs inseparably. It is necessary to teach them to build their own combat organisation — soviets — in opposition to the bourgeois state.

Can one hope that the present leadership of the POUM will carry out this turn? Alas, the experience of six years of revolution leaves no room for such hopes. The revolutionists inside the POUM, as well as outside would be bankrupt if they limited their role to “persuading,” “winning over” Nin, Andrade, Gorkin, the way the latter try to win over Largo, Caballero, Companys, et al. The revolutionists must turn to the workers, to the depths, against the vacillations and waverings of Nin. Unity of the proletarian front does not mean capitulation to the centrists. The interest of the revolution are higher than the formal unity of the party.…

Forty thousand members with a wavering and vacillating leadership are able only to disperse the proletariat and thereby to pave the way for catastrophe. Ten thousand, with a firm and perceptive leadership, can find the road to the masses, break them away from the influence of the Stalinists and Social Democrats, the charlatans and loudmouths, and assure them not just the episodic and uncertain victory of the republican troops over the fascist troops, but a total victory of the toilers over the exploiters. The Spanish proletariat has shown three times that it is able to carry out such a victory. The whole question is in the leadership!

May 12, 1937

It seems that the [Barcelona] insurrection was “spontaneous” in character, that is, it broke out unexpectedly for the leaders, including those of the POUM. This fact alone shows what an abyss had been dug between the anarchist and POUM leaders, on the one side, and the working masses, on the other. The conception propagated by Nin that “the proletariat can take power through peaceful means” has been proven absolutely false. We know nothing, or almost nothing, of the real position of the POUM at the time of the insurrection. But we do not believe in miracles. The position of the leaders of the POUM at the decisive moment must have been a simple continuation of their position during all the preceding period. More exactly, it is precisely in a decisive moment that the inconsistency of left centrism must be revealed in the most striking and tragic fashion. Such was, for example, the fate of Martov in the events of 1905 and 1917…

What is the meaning of the armistice in Barcelona that the dispatches mention: the defeat of the insurgents determined primarily by the inconsistency of the leadership, or the direct capitulation of the leaders, frightened by the pressure of the masses? We do not yet know. For the moment the struggle seems to be continuing outside Barcelona. Is a resumption of the offensive in Barcelona possible? Will not the repression on the part of the Stalinist-reformist scum give a new impulse to the action of the masses? We refrain from predicting here for lack of accurate information. Criticism of the leadership in any case retains its decisive importance, whatever the immediate course of events may be. In spite of the mistakes and weaknesses of the insurrection, we remain before the outside world indissolubly bound to the defeated workers. But this does not mean sparing the leadership, hiding its inconsistency, and keeping silent about its mistakes under the pretext of a purely sentimental solidarity.

8 August, 1937

When Andres Nin, the leader of the POUM, was arrested in Barcelona, there could not be the slightest doubt that the agents of the GPU would not let him out alive. The intentions of Stalin were revealed with exceptional clarity when the GPU, which holds the Spanish police in its clutches, published an announcement accusing Nin and the whole leadership of the POUM of being “agents” of Franco.

The absurdity of this accusation is clear to anyone who is acquainted with even the simplest facts about the Spanish revolution. The members of the POUM fought heroically against the fascists on all fronts in Spain. Nin is an old and incorruptible revolutionary. He defended the interests of the Spanish and Catalan peoples against the agents of the Soviet bureaucracy. That was why the GPU got rid of him by means of a well-prepared “raid” on the Barcelona jail. What role in this matter was played by the official Spanish authorities remains a matter for speculation.

Quite apart from the differences of opinion that separate me from the POUM, I must acknowledge that in the struggle that Nin led against the bureaucracy, it was Nin who was right. He tried to defend the independence of the Spanish proletariat from the diplomatic machinations and intrigues of the clique that holds power in Moscow. He did not want the POUM to become a tool in the hands of Stalin. He refused to cooperate with the GPU against the interests of the Spanish people. This was his only crime. And for this crime he paid with his life.

