Jean Rous

Spain 1936-39: The Murdered Revolution

(Part 2)

Monday, 3 May

On 3 May a miserable scum, Salas [34], the Commissar of Public Order, who had been thrown out of every party and so had naturally become a member of the PSUC, organised a police attack upon the Telefonica, the Barcelona telephone exchange, which had been occupied by the committees of the CNT and the POUM. Immediately the control groups of the CNT-FAI and the POUM, which had refused to dissolve themselves and had survived in illegality, sounded the alarm. The alarm unleashed an admirable mass mobilisation of the entire population. The Executive Committee of the POUM thus described this movement:

Thousands and thousands of workers have gone onto the streets. Factories, works and building sites have poured forth their workers. The spirit of 19 July has once more gripped Barcelona. The majority of the rural villages in Catalonia supported this great action.

The next morning the whole city, with the exception of the central districts, was in the hands of the workers.

Fighting went on from street to street and from house to house, with shots from rifles and machine guns, and explosions from hand grenades. It carried on in this way for the whole day with only short periods of calm ... In fact, there no longer was a government ... it had been carried off by the tumult.

That is how Marcel Ollivier [35] described the events that he experienced in Vendémaire. At the same time the most advanced factions of the revolutionary organisations were pushing home the insurrection.

The Anarchist Left (the Friends of Durruti) [36], who played a heroic and important rôle in the movement, called for “a revolutionary leadership, the nationalisation of the economy, and the dissolution of those parties that are ranged against the insurrection”. The leaflet distributed on the barricades by the Bolshevik Leninist Group (Fourth International) said:

No compromise ... Long live the unity in action of the CNT-FAI and the POUM ... Long live the revolutionary front of the proletariat. Committees of revolutionary defence in workshops, factories and districts.

But on the evening of the second day the CNT minister García Oliver arrived from Valencia. The leadership of the CNT had decided to smash the rank and file of its own movement. The minister made an appeal upon the radio: “Stop shooting”. “In spite of the exhortations of their leaders”, Oliver told us, “the workers remained on the barricades, having decided to continue the struggle right up to the end.” On the third day there was a wavering. But on the fourth day, contrary to the orders of the Regional Committee of the CNT, the Friends of Durruti took over the streets and mounted the barricades. Part of the police force sympathised with the revolutionaries.

“The POUM, in touch with the situation”, Ollivier (an ex-editor of La Batalla) told us, “which, aligning itself with the views of the CNT, had appealed to the workers to call off their struggle and return to work, sent counter-orders by telephone.” The struggle was resumed again, only to die away later.

A courageous British militiaman of the POUM, who witnessed the insurrection, described the extraordinary complexity of the situation for us in the New Leader, the organ of the Independent Labour Party. He told us:

The POUM did not want civil war. It was ready to defend itself, but refrained from attack ... Reinforcements could have been sent easily to defend the building of La Batalla, the POUM organ, when the guards captured it.

They were not sent because the POUM did not want to aggravate the situation. Although the Assault Guards had obtained control of the telephone exchange by the Wednesday evening, it changed hands twice, I believe, and at one time the fighting was taking place floor by floor. The government position on the whole was unfavourable. The workers – in spite of the divided CNT leadership – were in control over most of the town.

But this disunity naturally had a bad effect. The rank and file began to appreciate the causes of the hesitation. Even if the workers won, their power would not have been tolerated by Valencia, Moscow, London or Paris. But to have shown no fight would have meant the dictatorship of the PSUC and the suppression of the POUM. It was a very awkward situation, and it called for a Lenin to lead the workers through it. [37]

Then, according to this remarkably objective account, the brave POUM militiaman described the retreat of Thursday and Friday, caused by the hesitation of a part of the leadership, and the hostility of another part. Reinforcements arrived from Valencia, but only after the leadership of the CNT had succeeded in bringing the movement back under control. Six thousand new police took the repression in hand. It would, in fact, have needed “a Lenin to lead the workers through it”, and even then he would only have been an isolated genius without a party forged in accordance with his principles and his methods.

What Should the Proletariat Do?

Yes, the May Days posed the most difficult problems for revolutionaries the world over to examine. Could the Catalan proletariat have taken power, and should it have done so? That is, in fact, the question which must be seriously examined.

Obviously, anyone who did not experience the events can only offer his opinion with a great deal of modesty and prudence. But we now have a series of eye-witness accounts, very worthwhile ones. We have given only an extract from one very valuable one, that by the ILP comrade.

The truth is that in May the Catalan proletariat had taken power. It would have been enough for its leadership, mainly the CNT, to have wanted power and not to have opposed it. But the CNT leadership opposed it with all its strength. These facts are not even denied by the leaders of the CNT. On the contrary, they have even taken pride in having prevented the triumph of the insurrection. They said repeatedly, “We could have taken power. But we did not want it. Look at our magnanimity.” Why? In the interests of the anti-Fascist struggle, the democrats and the Stalinist reformists restored all the privileges of the bourgeois regime one by one. Let us recall the dilemma of the ILP militiamen:

Even if the workers won, their power would not have been tolerated by Valencia, Moscow, London or Paris. But to have shown no fight would have meant the dictatorship of the PSUC and the suppression of the POUM.

