Leon Trotsky

The Problems of the Spanish Revolution

From Day To Day

(May 1930–May 1931)

Written: May 25, 1930 through May 17, 1931.
First Published: The Spanish Revoluton in Danger, a pamphlet published by Pioneer Publishers, publishing house of the Communist League of American (Opposition), New York 1931, pp. 46 62; copy provided by Bolerium Books, San Francisco, California.
Translated: Morris Lewitt.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (January 2013).
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The [fact] has been mentioned above that the daily problems of the Spanish revolution had to be discussed by the Left Opposition in private letters. We present here several extracts from these letters as a supplement to the work printed above.

May 25, 1930

The events of the crisis through which Spanish is passing are thus far developing with remarkable regularity, which presents the proletarian vanguard with a definite time for preparations ...

When the bourgeoisie consciously and stubbornly refuses to take upon itself the solution of the tasks flowing from the crisis in bourgeois society; when the proletariat appears to be still unprepared to undertake the solution of these tasks itself, then the proscenium is often occupied by the students ... The revolutionary or semi-revolutionary activities of the students mean that bourgeois society is passing through a deep crisis ...

The Spanish workers displayed an entirely correct revolutionary instinct when they lent their support to the manifestations of the students. It is understood that they must do it under their own banner and under the leadership of their own proletarian organization. This must be guaranteed by Spanish Communism, and for that it needs a correct policy.

This road pre-supposes on the part of the Communists a decisive, bold and energetic struggle for democratic slogans. Not to understand this would be the greatest mistake of sectarianism … If the revolutionary crisis is transformed into a revolution it will inevitably exceed the bourgeois boundaries, and in the event of victory, will have to transfer the power to the proletariat.

November 21, 1930

In my article I very carefully express the thought that after several years of dictatorship, of an opposition movement of the bourgeoisie, of the superficial noise of the republicans, and the student demonstrations, one must inevitably expect the interventions of the workers; what is more, these interventions may catch the revolutionary party unawares. Unless I am mistaken, several Spanish comrades thought that I exaggerate the symptomatic significance of the student demonstrations, and together with that, the perspective of the revolutionary movement of the workers. Since then, however,, the strike struggle has assumed gigantic proportions in Spain. It is altogether unknown who leads these strikes. Don’t you think that Spain may go through the same cycle as Italy, beginning with 1918–1919: ferment, strikes, general strikes, the seizure of factories the lack of leadership, the decline of the movement, the growth of Fascism, counter-revolutionary dictatorship? The regime of Primo de Rivera was not a Fascist dictatorship because it did not support itself upon the reaction of the petty bourgeois masses. Don’t you think that as a result of the present indubitable revolutionary ascent in Spain, with the further passivity and inconsistency of the proletarian vanguard as a party, the conditions for genuine Spanish Fascism may he created? The most dangerous thing in such a situation-is the loss of time.

December 12, 1930

What are the perspectives then? … From what I can gather from your last letter, all the organizations and groups are swimming with the current, that is, they participate in the movement in so far as it drags them along. Not one of the organizations has either a revolutionary program of action or a thought-out perspective.

... It seems to me that the slogan of Soviets is suggested by the whole situation, if we take the Soviets in the form in which they appeared and developed with us: at first, they were powerful strike committees. Not one of the early participants imagined that these were the future organs of power ... It is understood that Soviets cannot be created artificially. But during each local strike, embracing a majority of trades and assuming a political character, it is necessary to call the Soviets into existence. This is the only form of organization that is capable, under the given conditions, of taking into its hands the leadership of the movement and of bringing into it the discipline of revolutionary action.

I tell you frankly, I am very much afraid that the historian may have to accuse the Spanish revolutionists of having missed an exceptional revolutionary situation.

January 12, 1931

Will the elections actually take place on March 1?

The situation is such that with the aid of an energetic tactic of boycott, it would seem quite possible to disrupt the elections of Berenguer: in 1905, we disrupted the elections to the legislative Duma in this manner. What is the policy of the Communists on this question? Are the Communists distributing leaflets, appeals, proclamations on this subject?

