Hans David Freund

Letters From Madrid

These letters and the following article are the work of Hans David Freund (1912-1937). The letters, dated 24 August and 27 September 1936, are translated from the Information and Press Service of the Movement for the Fourth International, nos 7 and 12, 4 September and 21 October 1936, in which they appeared under the name of ‘Moulin’. The article first appeared as La Dualité de pouvoirs dans la Révolution espagnole: la Question des Comités, Quatrième Internationale, no.3, March-April 1937, pp.28-30.

Freund, a “pure and devoted militant”, according to Katia Landau (Stalinism in Spain, Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.2, Summer 1988, p54), was born of Jewish parents in Germany, but spent most of his adult life abroad due to Hitler’s terror. He became disillusioned with Stalinism after a visit to the Soviet Union, appears to have studied at Oxford for a while, and then in Switzerland, where he organised a Trotskyist group amongst the students in Geneva. He went to Spain in September 1936, and whilst in Madrid he assisted Paul and Clara Thalmann in the German language broadcasts of the POUM group there, which was very much influenced by Trotskyism. He then went to the Guadarrama front, where the Stalinist Galán threatened to have him shot for promoting Trotskyist propaganda amongst the militiamen.

Early 1937 found him in Barcelona, where he tried to bring about a unification of the two Trotskyist groups, the El Soviet (Bartolomeo) and Voz Leninista (Munis) organisations, and was the main contact between the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Friends of Durruti at the end of April and the beginning of May. He found himself in charge of the Bolshevik-Leninists when the May Days broke, as Munis was in Paris consulting with the International Secretariat, and it was he who wrote the leaflet distributed on the barricades that was noticed by George Orwell (Homage to Catalonia, Penguin edition, p.148).

But the NKVD was closing in on him, as on so many others, and he had been photographed whilst on the barricades. He took refuge with the Anarchists, who extended their protection to other revolutionaries hunted by the Stalinists. Reports differ as to how he met his end. One is that he went to an Anarchist collective in the countryside, and was killed in a Stalinist raid on it. Another is that he was simply picked up by the NKVD in the street in Barcelona at the beginning of August and was never seen again. (Cf. the full and useful notes and introductions in Pierre Broué“s edition of Trotsky’s La Révolution espagnole, Minuit, 1975, and Freund, dit Moulin, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no.3, July-September 1979, p.135.)

Letter of 24 August 1936

The POUM has not ceased to be a centrist party. Even though it denounced its electoral pact with the Popular Front after the event, in fact it has never ceased to be the left wing of the Popular Front, carrying out a policy of sacred union with the anti-Fascist bourgeoisie. Even if it did refuse to enter into the Casanovas government [1], we ought to note that the PSUC itself had to withdraw after a few days under the pressure of the masses, and that the POUM did respond favourably to the invitation of the government to collaborate with the Economic Council of Catalonia, whose only function was the elaboration of draft laws intended to hold back and divert the movement for socialisation, restore the fortunes of the left bourgeoisie, create new parliamentary illusions among the masses, and to restore the class collaboration that had now become impossible for the government. The POUM is very proud of being the only party that did not submit its press to governmental censorship, but it refuses to denounce the Republican government openly as well as the parties of the Popular Front and the Anarchist leaders, allies in the government in the common cause of smashing the proletarian revolution and of preventing up to now the rapid and decisive victory of the anti-Fascist military forces, given that this victory, if it resulted in a revolutionary situation, risked being the prelude to the proletarian revolution. “Fascism is the only enemy”, such is always the message of the POUM ...

Even in Madrid, where the POUM is for the greater part composed of old left oppositionists from the Communist Party, the attitude of the POUM is more correct than in Barcelona. Thus, in contrast to the POUM in Barcelona, the Madrid POUM does not seem to have illusions in Caballero, etc.

The main slogan of the POUM at present is that of the workers’ government. But the POUM does very little to put this correct slogan into practice. It does not educate its cadres. It doesn’t, or hardly does, send propagandists to the front. It should have dissolved some of its combat units, and distributed the members in the Anarchist and other units. It does not have a correct tactic of the United Front. As well as working at the base, which it did insufficiently, it should at the same time have made overtures to the reformist organisations, etc, for talks on determining a date and a programme for a soviet congress, for which it makes propaganda in a general fashion, to be able at the same time to denounce the reformist leaders, etc, in the probable event of their refusal. Instead of alerting the working class to the Caballero-Prieto-Azaña Bonapartist danger, it confined itself to saying that the bourgeois government had become “useless’ (sic), and that only Socialism could rebuild the Spanish economy disrupted by civil war.

The POUM remains firmly linked internationally with the London Bureau. Pivert, translated by Gorkin, greeted the workers “in the name of the SFIO and the CGT” at a meeting of the POUM. The POUM seems to be in favour of an “International Congress of Marxist Reunification”. On the other hand, it is ready to accept unity in action with the Bolshevik-Leninists, particularly the French. Our task is to enter systematically into relations with the POUM, convey our interest in and understanding of the problems that are posed for it and for the entire working class vanguard, and to serve as a liaison between the French and Spanish proletariat.

