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Mieczyslaw Bortenstein (M. Casanova)

Spain Betrayed

How the Popular Front Opened the Gates to Franco

19. The Fourth International in the Spanish Revolution

The criticisms we have formulated in this book against the Menshevik policy of the Popular Front on the basis of the tragic experiences of 31 months of civil war in Spain were made by the Fourth International before the event and were expressed with a clarity that left no space for equivocation.

Our international organisation has a right to say that it has come out of this tragic test ideologically strengthened. Life itself confirmed our political concepts, that is to say, the failure to apply the revolutionary Bolshevik methods, supported at the time by the Fourth International, in a consistent manner, led to another catastrophe. The Popular Front and Stalinism not merely crushed a proletarian revolution, but prepared the ground for Fascism and opened a breach for Franco.

In spite of all the serious criticisms that can be made of it, the International Secretariat of the Fourth International criticised beforehand, not after, and with a clarity that was all the more justified by the gravity of events, not only the crimes of the Stalinists and reformists but also the grave mistakes of the POUM, which was in tow to the Popular Front. In August 1936 the representative of our international organisation in Barcelona foresaw and explained, not behind the scenes but at the top of his voice, the tragic consequences for the POUM and the Spanish Revolution of the liquidation of dual power and the dissolution of the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias. [145] The leaders of the POUM did not heed us. They preferred ‘realistic’ collaboration in the Generalitat to Fourth International ‘sectarianism’. Comrade Trotsky, inspired by his experience of the Russian Revolution, expressed himself in the same sense as the International Secretariat: the POUM, while whole-heartedly fighting against Franco alongside the other anti-Fascist forces, must not take even a shadow of responsibility for the criminal policy of the petit-bourgeois leaders of the Popular Front.

The Fourth International can thus rightly say: “We foresaw all this – the tragic and unavoidable consequences of the policy of the Popular Front.” We are not, however, philosophers. The satisfaction of being able to foresee and understand better than others is not enough for us. We want not merely to explain the world but to change it. “We foresaw everything!” but we did not know how to prevent it. Did we do our duty?

Apart from theoretical and ideological criticisms, where was the Fourth International during the Spanish Revolution? We were not satisfied with criticising other currents. Let us make a proper balance sheet of our own activity! Here were not the ‘shamefaced’ Trotskyists, but the real Trotskyists.

When the events of 19 July occurred, there was no Bolshevik-Leninist Section in Spain. The old leaders of the Izquierda Comunista (Communist Left), Nin and Andrade, who, thanks to their revolutionary past, had a certain prestige in the working class movement, had broken, not just organisationally, but politically, with the Fourth International. The question here is not only of their entry into the POUM but their break with the methods and policy of the Fourth International, of which they became convinced opponents. To our great regret Andrade and Nin preferred a centrist orientation to the Marxist one of the Fourth International and fell in behind the London Bureau. [146] Only those who cannot see further than their own noses (and they can be found in certain little anti-Trotskyist groups) can explain Nin and Andrade’s break with the Fourth International because of certain excesses of Trotsky’s language, a lack of flexibility on the part of the International Secretariat, and because of its diplomatic incompetence, etc. ... [147]

In spite of the importance that questions of wounded honour may have among Spaniards, we can only say that Nin and Andrade were not children and that it greatly belittles them to explain their evolution by a lack of flexibility on the part of the International Secretariat or by secondary conflicts over organisational questions. The conflict between the leaders of the Izquierda Comunista and the International Secretariat of the Fourth International over an organisational problem in reality concealed a series of political differences that showed up in the course of the Spanish Revolution.

We must remember that after this split by Nin and Andrade, and after 19 July, there only remained an isolated handful of Bolshevik-Leninists who supported the Fourth International. About 100 foreigners who were members of the Fourth International came to Spain after 19 July from several countries, including French, Belgians, Swiss, Dutch, Italians, Germans, Poles, Danes and Czechoslovaks, along with Americans and even members of our South African organisation. [148] Most of them were armed volunteers, either in the POUM militias or in those of the FAI-CNT. They had replaced “the weapon of criticism by the criticism of weapons”. Some of them left their bones on the Aragon front as well as on that of Madrid. If the lightning flash, the symbol of the Fourth International, was shown on the death parapet of the trenches near Manicomio de Huesca, the Bolshevik-Leninists also took part in the assault on Belchite, Codo and Quinto. [149] So, under Caballero as under Negrín, the Bolsheviks fought against Franco arms in hand and, for this, they can hold up their heads among the other tendencies in the working class movement.