But if the Cortes is to be boycotted, then in the name of what? In the name of Soviets? Such a manner of posing the question would, in my opinion, be wrong. The masses of the city and village can be united at the present time only under the slogans of democracy. These include the Constituent Cortes on the basis of universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. I do not think that in the present situation you can avoid this slogan. The Soviets are as yet nonexistent. The Spanish workers do not know – at any rate, not from their own experiences – what the Soviets are. As to the peasants, nothing need be said. Nevertheless, the struggle for the Cortes and round it will, in the coming period, make up. the contents of the political life of the country. To set up the slogan of Soviets, under these conditions, as against the slogan of the Cortes, would be incorrect. On the contrary, it will obviously be possible to build the Soviets in the nearest future only by mobilizing the masses on the basis of the slogans of democracy. This means: In order not to permit the monarchy to convene a false, deceptive, conservative Cortes; in order to assure the convocation of a democratic Constituent Cortes; in order that this Cortes should be able to give the land to the peasants, etc., etc., workers’, soldiers’ and penants’ Soviets must be created to serve as fortified positions of the toiling masses.

January 31, 1931

The slogan of unity of the Communist ranks in Spain will undoubtedly have a tremendods power of attraction in the next period, which will grow together with the growth of Communist influence. The masses, even the advanced masses, will accept only those splits which flow from their own experience. This is why it seems to me that the slogan of the united front in relation to the syndicalist workers and the socialists should be supplemented by the slogan of unification of the Communists (on a definite platform).

February 5, 1931

I think that you will hardly be able to cast aside the slogan of the revolutionary Constituent Cortes. Spain has over seventy percent of peasants. How will they understand the slogan “workers’ republic”? The socialists and the republicans on the one hand, and the priests on the other, will tell the peasants that the workers want to sit upon their necks and to command them. What will you reply to this? I know of only one reply under the circumstances: we want the workers and the peasants to drive out the officials appointed from above and, in general, all the scoundrels and oppressors, and to express their own free will on the basis of universal suffrage. The peasants may be led to the workers’ republic, that is, to the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the process of the struggle for the land, etc. But it is impossible to propose to the peasants a dictatorship of the proletariat as an a priori formula.

The Communists quite evidently made a mistake in not taking the initiative in the boycott. Only the Communists, at the head of the i«evolutionary workers, could have given the boycott campaign a bold and militant character. The moods for boycott, nevertheless, are evidently very widespread in the opposition parties and are a reflection and a symptom of the profound ferment in the depths of the people. The latest telegrams seem to confirm the fact that the republicans and socialists have come out in favor of the boycott. If the Communists had subjected them to their whip in time, it would have been much more difficult for them to reject the boycott. In the meantime, Berenguer has bound himself and his government up very tightly with the elections of March 1. Had the boycott compelled Berenguer to make some retreat or another, it would have had gigantic consequences in the sense of raising time revolutionary consciousness of the masses, particularly if the leaders of this boycott tactic were the Communists.

February 13, 1931

In regards to the “workers’ republic”, one is by no means compelled to give up this slogan. But at present, the slogan has more of a propagandist than an agitational character. We ’must explain to the advanced workers that we are marching towards the workers’ republic, but that the peasants have to he led to it. But it will hardly be possible to lead the peasants to the workers’ republic, which means in fact, to the dictatorship of the proletariat,’ except through intermediary “experiences”, including those of a parliamentary character. The peasantry will accept the dictatorship of the proletariat only after having exhausted other possibilities. It is true that in Spain possibilities have already been exhausted in the past. But there nevertheless still remains the “complete”, “consistent” democracy achieved by revolutionary means. This is what the Constituent Cortes is. It is understood that we make no fetish of this slogan. Should developments move faster, we will have time to substitute one slogan for the other at the right moment.

February 15, 1931

I recollect that I wrote to you by way of “speculation” how good it would be had the boycott forced the monarchy to its knees, or at least to one knee. Now this is an accomplished fact. The immediate political significance of Berenguer’s resignation is not great, but the symptomatic significance is tremendous. The impotence of the monarchy, the degeneration of the ruling, cliques, the lack of self-confidence, fear, fear, fear—of the people, of the revolution, of the morrow, an endeavor by means of extreme concessions to forestall the most terrific consequences—thee stand out in the resignation of Berenguer and the semi-capitulation of the king. Marvelous! Truly marvelous! One could not look for better. The fetishism of power in the consciousness of the people will be relentlessly undermined by all this. A wave of satisfaction, of confidence, of daring will go through the hearts of millions, warming them, inspiring them, spurring them on.