The POUM’s manpower, along with its mass influence, is growing considerably. The POUM militias, which during the crucial night in Barcelona played an important part, have more than 10,000 members. The youth (Juventud comunista ibérica) has multiplied tenfold since the insurrection. The party cadres are growing stronger, and fresh local sections are set up every day. La Batalla is read with great interest. The POUM publishes a daily in Lérida. It has just started a weekly for its militias (El Combatiente rojo). Every week the POUM gains more influence in the Anarchist trade unions, and the Anarchist workers no longer confuse the POUM with the reformist ‘politicos’, etc. The influence of the POUM is equally strong in the UGT. It controls union executive positions throughout the whole country. The POUM militants, moreover, have their own trade unions (office workers, textiles, potash mines) which they are preparing for entry into the united trade union, the CNT, in which the POUM will have the majority control. Among the foreigners (above all among the Italians in Barcelona) the POUM can count upon a relatively strong influence. Including as it does at present some tens of thousands of members, if it continued its progress at the same rate during the coming months, it could win the majority of the conscious proletariat in order to proceed to the conquest of power.

There does not exist a revolutionary force in Spain outside of the POUM. We must work towards the Bolshevisation of the POUM, although we cannot predict whether it will accomplish this by changing its present leadership for another one, or by the evolution of its leaders in the direction of Bolshevism-Leninism.

Letter of 27 September 1936

Some weeks ago a letter of the SIP (International Press Service for the Fourth International) stated that the POUM had not ceased to be a centrist party and the left wing of the Popular Front, prophesying a policy of sacred union with the ‘anti-Fascist’ bourgeoisie. This judgement seemed to be too severe at the time to some of the Bolshevik-Leninist comrades of the POUM. In fact, these lines were written in the course of a relatively leftist period of the POUM, when it could be thought that the leadership was evolving towards Leninist positions. Well, it was nothing of the sort. The facts today, unfortunately, confirm completely the appraisal that was stated a few weeks ago. In the person of Andrés Nin the POUM has entered the government of the Generalitat of Catalonia in the capacity of the Minister of Justice. Is this in order to administer bourgeois or proletarian justice? According to La Batalla of 17 September (an article on the “necessity for forming a government or council conforming to the revolutionary needs of the present time”) the present government has the aim of resolving the duality of power in Catalonia. For the benefit of which class?

Has Companys decided to govern and carry on government in the name of the proletariat? The government’s executive power is concentrated in the hands of a minister of the Catalan Left. [2] Is this the executive power of the proletariat? Is the emancipation of the proletariat, then, no longer the task of the proletariat itself, but of the ‘anti-Fascist’ bourgeoisie? Nin has become a minister, but he did not become so by the decision of a congress of the militias, workers and peasants, any more than as a result of a victorious proletarian insurrection. He became this following upon negotiations in the antechamber of the bourgeois Generalitat of Catalonia.

A resolution unanimously decided by the Central Committee of the POUM is unfortunately the only document that has been published about this important meeting. Given the lack of any preparation and of any serious political motivation, it is on its own the most overwhelming expression of the centrism that has definitely taken hold among the leadership of the party. Instead of taking up a position with reference to the different problems that the revolution poses, the resolution concentrated upon one point alone: the justification of participating in the next government in Catalonia. So why, then, did it take so long to assume this liquidatory attitude? Why did it refuse point blank to participate in the Casanovas government? What has changed in it? Absolutely nothing, unless you want to base yourself upon the change of position by the Anarchists, which is also in a reformist direction.

The excuses that are invoked for this surrender are based upon several points. First of all is emphasised “the popular character of the organisations of the petit-bourgeoisie in Catalonia”. Who is making fun of whom? The ‘proof’ of this serves only to render the POUM worthy of its French ally, M. Pivert. (Its present differences with Pivert are simply a reflection of the real differences between the interests of the French Popular Front and the Spanish Popular Front.) Is not the party of Companys a reactionary party, then? The same La Batalla which described the Caballero government as a counter-revolutionary government (Madrid is far away, and Madrid governments have never been highly rated by the Catalan ‘people’) gave the title of ‘popular’ representative to Companys, who gave up without a serious struggle on 6 October 1934, instead of giving arms to the workers and peasants who were clamouring for them, and who also refused arms to the alerted proletariat a few hours before the Fascist insurrection of 18 July, so being responsible for the greater part of the deaths of the three glorious Barcelona days, the man who recently proclaimed that there was no land problem in Catalonia, the man who does not really represent the petit-bourgeoisie but the big bourgeoisie well and truly, on whose account he held back the progress of the revolution everywhere, sabotaging community control, protecting the banks, and undertaking the reconstruction of the army and the police.

This is what can be read in the Official Bulletin of the Catalan Generalitat:

Casanovas, the national hero of Catalonia ... There was a march past that lasted for four hours. Regimental bands, Republican troops and sisters and doctors of the Red Cross were marching in the street with red flags and the national colours of Catalonia. The militiamen were roundly applauded, as also were the shock troops and the Civil Guard, who had discarded the old three-cornered hat for the red-rimmed bonnet.