This dilemma could be posed more narrowly: either power for the POUM and the CNT, based upon insurrectional committees, or the suppression both of the revolutionary party, the POUM, and the Anarchist left.

The bourgeoisie of Valencia, London and Paris, and their Moscow policemen, would never have ‘tolerated’ this. It could be put better: they have never tolerated the gains already made. It was a life and death struggle. Either them or us. But can we, however, state in advance that they would not have unhesitatingly ventured against the fiery terrain of the triumphant Catalan revolution? They remember the Russian Revolution. They themselves have not forgotten certain comparisons and historical lessons ... and the French peasants and workers who were in uniform in May 1937 ...

The safest guarantee against being smashed was the seizure of power and an appeal to the international proletariat over the heads of the leadership of the Popular Front. This can be clearly seen today, when defeat is unfortunately an accomplished fact, unfortunately aided by those who accepted policies with which they should never had agreed. What must the Anarchist militants think now of the leaders who told them at the time: “No! We do not want power!”?

“First the war, and afterwards the revolution!” This deadly slogan caused the death of the revolution and the defeat of the anti-Fascist war at one and the same time. And are we to think that it was correct on the part of the leadership of the POUM to hide behind the leaders of the CNT?

The Dictatorship of Defeat

We are now entering the most dramatic and sombre phase in the history of the Spanish proletariat. Never before in history has the revolutionary worker been subjected to such moral and physical torment. Forced to fight against Franco’s armies, whose triumph meant that of Fascist barbarism, whilst being subjected to the tortures of the Stalinist inquisition, the worker was only allowed to fight on condition that it was for bourgeois democracy of the London and Paris variety.

We do not lack objective and irrefutable witnesses on this bleak period: parliamentarians, lawyers and journalists who were not even friends of the revolutionaries, have told us what they saw. Authentic accounts have been published in great numbers in the Independent News of the Franco-British Committee, and have been taken up by the independent working class press, without ever being contradicted. You can also read to some advantage the booklet by Katia Landau, Le Stalinisme en Espagne [38], which constitutes a first class balance sheet of the Stalinist inquisition as she experienced it. We will no doubt soon have other important accounts, from POUM militants, from Socialists, and from Bolshevik-Leninists.

We should remember all these facts at a time when the torturers are covering themselves with the gentle veil of charity, seeking oblivion for their crimes by whining about the crimes of their neighbour.

After the May Days, on the 14th, Treball, the paper of the PSUC, declared without flinching: “The Trotskyists of the POUM provoked the recent uprising after being instructed by the secret police of Italy and Germany.” Such was the directive. On 15 May the Stalinist Minister Uribe [39] demanded the dissolution and bloody repression of the POUM. Then Frederica Montseny, the Anarchist Minister, exposed the Stalinist conspiracy. In particular she showed the parcels of bags with monarchist insignia that had been strewn around the headquarters of the POUM by the Stalinist gangs in order to make people believe that the workers’ insurrection of May was a monarchist conspiracy. The President of the Council, Largo Caballero, took the rostrum: “I am an honest worker”, he said, in substance. “I do not proceed ... against revolutionary workers. The POUM is an honest anti-Fascist party.”

The honest Largo Caballero was indignant. We can put our finger on the fact that honesty is not independent of political ends, but the Stalinists could not even abide this honesty. They could not abide it, in sum, because of what this “honesty” would do to their policy, for this policy of the extermination of the revolution could only be carried to its conclusion by methods of police gangsterism, and Stalinism represents the most radical tendency to use these means for its dishonest and reactionary ends. In this way it had to triumph over all those who were hesitant and ‘honest’ but who were supporters of the policy: “First of all the war, and afterwards – the revolution.”

Caballero was eliminated. This crisis opened the way to the sombre Negrín-Stalin dictatorship, a dictatorship of repression and defeat. On 22 June 1937 Bilbao was lost, in July it was Santander; on 20 October it was Gijon and Asturias. The dark stain spread, in spite of the heroism of the workers and peasants.

Back to the Inquisition with Stalin and Negrín

In a confidential letter of 25 May 1937 addressed to Los Rios [40], the ‘Socialist’ Ambassador in Washington, which was intercepted and reproduced in L’Espagne Nouvelle of 13 May 1938, Prieto [41], the Socialist Minister of National Defence, revealed the plan for police repression:

Finally, the most important part of the cleaning up in our rear areas has been completed. In Barcelona, as well as in the surrounding province, the CNT has been thrown off balance, and their most dangerous elements are either dead or in prison. What is most important now is that those who have come to their senses should be convinced, or at least cooled down. The cleaning up is still not complete. We have, on the other hand, decided to send these elements to the most dangerous sectors of the front. In this way the rebels will help us to finish the total clean-up, for which we must now be grateful to them ... By following this line of conduct we shall, you see, be doing a favour to the three countries that are helping us, and which now, finally, are demanding this sort of behaviour from us.

