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Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

17. The Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM)

But was there not, so it seems, a ‘Trotskyist’ party in Spain, the POUM? According to the lies of the Stalinists, a Trotskyist party would only have worked with the Gestapo. Are not all those who denounce the crimes of the Stalinists and do not blindly carry out the orders of the degenerate Muscovite bureaucracy, agents of the Gestapo?

It was the POUM, Trotskyist and therefore an agent of the Gestapo, that carried out the putsch of May 1937, but happily, thanks to the fortunate intervention of the Popular Front, and the Communist Party, the PSUC, (the United Socialist Party of Catalonia, ‘Socialist’ but belonging to the Third International), the Trotskyist POUMist devil was overcome!

In the months of May-June 1937 they began to breathe again: they had liquidated ‘Trotskyism’ in Spain, and above all in Catalonia. The government of Largo Caballero, which they had thought to be on the right road until May, but which was really soft and semi-Trotskyist, was replaced by the government of victory presided over by Doctor Negrín, a real government of the Popular Front, real because it was rid of all the Trotskyists and suspect people, real because it was wanted by all countries, and particularly France, and consequently it would be capable of fighting and defeating Fascism.

Since the happy intervention of Stalin in Barcelona, in Catalonia and in Spain in May 1937, optimism could finally sweep over us as regards the outcome of the Spanish Revolution, or, if you prefer, as regards the war against Franco. Did not the great Stalin organise the Chinese Revolution so well in 1927, did not he, with the coming to power of Hitler, carry off a great victory for the German and international proletariat in 1933, to cite only two of his exploits? All too true! Capitalism, and Franco, its running dog, could feel reassured.

In this chapter analysing the POUM we are not going to correct and refute all the calumnies of the Stalinists. These gentlemen, and even more so, their hangers-on, lie as easily as they breathe. For they dispose of a formidable apparatus, and above all of a lot of money. These usurpers, who have stolen the flag of the glorious October Revolution and dragged it in the mire, have the ability to print their falsifications in millions of copies throughout the whole world.

But what in reality was the POUM? According to the etymology of the word ‘Trotskyist’ that word means an organisation following the policy of Leon Trotsky. Now the reader is probably not unaware that Trotsky is a supporter of the Fourth International. The POUM was not in the least Trotskyist.

Comrade Leon Trotsky, who has stigmatised the faults of the POUM with his typical clarity, has many times insisted on the serious differences that separate the POUM from the Fourth International. We deny the Stalinist legend about the ‘Trotskyist POUM’ in the interests of truth, which interests are, at the same time, those of the education of the working class, for it must know the real and not the imaginary positions of the different political currents to be able by understanding the matter in hand to make its choice freely and thus finally find its way forward.

The POUM (the Workers Party of Marxist Unification) was founded as a result of the unification of the Workers and Peasants Bloc of Maurín [112] and the Communist Left in December 1935. The latter had in the past belonged to the ‘Trotskyist’ International Left Opposition. Only we must remember that it always had very vague relations with the International organisation. The entry of the Communist Left into the POUM determined the break of Nin and Andrade [113], who led it, from ‘Trotskyism’ and the international Trotskyist organisation. I need not give an account of the discussions and differences that separated the Fourth International and the Communist Left. I will only recall the main differences which divided them in the course of the Spanish Revolution.

The Spanish Popular Front was formed on the eve of the parliamentary elections of January 1936. Its electoral programme resembled the electoral programmes of the Popular Fronts of other countries; vague promises as regards the improvement of the working conditions of the working class and support for the Collective Security policy of the League of Nations, etc., figured in it. It is true that an amnesty for all the victims of the reactionary repression of Gil Robles and Lerroux also figured in this programme.

The POUM joined the Popular Front and signed its reformist and petit-bourgeois election programme. It justified its attitude later by the necessity of obtaining an amnesty at any price. But the reality is that the amnesty was obtained, not as a result of the election victory, but as a result of a powerful extra-parliamentary mass movement that forced open the gates of the prisons.

The POUM criticised the policy of the Popular Front after the elections, but was really in tow with it up to the time when the Stalinist bureaucracy, having coalesced with the left bourgeoisie, prevented it from even talking about the Socialist revolution, and then forced it underground.