24 August, 1937

The July days of 1936, when the Catalan proletariat with correct leadership could, without additional efforts or sacrifices, have seized power and opened the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat throughout Spain, ended, largely through the fault of the POUM, in a regime between the proletariat (committees) and the bourgeoisie, represented by its lackeys (Stalinist, anarchist, and Socialist leaders). The interest of the workers was to do away with the equivocal and dangerous situation as rapidly as possible, by handing over all power to the committees, that is, to the Spanish soviets. The task of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, was to do away with the committees in the name of “unity of power”. The participation of Nin in the government was a corporate part of the plan of the bourgeoisies, directed against the proletariat…

In Spain the May events took place not after four months but after six years of revolution. The masses of the whole country have had a gigantic experience. A long time ago, they lost the illusions of 1931, as well as the warmed-over illusions of the Popular Front. Again and again they have shown to every part of the country that they were ready to go through to the end. If the Catalan proletariat had seized power in May 1937 — as it had really seized it in July 1936 — they would have found support throughout all of Spain. The bourgeois-Stalinist reaction would not even have found two regiments with which to crush the Catalan workers. In the territory occupied by Franco not only the workers but also the peasants would have turned toward the Catalan proletariat, would have isolated the fascist army and brought about its irresistible disintegration. It is doubtful whether under these conditions any foreign government would have risked throwing its regiments onto the burning soil of Spain. Intervention would have become materially impossible, or at least extremely dangerous.

17 December, 1937

The anarchists had no independent position of any kind in the Spanish revolution. All they did was waver between Bolshevism and Menshevism. More precisely, the anarchist workers instinctively yearned to enter the Bolshevik road (19 July 1936 and May days of 1937) while the leaders, on the contrary, with all their might drove the masses into the camp of the Popular Front, i.e. of the bourgeois regime.

The anarchists revealed a fatal lack of understanding of the laws of the revolution and its tasks by seeking to limit themselves to their own trade unions, that is, to organisations permeated with the routine of peaceful times, and by ignoring what went on outside the framework of the trade unions, among the masses, among the political parties and in the government apparatus. Had the anarchists been revolutionists, they would first of all have called for the creation of soviets, which unite the representatives of all the toilers of city and country, including the most oppressed strata who never joined the trade unions. The revolutionary workers would have naturally occupied the dominant position in these soviets. The Stalinists would have remained an insignificant minority. The proletariat would have convinced itself of its own invincible strength. The apparatus of the bourgeois state would have hung suspended in the air. One strong blow would have sufficed to pulverise this apparatus. The socialist revolution would have received a powerful impetus.

Instead of this, the anarcho-syndicalists, seeking to hide from “politics” in the trade unions, turned out to be, to the great surprise of the whole world and themselves, a fifth wheel in the cart of bourgeois democracy. But not for long; a fifth wheel is superfluous. After Garcia Oliver and his cohorts helped Stalin and his henchmen to take power away from the workers, the anarchists themselves were driven out of the government of the Popular Front. Even then they found nothing better to do than jump on the victor’s bandwagon and assure him of their devotion. The fear of the petty bourgeois before the big bourgeois, of the petty bureaucrat before the big bureaucrat, they covered up with lachrymose speeches about the sanctity of the united front (between the victim and the executioners) and about the inadmissibility of every kind of dictatorship, including their own. “After all, we could have taken power in July 1936…” “After all, we could have taken power in May 1937…” The anarchists begged Stalin-Negrin to recognise and reward their treachery to the revolution. A revolting picture!…

The conditions for victory of the masses in a civil war against the army of exploiters are very simple in their essence.

1. The fighters of a revolutionary army must be clearly aware of the fact that they are fighting for their full social liberation and not for the re-establishment of the old (“democratic”) forms of exploitation.

2. The workers and peasants in the rear of the revolutionary army as well as in the rear of the enemy must know and understand the same thing.

