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Negrete and Oehler report from Barcelona


Hugo Oehler (1903- ), ‘a very capable mass worker’ according to James P Cannon, was a veteran militant from the US Communist Party with a brilliant record as a trade union organiser in the southern textile mills and the mines of Colorado. He was the organiser of the Kansas district of the CPUSA when he sided with the Trotskyists in 1930. Two years later he was sent on a speaking tour of Germany to help alert the German working class to the menace of Hitler. In 1933 he played a notable part in the hotel strike in New York led by B.J. Field and organised the unemployed to assist the strikers during the famous Minneapolis strike in 1934. He opposed the French Turn to entryism at the plenum of the international Trotskyist movement in October 1934 and, continuing to oppose the practice of entryism, was expelled from the US Trotskyists in October 1935. His organisation, the Revolutionary Workers League, persisted for some years, but then disintegrated into a bewildering variety of groups-Stammites, Marlenites, etc.

Rosalio Negrete was the party name of Russell Blackwell (1904-1969) who joined the CPUSA in the l920s and was sent to Mexico to help build up the Communist youth movement there, working with Vittorio Vidali (Carlos Contreras) who was later to play such a sinister part in Spain and in the murder of Trotsky. Negrete was converted to Trotskyism by reading the US Militant and founded a Trotskyist group inside the Mexican Communist Party, for which he was expelled from the country. He handled the Spanish language correspondence of the US Trotskyists, but left them along with Hugo Oehler. Whilst in Spain he allied with the ‘Cell 72’ opposition inside the Barcelona POUM. He was twice arrested by the GPU working through the Spanish police and was twice released on the intervention of the US authorities.

These reports describing the gathering tensions in Barcelona were written for the US Revolutionary Workers League and appeared in Fourth International, Vol.2 No.12 1937, pp.l7, l8 and 25.

An organisation known as the Friends of Durruti has been organised within the CNT. Although it has a legal status it is being sabotaged by the leadership of the CNT because its policy is far to the left of the reformist top. Sunday, 18 April 1937, they held their first public meeting at a theatre with about 1000 workers present and four speakers.

From a Marxian point of view the ideological level of the speeches were low, but considering the present position of the CNT in collaboration with the Generality the speeches was a left reaction to the whole past trend. Whereas the small Anarchist Group of the Ideal that has distributed some leaflets has swung back to ‘pure’ Anarchism, the Friends of Durruti are of a far higher and more serious type.

They are not against collaboration in bourgeois governments in principle, but are against the collaboration in the Generality and Valencia governments today. They are against it today because they say the Stalinists are not sincere. They demand that their leaders leave at once. This is a fundamentally false position. But the demand for the leaders to leave the government must be utilised by the revolutionists to show these workers the road to the revolution.

In the speeches the Stalinists were bitterly assailed as bourgeois and agents of the bourgeoisie. One speaker pointed out that the Russians promised them modern arms if they would carry through centralised military work through the government, which the CNT agreed to, but to this day the supplies have not been sent. (They have been sent to the Valencia government). The speaker said they would only get arms if the CNT troops give up their flags, etc. He pointed out that one Durruti Column had already pulled down its red and black flag, and stated that the CNT had yielded too much already.

One speaker stated that Lenin’s method of revolution was correct but the Stalinist method in Spain is completely false.

At no time during the meeting did any speaker mention the POUM.

A message was read from a group, ‘Those of Yesterday and Those of Today’ of adherence to the meeting. It seems as though the Friends of Durruti are organising throughout Spain.

They demand the cleansing of the CNT union. They want complete socialisation of industry. They are alarmed at reaction showing its head more every day. ‘If the rear does not improve we will bring up the armed forces from the front and will again clean up. If necessary we can be master of the situation again in 24 hours.’ This was greeted with an uproar. Although it is an exaggerated statement with excellent intention it shows the sentiment of the workers attending.

One speaker wanted to know why the national guard was not sent to the front. Against whom was it going to be used in the rear? They understand, or are beginning to understand, the bourgeois policy.

They demand the syndicates take over power and coordinate their local power through a national executive committee and establish workers’ rule. Any revolution that does not create its own organs of power, economic and political, is not a revolution.

The Anti-Fascist Committee of 15 was the embryo organ of the revolution. The Council of Defence of the Generality is bourgeois power. The first big mistake of the CNT was to agree to dissolve the Anti-Fascist Committee of 15 and the local committees.

One speaker gave a fairly good analysis of the imperialist conflict in Spain and the two bourgeois groups in Spain, and said we must fight both groups.

Barcelona, 18 April 1937


In brief, the past week of developing Civil War in Catalonia witnesses the following:

  1. The government crisis is solved for the bourgeoisie by the ‘suspension of cabinet meetings’ and the establishment of dictatorial power.
  2. Dissolution of the People’s Courts.
  3. Individual terror practised by organisations with representatives in the government against each other.
  4. Armed struggle and resistance by lower units of the CNT and the POUM.
  5. Disarming of many workers by the Civil Guards.
  6. Arresting of CNT-FAI regional leaders by the Generality.
  7. Leadership of CNT and POUM represented reformist positions, and capitulated before the pressure of the bourgeoisie.
  8. Left wing of anarchists, the Friends of Durruti, and the left wing of the POUM are driving forward, with a conect line for the situation, and are giving backbone to the struggles, but as yet are not sufficiently strong to openly take direct lead of a concentrated struggle.
  9. Workers reveal readiness to fight if they have leadership.
  10. The bourgeois forces are represented by the Esquerra, other left bourgeois parties and the Stalinists and Socialists. The proletarian forces are represented by the CNT and the POUM with a fundamental contradiction between the leaderships on the one hand and the membership and the left wings on the other.

May Day in Barcelona saw the bourgeoisie and their agents further consolidate their death grip on the workers. The revolutionists and Marxists will have to use May Day in Spain as another starting point, to learn these lessons and to drive forward. Time demands quick action.

Barcelona, 1 May 1937

The only meetings in Barcelona on May Day were an indoor, small meeting by the ‘Those of Yesterday and Those of Today’ adhering to the Friends of Durruti, and an Anarchist nudist group meeting on the value of music. The Friends of Durruti meeting was Sunday 2 May.

In Valencia the united front May Day meeting of the youth of the anarchists and POUM was called offby the CNT leaders to allow a united front meeting of the CNT and UGT.

May Day, Saturday, was ‘Work and War’ Day to prevent a workers’ demonstration. But Sunday 2 May, a bourgeois holiday day, the factories did not have to work. Furthermore, the evening indoor meetings in the large halls in the city usually start at about 10 or 10.30. Even an evening indoor meeting, after the workers came from ‘work for war’ the POUM did not see fit to call.

Barcelona, 3 May 1937

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