So it is officially confirmed that the Paris-London-Moscow axis imposed this repression against the revolutionary workers, whilst the Rome-Berlin axis (helped by the democracies) assisted the Fascist rising, which was also in fact aimed against the threat of Socialist revolution. The elegant and diplomatic cynicism of Prieto’s letter, however, only provides confirmation of the facts, and will enter into history as a supplement to the chapter on the inquisition, the Negrín-Stalin Inquisition.

The Russian GPU took over the Spanish police and introduced into it the men and methods of Moscow. For some months the GPU gangs in Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona sowed terror and murder among the advanced workers of the CNT, the FAI and the POUM. Countless militants of the POUM and the Anarchist Left were hunted and struck down in the streets like dogs. The leadership of the POUM were jailed and accused of ‘espionage’. Some Anarchist militants, well known for their integrity and superior intellect, like professor Berneri and Barbieri [42], were struck down at home. The headquarters of the POUM, its hotels and its cellars, were turned into prisons, where militants perished of starvation and suffocated. Concentration camps were set up, called the Spanish “Dachau Camps”, in comparison with Hitler’s camps.

The Stalinist police were particularly rabid against international militants, the tried and devoted revolutionaries who had flocked to the service of the revolution. Moral and physical torture in the Moscow manner was the veritable ‘procedure’. The brother of Maurín (the General Secretary of the POUM, imprisoned under Franco) died after torture. [43] In the labour camps people were killed by disease, and prisoners were driven by cudgel blows, or were left to be gnawed by vermin and scabies. The GPU chiefs, who had the upper hand over the others, combined torture in the jails with the most refined torments. So it was that our friends Munis and Carlini were lined up against a wall to be shot on various successive occasions and then ‘missed’. This was an activity that Doctor Ciliga had already experienced when he was in Siberian jails. [44]

The Assassination of Nin

The martyrs of this period have not yet been counted. But from now on the revolutionary proletariat will honour the memory of those that are known to us.

After his arrest Nin was butchered with a sub-machine gun, in the Stalinist gangster manner. On 21 July the ex-CNT minister Frederica Montseny announced in a speech that she had heard from a reliable source that the body of Nin had been found in the streets of Madrid, riddled with bullets. Nin was one of the pioneers of Communism in Spain. He had been condemned to death by the dictatorship in 1920, had been a collaborator of Lozovsky on the Secretariat and Council of the Red International of Labour Unions, and had been expelled from the Soviet Union in 1930. He was a leader of the oppositional Communist Left, and then a founder of the POUM in 1935 along with Maurín. Even Nin’s political opponents paid homage to his advanced intellect and honesty. Trotsky, who had but recently vigorously criticised Nin for his participation in the Popular Front and the bourgeois reformist government, underlined on 8 August 1937 the significance of his death in these words:

Nin was an old and incorruptible revolutionary. He defended the interests of the Spanish and Catalan peoples against the agents of the Soviet bureaucracy. That was his only crime, and for this crime he paid with his life. [45]

Kurt Landau, a most cultivated oppositional Communist, a former founder of the Austrian Communist Party, suffered the same fate as Nin. Likewise Moulin, a German Bolshevik-Leninist, a most courageous militant, whose bravery was much appreciated during the May Days in Barcelona. Likewise Erwin Wolf, previously Trotsky’s secretary, in spite of his youth a most devoted militant, of considerable political courage and reliability ... and so many others.

The Stalinists were not satisfied with just killing them, they spat on their bodies. So it was that the ‘propagandists’ of the PSUC stuck on the walls the slogan “Where is Nin? In Salamanca or in Berlin?”

Such was the fate of revolutionaries under the regime of Negrín and Stalin. On the other hand, if we can believe some reports, and in particular that of the French journalist Madeleine Jacob. “The Fascist prisoners were well treated ... I never saw prisons more attractive”, she said when talking about a prison in Valencia where the upper class prisoners were held.

When Franco’s hacks described the prisoners of Stalin and Negrín in Barcelona, they forgot to add – and with good reason – that this treatment was especially reserved for their most implacable enemies, the revolutionary militants – even those who were shortly to encounter Franco in battle.


Along with the repression that was organised by Moscow in agreement with London and Paris went the restoration of the capitalist order. It was disguised beneath slogans of nationalisation and municipalisation. What did they mean? So long as the owners, who were on enforced holiday in Paris and London, or with Franco, did not wish to return to offer their thanks to Messrs Azaña and Co, these latter acted as agents and ‘democratic’ trustees, until the time when the exiles could recover their property under the mantle of the state.

