Kurt Landau

The Spanish Revolution of 1936 and the German Revolution of 1918-19

The text presented here was published in Barcelona in 1937 by Editorial Marxista, the publishing house of the POUM, in its Spanish Revolution series over the pseudonym of Wolf Bertram. Although it was originally written in German, only the Spanish version survives.

It was intended, so the editorial says, “to enlist the help of foreign comrades in studying the problems faced by the Spanish Revolution”, and was to be presented to the delegates coming from abroad to the proposed international conference that was to take place in Barcelona. Some of the representatives, such as Willi Brandt, had already arrived when the May Days resulted in the illegalisation of the party, and put a stop to the whole enterprise.

This essay is remarkable for its assertions that since a revolution had already started in Spain, it could only be rolled back by the sort of methods used by Noske and Scheidemann in Germany in 1918. Landau was one of the victims of such methods a few months later.

The only known copy of this remarkable text came to us by the good offices of Reiner Tosstorff from the library of the monastery of Montserrat, and our gratitude is due both to him and to our translator, John Sullivan.

False criteria of judgement

The Spanish Revolution, the greatest event since the period of 1917-18, has enormous significance, not only for the future of Spain, but for the international workers’ movement. Three years after the defeat without a struggle of the German working class, the most powerful in Europe, Spain shows once again what creative energy and limitless heroism the working class possesses. Let us not forget that during the most bitter years following the German catastrophe of 1933, there were those like Souvarine who even came to doubt the possibility of Socialism and the historic mission of the working class.

The contrast between Germany in 1933 and Spain in 1936 is so striking that those accustomed to judge events by abstract rather than historic criteria are led to false and dangerous conclusions. They consider the German workers’ movement as an historical fact counterposed to the Spanish workers’ movement. They reject not what was bad and superseded in Germany, but the entire German workers’ movement. At the same time they do a disservice to the Spanish proletarian revolution by idealising it rather than learning from it. Genuine revolutionaries are not lyric poets, but critical and progressive participants in the proletarian revolution.

It makes no sense to compare 1933 with 1936. We cannot compare a developing situation, such as that of July in Spain, with the final period of a revolution in decline, such as the events of 1933 in Germany. These should not be taken in isolation and then contrasted with the July Revolution in Spain. It is necessary to consider both revolutions in their totality and then compare them. We should limit ourselves to comparing the beginnings of the Socialist revolution in both countries, and draw out lessons on the character of both.

However, in that case we should study only the revolution of November 1918 in Germany, that is to say, the period when the proletariat overthrew the old regime, but did not seize state power, and consequently made possible the first consolidation of bourgeois society.

The Class Character of the July Revolution

The political degeneration of the Communist International forces us once more to clarify a question which was long ago resolved both in theory and practice – the question of the nature of both July 1936 and the November Revolution in Germany. Everyone knows that Stalinism considers that the July Revolution was a democratic event, whose sole objective was to create a democratic bourgeois republic. According to the Stalinist interpretation of history, the July 1936 insurrection was directly related to the bourgeois democratic revolution of April 1931. July had “to continue the legacy of 1931, and definitely establish the republic”.

It is true that the July 1936 and the April 1931 revolutions had common tasks: both faced the unresolved problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, primarily the national, agrarian and religious questions. In both revolutions the proletarian masses were its moving force. However, in spite of these common features, there is a fundamental difference – in April 1931 the leadership of the revolution fell into the lap of the liberal bourgeoisie, because the great majority of the revolutionary masses – whether of the working class, the peasantry, the middle class or the oppressed national minorities – then believed that the liberal bourgeoisie was capable and willing to solve the questions posed by the democratic revolution. The political confidence which the masses had in the bourgeoisie’s leadership placed insurmountable obstacles in the path of an immediate transition from the April Revolution to a Socialist revolution. Consequently, the Stalinists, with their crazy slogan of “Down with the Republic! Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat!” collided with this sentiment, and were inevitably smashed.

It required half a decade of the most bloody class struggles, the most shameful compromises by the bourgeoisie, the isolated and heroic rising of the Asturian people, and finally the crumbling of the briefly held hopes in the Popular Front between February and July 1936, for the Spanish proletariat to realise that, faced with the menace of counter-revolution, the Republic could not survive in a bourgeois democratic form but only in a Socialist one. The programme of the democratic revolution could not be carried out by the bourgeoisie, but only under the leadership of the working class.

That lesson has been clear to Marxists since the first independent rising of the proletariat in June 1848 in Paris. Marx’s advice to the German workers in 1850 penetrated deeply into the consciousness of the Spanish workers in the years from 1931 to 1936. Marx wrote advising them to fight separately, to create working class organisations independent of the victorious liberal bourgeoisie, and to continue the revolution, that is to say the permanent revolution. The Spanish proletariat saw the need to take the sole leadership of the revolution, and simultaneously to carry out its democratic tasks, and to begin the Socialist transformation of society. [1]

The greatest historical achievement of the Spanish Anarchists was in playing an active part in the transformation of working class consciousness. In spite of their false theoretical concepts, they participated in the July insurrection as a revolutionary force. In contrast, the Stalinists interpreted the 1931 democratic revolution as Socialist, and the Socialist revolution of 1936 as bourgeois democratic. If in 1931 they succumbed to revolutionary adventurism, in 1936 their position of defending the democratic republic, in a period of Socialist revolution, made them a reactionary force.

The Bourgeois and the Proletarian Revolution in Germany

Compared to five years in Spain, in Germany 70 years elapsed between the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions. Politically, the bourgeois revolution of 1848 failed, and political power remained in the hands of the Hohenzollerns. However, the advance of capitalism transformed Germany from a feudal into a capitalist state. The feudal and military Hohenzollern monarchy could only be maintained against the revolutionary rise of the proletariat by the closest union of all the dominant classes. If the bourgeoisie, alarmed by the spectre of Socialist revolution, took refuge in the arms of the monarchy, as it did in Paris in 1848, on the other hand, the feudal summit of society had to submit to the commanding laws of the economy and come to an agreement with the bourgeoisie, the economically dominant class.

In spite of the bourgeoisie’s defeat in 1848, Germany became a bourgeois state, where feudalism was a relic rather than the hallmark of the dominant class of society. The fact that bourgeois society retained its feudal parasites determined the political nature of the German bourgeoisie. Although it dominated society economically, it was only granted a portion of the state power. Not only was it non-revolutionary in relation to the monarchy, it did not even perceive it as oppressive. That was vividly demonstrated after the 1870-71 war, since only the proletariat opposed the monarchical regime.

In England and France, on the other hand, states which had carried out democratic revolutions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mass democratic parties were formed which enrolled a great part of the petit-bourgeoisie. By contrast, in Germany, pre-war Social Democracy expressed both the democratic aspirations of the masses and the specific objectives of the modern proletariat.

The Contradictions of Social Democracy in the Pre-war Period

Under the monarchy this double function led to the development of a large bourgeois-democratic wing, formed partly by the aristocracy of labour, but also partly by the democratic petit-bourgeois elements. In spite of the fact that Germany had become a modern state during the final third of the nineteenth century, in spite of the development of the social and economic conditions for a proletarian Socialist revolution, in spite of the polarisation of forces in the political arena (between the feudal remnants and capitalism on one side, and the proletariat on the other) nevertheless, before the 1914-18 war the immense majority of the German Socialists saw the proletarian Socialist revolution as a question of the distant future.

