Nicola di Bartolomeo

The Activity of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain and its Lessons

The Trotskyists in Spain during the Civil War were divided into two groups, one outside the POUM, whose history is more well known from the work of its leader Grandizo Munis, publishing La Voz Leninista, and a smaller group inside the POUM led by Nicola di Bartolomeo, publishing El Soviet. The former organisation was recognised as the official representative of the world Trotskyist movement, whereas Bartolomeo’s group was politically aligned with the French PCI (International Communist Party) led by Raymond Molinier and Pierre Frank. The views of the official section are well represented in this book in the accounts of Bortenstein, Sedran, Mangan, Rous and Freund, so we take the opportunity of reproducing this dissident view here. The El Soviet group sharply criticised the behaviour of the Bolshevik-Leninists, considering that they had excluded themselves from the POUM by their own sectarian behaviour, and that by their subsequent ultra-leftist conduct they had become entangled in a GPU provocation against the POUM.

This highly polemical piece also takes issue with a report sent from the Belgian Trotskyists in Spain to their Central Committee. It first appeared over the pseudonym of “Fosco” as L’Activité des B-L en Espagne et ses enseignments, in the Internal Information Bulletin of the PCI, no.2, 15 October 1938. It is its first publication in full in any language, although a truncated version entitled Mon rôle à Barcelone en Aôut et Septembre 1936 was included by Pierre Broué in Leon Trotsky, La Révolution Espagnole, Paris, 1975, pp.624-8. The full text came to us from the archives of the Centro Studi Pietro Tresso in Foligno, Italy, to whose director, Paolo Casciola, we tender our thanks.

The report below comes from the pen of the veteran Italian revolutionary Nicola di Bartolomeo (1901-1946) who as part of his defence includes some of his political itinerary in the text, so we need only add his subsequent adventures here. When the POUM was suppressed in 1938, he managed to escape across the Pyrenees, but was arrested in France when the Second World War broke out and interned in Vernet concentration camp. After the fall of France the Pétain administration handed him over to the Italian authorities, and he was deported to Tremiti. After liberation in 1943 he helped to set up the Communist Workers Party (POC), the Italian Trotskyist organisation, but his privations had undermined his health, and he died two years later (cf S Bornstein and A Richardson, War and the International, London, 1986, pp.30-2, 87). Revolutionary History intends to publish a full length biography of him written by Paolo Casciola in the not-too-distant future, which has already appeared in Italian as 40 anni fa moriva un rivoluzionario: Nicola di Bartolomeo (Fosco) (1901-1946), in Il Comunista, Volume 7, nos.20-22 (new series), February 1986, pp.68-71. It can also be consulted in Appunti di storia del trotskysmo italiano (1930-45), Studi e ricerche series, no.1, Centro Studi Pietro Tresso, 1986, pp.35-43.

I have just learned of the existence of an ‘internal’ report of the activity of the ‘official’ Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain, a report written by the comrades of a Bolshevik-Leninist faction of the Belgian PSR [1], to which it is necessary to reply in order to prevent the confusion and hostile gossip about the activity of the Bolshevik-Leninists from continuing. The first thing that should be said about this report is its lack of a political basis and lack of a Bolshevik-Leninist critique of the problems of the civil war, of the positions adopted by the official Bolshevik-Leninists and by the International Secretariat in Spain, as regards the revolution as well as the policy of the POUM.

With these notes, along with what has been published in El Soviet of Barcelona, in La Commune and in La Verité, I hope to clarify some of these problems, and at the same time explain the activity of the two Bolshevik-Leninist groups, and the errors, ‘intrigues’ and so on, of the official Bolshevik-Leninist group.

On the personal question as far as it concerns myself, that is to say the allegations of “having used slander and discredit as political weapons”, such as are made in the report of the Belgian comrades, I will be brief ... but always in order to make better known the activity and the mistakes of the pseudo-Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain.

I have always considered that personal questions, when lightly dealt with (as do the Belgian comrades), allow great confusion, slander and falsification to be turned, not only into an instrument of opportunism, but also into means for the penetration of GPU provocation and of police provocation pure and simple.

If you read the report of the Belgian comrades, it appears that the official Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain have been involved only in manoeuvring, and that their leaders were only notorious manoeuvrers, etc. Posing the question in this way can only provide a justification for every aspect of the POUM’s counter-revolutionary policies. The remarks of the Belgian comrades are false from beginning to end, both factually as regards the policy of the Bolshevik-Leninists as well as to the disagreements on the subject of the POUM and the problems of the revolution.

