Jean Rous

Spain 1936-39: The Murdered Revolution

Thousands of Workers Must Not Have Died in Vain

This last contribution is meant to interpret what goes before, and in a sense to draw a final line under it. It is translated from Espagne 1936-Espagne 1939: La révolution assassinée, first published by the Librairie du Travail in February 1939, and reprinted in Documents sur la révolution espagnole (1936-39), Les Cahiers du CERMTRI, no.38, September 1985, pp.3-34.

Its author, Jean Rous (1908-1985), began his career in the SFIO (Socialist Party), and in 1932 joined the French Trotskyists. A lawyer by profession, he was National Secretary of the GBL (Bolshevik-Leninist Left), the French Trotskyist group, in 1934, and when they entered the SFIO he was elected onto its National Administrative Council. When the Trotskyists left the SFIO he was a leading member of the POI (International Workers Party) formed in 1936. Born in Catalonia, he could speak both Catalan and Castillian, and as he was a member of the International Secretariat, this made him the ideal choice to send to Spain to make contact with the POUM and help organise the work of the Spanish Trotskyists. He was not able to achieve either objective, for as the foregoing accounts make plain, he not only fell foul of Nicola di Bartolomeo, the POUM’s liaison officer with the foreigners coming to Spain, but also with the party as a whole, including its centre-left wing around Andrade and Molins y Fábrega, and the result of his work was to isolate the Trotskyist militants yet further from the POUM.

In 1939 the French Trotskyists split, and Rous was a leader of the faction that joined the PSOP (Workers and Peasants Party) of Marceau Pivert. As the PSOP disintegrated, he was a member of the CQI (Committee for the Fourth International) publishing L’étincelle along with Yvan Craipeau, but in 1940 he was expelled from this group and set up a small nationalist grouping, the MNR (Revolutionary National Movement). Later in the war he was a supporter of the Libérer-Fedérer Resistance group, and joined the SFIO after the Liberation. After this he was for a while a member of the PSU (United Socialist Party), but rejoined the Socialist Party in 1972.

“There is nothing so destructive as illusion, whereas nothing can be of greater use to the revolution than naked truth.” So said Rosa Luxemburg in her speech on the programme. And the great revolutionary added: “The best source of a better and more profound understanding for the future is to practice self-criticism and to undertake a serious and practical examination of what has happened, of what has been accomplished and of what has been neglected in order to acquire proper methods and the way to follow ...” [1] This is the outlook that should inspire us in our study of the rich experience of the Spanish Civil War. The deaths of thousands upon thousands of revolutionary workers must not be in vain. All the causes of this defeat must be understood and examined.

This study does not intend to be a substitute for the most profound lessons in the theoretical sphere, such as those of Leon Trotsky, essentially those outlined in The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning. [2] Nor does it intend to replace first hand observation, nor the more analytical studies touching upon particular questions, such as the land problem, the national question, some of the Anarchist experiences of agrarian Communism, the problem of the army, or of the trade unions. We await all these with interest – particularly from those comrades who took part in these events.

Here, we simply want to provide a summary of the main events in order to allow every concerned and deeply enquiring worker to have henceforth a sort of broad panoramic view of the essentials of the matter that is capable of helping him in his task.

19 July 1936–4 May 1937

Before July 1936: The Spanish Revolution began in 1931 with the fall of the absolutism of Alfonso XIII. But the Socialist leaders, Prieto and Caballero, did all they could to prevent the revolution from being carried through to its conclusion. They stopped at the bourgeois democratic stage and put Socialist tasks back to a distant future date. In the parliamentary arena they practised class collaboration, which led them to organise a bloody repression of the workers, such as the massacre of the Anarchist Commune of Casas Viejas, etc. The result of the betrayal of the interests of the working class by this ‘Popular Front’, which did not bear this name as yet, was to provoke and accelerate the offensive of bourgeois reaction. The working class on its part responded magnificently with its own method of struggle – direct action.

The culmination of this stage was the great Asturian Commune of October 1934. [3] The proletariat seized power by means of the Workers’ Alliances, whose instigators in Catalonia were Nin of the Communist Left, and Maurín of the Workers and Peasants Bloc. But the workers’ struggle was broken by the treachery of both the democrats (Azaña and Companys) and the reformist leaders, who prevented the arming of the workers and gave in without a fight.

Was anything learnt from this important lesson? Unquestionably not by the leadership of the different workers’ parties, which, from 1936 onwards, yet again allied themselves with the bourgeois democrats and concluded a common programme for the reform of the state and for wage demands typical of the French Popular Front programme. The Communists, who during the previous period had attacked the United Front between working class organisations as ‘Social Fascism’ and ‘Trotskyism’, were, even in Spain, the most ardent propagandists of the new formula of class collaboration. As for the Anarchist leaders, they proceeded to support the Popular Front from the sidelines, as it was well known that they would not get involved in politics. The POUM (the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, the product of the fusion of the Communist Left of Nin and Andrade and the Workers and Peasants Bloc of Maurín) later broke the pact, inasmuch as they considered it to be a purely electoral concern.

Brought to power by this electoral coalition, Azaña’s main concern was to defend the capitalist regime and private property that were threatened by the workers and the peasants. He protected the Fascist and reactionary officers. He supported them publicly, guaranteeing their loyalty. He had no more enthusiastic supporters than the so-called Communist Party. The Fascist conspiracy, which was then being openly prepared in the army in close liaison with the upper echelons of finance capital, remained, as always, the master plan. The result was the Francoist insurrection of 19 July 1936.

Except for five divisions the whole army went over to the Fascists. It was that kind of ‘Republican’ army! To begin with, both Azaña in Madrid and Companys in Barcelona refused to give arms to the workers and attempted to repeat their performance of 1934. But the workers had drawn their own conclusions, and, without taking the slightest notice of the Popular Front sermons about governmental and parliamentary authority, helped themselves. They spontaneously hurled themselves upon the rebel armies, and by fraternising with the soldiers, disarmed them and emptied the Fascist armouries and arms depots in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia. In a word, they answered the Fascist insurrection organised by the ‘Republican’ army with a proletarian counter-insurrection.

From 19 July onwards the Spanish Revolution, combined with a civil war against the Fascist armies, had an upward trajectory, only to fall back again in a period of retreat and repression, whose most striking turning point of reference is the smashing of the 1937 May Days in Barcelona.

To start with we shall see the unfolding of the revolution in the first stage, and then how the revolution was defeated, to the great profit of the Fascist armies.

The First Stage: The Masses Drive Back Franco and Inaugurate Workers’ Power

From 19 July to 15 August the workers repulsed the Fascist armies (the regular army, in other words) by turning their own weapons against them. Just before this the gentlemen Philistines of the Popular Front explained in their speeches that revolution was impossible on account of modern weaponry. But in Barcelona the workers of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), the National Workers Union (CNT) and the POUM advanced against the Fascist battalions, disarmed them, took the barracks, and set up their own militias.

One fact is of the utmost significance: the Republican Left [4], the organisation which was by far the strongest electorally in Catalonia, which had every member of the Catalan Parliament save six, had at the same time the smallest militia (about 1,000 men). On the other hand, the POUM, the most feeble both numerically and electorally, was, with a militia of between 5,000 and 6,000 combatants, the next biggest after the CNT, which was the strongest working class organisation. Such was the power of the revolution compared with that of the Popular Front!

This was the heroic period of the Durruti Column, of the Grossi Arquer Column of the POUM, and of the first international column or Lenin Column, composed of international revolutionaries, including militants of the Fourth International, among them Robert de Fauconnet [5], who was killed at Huesca, Italian Maximalists, and militants of the Independent Labour Party.

