Originally intended as a political report for the POUM National Conference 1937, which did not take place because the party was banned. 
Translated for David Beetham, ed., Marxists in Face of Fascism (Manchester University Press, 1983).
Downloaded with thanks from the What Next? archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
THE EVENTS which have taken place in Spain since the POUM’s constitutional congress which was held in Barcelona on the 29 September 1935 have confirmed that the fundamental position of our Party, in declaring that the battle is not between bourgeois democracy and fascism but between fascism and socialism, and in classifying our revolution as socialist-democratic, was completely accurate.
The 1931-5 experience had more than shown the inability of the bourgeoisie to resolve the fundamental problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the need for the working classes to put themselves resolutely at the head of the emancipation movement to carry out the democratic revolution and to start the socialist revolution. The persistence of democratic illusions and of the organic alliance with the republican parties, was to lead fatally to the reinforcement of the reactionary positions and, in the near future, to the triumph of fascism as the only escape from a capitalist regime incapable of resolving its internal contradictions within the frame of bourgeois-democratic institutions.
The lesson from Asturias, where the proletariat, on resolutely taking over the leadership of the movement in October 1934, delivered a mortal blow to the reaction, and that from Catalonia, where at the same time the incapacity and irresponsibility of the petty-bourgeois parties was evident once again, was not made the most of, as a result of the absence of a large revolutionary party. The Socialist and Communist parties, instead of taking advantage of the October lesson by pushing the workers’ alliance, which had given such splendid results in Asturias, and channelling all the forces towards securing the hegemony of the working classes, subjected the proletariat again, through the popular front, to the bourgeois republican parties, which after their resounding failure in October had virtually disappeared from the political scene.
The period immediately preceding the elections of 16 February was characterised by the galvanisation of the republican parties, thanks to the efforts of Socialists and official Communists, and by a certain rebirth of democratic illusions among the masses who, however, seemed to be moved more by the vehement desire of obtaining amnesty for the prisoners and convicts of October than through confidence in the republican parties. This wish was so unanimous, and the movement so overpowering, that our Party had no choice but to join it, while retaining its personality and independence intact, and exercising a harsh and pitiless criticism of the republican parties. This tactic, which saved us from isolation, allowed us to get closer to the broad masses, until then out of our reach, and disseminate our principles among them.
The conduct of the leftist republicans in power, after 16 February, was an absolute confirmation of our forecasts. From the beginning, a deep split was established between the government and the powerful drive of the masses who forced it to issue the amnesty decree and started a vast and profound movement of strikes. From below, rapid and energetic action was demanded together with a policy of revolutionary achievements and of rigorous measures against the reaction, which was growing more insolent every day. From above, a policy of passivity, of fatal leniency was carried out, a policy whose motto seemed to be not to change anything, not to startle anybody nor to damage the interests of the exploiting classes. The result of this policy was the military-fascist uprising of 19 July 1936. On that early morning in July the explosions of cannons and the crackle of machine guns woke the workers, who still harboured illusions of democracy, from their sleep. The electoral victory of 16 February had not cleared up the problem created in our country. The fascist reaction resorted to more forceful arguments than the ballot paper. Making use of the privileged position granted them by the republican government itself, by keeping them in the most important strategic positions, the vast majority of army officers, at the service of the reactionary classes, started the Civil War.
The military-fascist uprising provoked a formidable reaction among the working classes, who threw themselves resolutely into battle and, in spite of passivity, in some cases, and betrayal, in others, of the republican parties, whose official representatives refused to hand over arms to the workers, they crushed the insurrection in the most important industrial centres of the country.
This resolute intervention by the workers had enormous political consequences. The bourgeois organs of power were, in reality, destroyed. Revolutionary committees were set up everywhere. The permanent army collapsed and was replaced by the militias. The workers cook possession of the factories. The peasants rook over the land. Convents and churches were destroyed by the purifying fires of the revolution. In a few hours, or it most in a few days, the workers and peasants, by direct revolutionary action solved the problems which the republican bourgeoisie had not been able to solve in five years – that is to say, the problems of the democratic revolution – and they started the socialist revolution with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.
For a certain length of time the organs of bourgeois power were no more than a shadow. The revolutionary committees exercised the real power, forming a dense network in all the regions not occupied by the rebels.