Apart from the left and the right, the centre also exists in politics. It is the same in the working class movement. According to Lenin’s correct appreciation, this was the case during the Great War when the working class movement split between the right, the avowed social patriots of the Vandervelde, Scheidemann, Marcel Cachin [114] type, etc., the consistent left internationalists, the Bolsheviks and the German Spartacists, and also the centrists like Ledebour, Longuet [115], etc.

If we examine the latest period of the evolution of the working class movement that began round about 1934-35, we observe the same phenomenon. There are the avowed supporters of the policy of the Popular Front, a policy that tied the proletariat to the tail of the so-called democratic bourgeoisie, the policy that is analysed in the present work in the light of the Spanish evidence, and there are the Stalinists, the promoters of Dimitrov’s universal panacea, as well as the reformists belonging to the Second International.

Then there are the declared opponents of this Popular Front policy of crime and suicide, who are the fighters of the Fourth International. To the policy of platitude and class collaboration they counterpose the revolutionary methods of Marxism and Bolshevism, methods to whose application the proletariat owes all its conquests, its victories, and its historic advances.

But in between these fundamental currents of the present time, namely, the Stalino-reformist current and the current of the Fourth International, there are the centrists. This is not a label maliciously invented by ‘sectarian’ and obstinate Trotskyists for polemical reasons. The centrists declare themselves to be against the policy of the Popular Front, and occasionally make very correct criticisms of the crimes of the Stalinists.

It is because of their independence from the GPU that the Stalinists call them ‘Trotskyists’. But the centrists halt halfway in their criticisms of the Stalino-reformist policy.

They are against the policy of the Popular Front, but at the same time they are afraid to cut themselves off from the masses by openly proclaiming a revolutionary programme of action. In principle they are for a new revolutionary International, but in practice they fight against the newborn International, the Fourth. In principle they are in agreement with us on several of the central questions of the present time, but when it is a question of passing from principles to their application and realisation they take fright and denounce us as ‘sectarians’. They are very sensitive and touchy. Above all they get angry when you call them centrists.

Whether it is under the grey sky of Paris, or the clear blue of Catalonia and Spain, whether in New York or in Warsaw, they are always the same. However, instead of getting angry they would do better to discuss honestly with us, reply to our criticisms, and accept our collaboration. We are not the teachers of the working class movement. We are always ready to listen to others, and yet again to re-eamine once more the same problems in the light of fresh tragic experiences. Meanness and wounded self-esteem count for nothing with us. We are above all that. “Our arguments are not those of Rabbis or Capucins, but are knightly battles for the lady’s heart.” And that lady is the Revolution.

In Spain the policy of the Popular Front was carried out by the Stalinists and the reformists in a consistent manner. As for the CNT, at the start it was opposed, but its ideological emptiness prevented it from proposing other policies than those of Negrín and Comorera. Thus its critique remained merely negative and, after a series of zigzags and plaintive laments, the CNT joined the Popular Front and evolved towards reformism.

As for the POUM, for a hundred times it proclaimed the necessity for the Socialist revolution, but its true policy was opposed to that objective.

As we have already recounted, there was a duality of power after 19 July. The second power, the newborn workers’ power, which moreover predominated in the course of the first months of the revolution, expressed itself in the workers’ committees, which well and truly existed in the tiniest villages as well as in the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias. These organisations of the second power, that great gain of the revolution, were destroyed by all the Spanish working class organisations, and we have to state that the POUM also took part in and covered up the dissolution of the village committees that were replaced by the municipal councils (ayuntamientos), as well as the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias. The POUM participated in the coalition government of Taradellas, which was especially set up to destroy these authentic revolutionary organisations.

Nin, the Minister of Justice of the Catalan Generalitat, was later murdered by the Stalinists. We have denounced the crimes of the GPU throughout the whole world, crimes, moreover, directed in the first place against our tendency. Nin paid with his life for his devotion to the working class and his personal honesty, which is not in doubt. But if Nin is dear to us, truth is even dearer. The cause for which Nin gave his life demands clarity of analysis. We are not sentimental, but passionate people, and if feelings take hold of us, they are not an expression of weakness. The policy followed by Nin in the course of the Spanish Revolution favoured those who were later to murder him. As Nin himself liked to say, the central question of the revolution is the question of power.

During the experience of the Commune, Marx said in his letter to Kugelmann:

I say that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it ... [116]

Now the POUM forgot this great teaching of Marx, developed by Lenin in State and Revolution.