In spite of the official Giral-Azaña [6] government, the toiling masses also entered into action in Madrid. Even if the POUM section was so weak numerically, it was at the head of the attackers who took the Montana Barracks with cries of “Long live Lenin and Trotsky!”. In a few days the enemy was pushed back 150 kilometres from Madrid. On the Catalan front, where it had been pushed back more then 250 kilometres, the columns of the POUM and the Durruti Column were some tens of miles from Saragossa.

But the Republican ministers and generals were uneasy about the lightning victory of the masses. They held back. In Catalonia, they did not want to take Huesca. Their rôle was even more cynical in Madrid. On the radio Giral and Prieto openly begged the Fascists, whom they called “brothers of the same blood” (sic!) to conclude a truce! And sure enough Mundo Obrero, the organ of the so-called Communist Party, supported Prieto.

Permanent Revolution in Action

To a greater or lesser extent, everywhere in ‘governmental’ territory civil war was accompanied by social revolution. The Socialist revolution completed the struggle for the defence of democratic liberties. The so-called abstract theory of Permanent Revolution, according to which, in the epoch of decaying capitalism, democratic tasks can only be carried to their conclusion by the methods of the Socialist revolution, became a reality. The militants of the POUM and the CNT, and the Catalan and Madrileno masses carried out the permanent revolution, most of them quite unconsciously. To defend themselves against Fascism, they had taken over the factories and land here, expropriated the capitalists there, and everywhere built their own workers’ state (the committees) in the face of the old bourgeois democratic state. However, the Messrs Stalinist leaders chattered on about the necessity of halting at the democratic revolution. Describing the situation at the time, the Central Committee of the POUM could say:

From the very first moments in Catalonia the revolution has assumed a proletarian character and the working class has made itself absolute master of the situation. The normal organs of government continue to exist, but the appearance of bodies such as the Central Committee and the Council of the Economy had reduced the former to pure fantasy.

La Batalla, the organ of the POUM, wrote that:

In fact the Central Committee of the Militias ruled Catalonia, and the Generalitat, presided over by Companys, was happy to carry out the decisions taken by the Central Committee. The Central Committee had absolute control over the entire military organisation of Catalonia and over the conduct of the war, including supplies. It was also the virtual master of internal order and of police control and, furthermore, it controlled the radio and exercised censorship over the press and communications of every sort.

In the same way a committee existed in every district and in every village: the local committee held total power and had the job both of guaranteeing the defence of working class gains and of the general political and economic administration which had replaced the capitalist Council of Administration. This was the moment when, because of the initiative of the workers and peasants of the CNT, the FAI and the POUM, these magnificent achievements of the Catalan proletariat sprang up in their hundreds.

In such factories as Hispano-Suiza in Barcelona, the whole management of production was in workers’ hands. Control was exercised by a committee with a representative from each branch of industry, including the engineers. The underground, transport and all the large factories were administered by workers’ committees and the CNT trade unions. The abolition of capitalist profit resulted in the lowest prices, the reduction of the working day and higher wages, along with the most rational organisation of production for the benefit of all.

Whoever was fortunate enough to be in Barcelona at that time (as was this writer) was convinced of the overwhelming superiority of the methods of Socialist management of the economy over the capitalist system, by the daily and very concrete results in factories, transport and shops. Moreover, the worker was simultaneously working for himself as well as for everyone and, through this, gained a feeling of initiative, a sense of responsibility and an energy which was completely unknown under capitalist slavery.

Under the inspiration of rank and file Anarchists, the peasants in hundreds and hundreds of country villages had abolished money, pooled their resources, fixed wages, set up distributive cooperatives for buying and selling in liaison with the trade unions, and got together in village assemblies encompassing the entire population to debate and decide upon the orientation and interests of the community, and to control the activity of their committee.

Capitalist private property was overthrown everywhere. Only under the protection of the leaders of the Popular Front did the official power of the old state remain, but it was completely disorganised, because in order to expropriate the capitalist enemy who would only work under the Fascist enemy, the workers were forced to construct their own state apparatus. Over and against Parliament and the Generalitat, they built their committees. Instead of the Republican army that they had blown to pieces, they built the people’s militias. It was not due to a kind of impulse, as the Stalinist witch-doctors explained, or as a result of so-called ‘Trotskyist provocation’ that the masses took the road towards the Socialist revolution. Every worker, faced point-blank with reality, could see that it was impossible to defeat Fascism, or achieve democratic aims, other than by the methods of the Socialist revolution, that is by expropriating the expropriators and constructing the apparatus of the workers’ state.

The great mass of the Anarchist workers of Catalonia thus put Marxism into practice without knowing it. A regime of dual power, in the classic sense of that term, existed in Catalonia, although it was less widespread in the rest of governmental territory, no doubt because the official bourgeois government there played a greater rôle. But even in Valencia an Executive Committee replaced the official governor, and the large industrial, agricultural and banking concerns were expropriated.

In Madrid the official decree only authorised “the expropriation of ordinary or judicial personnel who have, in a direct or indirect manner, taken part in the insurrectionary movement”. This decree was published in the September issue of Gaceta, the official paper. In precise governmental language it was a distant echo of the fact that, during the first days of July, the UGT and the CNT had taken control of the factories, shops, businesses and means of transportation. The entire authority of the government of the Popular Front was used to protect the Bank of Spain and the foreign banks, in particular the German ones.

Thus, even in Madrid, though to a lesser extent than in Catalonia, a regime of dual power existed: the committees were opposed to the official state. Catalonia was the decisive region, the heart of the revolution, as well as being at the same time the main reservoir for the industrial, natural and human resources of the Civil War.

The Real Question – The Decisive Moment

What would be the outcome of this dual power? Would the workers completely destroy and root out what remained of the old apparatus, such as the police, military and civil administration, as if they were tearing off old wallpaper? Would they substitute for it a state composed of the committees of the workers, peasants and militias that had sprung from the insurrection? Or, on the other hand, would the democratic bourgeoisie, helped by the Stalinists, reformists and all the supporters of the ‘democratic’, as opposed to the Socialist revolution, gradually rebuild the bourgeois state by reviving its remains? This was the decisive moment.

During August 1936 the world bourgeoisie trembled at the thought of a new October Revolution. It trembled, and quite rightly so. For it would have been enough for the CNT and the POUM to have simply called for the unequivocal abolition of the old official state, and its substitution by the creation of a state of committees of the workers, peasants and militias, beginning with Catalonia.

‘Democracy’ was in no position at that time to oppose this mopping up, for the armed workers were in charge. But any hesitation, and any loss of time, would allow the balance to tip to the right. And threatening signs had already appeared. In governmental territory the big capitalists had fled to Franco or further afield. Occasionally they were rescued with the complicity of the Popular Front, as was the case with Matteu, the head of the electricity consortium, who was saved on 30 July 1936 at the request of Blum, the president of the Council of France, and was sent to Barcelona as his personal secretary. [7]

But the capitalist top brass had left behind their left wing agents, the democrats Azaña and Companys and their allies in the Socialist and the Communist Parties. From the very first days of the proletarian counter-insurrection these gentlemen preached their sermons to humanity. Above all they wanted to defend “order and property”, as a resolution of the Communist Party put it. As if the insurrection of Franco had not been fomented with this overriding aim, and not just to replace the fading democrats! True enough, this entire Popular Front claimed that it had no worse enemy than Fascism, which it was necessary to fight “above all”. “Later on” we would see what could be done.

On 4 August Prieto’s journal El Socialista provided a lecture to the intellectuals from the leader of the Communist Party militias, a certain Castro [8], “to those elements who think that the time has come for the insurrection to put in place the foundations of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we must say that the popular militias were set up to defend the democratic republic against attacks from whichever direction they come”. This warning had to be made by a Communist leader. From the mouth of Azaña or Companys it would only have had the effect of inciting the proletarian insurrection even further. It came far more convincingly from the mouth of a Communist.