A Few Words on the Arrival of the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain

We must go right to the heart of the matter, that is concerning the policy of the official Bolshevik-Leninists, their mistakes, and the counter-revolutionary policy of the POUM (the ex-Communist Left) in order to gain an accurate picture of the events of the civil war in Spain. The report of the Belgian comrades begins by declaring that “in view of the impotence and ridiculousness of the activity of these people [the Bolshevik-Leninists], who could not even gather information about the situation”, the Belgian comrades had to glean information from here and there, including from the leadership of the POUM. Now there’s a recommendation, if ever there was one! – and this is in order to take their furthest possible distance from the atmosphere of intrigues of the official Bolshevik-Leninists. So this is how the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists talk about the mistakes of the Bolshevik-Leninists of other countries! But why have the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists, instead of distancing themselves from ‘intrigues’, on the contrary done nothing to produce proper solutions which could create an atmosphere of trust and of revolutionary struggle among the Bolshevik-Leninists?

If the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists had done this, which is the only correct method, it is certain that their experiences would not have been so discouraging as they describe in their remarks, which only serve to convince themselves that the activity of the official Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain amounted merely to intrigues and personal rivalries in order to hold onto positions, etc.

Herein lies the error of the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists, who right from their arrival in Spain carried on a separate ‘political’ life, and sent groundless reports to their organisations. Such was the most characteristic feature of the Belgian comrades, of wanting to remain apart from the rest of the Bolshevik-Leninists in order to continue to be seen as ‘recommended’ people. Without exception, all of the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninist comrades who came to Barcelona were bearers of some letter of recommendation, whether as a whole or individually, signed by Victor Serge and Nin. As a result of these letters a resolution of the Executive Committee of the POUM decided that any of the comrades originating from abroad “should not waste the time of the Executive Committee”, and that F [Fosco] was charged by the Executive Committee with informing not only the ‘Trotskyist’ comrades but all the ‘foreign’ comrades coming to the POUM. In fact, the Belgian comrades showed more than any others that they were not satisfied – when this decision was communicated to them. In this context it is as well if we mention certain significant facts. Comrade Landau wrote to the POUM in order to come to Spain. Nin gave me the letter and asked me what I thought of it. Some days afterwards I told Nin that it would be good to allow Landau, who had been expelled from France for personal reasons, to come. Nin replied that I could allow it on my own responsibility, and I replied that I would think about it.

Some days afterwards I spoke with Andrade, and told him to let Landau come. In agreement with Andrade, we did what was necessary, and in a few days Landau was in Barcelona. Nin told me that he had been impressed by him, whereas I told Nin that I had received a bad impression.

It was the same sort of thing with Sedov’s [2] letter brought by Rous, asking to come to Spain, being “desirous of placing himself at the disposal of the military work of the POUM”. Nin gave me the letter and told me to do what I thought best, but I, however, insisted on knowing what he thought about it. He replied that he knew Sedov well, but that he probably knew nothing about military problems ... and that it would be better to wait, but that the decision was mine. This was discussed with Rous, who advised me against allowing Sedov to come to Barcelona at the moment, but to wait for a more auspicious time. The same thing happened with the arrival of comrade Molinier [3] in Barcelona.

After having spoken with him, Nin told me to do what I thought best. Rous, very worried, asked me to send him quickly back to Paris. After a discussion with comrade Molinier, I made him understand the reasons for his departure for Paris, in order not to break off contacts with the Old Man [Trotsky]. Molinier left the next day, and remained in contact with me. I could enumerate many facts of this sort.

The International Secretariat in Barcelona

The information of the Belgian comrades about factional work with the POUM comrades – and Andrade agrees with me – carried on by Rous and Péret in Madrid, not only does not correspond with the truth, but constitutes a fantastic and purely imaginary invention. Not only has Rous not started any factional work, either in Madrid or Barcelona, but at the time in question neither Nin nor Andrade wanted to talk to him, either in Barcelona or Madrid. On the contrary: just before Rous and Péret [4] left for Madrid, they presented themselves along with Sabas [5] to the Executive Committee of the POUM in Barcelona, who refused even to receive them. Following this refusal, Rous asked what he ought to do, as he had also been told to leave the Hotel Falcón.

I replied that this attitude was not a personal question, but a political one that involved all the Bolshevik-Leninists, of establishing their relations with the POUM. I was then charged with doing what was necessary to speak with the ex-Communist Left of the party’s Executive with a view to a discussion between the International Secretariat and the POUM comrades, whether as individuals or as members of the Executive Committee.

During this discussion between Rous of the International Secretariat and myself, disagreements began to appear over the attitude of the Bolshevik-Leninists towards the POUM, and over the problems of the revolution and of the construction of the party.

Upon his arrival in Barcelona, Rous had introduced Péret to me as a sympathiser of the Fourth International and Sabas as being from the Paris Regional Committee of the POI. Two weeks afterwards Rous designated Péret as the representative of the Fourth International in Barcelona, and that is when the split between the International Secretariat and myself was declared.