It was a perfect example of victory that is being announced here, that of the Popular Front over the proletarian revolution. In fact here is a bourgeois demonstration (a national demonstration) but in which all the working class organisations are taking part, as a preliminary to collaboration in the government of the Generalitat.

Our petit-bourgeoisie are not to be compared with the others, say our autonomous revolutionaries in the leadership of the POUM. Centrists and reformists in every country have always emphasised the exceptional popular character of the left bourgeois organisations of their respective countries. Is not the Radical movement in France social, progressive and secularist? Isn’t its basis the small peasantry, led by the advanced forces of the intellectuals of the land of France? What difference is there in fact between collaborating with Herriot [3] and with Companys?

The leaders of the POUM use yet another argument – that of the radicalisation of the petit-bourgeoisie and of some of their leaders during these last few weeks. This argument proves precisely the opposite of what it intends to support. Yes, the petit-bourgeoisie is radicalised: one proof of it, among others, is the abandonment of the union of rabassaires [4], Companys’ own trade union base, by hundreds of the Catalan small farmers in order to enlist in the workers’ trade unions. Is it, then, the time to enter a government formed by a reactionary leader of this organisation? As for the leftist language of the leaders of the petit-bourgeoisie, that is also a fact. This language (partly out of fear, and partly from calculation) is of a generally more revolutionary type than that of the Stalinists and reformists and the other ‘workers’’ representatives. But does it follow that we should ally with the former against the latter? The absurdity of this criterion of the POUM is self-evident.

It is stated in La Batalla that the revolution is assuming a more proletarian character every day. If the revolution is indeed going forward, then why are you accepting a programme that is manifestly going backwards compared with your programme six weeks ago? We are talking about the programme of the Economic Council, elaborated, so it seems, by Nin himself. In the governmental declaration it pretends that the economic programme of the government is identical with that of the Economic Council. A comparison between the two very quickly reveals the falsity of this assertion. The “monopoly of foreign trade to avoid foreign manipulation against the newborn economic order” is replaced by pure and simple ‘control’ of foreign trade, which exists in every capitalist country. The “compulsory collectivisation of agricultural products farmed by middle and small ownership” is replaced by a pure and simple appeal for “respect for small property”. The “prompt suppression of all taxes in order to attain a single tax” is replaced by a promise of “a prompt suppression of the different indirect taxes, in time and to the extent of possibilities’. These examples could be multiplied.

Before the formation of the new government La Batalla said that if it was to be worthy of the participation of the POUM it should affirm its intention to “translate into revolutionary legality the initiative of the masses who are moving in the direction of the Socialist revolution”. Today, on the other hand, the POUM is entering a government that proposes to end the war “quickly and victoriously”, to this end creating “compulsory militias’, and which only demands “the economic reconstruction [?] of the country”, whereas for all that the Economic Council had demanded the “collectivisation of the economy”. We criticised the participation of the POUM in the Economic Council at the time by declaring that its constitution, in spite of the revolutionary appearance of its programme, would only serve to divert and in other words break up the revolutionary wave. The march of events has yet again proved that we were right. The first revolutionary wave had hardly started to abate before the workers’ ‘leaders’ renounced essential points of the programme, proof that they had never taken it seriously in the first place.

In the sphere of the army the POUM was exposed yet again as fundamentally centrist. Did not the POUM on several occasions envisage a red army and soviets, and make political reservations about its submission to the technical authority of Madrid? Today La Batalla envisages its unconditional subordination to the General Staff. Isn’t this already virtually disarming the proletariat? Especially since orders from Madrid mean an end to any political or trade union intervention at the front and the formation of a new Republican army, within which the militias must dissolve themselves? The formation of an army of volunteers proved to be impossible, as the workers and peasants refused to enrol in it, and preferred to join the ranks of the workers’ militias. The militiamen tore off and burned their bourgeois army uniforms, preferring their rags to the costume of capitalist coercion. Are we going to witness Nin, the Minister of ‘Popular’ and ‘Catalan’ Justice, laying down a decree against these acts of disobedience? We will speak again more fully about the question of the army, which is a central question of the Spanish Civil War.



1. Juan Casanovas was a member of the Esquerra, the Catalan nationalists, who was entrusted by President Companys with forming a government in Catalonia on 2 August 1936. Although the Stalinists (Comorera) joined, there was such hostility from the CNT and the POUM that they had to withdraw, and his administration was replaced on 26 September. He was later involved in a failed Catalan coup d’état, and had to withdraw to France.

2. The Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, and Councillor for Defence in the Taradellas government were all members of the Catalan Esquerra.

3. Edouard Herriot (1872-1952) was the most well-known leader of the Radical Party in France.

4. The rabassaires was a union of leasehold tenant farmers, holding their land for the lifespan of the vines they cultivated, and looking to the Catalan nationalists to make their tenancies permanent.

Updated by ETOL: 31.7.2003