The general revolutionary situation in which the party of the proletariat must act, is now favorable to the highest degree. The whole question now lies with the party itself. Unfortunately, the Communists were not the Corypheus in the chorus of the boycottists. They therefore emerged from the campaign of the past two to three months without great gains. In the periods of stormy revolutionary flow, the authority of the party grows fast, feverishly – if, at the turns in the road, at new stages, the party immediately advances the necessary slogan, which is soon confirmed by events ... Something has been left out in recent months and weeks. But one cannot look back now. It is necessary to look ahead. The revolution is first unfolding. What was left out can be made up for a hundredfold.

The constitutional-parliamentary problem is becoming the center of official political life. We cannot pass this by. The slogan of the revolutionary Constituent Cortes must now be advanced, to my mind, with doubled force. We must not be “squeamish” about exact democratic formulations. For example: Suffrage for all men and women from the age of 18 without any limitations. Eighteen years for Spain as a Southern country, is perhaps even too high an age. We should stake upon the youth.

The question of the united front of all the Communist factions, the official party included, will inevitably come up on the order of the day. The masses will feel in the coming weeks and months the strong need for a united and serious revolutionary leadership. Disagreement of the Communists will irritate the masses. They will force unity – not forever, because events may once more lead the various factions into different directions. But for the coming period, the drawing closer of the Communist factions presents itself to me as absolutely inevitable. Here too, as in the question of the boycott, as well as in every other live political question, that faction wins which takes upon itself the initiative in uniting the Communist ranks. The possibility of such an initiative on the part of the Communist Left pre-supposes the unity and organization of the latter. It is necessary to create immediately a correctly organized, even though at first not numerous, faction of the Communist Left Opposition, with its own bulletin and with its own theoretical organ. This does not at all exclude, It is understood, the participation of the Left Communists in the broader organizations; on the contrary, it pre-supposes it. But it is a necessary condition for such a participation.

March 13, 1931

A few words on the soldiers’ Juntas. Would you like to see them arise as independent organizations? This, is a very serious question for which a definite line of conduct must be marked out at the very outset, leaving for oneself, it is understood, the right of introducing corrections depending upon experience. In Russia, in 1905, matters did not reach the point of soldiers’ Soviets. The appearance of soldier-deputies in the workers’ Soviets had an episodic character. In 1917, the soldiers’ Soviets played a gigantic role. In Petrograd the Soviet of soldiers was fused with the workers from the very beginning. Moreover, the soldiers predominated over the workers. In Moscow, the workers’ and peasants’ Soviets existed independently. But this is essentially a question of organizational technique. The heart of the matter was in the gigantic army, including around ten to twelve millions of peasants. In Spain we have a peace time army inconsequential when compared with the population, even compared with the proletariat. Is the rise of independent soldiers’ Soviets inevitable under these conditions? From the standpoint of proletarian policy, we are interested in drawing the soldiers’ delegates into the workers’ Juntas to the extent that the latter are created. Purely soldier-Juntas could arise only at the period of the culmination of the revolution or after its victory. Worker-Juntas may (should) arise earlier, on the basis of the strike, the boycott of the Cones, afterwards-the participation in elections. To draw the soldier-delegates into the workers’ Juntas can consequently be done long before purely soldier-Juntas are created. But I go further: If the initiative in the creation of workers’ Juntas and their influence on the army should be manifested in time, then perhaps the rise of independent soldiers’ Juntas, which might fall under the influence of careerist officers and not of revolutionary workers, may he avoided in the future. The small Spanish army speaks in favor of such a perspective. But on the other hand, this small army has its independent revolutionary political traditions – more than in any other country. To a certain degree, this may interfere with the dissolution of the soldiers’ representation into the workers’ Juntas.

You see that on this question I have not decided to express myself categorically; and it is doubtful if the comrades who stand close to affairs can render a categorical decision here. I would rather put the definite question for consideration: The sooner the broad circle of advanced workers takes up the definite questions, the easier it will be to solve them in the future. At any rate, the course taken should be towards the dissolution of the soldiers’ delegates into the workers’. If it should be only partially successful – even that much would be good. But precisely with this aim in mind, the condition of the army, the different types of arms, the various branches of the service, should be studied opportunely and carefully.