After Nin and Andrade had left, the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninist group was only reconstituted in about November 1936, but from the start the majority of members were foreigners. It applied to join the POUM, agreeing to respect the discipline of the party and asking only for the right to defend its own political concepts. The leadership of the POUM shut the door on it: they asked for impossible conditions of entry including a declaration condemning “the so-called Fourth International”. [150] In spite of the obstacles raised by the leadership, the Spanish group gained some sympathy within the POUM.

Our group took up a correct position at each stage of the revolution and, within the limits of its feeble resources, showed the way forward. Both inside and outside the party we criticised the opportunist mistakes of the POUM, whether of its orientation to obtaining a Ministry again or of its tail-ending of the Popular Front.

We developed our conception of the permanent revolution inside the mass organisation of the revolutionary Catalan proletariat, the CNT. The same can be said of the Libertarian Youth as well. We did everything to push the rank and file Anarchist organisations against class collaboration and Anarcho-ministerialism, and in an anti-bourgeois and Marxist direction. While not wishing to attribute every virtue to ourselves it would still be true to say that the formation of certain groups on the left of the CNT, such as the Friends of Durruti, was influenced by our ideological work.

In the course of 1937 we won over some elements inside both the POUM and the CNT. But events moved quickly and we had hardly started to exist. The glorious May Days in Barcelona found us far too weak organisationally, even though we were strong and tested ideologically. Along with the Friends of Durruti, we were the only ones to draw up a plan of action, in other words a plan to resist the Stalinist conspiracy by a proletarian insurrection. During this period we drew up not only generalised slogans for our pamphlets and leaflets but practical ways to achieve them, such as the formation of area committees on the basis of a POUM-CNT-FAI Revolutionary Workers’ Front. And unlike the leadership of the POUM we continually denounced the betrayals of the reformist leadership of the CNT-FAI.

The May events found us at our posts with the revolutionary workers of Barcelona on the barricades opposed to the Stalinist running dogs of capital. Some were on the POUM barricades in the Ramblas, and others on the CNT barricades in the Casa CNT-FAI. While Fauconnet and others left their bones at the front, Cid, a militant of the POUM but a member of our Bolshevik-Leninist faction in the party, gave his life on the Ramblas defending the conquests of 19 July ... [151]

We criticised, we explained, we put forward our ideas wherever chance or accident found us: at the front, in the factory, in the trade unions, and while struggling with the entire working class against Fascism, which gave us the right to criticise, we criticised. But our enemies were too powerful and possessed formidable trump cards. Against us we had Franco, that is to say Fascism, supported by international capitalism, together with the Republican democrats of the Companys, Miaja and Casado variety, all of whom indirectly helped Fascism, and in addition the Social Democrats of the Second International, whether of the Caballero or of the Prieto tendency, who, understanding nothing and forgetting nothing, followed the Republican democrats.

We had against us the Stalinists, who whilst covering up the Menshevik policy of betrayal that is called the Popular Front, laid claim to and enjoyed the authority of the Russian Revolution, and used this authority to strangle the Spanish Revolution. It was the Ambassador of the Soviet Union, the first workers’ state in history, who prevented the creation of another workers’ state and strangled the revolution. Antonov-Ovseyenko [152], who in 1917 had led the seizure of the Winter Palace, 20 years later in 1937 helped the Catalan and Spanish Kerenskys in Barcelona to drive out the workers from the Telephone Exchange. Thanks to the power of the Soviet workers’ state, which as a parasitic and conservative caste it exploited for its own ends, the Stalinist bureaucracy enjoyed not only moral authority but also support due to the material help it could offer.

But on the left of the Stalinists, “the great architects of the defeat of the Spanish proletariat”, we had the Anarchists against us, who only perpetrated idiocies, if not worse, everywhere in spite of their fighting spirit. The leadership of the CNT-FAI, like the Second International in the period of its decadence, left the execution of its programme to an indeterminate future and, whilst observing Bakuninite rituals, worked for the bourgeoisie and the rebuilding of its state apparatus.