What arguments did the POUM bring forward to justify both its entry into the Generalitat and the covering up of the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias? It was the fear of cutting itself off from the masses and going against the stream. “If we had not entered the Generalitat, we would have ceased to be a political current, and we would have been swept out of the political life of the country.” I heard these words from Nin in person, but it is obviously not a question of Nin himself, but of the entire leadership of the POUM.

To this was added another argument: the necessity of collaborating with the petit-bourgeoisie and of an alliance with the middle classes. According to the leaders of the POUM the form of this alliance was collaboration with the Generalitat.

Let us analyse these arguments. The first means that if the POUM had not entered the Generalitat, it would have ceased to be a political factor in the country.

Now we assert and prove that, on the contrary, if the POUM had come out against collaboration in the Generalitat and had based itself on the elements of the second power, the committees, it would have opened up the only way to become a decisive political factor in the country. Obviously, as far as we are concerned, it is not only the fact of entering the Generalitat but the entire policy.

Clearly, the POUM had to fight along with other anti-Fascist forces against Franco. There is no question of that. But it did not have to take even the shadow of responsibility for the policy of the leaders of the Popular Front. By clearly coming out against the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias and of the committees in general, it would have been able, if not to prevent it, at any rate to win considerable sympathy within the other working class organisations, and most important of all, in the CNT. That was precisely the way for the POUM to grow into a mass party.

Would it have been able to prevent the destruction of the second power? As has already been explained in this work, elements of the second power still existed until May 1937. Nine months separated 19 July from 3-6 May, in other words, nine months separated the birth of the second power from its destruction by the reconstituted bourgeois power. Obviously, with a bold policy from the POUM, the calendar could have been changed. Yet again, we are not prophets. And it is difficult to foresee what fresh factors would have intervened if the situation had developed in a revolutionary direction. But in any case the way to the revolution involved an obstinate struggle to maintain and extend the elements of workers’ power, in other words, precisely by keeping alive the organisations dissolved by the government of Taradellas.

The POUM used to say a hundred times a day that the Socialist revolution was taking place. But generalisations, whether small or great, do not suffice for a policy, even less during a period of revolution. It is a question of making the general historical tasks concrete by a real policy.

Now the POUM, whilst always going on about the Socialist revolution, in reality did the same thing as all the other currents, by taking part in and covering up the dissolution of the elements of the second power, whose maintenance and growth alone could have led us to the Socialist revolution, not only in the columns of a journal, but in reality.

But would the workers not have understood such a ‘sectarian’ position of the POUM, above all in the first period of general confusion and solidarity and the pressure for unity at any price? That is possible. But what is sure is that, after a short experience, they would inevitably have turned towards the POUM. The necessity of being ‘sectarian’, in other words, of openly revealing the revolutionary programme at a time when the masses are not yet prepared to accept it, always exists for the revolutionary current.

Did not this necessity exist in the course of the Russian Revolution? Did not the Bolsheviks follow exactly that course? Were they afraid that they would be treated as the ‘Trotskyists’ of the time, as adventurers and utopian dreamers? Were they not also treated as German agents? And yet they won over the masses.

If it had followed the way indicated by the Fourth International, would not the POUM have been quickly persecuted and thrown into illegality? That was also said to us in Spain at the time of our discussions in the POUM. Would it have been persecuted? Perhaps. Nonetheless, it was not easy to persecute a working class current in Catalonia in July and August 1936. Did not it benefit from the facilities offered to it by its participation in the government? Were not the POUM militias, and perhaps even the Hotel Falcón [117], financially supported by the Generalitat? But in a revolution it would have enjoyed a much more significant support, that of the working class coming from below, which would have turned towards it when it understood that here was a party that was really struggling for proletarian power.

However, did the POUM avoid repression, then? Not at all. Although it swore that it was not Trotskyist, and it was telling the truth, it was always considered as such by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Although it is a question of different phenomena, we can observe a certain symmetry here. Negrín swore to Chamberlain a hundred times a day that he was not a red, but just a plain Republican. But for Chamberlain ‘governmental Spain’ was always badly governed, and he persisted in preferring Franco.

Gorkin [118] repeated just as often that he was not a Trotskyist, and he told the truth, but in spite of everything the Stalinist bureaucracy considered him as such, and flung the same slanders against the POUM as it flung against the Fourth International.