The well known syndicalist Robert Louzon [46], who at over 60 years of age had not hesitated to enrol in the militia, and has supplied abundant documentation on the Spanish Revolution, emphasised in the FAI bulletin of 5 June 1937, that: “Nationalisation and municipalisation mean the expropriation of the workers.” And that’s what it was.

The gentlemen representatives of big capital came to bear witness to it on the spot. Portela Valadares, Lerroux’s old minister who had welcomed Franco’s insurrection, attended a session of the Cortes and bore witness to the existence of the parliamentary republic and private property, and the rebirth of religion. That was an indication that the Republic had returned to the level of the conservative Portela.

Once More – Backwards

December 1937-January 1938: Teruel was taken, and then retaken, but Negrín and Stalin proceeded backwards. There was the complete liquidation of workers’ control in the factories, and an increase in militarisation with severe penalties for whoever did not respect the old monarchist code tricked out in Popular Front colours. The bureaucrats hoarded food. Catalonia was enslaved. The repression got worse. The CNT leadership betrayed 25 Anarchist militants who had held out in the headquarters of the Defence Committee. Were they going to gun down the comrades of the Executive Committee of the POUM? The international working class vanguard was alerted. There were 15,000 revolutionaries in prison in Catalonia! An exact idea of this period is provided for us by this leaflet of the Bolshevik-Leninist (Fourth International) Group:

Comorera told you: “The fewer committees, the more bread.” The committees have been dissolved, and today only bureaucrats of the Comorera type, speculators and Fascists are able to eat. To get bread for the workers and fight reaction and Fascism, elect committees of workers, poor peasants and fighters.

The Tragedy of Catalonia Begins

March-April: Now the came the tragedy of Catalonia. Franco had finished with the North. Now he was going to attack the fortress of the revolution, already badly undermined and shaken by the repression of Stalin and Negrín.

The repression came from all sides. On 10 March a provocation was mounted against the Bolshevik-Leninists Munis and Carlini, in order to implicate the Fourth International in a so-called “terrorist conspiracy against Negrín”.

Franco’s grip tightened, and likewise the blockade by London, Paris and Moscow. The French workers sensed the gravity of the situation, and a wave of strikes began at Citroën: “Down with the blockade!” There was a general strike in the metalworking industry. But the Stalinist and reformist leaders limited themselves to stopping the strike to replace Blum with Daladier [47] and Mandel.

5 April: Lérida, the town famous for the achievements of the POUM militants, fell into the hands of Yagüe’s Moroccans and the Italian legionaries.

There was the collapse of the Aragon front. The peasants who had once accepted the schemes, occasionally ill-considered, of Libertarian Communism, had been demoralised by repression. They did not want to fight on behalf of their executioners. But what was more typical was that the General Staff in the Republican army went over to the enemy. Pozas, the hangman general of the POUM, the ‘pacifier’ sent as Generalissimo and head of public order to Catalonia after the May Days, turned out to be a traitor to such an extent that they had to relieve him of his command. In the ‘Carcel Modelo’ revolutionary prisoners were protesting. Notices appeared: “The anti-Fascist prisoners demand to be sent to fight in the anti-Fascist struggle.”

Negrín Defines ‘The Conditions for Victory’ (of Franco, that is)

In a speech in May Negrín stated what was needed for ‘victory’. He asked for “a strong state”. He gave a “guarantee of religious liberties”, “a guarantee of private property”, and “a guarantee of foreign investment”. He promised an agrarian reform on condition that all collectivisation of agriculture ceased. He decreed the abolition of all working class collectivisation, and for the “right of Spain to have colonies”. This speech guaranteeing capital was really an appeal to the banks of London and Paris, which is why the Stalinist press gave it so warm a welcome. His actions endeavoured to match his words.

Bombs and famine rained down upon the Catalan people. But the famine was not for everyone; high officials, speculators and middlemen enriched themselves even more. One friend who occupied a responsible position in a factory told us that on several occasions he had been approached by dubious agents to become involved in some unsavoury deals in exchange for very large sums of money. And he added:

Obviously, I turned down these offers. But I was careful not to denounce the corrupt people, for I was the one who would have been sent to prison.

In fact all these corrupt officials had protectors and accomplices in the top administration and among the police. The military-police administrative apparatus of state was utterly rotten. The libertarian Catalan people had only contempt for this mixture of bourgeois democrats and Stalinists for whom they were asked to sacrifice themselves.

The Trial of the POUM

July 1938: The blockade tightened. The Soviet Union stated that it would pay a fifth of the non-intervention budget.

14 August: Stalin and Negrín threatened to try and condemn the POUM behind closed doors and without counsel – no doubt one of the “conditions for victory”, the 13 points of Dr Negrín. Now here’s some good news – for the stock exchanges of London and Paris. The Generalitat of Catalonia announces that it has restored to the owners of urban real estate all of their property. The Era Nouvelle of 30 July assessed the situation thus: “By innumerable Matignon agreements, [48] capital has won back most of its privileges.” The crown of this ‘progress’ of the counter-revolution could be none other than the trial of the POUM.

