Andrés Nin

The Spanish proletariat before the advancing revolution

(6 September 1936)

Speech held in Barcelona.
Spanish original published as a pamphlet (El proletariado español ante la revolución en marcha)
English translation: unknown.
Marked up by Martin Fahlgren for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrades: the Spanish army, renowned for its incompetence, is famous not for its victories but its defeats. At most it can boast of successes against the working classes inside the country. But whenever it has taken part in military actions it was always systematically crushed. We knew that the Spanish army hierarchy was cowardly and incompetent, but experience had yet to prove that it was also unbelievably stupid.

Imagine the idiocy of the Spanish military which, after laborious preparations, launched an uprising on 19 July, a revolt seeking to finish off the workers’ movement, suppress its conquests, and destroy their organizations – in brief, to install a bloody dictatorship in our country like those to which the Italians, Germans and Austrians are subject.

The military wanted to crush the workers’ movement. We have never doubted the proletarian character of the Spanish revolution, but it took a military as stupid as the Spanish to accelerate the revolutionary process with the rising of July 19, provoking a proletarian revolution deeper than the Russian revolution itself.

The proletariat does not fight for the democratic republic

Workers of Barcelona, you have heard us several times at this tribune during this revolution, and it is with pride that I can now say that events have fully confirmed our party’s predictions, predictions which made us less than popular when the popular front triumphed on the back of the working masses of Catalonia and Spain. On the very eve of the elections we said from at this same tribune that bourgeois democracy could not resolve Spain’s problems because a left republican government would be worse than its predecessor, not for lack of good faith but because only the proletarian revolution can attack the privileges of the exploiting classes. A bourgeois government, even the most advanced, could not accomplish the tasks of the working class, which does not hesitate like the petty bourgeoisie.

After the victory of 16 February, we said that the revolution was not finished, that the struggle was not complete, that the struggle would continue, because at stake was not a conflict between bourgeois democracy and fascism, but between fascism and socialism, between the bourgeoisie and the working class. Facts, comrades, have proved us completely right. On 19 July, the working class, arms in hand, barred the way to fascism in Catalonia and forcefully posed the question of power.

The struggle continues throughout Spain. Should the working class now defend the bourgeois republic arms in hand? Are the Catalan workers, are the Spanish workers, making these enormous sacrifices, shedding their blood to return to the republic of Senor Azaña?

The working class of Catalonia and Spain does not fight for the democratic republic. Until now, the Spanish democratic revolution had not yet been carried out. Five years of the republic have resolved none of the fundamental problems of the Spanish revolution. The problem of the church, of the land, of the army, of the purging of the magistrature and the Catalan question have not been resolved. Well, comrades, all these concrete objectives of the democratic revolution have not been realised by the liberal bourgeoisie, which has shown itself incapable of realising them for five years now; but by the working class, which realised them, arms in hand, in a few days. You already know how the problem of the church was resolved: not a church remains in Spain. The problem of its wealth, of its economic power, was resolved by pure and simple expropriation. The problem of the land was resolved because the peasants waited neither for the law of contracts on culture nor for the measures of the Institute for Agrarian Reform, but expelled the owners and seized the land.

There was another problem, that of the army. We heard endless talk about purging the officer hierarchy. The working class has already purged the army by destroying it and creating militias, which have been transformed into a veritable red army. We will accept no pretext for watering down these workers’ militias, even the pretext of creating an army of volunteers to replace the old permanent army. Comrades, these workers’ militias should not and will not be the army of the democratic republic, but the red army of the working class.

And this army, comrades, will not betray us. This army is the flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, and in it there is no place for suspect officers, This army is and will be led by the sons of the working class, which will never betray.

