Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
John Sullivan, ETA and Basque Nationalism, Routledge, London 1988, pp275 £35
The Basque terrorist and nationalist organisation, ETA, is one of the most interesting political movements to have arisen in Western Europe since the war. It has striking similarities with the IRA in Northern Ireland, but also considerable differences, and an analysis of these distinctions helps to cast light on both bodies. For readers of Revolutionary History it is not unimportant that ETA, at the height of its popularity, and with real mass support in the final years of the Franco dictatorship, gave birth to an important Trotskyist current, ETA VILKR, whose trajectory might have some relevant lessons. These 300 people, many very talented and all of whom were very brave, the equivalent of 15,000 such individuals in Britain, had immense personal prestige in the community. If Trotskyism could have played a really significant role anywhere in Europe since the war one would imagine it would have been in Euskadi.
Like the IRA, ETA’s genesis was in the late ’sixties, though the nationalist movement out of which it came went back much further. Unlike in Ireland it started its operations under a harsh dictatorship rather than an imperfect parliamentary democracy. Periodically ETA gave birth to left wing splits which generally took with them the majority of the existing activists. These leading elements felt the need for working class support since they also sensed the existence of class, and not merely national, oppression. The first split, the MCE, had, and still has, some working class support and tended to Maoism. (For its present views see the exchange with the Socialist Workers Party in International Socialism 2/38). The second big split, in 1972, was the LCR-LKR (ETA VI) which adhered to the United Secretariat led by Ernest Mandel. It is clear that all splits to the left, which started with the assumption among the participants that nationalism and Marxism were but different aspects of progressive thought, found out that in practice a working class orientation was incompatible with a nationalist one or, more brutally, internationalism was incompatible with nationalism. Almost immediately, the cadres, however heroic and admired for their heroism they might be, found themselves totally isolated politically from their previous mass base.
The farmers, small businessmen, priests and lawyers who had smiled on the somewhat over-enthusiastic student patriots who killed Guardia Civil were quite disapproving of attempts to unite Spanish and Basque workers against employers who themselves might be Basques. As the ETA militants were generally lower middle class individuals and, because of their military tactics, always isolated from the mass working class movements, the LCR-LKR proved quite incapable of becoming a really important force despite, not merely a most distinguished record of armed resistance to the Franco regime, but also the orchestration of the biggest mass movement that the region has ever seen in the agitation against the Burgos show trial of its militants in 1970. According to Sullivan, it has, in the course of its decline since 1980, tended to go back to supporting the nationalism from which it had once broken. He seems to see it nowadays as simply a group of uninfluential cheerleaders of terrorism from the sidelines.
Sullivan’s research is massive and has been years in the making. Indeed this book amounts to only about a third of his PhD. He seems to have read everything and met nearly every survivor from the sixties and seventies. His task was rendered easier in that periodic amnesties of Basque activists enabled them to speak quite freely about the past without fear of state reprisals. Such a study on the IRA would not yet be possible and might never be. Any serious disagreement with his conclusions, even if some find them unpalatable, will have to be founded on as great a scholarship and as deep a knowledge of the sources.
F.A. Ridley, Fascism Down the Ages: From Caesar to Hitler, Romer Publications, London, 1988, pp.176, £4.95
The British left – and particularly the respectable left – has never been characterised by breadth of vision, and at no time more so than at present. Its thinkers are all too often little men in a large world. How refreshing it is, then, to be reminded that Marxism rests upon a critique of the whole of previous human history – and that a grasp of the broad sweep of it is an absolute necessity for the development of revolutionary understanding.