The Factions of the International Secretariat Controlling the Arrival of Stelio in Barcelona

During this time Stelio presented himself – having a few months previously been accused by the Italian Maximalist Party of being an agent of the Italian police. I had made a request in Paris, in opposition to Blasco, for the admittance of the Nostra Parola faction of the Bolshevik-Leninist Group, of which I was Secretary, into the Italian Socialist Party.

This Stelio presented a letter from Blasco recommending him to see me as a Bolshevik-Leninist who was ‘experienced’ ... A little afterwards he requested to talk privately with me to let me know that he had been sent to Barcelona to control Rous in the name of the International Secretariat (Blasco [6] and Naville) ... Confronted with this unexpected declaration on the part of a youth, who had still been a Fascist student in Rome only a few months before and passed over to the Bolshevik-Leninists, who had now come to control one of the International Secretariat in the name of the International Secretariat, with all these reservations I thought it necessary to see what this concealed so as to be able to take drastic decisions. I sent for Rous and asked him if we were in a Stalinist party under the control of the GPU, or in the Bolshevik-Leninists, and to know which of the two of them represented the International Secretariat. That same day Stelio took advantage of an opportunity to steal a letter addressed to Molinier in Paris from the table in the office, and gave it to Rous. This Stelio is the only Bolshevik-Leninist to whom Fosco had said that any fresh action of this type would risk him being accompanied to the border by militiamen. In spite of all this, an agreement was concluded to regard Stelio merely as a frivolous gossip and to send him back to Paris. But the relationship between Rous and myself had been made worse. That night I spoke with Nin and Andrade for a discussion with the International Secretariat, and to establish the terms for the collaboration of the Bolshevik-Leninists with the POUM. Nin had decided not to speak with Rous, but rather, on my insistence and on account of the political importance I ascribed to it, to have contacts and collaboration with the Old Man. Nin and Andrade accepted a discussion in front of the Executive Committee and not as a faction. It was on this occasion that I told Nin that I was abandoning my work, to which Nin replied that only after a discussion before the Executive Committee to establish the relations with the Bolshevik-Leninists with the party could this other problem be discussed, and for this reason I had to continue with my collaboration. In fact, in the morning the Executive Committee, convened as a whole, discussed the proposals that Rous had made in the name of the International Secretariat. Neither Andrade nor Nin took part in the discussion. Because of his status as a sympathiser, Péret took no part in this meeting.

In his report Rous proposed the incorporation of all the Bolshevik-Leninists into the armed formations of the POUM, the collaboration of the Old Man in La Batalla, and an international campaign by the Bolshevik-Leninists in favour of the workers’ militias of the POUM, etc.

It should be said that these agreements were followed to the letter. During the first month (August) the Bolshevik-Leninists acquired considerable influence among the ranks of the POUM, which could have had a decisive importance if the International Secretariat had had a correct policy on the problems of the revolution and a Leninist tactic towards the POUM.

What was the Policy of the International Secretariat and Its Position With Regard to the POUM?

Upon their arrival in Barcelona, Rous and Sabas brought with them the last number of La Lutte Ouvrière reproducing the letter of comrade LD [Trotsky] on the POUM and against “the traitors Nin and Andrade” [7], to distribute it to the Bolshevik-Leninists and amongst the POUM. That alone was enough to condemn the entire policy of the International Secretariat and of the POI on the question of the Spanish Civil War, and in particular the POUM. This letter is well known to all Bolshevik-Leninists. It denounces correctly the Popular Front policy of the POUM in 1935, the fusion of the Workers and Peasants Bloc with the ex-Communist Left, and condemns Nin and Andrade for all their centrist policies in tow to Maurínist Catalanism, etc. Was this letter correct? Yes. Did it (a letter written before Franco’s insurrection) have to be published and distributed at this time? No. Such was my position as against Rous and the International Secretariat, and which I considered as correct.

I was opposed in the discussion to the distribution of La Lutte Ouvrière containing this famous letter. Without exaggerating, the Bolshevik-Leninist comrades did not know how best to proceed. But it was decided not to distribute the letter. This letter provoked a discussion about the attitude that the Bolshevik-Leninists ought to adopt towards the POUM, over the political positions that it was obliged to adopt if it was to define a correct revolutionary orientation and perspective towards the civil war, and over the question of the party.

I will summarise in a few words the position that I defended in this discussion, the consequences of which I continued to expound in El Soviet, which was published for 18 months in Barcelona. [8] I supported the entry of the Bolshevik-Leninists into the POUM, after having carried out a selection of our cadres, for the elaboration of a political declaration of our positions upon the question of the civil war and of the party of the Fourth International. This presupposed the formation of an international centre of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Barcelona in order to conduct a struggle on the basis of revolutionary Marxism against the two right of centre factions of the POUM, and for the ‘reconstruction’ within and outside the POUM of a party under the banner of the Fourth International. This was the only correct way to prepare the proletariat for the struggle for power, in opposition to the centrist policy of the POUM and its anti-Fascist Popular Front policy. The main task of the Bolshevik-Leninists consisted of uniting the revolutionary forces of the CNT-FAI and of the POUM in the revolutionary committees against the policy of participation of both Anarcho-Syndicalism and the POUM, which allowed them to accept the dissolution of the revolutionary committees in September. They were dissolved because there was no revolutionary opposition either outside or, especially, within the POUM that could have prevented it, an opposition that only the Bolshevik-Leninists could have constructed – had they been within the POUM in that situation. It is certain that a correct policy carried out inside the POUM by the Bolshevik-Leninists would, if not actually preventing the dissolution of the committees, at least have hampered it to a considerable degree, as well as preventing the participation of the POUM in the bourgeois government.

