Max Shachtman

The Spanish Communist Party
in the Revolution

(March 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 10 (Whole No. 106), 5 March 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Points of similarity in the Russian and the Spanish revolution can be found in numerous questions. It is when a comparison is made between the state of the revolutionary party in both countries that the striking contrast is found. The Bolshevik party under Lenin and Trotsky was fully equipped for the struggle for power and drove inexorably and successfully towards that aim. In Spain, the Communist party, deprived of rudder, sails and crew by the ravaging storms of Stalinism has floundered helplessly in the trough of events and has served as one of the principal factors slackening the progress of the proletarian victory.

It does not always take a revolutionary situation to demonstrate the disastrous effects of eight years of the domination of Centrism in the Communist International. But such a situation does reveal with the clarity of a flash of lightning the wreckage in the field of ideas and organization which the Stalinist current has left in the wake of its campaign against “Trotskyism”, that is, against the tested principles of Marxism. The tragedy of the Chinese revolution is to be attributed to it. The setbacks suffered by the proletarian movement in England during the big strikes six years ago, in Austria during the Vienna insurrection, in Germany for the last few years, in short, wherever the Communists have been confronted with historic tasks, may be traced directly to the poisonous doctrines distilled in the laboratories of the Stalin machine. Now the “great organizers of defeat” are diligently pursuing their appointed task in Spain. The responsibility for the situation lies directly in the hands of the central Stalinist clique, for it has ruthlessly extirpated any sign of independent thought and leadership in the national sections, substituting for them puppets in office who practise a servile obedience towards the “infallible chiefs” – a condition which has one advantage: it makes it impossible for these chiefs to unload the responsibility for defeat upon anybody else, try as they will.

Manuilsky Admits Errors

It is a truism to affirm that no small question is involved. The question of the Communist party is decisive in the Spanish revolution. Only anarchists can believe that without a proletarian vanguard organized into a political party for the purpose of leading the class to power, and capable of reaching that goal, the workers of Spain can achieve their emancipation. But in actuality, one of the main reasons for the persistent strength of the anarchists in the Spanish labor movement has been the absence of such a party. Just look at the following, great condensed record of the official party leadership, registered, moreover, in a revolutionary period when uncorrected small errors assume downright threatening proportions.

Every Communist infant now “knows” that one of the unforgivable crimes of “Trotskyism” is its penchant for “leaping over stages”, for “not distinguishing” between the democratic and the socialist stages of the revolution. This stupid falsehood has been dinned into the ears of every new recruit to the movement. No doubt but that the present leaders of the Spanish party accused their own Oppositionists of the same thing. But when the monarchy was overthrown, these revolutionary savants, far from “leaping over” any stages, simply failed to see that a “new stage” had been reached. In this line of thought they were merely giving a faithful imitation of Manuilsky and the other annotated leaders of the Comintern, which did not prevent one of the official scapegoat-finders from stating (correctly, but more than a year afterward!) that:

“The party was taken by surprise by the fall of the monarchy; it saw in it nothing more than a change of front, without seeing the change in the class relationships, and in principle it roundly denied that the bourgeois-democratic revolution has commenced.”

In other words, the Stalinists, who have introduced into Marxism the positively gifted idea of the bourgeois revolution “growing over into” the socialist revolution, made the simple mistake of not recognizing the bourgeois-democratic revolution even when it burst before them with a deafening roar. (After the fall of the monarchy, the French Communist Party plastered the walls of Paris with posters announcing: “Nothing has changed in Spain!”)

As soon as the party leaders woke up to the fact that a revolution had taken place under their very noses, they proceeded to “act with determination”. While the masses of workers and peasants, and certainly the petty bourgeoisie, were still reeling deliriously under the influence of their democratic illusions, the party contended itself with flinging into a void the “radical” slogan: Down with the bourgeois republic! Partial slogans like urging the seizure of land by the peasant, were scornfully pushed aside and in their place the slogan of Soviets was issued as a slogan for immediate action, and of course, “Soviets under the leadership of the Communist party”. Naturally, neither the workers nor the peasants paid the slightest attention to such fantastic absurdities. The Stalinists acted throughout like the man who has come too late for his train and then, after going home because “there is still time for the next one”, misses that one too.