By his explanations, as well as his policy, Negrín was unable to prevent Chamberlain from helping Franco. Neither have Gorkin’s explanations and his policy prevented the repression of the ‘Trotskyist’ POUM. Would it not be better, then, to be a real ‘red’ and a real ‘Trotskyist’? This would obviously not have removed the inconvenience of experiencing the hatred of the international bourgeoisie and of the Stalinist bureaucracy, but you could at the same time enjoy the advantages of the resulting revolutionary policy, advantages that the Bolsheviks were able to harvest in 1917.

By means of its conciliatory policy the POUM sought to avoid repression. It told itself: “If we are reduced to illegality one day, we must not be alone, but we should be with the CNT.” By placing their trust in the leaders of the CNT, the leaders of the POUM were living in a fantasy world. Later on the former passively watched the POUM’s persecution. Only a policy of pitiless criticism of the reformism of the leadership of the CNT would have opened up possibilities for a united front with its revolutionary base, which obviously, in the repression to follow, would also have forced the Anarchists to take some progressive steps.

As regards the second argument, that is to say, the necessity of an alliance with the middle classes, this is basically the same argument that is used by the whole Popular Front. The falsity of this has already been shown in the course of this work. The Communist leaders claim that when they support Daladier and the Radical Socialists in France or Azaña and the Esquerra in Spain, they make an alliance with the petit-bourgeoisie. But in essence they are in tow to the petit-bourgeois agents of big capital. An alliance of the proletariat with the petit-bourgeoisie is obviously necessary in the course of a revolution, particularly in a backward country. But there are two methods of carrying out this alliance: the Menshevik method of the Popular Front, and the Bolshevik method of struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

According to the first method, the method dear to Blum, Dimitrov, Thorez and Comorera, which is now in fashion and which in 1936 was applied to France, to Spain and elsewhere, the alliance works on the basis of support for bourgeois democracy, in other words on the basis of support for the capitalist system. According to the Popular Front method, the petit-bourgeois agents of big capital are to have the leadership of this petit-bourgeois-proletarian alliance. The proletariat follows the petit-bourgeois leaders, and through this intermediary, the bourgeoisie pure and simple.

We have tried to prove in every chapter of this work that this way is counterproductive, and, above all, utopian. Providing a perspective which supports bourgeois democracy at the present time is like providing a technical perspective of reverting from aviation to the Roman chariot. Fascism is an inevitable product of the capitalist system. It is necessary to suppress the cause in order to suppress the effect. The Bolshevik method of the alliance with the middle classes states that the proletariat must have hegemony over the bloc. Only this hegemony, and only the dictatorship of the proletariat, moreover, can bring about an improvement in the lot of the petit-bourgeoisie and split it off from big capital.

The Generalitat and the Taradellas government to which the POUM belonged was also an alliance with the petit-bourgeoisie of the Popular Front type. The ‘Socialist programme’ of the Taradellas government was mere phraseology. The decree on collectivisation was only a tardy confirmation of the actual state of affairs: but the dissolution of the organisations of the second power opened the way to counter-revolution. Of course, for the bourgeois democrats and the Stalinists, who only had a minute part of the proletariat behind them at that time, the Taradellas government with Nin’s participation was only an intermediate, provisional solution, waiting for the change in the relationship of forces that would allow it to rid itself of the POUM and of the CNT as well.

But it remains true nonetheless that the POUM helped to change the relationship of forces to its disadvantage by its policy of tail-ending the Popular Front. In spite of the services rendered by Nin to his enemies, he was dismissed from the Generalitat in December 1936, and the POUM was thrust back into opposition.

Did the POUM overhaul its policy after this ministerial experience? Has it made a serious self-criticism, and has it adopted a revolutionary orientation? No revolutionary party is forearmed against mistakes, even serious ones, but the whole question is whether it is able to find the inner strength to correct its errors.

But the POUM learned nothing after December 1936. Obviously it sharpened up its oppositional language a bit, but its perspective remained basically a return to the same ministerial experience.

The POUM’s call for a workers’ and peasants’ government was merely a new Generalitat government in which Nin would have been invited to resume his post. The theoretical concepts of the POUM changed slightly: thus, in the columns of La Batalla and in the speeches of the Executive Committee, Companys and Taradellas, who before December had been poor petit-bourgeois, after the expulsion of the POUM from the Generalitat were now suddenly enriched and became big bourgeois. But this, however, changed nothing in its general perspective.

