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Andy Durgan

The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM

The ICE and the International Trotskyist Movement 1932-34

Given the sharp tone of the polemic between the OCE and the BOC, it may seem surprising that barely three years later the two groups would fuse, apparently quite happily, into one united party. Changing political circumstances – both nationally and internationally – were to play an important part in preparing the way for unification, as would changes inside both of the organisations. The distancing of the ICE from the international Trotskyist movement was to be another contributing factor in the group’s move towards an agreement with Maurín’s organisation.

The Spanish opposition had been criticised by Trotsky from the outset, initially over Nin’s slowness in establishing the OCE’s own press and his illusions in being able to influence the FCC-B/BOC. More direct contacts with the International Left Opposition [ILO], in the shape of Raymond Molinier, who visited the OCE in 1931, [35] did not improve matters. Nin was soon to blame Molinier for the dire economic situation in which the Spanish group found itself, and for its consequent inability to sustain its newspaper, El Soviet. [36]

These differences, particularly with Molinier, probably discouraged the OCE from condemning Rosmer’s group immediately when it was expelled from the French section at this time. This in turn led Trotsky to berate Nin over the lack of involvement of the Spanish group in the ILO – a criticism that was to be repeated over the coming months.

But it was the OCE’s third National Conference in March 1932 that was to mark a more important turning point in the Spanish group’s relations with the international movement. Faced with what it described as the “experience of the practical impossibility of changing the line of the Communist International”, and the danger of the Opposition appearing only to favour reforming the PCE, the OCE opted to adopt a more independent stance. Whilst still claiming to be a faction of the PCE, the Spanish group decided to project itself as a more open alternative to the official party. This change took the form of renaming the group as the Communist Left of Spain (ICE) and agreeing to the possibility of intervening in elections in certain circumstances. [37]

The change in name also reflected the group’s relative consolidation both organisationally (it now claimed 1,000 members) and politically. Despite their insistence on not having established themselves as an independent party as such, the Spanish Trotskyists’ decision appeared to the ILO to be just that. [38] Moreover, the ICE, with the aim of posing this tactical change on an international level, called upon the International Secretariat to call a conference as soon as possible. The ICE also called for both the expelled Rosmer and Landau groups to be represented at the proposed conference, although not as official delegates, so that they could present their case.

This new crisis in the relations between the Spanish Trotskyists and the ILO was further complicated by the ‘Lacroix case’. At the third conference Lacroix had resigned as General Secretary of the Spanish Opposition, supposedly for “health reasons”. [39] His subsequent factional activity gave his resignation a political character – although he did not state this explicitly until a year later. [40] In fact Lacroix’s rôle in the growing crisis both inside the ICE and in its relations with the ILO is highly suspect. With hindsight, Lacroix’s activities were at least opportunist, if not, as Georges Vereeken has argued, a deliberate provocation. [41]

Internationally, the German and French sections were particularly incensed by the ICE’s apparent defence of Landau and Rosmer. In late 1932 first the Germans and then the French Trotskyists produced documents criticising the position of the Spanish group. [42] Apart from attacking the latter’s change of name, and its positions on elections and the Rosmer and Landau cases, both groups spoke of the ICE’s lack of a concrete programme for the Spanish revolution and of not wanting to pose its differences openly with the International Secretariat. Basically similar criticisms were made by the International Secretariat and by Trotsky himself.

The ICE replied to these attacks by pointing out that it still considered itself to be a faction of the PCE and not a new party.[43] In fact in both the Catalan elections of November 1932 and the general election a year later, the Trotskyists not only called for a vote for the PCE (and not the BOC), but also distributed the PCE’s propaganda, and in a few areas held joint meetings with its local branches. The Spanish Trotskyists argued that they were obliged by circumstances to counter the influence and the tactics of the PCE in a more positive fashion. Moreover, both the French and US sections had changed their names from “Opposition” to the “Communist League”. The ICE insisted on its complete “loyalty to the ILO, the International Secretariat and comrade Trotsky”. It had differences over questions of “detail and organisation but not fundamental political questions”. According to the Spanish section, the fact that it had defended the right of the Rosmer and Landau groups to put their case did not mean that it supported these groups in any way.

In retrospect, Trotsky’s criticisms of the ICE at this time seem particularly harsh. In August 1933 he was to describe the “struggle of Nin and company against the ILO [as] ... violating every fundamental principle of Marxism”. The ICE’s position on the independence of its group with regard to the PCE would soon differ little from that adopted by the international Trotskyist movement during 1933. The severe tone of Trotsky’s polemic with the Spanish section was probably due to his fears that Nin would form a bloc with his old friend Rosmer.