The right wing, consisting of the powerful trade union bureaucracy and the majority of the parliamentarians, was not merely reformist with regard to the established social order, but even in respect of the violent rule of what had long since become a bourgeois monarchy. The centrist wing of pre-war German Social Democracy, Bebel, Haase and Ledebour, were as deeply committed to the working class cause as were Vaillant and Jaurés in France, but they did not have truly revolutionary internationalist conceptions, because they were only able to develop in embryo in the pacific conditions of the pre-war Social Democratic International. Their thought was confined to a national framework, and, as Trotsky rightly observed, the move of the centrists to social patriotism during the war was due basically to their conviction that all the necessary conditions for Socialism were to be found within the boundaries of their own countries. For Vaillant and Guesde democratic France, with its revolutionary traditions and its brave and intelligent proletariat, was especially fitted for achieving Socialism; for the German reformists and centrists it was its own “fatherland” with its modern capitalist economy, its powerful proletariat, and its strong trade union organisations. [2]

Why a Revolutionary Party could not Arise in Pre-war Germany

The revolutionary Marxist current in pre-war German Social Democracy was weak, and politically neither homogeneous nor mature. Led by Rosa Luxemburg, it developed ideologically in the fight against the centrists, reformists and revisionists, and it became clear, once war was declared, that all the true revolutionary internationalists among the Social Democrats belonged to it.

However, in Germany pre-war left wing Social Democracy was only a current of opinion, and not an organised political force with a clear conception of its own revolutionary tasks. Party unity was considered as sacred. On that decisive question it submitted to the strong prevailing feeling of the German proletariat, which saw in Social Democracy its own class party. We must not forget that, until the split over the war, German Social Democracy was seen even by the Russian Bolsheviks as a revolutionary party, whatever their severe criticisms. The treason of 4 August was utterly disconcerting to Lenin.

The German revolutionary left can be understood only in the context of the specific conditions of the pre-war period. Stalin’s characterisation and historical judgement of the tasks of the German left, as expounded in his famous discussion with Slutsky in 1930, was accepted by many commentators, including those who rejected Stalin politically and theoretically, but suffered from the same dogmatic and ahistorical methods of thought characteristic of Stalinism.

Nevertheless, his characterisation was completely anachronistic. In the light of the experience drawn from the period of war and revolution from 1914 to 1923, the German left appears as half-hearted, vacillating   and semi-centrist. In 1930 Stalin complained:

But what could Lenin do, what could the Bolsheviks do, if the Left Social Democrats in the Second International, and above all in the German Social Democratic Party, were a weak and powerless group, a group without organisational shape, ideologically ill-equipped and afraid even to pronounce the word ‘rupture’, ‘split’?[3]

The split in Russian Social Democracy occurred in London in 1903, and became final in Prague in 1912. It was certainly not a break by Russian Social Democracy from the principles or organisation of the Second International, but only a very sharp struggle of tendencies within Social Democracy.

In Russia, because of the imminence of the bourgeois democratic revolution, problems of revolutionary tactics became not just party matters, but questions for the revolutionary masses. Such questions as the attitude to be adopted towards the liberals, the struggle over the nature of the party, the discussions about the relationship between the economic and the political struggles, and between spontaneity and consciousness, could not ultimately be resolved in a country with a stable and apparently immobile social order such as was the Hohenzollern monarchy of the pre-war period, but only in the Russia of 1904-14, collapsing and infected by revolutionary ferment.

Similar problems, such as, for example, the struggle against reformism in Germany, were questions of political propaganda and theoretical discussion, whereas in Russia they had become vital in relation to the approaching democratic revolution. It was this, not the energy and daring of the Bolsheviks in contrast to the “softness” of the German left wing Social Democrats, which determined that in Russia the idea of the sacred unity of the party was unable to develop, whilst in Germany it expressed the feelings, passions and thought of the working class. Obviously, the German left around Rosa Luxemburg had many weaknesses and made grave errors. Undoubtedly they should have learned from the Bolsheviks how to organise themselves as a political tendency, instead of accusing the latter of splitting Russian Social Democracy. However, in pre-war Germany the creation of a party like the Bolsheviks was completely out of the question.

Special Characteristics of the November Revolution

The Russian October Revolution and the July Revolution in Spain are the last stages of a democratic revolutionary process; they mark the change from the democratic to the more advanced form of the Socialist revolution. In contrast to proletarian revolutions originating in democratic ones, that of November 1918 was a sudden and independent outbreak, and from this point of view was more like the February Revolution in Russia, or that of April in Spain, than to the proletarian revolutions of July or October. The independent rôle of the conscious revolutionaries was relatively small. Military defeat broke the authority of the militaristic monarchy whose violence oppressed the discontented masses, who were both hungry and tired of the war. Military defeat produced a mass revolutionary insurrection, which went into battle with spontaneous violence, but lacked the political forces or conscious leadership capable of mastering the revolutionary torrent.

Reactionary and Revolutionary Forces in the German Revolution

When the November Revolution broke out there were four main forces within the working class. The anti-revolutionary tendency in Social Democracy was the largest. It immediately took a position against the revolution and, step by step, diverted the revolutionary wave. It eventually abandoned the monarchy, but was resolutely determined to safeguard the established order from “anarchy and chaos”. From the earliest days of the revolution German Social Democracy was the organiser of the anti-proletarian bourgeois counter-revolution.

In contrast to the consciously counter-revolutionary politics of the SPD, the Independent Socialist Party (USPD) was completely lacking in clarity. Its members included large numbers of class conscious workers, and its leaders were prepared to yield to some extent to mass pressure rather than become isolated. However, it was strongly influenced by the powerful SPD, which made it quite clear that it would forcibly oppose all revolutionary attacks on bourgeois property relations.

The politics of the USPD were determined by the pressure of these opposing forces. Mass revolutionary pressure made it formally advocate Socialism and a soviet state. SPD pressure made it propose that the workers’ councils be incorporated into a bourgeois democratic republic. Ultimately, it accepted a coalition with the SPD, and called for the election of a National Assembly. If the SPD represented the aspirations of the democratic counter-revolution within the November Revolution, the USPD, in spite of being absolutely proletarian in its social composition, represented the vacillations and contradictions of petit-bourgeois democracy. After all, the character of a party is not determined by the masses who support it, but by its politics and its dominant ideas, which sometimes reflect the influence of alien social forces.

The Spartacus League, founded by the left wing during the war and later to become the KPD, was the most conscious and mature expression of proletarian interests during the revolution. It was the only political party that called clearly for the seizure of power by the proletariat, and for the construction of Socialism and workers’ democracy – the democracy of workers’ councils. However, in spite of the immense political authority of its leaders, above all Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, in spite of the self-sacrificing organisational and conspiratorial activity of Leo Jogiches, and of the brilliant literary and political activity of Franz Mehring, the Spartacus League remained a small cadre organisation, during the war and in the decisive period of the revolution – from 18 November until the January 1919 insurrection.