We want neither Fascism nor the social revolution, said the democrats, the reformists and the Stalinists. What we want is the status quo, bourgeois democracy and our jobs in the state and in parliament; that is what the workers must defend, full stop, that’s it. Otherwise, woe betide them! It is this selfsame preoccupation that at the same time aroused both democrats and bankers in London and Paris ... or, more precisely, the ‘Communist’ leader had done no more than convey the terror of the democrats and bankers of London and Paris in the face of a military victory against Franco that would be irresistibly accompanied by the Socialist revolution.

The banker of democratic Britain tells himself that Franco’s victory would be greatly preferable to such a catastrophe. What price democracy without capital? So as not to lose the support of my friend the banker, the Spanish democrat tells himself that at all costs the revolution must be prevented. The democrats in France and Britain were far less troubled than their Spanish allies by the ‘unwelcome’ presence of armed workers ...

Preventing the revolution meant for them above all preventing the development of the victorious struggle of the workers against the armies of Franco, cutting off food supplies, and preventing the normal supplying of Red Spain with weapons. Hence the non-intervention initiative of 6 August, undertaken by Blum and Eden [9] and approved of by Stalin, was in reality laid down by Vickers, Schneider, Rothschild, Forgeat-Matteu and Company. These gentlemen of big capital have given us a lesson in realism: what is decisive for we capitalists, and what has consequently been decisive for our government, even if it is a Popular Front one, is the preservation of our capital. To this end alone we are prepared to use the democrats at one moment, and the Fascists at another. Let it be understood, then, that if you democrats are incapable of holding back the revolution, then we will no longer rely on you. Franco will definitely be our man. Thus spoke the democrats of the Paris and London stock exchanges.

The Meaning of the Capitalist Manoeuvres

It must be observed that in some way their initiative of non-intervention was not only of help to Franco, but was also support for the enemies of the revolution in the governmental camp, such as the Azaña democrats and their allies. In fact, whoever penetrated the corridors of the revolution at this time, the offices of the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias for example, would have been able to tell that from the moment when Paris and London cut off all supplies, the Republican gentlemen and their Stalinist allies lifted their heads up again and regained fresh confidence. Speaking to the CNT, the FAI and the POUM, they said:

You see, dear friends [the tone was still friendly!] Blum and Eden have been frightened by some of the excesses, and it is going to cost you the revolution [they still talked about revolutions!]. We must reassure our Popular Front French and democratic British allies. That is a precondition for making them reverse their unfortunate decision. For this we must give the appearance of order and normality. We must preserve the façade of the bourgeois republic. You know what we mean – the façade! For we do not intend to take the factories from the workers.

Then the Anarchists nodded their heads sagely and replied with some emotion:

Fair enough! We have the economy, where we are the masters! So we very much want to make this concession to you, in the interests of anti-Fascist unity. You politicians can continue to concern yourselves with politics, and it is for you to represent us abroad.

Moreover, as a result of the lobby discussions at this time – the beginning of August – a series of measures was adopted, entitled normalisation, supposedly for the sake of the external ‘façade’, in order to reassure London and Paris.

Thus it was that the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias became, without any fuss, a simple arm of the official Ministry for the Defence of the Generalitat. To break up dual power, an executive council was formed in each ministry on which the parties and trade unions were represented. In a word, the new organs of workers’ power were incorporated into the old state machinery which was being reconsolidated, and of which they could only become an annex, a limb.

We did point out this danger at the time to the comrades of the POUM and the CNT, both in private conversation and afterwards in articles of the press service of the Fourth International, but they thought quite the opposite, as is explained, for example, in La Batalla. According to them, this solution had the advantage of shifting “revolutionary power into the governmental machine itself”. And “in Catalonia we cannot talk of the traditional schema of the Russian Revolution, dual power”. It was always the bourgeois power that was strengthened, whereas workers’ power was incorporated within it. Through the constant use of the slogan “Arms for the Front” the workers in the rear were gradually disarmed and the numbers of the regular police – the assault guards – were swollen considerably.

The time had now come for normalisation. They attempted to incorporate Socialism within the Generalitat on 11 August by means of the Economic Council that was instructed to run the new economy. So, obviously, President Companys adopted the programme of socialisation presented by Nin! The Economic Council was the Socialist Council of the bourgeois Generalitat ... Thus, in conditions of a revolutionary upsurge, the democratic gentlemen decked themselves out in a ‘Socialist’ disguise.

From that time onwards, by increasingly using the blackmail of non-intervention, in other words by resting on international capital, the democratic gentlemen went over to the offensive to reconquer lost ground. Skilfully, with a thousand flatteries addressed to the revolutionaries, they tried to find a route to counter-revolution.

Second Phase: September to the End of December 1936

As was their wont, it was in this way that the Spanish friends of Blum, Eden and Stalin were to use the defeats of San Sebastián and Irún [10], which were the direct results of Blum’s, Eden’s and Stalin’s crime of non-intervention. They were all for the revolution, but the war had to be won first and the revolution delayed until later. This was the start of the deception that strangled both the revolution and the war.

They also added that authority and unity are necessary; this latter preoccupation was far from being untrue. It was, on the contrary, the concern of every worker. But the whole point was to know precisely to whose advantage this authority would be exercised, and for what purpose was this unity to be forged. To the advantage of the workers, or of the bourgeoisie? For the construction of a new social order, or with a view to its destruction?

This was the crucial moment at which the revolutionary party could exploit to the utmost the legitimate desire for authority and unity. A strong power? Then a Militia Central Committee, with ultimate authority and full power over all matters. A united organisation? Then committees covering everything, linked together and electing and controlling the Central Committee. Within the army there should be political commissars, who had the confidence of the militias, controlling the military specialists until such time as military specialists could emerge from the training schools or the revolutionary ranks.

In the revolutionary conditions in Catalonia in particular such a state would have stood for the maximum unity, authority and democracy, though in the beginning, in comparison with the Anarchists, the Marxists would have been a small minority. But the creation of such a workers’ and peasants’ state (which at the time, let us repeat, would only have formalised what was actually existing) would in itself have signified a great victory for Marxist ideas, and would have meant the likelihood of our cadres, working under conditions of workers’ democracy, being able to enrich the experience of the Anarchist masses.

Unfortunately, as we have emphasised over and over again, to our deep regret [11] (and without any acknowledgment) it was the enemy of the revolution who, by this blackmail of unity and authority, forced concessions from the CNT and thus from the POUM in favour of the bourgeoisie and against the revolution. It was the classic apoliticism of the CNT that prevented it from seeing the danger. As for the POUM we felt that, in the best of faith, it continued to aid the revolution without losing its temper with the other anti-Fascist parties (among whom were to be found supporters of the counter-revolution).

Thus it was that the coalition government of 27 September 1936 was formed, including the bourgeois democrats, the Stalinist-reformist parties (UGT-PSUC), the Anarchist organisation (CNT) and the revolutionary party (POUM). President Taradellas, the bourgeois republican, gave the leading rôle to the bourgeois Republicans and the Stalinist-reformists with seven out of 12 government portfolios.

In Solidaridad Obrera the CNT and the FAI justified their participation in the government in the following way:

The Generalitat has so far existed on a petit-bourgeois basis with a certain preponderance of the industrial bourgeoisie ... The revolution has certain needs ... In a regional plenum the CNT ... took the decision in the circumstances to accept responsibility and to participate in the government, and, through the agency of a delegation of comrades from the CNT, decided to allow the formation of a council which would be formed by the representatives of the various anti-Fascist factions ... For the benefit of the revolution and for the future of the working class it was no longer possible for dual power to continue in Catalonia. To put it simply, the organisation which controls the immense majority of the working population had to be able to rise to the level of administrative and executive decisions ...

