Max Shachtman

The Right Wing
of Spanish Communism

The Truth Concering the Actual Policy and Influence of the Maurin Group

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 8 (Whole No. 104), 20 February 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Spanish Communist movement is divided into three distinct groups: Right, Left and the Center representing the “official” wing of Communism. In these divisions, the Spanish movement is not at all unlike the movement in every other important country. Where it differs is in the relative strength of each of the three wings. In distinction from most other countries, the Left Opposition in Spain can easily stand comparison with the official party from more standpoints than one. In addition, the Right wing group in Spain – at least at the time I visited the country; I learn that the ratios have since changed considerably in favor of the party – is as large in one district as the official party is nationally, if not larger. And what is more, enjoys practically a monopoly on the Communist movement so far as Catalonia is concerned.

The Spanish Right is organized into the Catalonian-Balearic Communist Federation and its electoral apparatus, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc which, in all important respects, supersedes the Federation. The Federation was the representative of official Communism in Catalonia until a short time ago when the split took place between the Catalonians and the Madrid Executive Committee of the party over the insanely sectarian trade union policy which the latter sought to impose upon the party members against the will of a majority of them. The trade union dispute which was of such vital importance at the height of the revolutionary upsurge – involving as it did the whole future of the National Confederation of Labor which was being resurrected – was rendered increasingly acute by the extraordinary bureaucratic regime prevailing in the party. The attempt of an irresponsible and unrepresentative clique, terming itself the “Executive Committee” to foist itself upon the membership, willy-nilly, met with obdurate resistance, particularly from the Catalonian Communists.

The result was that, as has happened everywhere else, the bull-headed arrogance and blundersomeness of Stalinism literally drove hundreds upon hundreds of the best Communist workers into the camp of the confusionists and opportunists. Skillful leader, popular figure in the party and among the workers, revolutionist of long standing and prestige, Joaquin Maurin, with his associates Arlandis, Arquer, Sese, Miravitlles, and others, was able to win the leadership over the whole Communist organization of Catalonia “and the Balearic Islands”. To such an extent that the official party today, while it grows with sometimes phenomenal speed in other parts of the land, has practically no strength whatsoever in Catalonia, where the Maurinists have some four to six thousand (the figure has increased since I left) in the bloc.

The structural relations between the Federation and the Bloc are reminiscent to an American Communist of the fabulous plan of Pepper & Co. to build a mass party in the United States by the simple expedient of organizing the “Federated Farmer-Labor Party” on a “mass scale” and then suddenly converting it into the Communist Party. In Catalonia, too, the Federation controls the Bloc, and is led by precisely the same people dressed in different uniforms as occasion requires. But there is one feature of it which is worse than what the glittering Pepper conceived. While the sitll-born F.F.-L.P. was at least formally conceived as a bloc composed of various organizations otherwise independent of each other, and admitting no individual membership, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc is a “bloc” in no real sense of the word. The Communist Federation directs it; like the Federation, the Bloc is based upon individual and not group membership; in a word, it is an enlarged caricature of the Federation itself, and nothing more.

Yet there is something more. The Maurinist justification for the two organizations is that the Federation should be “pure” and take in only educated revolutionist, Communists; it must be somewhat “narrow”. But “as Lenin taught”, the Communist party, i.e., the Federation, must surround itself with broad mass organizations into which even non-Communist elements may be taken. Such an organization, the Bloc is supposed to be. It is much larger than the Federation; it takes into its ranks all sorts of elements, including “Catalan Left” supporters and people to the right of even this bourgeois group.

The whole point, however, is that the “Bloc” increasingly dominates the “Federation”, instead of vice versa – that is, assuming for the moment that the whole idea is not a vulgar derision of Lenin’s teachings. In the elections, it is not the Communist, organization which is presented, but the candidates and platform of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc. In this case, substance marches side by side with form. The critical minority which Maurin finally expelled, sharply assailed the whole policy of the Right wing leaders in the elections. Wherever the Bloc was active – and most of its militants are also Federationists – the face of Communism was heavily veiled with the more attractive colors of opportunism. Instead of advancing and popularizing the revolutionary slogans, the Bloc organizers devoted their attention to playing upon the petty bourgeois prejudices of the nationalistic elements. It is no exaggeration to say that the largest proportion of the Bloc’s growth has been among the petty bourgeois elements and among the employees and office workers, particularly in Barcelona, where the factory workers in the Right wing organization are very few. On the countryside, the members of the Bloc are mostly peasants, tenants and even small proprietors. These elements, flocking to the banner of the Bloc, do not remain passive there. They exert a growing petty bourgeois pressure to which the leaders yield with a grace learned from the art books of opportunism.

The source of strength of the Maurinists lies precisely there: in its petty bourgeois surrender to the backwardness of the workers and peasants of Catalonia. The party of Macia, the “Esquerra Catalan”, the various other factions of the Catalonian bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, have all moved to the Right since the proclamation of the republic. This is particularly true of Macia, the former idol of the petty bourgeoisie. The marked shift to the Right of what was formerly the Left wing of the Catalanists, has created a vacuum in the field. Politics abhors a vacuum as much as nature does. It seeks to “fill the vacuum.” In Catalonia, the space left vacant in politics by the Macians is being occupied by the Maurinist group, the increasingly popular candidate for the post of extreme Left wing of the Catalanists.

