Leon Trotsky

The Spanish “Kornilovs”
and “Stalinists”

(September 1932)

Written: Nov-Dec 1932
First Published: 1932.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 2 Number 10-11, November-December 1932.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

As usual Pravda is silent on Germany. But to make up for this, on Sept. 9th it has put in an article on Spain. The article is instructive in the highest degree. It is true, it throws only an indirect light on the Spanish Revolution. But on the other hand it illumines brightly the political convulsions of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

The article says, “After the defeat of the general strike of January, the Trotskyists (here follow insulting rituals – L.T.) assert that the revolution was defeated and that the period of repulses had come.” Is this correct? If there were revolutionists in Spain who were preparing to bury the revolution in January of that year, such people neither have nor can have anything in common with the Left Opposition. A revolutionist can recognize the revolutionary period as closed only when the objective signs leave no room for doubt. Only despicable impressionists and not Bolshevik-Leninists can make pessimistic prognoses on the basis of a lukewarmness of the state of mind.

In our pamphlet The Spanish Revolution in Danger we have examined the problem of the line of general development of the Spanish Revolution and its possible rhythms. The Russian Revolution of 1917 took 8 months to reach its culminating point. But this delay is not all compulsory for the Spanish Revolution. The great French Revolution gave the power to the Jacobin only at the end of 4 years. One of the causes for the slow development of the French Revolution lay in the fact that the Jacobin party itself was formed only under the fire of events. These same conditions exist in Spain: at the moment of the Republican Revolution the Communist Party was still in swaddling clothes. It is for this as well as other reasons that we thought it likely the Spanish Revolution would develop through a whole series of stages, including the parliamentary Stage.

We recalled at that time that the orbit of the revolution admit of ups and downs. The art of leadership consists among other things in not ordering the offensive at the moment of ebb-tide and not retreating at the flood. For this it is necessary above all not to identify the fluctuations of the particular “conjuncture” of the revolution with its fundamental orbit.

With the defeat of the general strike of January, it was evident that we had to deal with a partial retreat of the revolution in Spain. Only chatterboxes and adventurers can fail to take account of the ebb. But to speak of the liquidation of the revolution in relation to a partial abatement, can be done only by cowards and deserters. Revolutionists are the last to leave the field of battle. Anyone who wants to bury the revolution alive deserves to get the firing squad himself.

The subsiding and partial lull of the Spanish revolution has given an impulse to the counter-revolution. Such dramatic changes are notices in every revolution. After the defeat in a great battle the masses retreat and settle down. The leadership, not tempered enough, is often inclined to exaggerate the extent of the defeat. All this gives courage to the extreme wing of the counter-revolution. Such is the political mechanism of the monarchist attempt of General Sanjurjo. But it is especially the intervention on the scene of the peoples most mortal enemy that awakens the masses like the crack of a whip. It is not rare for the revolutionary leadership to be taken unawares in such an unexpected case.

“The rapidity and ease of the liquidation of the general’s revolt”, writes Pravda, “Show that the strength of the revolution is not broken. The revolutionary ascendancy has received a new impulse in the events of the 10th of August.” This is perfectly correct, In fact it is the only correct passage in the whole article.

Was the official Spanish Communist party surprised by the unexpected events? We are obliged to reply affirmatively, relying only on the proof in the Pravda. The article is entitled The Workers Conquer the General. Evidently, without revolutionary intervention of the workers against the monarchist coup d’état they would have been obliged to send not Sunjurjo but Zamora into exile. In other words the workers at the cost of their heroism and their blood, have helped the republican bourgeoisie to retain power in its hands. Pravda, apparently unaware of this, writes: “The CP conducted its struggle ... against the right wing coup d’état in such a way that it did not give even a shadow of support to the present counter-revolutionary government.” What the official CP is heading for is a special problem. At present it is a question only of the results of its efforts. The wing of monarchist landowners tried to dispossess the republican wing, although the republicans were careful in general not to dispute with the monarchists. But the proletariat steps upon the scene. “The workers defeat the General.” The monarchists go into exile, the republican bourgeoisie remains in power. How can be claimed, in the face of such facts, that the CP has given “a shadow of support to the present counter-revolutionary government”?

From what has been said, does it follow that the CP should wash its hands of the fight between the monarchists and the republican bourgeoisie? Such a policy would have been suicide, as the experience of the Bulgarian centrists showed in 1923. But the Spanish workers, intervening in a decisive struggle against the monarchists, could avoid giving momentary help to their enemy, the republican bourgeoisie in only one case: that is, if they had been strong enough to seize power themselves. In Aug. 1917 the Bolsheviks were much stronger than the Spanish communists in Aug. 1932. But the Bolsheviks themselves had no chance of taking power independently in the struggle against Kornilov. Thanks to the victory of the workers over the Kornilovians the Kerensky government lasted another two months. We will recall once more that battalions of Bolshevik sailors guarded Kerensky’s Winter Palace against Kornilov.

The Spanish proletariat showed itself strong enough to defeat the general’s revolt, but too weak to take power itself, under such conditions the heroic struggle of the workers could not help strengthening the republican government if only temporarily. Only nit-wits who substitute set phrases for the analysis of events are capable of denying this.