If it was, nevertheless, able sporadically to influence considerable numbers, this was above all due to the fact that it cooperated closely with the revolutionary shop stewards” committees, the autonomous organisations which emerged during the war and played a decisive part during the revolution. [4]

Although illegal until the revolution, they immediately became the real leaders in the factories. But, inevitably, they lacked a clear political conception of the nature of the revolution and the tasks of the proletariat. Their rôle resembled that of the CNT in the July Revolution in Spain. Anarcho-Syndicalism in Spain and Anarcho-Communism in Germany grew rapidly as ill-defined currents, lacking political unity. This was not official trade unionism but a revolutionary current, close to Marxism, which during the revolution acquired an Anarcho-Communist character. It had a strong influence on the left wing of the Spartacus League, and later of the group which was expelled from the KPD at its Heidelberg congress in 1919, and which went on to create the Communist Workers Party (KAPD) and the Workers Union. The KAPD had a considerable influence on the Berlin proletariat during 1919-20. Its struggle against parliamentarianism and the reformist trade unions, and its call for a new organisation of the workers in the factories won the support of considerable numbers of advanced workers in the most important industrial centres of Berlin, the Ruhr and central Germany. At their height its unions had 500 000 members, and its fighting units, led by Max Hölz, played a very important part in the insurrection in central Germany in March 1921.

The German ultra left with its anti-trade unionism, anti-parliamentarianism and anti-authoritarianism was a variety of the Anarcho-Syndicalism familiar in Latin countries. It is possible that the second proletarian wave will see an insurrection headed by this current.

The Rôle of the Councils in the November Revolution

The balance of forces between the revolution and the counter-revolution within the proletariat was displayed in the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. Whilst the workers’ councils had some political experience, the soldiers’ councils had absolutely none. Petit-bourgeois and peasant elements predominated. The revolutionary workers’ forces, the Spartacus League, the revolutionary shop stewards and the more radical sections of the Independent Socialist Party, were unable, because of their political and organisational disunity, to win over the great mass of vacillating and indecisive elements. The reformists did. Their counter-revolutionary policy, and their desire for a coalition government were supported by the great majority of the immature and inexperienced members of the councils.

The counter-revolution began in Germany because the revolutionary organisations, influenced by the reformists, voluntarily rejected taking power and socialising industry. In the midst of the violent upsurge of the oppressed masses, with their passionate desire for freedom, the counter-revolution was able to begin only under the democratic flag. While the proletarian vanguard demanded that the revolutionary  workers’ democracy should exclude the ruling class from all participation in politics, the counter-revolution replied with “fraternity” “liberty” and “true democracy”, which included both exploited and exploiters, workers and bosses, peasants and landowners, soldiers and generals.

In the German Revolution the immense majority of the proletariat succumbed to the illusion that, because of its numbers and powerful organisations, the working class would be able to give the democratic republic a Socialist and proletarian content. It appeared unthinkable to them that the decomposing bourgeois order and the military forces of the counter-revolution, which had capitulated without resistance when confronted with the November Revolution, could acquire new life and force. In the event, this is exactly what did occur in Germany, where the proletariat comprised much more than half of the population. The counter-revolution began under reformist and centrist influence, because the majority of the councils refused to take political power and destroy the counter-revolutionary state machinery, while opting instead for the calling of a National Assembly. The “Socialist government”, shielded by this majority, put itself at the head of the bourgeois state apparatus, and forcibly repressed any attempt by the revolutionary proletariat to achieve Socialism.

However, once it became clear that the German proletariat was incapable of seizing political power and achieving Socialism, it lost its leadership over the vacillating petit-bourgeois mass, which on its return from the war had been awakened to political life by the proletarian revolution, and had dreamed of a new social order. Once the proletariat realised that the democratic counter-revolution had gone on the offensive it tried, full of doubts, to regain what it had squandered in November. But it was already too late to save the November Revolution, and too early to begin a new one, given that mass regroupment on the left could occur only as the result of the experience of the democratic counter-revolution by the masses. Thus the January 1919 insurrection, despite its heroism, brought defeat to the young Communist Party and its leaders Luxemburg and Liebknecht, whom an impatient and vacillating vanguard had pushed into a mistaken action.

The End of the First Proletarian Revolution in Germany

Those critics of the German proletariat whose yardstick is the catastrophe of March 1933, and who came to the conclusion that the German proletariat is not revolutionary, or that Marxism is useless, should study the tragic and heroic history of the German Revolution. From November 1918 until the insurrection of January 1919, the German revolutionary vanguard was engaged in a desperate struggle, full of sacrifices, in the attempt to prevent bourgeois society from being re-established. Thousands of workers died, and the flower of the vanguard was murdered, including Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Leo Jogiches. The January uprising was followed by the Munich Commune, where revolutionary Marxists such as Eugene Leviné and prominent Anarchists such as Gustav Landauer died.

Afterwards came the Kapp Putsch, a dress rehearsal for a feudal counter-revolution, which aimed to destroy bourgeois democracy. Once more, as in November 1918, the entire proletariat rose and defeated the militarist counter-revolution. Once again, the vanguard tried to carry the revolution forward to the seizing of political power, and once more it was smashed in a terrible and bloody civil war by the democratic counter-revolution led by the German Social Democratic Party. The Kapp Putsch was followed by the insurrection in central Germany in 1921, one of the bloodiest episodes of the German Revolution.

Finally came 1923. Then we were close to proletarian victory: the leadership of the Comintern and of the German Communist Party (Brandler) were certainly responsible for the revolution being strangled at birth. However, even in decline, the first German Revolution of 1918-23 was capable of feats such as the heroic insurrection of a small minority in Hamburg.

The Bankruptcy of the Bourgeois Republic

The new phase of relative capitalist stability that lasted until 1929 found the German proletariat weakened by five years of civil war. A second revolution was possible once the crisis produced new struggles. New revolutionary situations arose, but conditions were much more difficult than they were in the November Revolution.

While in 1918 the petit-bourgeois had confidently committed itself to the proletariat, in 1923 the working class, profoundly disillusioned, abandoned the political arena, and during 1922-23 much of the petit-bourgeoisie went over to Fascism.

Reformist currents in the working class were strengthened by the improved economic situation in the five years after the 1923 crisis, as were democratic conservative and bourgeois democratic tendencies in the middle class. However, in 1929 the crisis broke out with unparalleled violence, and when the masses went into action, the petit-bourgeoisie and the peasantry appeared as enemies of the working class, and threw themselves into the arms of the Fascists.

In such a situation if the strategy of the revolutionary proletariat could unite the entire working class, and therefore appear as the only solution for important sections of the petit-bourgeoisie, the new proletarian revolution would not be spontaneous and primitive, as in November. If on the other hand, the revolutionary proletariat, because of the incapacity of the Communist Party leadership, was incapable of that task, the Fascist counter-revolution would defeat first the isolated vanguard and then the proletariat as a whole. Because of reformist treachery and the reactionary petit-bourgeois politics of Stalinism, that is what actually happened.

In February 1933 the revolutionary proletariat, isolated from the working masses, was crushed without attempting the slightest resistance. It was only under the terror which was then unleashed that the heroism of hundreds of thousands of those arrested and tortured showed the great revolutionary and moral strength of the German proletariat, even when it had been deceived, betrayed, and defeated.

