José Rebull

On Dual Power

A major source of information abroad on the real happenings in Spain during the Civil War was L”Internationale, the magazine of a French left wing grouping, the Union Communiste (no direct contact with the modern group bearing that name), led by Gaston Davoust (Henri Chazé, 1904-1984). It is especially valuable for preserving the viewpoint of the left faction within the POUM in Catalonia, the Cell 72. The piece immediately below is translated from Sur la Dualité du pouvoir, and the subsequent piece is from Un Courant de gauche au sein du POUM, and both appeared in L”Internationale, Fourth Year, New Series, no.31, 3 October 1937)

Both pieces were written by José Rebull (1906-  ), the younger brother of the heroic POUM leader Daniel Rebull, more usually known as David Rey. José Rebull was also active in the Spanish movement from an early age. He was Secretary of Maurín’s Bloque in Tarragona in 1933, and was responsible for the distribution of its press during the period of clandestinity after the Asturian uprising of 1934. After the formation of the POUM he was a member of its Central Committee and administrator of its chief paper, La Batalla.

The POUM varied considerably from area to area. The Levante district led by Luis Portela was practically Stalinist and supported the Popular Front. The Madrid organisation was of a Trotskyist character, and the Barcelona organisation led by Rebull was influenced by the ideas of Hugo Oehler and Rosalio Negrete. >From 1936 onwards Rebull led the left wing tendency in the Barcelona POUM, which came to include the majority of the city’s militants and dominated its local committee. It opposed the dissolution of the militia committees and Nin’s entry into the Generalitat. It had elaborated a contrary political strategy which it was to present to the national conference of the POUM, but the May Days intervened and the conference did not take place, even though its manifesto was printed beforehand in La Batalla on 15 April (cf, Counter-Theses for the Conference of the POUM, Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.2, Summer 1988, pp.37-8). During the May Days Rebull’s group tried to persuade the CNT comrades manning the barricades to march on the government buildings in Barcelona and take control.

In October 1937 Rebull reproached the Central Committee of the POUM for its short-sighted policy of dissolving the POUM’s trade union, the FOUS, into the UGT, which apart from being much smaller than the CNT was dominated by the Stalinists in Catalonia.

When the POUM militants reached France after the collapse of Catalonia, the leaders took the opportunity to get rid of the left wing from the leadership. Rebull was most incensed, and formed the Committee for the Defence of the POUM Congress, which issued its first bulletin in Paris in July 1939, in which many of the documents of the ‘Cell 72’ appeared. In the course of this struggle the group was won over to the Trotskyist movement.

During the Second World War Rebull took part in a Socialist resistance movement in 1943-44 and was arrested by the Gestapo, but was freed in August 1944.

For the source of this material, cf Pierre Broué“s edition of Trotsky’s La Révolution Espagnole, Paris 1975, especially p.550 n4; Jean Cavignac, Les Trotskystes espagnoles dans la tourmente (1937-40), Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no.10, June 1982, especially pp.72-4; and Victor Alba and Stephen Schwartz, Spanish Marxism Versus Soviet Communism, New Brunswick 1988. The main documents of Cell 72 are reprinted H. Chazé, Chronique de la Révolution espagnole, Éditions Spartacus, Paris 1979.

Twice during the second congress we heard from the mouths of the leaders of our party the affirmation that dual power is not indispensable for the seizure of power by the working class. We consider this as a case of revolutionary myopia in the presence of the “spontaneity of the masses’ whom the leaders of our party wished to assist by concealing their mistakes – which explains the present position of the POUM.

A Marxist cannot place absolute confidence in the capacity of mass spontaneity. The masses have an absolute need for a leading Marxist party endowed with a proper Marxist policy. (Maurín, La Nueva Era, May 1936)

We do not accept the reformist position according to which the social overturn can take place by the ‘conquest’ of the bourgeois state. In this case the problem of dual power could be laid aside. But if you look at reality, you must recognise the necessity for destroying the bourgeois state and replacing it with a new organ that has nothing in common with the state of the exploiters.