The choice of Communist Left as the Spanish group’s new name, denounced by Trotsky as “an obviously false name from the standpoint of theory”, appeared particularly significant because it was the same as Rosmer’s group, the Gauche Communiste. Nin had, in fact, initially supported Trotsky and the International Secretariat over the question of Landau and Rosmer, only to change his attitude in late 1931. The failure of Molinier, one of Rosmer’s principal opponents in France, to provide the OCE with the financial support he had promised, may well have contributed to Nin’s change of position.

Parallel to these criticisms of the ICE inside the ILO, Lacroix formed an opposition faction, which in the first edition of its bulletin accused the ICE leadership of being opposed to the international movement, and of using “Stalinist practices”. In addition, it accused Nin, who had replaced Lacroix as General Secretary, of being a “petit-bourgeois opportunist”, and called on the International Secretariat to intervene inside the Spanish section. [44] However, it was not until January 1933, that is after the International Secretariat and the French and German groups had attacked the ICE’s positions, that Lacroix came out with an identical line of argument. The ICE leaders initially tried to counter Lacroix’s opposition by inviting him to take up the post of General Secretary once more. This being refused, the Spanish section moved the headquarters of its Executive Committee to Barcelona to avoid the disruptive activities of Lacroix’s group in Madrid.

Meanwhile the International Secretariat had begun to talk of the “profound differences” in the Spanish section, speaking of the “Lacroix current” and the “Nin current”, thus giving each equal credibility. In fact, Lacroix’s group was based upon six or seven militants in Madrid. [45] What is more, throughout this crisis the ICE Executive Committee received numerous motions of support from local branches. Thus when the ILO organised a pre-conference in Paris in February 1933 and called on both tendencies to send delegates, the ICE leadership angrily refused to comply, and denounced the International Secretariat for “wanting to give a political character to Lacroix’s dishonest and intolerable campaign against the Executive Committee”. [46] In the event both tendencies were represented at the pre-conference, the official ICE delegate, and a delegate from Lacroix’s group who was invited without the knowledge of the Spanish group’s leadership.

The pre-conference referred to the situation inside the ICE, and demanded that disciplinary measures against Lacroix be stopped. [47] It also condemned the ICE for supporting “confusionists and deserters” such as Landau, Rosmer and Mill, and, seemingly oblivious of its recent campaign in favour of the PCE in the Catalan elections, of “tail-ending the petit-bourgeois nationalist and provincial phrasemonger Maurín” and of favouring participation in parliamentary elections in a manner contrary to the policy of the ILO.

In reply, Fersen, the official Spanish delegate, agreed to the establishment of an internal bulletin open to “all tendencies”, and that nobody would be excluded from the organisation until a national conference could be held. Nevertheless, Fersen defended the measures already taken against Lacroix’s group as “necessary to maintain discipline and avoid the degeneration of the organisation’s progress”. The ICE later bemoaned the “frank support” of the pre-conference for “comrade Lacroix’s campaign of sabotage and disorganisation”. [48]

Relations between the Spanish section and the international organisation were further undermined by the ICE’s criticisms of some of the decisions of the pre-conference. In particular, the Spanish section rejected as “totally exotic” the imposition of the title “Communist Left Opposition – Bolshevik-Leninist” on all national sections. For the ICE, the title Left Opposition already gave the impression both inside and outside the Communist movement that the differences of the Trotskyists with the Stalinists were only an “incomprehensible and harmful internal struggle”. Instead, the ICE advocated that there should not be one name applicable to all national sections, but that each national section should include the name of the international organisation.

The ICE also criticised the International Secretariat’s manner of dealing with internal problems, particularly in relation to the Rosmer group. Finally, the Spanish group claimed that the decision of the pre-conference that following events in Germany, the Opposition “should work systematically in all proletarian organisations ... without modifying its attitude towards the [Communist] party”, was identical to the position adopted in Spain 11 months previously. [49]

Immediately following the pre-conference, the International Secretariat initiated a campaign against Nin and the ICE leadership. Trotsky based his attacks, although not explicitly, firstly upon the arguments of Lacroix and then on those of two other dissidents, “Arlen” and Mariano Vela – both of whom had already left the Spanish section. [50] The International Secretariat also published Nin’s correspondence with Trotsky of 1930-32 in order to illustrate Nin’s continued divergences from the international organisation. In April 1933 a long extract from a recent article by Lacroix attacking the ICE leadership was published without the slightest comment in the International Bulletin. [51]