3. The propaganda on their own front as well as on the enemy front and in both rears must be completely permeated with the spirit of social revolution. The slogan “First victory, then reforms” is the slogan of the oppressors and exploiters from the Biblical kings down to Stalin.

4. Politics are determined by those class and strata that participate in the struggle. The revolutionary masses must have a state apparatus that directly and immediately expresses their will. Only the soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies can act as such an apparatus.

5. The revolutionary army must not only proclaim but also immediately realise in life the more pressing measures of social revolution in the provinces won by them: the expropriation of provisions, manufactured articles, and other stores on hand and the transfer of these to the needy; the re-division of shelter and housing in the interests of the toilers and especially of the families of the fighters; the expropriation of the land and agricultural inventory in the interests of the peasants; the establishment of workers’ control and soviet power in place of the former bureaucracy.

6. Enemies of the socialist revolution, that is, exploiting elements and their agents, even if masquerading as “democrats”, “republicans”, “socialists” and “anarchists” must be mercilessly driven out of the army.

7. At the head of each military unit must be placed commissars possessing irreproachable authority as revolutionists and soldiers.

8. In every military unit there must be a firmly welded nucleus of the most self-sacrificing fighters, recommended by the workers’ organisations. The members of the nucleus have but one privilege: to be the first under fire.

9. The commanding corps necessarily includes at first many alien and unreliable elements among the personnel. Their testing, retesting and sifting must be carried through on the basis of combat experience, recommendations of commissars and testimonials of rank-and-file fighters. Coincident with this must proceed an intense training of commanders drawn from the ranks of revolutionary workers.

10. The strategy of civil war must combine the rules of military art with the tasks of the social revolution. Not only in propaganda but also in military operations it is necessary to take into account the social composition of the various military units of the enemy (bourgeois volunteers, mobilised peasants, or as in Franco’s case, colonial slaves); and in choosing lines of operation, it is necessary to rigorously take into consideration the social structure of the corresponding territories (industrial regions, peasant regions, revolutionary or reactionary, regions of oppressed nationalities, etc). In brief, revolutionary policy dominates strategy.

11. Both the revolutionary government and executive committee of the workers and peasants must know how to win the complete confidence of the army and of the toiling population.

12. Foreign policy must have as its main objective the awakening of the revolutionary consciousness of the workers, the exploited peasants, and oppressed nationalities of the whole world.

20 August, 1940

The extent to which the working class movement has been thrown backward may be gauged by the condition not only of the mass organisation, but also of the ideological groupings and those theoretical inquiries in which so many groups are engaged…

These critics of Bolshevism are all theoretical cowards, for the simple reason that they have nothing solid under their feet. In order not to reveal their own bankruptcy, they juggle facts and prowl around the opinions of others. They confine themselves to hints and half-thoughts as if they just haven’t the time to delineate their full wisdom. As a matter of fact they possess no wisdom at all. Their haughtiness is lined with intellectual charlatanism…

In May 1937 the workers of Catalonia rose not only without their own leadership but also against it. The anarchist leaders — pathetic and contemptible bourgeoisie masquerading cheaply as revolutionists — have repeated hundreds of times in their press that had the CNT wanted to take power and set up their dictatorship in May, they could have done so without any difficulty. This time the anarchist leaders speak the unadulterated truth. The POUM leadership actually dragged at the tail of the CNT, only they covered up their policy with a different phraseology. It was thanks to this and this alone that the bourgeoisie succeeded in crushing the May uprising of the “immature” proletariat…

Why did the working class as a whole follow a bad leadership?…

The secret is that a people is comprised of hostile classes, and the classes themselves are comprised of different and in part antagonistic layers that fall under different leadership; furthermore every people falls under the influence of other peoples who are likewise comprised of classes. Governments do not express the systematically growing “maturity” of a “people” but are the product of the struggle between different classes and the different layers within one and the same class, and finally, the action of external forces — alliances, conflicts, wars, and so on. To this should be added that a government, once it has established itself, may endure much longer than the relationship of forces that produced it. It is precisely out of this historical contradiction that revolutions, coups d’etat, counterrevolutions, etc. arise.