Even if this was not successful, it is certain that an opposition of such political significance would have allowed the basis of a new party of the revolution to be built. To defend this position, I had to struggle against the incomprehension of the majority of the comrades and against the opportunism and adventurism of Rous and the International Secretariat.

The Old Man did not speak about these ‘lessons of Spain’ when he was writing The Last Warning.

True enough, Rous did not oppose my positions openly, but he did sabotage their implementation under the pretext that the ex-Communist Left had not wanted to accept the formation of the Bolshevik-Leninist faction.

So as not to split, I even accepted Rous’ proposal first of all to discuss with the ex-Communist Left about the formation of the faction, and see what happened then. Rous and Fosco were entrusted with presenting this plan for a faction to Nin, Andrade and Molins [9] of the ex-Communist Left. Nin and Andrade mandated comrade Molins in the name of the ex-Communist Left to meet with the Bolshevik-Leninists. The discussion of this problem opened at the offices of La Batalla, Rous and Fosco being present for the Bolshevik-Leninists, and Molins for the ex-Communist Left. Molins declared in the name of his faction that they could not accept our proposal for a faction inside the POUM, that it was necessary to keep to the agreement concluded in the party Executive Committee, and that the Bolshevik-Leninists could enter without encountering any obstacles. The reasons for this refusal? It is mainly necessary to take account of the centrist position of the ex-Communist Left after its split with the Bolshevik-Leninists in 1935 and their agreement with Maurín in creating the POUM of not accepting factional work with political formations outside the party. But the bureaucratic method of running things from above, of the infallibility of the International Secretariat and of its misunderstanding of a whole series of tactical problems, etc., facilitated the sliding of the ex-Communist Left into the most dangerous opportunism and betrayal.

After this unfortunate meeting Rous began an open struggle against Fosco, accusing him of everything, of wanting to make the Bolshevik-Leninists enter the POUM in order to liquidate the Fourth International in Spain, of being an agent of the POUM, that his proposals to make the Bolshevik-Leninists enter the POUM were made in agreement with traitors to the working class (Nin, Andrade, etc.) in order to struggle against Trotsky and the true Bolshevik-Leninists like ... Rous.

From August onwards the struggle within the Bolshevik-Leninists was out in the open, to the advantage of the centre-right faction of the POUM, Gorkin, Bonet, Arquer, Rovira, etc., to the disgust of those comrades of the POUM who were sympathisers of the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Fourth International.

Andrade was the best informed of all these dealings, and he went to extremes against the comrades of even his own faction to facilitate the entry of the Bolshevik-Leninists into the POUM in order to have direct contacts with the Old Man. The three telegrams sent by us to the Old Man never received a reply. Nor was Nin any more ignorant of our plans, and, to tell the truth, during the first two months of the civil war he never personally declared himself against the entry of the Bolshevik-Leninists into the POUM, nor against the Fourth International, to which he was closer than he was to the London Bureau.

And if the attitude of the POUM, of the ex-Communist Left, in other words, was to transform itself into a pronounced hostility towards the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Fourth International, this followed from the false positions of the International Secretariat and the lack of any revolutionary perspective on its part on the Spanish events. My position was even more complicated after these events: following my split from the International secretariat, Andrade and Nin asked me to make a declaration and to enter the POUM, which they saw as the only proper solution. Gorkin was instructed to meet me to pose to me the question of joining the party after the publication of my declaration.

Following upon these ‘pressures’, I replied to Andrade that I could enter the POUM with a Bolshevik-Leninist political perspective, at the same time being an international faction of the Fourth International, but never personally; but that I would not follow the International Secretariat, because it held incorrect positions on a series of problems of the revolution, and that without a Bolshevik-Leninist faction, the POUM could only play an opportunist and counter-revolutionary rôle. I spoke for the last time with the comrades of the Executive Committee of the POUM on 9 October.

Important Information

I have always considered that the political struggle for the construction of the revolutionary leadership of the working class, particularly in Spain, with its Anarcho-Syndicalist traditions, is a serious problem which must be dealt with methodically and on a doctrinal basis.