When the POUM talked about a workers’ and peasants’ government it had two ways of explaining its slogan. The right variant meant “a government of all the anti-Fascist forces”, a solution to the many and difficult crises of the Generalitat by the return of the Taradellas government with the participation of the POUM. The left variant, which alternated in the resolutions and speeches with the right variant, was no better, and meant: “Govern Obrer y Camperol”, first as coming out of a Congress of the Committees, and then later, as a gesture towards the CNT, from a Congress of the Committees and Trade Unions.

But the whole question was how such a Congress could be brought into existence. The POUM deceived itself as to the possibility of bringing one about from above, in other words, by an agreement with the leaders of the Popular Front, and, what is more, by a peaceful road. This peaceful road was explained by Nin only a few days before the May events. Nin [119], who was thoroughly acquainted with the experience of the Russian Revolution, invoked the analogous position of Lenin in the period of April-June to support the perspective of a peaceful road.

Unfortunately, what often happens to the great experts of Marxism had happened to him: they know the texts but used the analogies precisely where they could not be applied. ‘Peaceful transformation’ was possible during a period of the Russian Revolution because the second power, that is to say, the power of the soviets, predominated over the first power, the power of the provisional government. To a certain extent an analogous situation existed in Spain from July to September, in other words, until the formation of the coalition governments, that of Madrid and that of Barcelona. The POUM, however, envisaged the peaceful road in April 1937.

The policy of the POUM with regard to the CNT also reflected its “fear of being cut off from the masses”, and in particular its ideological softness. This was an unhappy courtship. Obviously, nothing could be done in Catalonia without the agreement of the great Anarcho-Syndicalist trade union centre, which had the majority of the Catalan working class behind it, and above all the overwhelming majority of the militant elements.

But the manner in which the Executive Committee of the POUM chose to draw closer to the mass of the CNT was incorrect. The way to success and to penetrate the revolutionary mass of the CNT and of the FAI was through a pitiless criticism of the dull reformist policy of the Anarchist leadership. It had to denounce forthrightly the ridiculous hypocrisy of these ‘anti-politicians and anti-statists’ who were exercising the functions of ministers and prefects. That was the way to the conquest of the healthy elements at the base of the CNT.

But the POUM Executive preferred a zealous courtship of the Regional Committee. It always said: “Us and the CNT, the two strengths of the Revolution!”, to which this damsel, the leadership of the CNT, whenever it deigned to respond to the POUM, replied: “‘Us and the CNT?’ You crawl around us and you annoy us, leave us in peace, you dirty politicians!”

The way for the POUM to join with the ranks of the CNT was via the re-entry of its FOUS [120] trade unions into the revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalist centre. This way was pointed out on several occasions by the representatives of the Fourth International. Unfortunately, and this was one of its most serious mistakes, the POUM, with the trade unions that it influenced, joined the sclerotic, reformist UGT, which at the start only included petit-bourgeois elements. Because of this, in the eyes of the CNT workers, the POUM was seen as similar to the Stalinists, the Esquerra and the petit-bourgeois elements in general. Obviously, the job of working inside the CNT was not easy; the ‘anti-political’, and ‘anti-statist’ bureaucracy also knew how to use coercive methods with regard to the revolutionaries. But in which book has it ever been taught that revolution is an easy matter? Entry into the CNT was the only way.

To return to the central question, that of revolution, which is the question of the state, one should recall that during the whole of that decisive period up until May the POUM had a semi-reformist position on this key question. When the POUM was in the government, it thought that the bourgeois state apparatus had been destroyed because it had people in the police on whom it could rely. The dictatorship of the proletariat “in its original and Spanish form” had been achieved in the form of the government of the Generalitat of Taradellas. The POUM later abandoned this theoretical appraisal. By a simple ministerial change we passed ‘peacefully’ from the dictatorship of the proletariat over to a bourgeois regime. But the POUM continued to talk, for example, of a purge of the state apparatus, as if it were a question of quantity and not of quality. The United Front of Revolutionary Youth established by the POUM Youth and the Libertarian Youth in January 1937 made one of the points of its programme the purging of the state.