This book is put together from a collection of F.A. Ridley’s contributions in a number of previously published works, long out of print. Its main thrust is to demonstrate that societies in crisis throw up analogous solutions to their problems (generally at the expense of the toilers, of whatever class) and that such ‘modern’ phenomena such as ‘totalitarianism’ have had antecedents in slave, feudal and other forms of social organisation. Stated in this way, the argument appears to be a truism, and only a proper reading of the book can show the depth of Ridley’s insight. Moreover, it is a reminder of the originality of its writer. For example, Ridley’s contention, treated with derision at the time, that the Roman Empire was the ‘freeze’ of a long period of decay, that it represented an attempt to prevent the fall of Roman society and was not its apogee, would now be regarded as a commonplace by all students of the disorders of the Roman state in the century before the Augustan ‘solution’. Ste Croix’s Class Struggle in the Ancient World that caused such excitement when it appeared in 1981 can be regarded as a social commentary on the same theme. Those who claim to be ‘Marxists’ and yet maintain an enthusiasm for ‘liberation theology’ might also profit from the link demonstrated in the final chapters of this collection between organised religion and all forms of reaction.,
But the main benefit of this book, surely, is to introduce a new generation of revolutionaries to the pleasures of reading F.A. Ridley at his best. Hopefully it will lead to a new appreciation of this most creative of Socialist thinkers, and to the appearance in print of the unpublished manuscripts listed on pages 172-3.
Wolfgang Lubitz, Trotsky Bibliography, Second Edition. KG Saur, Munich 1988, pp.581, DM200
This book is a useful tool designed as a companion to the study of Trotskyism, if not to the work of Trotsky himself (dealt with already by Louis Sinclair in his Leon Trotsky – A Bibliography). With an amazing conscientiousness it lists some 5,000 items covering anti-Trotskyist polemics as well as matter written within the tradition. That the compiler is not without a sense of hurnour is shown by his omission of the word ‘mass’ from the title of Ian Birchall’s The Smallest Mass Party in the World. If the book is open to criticism at all, perhaps it lies in the minute listing of academic research dissertations, some of them amazing in their triviality and obscurity, From a political standpoint we may also question the wisdom of identifying political pseudonyms, some of them adopted for very good reason, and wonder at the motives of those who co-operated with this part of the research.
Omissions are inevitable, given the task the bibliographer has set himself, but we may well ask why the entry on China fails to list either Harold Isaac’s book or Wang Fan-Hsi’s autobiography, the one on Vietnam omits Richard Stephenson’s pamphlet, and none of Larry Moyes’ work on Japan appears at all. The general section on the Fourth International makes no mention of one of the best short treatments of its history, Voix Ouvrière’s Problems of the World Party of the Revolution and the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (1966).
But in a collection of such scope minor mistakes are bound to crop up. Comrade Stephenson’s personal name is wrongly given wherever it appears. Rather more serious is the omission of the name of Sam Levy from the pamphlet Permanent Revolution Since 1945, here ascribed mainly to Frank Rowe with Ted Crawford’s collaboration.
These, however, are spots on the sun, and the book remains the only compilation of its type, even if the price puts it out of reach for those without access to university libraries.
A. Butenko, G. Popov, B. Bolotin and D. Volkogonov, The Stalin Phenomenon, Novosti, Moscow 1988, pp.64, 40p
This pamphlet shows the limits which the Soviet bureaucracy intends to impose upon the current historical debate within the Soviet Union. Just as Gorbachev’s address on the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution went no further than Khrushchev’s critique of Stalin in his 1956 Secret Speech, the official debate today promises to be little more revealing than that of the post-Stalin thaw.
Many of the old distortions are cranked out. To quote Volkogonov (currently writing the official Stalin biography):
Butenko endorses the old Stalinist canard that Trotsky's rejection of the possibility of building Socialism within one country was also a rejection of Leninism. As for Stalin himself, we are assured that the personality cult is alien to the nature of Socialism. But it’s legitimate to ask whether this puerile, idealist concept is alien to Marxism. It’s revealing that the Stalinists are still using this banality to ‘explain’ the rise of Stalinism.
However, in a novel twist, Stalin’s sins occurred because, according to Volkogonov, “Stalin himself was to assume precisely the command-bureaucracy style, violence and toughness advocated by Trotsky”. In other words, Stalin was a Trotskyite! Yet:
This is the key to the riddle. The Soviet Union of today is the product of the l930s. Gorbachev and Co are the direct descendants of Stalin’s bureaucracy which came to power through the demise of proletarian power. The hounding and persecution of the Left Opposition in the late 1920s was the final act in the destruction of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Soviet bureaucracy cannot and will not carry out an honest political reappraisal of Soviet history because this would destroy any claim to its historical legitimacy.