As far as the bourgeois Republican leaders (the Esquerra) and Stalinist-reformists (PSUC-UGT) were concerned, they were well pleased, though they expressed themselves with moderation. They welcomed the start of order and normalisation in the interests of the anti-Fascist war.

After expressing some reservations, the Central Committee of the POUM on its part expressed itself thus:

In this sense, the Central Committee considers today, as it did yesterday, that the government should be exclusively composed of working class parties and trade union organisations, but if this point of view is not shared by the other working class organisations, we will not insist on it, all the more so because the left Republican movement in Catalonia has a deeply popular character that radically distinguishes it from the essentially bourgeois republicanism of the Spanish left ... We are living in a transitional epoch, in which the force of events drives us into direct collaboration inside the Council of the Generalitat ...

In reality the questions that the advanced workers were posing, and not without some unease, were the following:

Is this the case of a government which will move to the restoration of the old bourgeois state, or of a government that will rest upon this new power, that of the committees? Moreover, can we construct the state and move towards the regime of the Socialist revolution alongside democrats and Stalinist-reformists, who are against this revolution? If a workers’ and peasants’ government is not yet possible, would it not be better to prepare for it by remaining in political opposition to this transitional bourgeois government, whilst maintaining strictly the unity of the anti-Fascist front within the military conflict, instead of joining hands with a government controlled by the enemies of the revolution?

All these questions could have been resolved in principle by looking at previous experiences, beginning with the most recent in Asturias. In his book Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, Maurín gave a striking description of the mechanism of betrayal by the democrats and the petit-bourgeoisie at the time of the working class insurrection. He quoted the damning Document no.1, of 6 October 1934, issued by the Catalan left Republicans (the selfsame Companys and Co), in which these good apostles admitted that at the time of the working class insurrection their plan was to “attempt to divert the movement and prevent a surging and disordered tide from engulfing Catalonia”. They said “either abandon power [to the enemy] or get it back”. They went on cynically, “the three commandments of bourgeois democracy in its relations with the working class are: give in, take over again, or betray (divert)!” For these gentlemen it was, after 19 July 1936, a matter of “diverting”, together with an exceptionally skilled and powerful ally which was a past-master of police methods: Stalinism.

All these questions were to receive a practical response in the actions of the Taradellas government.

Taradellas in Action

The Taradellas government was formed on 27 September 1936. Its programme was very radical in appearance. Its formal radicalism was a sign that there were workers in the region who still wielded a large proportion of effective power in the militias, the committees and the factories and that, through the local committees, the poor working peasants were in charge of the villages. The government intended to show itself to be the ‘legaliser’ of the revolutionary gains.

In reality that was the intention of merely a small minority in the government, the POUM and a part of the CNT. The real aim of the bourgeois and Stalinist-reformist ministers was the return to order – capitalist order – but it was not admitted, except cynically, by the Stalinist press that set the tone.

In these conditions it was hardly astonishing that the first act of ‘normalisation’ by the government was the dissolution of the Catalan ‘Soviet’. The Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias was dissolved “as a logical consequence of the formation of the new government of the Generalitat”, as La Batalla put it.

The second act was the decree for the abolition of all the committees and the decree for the creation of new municipalities in Catalonia. La Batalla of 11 October published all these documents. President Taradellas declared: “These new municipal councils will be made up of representatives of political parties and anti-Fascist organisations in the same proportion as in the council of the Generalitat.” Consequently, a decree annexed to it declared as dissolved “all anti-Fascist and popular committees, as well as all organisations that have sprung from the movement of subversion with cultural, economic, or any other sort of aims”. This was the “natural consequence of the abolition of the Central Committee of the Militias”, added La Batalla accurately enough, “which had been dissolved as a logical consequence of the formation of the new government of the Generalitat”. By means of “logical consequences” and “natural consequences” the bourgeoisie advanced by slow and sure steps.

Combat, the journal of the Lérida POUM Youth (JCT) put its finger on it with a sure instinct, and wrote:

The POUM has sustained real damage in the new municipal councils, for whereas the ‘Left’ and ‘Catalan Action’ in Lérida seemed well and truly dead, they are now disinterred.

The image is striking! Actually, it was the bourgeoisie that was gradually being disinterred. This is presumably what the CNT press meant by “the transitional phase between bureaucratic rule and the libertarian order”. To maintain this illusion the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists avoided proceeding in a brutal manner: they gave lip service to the gains of 19 July. They simply wanted to ‘normalise’ them. The most hypocritical decree in this direction was without a doubt the so-called decree of collectivisation. In some of its passages this decree was excellent. It simply ratified the fact that the workers held the factory through their works committee, and on the other that it was impossible to dislodge them for the moment, since they had the real force of arms.

In this sense the decree ratified the works councils elected by mass meetings. Collectivisation was allowed for firms of more than 100 employees. Workers’ control enforced by the works committee would exist in firms of less than 100 employees. This part of the government decision was only a very incomplete reflection of the admirable successes already achieved by the Catalan people, in which the activists of the POUM and the CNT had played a great part.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that the objective of the bourgeois reformist and Stalinist authors of the decree was to resurrect the capitalist regime. This is why at the same time as the decree on the one hand ostensibly granted the workers the factories that they had already seized (superficially the most important measure), on the other hand it prepared to take them back, secretly to begin with.

Nin correctly foresaw that the nationalisation of finance capital and the monopoly of foreign trade were a quite indispensable precondition for successful industrial collectivisation. The only trouble is that these insights were submitted for ratification by the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists, the enemies of Socialism.

So long as finance capital was not nationalised, collectivisation remained uncertain, because the former dominated the factories right through the production process, from manufacture to the despatch of the finished goods. What use are the factories if capital is in the hands of the enemy? Similarly, the monopoly of foreign trade guarantees that foreign capital cannot take over the economy of a country that is unavoidably hostile to it. Thus the workers’ state is the merchant, not some God-knows-what kind of private speculator.

That is precisely why, at the same time as it granted (?) ‘collectivisation’, the Taradellas government shattered these two essential pillars: the nationalisation of credit and the monopoly of foreign trade. It was decided to keep the banks and exports under bureaucratic governmental control, but this was to ensure that the bureaucracy kept its hands on the two levers with which it could sabotage collectivisation: that is the banks with the money supply, and foreign trade, or more plainly, relations with foreign capital. We shall soon see the use to which the Stalinist leader Comorera [12] would put these two levers as he cut back the factory committees and starved the rebellious population into accepting Stalinisation.

Bourgeois Military Reforms

Finally, there is the process of ‘normalisation’ in respect of the most burning issue of all: the army and the decree on military reforms.

The guarantee that the militiamen were fighting for themselves, for the factories and for the landed property seized, rested in the fact that the army, the instrument of defence, was completely under their control and in their hands. In other words, this guarantee was vested in an army in which the soldiers, organised in their committees, elected their political commissars who controlled the military specialists.

But this was precisely what the bourgeoisie proposed to abolish, since for them the army could only be an instrument for the oppression of the workers, and not an instrument for their defence. That is why the decree on military reforms was drawn up thus:

Article 1: beginning from next 1 November, the anti-Fascist militiamen at present under arms will be subject to the new judicial code now being prepared ... Article 2: whilst waiting for the appearance of the new code, disciplinary measures will be applicable following the military code currently in force.