However, in this initial period the revolutionary drive was much stronger in Catalonia than in Spain. Catalonia went undoubtedly to the head of the revolution because thanks to the influence of the POUM, the CNT, and the FAI who did not join up with the popular front, democratic republican opportunism had penetrated less into the working masses.
The fascist insurrection then, destined principally to suffocate the working class revolutionary movement, accelerated it very rapidly, giving the class struggle an unheard-of violence, and squarely posing the problem of power: either fascism or socialism. What was intended as a preventative counter-revolution became a proletarian revolution, with all the distinguishing features of the same: slackening of the bourgeois state mechanism, decline of the army, of the coercive forces of the state, and of the judicial institutions, arming of the working classes, who attacked and damaged the right to private property, direct intervention by the peasants who expropriated the landowners, and finally the conviction, on the part of the exploiting classes, that their domination had ended.
In the first weeks following 19 July, the conviction that the past could not return, that the democratic Republic had been overcome, was widespread. And the drive of the revolution was so strong that the petty-bourgeois parties themselves proclaimed the end of capitalist rule and the necessity of undertaking the socialist transformation of Spanish society.
The only immediate way to co-ordinate the thrust of the masses into creating a strong power, based on the organisms which had come out of the entrails of the revolution, as a direct expression of the wishes of those who had played the leading roles in the fight against fascism. This strong power could be none other than a government of the workers and peasants. This position, supported by the POUM from the moment at which the character of the fight became clear, ran up against opposition from all the popular front parties, and above all from the Communist Party, and against the indecision of the CNT, whose anarchist ideology prevented it realising the fundamental and decisive importance of the power problem.
Meanwhile, with the help of a tenacious and systematic campaign, two ideas with unfortunate consequences for the victorious development of the working class struggle, were breaking through. The first of these ideas was expressed in these terms: “First win the war. then the revolution will look after itself.” According to the second, which is a direct consequence of the first, the workers and peasants are fighting the present war to maintain the parliamentary democratic Republic and, therefore, one cannot talk of a proletarian revolution. Later this idea underwent an unsuspected change: the dramatic battle which caused great bloodshed and ruined the country, became “a war for national independence and the defence of the homeland”.
From the very first, our Party adopted a stance of resolute opposition in the face of these counter-revolutionary ideas.
The formula “First win the war, then the revolution will look after itself” is basically incorrect. In the battle which is developing in Spain at the present moment, war and revolution are not only two inseparable terms, but synonyms. Civil war, a more or less prolonged state of the direct conflict between two or more classes of society, is one of the manifestations, the sharpest, of the fight between the proletariat, on the one hand, and the grande bourgeoisie and the landowners on the other, who, frightened by the revolutionary advance of the proletariat, are trying :o establish a regime of bloody dictatorship, which will consolidate the privileges of their classes. The fight on the front lines of battles is no more than an extension of the fighting at the rear. War is a form of politics. This politics is what guides war in every case. The armies always defend the interests of a particular class. It is a case of knowing whether the workers and peasants at the front are fighting for the bourgeois order or for a socialist society. War and revolution are inseparable at the present moment in Spain as they were in France in the eighteenth century and in Russia in 1917-20. How can we separate war from revolution, when war is no more than the violent culmination of the revolutionary process which has been developing in our country from 1930 to the present day?
In reality, the formula “First win the war ...” conceals the effective intention of frustrating the revolution. Revolutions have to be carried out when the circumstances are favourable, and these circumstances are rarely offered to us by history. If we do not rake advantage of the times of greatest revolutionary tension, the class enemy will gradually reconquer positions and will end up by strangling the revolution. Nineteenth century history, and the more recent post-war history (Germany, Austria, Italy, China, etc) offers as numerous examples in this sense. Putting off the revolution until after the war is won is equivalent to leaving the hands of the bourgeoisie free so that, by taking advantage of the decrease in revolutionary tension, they can re-establish their mechanism of oppression in order to systematically and progressively prepare for the restoration of capitalist rule. War – we have already said – is a form of politics. Political regimes always serve a particular class of which they are the expression and the instrument. While the war goes on policies must be made: to serve whom; which class interests? This is the whole question. And the guarantee of a sure and rapid victory at the front lies in strong revolutionary policies at the rear, capable of inspiring the fighters with the necessary spirit and confidence for the battle; capable too, of promoting the revolutionary solidarity of the international proletariat, the only one on which we can rely, to create a solid war industry to rebuild the economy, upset by the civil war, on socialist foundations, to form an efficient army at the service of the proletarian cause, which is that of civilised humanity. The instrument of these revolutionary policies can be none other than a workers’ and peasants’ government.