Finally, one can glean some interesting implications. Bukharin is appreciated only for his role in the defeat of the Left Opposition. His economic programme is considered as inadequate. Seeing that Stalin is condemned for refusing to accept the market under Socialism, it is clear that the bureaucracy is warning against too much economic liberalism whilst demanding some of it. Bukharin, Rykov, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Radek are all shown as victims of “the repressions during the Stalin personality cult”. Seeing that their rehabilitations are being processed, we can assume that Trotsky, not noted as a ‘victim’, still remains beyond the pale, even though Volkogonov recently considered Stalin to be “politically and morally responsible” for his murder (The Guardian, 30 June 1988).
The manner in which the Soviet bureaucracy wishes the historical debate to proceed is clear. We are obliged to try and smash through these constraints and re-establish the debate on the basis of the truth.
Bruno Rizzi, The Bureaucratisation of the World, Tavistock Publications, London, 1985, pp.111
The publication of Bruno Rizzi’s book The Bureaucratization of the World is a notable event for those who have an interest in both arcane texts and living politics. The historical interest resides in the fact that ever since 1939, when the book was first published, it has been the source of speculation and rather fanciful notions, The speculation arose because of the great rarity of the first edition of the book, since it was seized by the police in Paris almost immediately it was published and few copies survived the censor’s burning. For most English speaking Trotskyists the most information they would have about Rizzi and his book was to be found in Trotsky’s In Defence of Marxism, that is until now. Trotsky, in his faction fight with Burnham and Shachtman of the US Socialist Workers Party in 1939, had had cause to comment upon Rizzi’s book, but up to now that is about all that most people would have known about it. This meant that, given that the book was published as being written by ‘Bruno R’, both the text and the writer had acquired something of an aura of mystery over the years. Now, thanks to the translation and admirable introduction by Adam Westoby, all is revealed.
And what is revealed is a mixed bag. Firstly, contrary to what many may have assumed, Rizzi was very much alive well after the Second World War, and only died in January 1977. So although the text under review here can be considered to be an historical one, Rizzi himself was writing and publishing many years after he became notorious as the mysterious ‘Bruno R’. Secondly, it comes as a shock to find that Rizzi was an admirer of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin as well as Trotsky! And on top of this he was an open anti-Semite. None of this came across in what little was said about him in Trotsky’s comments and it is a little disconcerting, to say the least, to have this aspect revealed. Adam Westoby has done an excellent job in tracing the rather elusive career of Rizzi both pre-war and post-war. Moreover, he provides an interesting and very informative account of the evolution of Rizzi’s ideas during the decade leading up to 1939 and the publication of this book.
However, what we have presented to us here is only the first third of the original text, since we are told that the rest of the book is taken up with material that could be considered to be only illustrative of the theory propounded in the first part of the text. Specifically what has been left out is that part of the book dealing with Fascism and the New Deal of Roosevelt. One can well understand that the chapter on The Jewish Question would have presented problems, since it would have probably run foul of the Race Relations Act in this country. Indeed, that was the chapter that caused the book’s seizure in Paris in 1939. But it is a pity that we have only been presented with one part of the text.
Be that as it may, we have before us sufficient to appraise both the merits and weaknesses of Rizzi’s central theme. The theme itself is fairly simply presented. It consisted in the argument that the proletariat had proved too immature to initiate the transition to Socialism, and that capitalism was in terminal decay, Thus there was coming into being on a world scale a new form of society, i.e., bureaucratic collectivism. I simplify, of course. but not greatly. One does have to set such ideas in the context of their times; totalitarian regimes were proliferating throughout the world; moreover, they were regimes that lauded the state and had a veneer of anti-capitalist phraseology coupled with state intervention on quite a massive scale into the economy. For Rizzi these were but the first steps on the road to the complete bureaucratic society of which Soviet Russia was the most advanced model at that time. Such an idea was not wholly new, since many writers had alluded to the similarities between the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, with their one party rule, cult of the leader, concentration camps etc. Even Trotsky had pointed to the similarities, even if only to highlight the basic dissimilarities as far as the social systems they represented were concerned. Indeed a member of the Left Oppostion, Christian Rakovsky, had initiated some thoughts along the lines of Rizzi's theses in his essay The Professional Dangers of Power, which was printed in the Bulletin of the Opposition in 1929.
