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Andy Durgan

The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM

The Basis of Unity

Apart from the ICE’s increasingly unstable relationship with the international Trotskyist movement, there were a number of other important reasons – objective and subjective – that would lead the Spanish Trotskyists to fuse with an organisation which they had so fiercely denounced in 1931-32.

The revolutionary strike of October 1934 in response to the entry into the government of the semi-Fascist CEDA [64] had led to a general re-evaluation of tactics and strategy throughout the Spanish workers’ movement. The heroic but isolated struggle of the Asturian miners and the uneven nature of the strike movement in the rest of Spain led most of those who considered themselves as Marxists to see the need for strong centralised revolutionary leadership. The exact nature of this leadership, of course, was another matter. For the left wing Socialists this meant the unity of all Marxists inside the PSOE, the expulsion of its right wing, and its subsequent ‘Bolshevisation’. For the Stalinists it meant adherence to the line of the Communist International. For the ICE and the BOC it meant the construction of a new revolutionary party outside both the PSOE and the PCE.

The urgent need for the construction of a state-wide revolutionary party and the clamour for greater unity at all levels of the labour movement weighed heavily on all the workers’ parties. The Catalan-based BOC was particularly aware of this problem, and this, along with changes in the political lines of both itself and the ICE, brought the two dissident Communist groups closer.

At a practical level the establishment of the workers’ Alliance in Catalonia in December 1933 had led to increasing cooperation between the two organisations. The BOC, like the ICE, had championed the United Front as the ideal way both to fight the threat of Fascism and to undermine reformism. In strict contrast with the sectarian “United Front from below” of the Stalinists, Maurín and his comrades defended the classic United Front tactic of the Communist International of 1921. [65] Formally, at least, the basis for agreement with the ICE on this important question had existed from quite early on. But the BOC, unlike the ICE, had the strength, in Catalonia at least, to put this tactic into practice.

The workers’ Alliance was essentially an agreement among the leaderships of various workers’ organisations, and it never developed its own democratic structures at a rank and file level. But it did open up an unprecedented possibility of unity in action at a local and regional level. Above all, it reflected the growing demand for unity from working class militants of all tendencies. The Alliance united the BOC, Socialists, dissident Syndicalists (‘Treintistas’) and Trotskyists, and soon spread to many other areas of Spain. Only the CNT, with the notable exception of Asturias, remained outside the Alliances. The Stalinists, in a characteristic volte-face, joined the Alliances in September 1934, after spending the previous nine months denouncing them as a “counter-revolutionary manoeuvre”.

Inside the Alliances the BOC and the Trotskyists continually found themselves in agreement. Both groups defended the need to turn the workers’ Alliances into organisations that could mobilise the workers on a daily basis, and consequently build up their confidence and militancy. In contrast, the left wing Socialists and Syndicalists saw the alliances as purely “insurrectional” bodies. In fact, the Socialists opposed many “economic” struggles throughout 1934 as “wasting the workers’ energy”. This puerile ultra-leftism, of which the Socialist Youth was particularly guilty, was consistently fought against in the pages of the BOC and ICE press. Inside the Catalan workers’ Alliance, Maurín and Nin renewed their close collaboration of earlier years.

Apart from the practical joint work between the BOC and the ICE to which the establishment of the workers’ Alliances led during 1934, there were other factors which opened up the possibilities of fusion. The BOC’s political evolution, although not completely abandoning the confusion that had characterised its initial existence, had encouraged the ICE to believe that unity was a real possibility.

In relation to the international Communist movement, the BOC had abandoned its earlier pragmatism and distance from both Stalinism and Trotskyism, and had adopted increasingly anti-Stalinist positions. As early as February 1932 Maurín had spoken of the “degeneration of the CI [Communist International] since Lenin’s death”, and in June that year La Batalla published a more general critique of the mistakes of the Communist International since 1924. [66] Six months later, in a series of articles, Maurín denounced the bureaucratisation of the Soviet Communist Party under Stalin and its persecution of its “Communist opponents inside the Soviet Union”. The roots of the degeneration of both the CPSU and the Communist International, Maurín concluded, lay in the triumph of the theory of Socialism in one country, which had led to the subordination of the Communist International to the Soviet state. [67] Similar statements increasingly appeared in the BOC’s press, culminating in Maurín’s declaration in late 1934 that “the triumph of Stalin over Trotsky was the victory of Russian Socialism over international Socialism”. [68 Moreover, the BOC had continued to defend Trotsky from the Stalinists’ slanders and to publish his articles – even when he had disassociated himself from this [69], and whilst the BOC had continued to lambast his supporters. The BOC’s condemnation of the degeneration of the Communist International led it to recognise “the need progressively to build the base of a new International”. [70] On this point, however, agreement between the BOC and the Trotskyists was more apparent than real.