In the whole of Europe since the imperialist war just as in Russia in 1917, the biggest obstacle opposing the victorious advance of the proletarian revolution is reformism, a bourgeois agent in the working-class movement. Bur paradoxically it happens that the most characteristic exponent of castrating reformism in our country is the Communist Party of” Spain itself and its subsidiary the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia, both affiliated to an international one, the Communist International which sprang up as a consequence of the ideological and organic rupture with reformism. A prisoner of Soviet bureaucracy, which has turned its back on the international proletarian revolution to place all its hopes on the “democratic” countries and the League of Nations, official communism has definitively abandoned the revolutionary policies of class to turn towards an alliance with the bourgeois-democratic parties (popular front) and to prepare the masses psychologically for the next world war. Hence the slogan “Fight for national independence”, which translated into the language of international politics means “subordination of revolutionary Spain to the interests of the Franco-British imperialist bloc”, of which the USSR is also a member. The fateful consequences of these policies have not taken long to make themselves felt: speculating with the difficulties of the war and the possible international complications, reformism, efficiently supported by the representatives of Stalinist bureaucracy, who in their turn, have speculated with the support of the USSR, has managed to systematically undermine the revolutionary conquests, preparing the ground for the counter-revolution. Our elimination from the Generalidad government, the attempts at forming a popular “democratic” and “neutral” army, the suppression of the rearguard militias and the restoration of law and order on the basis of re-establishment of the old mechanism, and the censorship of the press. are the must important stages of this counter-revolutionary process, which will continue inflexibly until the revolutionary movement is totally crushed if the Spanish working classes do not decide to react quickly and vigorously, reconquering the positions taken in the days of July and advancing the socialist revolution.
In the present, unequivocally revolutionary situation the slogan “fight for the parliamentary-democratic Republic” can serve no other interests than those of the bourgeois counter-revolution. Today more than ever, “the word democracy is no more than a cover with which to stop the revolutionary people from rising up and attacking, freely, intrepidly, and on its own, the construction of the new society” (Lenin). As revolutionary Marxism has shown us, the democratic Republic is no more than a camouflaged form of bourgeois dictatorship. At the height of capitalism, when this represented a progressive factor, the bourgeoisie could allow itself the luxury of conceding a series of “democratic” liberties – considerably limited and full of conditions, because of its economical and political domination – to the working classes. Today in the imperialist era, “the final stage of capitalism”, the bourgeoisie, in order to overcome its internal contradictions, is forced to resort to the establishment of regimes of brutal dictatorship (fascism) which destroy even the paltry democratic liberties. Under these circumstances, the world finds itself racing a fatal dilemma: either socialism or fascism. The “democratic” regimes must inevitably be transient and inconsistent, with the added difficulty that by calming the workers and stripping them of their dreams, they are effectively preparing the ground for the fascist reaction.
In order to justify their monstrous betrayal of revolutionary Marxism, Stalinists argue that the democratic Republic that they propose will be a democratic Republic different from the rest, a “popular” Republic from which the material base of fascism will have disappeared. That is to say, that they scandalously leave to one side the Marxist theory of the state as an instrument of domination of one class to fall into the Utopia of the democratic state which is “above classes”, at the service of the people, with the aim of deceiving the masses, and preparing the pure and simple consolidation of the bourgeois regime. A Republic from which the material base of fascism has disappeared, can be no more than a socialist Republic, since the material base of fascism is capitalism.
1. Nin’s critique of the popular front strategy in Spain, and the Communist Party’s role in it, was intended to provide the basis for a discussion on political strategy at the POUM national conference in June 1937, but the party was outlawed before it could take place. This translation is taken from David Beetham, ed., Marxists in Face of Fascism (Manchester University Press, 1983). The original can be found on the Fondación Andreu Nin website (www.fundanin.org).
Last updated on 24.3.2004