So, Rizzi was not wholly original in the idea that Soviet Russia was either some form of new exploitative system or a form of, state capitalism, and was certainly not a workers’ state as Trotsky suggested. In fact the Socialist Party of Great Britain had declared Russia to be state capitalist as far back as 1918. What was new, however, in what Rizzi wrote is that he suggested that the bureaucratic collectivist society was an inevitable outcome of the two elements, one the political immaturity of the working class and the other the absolute decay of capitalist society. In this respect Rizzi saw the new society as being historically progressive, since it developed the means and forces of production in those countries, e.g., Russia, where capitalism had failed to live up to its historical tasks.
It is quite easy, now, to see the faults of his case, but it had a certain logic and ring of truth in 1939. It is not surprising therefore that Trotsky should have reacted quite strongly to Rizzi and what he saw as the US version of these ideas being put forward by Burnham and Shachtman. And one has to say that upon a reading of Rizzi’s text he had some very valid questions and doubts about Trotsky’s own position. But more on that later.
What strikes one now on re-reading these texts, i.e., Rizzi’s and Trotsky’s, is the one overwhelming common bond between them, one that meant they were both trapped within the same historical paradigm. The common bond was that of the idea that capitalism was finished, was in terminal decay. This was an idea that was dominant on the left at that time; and for many years after the Second World War it crippled numerous Marxists in their attempts to grapple with the reality of a new age of capitalist prosperity. Given this basic assumption Rizzi then pointed to the defeats that the working class had endured world-wide up to 1939 and suggested that only the new bureaucratic class was able to carry society forwards. If the capitalist and working classes had exhausted themselves, Rizzi suggested, it was now the time of the petty-bourgeoisie to step into centre stage and assume control of society.
Starting from a shared assumption, Trotsky and Rizzi drew very different conclusions. Trotsky assumed that out of the Second World War there would come a new wave of proletarian revolutions, and these would settle the hash of the Soviet bureaucracy along with that of the bourgeoisie. Rizzi too saw the end of capitalism in sight, but suggested that the working class had already been so cowed or bemused by defeat that it would be unable to inaugurate the transition to Socialism. As we now know both were wrong. Capitalism, far from having exhausted its historical role, went on to have a new golden age, admittedly upon the bones of the millions who were slaughtered in the war just finished and the colonial wars yet to come. Nevertheless, both Rizzi and Trotsky had backed themselves up a blind alley by their common basic assumption of the imminent demise of capitalism. Trotsky’s followers in particular were left disarmed by the actual turn of events because of this basic flaw in analysis.
Rizzi, like many before him, had taken as good coin the anti-capitalist braggadocio of the Fascists. And he was fooled into believing that the state had become so all-pervading and powerful as to take over the running of the whole economy. Bukharin had made much the same mistake during the First World War., and he was not alone in that either. Trotsky, on the other hand, was too acute in his perception of the realities of social class to be fooled into seeing Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany as representing the same basic social system. In the event Trotsky was duly vindicated, Fascism disappeared under a pall of gun smoke leaving capitalism very much alive and kicking. New state forms took the place of those created by Hitler and Mussolini, but. they were solidly based on bourgeois foundations. Here I am dealing in historical facts, not the historical might-have-beens, ie, if the working class had not been betrayed by all their parties in 1945, if Stalinism had not been … etc., etc. In other words I am not denying certain possibilities, all I am doing is stating what actually happened.
Let us admit that Rizzi, like Bukharin, did espy a real trend of his time, i.e., that the state took over larger and larger parts of the economy and intervened in an unparalleled manner. But what are we to make of the present trend, started in Britain and now spreading throughout the capitalist world, of denationalising industries? Can it be that we are now poised on the edge of a new wave of capitalist development in which the commodity form and market are to enjoy a rejuvenation undreamt of a few years ago? Can it be that we have left that phase of capitalist development, that Rizzi quite rightly saw but misunderstood, and a new ‘golden age’ of private capital is about to unfold?
What we can be sure of is that capitalism had much more mileage in it than Trotsky or Rizzi (or Marx!) ever dreamed of. And it suggests that we need to be cautious in announcing its departure from the stage of history. No doubt we shall have many more surprises in store for us.