14 October: The trial begins. The accused vigorously rebutted the monstrous accusations of ‘espionage’ of which they were the target. Largo Caballero came to testify: “The POUM has been accused of espionage for political reasons imposed by the Communist Party.” The main argument of the prosecution, “the N document” collapsed. It was the case of a proven forgery of a millimetre map of Madrid seized from a genuine Fascist called Golfín, to which the Stalinist forgers had added a few words signed N, in order to make people believe that it was a question of Nin.

Several months later the entire Catalan government, with the exception of the Stalinists, had to agree that it was just a ridiculous forgery. Today this forgery only accuses its authors – the GPU. The court was forced to dismiss all accusations of espionage, but on the other hand it condemned the POUM leaders Gorkin, Andrade and Bonnet to 15 years, and Arquer to 11 years in prison, for revolutionary activity.

The judgement of the court contained within it one deeply significant fact. The bourgeoisie had no further need for its Stalinist camouflage. It condemned the revolutionaries as revolutionaries, just as in London or Paris, whereas in order to retain their authority amongst the workers, Stalin and his bureaucracy had been forced to label the revolutionaries as ‘agents of Fascism’ and condemn them as such. The bourgeoisie uses its Stalinist servants for as long as it has need of their authority as previous activists, in order to tame the workers. But when the time comes to sack its lackeys, then it throws off its disguise. In its own way the oppressive judgement in Barcelona is a striking repudiation of the Moscow Trials.

The Trial of the Bolshevik-Leninists Did Not Take Place

But Negrín did not wish to halt at this point on his road to victory. After the trial of the POUM he organised the trial of the Bolshevik-Leninists (Fourth International). Munis and Carlini were accused of having carried out terrorist instructions that they had received from the Fourth International. But far from being able to prove the slightest ‘terrorist’ instruction, the writ of accusation contained this choice consideration: “Seeing that the instructions of the Fourth International ordered them to direct their efforts towards the formation of a workers’ United Front ...”

In the course of the trial the remarkable resolution and energy of Carlini and Munis forced the GPU to draw back. The trial, whose character as a pure provocation was abundantly proved in advance by La Lutte Ouvrière [49], was put back several times until 26 January – the date of the fall of Barcelona. The trial of Munis and Carlini never took place, but in the course of their cross examination the two accused gave proof of exemplary Bolshevik fortitude. In the face of their resolution, threats and torture failed.

The Fall of Barcelona

On 19 July 1936 Barcelona experienced a great victory: the unarmed population seized weapons from the rebellious army and repulsed it. In fact the workers took power. But on 5-7 May 1937 Barcelona experienced a great defeat: the GPU gangs drowned in blood the working class insurrection inspired by the spirit of the 19 July.

At the end of January 1939 Negrín asserted: “I have abundant supplies.” Barcelona could hold out. But there we are – where was the spirit of 19 July? Negrín had plenty of weapons, but, with the help of the GPU, he had destroyed the spirit of 19 July – the essential weapon. One by one the conquests of the revolution had been whittled away, and the finest fighters for these gains had been shot.

We were forced to be witnesses of a macabre comedy, one foreseen, moreover, by Leon Trotsky. At the last moment the Stalinist PSUC launched the slogan: “To the barricades! For the Red Front as on 19 July!” The complete passivity of the population spelt out: “We will not respond to the executioners of those who built the barricades of July and May.”

In vain did the CNT militants await the order for insurrection from their leaders. “Generally”, a witness told us, “it was the anti-Fascist prisoners, the POUMists, the Anarchists, and the Bolshevik-Leninists, who were the most eager to support the resistance.” This was, no doubt, because they were at the same time the most conscious revolutionaries. But as for the masses, the effect of Franco’s bombardments, combined with two years of Negrín’s and Stalin’s politics, were greater than the call of revolutionary consciousness.

The high priests of democracy fled, alongside a ragged and starving population, who began their sad exodus to the frontier being machine gunned from the air, only to serve afterwards as a target for the Versaillais [50] of French reaction. We saw the limousines of the rich, the officials and the bureaucrats pass by ...

The Moroccan and Italian troops penetrated the city without a blow being struck. Franco nominated as mayor that same Matteu whom Blum had protected on 30 July 1936. He left the bureaucracy of the Generalitat in place – the same bureaucracy that all the so-called ‘revolutionary’ governments had preserved. In a way, it symbolised bourgeois democracy waiting for Fascism.

Some Questions of the Spanish Revolution

A few questions arise from this broad overview of the principal events from 19 July 1936 to the end of January 1939, from the insurrection of the Barcelona workers who pushed the Fascist armies 300 kilometres back, to the return of the Fascist armies.