How’s that for hypocrisy – as if the code in force had not been shattered to pieces so that the army would be more capable of thrusting back Franco’s forces. As the POUM has correctly emphasised about this code “currently in force” (that really is the case!):

It is the bourgeois code. It is a question of a collection of repressive class measures. The entire legislation is aimed against political propaganda in the barracks.

So here the militiamen are forced to submit to the old monarchist code, only three months after the working class counter-insurrection. Such is the development of the situation, even in Catalonia, the centre of the revolution. The world bourgeoisie noted with satisfaction: “The social revolution in Catalonia has suffered a setback.” (Le Temps, 21 October)

In Madrid

For an even stronger reason we can observe a similar development in Madrid where the influence of the bourgeois bureaucracy had become as strong as that of the so-called Communist Party. Moscow had just ordained that the condition for victory was the destruction of Trotskyism, and by Trotskyism it meant all the supporters of the revolution. Even so, the Giral government showed itself to be quite powerless to impose bourgeois authority.

The Madrid workers had been infected with the same contagion as their Catalan exemplars. So things had to be ‘normalised’ there too. And that was not all. Caballero and the Socialist ministers took on the job. The programme was: “I am fighting the war to the utmost. The government will uphold the parliamentary republic within the confines of the capitalist system.” On 4 November Caballero himself had to be reinforced. Four Anarchist ministers declared that they were going to join the “government of the revolution”. The POUM criticised this participation. Thus reinforced, the government proceeded on the path of military reforms, which meant in reality the suppression of the militias with their proletarian order in the interests of the reconstruction of a ‘people’s army’, which, in its regulations, was as like the bourgeois army as two peas in a pod.

The Anarchist Minister of Justice [13] had to draw up regulations for the prisons populated by militant Anarchists who had rebelled against bourgeois military efficiency. It was at this time that Durruti, the heroic symbol of the libertarian people of Catalonia, whilst firmly declaring that he was a supporter of anti-Fascist discipline, protested against the attempt to subject the militiamen to the old bourgeois code.

The first repressive patrols, made up of dubious elements organised by the so-called Communist Party, could be seen prowling through the streets of Madrid. The official police, the National Guard, was reinforced. Mundo Obrero, the organ of the so-called Communist Party, began its pogrom campaign against the revolutionaries of the POUM, who were treated as ‘spies’ and ‘uncontrollables’. This organ showed its gratitude to Stalin for shooting the old Bolsheviks Zinoviev and Kamenev, which, by the end of October, was the sole ‘service’ that Stalin had given working class Spain after of four months of struggle.

Franco approached Madrid with his hordes of tercios and Moroccan cavalry. But the resources of the working class were far from subdued by the first blows of repression. It was the beginning of Madrid’s heroic resistance. The committees that had been recently suppressed under the pretext of military efficiency sprang up again. There were the mass mobilisation, the barricades, the new epic of the Durruti Column, there was the admirable valour of the two Lenin battalions of the POUM, which was even recognised by the bourgeois press, in the Heraldo; there was the irresistible energy of the International Brigades, which came forward, not in the spirit of imperialist security, but of international fraternity.

Our friend Moulin, who was assassinated by the GPU, wrote to us from Madrid about the prime importance of revolutionary creativity:

If the POUM and the Anarchist left wing ... that was about to crystallise around the question of the ministerial posts of the CNT leaders ... had been stronger, the control of the government by the soldiers’ committee of the Central Front would have already been a reality.

Thanks to the revolutionary proletariat Madrid resisted the worst assaults for 40 days and pushed the Fascists back.

What importance were the declarations made by the Popular Front about Republican patriots assuring their national independence? The armed workers of the entire world were resisting in Madrid, and thus defending their brothers in the whole world. Unfortunately, the Republican and Popular Front proclamations weren”t just pure comedy. Rather, a comedy was transformed into a tragedy for the working class. For, reinforced by Stalinism and reformism, the Republican bourgeoisie was being reborn.

Basing itself upon the recent and first arms cargo from Stalin, which arrived at Cartagena, Stalinist slanders were transmuted into repression. Its first actions were directed against the Madrid section of the POUM. This was no accident. The paper of the POUM military columns, Combatiente Rojo [14], that taught the soldiers the lessons of Trotsky’s Red Army, was suppressed. The POUM’s printshop was confiscated and its radio suppressed. Madrid had resisted due to the revolutionary workers, the International Brigades and the columns of the POUM, which lost three quarters of their manpower in the battle. But the parliamentary Republic defended itself against the revolution.

The POUM Expelled From the Catalan Government

The measures taken by the Taradellas government in Catalonia of dissolving the committees, of military efficiency, and of allowing speculation, gave rise to growing discontent among the workers. Nin gave expression to this protest in one of his speeches in the following way:

We came into the government of the Generalitat with our own identity and our entire programme, but we say that if the government deviates from its revolutionary road, if it one day tends towards a petit-bourgeois policy, then we will withdraw from it.

The bourgeois and the Stalinists kept in step as they carried on the offensive against the POUM. The tone was given by the Stalinists. Using the blackmail of Soviet weapons, Stalin’s consul, Antonov-Ovseyenko, since imprisoned in Moscow as a ‘Trotskyite’, demanded the expulsion of the POUM. On 10 December Companys demanded the “formation of a strong government”. The leader of the Stalinist PSUC, Comorera, demanded a government that should dedicate itself exclusively to the task of prosecuting the war, so that, for the moment, it would have to leave on one side the problem of the future organisation of society. As if it had not just been irrefutably proved that only the development of the revolution provided the inspiration for the war against Franco. Then Comorera demanded the elimination of the POUM, “given that the party has attacked certain decisions adopted by the Council of which it formed part, and above all because it has opposed the Soviet Union”.

In fact the POUM had not opposed the Soviet Union. But it had denounced the conduct of the gravediggers of the October Revolution, who had provided very expensive munitions to smash the Spanish Revolution in order to show their good faith to the ‘democratic’ imperialists.

The Stalinist order was carried out. Nin was expelled from the Catalan government. After the government’s counter-revolutionary measures in abolishing the committees, it was now time to start open repression. This went on until the revolutionaries were smashed and the Republican armies defeated.

We could go on to show how the actions to restore the bourgeois government and the weakening of the morale in the fighting army went hand in hand. The toiling masses were fighting for land, for the factories and for very definite freedoms, and not for the abstract notion of democracy! So if the land, the factories and their liberties were taken away from them in the name of this abstraction, the drive that inspired them to fight and win was also removed! These considerations are even more obvious when they are taken over onto the international plane and if we examine how the ‘democracies’ assisted the struggle of the Spanish workers against Franco.

How the ‘Democracies’ Assisted the Struggle Against Fascism

We do not intend to provide a complete list of the crimes of non-intervention all over again. For there is not a worker in the world, or an honest intellectual, who will not condemn them. It is preferable to expose the mechanism of betrayal so that we can explain how it happened. If one Communist worker succeeds in grasping the basis of the treachery of the Popular Front it is better than a thousand complaints, even if they were orchestrated by M. Kerillis [15], Buré, François Mauriac, or even the Pope.

In fact, in order to be able to embark upon the road of direct action and to help the struggle of the Spanish workers against the Fascist hangmen, we must understand why the hangmen succeeded in spite of and against the majority of the people. We are forced to emphasise the evidence that the Fascist leaders, Mussolini and Hitler, intervened massively to support the Fascist insurrection. We admit that we are not going to accuse these Fascists of betraying capitalism or their own ideals. On the contrary, they are doing their entire duty as Fascists. But how and why should the democracies help them so remarkably in that task? That is a question that demands an answer, taking into account not the pathetic protests, whether signed by André Marty [16] or Stalin, but real decisions and actions.

