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Santiago Carillo

The Spanish revolution in practice:
why we make this invitation



This document was written in 1935 by Santiago Carrillo (1916- ), the son of the prominent Socialist leader Wenceslao Carrillo, and then secretary of the 200,000 strong Socialist Youth of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party). In August 1935, with the support of UGT (General Workers Union) leader Largo Caballero, Carrillo wrote to Joaquim Maurin (1893-1973), leader of the Bukharinist Bloque Obrero y Campesino (Workers and Peasants Bloc) asking the Bloque to enter the Socialist Party, help transform it into a real Marxist party, and use it as a basis for creating a new revolutionary International opposed to the Second and Third Internationals. Maurin refused, and instead in September 1935 the Bloque united with the ex-Trotskyist Izquierda Communista (Communist Left) of Andrés Nin to form a small isolated party, the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification).

Ever since 1934 Trotsky had been pointing to the left-wing ferment going on in the ranks of the Socialist Party and asking the Izquierda Communista to enter that party in a body and win its mass left wing to Marxism. The agreement of Nin and Maurin to fuse into a small party and stand outside cost the POUM its only opportunity for a mass base before the events of 1936, and in the end handed over the Spanish Revolution and the lives of many of its own members to Stalinism.

During the Popular Front election of February 1936 the Socialist Youth were so far to the left of the Communist Party that they campaigned with the sarcastic slogan ‘To Save Spain from Marxism, Vote Communist!’, but left without Marxist leadership and convinced of the inadequacy of the PSOE, they came under increasing pressure to unite with the Communist Party. Their leaders were taken to be fêted in Moscow, and in June 1936 the Socialist Youth fused with the Communist Party’s youth organisation to give Spanish Stalinism a mass base in the country for the first time (in February 1936 there were less than 5,000 of them). The treacherous part in this manoeuvre, as in so many others, was taken by Alvarez del Vayo.

Carrillo was rewarded for his services in the long run by being made secretary of the Spanish Communist Party, which by the end of Franco’s rule was probably the strongest working class organisation in Spain. But being the leading theoretician of Euro-communism he splintered his party into a thousand fragments, and is currently leader of one minute Stalinist sect among many. The text should serve as a warning to others of the costs to be met in refusing to undertake revolutionary entry when the mass workers’ organisations are in ferment.

Joaquin Maurin, on the other hand, was elected as the only POUM member of the national cortes (parliament) on the Popular Front slate in February 1936, and he was accidentally caught in the Francoist zone at the time of the uprising in 1936. The POUM protected him by claiming that he was dead, and although he was arrested he was not recognised until 1937, when his life was saved by the fortunate accident that his cousin had risen to be Bishop General in the army, and interceded for him. He was released from prison in 1946 and emigrated to the USA.

An article of mine published in La Batalla with no intention of provoking a polemic has merited the honour of evoking an answer from Joaquin Maurin. I’d like to clarify my article which only at the end of the day spoke of the necessity for all Marxists to enter our party. This is why, no doubt, that Maurin has given my words a wrong interpretation, which gives his arguments a wrong basis. In fact ‘to say enter the Socialist Party is to put the problem in an abstract manner’. If the question is thus defined, Maurin is correct when he says ‘The important thing isn’t that the Communists unite with Besteiro and Prieto but that Communists and left-wing Socialists get together and march together, which is not at all the same thing’.

However this isn’t the question. We aren’t asking Spanish Marxists outside our ranks to collaborate with reformism, far less to waste their forces under a reformist leadership. No, our position within the party is characterised by intransigence towards that tendency for whose removal we struggle. It would be wrong to try to reconcile this intransigence with the demand, in an abstract manner, for the entry into our party of other workers’ groups.

If this invitation was made in a normal period, Comrade Maurin’s reservations would be justified. But the Socialist Party is certainly not in a state of internal normality. The point has been reached where the polemic has reached the streets. Now everyone knows that in the Socialist Party there is a struggle which won’t be resolved without the elimination of one or another side: Marxists or reformists. It’s impossible to re-establish unity because the masses see clearly what the problems are. Maurin recognises this clearly in his book, Towards the Second Revolution, ‘The Socialist Party has gone through the reformist experience, confirming that it nearly produced a catastrophe in the party’. So if the party has been capable of understanding the disaster of the reformist attempt, it will also know how to purge itself to prevent catastrophe.

When we invite other groups of workers to come in, we think not of quantity but of quality. Not for them to collaborate with the right, but that they help us to throw them out by helping us to pose the problem with greater clarity and accuracy. Besides, we know the effect which the party spirit has on our masses: from inside, with the banner of the party in our hands, victory will be not just possible but probable, from outside all attempts at renewal will provoke a dangerous reaction of party spirit which will have only negative effects.

On page 81 of Towards the Second Revolution Maurin says:

The masses of workers who follow the Socialist Party have learned by experience that only by a violent revolution of the working class will they be able finally to emancipate themselves. And in the Socialist Party they have made a fundamental correction.