In order to do this, I maintain that for a revolutionary party to be built within the revolutionary process of a civil war, it cannot be posed in a void, outside the POUM, and in ‘opposition’ to the ex-Communist Left. Even today, still taking account of all the changes brought about by the events, I still consider the entry of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists into the POUM to be correct.

I will return to this problem and deal with it thoroughly. The first act of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain that August should have been to have entered the POUM.

To proceed, as Rous and the International Secretariat did, to pose the problem of constructing the revolutionary party outside the POUM and against the ‘traitors’ of the ex-Communist Left, even with the ‘glorious’ Munis-Zannon [10] section, etc., was not only the most dangerous adventurism, but amounted to the worst possible sabotage of the construction of a revolutionary party, if you take account of the fact that this was done by carrying out a split with the old Bolshevik-Leninists of the El Soviet group, the most reliable and capable comrades.

When this ‘glorious’ section then became transformed into a combat machine of the GPU against the Fourth International, who can have been surprised by that? [11]

It should not be forgotten that our relations with the POUM (the ex-Communist Left) were very good during the first two months. On his arrival in Barcelona Rous had participated with me in the first meeting of the POUM. In agreement with me he had written in the hall a letter saluting the Spanish proletariat in the name of the Fourth International, and I carried the message to the platform for the President to read out. Nin asked me what it was about. I replied that it was a greeting from the Centre of the Fourth International to the Spanish proletariat. After Nin had finished the concluding speech, saying that the way for the revolution was that shown by Lenin and Trotsky, he himself read out the greeting of the Fourth International. The meeting ended with the singing of the Internationale, with the entire hall, fists raised, acclaiming Lenin and Trotsky. When Nin began to slide at the end of August, Andrade proposed to me the organisation of a faction to struggle against the centrism of Nin. But this faction could never be established, due to the anti-Leninist and stupid policy of the International Secretariat.

Yet more typical facts: Pivert was not able to speak in the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona as Gorkin had wished, because, in agreement with Andrade who was in the hall, I had taken the floor to denounce the treacherous policy of Pivert and his complicity with Blum with regard to non-intervention, etc. Gorkin told me that Pivert would not speak in order to avoid a ‘polemic’, but I should not insist any further. The successful struggle I carried out against the Collinets and their reformist and centrist friends to exclude them from the POUM information bulletins (of which I was in charge) as well as from the Hotel Falcón, and the struggle against the SAPists, the Maximalists and the Brandlerites in order to prevent them from occupying leading positions, [12] took place until the middle of September in agreement with Nin and Andrade.

When comrade Wolf (and Moulin), who had been sent by the International Secretariat, and even by Rous himself (Rous has personally admitted this in a debate in Paris) appeared at my place in Barcelona after the May events, proposing to me fusion with the ‘section’, they declared that I was 100 per cent correct, but that I must issue a declaration against the PCI and La Commune. [13] I replied that I would never lend myself to this sort of manoeuvre of low politics, and if unity had to take place on a compromise in this vein, I would prefer to struggle on my own.

In a few days Wolf was obliged to admit that the ‘glorious’ section was only a group of scoundrels, and declared that Fosco was correct when he proposed that the cadre should be reselected before any work was started. But it was too late, and he was to pay for his imprudence with his life, as did Moulin ... I do not know if Wolf was sent by comrade LD [Trotsky], but everything points in that direction.

I have come to think that had Wolf been able to make a decision from his own observations of what he had seen in Barcelona of the crisis of the Bolshevik-Leninists, without allowing himself to be confused by the ‘balancing’ policy of the International Secretariat, which was accustomed to carry on politics by means of manoeuvres, I am sure that he would not only have not been betrayed and assassinated by the GPU, but also that there could now exist in Spain a strong factional group of Bolshevik-Leninists fighting on the programme of the Fourth International, both inside and outside the POUM, instead of the present bankrupt spectacle.

And despite everything, we can still make a start, but by posing the Spanish problem on a clear basis, the crisis of the Bolshevik-Leninists on the international plane, to provide a solution that is wholly correct.

Some Words about a Polemic Between Crux and Vereeken

To understand the mistakes of the Bolshevik-Leninists and of the International Secretariat concerning the problem of the revolution and of the party in Spain, it is impossible to follow Comrade Crux [Trotsky] in his reasoning against Comrades Vereeken and Sneevliet. [14] Comrade Crux believes that in order to understand the tragedy of the vanguard of the proletariat in Spain, it is sufficient to carry on a struggle against the false positions of Vereeken, and even more against those of Sneevliet, on the question of the POUM, whilst forgetting everything else.

Comrade Crux went as far as justifying the false policy of the International Secretariat, and “covering with all his international authority the policy of the glorious Bolshevik-Leninist section in Barcelona”, whether as regards the POUM or in all the other problems of the civil war.