The very same dialectical approach is necessary in dealing with the question of the leadership of a class. Imitating the liberals, our sages tacitly accept the axiom that every class gets the leadership it deserves. In reality leadership is not at all a mere “reflection” of a class or the product of its own free creativeness…

The Marxist interpretation, that is, the dialectical and not the scholastic interpretation of the interrelationship between a class and its leadership, does not leave a single stone unturned of our author’s legalistic sophistry.

Yet during a revolution the consciousness of a class is the most dynamic process directly determining the course of the revolution. Was it possible in January 1917 or even in March, after the overthrow of czarism, to give an answer to the question whether the Russian proletariat had sufficiently “matured” for the conquest of power in eight to nine months?

The working class was at that time extremely heterogeneous socially and politically. During the years of the war it had been renewed by 30-40 percent from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie, often reactionary, from backward peasants, from women, and from youth. The Bolshevik Party in March 1917 was followed by an insignificant minority of the working class, and furthermore there was discord within the party itself. The overwhelming majority of the workers supported the Mensheviks and the “Social Revolutionaries”, that is, conservative social patriots. The situation was even less favourable with regard to the army and the peasantry. We must add to this: the general low level of culture in the country, the lack of political experience in the provinces, let alone the peasants and soldiers.

What were the advantages of Bolshevism? A clear and thoroughly thought-out revolutionary conception at the beginning of the revolution was held only by Lenin. The Russian cadres of the party were scattered and to a considerable degree bewildered. But the party had authority among the advanced workers. Lenin had great authority with the party cadres. Lenin’s political conception corresponded to the actual development of the revolution and was reinforced by each new event. These advantages worked wonders in a revolutionary situation, that is, in conditions of bitter class struggle. The party quickly aligned its policy to correspond with Lenin’s conception; to correspond, that is, with the actual course of the revolution. Thanks to this, it met with firm support among tens of thousands of advanced workers. Within a few months, by basing itself upon the development of the revolution, the party was able to convince the majority of the workers of the correctness of its slogans. This majority, organised into soviets, was able in its turn to attract the soldiers and peasants.

How can this dynamic, dialectical process be exhausted by a formula of the maturity or immaturity of the proletariat? A colossal factor in the maturity of the Russian proletariat in February or March 1917 was Lenin. He did not fall from the skies. He personified the revolutionary tradition of the working class. For Lenin’s slogans to find their way to the masses, cadres had to exist, even though numerically small at the beginning; the cadres had to have confidence in the leadership, a confidence based on the entire experience of the past. To cancel these elements from one’s calculations is simply to ignore the living revolution, to substitute for it an abstraction, the “relationship of forces”; because the development of the revolution precisely consists of the incessant and rapid change in the relationship of forces under the impact of the changes in the consciousness of the proletariat, the attraction of the backward layers to the advanced, the growing assurance of the class in its own strength. The vital mainspring this process is the party, just as the vital mainspring in the mechanism of the party is its leadership. The role and the responsibility of the leadership in a revolutionary epoch is colossal…

The historical falsification consists in this, that the responsibility for the defeat of the Spanish masses is unloaded on the working masses and not those parties that paralysed or simply crushed the revolutionary movement of the masses. The attorneys of the POUM simply deny the responsibility of the leaders, in order thus to escape shouldering their own responsibility. This impotent philosophy, which seeks to reconcile defeats as a necessary link in the chain of cosmic developments, is completely incapable of posing and refuses to pose the question of such concrete factors as programmes, parties, and personalities that were the organisers of defeat. This philosophy of fatalism and prostration is diametrically opposed to Marxism as the theory of revolutionary action.

Compiled by SM

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