The collision of May 1937 was on the one side a result of the conspiracy of the Stalino-bourgeois coalition, and on the other of the spontaneous response of the revolutionary ranks of the CNT, who mounted the barricades in defence of the conquests of 19 July but were betrayed by the Anarchist leadership. Obviously, even if such had been its true wish, the POUM could not have organised the May uprising, as the Stalinist legend has it, because it was a minority party, particularly in Barcelona.

But the truth was that the POUM not only did not organise the May uprising, as alleged by the ridiculous inventions of the GPU, but during this tragic time it had not even formulated a programme to safeguard the revolution. During these great days the POUM remained in tow behind its lady: the leadership of the CNT and particularly its Regional Committee. [121]

At about six o’clock in the afternoon on 3 May the representatives of the Executive Committee had an interview with the representatives of the Regional Committee. In the course of this interview they placed themselves with all their forces at the disposal of the Regional Committee.

The Regional Committee took due note of the offer of the Executive Committee and replied that it would call for them if it felt that the need had arisen. The leadership of the CNT collaborated with the work of the Valencia government’s pacification against the rank and file of its own organisation, which it handed over to persecution. But the committees of the barriadas (the quarters), the middle cadres of the CNT and the FAI, were on the barricades. The POUM could have found a real echo amongst these revolutionary militants by providing them with a programme of action, namely a programme of insurrection. The leadership of the POUM was afraid. As far as we are concerned, it was not a question of physical fear but of a lack of political audacity and the anxiety of being alone.

When the workers left the barricades and the city was betrayed to the forces of reaction which had come from Valencia, obviously the POUMists also had to leave the barricades, but the duty of a party during periods of uprising, as in periods of retreat or defeat, is to tell the workers the truth and to explain the real situation, to educate the proletariat and so prepare it for the battles to come.

Unfortunately, La Batalla said that it was day when it was night. Like the Soli it said that the workers of Barcelona had victoriously repulsed the attack of the counter-revolution. What was a defeat, as well as the starting point for a wave of repression, was presented as a self-styled victory in order not to disillusion the workers.

After the May events the leadership of the POUM did not understand the change that had occurred in the relationship of forces following this bloody conflict. The repression took the leadership of the POUM completely by surprise. One of the lessons of Bolshevism, and in the coming struggles revolutionaries will pay dearly for their ignorance of it, is the necessity, even in a period of legality, for the working class party to have another, illegal, apparatus, to be able, in the event of defeats, to save its cadres and its general staff.

This lesson was not appreciated by the POUM. You did not have to be a great scholar to expect a Stalino-bourgeois repression against the POUM after May. Word for word the POUM leaders said: “Spain is not Russia, Barcelona is not Moscow”, just as in France Paul Faure [122] announced “France is not Germany” to justify his passivity towards Fascism, as if the social struggle did not have an international character, and as if the same causes in the same circumstances did not produce the same effects in every meridian and in every latitude!

The leaders of the POUM stayed at home and kept working from their offices until the day when the Stalinist police arrested them. Here it was not only a question of the imprudence and thoughtlessness that perhaps can be exaggeratedly ascribed to Spaniards, but of a misunderstanding of the real situation. “Prieto is not a Bolshevik”, the leaders of the Executive Committee consoled themselves, and continued to reside on the Ramblas.

The six week period that separated 3-6 May from the ignoble Stalinist provocation of 20 June could have been used by a party to organise its illegal work and to place its leaders under cover.

To this very summary and incomplete picture of the policy of the POUM at the most critical moments we should also very summarily add the manner in which the leadership of the POUM treated the real Trotskyists, the supporters of the Fourth International, the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists. People from abroad dwell on the legend of the ‘Trotskyist’ POUM. The leadership of the POUM was really made up of rabid anti-Trotskyists who were old members of the Gorkin-Arquer [123] bloc, and timid and ashamed anti-Trotskyists like Andrade. In La Batalla, the central party organ of the POUM, Trotskyism was condemned as too sectarian a tendency. In several articles the leaders of the POUM declared themselves to be anti-Trotskyists and anti-Stalinists [124], and often they placed the two currents on the same level.

“We are neither Stalinists nor Trotskyists, but POUMists”, declared the POUM leaders, and they even pretend that the entire working class movement is divided between POUMists and anti-POUMists over the attitude to be adopted in regard to the POUM, just as between Bolsheviks and anti-Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.