There remains, comrades, the problem of Catalonia, and I invite you to reflect on the fundamental difference which exists between the way this issue was posed before 19 July and today. The hegemonic class in the Catalan nationalist movement was the petty bourgeoisie. The petty bourgeois parties were the most authentic representatives of this nationalist movement and the facts, comrades, have shown that once again we were right. Today, the Catalan problem is resolved, but it was resolved by the working class, which organised in Catalonia and acted as a completely autonomous state. The working class has resolved all the fundamental problems of the democratic revolution. Today, the slogan "defend democracy" has no more meaning. Comrades, on 19 July, Spanish feudalism, clericalism and militarism perished. but not only Spanish feudalism, clericalism and militarism. The capitalist economy also perished, for ever.

The revolution and the war are inseparable

We are now told that we have an immediate goal: the battle on the front. We are told that the war must first be won, and then we shall see.

But these two questions cannot be separated. Pure technique cannot win this war. Otherwise, given its superiority in armament and discipline, the military would have won on July 19th. Why didn’t they win? Because we have what they do not: hope for a new society, which we oppose to those fighting for a society which is inevitably condemned to disappear.

This is why, at the height of the struggle, social and political conquests are as important as military victories.

If we finish capitalism off, if we lead the revolution along the socialist road, then we will create, and are already creating, a movement in Spain which is so powerful, and a revolution which is so deep, that all attempts to impose a monarchist, fascist and reactionary rabble can only break apart upon it.

This is why we say that each concession, each step backwards is a present to the enemy.

What does the antifascist struggle mean? There is no such thing as an abstract antifascist struggle. What is fascism? Fascism is the bourgeoisie’s last resort to conserve and consolidate its domination. Capitalism can no longer resolve its contradictions and has no other option than fascism. This is why we said from this same tribune that, even if there was a temporary success for the republican left in Spain, the petty bourgeoisie would prove unable to resolve its own contradictions and the victory of fascism would be inevitable. There is only one effective form of struggle against fascism: proletarian revolution. If we heeded the beautiful phrases of the left republicans, if we believed that our interest was right now to defend the bourgeois republic, we would only prepare, sooner or later, the victory of fascism. I therefore reiterate once more, in the name of our party, that only the Spanish proletariat today possesses the key to the situation: the proletarian revolution to install a socialist republic in our country.

We cannot return to where we were before

The bourgeois democrats dream, naturally, of returning to the old situation. However, many of them have failed to understand what has happened in our country, have not understood that nothing remains of the old situation and that we are actually living through a period of profound dislocation. These gentlemen dream of a return to the old situation, for example that of the parliament of 16 February which is rightly dead and buried. This parliament reflected the reality of the time, but do not forget, comrades, that the fascists and all the reactionary sectors of the country, who unleashed the civil war, were represented in that parliament. We say that to a new situation correspond new institutions. If they want to keep the parliament of 16 February, let them put it in a museum.

From now on, a parliamentary system like the old one will not satisfy us. We are not for freedom for everyone; in the present situation, we deny salt and bread to the reactionary elements and the bourgeoisie, to whom we concede not one political right. New institutions, born of revolution, must be created, worthy of the aspirations of that revolution and of the working masses who are struggling even now throughout Spain for a better society. In this sense, it is obvious, comrades, that the 16 February parliament does not meet today’s needs. A new legislative body must be created, and we believe that it will be necessary to convoke constituent assemblies to forge the basis of a new Spanish society. In these constituent assemblies, as I have already said, the bourgeoisie and the exploiting classes cannot be represented. They must be formed by representatives of workers’ committees, of peasants and combatants, that is to say by those who have made the revolution, who fight the enemy today and are forging the new Spain of tomorrow.

For a workers’ government

Obviously, comrades, we must confront immediate problems. We need a strong government, that is the general view of the popular masses of the country. We need a strong government, but not with the meaning that bourgeois elements gave this term in the past. We need a strong government, founded on the highest authority – that which flows from the confidence of the workers – and which is ready to fight to the end. Who can provide such a government? The one just elected in Madrid? We honestly don’t think so. The working class needs far more than a ministerial declaration from a government been chosen by the president of the republic. Any of the old left governments, presided over by any old Giral, could have made such a declaration. It was a government which aspired to represent all Spaniards, a government riddled with democratic bourgeois prejudices, a government completely incapable of measuring up to the needs of the situation. We say that in this situation, the only adequate government is a government with no bourgeois ministers, a purely workers’ government. It should not represent simply the workers’ interests but those of all layers of the Spanish proletariat. In fact the revolution we are participating in today is not the revolution of a party or of an organization but of all the working class, made by its parties and its organizations. No-one should lay exclusive claim to this revolution because it belongs to everyone, to all working people.