The October Revolution in Asturias, the Bridge Between the April and July Revolutions

The October rising in Asturias occurred between the democratic April Revolution and the Socialist revolution of July. All the questions which the July Revolution either tackled or solved, were put on the agenda for the first time during the October rising. The Oviedo Commune could not have been created without an understanding of the need for unity in struggle of all the working class organisations in Asturias.

The October Revolution in Asturias created the revolutionary committee, the new form of power, which in the July Revolution emerged all over Spain. Where the workers were organised in separate political parties, the committee took the form of an alliance of all the workers’ parties and trade unions. Where a single workers’ organisation dominated, the committee was the local executive of all the revolutionary organisations. In countless scattered villages, where there was no revolutionary organisation, the committees were formed by peasants known to be anti-Fascists, or enemies of the church.

The revolutionary militia with its elected leaders arose in the heroic month of October in Asturias, and during the struggle in Oviedo. It showed the Spanish working class for the first time that it was not only capable of initiating the construction of a new social order, and of creating a new revolutionary political authority, but that it also had the capacity to defend it arms in hand.

The lessons of Asturias in October produced changes in the consciousness of Spanish workers and their revolutionary organisations, which were demonstrated in all their depth and breadth for the first time in July. Decades of a tradition of isolated and local revolutionary action were finally buried in October as Asturias taught the Spanish proletariat that the modern bourgeois state possesses the capacity for the most concentrated organised violence that has ever existed. The working class saw that defeat was inevitable if the bourgeois state was able to concentrate its armed forces.

That, however, was possible only if the revolution was not generalised to involve the whole country and all the exploited people. However, such a complete revolution is possible only through the alliance of all working class forces, as well as the mass of the petit-bourgeoisie and the peasants. Such an alliance will only be effective if, during the struggle, the working class succeeds in centralising all these forces and creating a revolutionary discipline, to oppose the disciplined and centralised forces of counter-revolution.

The alliance of the proletariat with the non-proletarian working layers of the population, especially the small and medium peasantry, finds its most finished expression in combative revolutionary organisations, such as the Commune of 1871, the councils of the Russian Revolution, and the committees which were formed for the first time in Asturias during the October Revolution. Certainly, the committees (councils, communes) were also organs of the different proletarian tendencies; politically they formed a single framework, while different philosophical and political tendencies continued to exist within the proletariat. The attempt to overcome artificially the different historical tendencies in the proletariat by forming a united political party will not result in working class unity. On the contrary, it will produce deeper political divisions. Immediately it became obvious that the old divisions remained within an artificially united party, existing disagreements would become sharper, precisely because hopes for unity had been disappointed.

Working class political unity and the creation of a mass revolutionary party are possible only if the revolutionary current within the working class wins over the class by ideological struggle, that is to say, by a conscious renunciation of violent, denunciatory and terrorist methods, thereby isolating the representatives of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideas within the working class.

However, this presupposes a long period of evolution which will generally include the period of proletarian dictatorship, so it will not be completed under bourgeois rule. In contrast, working class trade union unity is a great step forward, which will help the proletariat to take the leadership of the petit-bourgeois masses and will aid the process of unification, on condition that it is based on genuine workers’ democracy.

The Retreat after October and the New Democratic Era

 All revolutions develop the fighting capacity and the class consciousness of the revolutionary class. Revolutions are the most important period in the life of any society and in the formation of a class. They are followed, even in the case of victory, by a certain lethargy among the active forces, a slackening of their rhythm of development. Just as individuals are unable to remain in a state of ecstasy for ever, neither can a revolutionary class sustain a state of revolutionary tension for long.

This is so in all revolutions, and it is doubly or triply true of a defeated one. However, a class which struggles is saved the internal decomposition which is the inevitable consequence of defeat without a fight. The revolutionary temperature drops sharply, but not to zero.

That truth was demonstrated after the defeat of the Asturian Revolution in October. New democratic illusions developed among the working masses. The heroic struggle of Oviedo was not forgotten, neither did it disappear from mass working class consciousness, but it was pushed back to a subconscious level.

In time, the discredited liberal leaders regained prominence, and the champions of democratic phrase-mongering took advantage of the people’s misfortune. They were the ones who benefited from the seed sown in October. The brief supremacy of Azaña and Martínez [5] was entirely due to the fact that key organisations which had been on the revolutionary side in October, had become cheerleaders for the liberal politicians.

The democratic tendency in the working class, which reached from Indalecio Prieto and Gonzalez Peña to Largo Caballero and even Jesús Hernández, carried Azaña to political power. He then tried to persuade the workers to renounce both their revolutionary Socialist demands and their class interests. This subordination of the proletariat to the political hegemony of the liberal bourgeoisie was, and still is, the essence of the Popular Front.

The democratic illusions of the masses reached their highest point during the February elections. Yet these illusions began to evaporate at the same time. The five month period between the February elections and the July Revolution showed how embedded were the lessons of the October Revolution, and how temporary were the democratic illusions.

The leaders of the Popular Front had hoped that, after the electoral victory, the revolutionary masses would abandon political struggle and would leave political leadership in the hands of the liberal government. However, exactly the opposite happened. The revolutionary masses did not wait for the amnesty which the Popular Front had promised, but attacked the prisons and freed the working class political prisoners. The revolutionary upsurge of the masses turned over the municipalities to workers’ committees. From February to July a violent strike wave extended over the entire country, the revolutionary peasants began to seize the latifundia, whilst the Institute of Agricultural Reform was still examining the extent and nature of agrarian reform. The revolution deepened and cast its shadow over the whole country.

Whilst the revolutionary upsurge was evident throughout the country, the politics of the democratic government showed the profoundly reactionary nature of the Popular Front, and the bankruptcy of those workers’ leaders who had urged the working class to enter it. The political, economic and cultural power of the Catholic Church was left unchallenged, and the leadership of the armed forces, especially the army, was entrusted to reactionary generals, opponents of the Republic. Regional autonomy for the national minorities was not implemented, and agricultural reform was a miserable caricature of the long overdue redistribution of the huge estates.

By contrast, the Popular Front government displayed great energy and cunning in its attack upon the revolutionary proletariat. In a forceful gesture, Azaña cancelled the municipal elections in May, in an attempt to prevent the radicalisation of the masses from transforming the municipal councils into bastions of workers’ and peasants” resistance to the treacherous politics of the Popular Front government.

As the balance of forces between the democratic bourgeoisie and the revolutionary proletariat moved in favour of the workers, it was becoming clear, both to the popular masses and the reactionaries, that the Republic could not survive in a bourgeois democratic form in Spain. History had brought the politics of the liberal bourgeoisie and its Stalinist and reformist lackeys to an incurable bankruptcy, and only a bloody civil war could prevent the rebellious peasants from seizing the land. Nothing less would be able to prevent the revolutionary workers from ending private ownership of the means of production.

Those facts provided a platform for the holy alliance of generals, priests, financiers and industrialists. Conservative republicans, monarchist generals, Gil Robles” CEDA, and Primo de Rivera’s Fascists came to an agreement. At the end of June and the beginning of July, it became clear that the revolution’s time had come.