Remember that for every imperialism, whether Fascist or democratic, the issue is to guarantee order and bourgeois property. Remember that from the very beginning of these events the Soviet Union and the Communist International had proclaimed in resounding declarations their loyalty to ‘order and property’. The non-intervention calendar of events appears thus:

5 August 1936: A few artillery and a few planes would have been sufficient to achieve victory! The columns of the POUM were a few kilometres from Saragossa and, like the Durruti Column, had no weapons other than those that had been captured from the enemy. The council of the ministers of the democratic French Popular Front decided to “suspend permission to export in the interests of the legal government of a friendly nation”. The Soviet Union and Britain associated themselves with Blum’s initiative. But Hitler and Mussolini on their part increased their “permission to export” cannons and aeroplanes in the interests of Franco. San Sebastián and Irún fell through lack of munitions.

6 September: Blum spoke at Luna Park, cynically declaring that neutrality had not been violated by the Fascist countries. But on 18 January 1939 he declared in the Chamber of Deputies that he had “allowed Irún and San Sebastián to be taken on our frontier when a few dozen machine guns and a few thousand rifles would have been enough to prevent it.”

In August and September 1936 pacifists of all hues praised Blum for having saved the peace. But the workers of Paris prepared to break non-intervention by a general strike. It required all the authority of Thorez [17] to prevent them from going further than a platonic demonstration. The workers the world over had their eyes fixed upon the Spanish Revolution.

Most significant of all was that the news of the conquests of the revolution had raised to their feet those advanced workers who had been crushed under the heels of Hitler or Mussolini. Collections were made and spontaneous demonstrations were called for the Spanish workers. Even in Danzig 10 Bolshevik-Leninists were arrested for distributing leaflets in favour of working class Spain. [18] These brave actions witness to the effect of a real anti-Fascist struggle – one that is conducted by revolutionary methods.

In the face of mass worldwide protest the Soviet workers themselves broke bureaucratic discipline and spontaneously organised factory collections without the authorisation of the GPU.

Some people were astonished, and others indignant, at the attitude of the Soviet Union. L’Oeuvre on 23 October noted:

The Moscow government, uneasy about international Trotskyist propaganda that has accused them since July of betraying the interests of the proletariat, cannot allow the Spanish Republicans to be smashed.

23 October: A diplomatic note from the Soviet Union made known “that in adhering to the agreement of Non-Intervention the Soviet government expected that the agreement should be binding on all participants, and that due to this the period of civil war in Spain would be shortened and the number of victims reduced”. The first cargoes of Soviet weapons were sent. We saw how these long-awaited munitions came to cost workers’ Spain very dearly. All this happened as Stalin’s ambassador announced to the London Committee [19] in words to which, moreover, he was true:

Obviously we are going to supply some weapons. But be reassured; it is not for the revolution. Very much to the contrary, as you will see.

6 November: Stalin’s ambassador changed his mind. He had to apologise for his previous statement. For it was he who took the initiative in proposing “to extend the obligations of non-intervention to the dispatch of volunteers to Spain ... and to invite all the participating governments to agree to prohibit by all means the dispatch and transit of volunteers ...” Blum and Eden took up this initiative, and L’Humanité [20] on 11 December 1936 declared that “the Blum-Eden initiative can have a great bearing for peace”.

January 1937: The French parliament voted unanimously for the prison sentences and fines that were to be imposed upon the anti-Fascist volunteers some months later.

February 1937: The London Committee, with the support of Blum’s government and Stalin, decided to tighten the blockade. It decided to close the Spanish frontiers completely, to prohibit the dispatch of arms and volunteers, and to limit the dispatch of foodstuffs, medical products and clothing. Maisky [21], Stalin’s ambassador, declared:

In the name of my government I am pleased with the agreement entered into today, and I assure you that on its part the Soviet government will set to work completely for the adoption of these measures.

Ribbentrop [22], Hitler’s ambassador, declared:

I am happy to state that the German point of view has been adopted and I am in favour of expressing my satisfaction at this result.

At midnight on 20 February the Spanish frontier was firmly closed on the French side, apart from Ybarnegaray and for the Fascists at Hendaye. [23] The Portuguese frontier remained more or less open for Franco, under the beneficent eye of democratic observers from Britain. At the end of April 1937 the democrats were starving Bilbao. The blockade was absolute – for the Reds.

The tragedy of non-intervention can be thus summarised: on the one side massive and continuous intervention with all types of weapons and soldiers from the Fascist countries in favour of Franco, with the complicity of the democrats, and on the other side limited and exceptional intervention from the Soviet Union in favour of Madrid and Valencia, conditional upon the smashing of the revolutionary movement that was independent of Moscow.

The real masters of this policy were the capitalists who had been expropriated by the revolution in governmental Spain – Rothschild, the owner of the Spanish railways, with, from his board of directors, Prouvest of Paris-Soir, Malvy of the Radical Party [24] with his sleeping car company, Matteu, the owner of the Catalan electrical industry, who had been saved by Blum on 30 July 1936, the Rio Tinto Company, the Penaroya mines (worth 309 million), the lead monopoly, the Asturian Company along with Rothschild, Mirabeau and Wendel, and the Kuhlmann trust with M. Duchemin, the honourary president of Gignoux CPGF.

The essential aim of these measures was for them to regain possession of their property. And for that they were to use the most effective means of getting it back. The number one enemy in every case was the revolution. The number one friend was the most radical defender of the system of order and property: Franco. But when it was a question of shooting revolutionaries and of whittling away their conquests, the Stalinist-democratic bloc was used as friend number two. This is why the tragedy of non-intervention is linked closely to the internal tragedy of the Spanish Revolution that we were to witness from the May Days to the collapse of Barcelona.

From the May Days to the Collapse of Barcelona

What government gave the order for the first acts of repression against the POUM? It was Barcelona, says Caballero. It was Valencia, says Barcelona. In fact, it was the Stalinist bureaucracy with the complicity of both governments and the encouragement of the capitalists. However, so as to point to its counter-revolutionary character in order to reassure London and Paris, both governments boldly committed themselves to the road of bourgeois restoration.

The first Taradellas government had taken the main decisions necessary to ease the way. But in practice it had run up against the opposition of the POUMist and Anarchist workers to the abolition of the committees and to military reforms. That is why it had to jettison the POUM, which reflected in part the revolutionary opposition of the working class rank and file to the government measures.

In the first Taradellas government the former reformist, Comorera, who had now become a Stalinist, gave the signal for action. In his inaugural speech of 23 December 1936 he made a dead set against the committees, which he portrayed as an enemy to be fought. He compared the committees to the middlemen and black marketeers, the cause of all ills. He demanded “full powers to oppose the irresponsible dictatorship of the committees”. He approved of ‘municipalisation’ as opposed to collectivisation. He attacked his Anarchist predecessor at the Ministry of the Economy.

This was a piece of luck, for it enabled Domenech [25], the previous CNT minister, to reply, and this upset the applecart as far as Stalinist aid was concerned. He denounced Comorera’s plans for disorganisation, which aimed at the restoration of free trade, the opening of the stock exchange, and the encouragement of middlemen.

He revealed that the Valencia government had completely boycotted the supply of food to Catalonia because it found that region too advanced and awkward for the ‘great democracies’. He showed that under his ministry the bills had been well and truly paid to the Soviet Union. He quoted a sale of 20 million pesetas for grain, rice and sugar – paid in advance. But the Anarchist press allowed itself to be intimidated by Stalinist threats, and only La Batalla emphasised to any degree the quasi ‘official’ revelations of the previous minister.