What Was the Main Cause of the Defeat?

What was the cause of the defeat? The Stalinists say: the lack of weapons, caused itself by the one-sided blockade. Perhaps, but what was the cause of this lack of weapons and of this blockade? Was it solely the Fascist intervention? No. The Fascists on their part did not experience the blockade and the lack of weapons. They were supplied by their friends. And their friends were helped by ‘non-intervention’. But even if we admit the Stalinist argument, we can only answer the question: “What was the main cause of the defeat?”, by replying: “The international Popular Front – those ‘democracies’ which did not help democracy as the Fascists had helped Fascism.” And this “Popular Front” had its own branch in Spain. In other words, even if we take a stand on the Stalinists’ terrain, we can only give one reply to the military question – politics.

There is one fact that can escape nobody, and it is that, at the start, the workers, unarmed, gained their finest victories. Why? Because they were fighting for the revolution.

But later, on the contrary, they had some weapons, and occasionally even “abundant material”, as Negrín put it. Why did they not win? Because their essential weapons had been taken from them – their methods, their organisation, and the programme of the revolution. And by whom? The democrats with the support of Stalin. And can we not think that the material and technical inferiority of the Republicans would have been compensated for if the weapon of revolution had been left with the workers?

The entire experience of past civil wars allows us to think so. One of the masters of Marxism, who knew how to lead the first victorious civil war of the proletariat to victory, was Leon Trotsky. He told us:

In our first three years of civil war, the superiority of military art and military technique was often enough on the side of the enemy, but at the very end it was the Bolshevik programme that conquered ... Audacious social reforms represent the strongest weapon in the civil war, and the fundamental condition for the victory over Fascism. [51]

However, that truth would not have required proof if there had not been any Popular Front, for the intelligent bourgeoisie took it into consideration themselves. Thus the Journal of 27 January 1938 wrote:

And it is here that the Spanish government showed itself to be really inferior to its tasks. Even if it did not have military superiority, it had to make an effort on the political level, and try to unite the peasant of Navarre and the worker of Barcelona instead of setting them against one another.

The possibility of compensating for military inferiority by superiority on the political level arose in connection with two precise issues: the peasant and the colonial questions.

The Land

The peasant forms the basis of the army and is the ally par excellence in a civil war. Now what did the Popular Front do for the peasants? Nothing. Azaña’s agrarian reform would have given the land to the peasants in 248 years time! And this in a country with a semi-feudal agrarian system, in which the peasant was always waiting for the land! The revolution of 19 July gave the land to the peasants. But the counter-revolution of Negrín and Stalin took it back from them, or, at any rate, completely sabotaged their gains. A satisfactory solution to the demands of the peasants had to be granted.

Libertarian Communism, imposed in the absence of a transitional state, whilst the state remained bourgeois, never had much of a chance. The solution approved by the POUM at its agrarian conference on 15 November 1936 seems the wisest to us:

Nationalisation of the land, and the distribution of the land to those peasants who do not have enough, according to the necessities of each. A respect for small private property when it does not exceed the capacity of one family to work it. Technical and economic aid to the agricultural collectives ... Suppression of the middlemen by the cooperative organisation of buying and selling ...

This was the programme that would make the toiling peasantry the ally of the worker, but the democrats, Negrín, Comorera and Co, by favouring the middlemen in order to please capital, in fact struggled against the peasantry. They took the side of the private landlord. The proof of this is that in May 1938 Negrín in his ‘guarantee speech’ carried cynicism to its logical conclusion by promising an agrarian reform – in 248 years – on condition that agricultural collectivisation cease, in other words, on condition that the great estates were given back to the landed capitalists.

The peasant dislikes anyone who makes a fool of him. He turned his back on Negrín and Co.

The Colonies

It is pointless to recall the sometimes decisive rôle played by the Moroccan troops in the success of Franco. A sensible policy would have turned the Moroccans against Franco. But in the conditions of a revolution, only revolutionary politics are realistic ... “The right of the Moroccan people to self-determination must be declared”, La Batalla demanded at the beginning of August.

About this same time a comrade of the Fourth International arrived in Barcelona along with some Moroccan nationalist leaders [52], who undertook to foment a revolt against Franco in Spanish Morocco on condition of certain political assurances relating to the liberation of Morocco. But Madrid was in categorical opposition! What was the reason invoked by these ‘democrats’ against the democratic right of self-determination for a people? Their opposition was dictated by the unshakable opposition of Blum to any concession of that kind, which risked creating a ferment that would have reached French Morocco. Blum and his government, for the sake of the holdings of the mistress of Morocco, the Banque de Paris et Pays-Bas, were opposed to any concession on Spanish Morocco by Republican Spain, for fear of contagion if Spanish Morocco rose against Franco for its liberation.