In addition we were opposed by the POUM and in particular by its leadership, which feared Trotskyism as the devil fears holy water, and which, by struggling against us, wished to justify itself and prove that it was not Trotskyist. To sum up, we had a formidable coalition of forces ranged against us and we were only a small band of propagandists.

But at this point I hear an interruption: “And the Bolsheviks in 1917? They were also a small minority, but they knew how to win over the masses very quickly. You Bolshevik-Leninists claim to be Bolsheviks. You are good at criticising everybody alright, but you cannot convince anybody. You are just scribblers!”

The Bolsheviks were not born in 1917. They had a past of 15 years of factional struggle behind them. They had an organisation with its own tradition and its cadres, an organisation that was itself a material force. When Lenin returned to Russia he was no foreigner but the leader of a recognised party, or at least a tendency. Unfortunately, there is no comparison between the position of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 and that of the Fourth International in Spain in 1936-39.

But we have the right to say to the leadership of the POUM: “But you, you were a party with cadres, a minority but a mass party, and with a Bolshevik policy you should have been able to become an important and even decisive factor in the country and to change the situation, by basing yourselves on aspects of the dual power.” But the leadership of the POUM was unable to share the reasoning of the Bolshevik-Leninists. We could only put forward our slogans within the mass organisations, push them in a revolutionary direction, reinforce the progressive forces there, and win over the best elements. In short, we could only try to create cadres who would play their part at a fresh stage of the revolution, and pending this, to push the organisations closest to us in a revolutionary direction.

This we did. During 1937 we won over some elements in the POUM, where, to the extent that our ideas and criticisms were confirmed by events, we were heeded more and more. It was the same in the CNT, where a collaboration of unfortunately short duration was established with the Friends of Durruti and other groupings, who were evolving, however slowly, towards revolutionary Marxism.

After the May Days came the Stalinist repression. Our comrades Erwin Wolf and Hans Freund (known as Moulin) were picked up and murdered by the Stalinists. The former was a Czechoslovak citizen who came to Barcelona at the end of May 1937. He was a correspondent for an English paper The Spanish News. The GPU could not forgive him for having been Leon Trotsky’s secretary. According to one story he was shot in the Soviet Union, together with Antonov-Ovseyenko, who had organised the counter-revolutionary conspiracy of May on Moscow’s orders, but whom Stalin was unable to forgive, as with so many others, because he had a revolutionary past. As for Hans Freund (Moulin) he was a German emigré, a devoted and enthusiastic propagandist for the Fourth International. He went straight after 19 July 1936 to place himself at the disposal of the Spanish Revolution. To start with he worked in Madrid, and then in Barcelona. The GPU did not lose sight of him. It was the Pole Mink [153], an agent of the GPU, who was given the job of shadowing him. On 2 August 1937 he was arrested by the Stalinist police.

In spite of the blows against us by the GPU, our organisation carried on working. It grew stronger. New elements from the POUM and the Anarchists joined it. Our comrades at the front called for the rebuilding of the militia committees. In the rear, despite enormous difficulties, the Voz Leninista continued to appear, pointing out the lessons of these tragic events. In our pamphlets we protested against the slandering of the POUM, and we defended it against Stalinist repression.

Around November 1937 the GPU succeeded in sending two provocateurs into our group. One of them, who was a political commissar in the International Brigades, was a German who bore the pseudonym of Max Joan [154], and he succeeded in winning a certain amount of trust. Max worked with another provocateur, Léon Narvitch, who, according to some other comrades, took part in the murder of Andrés Nin. [155]

The Stalinist police, who wanted a ‘Moscow Trial’ in Barcelona, arrested our comrades Munis, Adolpho Carlini, Jaime Fernández, Teodoro Sanz, Viktor Ondik, etc. ... [156] It was Max Joan who betrayed our comrades to the police. But the Stalinist police did not have the gall to accuse and try our comrades for revolutionary propaganda. They wanted to slander them and cover them with filth. The police accused our comrades in the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists of murdering Léon Narvitch, a captain in the International Brigades. The indictment also talked about “de varios atentados contra las destecadas personalidades de la Republica” (different assassination attempts against prominent Republican personalities). Our comrades were accused of terrorism. The same hand that guided the Moscow Trials, which used gangster methods against the revolutionary vanguard internationally, which kidnapped Klement in Paris [157], also moved against the Spanish section of the Fourth International.