The Stalinist campaign was redoubled. Comorera organised demonstrations against the committees; in particular a so-called housewives’ demonstration was organised against the food supply committee. The techniques of Bolshevism were used against Bolshevism ... The Stalinist Minister of the Economy accused the factory committees of having squandered money and of not wanting to hand it over for the purchase of raw materials and the payment of wages. So we can realise why, as far as financial policy was concerned, the Stalinist reformists and the democrats preferred bureaucratic control. It was in order to torpedo workers’ control.

With the help of capital, Comorera did his utmost to restore private trade. He went over the heads of the trade unions in order to make grain purchases on his own account. Thus he re-established the circulation of capital, both internally and externally.

The Mechanism of Betrayal

Thus the mechanism of betrayal appeared more obvious. In the fiery days of the revolution the democrats, with the decisive support of the Stalinists, had succeeded in saving the bureaucratic apparatus of the bourgeois state, just like salvaging an old room after a fire. To begin with they had to glue the pieces together, and then, bit by bit, they had to strengthen the bureaucracy and set it up in opposition to the committees.

The first Taradellas government took a decisive step on the road to the consolidation of the old bourgeois state, while pretending to consolidate the gains of the revolution. Under the pretext that state control was sufficient (was not the government wholly composed of workers’ parties?), it had saved finance capital from nationalisation and the monopoly of foreign trade. It had not been able to avoid sanctioning the fact of the seizure of the factories.

But its successor, the second Taradellas government, was to deliver the first blows against collectivisation by means of bureaucracy, finance and foreign trade, or, to be exact, using capital for this purpose. For is the bureaucratic control of finance any different from the étatist form of the control exerted over the economy by finance capital? This is why the primary enemy of Comorera and Taradellas was the committee, the working class state organ of collectivisation. Thus the completely treacherous character of the first and second so-called transitional Taradellas governments is revealed.

It is such governments that the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, which defined the tactics of the Communist International during its great period, described in the following manner:

Such ‘workers’ governments’ are tolerated by the enfeebled bourgeoisie in critical times as a means of deceiving the proletariat about the real class character of the state, or to ward off, with the help of the corrupt workers’ leaders, the revolutionary offensive of the proletariat and to gain time. Communists cannot take part in such governments ... On the contrary, they must vigorously expose to the masses the real character of the pseudo ‘workers’ governments’. [26]

As we shall see later, this does not exclude the United Front against the main enemy in the event of a Fascist insurrection. Quite rightly the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International was able to state:

The experience of Russia demonstrated, and the experience of Spain and Franco once again confirms, that even under very favourable conditions the parties of petit-bourgeois democracy (SRs [Socialist Revolutionaries], Social Democrats, Stalinists, Anarchists) are incapable of creating a government of workers and peasants, that is, a government independent of the bourgeoisie. [27]

Obviously, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Revolution are very different, and it would be interesting to analyse these differences in another place! But the essential principles of Communism as defined by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky in respect of the relations between classes and the state, and the experience acquired on this subject in 1848, 1871 and 1917, and in 1934 in Asturias, represent the common source from which revolutionary Marxists the world over must draw their inspiration and their guidelines, whatever the differences in their situations.

Only in that way could the treasonable plan of the democratic Stalinist-reformist bloc during August to September be exposed.

Republican Treachery Begins to Give Birth to Defeatism

The fall of Malaga on 10 February 1937 gave a shock, in full flight, if we can say that, to these governments of transition – of transition towards counter-revolution, that is. These governments would be seen invariably using defeats as well as victories to whittle away the revolution, and, obviously, they were particularly successful in the case of defeat. The fall of Malaga was the result of Republican treachery. Malaga was given away by the Republican High Command.

We should note a fact worth remembering: when the troops of Quiepo de Llano [28] broke in, the official police of Messrs Azaña, Caballero and Stalin – the National Guard – received them in their three cornered hats, and, in an impeccable ‘guard of honour’, placed themselves at the disposal of the old warrior of Seville. He took advantage of the good order in the ranks before him to have them immediately swept by machine gun fire.

In his own way the epileptic old soldier gave a symbolic demonstration of the fate of trimmers and traitors in a civil war. Malaga and its political and administrative organisation were considered by Stalinists the world over as a truly model fortress abundantly provided with material from Moscow, which the CNT and the POUM on the Aragon front lacked. The fall of Malaga was a great blow to morale. The organ of the CNT translated this depression in an Anarchist manner: “As for democracy, that has to be the price of playing its game.”

The Abolition of the Control Groups

The only conclusion drawn from the defeat of Malaga by the democratic-Stalinist bloc (which included the Anarchists) was that workers’ control of public order must be finished off all the sooner, particularly in Barcelona. That is why it was decided to abolish the control groups. A POUM pamphlet noted: “On 3 March the government of the Catalan Generalitat carried out a counter-revolutionary reform of public order.” The decree demanded: “The abolition of all councils of workers and soldiers and of all committees in relation to public order.”

The control groups were armed detachments of workers, in which the best of the POUM and the FAI workers were to be found, which aimed at guaranteeing proletarian order, as well as ensuring a vigilant struggle against the Fascists and capitalists. They functioned in liaison with the security ‘Junta’, which was abolished as well. The police and security functions were returned to the hands of the Stalinist-reformist bourgeois bureaucracy.

At its sitting of 3 March the government decided to suspend La Batalla for four days from 17 March. But the protests of the working class were such that La Batalla reappeared at the end of two days. It was thus proved to the bourgeoisie how difficult and risky it was in reality to carry out the counter-revolutionary measures which been decided upon in principle, starting with the abolition of the committees and eventually the control groups. Working class anger rumbled in the rear as well as at the front, where the militiamen rebelled at the introduction of bourgeois military discipline. When there was a fresh crisis of the Generalitat on 30 March, where this antagonism at the base was expressed as a ministerial struggle between the CNT and the Stalinist PSUC, the Central Committee of the POUM, opposing a programme of nationalisation and the organisation of revolutionary order, recommended:

... the calling of a congress of the new order which would elect a workers’ and peasants’ government which will be the most democratic known so far, which would express in an unequivocal manner the will of the immense majority of the country, and would have full power to construct the revolutionary order.

It is obvious that such a solution, not as a proposal to the official tops, but imposed by an independent and vigorous campaign of the committees and trade union sections, would have changed the course of events. But such concepts were foreign to the leaders of the CNT, and as the POUM was not in the CNT but in the UGT [29], it was unable patiently to explain revolutionary policy to the Anarchists.

The Crisis Deepens

Faced with the policy of the Stalinist Comorera, who in the name of Moscow had managed to get the entire government from the Republicans to the Anarchists in his pocket, the discontent of the workers and the militiamen took a sharper turn. Valencia, which controlled the Russian weapons, sabotaged the Aragon front, which it called “lazy”, and left them without munitions because they were guilty of not accepting the restoration of the old order in the army.

“Arms for Aragon!”, demanded the POUM, for this was the moment to take advantage of the Guadalajara offensive [30] and the rout of Mussolini’s legions. But this victory, and above all fraternisation with the Italian soldiers to the singing of Bandiera Rossa, was met with lukewarm enthusiasm from the official chiefs, who in any case held back the decision to pursue the military offensive at the precise moment when it was accompanied by the reawakening of the revolutionary spirit. War, yes, but not the revolution! Such were the limits of the military offensives of the Republicans.

There was, however, very much an offensive, not on the Aragon Front, but against the Catalan workers. The Stalinist minister Díaz [31] declared in Valencia: “We must finish with trade union government and spurious nationalisations.” The younger reformist Carrillo [32], the Secretary of the so-called United Socialist (but really Stalinist) Youth, gave some realistic advice: “Leave on one side discussions of theory and philosophy”, he said, the more easily to move towards bourgeois theory and philosophy, since periods of revolution always combine the maximum practical activity and theoretical discussion among the masses. The abandonment of theory always means the revival of the old theories. The ‘men of action’ of the Popular Front will have to suffer for this observation, as well as those who imitate them by wanting to forbid criticism within the revolution – when it comes from the left wing.