And this would be justified by the fact that even before the July events, Trotsky had made a correct criticism of the POUM and the ex-Communist Left for their Popular Front policy, etc. ... As long as the problem is posed in this way, the Bolshevik-Leninists or, to be more precise, the International Secretariat, will always be right, and it is unthinkable that anyone should want to understand what errors they may have made.

But the greatest error of Comrade Crux, badly informed as he is by the secretaries of the International Secretariat, amounts to defending a ‘section of scoundrels’, of unprincipled persons, the foundation of which was the result of the International Secretariat expelling Fosco from the ‘official’ Bolshevik-Leninists.

The formation of the Bolshevik-Leninist section is more due to GPU provocation work than to the correct policy of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Barcelona or of the International Secretariat, which has shown a truly criminal incompetence in all the most important problems of the revolution. On this account there exists a series of documents which I published in El Soviet for a year and a half in Barcelona, as well as other documents that have appeared in La Commune and La Verité, etc.

Comrade Vereeken is mistaken when he demands the participation of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the Brussels Conference of the London Bureau. [15] Doesn’t Vereeken know that even the ex-Communist Left of the Executive Committee of the POUM, and Andrade in particular, have defined this conference as an unprincipled parade of the opportunism and centrism of the London Bureau and the party ...? On account of these internal divergences of the POUM and the ex-Communist Left, Nin did not take part in this conference.

The position of Comrade Vereeken on the problem of the party and on the POUM that allows him to consider a possible evolution of the POUM towards the left in order to transform itself into a revolutionary party is a centrist position determined by making concessions to the POUM’s policy of betrayal in Spain.

A correct solution of the problem of the party in Spain in the course of the civil war was for the Bolshevik-Leninists to be organised as a faction in the POUM, to open fire against the centre and the right, to expel them from the party, to leave the London Bureau and to adhere to the Fourth International. I have had the occasion to speak on this question with Molins in Paris, and in spite of the experience of the bankruptcy of their party, he still considers as correct the position defended in Barcelona in the presence of Rous and myself.

How are we to explain that neither Vereeken nor Crux has made any allusion to the crisis of the Bolshevik-Leninists of Barcelona? Is this perhaps because they do not know what happened in Barcelona? I think that this is part of the methods of the International Secretariat and of those comrades who have an interest in keeping silent over the crisis of the Bolshevik-Leninists of Barcelona.

A Demoralising Gossip in the Ranks of the Bolshevik-Leninists

The declaration of Stelio that the POUM wanted to have Pino, who was wrongly accused by Fosco, shot, is an infamous calumny. Neither Pino nor any other bandits of his type, on account of the fact that they have been able to cover themselves with the label of Bolshevik-Leninists, have ever been threatened with being shot by the POUM.

The truth is that during the entire time of my collaboration with the Executive Committee of the POUM in July to September, the POUM has always shown towards the Bolshevik-Leninists, or to those who defined themselves as such, a regard and a better treatment than towards the other working class factions who came to the POUM.

The fact that the [internal] Bulletin of the POI has published that the POUM wanted to shoot some Bolshevik-Leninists can only lend itself to one of two hypotheses: either a GPU or police provocation is operating to great effect, or the leaders of the POI are cretins and unscrupulous scoundrels.

The reprisals and expulsions of the Bolshevik-Leninist comrades from the Hotel Falcón that are talked about in the report of the Belgian comrades are so much invention, with the sole aim of personally discrediting one or another leading comrade. But let the Belgian comrades name just one Bolshevik-Leninist comrade or one proletarian revolutionary who has been expelled from the Hotel Falcón! All that the Belgian comrades can say is that after the seizure of the Lenin Barracks following a struggle of the POUM against the CNT, it was clear that no militia comrades should have remained at the Falcón, but at the barracks, like all the rest of the Spanish militia comrades of the POUM.

The departure of the Belgian comrades for the front was not only the normal thing, but it was the last point of agreement between the POUM and the Bolshevik-Leninists, and it was broken in the month of October at the instigation of the idiotic policy of the POI, that is to say, the mass resignation of all the Bolshevik-Leninists from the POUM column.

And this was confirmed by the orientation adopted by the official Bolshevik-Leninists of going towards the CNT, the FAI and the Friends of Durruti, which I opposed in El Soviet and then in La Commune. This is fresh proof of the unprincipled politics and of the zigzagging of the leaders of the POI and the International Secretariat over the problems of the revolution in Spain that has done so much damage to the international working class.

And Now the Fosco ‘Case’

The report of the Belgian comrades is positive about the matter of the Fosco question, whereas they cannot tell ‘truth or lies’ on all other issues. With their well known lack of seriousness the POI militants in charge (who are these POI militants?) have collected together in Barcelona, following the events, all those who felt they were or wished to proclaim themselves as Bolshevik-Leninists, and they thus formed the group in which was to be found ‘Fosco’, a parvenu and a known intriguer. And the report continues: “It is this individual who for his personal ends began a crafty operation in order to have all those suppressed [perhaps the Belgian comrades can give a few names ...] who were putting at risk his position as Secretary.”