Whilst it appeared that the International Secretariat was siding with Lacroix against Nin, Trotsky himself pointed out in a letter to Lacroix at the time that he had no intention of favouring one group against the other, and even accused Lacroix of having the “same ideas and methods” as Nin. [52] However, it remained the case that the statements of the International Secretariat on the internal crisis of the Spanish section were directed almost exclusively against Nin. This campaign culminated in August 1933 in a scathing attack by Trotsky on the “inadmissible conduct” of Nin “and his friends” whose policies had been “condemned by all sections of the International Left Opposition ... without exception” at the pre-conference in February. Nin’s “radically incorrect policy” had prevented the Spanish section from “winning the place opened up to it by the conditions of the Spanish revolution” and had led to the weakening of the ICE. [53]

Meanwhile, the ICE Executive Committee accused Lacroix of misusing party funds and of systematic obstruction of its work. Evidence relating to these accusations was sent to the International Secretariat, which in turn had to admit that Lacroix had “falsified official documents”. [54] The whole ignominious affair finished in June 1933 with the expulsion of Lacroix and the disintegration of his faction. [55]

Subsequent events would shed more light on Lacroix, and thus seemingly vindicate the position of the ICE leadership. In September 1933 he joined the PSOE and in a letter to its daily, El Socialista, renounced his Communist past and recognised his mistaken rôle as a “sniper against Socialism”. [56] Prior to this, however, Lacroix had attempted to rejoin the PCE. His total lack of scruples are revealed in his letter of 15 July 1933 to the PCE Central Committee, which has recently been found in the party’s archives in Madrid. [57] According to this letter, only lack of money prevented Lacroix from returning to Madrid (he was in Tolosa at the time), as the PCE leadership had asked him to, in order to explain his recent “evolution back towards the party”. Lacroix concluded that “rapid action could put an end to the residues of Trotskyism in Spain, and win back the good, if mistaken, workers who still follow ... the masked counter-revolution of Trotskyism”.

This letter leaves little doubt as to Lacroix’s dubious (to say the least) activities inside the revolutionary movement, and gives some credence to Vereeken’s claim that Lacroix was a “Stalinist agent”. [58] However, the fact that he was not allowed back into the PCE undermines Vereeken’s thesis; nor was he known to have sided with the pro-Stalinist wing of Spanish Socialism during the Civil War. Indeed, according to Pierre Broué, Lacroix, having led a division in the Republican army, was recognised by Stalinist troops whilst crossing into France at the end of the Civil War, and was lynched on the spot. [59]

The Lacroix affair only served to strain relations even further between the ICE and the ILO. Once he had joined the PSOE, the International Secretariat denounced Lacroix for his “violent and poisonous struggle ... against the International Left Opposition and a number of leading comrades”, and described him as always having been “an alien element among the Bolshevik-Leninists, alien to their ideas and their methods”. [60] This belated recognition of Lacroix’s rôle inside the Trotskyist movement was not very convincing, given the International Secretariat’s recent attacks on Nin and its effective support for this “alien element”.

The desertion of Lacroix must have been a blow to the Trotskyist movement; to the ICE, of which he had been a founder and one of its principal leaders, and to Trotsky, to whom he had always proclaimed his “total loyalty and agreement”. Whilst undoubtedly there were real differences between the ICE and the International Secretariat, particularly over the degree of political independence to be maintained in relation to the official Communist movement prior to August 1933, and over the differences around the Rosmer and Landau cases, the Lacroix affair was marred not only by its personal overtones, but also by the confusion surrounding its exact nature. Any examination of the documents of the ICE, Lacroix and the International Secretariat on the Spanish crisis, along with Trotsky’s writings of the time, confirms this confusion. The contradictory nature of the later statements of the International Secretariat on the question and on Lacroix’s subsequent betrayal serve to cloud the issues at stake even further.

The decision that the ILO took in August 1933 to form new independent parties and to establish the International Communist League (ICL) as the first step towards the establishment of a new International, was welcomed by the ICE. The Spanish group pointed out, however, that it had been the first to move towards more independent activity, and it criticised the “mechanical way” in which the ILO’s change of line had been adopted, as if “obeying a military order”, and for its lateness. [61] There was also some opposition inside the ICE during the autumn of 1933 to the idea of creating a Fourth International.[62]

Relations between the ICE and the (by now) ICL appear to have been relatively calm during the first half of 1934, until a new dispute broke out over the tactic of entrism. This tactic appeared particularly relevant in Spain, where, due to the disenchantment with their party’s participation in the Republican government between 1931 and 1933, many Socialist militants had turned sharply to the left. The threat of Fascism – both at home and abroad – reinforced this tendency. By mid-1934 the left wing of the Socialists controlled the trade union federation (the UGT), the Socialist Youth and many local and provincial sections of the party. Moreover, its language was increasingly revolutionary in tone.