The Counter-Revolutionary Rising – Prelude to the July Revolution

The counter-revolutionary rising against the democratic republic immediately showed the real correlation of class forces and of their political representatives. On the side of the counter-revolution stood the majority of property owners and the decisive sections of the state apparatus, above all the majority of the army. On the other side stood the proletariat, a decisive majority of the peasants and the middle class, especially in the areas where there were national minorities. Caught between these antagonistic social and political forces stood a small and insignificant group of terrified liberals seeking a compromise, who for 24 hours made a ridiculous and reactionary attempt to prevent the arming of the proletariat.

The armed proletariat did not rise merely against the military insurrection. It rose to destroy the old system and the bourgeois state, and to create a new Socialist order. The counter-revolutionary insurrection against the bourgeois republic was transformed into a proletarian Socialist revolution. There can be no doubt that the first stage of the July Revolution would have completely achieved the total separation of the state from bourgeois society, if the Socialist and Communist parties had not opposed it. The marvellous initiative of the masses, the confused but revolutionary and Socialist actions of the left wing of the CNT and the FAI with their mass support, and the POUM’s political leadership pushing to achieve Socialism, were not enough to neutralise the opposing forces of democratic reformism and Stalinism.

The Contradictions of the July Revolution

In spite of everything, the July Revolution immediately destroyed the power of the Church, began to implement the agrarian revolution, and carried out the liberation of the oppressed national minorities. The revolutionary committees immediately sprang up and created armed workers’ forces – the militias. The works councils and the trade unions immediately took control of production. In the villages the peasants formed cooperatives, and part of the woods and pasture was allocated to the municipalities.

Such acts were a clear demonstration of support for the political and social revolution which developed in Spain, and above all in Catalonia, its most developed region. As we have already shown, the class nature of the revolution was proletarian, and it was the proletariat which resolved the problems of the bourgeois democratic revolution (the agrarian, national and religious questions) and simultaneously began the struggle for Socialism.

The democratic stage of the Socialist revolution now developed. The Russian Revolution also passed through that phase (October 1917 to July 1918) but under the political hegemony of the proletariat. The October Revolution in 1917 gave political power to the proletariat and created a government led by the Bolsheviks and their allies, the left wing agrarian Socialists or Left Socialist Revolutionaries.

The committees which had appeared for the first time during the Asturian Revolution re-emerged in July, but instead of developing into true class organisations of workers and small peasants, this time they developed as part of the Popular Front. The Stalinists and reformists emptied them of their class content, bringing in bourgeois liberals, and turning them into mere municipal councils, rather than soviets or communes which excluded the exploiting class.

The July Revolution did not seize state power, so the old state apparatus was not destroyed, but reformed. The Largo Caballero government, which made desperate efforts to revive parliament in its claim to be democratic, was a tragi-comic effort by the Stalinists and reformists to erect a dictatorship of the revolutionary petit-bourgeoisie, like that of a Jacobin Convention, during a proletarian revolution. When, during the French Revolution, the Convention expelled the Gironde, and inaugurated a terrorist dictatorship against the feudal reactionaries, it could base itself on the support of the peasants to whom it had given the land. The dictatorship of the Jacobins was the most revolutionary government possible in the social and economic conditions of a bourgeois revolution.

In the midst of a proletarian revolution the Largo Caballero bourgeois government was unable to base itself on independent, armed masses. On the contrary, it had to combat and destroy mass independent action in order to present itself as a democratic bourgeois government with a professional army opposed to the revolutionary people. In contrast to the reactionary Largo Caballero government, the Council of the Generalitat in Catalonia represented a genuine, although transitory, petit-bourgeois regime. The councillors were not in fact ministers, as they were answerable to the appropriate revolutionary committee. Each committee had a majority of representatives from proletarian organisations, and a minority from the petit-bourgeois Esquerra. The Council of the Generalitat was a mixture of a bourgeois government and an organisation of dual power.

Such a combination cannot last. Either the revolutionary forces will take power, which need not mean that the petit-bourgeois Esquerra would be completely excluded, provided it did not oppose the revolutionary government’s programme of transforming the municipalities into class organisations, or the Stalinists and their allies will create a bourgeois government of the Largo Caballero type. Time will clarify the role of the Esquerra in this struggle: until now its strategy consists of discreet abstentionism. In any case, the democratic-reactionary attitude of the Stalinists reinforced the tendency among the mass of the petit-bourgeoisie to resist.

In contrast, the Largo Caballero government, despite its workers’ representatives, is a thoroughly bourgeois organisation which is trying to survive during a proletarian revolution. In contrast to the Council of Catalonia, its ministers are independent, as they are not under the control of the revolutionary workers’ organisations. Alas, revolutionary politicians abroad have failed to understand the fundamental difference between the government of Catalonia and that of Madrid, which they idealise as a revolutionary non-bourgeois government (for instance, the French journal Que Faire?, no.24, p.21). [6]

The bourgeois government of Madrid can maintain itself only because the working class has tolerated it under Stalinist and reformist influence, and because, unfortunately, it has up until now been able to convince even the CNT. The Largo Caballero government, however conservative it may be, is the weakest government known to history. After all, it exists only because the masses believe that it is a diplomatic façade necessary for foreign consumption. The so-called “government” lacks its own forces of repression, and even the shadow of real authority.

Does this mean that a revolutionary workers’ government will arise, bypassing this ghostly organisation? We cannot be sure that there will be such a quick development. The question of state power becomes more and more the decisive question for the revolution, but it will not be solved in isolation. Revolutionary events have produced new social and economic relations which cannot develop in the context of the bourgeois state. Besides, it is no accident that in spite of the revolutionary changes in the conditions of production, the outlines of property relations remain unclear. Private ownership of the means of production will be abolished, but the will to establish Socialism is not yet a reality in the factories.

The subsequent development of the revolution, its consolidation, that is to say the final solution of both the Socialist and democratic tasks – in short, the move from the democratic to the Socialist phase of the Socialist revolution – is only possible if the proletariat seizes and consolidates state power. And this must be based on the broadest workers’ democracy.

There is no greater danger for a revolution than a long period of stagnation whilst the proletariat, restrained by its leaders, refrains from seizing state power. The iron must be struck while it is hot. A revolution can be victorious only if the highest state of revolutionary energy seizes the entire proletariat. During a period of stagnation ever increasing numbers of workers relapse from a condition of activity to one of passive expectation. The solid links between the proletarian vanguard and the masses are weakened.

The confidence of the masses can change. Revolutionary energies must be forged in struggle. The longer the period of stagnation, the stronger becomes the old state apparatus. This will be reinforced by new forces which will attempt to reimpose control over the masses violently, as the latter retreat from the victory which during the days of the revolution appeared to be within their grasp.

The Correlation of Forces During the July Revolution

During the 1918 German Revolution bourgeois society could find support from democratic tendencies within the proletariat, such as the reactionary Social Democracy, and, indirectly, from the middle class reformist USPD. That alliance quickly became stronger than the revolutionary forces headed by the Spartacists and the revolutionary shop stewards. In the Spanish Revolution the divisions are similar, but the correlation of forces is very different. The Socialist Party, particularly the Prieto group, is as obsessed with the need for bourgeois democracy as was German Social Democracy in 1918. The fact that the masses in the Socialist Party threw themselves into the struggle for Socialism does not alter that. As for the Communist Party, its politics bear a shocking resemblance to the vacillating and contradictory attitude of the USPD.