Our comrades accused of terrorism! This accusation was based on the corpse of Léon Narvitch, just as in Moscow the corpse of Kirov [158] started a wave of Stalinist terror. In both cases those concerned were dealt with by GPU assassins. The matter of Kirov has been cleared up. It is known that it was the Leningrad GPU which made the attempt. It is known that it was they who gave his revolver back to Nikolayev, which Stalin had to admit during the trial. As for the Stalinist provocation in Barcelona, it is not yet quite clear but it does seem probable that it was the GPU who killed Narvitch. Like so many others of its own agents, he was a witness who knew too much and could get in the way in the future. [159]

Commissar Mendez tried to extract ‘confessions’ from the young Luigi Zannon implicating the other comrades on the subject of the so-called preparation of criminal attempts against Negrín and Prieto, sabotage, etc. ... This episode confirms point by point the way in which confessions are extracted in Moscow.

Our comrades Munis, Carlini and Rodríguez held their heads up high to the degenerate torturers of the GPU. They took responsibility for the work of the Fourth International in Spain. They were not ‘shamefaced’ Trotskyists, but Bolshevik-Leninists openly and courageously defending the concepts of the permanent revolution in the hardest conditions.

Our comrade Munis took political responsibility for the work of the Bolshevik-Leninist group in Spain and for the production of La Voz Leninista before the courtroom of Comorera, to which he had been called by the POUM lawyer at the time of the trial of that party, in order to testify that the POUM was not Trotskyist and to clear Gorkin and Andrade of that terrible accusation. [160]

But the GPU burned its fingers in the Moscow Trial that it was preparing in Spain. Our international organisation was informed, and our foreign sections denounced this ignoble low-down Stalinist trick. The forgers and imposters of the GPU were caught with their hands in the till. The Negrín-Comorera police, which had already suffered a reverse with the trial of the POUM, was obliged to put back the date of the trial several times. It was finally fixed for 26 January 1939. But it was an irony of fate and a tragic coincidence that Franco’s troops entered Barcelona on the very day on which our comrades were to have been tried.

The meaning of this tragic coincidence is obvious: our comrades could not be tried because the criminal Stalinist policy of the Popular Front had opened the gates to Franco. The persecution of the Trotskyists was one of the elements, and not the least of them, that had disarmed the proletariat and made possible the victories of Fascism. The prison administration, who had burned the files and set free the Fascists and spies of the Fifth Column, prepared to receive their new masters and wanted to hand over our comrades to Franco, in other words to the Fascist execution stake. So even at the last moment of the general debâcle the Stalinists did not forget their hatred of the Trotskyists, that is to say, their hatred of the proletarian revolution.

If some of the comrades were able to escape, they did not owe it to the humanitarian sentiments of the GPU, nor to those of the Republican government, but to proletarian solidarity.

But in spite of the imprisonment of our comrades in the course of 1938, the Bolshevik-Leninists continued their work in illegality. They made their criticisms inside the mass organisations, mainly the CNT. They pointed out what had to be done. In March, during the collapse of the Aragon front and the fall of Negrín’s first government after the dropping of Prieto, they showed the rank and file of the CNT what to do, by reconstituting the independent organisations of the working class, and they denounced the new experience of Anarcho-ministerialism as a blind alley. While always critical, our comrades fought at the front as soldiers, gunners and political commissars against Franco.

The Stalinists can kill tested militants, and they can launch the most ignoble slanders against us. But to no avail! Our skin is tough! We will come out strengthened from all the tests, both morally and ideologically.

Marxism clears its own way. It is the hope of all the oppressed, and it will prepare a Socialist future for humanity. After the defeats of the proletariat, the Fourth International will lead them to great victories.