The importance of the radicalisation of the Spanish Socialist movement was not missed by the ICE, but it baulked at following the example of the French Trotskyists of actually entering the Socialist Party. A national plenum of the ICE voted unanimously in September 1934 to reject the new tactical turn of the ICL. Whilst recognising the importance of the new mood in many countries in favour of united action, the ICE warned that this should not lead to “organic confusion”. The plenum concluded:

The guarantee of the future lies in the United Front, but also in the organic independence of the vanguard of the proletariat. In no way can we immerse ourselves in an amorphous conglomerate merely because of circumstantial utilitarianism ... However sad and painful it may be for us, we are prepared to maintain the principled positions that we have learnt from our leader, even at the risk of having to separate from him on the road to victory. [63]

The ICE also proposed the formation of a faction inside the international organisation to fight against the new turn.

The growing distance between the Spanish Trotskyists and the ICL is clearly illustrated by the resolution at the plenum. Not surprisingly, their rejection of entrism has sometimes been cited as the principal reason for their break from the international movement. Nevertheless, the final break would not take place for another 16 months, and the ICE’s refusal to enter the Socialist Party would be only one of several contributory factors.



35. R. Molinier, op. cit.

36. Cf. Nin’s letter to Trotsky, 7 November 1931, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., p.380.

37. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.127.

38. There is no known documentary evidence of the immediate reaction of the International Secretariat, except the testimony of Ignacio Iglesias of the Asturias ICE many years later, Cf. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.128, but, given the subsequent development of relations between the International Secretariat and the ICE, Iglesias’ version seems very plausible.

39. Comunismo, April 1932.

40. Informe sobre el caso Lacroix, Boletín interior de la Izquierda Comunista de España, 15 July 1933.

41. G. Vereeken, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, London 1976, pp.48-67.

42. Both documents were published in the Lacroix faction’s bulletin, Boletín interior de discusión del Comité Regional de Castilla la Nueva y del Comité Nacional de Jovenes de la Izquierda Comunista Española, 3 January 1933.

43. La Izquierda Comunista Española y los grupos de Rosmer y Landau, Comunismo, September 1932.

44. Boletín interior de discusión ..., 2 December 1932.

45. Both the Regional Committee of New Castille and the National Committee of the ICE Youth consisted of the same six militants, and were effectively set up by Lacroix to fight the Executive Committee. Cf. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.134.

46. Ante una grave situación de la ICE, Boletín interior de discusión ..., February 1933.

47. Informe sobre el caso Lacroix, op. cit..

48. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.145.

49. Ibid.

50. ‘Arlen’ was the pseudonym of an army officer who had joined the OCE from the PCE. Although he maintained correspondence with Trotsky during 1933, he had left the ICE at the end of 1932. In 1936 he refused to accept the command of the POUM militia in Madrid, leading a Socialist unit instead. Cf. L.D. Trotsky, La revolución española, Volume 2, pp.530-1; P. Pagès, op. cit., p.135.

51. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.148.

52. L.D. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., p.194. A copy of this letter was also sent to Nin.

53. op. cit., pp.198-201.

54. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.147.

55. According to Broué (L.D. Trotsky, La revolución española, Volume 1, p.269n) most of Lacroix’s group stayed inside the ICE. One member, Grandizo Munis, became a leader of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists during the Civil War; another, Gomila, joined the Falange. Cf. P. Pagès, op. cit., p.148.

56. El Socialista, 29 September 1933.

57. It has been possible to verify Lacroix’s signature. The letter, dated 15 July 1933, can be found in the Archive of the Central Committee of the PCE in Madrid. The previous day (14 July) Lacroix had written to the party complaining that he had yet to receive an answer to his request of “some days before” to “rejoin” the PCE, the “only true Communist organisation” that existed in Spain. He added that there were “many honourable workers’ in the “so-called opposition”, with whom he could put the PCE in contact, who were waiting for the decision of the party leadership on his case before joining the party.

58. G. Vereeken, op. cit., p.66.

59. L.D. Trotsky, La revolución española, Volume 2, op. cit., p.536.

60. G. Vereeken, op. cit., pp.59-60.

61. Al pleno internacional de la Oposición de Izquierda, Boletín interior de la ICE, 5 September 1933.

62. Boletín interior de la ICE, 20 November 1933

63. Comunismo, September 1934.


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