True, there are also important differences. The centrist, Social Democratic and pacifist leaders of the USPD had no really clear perspective of the tasks of the proletariat in the revolution. Nor had they actually broken with their reformist theoretical heritage. The Stalinists in the Spanish Revolution are quite different. Their democratic and pacifist convictions are not genuine, but are imported from Moscow. These Stalinist ‘Bolsheviks’ believe that the best way to defend the Soviet Union is to copy the external forms of the western bourgeois democracies as closely as possible. That is the main reason for the apparently democratic nature of the new Soviet constitution, which is really only a new packaging of the unlimited Stalinist dictatorship over the Bolshevik Party and the proletariat, and the total usurpation of political power by an all-powerful political faction.

Stalinism tries to confine the Spanish proletarian revolution forcibly within the mould of a democratic republic so that the Western bourgeois democracies will not be alarmed. The objective consequences of that democratic manoeuvre are as reactionary as the petit-bourgeois politics of the German Independents in 1918-19.

During the German Revolution the democratic bloc of the SPD and USPD was dominant, not only among the overwhelming majority of workers, but even, to a lesser extent, in the leading factories. The revolutionary shop stewards who embodied the revolutionary Socialist proletariat, together with the Spartacus League, moved closer to the USPD, and were partly under its ideological influence. The Spartacist group was the only consistent revolutionary force. The tragedy of the German Revolution was that its tremendous speed (the most important decisions were taken between 9 November and the middle of January 1919) made it impossible for the Spartacists to win over the revolutionary shop stewards and the left of the USPD. Events changed more rapidly than did the consciousness of the masses in struggle.

The Spartacus League, which had been allied with the USPD until the end of 1918, broke away in the last days of the year and formed the KPD, thereby losing the possibility of directly influencing the changing consciousness of the USPD members. The young and isolated KPD was defeated in January. However, the correlation of forces between the revolutionary and the democratic camps in the Spanish Revolution is very different from that of Germany in 1918.

The democratic alliance of Prieto, Hernández and Díaz is terribly weak in comparison with the alliance of the SPD and USPD in the German Revolution. The reason for the weakness of the democratic alliance is that their experiences from April 1931 to July 1936 have left the masses with very few illusions about democracy, whereas in 1918 in Germany these illusions were enormous. The same cause which accounts for the weakness of the democratic alliance (the disappearance of illusions about democracy) has produced revolutionary Socialist forces which are much stronger than those in Germany in 1918.

It is true that the CNT and FAI are still evolving and it is also true that this evolution will be hampered by the Stalinists” prostration before bourgeois democracy. The substantial left wing of the CNT and FAI, whose shortcomings require a dispassionate and friendly discussion, has no faith in bourgeois democracy, in the slogan of national solidarity, class collaboration, or the revolution from above, and is a revolutionary force of the greatest historical significance. The future of the Spanish Revolution will depend on a greater understanding by the FAI and CNT of the need for a proletarian revolution, and of their resistance to the reactionary influence of Stalinism, which has not completely succeeded in its attempt to tie them to bourgeois democracy. The POUM has the task of regrouping the revolutionary forces on the basis of a Socialist programme, just as the Spartacus League had in Germany.

The Class Character of the Revolutionary War – Democratic or Socialist?

The Spanish working class revolutionary forces need to rally to Socialism. All the efforts of the democratic forces are devoted to strengthening the democratic republic, which is threatened by the war. They demand “a strong government” free from inconvenient workers’ control because of “the need for a military victory”, the depoliticisation of the military, the restoration of the powers of the army officers, and the rebuilding of the police force. They refuse to tackle in a revolutionary manner the question of industrial production, and call for the unity of the nation, from liberals to Anarchists. Nothing could be more reactionary than such a conception of the “needs of the war”.

War, defined as the continuation of politics by other means, has, like all politics, a specific class character, and it is only in that context that the dominant class needs to fight a war.

In France, for example, the rising bourgeoisie’s most outstanding wars were national bourgeois struggles proclaiming a revolutionary national ideology. During the war of the Convention it was the class struggle of the petit-bourgeois, the workers and the peasants against the big bourgeoisie of the Gironde, which gave a revolutionary impetus to the war against the feudal powers.

In our time, the decadent bourgeoisie which pursues wars, not of national liberation but of imperialist plunder, is unable to base itself on the spontaneous initiative of the masses, nor is it able to unleash their strength. In order to be able to undertake imperialist wars against the basic interests of their own peoples, both the democratic states and the imperialist monarchies have to install a military dictatorship at home, depoliticise the army, prohibit strikes and enforce national conformity through censorship and the political police.

The reactionary perspective of Spanish democracy from Azaña to José Díaz, consists of a military dictatorship over a democratic republic, similar to that which ruled France during 1914-18. If the proletariat allows itself to be persuaded to carry out the struggle against counter-revolution in the manner of a bourgeois war under a “democratic” military dictatorship, a new bourgeois-reactionary apparatus will arise in the course of the war, and this, in the event of victory, will turn its weapons against the revolutionary proletariat. The disillusion and disenchantment of the masses which would follow such a victory would be the basis for the growth of Fascism, which itself would then be strengthened by the disillusion of the masses and by the inability of the “democratic” forces to attract mass support.

However, a victory over the counter-revolution under the political leadership of a military bureaucracy and a democratic administration is most unlikely. During the first three months of the war, the militias” complete lack of modern arms convinced even the proletariat of the false and pernicious belief that modern weapons were all that was required to ensure victory over the counter-revolution.

It must be granted that no war, whatever its class character, can be won without weapons. However, the revolution will not triumph over the counter-revolution because of its superior military technique. Of that there can be no doubt whatever. Imperialism is so powerful, and the proletarian revolution so threatens its domination, that the counter-revolution will always be able to count on superior supplies of arms. If success in such a war depended mainly on military technique then defeat would be swift and inevitable. Military technique is an indispensable, but not a decisive element in the war. Modern arms are used by living people, whose will to victory depends on their morale. The longer the war lasts, and the more that its repugnant aspects increase, the more morale will be determined by the conviction that the cause is just. Pay and a spirit of adventure are insufficient to sustain a long and bloody war. The heroism and fanaticism of the fighters are determined by their ideas, not merely by a soldier’s pay. The revolution will defeat the counter-revolution only when the proletarian soldier identifies with the Socialist worker, who has created a new social order, and when the peasant soldier identifies with the free peasant who has seized the bosses’ land.

Winning the war requires a revolutionary army, in which the soldiers choose and control their officers, and remain firmly linked with the workers’ revolution. Also necessary is the unlimited heroism of the rearguard, which endures a crushing burden of toil, hunger, bombings and disease, through the deep conviction that it is fighting for a just cause. Only fools can believe that the workers’ heroism in the factories can be awakened by the expectation of having to work for the exploiters after the victory, under the glorious rule of Señor Azaña. War and revolution are not two separate phenomena, but different aspects of the same process.