The misfortune of the Stalinist bureaucracy is that it does not see – in Spain as in Germany – the real contradictions which exist in the enemy camp, that is the living classes and their struggle. The “fascist” Primo de Riveira is replaced by the “fascist” Zamora allied with the “social-fascists”. It is not astonishing that with such a theory the intervention of the masses in the conflict between the monarchists and republicans should have taken the Stalinists by surprise. Following their correct instinct, the masses threw themselves into the struggle, drawing the communists along with them. After the workers victory over the generals, Pravda began to collect the debris of its theory, so as to stick the pieces together again as though nothing had happened. This is what is really the meaning behind the stupid bluster according to which the CP it seems did not give “a shadow of support” to the bourgeois government.

But in reality, the CP has not merely given an objective support to the government, but as we see by the article itself, has not been able to differentiate itself subjectively from it. In this connection, we read “We have not succeeded in showing sufficiently the true face of the CP in all the units of the party as well as in all the organizations of the province and in opposing it to the manoevres of the social-fascists and republicans, thus demonstrating that the party fights not only against the monarchists but also against the republican government which covers the monarchy”. By all the Stalinist literature we know well enough that the words “not in all the units,” ... “not in all the organizations” ... etc. ... mean upon occasion. It is to conceal the cowardice of their thought. When on Feb. 15th, 1928, Stalin first recognized that the Kulak was not an invention of the Left Opposition, he wrote in Pravda: “In some sections”, “in certain places” the Kulak has arisen. As the faults are due only to those who carry out the line, evidently they can only arise “in some places”. So the party is only equal to the sum of the provincial groups.

In reality the quotation we have just given, stripped of its bureaucratic tricks, means: In its struggle against the monarchists the party has not been able “to show its face”. It has not known how to oppose itself to the social-fascists and the republicans. In other words, the party has not only given temporary military support to the bourgeois and social-democratic government but has not been able to strengthen itself at their expense in the unfolding of the struggle.

The weakness of the Spanish CP, which is the result of the policy of the epigones of the CP did not permit the proletariat to seize the power in Aug. 10th, 1932. At the same time the party was obliged to take part and did take part in the struggle as the left wing of the temporary general front, at the right wing of which was found the republican bourgeoisie. The leading coalition has not forgotten to show its “face”, holding back the struggle, curbing the masses, and at once, after the victory over the generals, it passed to the struggle against the communists. As far as the Spanish Stalinists go, according to the testimony of the Russian Stalinists they have not been able to demonstrate that “the party fights not only against the monarchists but also against the republican government”.

That is the crux of the question. On the eve of the events the party was blackening the faces of all the enemies with the same soot. At the peak of the struggle, it daubed itself with the color of the enemy, temporarily gone astray in the republican social-democratic front. No one can be surprised at this except some one who did not understand until now the origin of bureaucratic centrism, In theory (if it is permissible to use that word here) it ensures itself against bureaucratic deviations by the very fact that in general it refuses to make any political or class differentiation. Hoover, Papen, Vandervelde, Gandhi, Rakovsky, all are “counter-revolutionists”,” “Fascists”, “agents of imperialism”. But each abrupt change of events, each new peril in practice forces the Stalinists to enter in struggle against one enemy, to get on their knees before the other “counter-revolutionists” and “fascists”.

In the face of the war danger the Stalinists vote in Amsterdam for diplomatic, prudent, spineless resolution of General Von Schoenaich, the French freemasons and the Hindu bourgeoisie. Patel, for whom Gandhi represents the height of the ideal. In the German Reichstag the communists suddenly declare they are ready to vote for the “social-fascist” president in order not to permit a national-fascist president that is, they stand completely on the ground of the “lesser evil”. In Spain the Stalinists show themselves at the time of danger to be incapable of opposing the republican bourgeoisie. Isn’t it clear that here we have not to do with occasional mistakes, with “particular” units, but with the organic vice of bureaucratic centrism?

The intervention of the working masses in the conflict of the two camps of exploiters gave the Spanish revolution a real thrust forward. The Azaña government finds itself compelled to decree the confiscation of the land of the Spanish lords, a step it was as far away from a few weeks ago as from the Milky Way. If the CP had pointed out the differences between the real classes and their political grouping. If it had foreseen the real march of events, if it had criticized and exposed its enemies on the basis of their real sins and crimes, then the masses would have seen in the new agrarian reform of the Azaña government the result of the CP policy and would have thought: We must go forward more energetically under its leadership.

If the CP entered surely and decisively upon the road of the united front to which the whole situation calls it, and criticized the social-democrats, not for their fascism but for their weakness, their fluctuations, their cowardice, in the struggle against bonapartism and fascism, then the masses would have learned in the common struggle and by criticisms would place themselves decisively behind the CP.

In the face of the actual policy of the CI the masses are convinced at each new turn of events, not only that the enemies and class adversaries do not do what the communists had predicted, but that the CP itself turns at the decisive moment away from all it had taught. This is why confidence in the CP is not being strengthened. And it is why in part the danger arises that Azaña mitigated agrarian reforms may only profit the bourgeoisie and not the proletariat.

With favorable, exceptional and fortunate conditions the working class can conquer even with a poor leadership. But these particularly favorable conditions are rarely met with. The proletariat must learn to conquer in less favorable circumstances. Moreover the leadership of the Stalinist bureaucracy as the experience of every country proves, and as the experience of each new month confirms, hinders communism, from utilizing favorable circumstances from strengthening its ranks and maneuvering actively, from finding its way about among the enemy and half-enemy groupings, and the allied forces. In other words the Stalinist bureaucracy has become the most important internal hindrance on the road of victory of the proletarian revolution.

Sept. 20, 1932

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Last updated on: 31 January 2010