As a result Franco went in for demagogy to the extent of conferring a certain façade of autonomy for Tetuan – whereas Negrín a little later proclaimed “the right of Spain to the colonies”. The result was that it was the Moroccans of General Yagüe who entered Barcelona.

The Popular Front’s policies alienated both peasants and Moroccans. The Popular Front was the shortest route to defeat in the Civil War. We have seen that for two particular issues. It was apparent on every other issue as well.

What Was the Policy for Victory?

Though unable to continue at great length, here is a summary of the policy proposed by Leon Trotsky as a “condition for victory” (an extract from The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning):

Conditions for Victory: The conditions for victory of the masses in a civil war against the army of exploiters are very simple in their essence.

1. The fighters of a revolutionary army must be clearly aware of the fact that they are fighting for their full social liberation and not for the re-establishment of the old (‘democratic’) forms of exploitation.

2. The workers and peasants in the rear of the revolutionary army as well as in the rear of the enemy must know and understand the same thing.

3. The propaganda on their own front, as well as on the enemy front and in both rears must be completely permeated with the spirit of social revolution. The slogan “First victory, then reforms” is the slogan of all oppressors and exploiters from the Biblical kings down to Stalin.

4. Politics are determined by those classes and strata that participate in the struggle. The revolutionary masses must have a state apparatus that directly and immediately expresses their will. Only the soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies can act as such an apparatus.

5. The revolutionary army must not only proclaim but also immediately realise in life the more pressing measures of social revolution in the provinces won by them: the expropriation of provisions, manufactured articles and other stores on hand, and the transfer of these to the needy; the redivision of shelter and housing in the interests of the toilers and especially of the families of the fighters; the expropriation of the land and agricultural inventory in the interests of the peasants; the establishment of workers’ control and soviet power in place of the former bureaucracy.

6. Enemies of the Socialist revolution, that is, exploiting elements and their agents, even if masquerading as ‘democrats’, ‘Republicans’, ‘Socialists’ and ‘Anarchists’, must be mercilessly driven out of the army.

7. At the head of each military unit must be placed commissars possessing irreproachable authority as revolutionaries and soldiers.

8. In every military unit there must be a firmly welded nucleus of the most self-sacrificing fighters, recommended by the workers’ organisations. The members of this nucleus have but one privilege: to be the first under fire.

9. The commanding corps necessarily includes at first many alien and unreliable elements among its personnel. Their testing, retesting, and sifting must be carried through on the basis of combat experience, recommendation of commissars, and testimonials of rank and file fighters. Coincident with this must proceed an intense training of commanders drawn from the ranks of revolutionary workers.

10. The strategy of civil war must combine the rules of military art with the tasks of the social revolution. Not only in propaganda but also in military operations it is necessary to take into account the social composition of the various military units of the enemy (bourgeois volunteers, mobilised peasants, or as in Franco’s case, colonial slaves); and in choosing lines of operation, it is necessary rigorously to take into consideration the social structure of the corresponding territories (industrial regions, peasant regions, revolutionary or reactionary, regions of oppressed nationalities, etc). In brief, revolutionary policy dominates strategy.

11. Both the revolutionary government and the executive committee of the workers and peasants must know how to win the complete confidence of the army and the toiling population.

12. Foreign policy must have as its main objective the awakening of the revolutionary consciousness of the workers, the exploited peasants, and oppressed nationalities of the whole world. [53]

Could the Revolutionaries be Neutrals or Defeatists Following the Repression and Counter-Revolution by Negrín-Stalin-Azaña?

The above question could also be put in the following way: to the defeatism of Negrín and Stalin, who sabotaged both the civil war and the revolution at the same time, for which we have provided enough evidence, must we also add so-called revolutionary defeatism? [54]

No! This question alone already condemns these “revolutionaries”. Having joined the struggle, the revolutionary proletariat in the governmental camp cannot stay neutral, far less defeatist, against the Fascist armies – in spite of the emotional and physical horror that the ‘democratic’ hangmen have inspired in it.

Bourgeois democracy is undoubtedly totally rotten, particularly during the epoch of capitalist decay. But even such as it is, revolutionary Marxists defend it against Fascist aggression.

How? That is the Whole Question! Not by the methods of the bourgeois democracy itself – electoral pacts, deceitful programmes, bourgeois parliamentarians and Popular Front or so-called workers’ governments – which brought about the Fascist explosion. By these methods they ended up being accessories of the Popular Front, and thus of defeat. But by the methods of the Socialist revolution – class struggle, direct action, the committees, the militias, etc. At the same time as participating in the military struggle against Fascism, the revolutionary workers should continue to defend their own organisations, their rights and their interests against the democratic government. They should politically prepare for the overthrow of the Popular Front government at the most favourable opportunity.

In this sense the ‘defence of democracy’ is only a tactic, completely subordinate to the main strategy: the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Socialist revolution. Thus the struggle for democracy, or, more exactly, for democratic liberties, and the struggle for the Socialist revolution are intimately linked.