The interest in democratic demands aroused in the masses by the fall of the monarchy found no reflection in the activities and slogans of the official party. Neither by word or deed did it give the masses any indication that only the proletariat and its revolution could really solve the democratic tasks with which Spain is still confronted. In this manner, it lengthened the term of imprisonment to which the popular masses were condemned in the ranks of the republican and socialist demagogues who were thus enabled to pursue their hypocritical course of unfulfilled and unfulfillable promises.

In the trade union field the party piled blunder upon blunder. And here it had to deal not only with the social democracy which was already discredited among the majority of the workers (although it still remains no mean factor), but with the anarchists and syndicalists who had a revolutionary prestige among the masses which only an intelligent Marxian policy could possible shake. Instead, therefore, of sinking the roots of the party in the National Confederation of Labor (anarcho-syndicalist) and the General Union of Workers (Socialist), the party was forced by its leadership to waste invaluable time in what the official Comintern critic (Stirner) now calls “the premature creation of small and lifeless Red trade unions”. Result: in the socialist trade unions, the Communist influence remains quite negligible. In the anarchist unions, with hundreds of thousands of members and the decisive influence upon the workers, the party’s hold is just as inconsequential. In fact, throughout Catalonia, the industrial heart of Spain and the seat of power of the N.C. of L., the Communist party does not even exist because the vast bulk of the organized Communist workers have been inexcusably surrendered to the mercies of the Right wing faction of Maurin and Co.

To say that the internal regime in the Spanish party does not differ essentially from the one prevailing in the other national sections, is already enough to give any even half-experienced Communist worker a clear idea as to what is meant. For months during the early period of the revolution, the Madrid “Executive Committee”, composed of a handful of bureaucrats, ruled despotically in the name of Spanish Communism without any mandate except the rights arbitrarily conferred upon them by their Moscow superiors, in the purely papal sense. Critical and even questioning voices in the ranks were either commanded to be stilled, or else their possessors were summarily expelled from the party. Bullejos-Trila-Adame – this unholy trinity has become a by-word in the ranks of Spanish Communism, and even inside the official party. Workers supporting the Left Opposition found themselves promptly removed from the party’s membership list. The best-known and most popular leaders and founders of the Spanish Communist movement were expelled for “Trotskyism”, and that is why such comrades as Jaun Andrade, Andres Nin, Henri Lacroix, Luis Palacios, Esteban Bilbao and scores of others of the same caliber are today outside the ranks of official Communism, which does not, it is true, diminish their activity for the revolutionary movement by one iota.

Whole districts and groups have been expelled, and in cases with disastrous consequences. The best example of the latter is the case of the Catalonian Federation which resisted the false trade union line of Messrs. Bullejos and Adame and fought against party bureaucratism. The arbitrary expulsions which followed results in Right wing confusionists like Maurin being enabled virtually to take over the Catalonian Communist movement, while the official party remains with scarcely a nucleus throughout the district. But for that, elements have made their way into the party who can only disgrace its name. The worst instance is the appointment of Angel Pumarega as editor of the party’s recently established daily paper in Madrid. Pumarega is the creature who, while imprisoned with other Communist leaders under the Primo dictatorship, wrote from his cell to plead for mercy and liberation on the basis of his complete renunciation of Communism and the assurance that he would quit all politics. The release by the magnanimous Primo of this despicable renegade only enabled the latter to devote his talents for a long time to the reactionary gangster “trade unions” organized by Martinez Anido in Barcelona. Now, while the party is carefully purged of all “counter-revolutionary Trotskyists”, the central party organ is edited by the turncoat Pumarega, which is, perhaps, as it should be, under the Stalinist regime.

With the conditions in almost perfect harmony for the progress of the Communist party, with virtually everything in its favor, the party has nevertheless only made the slightest gains, gains which, considering the possibilities, are really closer to losses. Instead of dominating the stage of events, official Communism drags out a distracted existence somewhere in the wings. Stalinism has robbed it of its vigor, paralyzed its limbs, upset its ideological balance, divested it of its power to attract the masses. Only a stiff antidote of Marxism will enable the Communist movement to shake off this noxious disease. Communism is not dead in Spain, as its enemies hope. It has only been momentarily prostrated by Centrism, and it will revive with new strength under the influence of the Left Opposition. The Bolshevik-Leninists of that country already number a thousand strong and they bear the future in their hands.

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