It is utterly false to say that the POI organised the Bolshevik-Leninist group in Barcelona, which in reality never existed during the first few months of the movement, and all efforts to construct it were sabotaged, so it happens, by the POI when Rous came to Barcelona.

Fosco had no reason to ‘suppress’ anybody to defend his ‘position’ from the simple fact (without taking account of any others) that Fosco had been appointed in writing by the Executive Committee of the POUM (signed by Nin) independent of any other meeting of the party or of the Bolshevik-Leninists as the political delegate for the Executive Committee of the POUM for the control and organisation of the ‘foreigners’. I could have kept this ‘position’ without suppressing ‘poor people’ on condition of joining the POUM and of being in agreement with its bankrupt policy.

In order to cut short the infamies circulated about me, I consider indispensable certain biographical notes about my political activity, because I think that among Marxists and Bolshevik-Leninists it is the only correct way that infamous criticisms made against revolutionary militants can be dealt with.

I joined the Socialist Youth at the age of 14 in 1915, from a Socialist family of the metalworking trade. I have been a Communist since the foundation of the Italian Communist Party in 1921. In 1922 I was sentenced to five years in prison at [...] for anti-[...] [text illegible] action, of which I served four and a half. When I emerged from prison in 1926 I continued the struggle in opposition within the ranks of the party. Because of a second sentence in my absence the Political Committee sent me abroad. I led the Communist groups of the Mediterranean in Marseilles in 1927 as Party Secretary. I was arrested and expelled in 1928. The party called me to Paris. During the discussion on the problems of the Chinese Revolution of 1927-28 the Control Commission of the Communist International confirmed the party’s decision of expulsion for ‘Trotskyism’ for opposition to the line.

I had already found myself in opposition to the Political Committee in Italy after the resolution of the party congress in Lyons, inspired by the theses and resolutions of the Fifth Congress of the Communist International.

I was expelled from the Opposition (the Bordigist faction) in 1930, following the separation of this faction from the International Left Opposition. I was expelled by a resolution of the Executive Committee of the faction after six months of discussion in Prometeo [16] for having defended the Bolshevik-Leninist position on the problem of the defence of the Soviet Union, the question of national minorities, colonial problems, and for the struggle for democratic demands – the theses of the Second Congress of the Communist International – and for the United Front of all the working class organisations against the anti-Marxist concept of Bordigism. Arrested and expelled from Paris on the ‘Red First of August’ of 1929 in Saint Denis, I entered Belgium, was sent back after a week, and continued the struggle on returning to Paris.

When the Italian section of the Bolshevik-Leninist New Opposition was formed, its Executive Committee was comprised of Feroci, Santini, Fosco, Blasco and Giacomi. When it split in 1931 the expulsion of Fosco and Blasco from the Italian New Opposition was annulled by the International Secretariat.

Along with some comrades later murdered by the GPU in Spain I set up the Nostra Parola internationalist group in 1932, which from 1934 to 1935 was in opposition to the NOI and to the bureaucratic practices of the International Secretariat.

During the French turn the Bolshevik-Leninists of the Nostra Parola group entered the Italian Socialist Party of the Second International. In the name of the faction I was part of the national council of the party in order to defend the Bolshevik-Leninist positions of the Fourth International. I was expelled from the party in 1936 along with the majority of the Bolshevik-Leninist faction for ‘Trotskyist’ factional work.

Discovered in Paris, I was obliged to leave. I entered Spain in 1936; I was arrested in Barcelona on 5 May; by means of a campaign by the working class organisations – the CNT and in particular the POUM – in which Maurín made an intervention in the cortes in his capacity as an MP for the party, I was released without being expelled from Spain.

Before the July events my relations with the POUM were simply personal contacts with Nin, etc. In the course of discussions about the problems of the revolution and of the Fourth International (against which Nin never declared himself) and about the atrocious political life of the International Secretariat, relations between Nin, Andrade and myself took on a political form by what followed.

During the events of 19 July I was armed with a rifle in the streets at the side of the POUM, whom I considered closest to the positions of the Bolshevik-Leninists and who could understand our criticism, the Marxist language of the Fourth International. It was in the course of the first month of the civil war that I understood the capital importance of Bolshevik-Leninist factional work inside the POUM, and I drew even closer to them for collaboration, without, however, consenting to join the party.

A decision of the party proposed by Nin nominated me as ‘political delegate’ for controlling and organising the foreign groups of the POUM and to be solely responsible for this work to the Executive Committee of the party. This document is in my possession.

