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Andy Durgan

The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM

In September 1935 the Spanish Trotskyist group, the Communist Left (ICE), fused with the Workers and Peasants Bloc to form the POUM. Both at the time and retrospectively, this decision was widely criticised within the international Trotskyist movement. Whilst the political development of the POUM, or at least Trotsky’s criticisms of it, are relatively well known [1], the history of the Spanish Trotskyists and their reasons for helping to found this party are far less known. [2]

The Left Opposition in Spain

The Communist Opposition of Spain (OCE), as it was first called, was founded in Liège, Belgium, on 28 February 1930 at a meeting of Spanish Communist exiles resident in that country, Luxembourg and France. The leader of this group, a founder member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), was ‘Henri Lacroix’ (Francisco Garcia Lavid). Lacroix, a house painter by trade, had spent some years in the Soviet Union, at least between 1925 and 1927, before living in Luxembourg and Belgium. It was here where he had entered into contact with French oppositionists. Inside Spain a number of former leading members of the PCE also sympathised with the Left Opposition, and soon formed part of the OCE. The most important of these was Juan Andrade in Madrid, a founder member and leader of the PCE and editor of its paper La Antorcha until 1926. Andrade had opposed the increasingly bureaucratic tendencies inside the PCE, and had been expelled from the party in 1927.

Following the fall of the dictator Primo de Rivera in January 1930, many political exiles, including the Trotskyists, returned to Spain to take advantage of the relative liberalisation. During 1930 the OCE was able to establish groups in a handful of centres, and probably had some 50 militants at this time. [3]

The group was strengthened by the return of Andreu Nin to Spain from the Soviet Union in September 1930. Nin, originally a teacher, had first entered into organised political activity in 1911 at the age of 19 as a member of a left wing Catalan nationalist group, but his concern for social issues led him to join the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) barely two years later.

In 1918, under the impact of the postwar revolutionary upsurge, both in Spain and the rest of Europe, he joined the Anarcho-Syndicalist trade union federation, the CNT, becoming one of its leaders in its stronghold of Barcelona. A sympathiser of the Russian Revolution, he had been fully won over to Communism after attending the founding congress of the Red International of Labour Unions in 1921 as part of the CNT delegation. Unable to return to Spain because his name was connected, unjustly, with the assassination of the Prime Minister, Eduardo Dato, he stayed in the Soviet Union. He became the Assistant Secretary of the RILU, joined the CPSU, and was elected onto the Moscow Soviet. Nin sided with the Left Opposition, probably in 1926, and consequently was stripped of all his official responsibilities. He was expelled from both the CPSU and PCE in 1928. Until 1930 he lived precariously in the Russian capital, and only his status as a foreigner saved him from arrest. [4]

Over the next few years the Spanish Trotskyist group included in its ranks many talented militants, most of whom were later to play a leading rôle in the POUM. Apart from Nin and Andrade, the other principal intellectuals of the group were Esteben Bilbao, the Basque doctor José Luis Arenillas, and Enrique Fernández Sendón (‘Ferson’). Bilbao, like Lacroix and another leading Trotskyist militant, Gregorio Ibarrondo (‘Carnicero’), had been founding members of the Basque PCE. Other militants of note were the lawyer of the CNT miners’ union in Asturias, José Loredo Aparicio; the Catalan journalist, Narcís Molins i Fábrega; the group’s organiser in Estremadura, Luis Rastrollo; and a founding member of the Madrid PCE and former leader of the Communist Youth, Luis Garcia Palacios.

The group’s many working class cadres included such militants as the petroleum workers’ leader in Astillero (Santander), Eusebio Cortezón; Emilio García, a leading member of the CNT woodworkers’ union in Gijon, and like Cortezón a founder member of the PCE; Julio Alutiz, the railway worker from Pamplona, Emiliano Diaz in Seville, and Manuel Sanchez in Salamanca.