Before the total destruction of the bourgeois state and before the establishment of the new proletarian structure, there exists a period of transformation called ‘dual power’. We think that dual power is indispensable, and moreover that it is inseparable from any revolution. To go decisively towards this duality and to resolve it to the advantage of the proletariat is a problem that our leadership has never understood.

Without any official declaration, and without even an editorial in La Batalla, our leadership has accepted the liquidation of ‘dual power’ to the advantage of the bourgeoisie. Thus we can read the following lines in an article signed ‘Indigeta’:

The Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias was dissolved as a logical consequence of the formation of the new government of the Council of the Generalitat. ‘Dual power’, a classic revolutionary phase, was completely detrimental to the course of our revolution. What began at the top has now reached the base ... Two months of civil war and revolution have shown us the evils of such a duality. (La Batalla, 7 October 1936)

The liquidation of the situation of ‘dual power’ was the beginning of the retreat for our revolution. Our party has also incurred responsibility for the elaboration of this counter-revolutionary decree.

What constitutes the essence of dual power? We must pause upon this question, for an illumination of it has never appeared in historic literature. And yet this dual power is a distinct condition of social crisis, by no means peculiar to the Russian Revolution of 1917, although there most clearly marked out ... The two-power regime arises only out of irreconcilable class conflicts – is possible, therefore, only in a revolutionary epoch, and constitutes one of its fundamental elements ... To overcome the ‘anarchy’ of this two-fold sovereignty becomes at every new step the task of the revolution – or the counter-revolution ... The English Revolution of the seventeenth century, exactly because it was a great revolution shattering the nation to the bottom, affords a clear example of this alternating dual power, with sharp transitions in the form of civil war. (Trotsky, The February Revolution) [1]

It is precisely around the problem of dual power that the dramatic struggle of parties and classes revolves:

The dual power merely expresses a transitional phase in the revolution’s development, when it has gone farther than the ordinary bourgeois-democratic revolution but has not yet reached a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. (Lenin, The Revolution of 1917) [2]

How is ‘dual power’ organised? This is what Lenin explains:

Making use of liberty, the people began to organise independently. The chief organisation of the workers and peasants, who form the overwhelming majority of the population of Russia, was the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. These Soviets already began to be formed during the February Revolution ... [3]

It is true that the forms of the Spanish Revolution are different from the forms of the Russian and German revolutions. But in their content all proletarian revolutions – including those of Russia and Spain – are similar; they are phases of the world revolution, and dual power appears in all these phases. Let us again read the opinions of our comrade Maurín:

Against the official power is ranged another power, a power from below, the Soviet. What is it that gives the Soviet this strength, this power? Simply the unity of all the workers. That is what determines its power ... Would the Bolsheviks have been able to take power in October if the Soviets – the second power – had not existed beforehand and prepared the conditions favourable to the insurrection? No. (Nueva Era, May 1936)

If we were to affirm in an absolute manner that ministries have admitted of an easy adaptation because we had the firm conviction that the terrain was favourable for it, we would be going in for Byzantinism. However, in the absence of any organ of proletarian power, we still today firmly accuse to our leaders of not having either encouraged or even attempted to create soviets. The file of Avant [4] is irrefutable proof of the lamentable part played by the leadership of the POUM at the time when the masses of Catalonia were firmly convinced that the past should henceforth remain no longer and that it was necessary to march decisively forward. But they could only be convinced of it – not by occasional vague articles in our press – but by the effective and practical creation of proletarian power. What was the slogan, what was the intent of the leaders of our party at this time?

“We are waiting for what Solidaridad Obrera will say, we are waiting to know what the leaders of the CNT are thinking.” With this the leadership of the POUM may have evaded their responsibility, but at least they told the truth.

Cell 72, Fifth Barcelona District of the POUM.



1. L.D. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, London 1934, pp.223-5.

2. V.I. Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, Collected Works, Volume 24, Moscow 1977, p.61.

3. V.I. Lenin, Lessons of the Revolution, Collected Works, Volume 25, Moscow, 1977, p233.

4. Avant was the POUM’s paper in Catalan, founded in December 1936.

Updated by ETOL: 31.7.2003