145. Jean Rous (1908-1985) was sent by the International Secretariat in August 1936 to attempt to conclude an agreement with the POUM. His activity in Barcelona is described from a hostile point of view by Nicola di Bartolomeo in our document printed below (p.225ff.) and in his own account as printed below (p345ff)

146. The London Bureau was an international organisation of Socialist parties set up in Berlin in 1932 by the Norwegian Labour Party, the British ILP and the SAP, which, when it was joined by the POUM in 1935, assumed the name of the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity.

147. These are the arguments used by Kurt Landau to justify the POUM’s differences with Trotskyism, as well as by Julian Gorkin in Neither Stalinists nor Trotskyists in La Batalla, 22 April 1937.

148. We know that M. Sapire was in Spain but only for a short time. It is possible that this was in fact the colourful Trotskyist adventurer Murray Gow Purdy. Cf. Charles Wesley Erwin, Trotskyism in India, Part 1, in Revolutionary History, Volume 1, no 4, Winter 1989-90, p32, n28.

149. These were sectors of the front during the Aragon offensive of August 1937. Codo and Quinto were two small villages north of Belchite which fell to the republican armies.

150. One of the letters from the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists requesting entry into the POUM is reproduced in Broué’s collection (op. cit., pp.696-7). The reply of Nin containing the words quoted is in the Letter to the Bolshevik-Leninists of Barcelona, 13 November 1936 (ibid., p.726).

151. Robert de Fauconnet (1914-1936) was a supporter of the POI, the French Trotskyist organisation, who went to Spain to avoid military service in the French army. He was killed fighting with the Lenin Battalion of the POUM, and a scandal occurred when the POUM service d’ordre refused to allow his coffin to be draped with the flag of the International Trotskyist movement. Julio Gaitan Cid was an Andalusian POUMist who was cut off in Seville at the time of the uprising of the generals, and made his way to Barcelona through the Francoist lines. He joined the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists and was killed by a PSUC bullet whilst fighting on the barricades during the May Days in Barcelona (Broué, op. cit., p.402 n4).

152. V.A. Antonov-Ovseyenko (1884-1938/9) was the Russian Consul-General in Catalonia during 1937 who prepared and engineered the provocation against the POUM. He was recalled by Stalin and shot at a date as yet still undetermined.

153. Possibly the Lithuanian GPU agent George Mink (1898-1940). Cf. however Reiner Tosstorff in Revolutionary History, Volume 2 no.1, Spring 1989, p.48.

154. Max Joan was a German political commissar, perhaps Lothar Marx, who had been infiltrated into the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists in order to assume the rôle of a ‘Gestapo agent’ in the projected trial of the Trotskyists set up by the GPU.

155. Léon Narvitch was a Russian GPU agent who first infiltrated the POUM, where he played a most important part in the betrayal of Andrés Nin, and then the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists, to whom he gave money to publish their paper. When a POUM action squad avenged the death of Nin and his body was found in February 1938, the Spanish Trotskyists were accused of his assassination.

156. Manuel Fernández Grandizo (1912-1989), called Munis, was the leader of the Spanish Trotskyists; Adolpho Carlini was the pseudonym of the Italian Trotskyist Domenico Sedran (1905-  ), Jaime Fernández Rodríguez was an ex-member of the POUM youth from Madrid, as was Teodoro Sanz Hernández. On Sedran see his account below, pp.253-64.

157. Rudolf Klement (1910-1938) was the administrative secretary of the International Secretariat of the Trotskyist movement, murdered by the GPU in July 1938. Cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.2.

158. Sergei Kirov (1888-1934) was a henchman of Stalin and party boss of Leningrad, whose murder by the GPU was the pretext for the staging of the Moscow Trials.

159. L.N. Nikolayev (1904-1934) was an ex-Zinovievist who shot Kirov in complicity with the state security organs. Bortenstein was wrong to compare the killing of Kirov to that of Narvitch, who was killed by four men of a POUM action squad in retribution for his betrayal of Nin.

160. The trial of the arrested POUM leaders (apart from Nin) took place in October 1938. Unable to pin the accusation of collusion with Fascism upon the POUM due to the patently fabricated evidence, the court was obliged to sentence them on the pretext of causing the May Events in Barcelona. One of the defendants, Gironella, caused great scandal by addressing the state prosecutor as Mr Vyshinsky.

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