What POUMism really was, and especially what its policy was in the course of the Spanish Revolution, we have tried to analyse briefly in this chapter. The ‘slight’ difference with Bolshevism clearly appears.

The anti-Trotskyism of the POUM leaders takes very sharp forms. If the POUM accepted the technical collaboration of some of the militants of the Fourth International right at the start, in other words in the course of the first months that followed 19 July, this was due rather to the fact that some comrades of our organisation were present during the struggle and by fighting had acquired that position, and the technical collaboration of other foreign comrades was accepted by the POUM leaders for want of anything better. At the first opportunity the POUM leaders replaced them with their true international friends, the Italian Maximalists, the German SAPists, the French Pivertists [125] etc. Gorkin only justified himself by saying that “the invasion of the propaganda services of the POUM by the Trotskyists” had resulted from the fact that they had to put someone in this job, and first comers were used.

In November 1936 our Spanish group asked to join the POUM. It agreed to respect party discipline and only asked for itself the right to defend its political conceptions within the confines of the party. Nin replied in the name of the Executive, (Gorkin always entrusted Nin with this sort of task) requiring from our comrades, among other things, “a condemnation of the campaigns of the so-called Fourth International”. [126]

Even the comrades who had not carried out any factional work inside the POUM, but had defended the ideas of the Fourth International, were considered suspect and pestilential, and not only them, but even those who entered into amicable relations with them were considered as people with whom it was best not to associate. The POUM expelled certain comrades from its organisation without discussion in a completely Stalinist manner for the offence of “deviating from the political line of the party” (the exact words).

The POUM, which, when discussing with us, always insisted on the impossible bureaucratic methods of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, did not have the time to call a single congress of the party between July and May – nine months, and what months! In addition, even its entry into the Generalitat was decided without consulting its rank and file! And this party sometimes wished to identify itself with the Bolshevik party, which even, in the midst of civil war in 1917, discussed freely and elaborated the policy to be followed among the tendencies and opinions within it with the passionate and salutary fervour of argument!

To facilitate the preparation of its congress, the leadership of the POUM went so far as to expel from its militias the Bolshevik-Leninists, who had held the trenches and exposed their breasts to the Fascist machine gun for eight months. On the other hand all those who were fanatically against Trotskyism enjoyed the unconditional support of the Executive. We could cite as one example among others the two Romanian brothers M, one of whom was a Political Commissar of the Lenin Battalion, who boasted that he was in possession of a very detailed file with the names, addresses, occupations, etc., of all the Trotskyists. The Romanian Political Commissar in question later defected to the Stalinists, and probably transferred this anti-Trotskyist file to the GPU, along with other files of POUMists.

Moreover, in spite of the anti-Trotskyist repression by the Executive, the Bolshevik-Leninists were always by the side of the POUM; at every difficult moment, they always offered their political experience as well as their blood.

In order to be well regarded by the Executive of the POUM you had to denounce the sectarianism of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, and in addition to say that five or eight years ago, you had been a ‘personal victim’ of the impossible conduct of Leon Trotsky. [127] Not to say this was regarded as bad taste at the Hotel Falcón and in the Executive.

The POUM was therefore far from the Fourth International, and Gorkin feared Trotskyism like the Devil fears holy water. Nonetheless, only ‘Trotskyism’, the Bolshevik policy of the Fourth International in other words, could have saved the POUM and opened up great opportunities for it.

What is the future of the POUM? Can it serve as a basis for the future party of the Spanish Revolution? Only experience and the way in which this is tackled, and the lessons it will learn from tragic experience can answer this question.

We have criticised the POUM’s political positions, but we must also bring forward its strong points, the courage and devotion of these militants. Did it not have within it thousands of militants like Mena, and does it not still? Did it not take part in 19 July as it ought to have done? Were not its best known militants, like Germinal Vidal [128], among the first to attack on this genuinely glorious day? Did not its Miguel Pedrola [129] and the others quickly mingle their blood along with the whole proletariat? And did not the Rovira Column [130] leave along with other columns in the direction of Huesca? We also are aware of the organisational qualities of the POUM militants and leaders, which stand out sharply in comparison with the Spanish Anarchists, who were just as heroic but were disorganised in their methods and bereft of the compass of an ideology.

To these qualities of the POUM should be added in future a real revolutionary orientation. The Fourth International proposed its programme to it. Are some of our criticisms exaggerated, or even erroneous? Have we committed organisational mistakes? Have we been lacking in flexibility? Perhaps.