Among the many outstanding younger activists were Ignacio Iglesias, a former Socialist Youth leader from Sama de Langreo (Asturias); Enrique Rodriguez and Jesus Blanco, recruited from the Madrid Communist Youth; G. Munis (Manuel Fernández Grandizo) from Llerena (Estremadura), who was also active in the Mexican Trotskyist movement, and Julio Cid, recruited from the Socialist Youth of Gerena (Andalusia) in 1933. [5]

Although the OCE was small, it was able to take advantage of the complete disarray of the PCE and the new political opportunities opened up by the collapse of the dictatorship and the subsequent rise in mass struggle. The PCE had barely 500 members during the late 1920s, and most of these had either been in jail or exile. [6] Moreover, many of its leaders, albeit for different reasons, were in opposition to the official party line.

The establishment of the Republic on 14 April 1931 led to a further extension of political freedoms, a massive strike wave, and the growth of all working class organisations, including the PCE.

Despite being relatively few in number, the Trotskyists” level of analysis was in stark contrast with the general theoretical poverty of Spanish Marxism at this time. In particular, their monthly theoretical journal Comunismo, which was published from May 1931 through to October 1934, stands out as the most serious Marxist journal published in Spain during the years prior to the Civil War. [7]

Organisationally, however, the Spanish Trotskyists were less successful. The domination of the Spanish workers’ movement by Anarcho-Syndicalism and reformist Socialism was a problem for all the Communist factions. Despite all its weaknesses, the PCE, as the defender of official orthodoxy, proved more attractive to most workers sympathetic to Communism than the much maligned and generally isolated Trotskyists. Only the Catalan dissidents, the Workers and Peasants Bloc (BOC), were able seriously to challenge the PCE at an organisational level.

But although small, the Spanish group compared favourably with Trotskyist organisations elsewhere in the world. According to Pelai Pagès, by 1934 the ICE (as the OCE had become in March 1932) had around 800 members. [8] They were mostly in small groups scattered throughout the country. The exception was in the province of Badajoz (Estremadura), where nearly half their membership was concentrated in and around the town of Llerena. [9] This was the only area where the Trotskyists won a real mass base, mainly among farm workers, in part thanks to their leadership of peasant strikes between 1932 and 1934, and the efforts of Luis Rastrollo and the peasant leaders José Martín, Felix Galán and others. Elsewhere, there were relatively important Trotskyist nuclei in Madrid, Asturias, Galicia, Seville, Salamanca and Astillero (Santander), as well as scattered groups in Northern Castille, the Basque Country and in and around Barcelona. In contrast, the PCE probably had some 10 000 members by 1934, and the BOC around 4000, mainly in Catalonia. [10]



1. It is not the aim of this article to comment on Trotsky’s extensive and generally excellent writings on Spain between 1930 and 1940.

2. References to much, although not all, of the material cited in this article can also be found in P. Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España 1930-1935, Barcelona 1977, and Pierre Broué’s extensive notes and appendices to the Spanish edition of Trotsky’s writings on Spain, La revolución española, two volumes, Barcelona 1977.

3. V. Alba, Dos revolucionarios, Madrid 1975, p.358. We know of the existence of OCE groups at this time in Madrid, Bilbao, Asturias and, perhaps, Valencia.

4. On Nin’s life in Moscow at this time, Cf. V. Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford 1975, pp.275-6.

5. Munis and Cid were members of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists during the Civil War, Cid being killed during the ‘May Days’ in Barcelona in 1937. Biographies of most of the leading militants of the OCE can be found in Trotsky, op. cit., Volume 2, pp.529-43.

6. According to one Communist International leader at the time, Piatnitsky, the PCE had only 120 members by 1930 (Communist International, 20 February 1934).

7. An anthology of the most important articles from Comunismo was published in Madrid in 1978.

8. P. Pagès, op. cit., pp.70-94.

9. La Batalla, 5 June 1936, states that the POUM had 122 members in Llerena at this time.

10. The PCE’s own membership figures are notoriously unreliable. According to its own figures, the party grew from around 3,000 members in May 1931 to 8,800 by the end of that year. By February 1936 there were supposedly 20,000 members, and 83,967 in July, on the eve of the Civil War.


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Last updated on 28.7.2003