In general, it would be a good idea to attempt collectively to make up a political chart of Spain with the aim of determining more precisely the relationship of forces in each district, and the relationship between the districts. Upon such a chart, should be placed the workers’ districts, the revolutionary centers, the trade union and party organizations, the garrisons, the relationship of forces between the Red and the White wards, the districts of peasant movements, etc., etc. No matter how few in numbers the Oppositionists may be, they can nevertheless take upon themselves in various places the initiative for such an elaboration of the question, attracting the best representatives of other workers’ groups. Thus, time elements of the general staff of the revolution would be created. The central nucleus would compile this work into the necessary unity. This preparatory, at first seemingly “academic” work, will acquire a tremendous, perhaps even a decisive significance in the future. In an epoch such as Spain is now passing through the greatest of sins is the loss of time.

April 14, 1931

Thanks for the quotation about the “people’s” revolution from Thälmann’s speech, which I glanced through. A more ridiculous and maliciously confused manner of putting the question cannot be imagined! “The people’s revolution” #8211; as a slogan and even with a reference to Lenin. Yet every issue of the paper of the Fascist Strasser is embellished with the slogan of the people’s revolution as opposed to the Marxian slogan of the class revolution. It is understood that every great revolution is a people’s or a national revolution, in the sense that it unites around the revolutionary class all the virile and creative forces of the nation and reconstructs the nation around a new core. But this is not a slogan, it is a sociological description of the revolution, which requires, moreover, precise and concrete definitions. But as a slogan, it is inane and charlatanism, market competition with the Fascists, paid for at time price of injecting confusion into the minds of the workers.

The evolution of the slogans of the Comintern is a striking one, precisely in this question. Since the Third Congress of the Comintern, the slogan of “class against class” became the popular expression of the policy of the united proletarian front. This was quite correct: All workers should be consolidated against the bourgeoisie. This they afterwards transformed into the alliance with the reformist bureaucrats against the workers (the experience of the English general strike). Later on, they went over to the opposite extreme: No agreements with the reformists, “class against class”. The very slogan which was to serve for drawing the social democratic workers closer to the Communist workers came to mean, in the “third period”, the struggle against the social democratic workers as against a different class. Now the new turn,: the people’s revolution instead of the proletarian revolution. The Fascist Strasser says: Ninety five percent of the people are interested in the revolution, consequently this is not a class revolution but a people’s revolution. Thälmann sings in chorus. In reality, the worker-Communists should say to the Fascist worker: Of course, ninety-five percent of the population, if not ninety-eight percent, is exploited by finance capital. But this exploitation is organized hierarchically: there are exploiters, there are sub-exploiters, sub-sub-exploiters, etc. Only thanks to this hierarchy do the super-exploiters keep in subjection the majority of the nation. In order that the nation should indeed be able to reconstruct itself around a new class core, it must be reconstructed ideologically and this can be achieved only if the proletariat does not dissolve itself into the “people”, into the “nation”, but on the contrary develops a program of its proletarian revolution and compels the petty bourgeoisie to choose between two regimes. The slogan of the people’s revolution lulls the petty bourgeoisie as well as the broad masses of the workers, reconciles them to the bourgeois-hierarchical structure of the “people” and retards their liberation. But under present conditions in Germany, the slogan of a “peoples revolution” wipes away the ideological demarcation between Marxism and Fascism, reconciles part of the workers and the petty bourgeoisie to the ideology of Fascism, allowing them to think that they are not compelled to make a choice, because in both camps it is all a matter of a people’s revolution. These wretched revolutionists, in a conflict with any serious enemy, think first of all of how to imitate him, how to repaint themselves in his colors and how to win the masses by means of a smart trick and not by revolutionary struggle. A truly shameful posing of the question! If the weak Spanish Communists were to make this formula their own, they would arrive at the policy of the Spanish Kuo Min Tang.

April 20, 1931

Many features of similarity between the February régime in Russia and the present republican régime in Spain, strike the eye. But there are also deep differences: (a) Spain is not conducting any war and you have no acute slogan of struggle for peace; (b) you have not as yet Soviets of workers, not to speak of soldiers. From the press I do not even see that this slogan is being thrown among the masses; (c) the republican government from the very outset applies repressive measures against the Left proletarian wing, which we did not have in February because the bayonets were at the disposal of the workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets and not in the hands of the liberal government. The last circumstance has a tremendous significance for our agitation. The February regime, in the political sphere, immediately realized full democracy, absolute in its type. The bourgeoisie maintained itself on the trustfulness of the masses of the workers and the soldiers. Your bourgeoisie maintains itself not only upon truthfulness but also upon the organized coercion which it took over from the old regime. You have not the complete and unconditional freedom of assembly, speech, press, etc. The suffrage basis of your new municipalities is very far from democratic. Meanwhile, in the revolutionary epoch the masses are particularly sensitive to every inequality in rights, to every form of police rule. This should be utilized. In other words, it is necessary for the Communists at present to come forward as the most consistent, decisive and intransigent democratic party.