But what about the Soviet Union? Is it the type of society that Rizzi suggested or is it still the degenerated workers' state that Trotsky said it was? For many, of course, the answer will be one of certitude depending upon which of the formulae they cling to. ‘Workers’ state’, ‘state capitalist’, ‘bureaucratic collectivist’, each have their attractions since they provide some sort of sheet anchor in a changing world. One thing we may be sure is that Rizzi’s prediction of bureaucratic collectivism taking over the world has certainly not come to pass, but does that invalidate his thesis as far as the Soviet Union (and China) is concerned? Not necessarily. How does the Soviet Union square with Trotsky’s forecasts? Not very much.
On reading and re-reading the passionate debates about the character of the Soviet Union one is continually struck by the fact that hardly anything that anyone predicted has come to pass. Just as the nature of the post war period in the capitalist countries eluded most Marxists for many years, so has the trajectory and nature of the Soviet type societies continually slipped through their fingers. Each one of the characterisations has very strong points, but then opponents can point to the great weaknesses also. None of the suggested classifications in reality add up to a satisfactory and coherent theory. It is this aspect that makes it worthwhile to read and ponder Rizzi’s book, amid the failed predictions there are still pertinent questions that Trotsky’s theory does not adequately deal with.
For instance, Trotsky, to put it crudely, equated nationalised property and ‘planning’ with a ‘workers’ state’. Yet manifestly, the Soviet Union has been nothing of the sort for at least fifty years. The fact that this society emanated from a proletarian revolution, can no longer have any meaning after so long. The society that we now see once more evolving under Gorbachev was formed in the heat of a dreadful civil war fought, first against the peasants and then against the remnants of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, with the working class being further ground down in the process. Yet, on the other hand, this society has so many features that do not correspond to what could he called capitalism that it is tempting to accept Rizzi’s conclusions. But not tempting enough. The central aspect of a class formation still eludes any examination of the Soviet bureaucracy. But then we are left with a conundrum from a Marxist perspective. If the state is, in the final analysis, the organ of the hegemonic class, which class does the Soviet state represent? Certainly not the working class, and if the bureaucracy is not a class who then does this state represent? The more one tries to make this formation fit into preconceived formulae the more it slips through one’s fingers. Rizzi was acutely aware of this and tried to develop a set of new concepts to deal with the unknown. But for all the brilliant jabs at Trotsky’s deficiencies it does not quite come together as a whole.
Rizzi was not only a prisoner of the ‘capitalism in terminal decline’ syndrome, he was also still trying to use the categories of political economy more properly applicable to the analysis of capitalism. For example he continually talks about the Soviet state extracting surplus-value, the workers selling their labour-power, etc. He was afraid that if he denied that these categories existed he would be opening the door to the idea that Socialism had been introduced. Thus, while he twitted Trotsky for clinging to the proposition either capitalism or Socialism and denying the possibility of a third alternative, Rizzi used those categories, thus making him appear to be suggesting some form of state capitalism, but merely under another name. Yet he was at pains to deride those who argued for the capitalist nature of the Soviet Union.
Given the moves now underway within the Soviet Union and in other Eastern European countries, it could well be that a rejuvenated form of the New Economic Policy will be introduced. If this is to be the case then perhaps we shall see sections of the bureaucratic élites transforming themselves into a true class by once more adopting both the forms and substance of ownership and control of the means of production. If that is indeed the case then history will have vindicated Trotsky, but in a very backhanded manner, since it will be the restoration of capitalism and not the triumph of the working class. But then Rizzi might be having the last word, since it will have confirmed his opinion that the Soviet Union was not a workers’ state.
Whatever the outcome of the present phase of Soviet development, Rizzi is still worth reading. You may not agree with his conclusions but it is hard not to admit the validity of his doubts.
All your readers will remember the famous picture of Lenin, addressing an open-air meeting in Moscow. On the steps of the rostrum stood Trotsky. But, subsequently, when the picture was republished, Trotsky’s figure had been removed.
In my opinion, a similar re-writing of history has occurred to Harry McShane. In almost all the obituries of him, no mention whatsoever was made of a person who, for a quarter of a century, dominated his political life. Joseph Stalin has been completely blotted out.