We are always ready to have another look, to discuss everything again. We laugh at the concept of infallibility in the working class movement. We are ready to help in the reconstruction of the Spanish workers’ party: we only lay down one condition: freedom of discussion, discipline in action!



112. The Bloque Obrera y Campesino led by Joaquim Maurín (1896-1973) was a split from the Spanish Communist Party, mainly in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, which supported the position of Nikolai Bukharin in the Soviet Union. It united with the Trotskyist Izquierda Comunista to form the POUM.

113. Juan Andrade Rodríguez (1897-1981) was one of the ex-Trotskyist leaders of the POUM who were arrested and tried by the Republican authorities in 1937-38 after the latter were prompted by the Stalinists.

114. Emile Vandervelde (1866-1938), a Belgian Socialist leader, Philipp Scheidemann (1865-1939), the German Socialist leader whose government murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg, and Marcel Cachin (1869-1958), a French Socialist and later ardent Stalinist, all supported their own governments during the First World War, and were notorious for their chauvinism.

115. Georg Ledebour (1850-1947) was a German Socialist Reichstag deputy who at first supported the First World War, but later took up a pacifist position and helped found the centrist USPD; Jean Longuet (1876-1938), the grandson of Karl Marx, took up a similar position in France.

116. K. Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, London n.d., p.123.

117. The Hotel Falcón was the POUM headquarters in Barcelona.

118. Julián Gómez García Gorkin (1902-1987) was a former organiser of the Bloque Obrera y Campesino in Valencia, and a leading publicist for the POUM. A prolific writer, he later helped Sanchez Salazar and El Campesino to write their own memoirs about Trotsky’s death and the Civil War, in addition to numerous pieces of his own.

119. It is very unpleasant for us to have to debate with the dead, who unhappily are unable to reply. But we have no choice. It is difficult, for example, to discuss Gorkin’s theoretical concepts. This real master of the apparatus of the POUM and a talented organiser was content to make day to day policy, and did not bother himself with theoretical generalisations. Moreover, Nin was the real ideologist of the POUM, whereas the ‘Ninists’ are happily still alive. [Author’s note]

120. The FOUS (Federación Obrera de Unidad Sindical) was a trade union federation comprising organisations previously expelled from the CNT, mainly in Catalonia. It foolishly united with the UGT instead of seeking re-entry into the CNT, thereby handing over the trade unions led by the POUM to the Stalinists, who controlled the Catalan UGT.

121. The militants of the POUM were on the barricades, but that changes nothing with respect to their leadership’s lack of orientation. [Author’s note]

122. Paul Faure (1878-1960) was one of the leaders of the SFIO, the French Socialist Party.

123. Jordi Arquer Salto (1907-1981) was previously a leader of the Maurínist Bloque Obrera y Campesino, and later General Secretary of the POUM organisation in clandestinity.

124. For example, J. Gorkin, Neither Stalinists nor Trotskyists in La Batalla, 22 April 1937.

125. The Maximalists were a centrist tendency in the Italian Socialist party, who continued their activity in exile as a separate group after Mussolini came to power. The Pivertists were the left wing of the SFIO, so named after their leader, Marceau Pivert (1895-1958) who later formed the Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan after their expulsion from the French Socialist Party.

126. A. Nin, Lettre aux B-L de Barcelone, 13 November 1937, in P. Broué (ed.), Léon Trotsky: La Révolution Espagnole, Paris 1975, p.726.

127. This is without doubt a reference to the Austrian ex-Trotskyist Kurt Landau (1903-1937), who broke with the Trotskyist movement in 1931 after bitter disputes within the German section exacerbated by the activity of GPU agents implanted within it. He was murdered by the GPU in 1937. Cf. ‘Spectator’ (Landau), On the Question of Trotskyism, in La Batalla, 20 April 1937, in Broué, op. cit., p.730.

128. Germinal Vidal (1913-1936) was the leader of the POUM youth who fell in combat on the University Square in Barcelona on 19 July 1936.

129. Miguel Pedrola, who succeeded Germinal Vidal as leader of the POUM youth, was killed fighting at the front.

130. The Rovira column was later to become the Lenin Battalion of the POUM

Chapter 16 | Chapter 18

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Last updated on 27.7.2003