The present government represents, without any doubt. a step forward compared with the previous one, but it remains a popular front government, that is a government which arose from the situation before 19 July and the workers’ insurrection. It represents a step forward in relation to the former government but a step backward in relation to the current situation. There is therefore no other solution outside of a workers’ government. The slogan of the entire working class in the days to come is the following: bourgeois ministers out of the government, long live the workers’ government!

Today, it is more necessary than ever to unite our efforts. The struggle at the front is very hard. We would not be true to our revolutionary conscience if we said that the struggle and the victory will be easy. No, comrades, the battle is not easy; victory is certain, but it will cost us great sacrifices. We will do our best not to shed the blood of the working classes and to hasten the proletariat’s inevitable victory. One of the main obstacles which impedes the organization of victory and the triumph of the workers’ militias, is the lack of a unified command which can direct all operations. Under the present circumstances, the Madrid government cannot accomplish such a task. In Catalonia, we have created the central committee of the workers’ militias, which in reality centralises all political actions, and our party proposes the immediate constitution of a national defence committee (Junta Nacional de defensa) which, like the central committee of workers’ militias, could centralise all actions and lead the war through to a definitive victory.

At this point I should add that this point of view is fully shared by the workers of the Levant. I do not know if you are all familiar with the situation there. In the Levant, there is a situation very similar to ours. There also, from the first days of the movement, the republican government tried to create a sort of delegation of the Madrid government so as to hold back the revolutionary movement. The workers of Valencia accompanied Señor Martinez Barrio and Señor Espla to the station where they sent them back to Madrid, and, in place of this delegation from the government of the capital, the workers of Valencia created a popular executive committee which is in reality no less than the government of the proletarian revolution in the Levant.

That is why, comrades, the popular executive committee of Valencia shares our point of view. We can now say that Valencia and Catalonia form the vanguard of the Spanish revolution and will lead it forward.

The CNT, the FAI and the problems of the revolution

At a moment of such great historical responsibility, the proletariat must march forward as it has done up until now. There is no hiding the fact that the future of the revolution, in our opinion, depends to a large degree on the attitude adopted by the CNT and the FAI. These two organisations enjoy immense support from the working class. We have profound ideological differences with them, but we can state that, in the present situation, they manifest a clearly revolutionary orientation and a much more developed understanding of proletarian reality than other workers’ organisations. In these circumstance, the future of the revolution depends on whether or not other working class forces can reach agreement with the CNT and the FAI. We are not fighting simply to preserve our organisation. We are proud of our organisation, proud of our name. But we want, in the light of actual experience, to see if convergence is possible. I can confirm, comrades, that today we find full agreement with the CNT comrades on fundamental questions which previously divided us.

Let us look, for example, at the question of the army, on which we had profound disagreements with the anarchists. They said that it wasn’t necessary to build an army and that the spontaneous action of the masses would suffice. Today we have all contributed, with the same enthusiasm, to building an army: the workers’ militias. On this point, the need for an army, we all agree: communists, socialists and anarchists.

The anarchists always used to speak of proceeding to the immediate establishment of libertarian communism. Today, the CNT and the FAI understand that it is in fact impossible to proceed directly to libertarian communism and that the situation obliges us to pass through several transitional stages, which means that now the CNT and the FAI recognise the need for political power. I think, comrade anarchists, that we can perfectly easily reach an understanding on this point. You could, for example, have refused to enter a government, because the name makes you take fright. For our part, we say that what counts is not the form but the content. If you do not want to characterise this absolutely vital leadership body as a government but as an executive committee, then lets call it an executive committee, or a revolutionary committee, or a popular committee, but let us do our duty and constitute it.