According to these short biographical notes covering more than 20 years of militant proletarian life, it transpires that I was always in opposition and adhered to the positions of revolutionary internationalist Marxism, not only in ‘theory’, but with my whole life ... My name, more than once replaced by a pseudonym, never appeared in capital letters in journals, as is the practice of parvenus and Social Democratic and Stalinist opportunists, etc. Being accustomed to revolutionary struggles, first in Italy and then in the emigration, not only of party and faction, but even of factions within factions, I know and understand all too well the degeneration of the working class movement through the infamous politics of reformism and Stalinism ... for a whole series of other considerations, the accusations of the Belgian comrades neither surprise nor touch me ...

This does not excuse the Belgian comrades, who are responsible for the most defamatory gossip. On the contrary, I demand of the Belgian comrades that they explain themselves precisely, or I have the right to label their accusations against me as akin to the monstrous falsifications of Stalinism.

To finish: I think that the ‘remarks’ in the report of the Belgian comrades who wish to take on ‘the appearance’ of struggling against the ‘degeneration’ of the leaders of the POI and the International Secretariat in order to regenerate the working class movement within the Fourth International are following the least appropriate method, leading to opposite results.

Criticism levelled against ‘gossip’, intrigues and adventurers such as is made in the report of the Belgian comrades is not sufficient to struggle against the opportunism and adventurism of the system of the POI and the International Secretariat. To be able to build better, it is necessary to have ideas and principles and a sound Marxist method in order to be able to apply them in the political struggle against the stream, or else ...

Such is the tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninists.

Bolshevik-Leninist greetings



1. This reference appears to be to a letter from Stoop, a member of the Central Committee of the Belgian PSR who was in Spain, cf. G. Vereeken, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, London, 1976, p.163.

2. Lev Sedov (1906-38) was Trotsky’s son, most probably murdered by the Stalinists in a hospital in France. For Rous, cf. his account below, pp.345ff.

3. Raymond Molinier (1904-  ) was the leader of the dissident French Trotskyist organisation, the PCI (International Communist Party) formed in 1936, to which di Bartolomeo belonged.

4. Benjamin Péret (1899-1959) was a French Surrealist poet and Trotskyist activist at the time. He fought in the POUM militia on the Aragon front. He left the Fourth International after the Second World War in agreement with the criticisms made of it by Grandizo Munis and Natalia Trotsky. Cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 2 no.1, Spring 1989, pp.45-6.

5. Pierre Sabas was a cinema worker and a member of the POI (International Workers Party), the official French Trotskyist organisation.

6. Blasco was the pseudonym of Pietro Tresso (1893-1943), a leader of the Italian Communist Party and then of the French Trotskyists. He was murdered by the Stalinists after a prison breakout. Stelio was the pseudonym of Renato Matteo Pistone, the son of an Italian Fascist recently admitted into the Trotskyist movement, where he played a doubtful rôle, stealing a letter from Molinier to di Bartolomeo, claiming that he had been sent by the International Secretariat to keep an eye on Jean Rous, and asserting that the leaders of the POUM threatened to have him shot.

7. L.D. Trotsky, The Treachery of the POUM, 23 January 1936, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, New York 1973, pp.207-11.

8. El Soviet was the organ of di Bartolomeo’s dissident Trotskyists within the POUM, allied to the PCI of Molinier and Pierre Frank in France.

9. Narcis Molins i Fábrega (  -1964) was a journalist and a close collaborator with Nin upon the Executive Committee of the POUM before 1937, and afterwards in illegality.

10. Luigi Zannon was a member of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists arrested along with Munis and Carlini in 1938, who to begin with cooperated with the police in fabricating ‘confessions’ meant to be extracted from the others at their trial. He later retracted his testimony. Cf. the testimony of Carlini, below, pp.257-9.

11. The Bolshevik-Leninist group in Barcelona had been infiltrated by Max Joan and Léon Narvitch, agents of the GPU, who passed onto it funds to finance its paper, La Voz Leninista. They intended to use the group as an item in the future trial of the leaders of the POUM in order to construct a supposed ‘Trotsky-Fascist’ scenario such as was at that time taking place in Moscow. Before this provocation could take place Narvitch was himself removed by a POUM action squad in retaliation for the death of Nin, whom Narvitch had betrayed.

12. On the removal of KPO leader König from the editorial board of the POUM’s German language bulletin, cf. the account by August Thalheimer below, p.275.

13. The PCI, the dissident French Trotskyist group, published a paper called La Commune. It was condemned by the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938 along with the British Workers International League, but later reunited with the official French section in 1944.

14. Cf. L.D. Trotsky, A Test of Ideas and Individuals Through the Spanish Experience, 24 August 1937, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., pp.269-81; G. Vereeken, op. cit., pp.241ff.

15. G. Vereeken, op. cit., pp.159-60; L.D. Trotsky, A Test of Ideas and Individuals Through the Spanish Experience, op. cit., pp.273-5.

16. Prometeo was the journal of the Italian left Communist Bordigist group, which entered into relations with the International Left Opposition in 1929-32.

Updated by ETOL: 31.7.2003