On the other hand, it is necessary to proceed immediately with the formation of workers’ Soviets. The struggle for democracy is an excellent point of departure for this. They have their own municipality; we workers need our own city Juntas for the defense of our rights and our interests.

April 23, 1931 (from a letter to Barcelona)

The Catalonian Federation should strive to enter the general Spanish Communist organization. Catalonia is the vanguard. But if this vanguard will not march in step with the proletariat and later on with the peasantry of all of Spain, the Catalonian movement will at best be concluded as a magnificent episode in the style of the Paris Commune. The peculiar position of Catalonia is driving in this direction. The national conflict may heat up the steam to such an extent that the Catalonian explosion will occur long before the situation in Spain will have matured for a second revolution. It would be the greatest historical misfortune if the Catalonian proletariat, under the influence of the national boiling and ferment, would permit itself to be drawn into the road of the decisive struggle before it has had the chance to consolidate itself with the proletariat of the whole of Spain. The strength of the Left Opposition in Barcelona, as well as in Madrid, can and should lie in the fact that it raises all questions to a historical level.

May 17, 1931 (from a letter to Madrid)

As to the so-called “nationalism” of the Catalonian Federation. This is a very important and acute question. Mistakes in it may have fatal consequences.

The revolution in Spain raised all the problems with a new force, the national included. The bearer of the national tendencies and illusions is primarily the petty bourgeois intelligentsia, striving to find a support in the peasantry against the de-nationalizing role of big capital and the state bureaucracy. The leading rôle, at a given stage, of the petty bourgeoisie in the national-liberation movement, as in every revolutionary-democratic movement in general, inevitably brings into the latter numerous prejudices of various kinds. From amid them, the national illusions also penetrate the midst of the workers. In general and as a whole, this is probably the situation at present in Catalonia in general and to a certain degree perhaps also in the Catalonian Federation. But what has been said does not at all diminish the progressive revolutionary-democratic character of the Catalonian national struggle—against the Spanish great-power spirit, bourgeois imperialism and bureaucratic centralism.

It must not be left out of sight for a minute that Spain as a whole and Catalonia in particular are at present governed not by Catalonian national-democrats but by Spanish bourgeois-imperialists in alliance with the landowners, old bureaucrats in general, with the support of the Spanish national-socialists. This whole fraternity stands, on the one hand, for the continued subjugation of the Spanish colonies and, on the other—for the maximum bureaucratic centralization of Spain itself, that is, for the suppression by the Spanish bourgeoisie of the Catalonians, the Basques, etc. At the given stage of developments, with the given combination of class forces, Catalonian nationalism is a progressive-revolutionary factor. Spanish nationalism is a reactionary-imperialist factor. The Spanish Communist who does not understand this difference, ignores it, does not advance it to the front rank, but on the contrary, covers up its significance, risks becoming an unconscious agent of the Spanish bourgeoisie and is lost to the cause of the proletarian revolution.

What does the danger of the petty bourgeois national illusions consist of? In the fact that they are capable of dismembering the proletariat of Spain along national lines, which is a very serious danger. But the Spanish Communists can successfully fight against this danger in only one way: by pitilessly revealing the violence of the bourgeoisie of the ruling nation and in that way winning the confidence of the proletariat of the oppressed nationality. Any other policy would be tantamount to the support of the reactionary nationalism of the imperialist bourgeoisie of the ruling nation against the revolutionary-democratic nationalism of the petty bourgeois oppressed nation.

May 20, 1931

You write that the lies of L’Humanité cause resentment in Catalonia. This can be easily imagined. But resentment alone is insufficient. It is necesary for the Opposition press to give a systematic picture of what is happening in Spain. This matter has a tremendous significance. Upon the live experiences of the Spanish revolution must proceed the re-education of the cadres of International Communism. Systematic correspondence from Barcelona and Madrid—these are not simply correspondence but political documents of first-rate significance. Without this, the Stalinists are capable of creating around the Catalonian Federation such an atmosphere of alienation and hostility which may by itself push the advanced Catalonian workers on the road of adventures and catastrophe.

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