The counter-revolution started the war to prevent a proletarian revolution. Its failure precipitated an insurrection. Consequently, since the July Days, the war has changed its character. What began as a war of reaction against the bourgeois republic, which contained the seeds of Socialist revolution, has become one of feudal capitalism. This war is now supported by world capitalism, whether directly by the intervention of the Fascist states, or indirectly and secretly through non-intervention, as the latter amounts to a blockade against the proletarian revolution.

The struggle of the revolutionary Spanish Republic will be lost in a bourgeois democratic war. The Western bourgeoisie acts, not on the basis of ideology, but in the interests of imperialist plunder. To win such a war the military leadership would have to destroy the only force which could bring it victory – the proletariat’s revolutionary Socialist energy. Military victory over feudal capitalism can be attained only through a Socialist class war.

However, for the war to take that form, it would be necessary to demolish those bourgeois democratic institutions which still oppose the unleashing of the Socialist revolution. Within the proletariat two lines, two programmes, two principles, clash irreconcilably: the democratic line, of a military dictatorship of the democratic bourgeoisie, represented by reformism and Stalinism, which abandons the Socialist revolution in the name of a war for democracy, and the Socialist line supported by the Anarcho-revolutionary forces.

Unfortunately, many Anarchists vacillate on this question, influenced on the one hand by the pressure of democracy, and on the other by the POUM’s programme of workers’ power. Any serious worker, whatever the organisation to which he belongs, has to decide between these two programmes. The Anarchists, if they want to achieve what their best men fought and died for, will be forced to struggle against the democratic tendency within their own ranks.

Communist workers, and even some of their leaders, who today hesitate and recoil over their break with the proletarian revolution (the existence of such people is no secret) have to make up their minds. Perhaps they remember that the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 had to conduct a desperate struggle against the Czechs and Romanians. Do they also remember that, in spite of everything, the Hungarian Communists tried to lead and not to suppress the workers’ revolution? What errors they made were in the opposite direction – they failed to distribute the land to the peasants, not to avoid a clash with the landlords and the agricultural banks, but in order to create large Socialist enterprises.

In spite of their heroism, the Hungarian Communists were defeated, because they failed to gain the support of the peasants for the Socialist revolution, and because, by uniting with the reformists in a single party, they had to fight against reformism within that party. Genuine revolutionaries (including the revolutionary Socialist elements within the Social Democratic Party) who remain within the same party as those reactionary forces which want to transform the revolutionary struggle into a bourgeois democratic war, will share historical responsibility for the reactionary politics of Stalinism and reformism.

Of course, there will come a time when the Stalinists will try to crush the revolutionary Socialist forces in order to carry on a bourgeois war. Every class conscious revolutionary worker will then have to decide between Socialism and those forces which can achieve their reactionary objectives only by crushing the revolutionary workers’ vanguard. It is no secret that the tone of some polemics against La Batalla and of those Stalinist posters in Madrid which suggest that the POUM is “Mola’s fifth column” indicate the systematic preparation for a violent struggle against the revolutionary vanguard.

What is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat?

It is not enough for genuine revolutionaries to break from democratic-reactionary ideas in order to ensure the final victory of the proletarian revolution in Spain. They will have to discard many deep rooted, cherished conceptions, which they wrongly consider to be fundamentals of Marxism, but which in reality are superficial generalisations derived from events specific to the Russian Revolution. One such belief is that the proletarian dictatorship must be exercised by a single party – the Communist Party. In fact, both the form and content of the proletarian dictatorship are determined by completely different laws. Engels’ preface to Marx’s Civil War in France [7] shows that the Paris Commune of 1871 was precisely a proletarian dictatorship. Yet its most striking feature was that it was led by a variety of revolutionary forces – Proudhonists, Blanquists, etc.

Both Marx, in his letter to Kugelmann [8], and Lenin, in his theoretical masterpiece, State and Revolution, have shown that the proletarian dictatorship consists, firstly, in the breakdown of the old bourgeois state machinery, and secondly, in the creation of a new revolutionary power which abolishes the state bureaucracy, and the separation between the executive and the legislature. The working class will govern itself through its own revolutionary organisations (soviets or communes). According to Marx, Engels and Lenin, as the dictatorship of the proletariat is revolutionary, working class and Socialist, it is the most developed form of workers’ democracy.

Even when the capitalist and feudal counter-revolutionaries are finally destroyed by a proletarian victory in a civil war, the workers’ dictatorship will need to resort to terror. The need to maintain a force to repress the defeated enemy will disappear only after a lengthy period of transition from a capitalist to a Socialist economy, during which time the social, cultural and political elements which might support a capitalist counter-revolution will continue to exist. Only after a long period of development to a completely Socialist system of production will bourgeois social relations be superseded. To the extent that the need for such repression disappears, the state will be replaced by a free Socialist society.

Clearly such a society could not develop whilst a Socialist economy in a single country, such as Spain, was linked to the world capitalist market. A proletarian revolution in Spain could not survive indefinitely whilst it remained confronted by a counter-revolutionary Europe. The intervention of Hitler and Mussolini in the Civil War, and the sabotage of France and England, are clear proof of that workers’ revolutionary power in Russia was created by a coalition of two forces; the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. However, other parties, such as the Mensheviks, which were not part of the revolutionary government, remained within the soviets. We lack the space here to study the process whereby the Bolsheviks were left as the only party in the soviets. It would take us too far from our theme to explain how, in Russia, in spite of the theories of Marx and Engels and the bloody resistance of the Bolshevik-Leninists, the dictatorship of the proletariat crystallised, not in a commune-state, but in the creation of a new bureaucracy. We have even less space here to describe how the Stalinist ‘Bolsheviks’, rather than moving towards a workers’ democracy, took power away from the proletariat. The Stalinist mechanism consists of applying the methods of class struggle, not against the bourgeoisie, but against the working class itself, especially its vanguard. Thus workers’ power degenerated into a terrorist dictatorship of the Stalinist clique.

Under bourgeois democracy workers have sometimes had to cede ground to bourgeois and feudal elements (the electoral new right). The retreat of the Russian Revolution has taken place in flagrant and growing contrast with the changes in economic conditions which have taken place in the last decade. Who can doubt that during this enormous industrial development, when agriculture was being collectivised, new social conditions emerged which require the deep political reform of the Soviet state?

The new young Soviet proletariat, produced by tremendous economic growth, and concentrated in giant new industrial centres, will not tolerate the straitjacket of an uncontrolled bureaucratic dictatorship. The spur of economic development, and the development of strong cultural forces within the proletariat, cry out for a new epoch of workers’ democracy. That would mean democracy not only within the ruling party, in the factories and in the workers’ organisations. Above all it would mean the complete independence of the trade unions from the state apparatus, and freedom for all working class tendencies which recognise the Soviet dictatorship and work towards the reform of Soviet society. With regard to the trade unions, we need only point to Lenin’s statement made during the trade union discussion of 1920, when the first symptoms of a bureaucratic state apparatus emerged, that the workers’ trade union struggle was the main lever for the development of Socialist soviet power: “We now have a state under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers’ organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state.” [9]

However, workers’ democracy cannot be limited to freedom for trade unions. It has to become soviet democracy. The organs of workers’ power must be revived, and this is possible only through the free political struggle of all those tendencies within the Soviet proletariat which accept soviet power and the need to reform Soviet society. Do we need more proof that such demands, in spite of being described as “Fascist” by the Stalinists, are necessary for the development of the Soviet Union, and for the final triumph of the Russian Revolution? Is it still necessary to proclaim that these are the demands of revolutionaries, true friends of the Soviet Union, who were, are, and will continue to be, completely committed to Soviet power?