Well, to carry through this fundamental correction that has begun to overcome the ‘crisis which the Socialist Party is undergoing’ – these words of my cordial opponent contradict the rest of his thesis – is the reason why we ask all Spanish Marxists to enter into it.

Observe, Comrade Maurin, our invitation isn’t at all abstract, nor does it attempt to destroy the revolutionary energies of those whom we would like to unite with us.

What would you lose by this experience even if reformism triumphs?

In his article Maurin discounts the possibility that the Socialist Party will be able to ‘Bolshevise’ itself, that is to say that it is condemned perpetually to be a Social Democratic Party. Such a conclusion contradicts some parts of his book already cited. But we will return to this later. Now, for the sake of argument we will accept the hypothesis that he is right.

After all, he isn’t the only one who thinks so. We know from various sources that other working class forces, particularly official Communism, think so too. They estimate that Spanish socialism is incapable of purging itself and of taking a definite revolutionary line. In this situation, recognising the vitality of the socialist left its ideological coherence, incompatible with permanent coexistence with a reformist faction, official Communism considers it inevitable that we will break, voluntarily or not, from the Socialist Party and believes that this will give new life to the Third International.

I’ve said that I will return to this question later. But for now, imagine friend Maurin, that the victory of centralism and reformism in our party will happen anyway in spite of the entry of the Bloque, that the right are not expelled but the left are. What would you lose?

On leaving you would have more prestige than when you entered: much more. You would have been able to demonstrate to the mass of workers your desire to unify the working class, showing this by facts, not by slogans which don’t succeed. You would have gained support among the socialist masses, binding yourselves to them, educating them and attracting them to you on your departure. If your predictions as to the future of the Socialist Party should become a reality, if it falls into the hands of the right, you would be like those rivers which disappear momentarily below the earth’s surface to reappear a little further on, stronger and more powerful.

What fears should you have in attempting an experience which, even in the event of the most unfavourable outcome, a reformist triumph, would leave you strengthened? Lenin has said that the proletariat should only fear the contact with other forces when it isn’t confident of its own ideas and abilities. Why should you fear even the worst contingencies?

Because, I don’t want to believe like some do, that precisely what you fear is that the Socialist Party should Bolshevise.

The purge of Spanish socialism is probable and near

Why can’t the Socialist Party be Bolshevised? There is an error here which I consider basic in the world of Comrade Maurin. It’s a matter of a fatalistic conception which is hardly Marxist. ‘We have never seen a party of a Social Democratic type’ – says Maurin, ‘where the Bolshevik tendency has won out. In the German, French, Belgian, Dutch, Swedish and Austrian parties the left-wing advocates of a revolutionary policy have invariably been crushed. We don’t know of any reason why things should turn out differently in Spain.’

This fatalism resembles that of those who have an interest in preserving this society, and therefore reason in the following manner: ‘as there have always been rich and poor it will always be impossible to transform the existing order’.

My opponent himself affirms in his book that I have already cited, something that contradicts the basis of his argument: ‘The Austrian Socialist Party realised the gravity of the situation too late. By contrast, the Spanish Socialist Party has known how to react in time and has partially been able to prepare to fight.’

If our party has reacted in time, and has prepared itself to fight even partially, why is it impossible that this reaction should be carried through with a revolutionary purge? If the Socialist Party has shown its superiority over the rest of the Socialist International, going over at times to the camp of insurrection, why doesn’t it have the capacity to fulfil the process of Bolshevisation? Isn’t this October a stage of this process?

Besides, to claim that it is impossible that the left should triumph in the Socialist Party, basing oneself on the belief that this position is justified by previous experience is incorrect. It’s true that in most cases this has been true, however, international Social Democracy is not dead, and we don’t know what its ultimate destiny will be. But if Comrade Maurin pays attention to the history of the Russian proletariat he will see his affirmation disproved by the facts.

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was also, until 1903, a mosaic of contradictions inherent in its composition. However, at a certain point it became Bolshevik. Why? Undoubtedly because there were objective circumstances and men capable of using them to eliminate Menshevism. One can say that the Spanish Socialist Party lacks a vanguard with an ideological grasp comparable to the Russians. But it isn’t correct to leave it at that without pointing out that neither does our Menshevism have a Plekhanov, a Martinov, a Martov, a Vera Zasulich and so other many powerful minds who raised the reformist banners in the midst of the Russian proletariat.

Objectively the revolutionary tendency looked at as a whole is better than the reformists. It has more roots in the party masses; it mainly controls the party leadership and nearly all the local and provincial periodicals. It also has the advantage of the cooperation of the best veterans who represent the healthy socialist tradition which has known how to behave in critical times. This element has a decisive influence in a party which historically still venerates its traditions.

It’s undeniable that the left vanguard, in the circumstances that our masses, because of the constant struggles which they have waged, don’t know the softness of the German Social Democracy. They are masses imbued with a spirit of struggle, of a spirit of rebellion, of an undeniable capacity for sacrifice, and with them we can undoubtedly achieve the revolutionary purge of the Socialist Party.

Santiago Carrillo

The Spanish Left in its Own Words

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Last updated on 30.12.2002