In their leadership of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, Harry McShane and Wal Hannington became well known – one might say notorious – for the aggressive manner in which they enforced the Stalinist line. During the Third Period, they made it painfully clear that, within the NUWM's ranks, Trotskyists, ILPers and other independently-minded Socialists were unwelcome intruders.
Though abusive terms like ‘Social Fascist’ might be flung at those on the left, with the introduction of the Popular Front a much less critical attitude was adopted towards some die-hard Tories. Not an unkind word was uttered either by Harry McShane or the Communist Party about the Duchess of Atholl, a landowner who maintained semi-feudal conditions on her vast Highland estates. She could increase poverty and unemployment without being criticised. Why? Because she thought the interests of the British ruling class conflicted more with those of expansionist Germany than they did with the Soviet Union. This made her a ‘good’ capitalist whereas Neville Chamberlain was a ‘bad’ capitalist.
Similar pernicious nonsense abounded during the Second World War, Harry McShane was involved in a ludicrous demonstration in Glasgow. News of a change of Communist Party line came through from King Street while the march was taking place. What had started out as an anti-war demonstration ended up by being pro-war!
The German invasion of the Soviet Union transformed the Communist Party’s line. As the Daily Worker’s Scottish correspondent, Harry McShane was necessarily at the sharp end. His duty now was to write articles supporting the Churchill government, calling upon workers to make increased sacrifices and demanding that the authorities break strikes. He thought stern action should be taken against those who opposed the war. As Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson say in their book, Two Steps Back (p.16), “Harry McShane was particularly to the fore in this witch-hunting”.
By 1944, conditions were getting increasingly intolerable for Scottish miners. They had to do hard physical work on meagre food rations. Much of their equipment was antiquated and was always breaking down. The seams of coal wore becoming deeper and more difficult to mine. Men paid by the ton found their wages failing. But this, according to Harry McShane, was not the reason why workers at Cardowan colliery downed tools: he explained in the Daily Worker that the stoppage had been instigated by Anarchists, Trotskyists and – wait for it – the Duke of Bedford!
Such examples, taken almost at random, could easily be multiplied. Beyond doubt, they prove he was one of the hardest, most disciplined Stalinists in Britain. It is important to state this fact. To do so is not to denounce the man. Indeed, it is to do the precise opposite. Those who give Harry McShane’s life a spurious consistency are ironically his detractors. They fail to recognise his gargantuan achievement in 1953, the herculean effort he made, helped by Raya Dunayevskaya. He deserted the camp of counter-revolution and travelled along the revolutionary road for the rest of his life. Most of the traffic tends to be in the opposite direction. For instance, of the five members of the Iskra editorial board, in 1900, only one manned the barricade’s in 1917.
Yet, in a period of reaction, Harry McShane left his secure job as a CP functionary. At the age of 61, he returned to work in the shipyards, labouring until he was 69 years old to obtain entitlement to a full old-age pension. Remarkably, he remained more receptive than most young people to new ideas. Armed with a deep understanding of Hegel and the early Marx, he espoused, with considerable energy, for a further 36 years the cause of Socialist Humanism. Probably in the annals of the British working class movement, no other person has equalled in intensity and duration his degree of commitment.
I loved Harry McShane. It was always a joy to my wife Mabel and myself when he came to stay with us. Not only was he a kind ,and charming person, he was also a great man. Therefore, the truth, the whole truth, about his life should be told. Deliberately, this letter has bent the stick. But, I believe Harry’s portrait needs painting, Stalinist warts and all.
It is not generally known that John McGovern’s pamphlet Terror in Spain referred to in Revolutionary History No.2, p.40, Introduction, was withdrawn by the Independent Labour Party. This, too, is part of the hidden history of the Spanish Civil War.
The Communist Party accused the ILP of helping Franco by the publication of anti-Communist propaganda. The ILP leadership disowned the pamphlet and withdrew it from official circulation. This action was defended by Fenner Brockway with pleas for working class unity.
Brockway had previously explained to Harry Wicks that whilst the Moscow Trials were regrettable in the interests of working class unity, he could not lead a campaign against the murder of Lenin’s comrades. (Harry Wicks related this to Al Richardson in interviews on 11 March and 1 April 1978.)
So now once more in the name of unity, a proletarian revolution could be strangled and Stalinism could continue its counterrevolutionary activities without ILP opposition.