It is vital that in the Spanish proletarian revolution there is a clear understanding that the dictatorship of the proletariat has to combine the greatest possible democracy within the revolutionary class with a violent suppression of the class enemy. In Spain the dictatorship of the proletariat will be formed by all those workers’ organisations which declare themselves Socialist and fight for the revolutionary transformation of the state.

The International Significance of the Spanish Revolution and the Need for a New International Alliance of the Zimmerwald Type

Only revolutionary workers’ power, based on the unity of all proletarian Socialist forces, can win the revolution and consolidate workers’ power. The victory and consolidation of revolution over counter-revolution is possible only if the international proletariat gives aid and active solidarity. We know and we say openly – if we have beaten back the attacks of the counter-revolution on Madrid we must thank, not just the city’s heroic proletariat and the militias’ resistance, but also the Russian, French, German and world proletariat.

Should we congratulate Azaña’s Popular Front government on the policy of neutrality followed by Blum and Stalin, which enabled the counter-revolution’s modern armies, facing badly armed militias, to advance to the gates of Madrid? Stalin remained neutral for almost three months, until a combination of pressure by the Russian masses, and alarm at the danger which a victory of Hitler in Spain represented for the Soviet Union, obliged him to renounce his policy of neutrality. We have the democratic politics of Stalinism to thank for the fact that the Spanish proletarian revolutionary war is menaced by the democratic-reactionary forces.

For this reason, the forces in the Spanish Revolution which aim at workers’ power do not have a moment to lose in forming a powerful alliance with all those splinters of the international proletariat which fight for the victory of the Socialist revolution. The aim should not be confined to actions of solidarity, but must be to struggle for workers’ revolution in their own country.

Do we need a new International? For the moment, we can hardly speak of that. An international alliance and a world party are not the same thing. A fighting international alliance is possible on the basis of a few principles which could be accepted by all genuine revolutionary proletarian activists, in spite of their differing ideas, hopes, sectarian resentments or rancour. An international party, however, needs a programme and a cadre which is imbued with the spirit of that programme, that is to say, it presupposes the reconstitution of the international proletarian vanguard.

The absence of either a revolutionary programme or cadre is no accident. They show that the historical conditions for the formation of a new International do not yet exist. In such conditions in the course of a victorious revolution, where the new revolutionary proletarian vanguard has not yet begun to form, a new International would stand half way between the London Bureau and the sectarian Fourth International. We might add that the founding of a new International would deter the revolutionary Anarchist masses from participating in a regroupment. Such a regroupment will be possible only in the way that these things generally are – in a movement similar to that of Zimmerwald.

A process of regroupment of the world proletariat could begin only now, during the Spanish Revolution, which will bring profound changes in the mentality of the world proletarian movement, if the revolution should triumph and plant its flag on the Iberian peninsula.

We cannot tell what the repercussions of such a development would be on the Third International. We do not expect, and we never have expected, that Stalinism should cease to be a reactionary petit-bourgeois current within the proletarian dictatorship of the USSR and of the Third International. But it is certainly not inevitable that its hold over the mass of Communists and their organisations – the result of 10 years of defeat for the world revolution (1923-33) – would survive the victory of the proletarian revolution in Spain.

Nobody can predict whether a revolutionary victory in Europe would bring about such an irresistible and powerful revival of the proletariat in the Soviet Union that it would smash the Stalinist bureaucracy. It would certainly bring about a revival of the Communist movement. Consequently, a new International at this time would be a mistake fraught with problems.

As has been repeatedly said, what we have needed since 1933 is a new revolutionary centre, a kind of new Zimmerwald. It has been necessary since the German catastrophe of 1933, and the Spanish July Revolution makes it possible. In the course of this revolution, which has undoubtedly strongly influenced the international working class, the revolutionary forces which can form the new Zimmerwald are being formed and developed. The basis for the alliance cannot be artificially proclaimed, but will surface through the problems which revolutionaries confront in the international struggle and the Spanish Revolution. There are three key questions:

  1. Revolutionary struggle against Fascism. Against an alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie. Against the Popular Front and its government. For the proletarian revolution. For revolutionary workers’ power (the dictatorship of the proletariat).
  2. Down with imperialist war; for the transformation of imperialist wars into civil wars in each capitalist country, even where an imperialist state is allied with a revolutionary one.
  3. Defence of the proletarian dictatorship in the USSR; struggle for proletarian dictatorship in Spain; revolutionary workers’ democracy in both the Russian Soviet Republic, and in the future Spanish one; equal political rights for all supporters of revolutionary power in the USSR, and for those opposed to reformism and Stalinism in the future Spanish Soviet Republic.

We know that this programme will appear too broad to some, and too narrow to others. It seems to us to be the only possible programme for the needed proletarian regroupment. It is wide enough to include all revolutionary Socialist, Communist, and Anarchist tendencies. The point is not whether a programme is broad or narrow, but of ensuring that it does not remain merely empty phraseology, which is adopted in congresses and assemblies and ignored in daily practice.

The Spanish Revolution represents a new phase in our epoch of wars and revolutions. A new hope springs from it which has inspired workers in the most remote Spanish villages, and in all the countries of the world. It teaches the workers what bourgeois democracy is, and what is the way forward. It has reached even to the prison doors of Fascist countries, and proclaimed that the international revolution has once more raised its head. Spanish revolutionaries must consider the great historic responsibility which they bear. The international proletariat must realise that active solidarity, and struggle against its own bourgeoisie may, in large measure, determine the fate of the Spanish Revolution.


1. K. Marx, Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League, The Revolutions of 1848, Harmondsworth 1973, pp.323-4.

2. L.D. Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, London 1974, pp.47-56.

3. J.V. Stalin, Some Questions Concerning the History of Bolshevism, Works, Volume 13, Moscow 1955, p.89. Trotsky’s comments are in Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932, New York 1973, pp.131-42. An account of Stalin’s intervention into party history is in J. Barber, Soviet Historians in Crisis 1928-32, London 1981, pp.126-36.

4. The revolutionary shop stewards were the illegal representatives of the workers in the large key industries. They emerged from the opposition in the trade unions, particularly in the metalworkers’ union, and led the revolutionary workers’ opposition in the factories to the social patriotism of the reformist traitors of the Social Democratic bureaucracy. This developed into a revolutionary political opposition whose importance lay in its base in the key industries. [Author’s note]

5. Diego Martínez Barrio (1883-1962), the leader of the Republican Union, was briefly Prime Minister in Spain in 1933, and again in 1936, when he tried to negotiate with the generals in rebellion.

6. For the Que Faire? group, cf. p.59 above.

7. F. Engels, Introduction to The Civil War in France“, in H. Draper (ed.), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Writings on the Paris Commune, New York 1971, p.34.

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

9. V.I. Lenin, The Trade Unions, the Present Situation, and Trotsky’s Mistakes, Collected Works, Volume 32, Moscow 1977, p.25.

Updated by ETOL: 29.7.2003