This speech on the need to abandon theory really conceals Comorera’s systematic activity for the re-establishment of capitalism. Along with his Stalinist band, Comorera had completely disorganised the distribution of food. Like a real conductor he orchestrated all the plots of the black marketeers, speculators, and dealers of every variety. Thus great stocks of apples and flour were discovered inside the local offices of the Stalinist trade union organisation whilst people were dying of starvation. They were for the bureaucrats and the friends of the government! Monetary inflation raged, and the speculators enriched themselves! But the government imposed a 30 per cent wage cut on the workers.

Sacrifices for the workers and profits for the speculators and their bureaucratic accomplices. This could not go on. Anger still rumbled ominously in the factories, the countryside and the army in March and April 1937.

Diversion and Provocation

To create a diversion the Stalinists, with an unprecedentedly powerful display, redoubled their pogromist campaigns against the POUM, whom they accused of being the cause of all evils – the high cost of living, the scarcity, the stockpiling. They particularly aimed at Andrés Nin. The liars went so far as to circulate in the Karl Marx Barracks a fraudulent photograph showing the POUM leader in friendly conversation with Franco.

The Valencia government devoted itself to far reaching preparations for a provocation against the POUM and the Anarchist Left. While this proceeded Bilbao fought on, but it was abandoned like the Aragon front. These gentlemen of the general staff were far too busy preparing to smash the Catalan workers. Arms for the rear areas, and especially Russian arms, that was their slogan. Twelve tanks were discovered that had been stolen by the Stalinist PSUC on the Aragon Front, a scandal on which the entire CNT and POUM press commented.

But it was also a warning. After the abolition of the control groups, 15 000 of the National Guard police were armed from head to toe in modern style. From then on attacks could be launched against those Anarchist or POUMist centres that resisted the restoration of the old order. Three thousand carabiniers marched upon the town of Puigcerda where an Anarchist committee survived led by Martín, a man of courage and initiative, who met death in the service of the revolution. [33] At Tarasa an expedition by PSUC members and the police was mounted against the POUM.

It was clear that there could be no question for a second of abandoning the united military struggle against Franco. But at the same time a counter-insurrection had to be prepared in the rear against the democrat-Stalinist bloc’s armed provocations, which were already occurring. With magnificent instinct the rank and file of the CNT and the POUM understood this. To those who chattered on about the unity of the front they replied:

We ourselves are fighting, whereas you are planning our destruction and a return to capitalism. Unity of the front? Let us begin at the start ...





1. Rosa Luxemburg, Spartacus, 30 December 1918, Sri Lanka 1966, p.12.

2. L.D. Trotsky, The Lessons of Spain – The Last Warning, 17 December 1937, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, New York, 1973, pp.306-26.

3. So as not to go over the period 1931 to 1936 again we will only mention certain important informative or educational works: Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution and The Spanish Revolution in Danger; Maurín, Revolution and Counter-Revolution; Molins i Fábrega, UHP (in Catalan). [Author’s note]

4. The Republican Left was the party of the President, Manuel Azaña. It had little support in Catalonia. Probably the Esquerra of Companys is meant.

5. On Fauconnet, cf. p.219, n151.

6. Professor José Giral y Pereira (1880-1962), an old associate of Azaña, was first of all Minister of the navy and then Prime Minister of the Popular Front government from July to September 1936.

7. These facts were so obvious that Blum did not even dare to deny this accusation which appeared openly in Juin ‘36, the paper of the PSOP. [Author’s note]

8. Enrique Castro Delgado (1907-63) was the first commander of the Communist Fifth Regiment, which grew to be an army within the Republican army owing a direct allegiance to the Soviet state. Later, as Director General of Agrarian Reform he worked hard at reversing the revolutionary land seizures of the peasantry. Breaking from the Stalinists after the end of the Civil War, he denounced them in his book Hombres Made in Moscu, Barcelona, 1973.

9. Sir Anthony Eden (1897-1977) was Foreign Secretary in Neville Chamberlain’s Conservative government at the time. He later proved to be a Prime Minister effete even for his own class.

10. The fall of San Sebastián and Irún in September 1936 drove a wedge between the Basque country, still loyal to the Republic, and the French frontier.

11. See the series of articles by the writer, Letters from Barcelona, in September issue of the Press Service of the Movement for the Fourth International. [Author’s note]

12. For Comorera, cf. p.210, n14.

13. That is, García Oliver.

14. El Combatiente Rojo was the daily paper of the POUM fighters in Madrid, published then by the 29th Division.

15. On Kerillis, cf. p.216 n109. François Mauriac was a famous novelist who spoke up for the POUM during its repression.

16. For Marty, cf. p.214 n67.

17. Maurice Thorez (1900-1964) was a notorious Stalinist hack, the leader of the French Communist Party and a member of de Gaulle’s postwar government.

18. On the Danzig Trotskyists, cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 3 no.1, Summer 1990, pp.3-7.

19. The Committee of Non-Intervention first met in London on 9 September 1936. It consisted of the ambassadors of all the European states except Switzerland, and was intended to police the non-intervention agreements.

20. For L’Humanité cf. p.212 n49.

21. Ivan Maisky (1884-1975) was a Menshevik who had been a minister in the counter-revolutionary government of Admiral Kolchak during the Russian Civil War, afterwards threw in his lot with the Soviet government, and from 1932 to 1943 was Stalin’s ambassador in London. His experiences on the London Non-Intervention Committee are described in his Spanish Notebooks, London 1966.

22. Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946) was at this time Hitler’s representative on the London Non-Intervention Committee, and afterwards head of foreign affairs, in which capacity he signed the Russo-German alliance in August 1939.

23. Hendaye was on the French side of the international bridge between the two countries. The British ambassador to Republican Spain fled there during the uprising in 1936.

24. The French Radical Party was a bourgeois party whose main leaders were Herriot, Chautemps and Daladier. At that time it was a partner in the French Popular Front government.

25. For Domenech, cf. p.215 n82.

26. ‘Workers’ Governments’, What the Comintern Said, in Workers Press, 9 June 1990, adapted from J Degras (ed.), The Communist International 1919-1943, Volume 1, Oxford 1956.

27 L.D. Trotsky The Death Agony of Capitalism and The Tasks of The Fourth International, April 1938, The Transitional Programme for Socialist Revolution, New York 1977, p.134.

28. For Quiepo de Llano, cf. p.217 n110.

29. We have neither the space nor the capability to be able to deal with the trade union question, which is very important in Catalonia, but it seems to us, as we moreover pointed out at the time, that entry into the UGT rather than the CNT was a mistake. [Author’s note]

30. The Italian attack upon Guadalajara was in March 1937. The Italians were routed and retreated for several miles, whilst conscripts deserted to the Republican side.

31. For José Díaz, cf. p.210 n14.

32. Santiago Carrillo (1916-  ) was the son of the prominent Socialist leader Wenceslao Carrillo. He helped to take over to Stalinism the 200,000 strong Socialist Party Youth in 1936, and was appointed General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party after the war. His Eurocommunist policies succeeded in disintegrating his party into a number of fragments, himself leading one of the smaller of them. He has since gone full circle, and rejoined the Socialist Party.

33. Antonio Martín was the mayor of the Anarchist collective at Puigcerda in the eastern Pyrenees. Because it exercised control over the frontier Negrín sent the armed police against it, and Martín and several of his comrades were killed in a violent battle.

Updated by ETOL: 29.4.2023