It is obvious that in Spain today we have a political system which does not correspond to the present situation, and that it is absolutely incomprehensible that in these circumstances there should be in Catalonia a government formed by representatives of the republican left, just as it is incomprehensible that today there should be a Spanish government with bourgeois minister. There is another problem on which we had differences with our anarchist comrades. This is the problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat. What is the dictatorship of the proletariat? It is authority exercised solely and exclusively by the class of workers, the suppression of all political rights and all freedom for the representatives of the class enemy. If that is the dictatorship of the proletariat, comrades, then I declare that the proletarian dictatorship exists in Catalonia today.

Since we have no other differences, we can perfectly easily find agreement with the CNT comrades. If you prefer it, let’s not speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We can give it any name you please. What counts is to agree, ourselves and the anarchists, that in the present period there can be neither political rights nor freedoms for the bourgeoisie, but only for the working class.

Some days ago, the CNT published a manifesto in which it stated that it wanted to oppose any proletarian dictatorship exercised by a party. As for ourselves, comrades, we declare here that for us the proletarian dictatorship is the dictatorship of all the working classes, of all popular classes and that no trade union or political organisation has the right to impose its own dictatorship in the name of the interests of the revolution. And, in this sense we should add that if the CNT, the socialist party or the communist party claim to exercise an exclusive monopoly of the revolution, they will find us ranged against them. The dictatorship of the proletariat is workers’ democracy exercised by all workers without exception.

We also oppose any attempt to install a personal dictatorship. We consider the proletarian dictatorship the most advanced expression of democracy. Bourgeois democracy is simply a cover for capitalist dictatorship, for capitalist exploitation. This is the dictatorship of a minority of the population, of the minority of the exploiters, over the immense majority. The dictatorship of the proletariat suppresses political rights, but only those of a tiny minority, the exploiters. This is the government of the immense majority of the population against this group of exploiters.

Let us set to and create this workers’ democracy. Here as elsewhere, our party is ready to fight side by side with the CNT and with the working class as a whole, against any attempt to transform the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of a party or person.

Forward to the socialist republic

I shall conclude, comrades. We are living in the middle of a decisive stage of the revolution. Shame on us if we cannot profit from this conjuncture! History rarely offers such opportunities.

We find ourselves in a unique situation. The Spanish workers are armed. In previous experiences, here as in the rest of Europe, the liberal bourgeoisie and the demagogic petty bourgeoisie disarmed the working class to crush it later. But we say, comrades, that in the present situation the proletariat must accomplish an elementary duty: it must not let itself be disarmed. The workers must keep the weapons with which they go to the front so that they can use them against the rule of the bourgeoisie when they come back.

Comrades, there is a hard struggle ahead of us, but we have already won some important successes. During the last few weeks that Catalan working class has proved its spirit of sacrifice and organizational capacities. Do you think it means nothing to have destroyed, in a few weeks, an entire army with its arms and its discipline, and to have built a new army? Does it mean nothing that despite economic chaos the workers have triumphed in the enterprises, restored to the public services, and that life develops with the normality that you see around you? Comrades, I tell you that the spectacle which the working class offer us today gives us cause for great hope. This is a working class prepared to lead the struggle for victory or death, but which understands the needs sacrifices imposed by this situation. It understands that to defeat the enemy, to finish off fascism, to build the socialist society of tomorrow, still more sacrifices will be demanded. The working day will have to be raised and wages will have to fall temporarily. Our working class is ready for such sacrifice; for the exploiters it would not have made them, but for the society of tomorrow it will.

The struggle must be continued without ever stopping, and without being deceived by democratic legalities. In Spain we do not fight for the democratic republic. There is a new dawn in our country’s skies. It is the dawn of the socialist republic. Workers of Barcelona, fight for it to the end!

Last updated on 23 June 2015