Small wonder that in later years the Communist Party of Great Britain and Fenner Brockway could become comfortable sleeping partners. They earned each others' respect.
For some inexplicable reason, my preface to Hugo Oehler’s Barricades in Barcelona, the report of the events leading up to the Barricades, and the actual report followed by the addendum of the CNT to Souchy’s pamphlet which were all intended by me to be published as a sequence, have been separated and distributed through the pages of the journal as though having no connection, thus diminishing their effect.
Six items and four and a half pages separate Negrete’s report of the events leading up to May the Second, page 34, from where they should have been, before Oehler’s Barricades, page 23.
Eight items and six pages separate the Manifesto of the National Committee of the CNT, page 36, from where it should have been at the end of Oehler’s Barricades, page 29. I had specifically referred to this Addendum as being reproduced below and it was intended to serve as evidence of CP connections with right wing parties and also the attitude of CNT leaders to the Republican Government.
The notes say Russell Blackwell was twice released from the Spanish police through the intervention of the US authorities. This though ‘technically’ correct is not entirely true. It was easier for a US or British citizen to obtain release from Spanish jails at that time. If you were a left winger from Fascist or Stalinist territory you had little chance of escape. (Blackwell pointed this out at his first meeting after arriving back in New York). Nevertheless it was necessary to form a Defence Committee and conduct a wide campaign in order to get Blackwell out of the Spanish jail. It was precisely this ability of the left in the USA and Britain to campaign on behalf of the victims that made the Republican Government more responsive to protest.
The Negrete-Blackwell Defence Committee, set up in New York, was composed of members of the Revolutionary Workers League, Socialist Workers Party (Trotskyists), Independent Labor League (Lovestoneites), Social Democratic Federation, Challenge (Anarchists), Canadian League for a Revolutionary Workers Party, and other groups and individuals. Meetings and picketing of the State Department and the Spanish Embassy were carried out. A report states:
Trotsky wrote to the American and Spanish Consulates in Mexico City, denying that Blackwell was connected with him and added: “I do not know whether the other accusations against Mr Blackwell are of the same kind”.
Norman Thomas, John Dewey, John Dos Passos and other wired the US State Department urging efforts to secure Blackwell’s safe release.
In the light of all this to say that the US authorities secured Blackwell’s release is hardly a fair summary, and must appear somewhat churlish to those of that time, who exerted themselves on his behalf.
More Spanish problems
I refer readers to the international Spartacist tendency comment upon my article Stalinism and Spain in Revolutionary History No.2. The reason why my article did not contain a critique of popular frontism and the politics of the POUM are two-fold. Firstly it was concerned with the connection between Stalinist repression in Spain during the Civil War and the dictates of Soviet foreign policy. The Popular Front was, of course, mentioned, as it was a key aspect of Stalinist policy but, to lead on to the second point, it and the politics of the POUM were discussed in the articles in the journal by Pierre Broué, Keith Hassell, Walter Held and Hugo Oehler.
I had no intention “to amnesty” (as the Spartacist comrades put it) the POUM or any other non-Stalinist organisation. For the record, I am in full agreement with Trotsky’s criticisms of the POUM, Georges Vereeken, Victor Serge, the Anarchists, etc., etc.
As for the charge of Stalinophobia, well, if trying to explain the rationale behind the Stalinist terror – let us call it that – in Spain against anyone who stood to their left, is ‘Stalinophobia’, then I plead guilty. Perhaps readers would like to pass judgement upon Leon Trotsky, whom I shall now quote.
In his famous 1937 pamphlet The Lessons of Spain – the Last Warning, Trotsky wrote that the bourgeois republicans “wished to keep the revolution within bourgeois limits” and added;
Hence we can understand their toleration of the GPUs activities.
Yes, the Stalinists were the key force in the maintenance of the bourgeois republic, without their use of the methods of Franco (please note), the bourgeoisie would not have survived:
It is obvious, therefore, whatever the betrayals or vacillations of other political forces in the Spanish republic (all of which received Trotsky’s stern criticisms), he saw Stalinism as the crucial element in the defeat of the Spanish revolution.
Will Trotsky now be found guilty of ‘Stalinophobia’?
Updated by ETOL: 5.7.2003