José Rebull

On the Slogan of ‘A UGT-CNT Government’

At the start of the situation that followed the ‘solution’ of the crisis of the Valencia government by the elimination of Largo Caballero and the ministers of the CNT, La Batalla on 20 May launched the slogan of “a UGT-CNT government”. This syndicalist slogan against which our party had fought for a long time is now put forward as a progressive stage that will get us out of the present situation. The same editorial adds that this does not mean abandoning the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government, but that it is only a question of a provisional solution that would allow us to move closer to the realisation of a real workers’ and peasants’ government.

Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of confusion about what this workers’ and peasants’ government would actually be. It is generally conceived of as a government of workers’ representatives, political as well as trade union, within the confines of the bourgeois state. Let us suppose that it was talked about in the editorial as if it were a question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Let us take the liberty of making a few remarks upon this subject. It is declared in La Batalla that a solution within the bourgeois state (a CNT-UGT government) is urgent, and that we should then proceed to the establishment of a truly proletarian government. Inasmuch as it concerns the course of our revolution, this is equivalent to the position of the Stalinists.

Against the false position of the Stalinists, who say “defeat Fascism first, and then make the revolution”, Marxists have intransigently maintained that you cannot separate these two tasks from one another. Subjective conditions demand a proletarian revolution today, and allowing yourself to believe that it can be postponed to tomorrow means to betray the interests of the working class. Since the objective conditions demand an implacable social revolution, Marxists cannot be in favour of a government that would not be the dictatorship of the proletariat. The character of the revolution and the forms of government for which we ought to struggle are only two aspects of the same problem. Fundamentally, there is no difference between the false position of Stalinism and that expressed by La Batalla on 20 May.

There cannot exist a progressive bourgeois government during the period of declining capitalism. The dilemma that is posed is: Fascism or Socialism. All bourgeois governments have a reactionary content. The same can be said of any party that is not Marxist. The party of the proletariat in our time cannot use the word ‘progressive’ whilst referring to certain bourgeois governments or to the political parties of the bourgeoisie. If they are progressive, that can only mean one thing, that they are instruments for holding back the proletariat in struggle, but have progressive methods of doing so. Exploiters use various methods of struggle against the working class. A progressive bourgeois government can only mean a more effective and more subtle method to frustrate and mislead the proletariat.

The leaders of the UGT and the CNT have already shown in action, and actions speak louder than words, that they are enemies of the proletarian revolution. That has been demonstrated by their previous actions in government and in the streets of Barcelona during the May Days. Isn’t it thanks to the CNT leaders that the Esquerra and the PSUC were able to eliminate the conquests of the revolution in Catalonia? Was it not Largo Caballero, the most influential leader of the UGT and the Minister for War, who abandoned the Aragon front to its fate? Was it not the united leaderships of the CNT and the UGT who renounced the revolution and opened the way for the counter-revolution? Will they change now, or much later when having the fate of the revolution in their hands, they will have betrayed it?

Their policy consists of separating the war and the revolution, which is the same as strangling the revolution and losing the war. And our leadership is proposing a coalition of these two reformist bureaucracies as ... a progressive step!?

Faced with our criticism of the slogan of a UGT-CNT government, we are mindful that our Executive Committee will appeal to the Russian Revolution. During the period of Kerensky Lenin launched the slogan “All the responsibility of power to the Mensheviks”, who at that time were a minority in the government, whereas they represented a majority in the Soviets. If we remind them of this explanation, perhaps they will seek refuge behind the formula of Trotsky, who in 1934 called for a Blum-Cachin (Socialist-Stalinist) government for France.

Lenin launched his slogan when organs of dual power existed. The Mensheviks were in a majority in the Soviets thanks to their great influence over the working class, whilst they were in a minority in the government. It was necessary to push them into power in order to force their contradictions and their anti-revolutionary character into the open. This permitted the Bolsheviks to free the Soviets from the influence of the Mensheviks, and bring to light their betrayals within the government. In such circumstances, with the existence of dual power, and with the sole aim of exposing the reformists, Lenin’s slogan was correct. But there is no dual power in Spain, since the reformist leaders have liquidated it at birth. Proposing a UGT-CNT government today means assisting reformism in fresh betrayals tomorrow, because the same bourgeoisie on which it depends and to whose needs it responds is yet again endeavouring to use these leaders to behead the new proletarian revolution that is to come.

Enough of centrist politics, and enough of reformist formulae. For a clear Marxist activity and for the victory of the proletarian revolution it is necessary to avoid spreading confusion amongst the masses, it is necessary to work effectively for the creation of organs of the second power, and it is indispensable to reorganise the party on the proper political basis.

Cell 72, Fifth Barcelona District of the POUM, May 1937

Updated by ETOL: 31.7.2003