The BOC had also turned away from its earlier sectarian attitude towards the Socialists, whom it had even described as “social Fascists” during 1931 and early 1932. [71] By 1933 the BOC effectively coincided with the Trotskyists in calling for an “all Socialist” government. Maurín also clearly understood the importance of the radicalisation of much of the Socialist movement during 1934. Articles in the BOC’s press spoke of the significance of this development, whilst pointing to the weaknesses of the Socialist left – its ultra-left demagogy, lack of true Marxist politics, and its obsession with winning over the PSOE machine.

The national question proved another area where the positions of the BOC and the ICE had converged. By 1933 the BOC had dropped its earlier talk of separatism and the need to build national liberation movements throughout the peninsula, and now defended a more orthodox line of self-determination for the “historic nationalities” – the Basques, Catalans and Galicians. The Trotskyists, in turn, had come to recognise the relevance of the national struggle in the Basque Country, which they had previously dismissed as “reactionary”. [72]

The BOC had attracted to its ranks many class conscious workers who, despite the opportunism of their leaders, were, the ICE believed, open to revolutionary Marxism. [73] Nevertheless, the class composition of the BOC, as Molins had noticed in 1931, was still varied and equally attracted to opportunism. Perhaps more important for the ICE’s leaders, in particular Nin, was their belief that Maurín had moved significantly closer to authentic Marxist positions by the end of 1934. His book, Hacia la Segunda Revolucíon (Towards the Second Revolution), written in the aftermath of the October events [74], seemed to confirm this view.

Given Maurín’s overwhelming influence inside the BOC, the reticence of the ICE towards the politics of other BOC leaders was, in general, put to one side. The BOC’s leaders themselves were, in turn, encouraged towards thinking that an agreement was possible with the ICE because of its increasing estrangement from the international Trotskyist movement, and in particular its rejection of entrism.

Unification of the two parties also appeared as a means of overcoming their relative isolation and lack of significant growth. This was particularly the case for the ICE, which, apart from a few scattered groups, had been unable to overcome its organisational weakness. For the BOC, and Maurín in particular, it meant the gaining of a number of useful nuclei throughout Spain, and hopefully the beginnings of real expansion outside Catalonia. Despite the BOC’s declared intention to create a state-wide organisation, it had had little success apart from in nearby Castellon, Valencia and the Catalan-speaking area of Aragon. Away from Catalonia, its only group of any relative importance was in Asturias. [75]

Given the enthusiasm for unity throughout the working class movement and the general radicalisation following the events of October 1934, the hopes of both the Trotskyists and the BOC that a new unified party could attract many workers and peasants to its ranks were understandable.



64. The CEDA (Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rightist Groups) was created in 1932 and was similar ideologically to Dollfuss” reactionary Social Christian Party in Austria. Its youth organisation increasingly adopted Fascist methods during the years prior to the Civil War, and later most of its members passed over to the Falange.

65. Cf. Maurín, Necesidad de la unificación nacional e internacional del movimiento comunista, Tesis Frente Unico, La Batalla, 18 May 1933.

66. La Batalla, 2 June 1932.

67. Necesidad de la unificación nacional ..., La Batalla, 29 December 1932, 12 January  and 9 February 1933.

68. J. Maurín, Revolución y contrarrevolución ..., op. cit., p.108.

69. L.D. Trotsky, La revolución española, Volume 1, op.cit., pp.287-8.

70. J. Maurín, La capitulación de la Internacional Comunista”, La Batalla, 2 August 1934.

71. The term ‘social Fascism’ was periodically used as an insult by the BOC without it ever becoming part of its general analysis. Maurín never used this term in his writings between 1930 and 1932.

72. For the ICE’s change of line see the writings of the Basque Trotskyists, Jose Luis and Jose Maria Arenillas, republished in 1981 in Barcelona under the title of Sobre la cuestion nacional en Euskadi, and also J.M. Arenillas, The Basque Country: The National Question and the Socialist Revolution, ILP pamphlet, Leeds 1974. Trotsky, however, had always supported the right of self-determination for the Basque Country. Cf. The Revolution in Spain, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., p.78.

73. This point was made by Andrade in his preface to A. Nin, Los problemas de la revolución española, Paris 1971, p.7.

74. Republished in 1966 as Revolución y contrarrevolución en España.

75. According to one local BOC leader, it had around 50 members in the region in 1934. Cf. M. Grossi, La insurrección de Asturias, republished in 1979 in Madrid, p.14.


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Last updated on 28.7.2003