Not having an influence over the decisive sections of the industrial workers, particularly those organized in the C.N.T. (National Confederation of Labor, the strongest trade union center in Spain, controlled by anarcho-syndicalists, and now by the “pure” anarchists), the Maurinists have been making the most desperate efforts to gain a real foothold there. In this field too, the vulgar opportunism of this Right wing group bobs to the surface. In order to lend himself the appearance of a strength he does not possess, Maurin talks constantly of the all-saving need of a united front in which no other organization, not even the official Communist party, figures at all. The syndicalists and the anarchists do not even bother to reply to Maurin’s fantastic proposals and schemes. For, with all the insistence upon his “Leninist correctness”, Maurin has developed an idea for Spain which has few if any rivals in recent revolutionary history. He approaches the C.N.T. with the plan that it should take power! Neither more or less. The patent ridiculous of the very idea being propounded to precisely those elements – anarchists and syndicalists – subsequently made it necessary for Maurin to retreat a bit on the slogan.

Maurin spent some time trying to convince me that his group had never raised the slogan of “All power to the C.N.T.!” They had proposed, he claimed, the slogan of “All Power to the Proletariat!” Unfortunately for Maurin, I read that very evening a copy of the popular agitational organ printed in the Catalan tongue and edited by Miravitlles, in which the slogan of “All Power to the C.N.T.!” was repeated and elaborated upon. Later on, a copy of Maurin’s official organ, La Batalla, reprints an interview which he granted the Buenos Aires La Nation, in which he says literally:

“The Trotskyist faction is insignificant. It is made up of a few dozen more or less unknown intellectuals. Its specific weight is practically nil. Towards the Spanish revoution, they take a completely Right (!) position. They advocate that the working class cannot yet aspire to taking the power when it has no constituted Soviet organization. They propose as a solution that the Socialist party should assume the power. Their reformist social democratic past weighs down upon them enormously. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc contends that the working class should take the power. And through the medium of hypothetic Soviets but with the aid of the existing organizations. Without being syndicalists, we believe that the syndicates (trade unions) can be powerful instruments in the taking of power by the proletariat. We propagate the taking of the power by the C.N.T. We will lend all our aid to a syndicalist government.

What a “syndicalist government” would look like, what it is, what its ingredients are, what it resembles – remain secrets sealed with seven unbreakable seals which not even the syndicalists can – nor have they ever cared to – open. It is hard to believe that Maurin does not “know better”; it is the plan of the Right wing opportunists, however, to win the syndicalist workers by this slogan; what is gained, in actuality, is the muddying of the waters and the spread of confusion among the workers. In this respect the Catalonian Right wing is no different from its, sisters-under-the-skin in other countries. Maurin is clever enough, by the way, not to affiliate with the Brandlerist “International”. It would gain him absolutely nothing, for he knows what this “International” is worth, and it might shut the door for him to re-entry into the official party on his own terms, i.e., as party leader. He told me that Brandler had sent a letter of inquiry, and that B.D. Wolfe, of the Lovestone group, had also written to attempt to establish relations. But the wily Maurin wants to have nothing to do with the rest of the Right wing, although he is blood relative to them. Yet he is like Brandler and Lovestone in that he is prepared to criticize the effects of Stalinism in any country in the world – except in the U.S.S.R., where, apparently, the ordinary laws of the physical and mental sciences no longer operate.

It should not be thought that Maurin is in any mood to capitulate on Stalin’s terms. He is too flushed with the progress of the Bloc to do that. Already, a delegation of the Comintern containing such stars as Bela Kun and Humbert-Droz has visited Spain for the main purpose of winning over the Federation. But so compromised and discredited is the official party among the workers there, that the Maurin machine was able to nullify practically all the arduous labors of the delegation. Out of the thousands “available”, the C.I. got only about three score comrades, led by Arlandis and Sese, who demanded of Maurin that he actually unite with the official party instead of merely writing appeals on the subject. Maurin, who is always ready with an elaborate speech on the absence of democratic procedure and of the right to speak freely in the official party, promptly expelled the whole group of Arlandis and Sese. Here, by the by, a little burlesque was enacted. Arlandis and Sese immediately shouted with the fiercest passion that bureaucratism had gripped the vitals of the Federation, that Maurin was a dictator, that the rank and file could no longer discuss the problems of the revolutionary movement, that expulsions were a bureaucratic answer to criticisms, etc., etc. Their cries had little effect, for only a short weeks before their own expulsion, they themselves, together with Maurin “the dictator”, had engineered the expulsion of members of the Federation who sympathized with the Left Opposition and insisted upon discussing the disputed issues – comrades Molins, de Cabo and others. It all depends upon whose ox is yoked!

The Comintern failed to break Maurin’s power in Catalonia primarily because the alternative it had to offer caused the Communist workers to shrink away. In this case as in all others, almost everything depends upon the party. An incompetent party, which refuses to learn and therefore cannot teach and lead, will never produce big results. The Stalinization of the Spanish Communist Party is being paid for today by having thousands of militant workers and peasants led deeper into the swamp of compromise and confusion by the clique of Joaquin Maurin.

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