Andrés Nin

The Problem of Power

(March 1937)

Spanish original in La Batalla, 14 March 1937 (La concepción marxista del poder y la revolución española)
English translation in The Spanish Revolution, Vol. II No. 6, 31 March 1937.
Marked up by Martin Fahlgren for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The fundamental ideas of Marx on the subject of power can be summarized in the following propositions:

  1. The state is an instrument of coercion at the service of the dominant class with the object of oppressing the other classes.
  2. While classes exist, the state exists and its abolition cannot be “agreed” upon or “decreed”.
  3. The proletariat, if it wants to defend its interests, must struggle for the conquest of power which it must utilize to create a new society without classes.
  4. To break the resistance of the capitalists – the exploiting class will never renounce its privileges – and to undertake the organization of a new society on socialistic bases, the proletariat, on taking power, must temporarily install its class dictatorship. This period of transition between capitalism and communism is inevitable. Without it, the emancipation of the workers is impossible.
  5. “The working class cannot limit itself to taking into its own hands the state machine and putting it into operation as it is for its own ends” but must destroy it, creating its own organs. (Example which can serve for orientation: the Paris Commune.)
  6. With the disappearance of classes, the state, properly defined, disappears, yielding its place to purely administrative institutions. “A government of men is replaced by the administration of things.”
  7. In order that the working class can fulfil its historic mission, an indispensible condition is that it organize itself into a class party, independent of the others and with an independent class policy.

From these seven propositions, it develops that the political doctrine of Marxism is based on two fundamental ideas: the conquest of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The working class, in its struggle for its emancipation, does not hurl itself only against the economic force of the enemy class, but also against its political force. The conquest of political power is an indispensable condition of the socialist transformation. In September 1920 the Italian workers occupied the factories; but as the power remained in the hands of the capitalists, they frustrated the revolution, which was rapidly advancing, and, as a consequence of this, created the necessary conditions for the rapid and victorious advance of fascism. In our country, as an answer to the military fascist rising, the workers in arms, occupied the factories, mines and shops, destroying the economic power of the capitalists; but they did not complete this action with, the conquest of the political power, but gave the enemy class the possibility of going ahead to reconstruct the disorganized mechanism of the state, to place it at the service of its own interests and to utilize it against the proletarian revolution.

This profound error of the working class will have irreparable consequences for the cause of its emancipation if it does not decide to react energetically. The fascist insurrection of the 19th of July created all the objective conditions for the conquest of power. The state mechanism had become so seriously disorganized that it had ceased to exist. The forces of public order were demoralized, indisciplined and disinherited. The army was destroyed. All the juridical mechanism was liquidated. The local organs of power were virtually suppressed, replaced by revolutionary committees. The proprietors of the land were expelled. The factories and shops were confiscated. The arms, indispensable premise of victory, were in the hands of the workers and peasants, the absolute masters of the situation. And, as a corollary of this state of affairs, there was the feeling, among the exploiting classes and the middle class masses, that the former regime had disappeared forever.

It would have sufficed to want to destroy the impotent remains of capitalist power definitely and to institute the power of the working class. But the working class parties and organizations which had the most influence did not want this. The Communist Party faithful to the scandalously reformist orientation of the Third International, has consecrated its forces from the first moment to diverting the revolution into the channel of a democratic republic and class collaboration. The Socialist Party has followed the same road, in spite of the revolutionary spirit and enthusiasm of the greatest part of the masses who follow it.

The C.N.T.-F.A.I. deserves to be impeached apart. The workers of the Confederation threw themselves into the struggle with admirable spirit. Their tremendous class instinct led them to take energetic, audacious, revolutionary action. But the magnificent impulse has been considerably neutralized by the traditional anarchist conceptions of power. The militants of the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. realize that the titanic struggle which is developing in Spain now demands important corrections; but they do not dare to carry these to their logical conclusion. Correction of their inveterate apoliticism has led them to participation in the governmental organs, that is to say, collaboration with the bourgeois parties. If they arrive, with us, at the conclusion that the only solution of the situation is a workers and peasants’ government, the revolution will be saved. What obstacle can there be to this? It Is easier to make the workers of the C.N.T. understand the consistency of participating in a revolutionary workers’ government, than of collaborating with a capitalist democratic government. Can the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat be an obstacle? We will not dispute over mere words. What is important is to agree on their content. And we have not the least doubt that the anarcho-syndicalist workers are convinced, with us – practical experience has demonstrated it – of the necessity of smashing the capitalists, of denying them all political rights, of not letting :hem breathe again until the workers have destroyed the roots of all possibilities of a restoration of capitalism. Destroy all classes, and as a result revolutionary power will become superfluous and human society will be freed of the chains of the state. Do they hate the term “the dictatorship of the proletariat”? We can do without it. And we will all contribute – you, anarchists and we, revolutionary Marxists, that this total power of the proletariat – absolutely indispensable during a certain period – be based on the most ample form of workers’ democracy and not transform itself, as happened in the U.S.S.R. into the dictatorship of a bureaucratic caste.

If the C.N.T., the F.A.I. and the P.O.U.M. who already agree on the moss important, matters, could come to an agreement over this fundamental, immense prospects would open before the revolution. The clarity of the objective pursued would produce a rebirth of confidence among the workers; the revolutionary tension of the masses would recover the rhythm of the first months; their enthusiasm would be wonderful, behind the lines as well as at the front.

The objective, on the other hand, is relatively easy to reach. The working class is not yet completely disarmed. It retains strategically important positions. Its specific weight power is enormous. Nothing can be done without it. And, if it wishes, nothing can be done against it. Although not so favourable as in the first months, the balance of forces Is such that the working class, in the present circumstances, could take power without the recurrence of an armed insurrection. It is enough to bring into play all its armed force with the irrevocable decision to carry the revolution through to its final conclusion.

But how must the workers’ and peasants’ government that we propose be formed? Basing his position on the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx held that the working class cannot limit itself to setting into motion the machinery of the capitalist state, but that it must destroy it. Herein lies the necessity, not only of annihilating the whole bureaucratic mechanism of the capitalist state, but also its fundamental institutions, and, in the first place, the Parliament, a remnant of the period of the “democratic” domination of the bourgeoisie, or, to put it in other terms, of the “democratic” political form of the capitalist dictatorship.

The source of the new power cannot be the Parliament, but rather the organs which have surged up from the revolution and which express the will of the masses more faithfully. This is why our party proposes the calling of a Constituent Assembly of delegates of the factory committees, of the peasants’ organizations and of the combatants at the front, from which would spring the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government and the fundamental lines of the Constitution which would govern the new Spain, freed from the oppression of the capitalists and the landlords. A Workers’ Government formed from above would be a step forward in the present situation, but would not be the government which the interests of the revolution imperatively demand.

There is no time to lose. If we wait we assist passively in the systematic and progressive reconstruction of the mechanism of capitalist power; the Spanish working class will have lost the exceptional occasion which history offers it to emancipate itself and give a tremendous impulse of the world revolution. AFTERWARDS it will be too late.

We must strike while the iron is hot.

Last updated on 23 June 2015