But if Negrín and Stalin destroy these liberties, are they not leading towards a regime analogous to that of Franco? So it could be said: the more they destroy the liberties and rights of the working class the more they hasten the victory of Franco. For genuine Fascism always defeats its imitations – however servile.

However, so long as there is a struggle between the two camps, the proletariat cannot put them in the same category. It is not a question of any political agreement whatsoever with the ‘democratic’ government, but in its own interests it must use the fight of the ‘democratic’ camp against the Fascist camp. Only a positive participation, with a bold programme, in the military struggle of the democratic camp is permissible. The victory of the democratic camp opens up the perspective of revolution. The victory of Fascism smashes all democratic freedom and all perspective for revolution. >From 19 July 1936 to 26 January 1939 the facts themselves show this better than any abstract reasoning.

It is for us to pose a question to the ‘defeatists’. There are two ships in a French port, either Toulon or Marseilles. One is for Franco, the other for Negrín. There are weapons in Franco’s ship which will all be aimed at the workers. In Negrín’s ship some of its weapons will be used against the workers. For the time being, a large proportion will be used against Franco. What would you do, you defeatists or neutralists? Should you fold your arms? Or would you rather not try, in spite of your wrong-headed theories, to allow out Negrín’s ship and prevent Franco’s ship from sailing? For you well know that, as far as the worker is concerned, the victory of Negrín is a better outcome than his defeat, especially since, after his victory, it will be necessary to settle accounts with him, as it obviously is, and that settling of accounts even opens the door to revolution.

Yes, the workers are fighting for the lesser evil, not by political compromise with the bourgeoisie (the Popular Front), but by directing the main blow in action against the main enemy, and once rid of Fascism, by turning round against bourgeois ‘democracy’ when the time comes. And this time need not necessarily be at the end of the hostilities, but can happen on account of the inability of the ‘democracy’ to lead the struggle against Fascism.

Imperialist War

But has not the war of the Spanish Republicans against Franco become an imperialist war? Is it not a question of a struggle between two bourgeois states? Have not the imperialist powers intervened in the war? In this case, must we not follow the rule “the defeat of one’s own bourgeoisie is the lesser evil”?

In its fundamental character, the Spanish war is still a struggle within the same capitalist country, between the Fascist and democratic camps. Doubtless the imperialist powers have intervened in their own interests. But whilst that tends to modify the fundamental character of the Spanish war, it has not yet altered it. The essential choice still remains between Fascism and democracy within one country. We cannot adapt the present tactic in advance to a future or possible eventuality. A war which fundamentally has an imperialist character is typified by a direct conflict between different nations and imperialist states, whether upon the European or the world arena, with straightforward objectives such as whether to keep or grab land or colonies, and imperialist conquest.

To understand the nature of wars, it is always necessary to examine the fundamental meaning of the war, because each war is complicated, and to explain it according to one or another such subordinate characteristics, however important these may be, can only lead to serious errors.

To say that, fundamentally, the Spanish war has an imperialist character only gives great help to the Stalinists and other supporters of the Sacred Union of classes who themselves wish to represent the future imperialist war between France and Britain on the one hand, and Germany and Italy on the other, as one between democracy and Fascism, as in Spain, at a time when the struggle between democracy and Fascism in a Franco-German imperialist war would be even more subordinate, since bourgeois democracy would probably have been swept away by the General Staffs right from the outset.

Can We Become Supporters of Mediation Between Negrín and Franco?

The proletariat intervenes in the struggle between democracy and Fascism with its whole programme, and in its own interests. But it takes no political responsibility whatsoever for bourgeois democratic governments or for the catastrophic management of military operations. It remains in opposition to them. Can it, in these conditions, take the slightest responsibility for an armistice that would ratify the disaster of Stalin and Negrín’s policy?

This is not a general question about compromises or a ceasefire, just as there is never a general question about peace or war. It is necessary to give a class content to each peace or war. When the proletariat is in power in certain given cases it allows compromises with its enemy, for example, the Bolsheviks at Brest Litovsk.

When talking about mediation we must ask what it would mean in the present circumstances in Spain, between whom, and in whose interests. However, it can have no other meaning today than a deal in which Negrín or whichever of his Popular Front successors betrays the workers to Fascism for the price of some guarantee to save the skins of the democrats. Neither directly, nor with an arm’s length involvement, can the revolutionary proletariat take the slightest responsibility for such mediation. It is, and remains, in opposition to the power of the bourgeois and to its policy of defeat and betrayal.

Why the Socialist Revolution Has Not Triumphed

Under the weight of the unprecedented counter-revolutionary repression of which working class Spain has been victim, some people are saying: “What does it matter drawing lessons on purely revolutionary grounds? Whether by Fascist or by democratic intervention, the revolution has been totally defeated.”

Before 19 July the same people said: “What good is an insurrection against a modern state with its army, tanks and artillery?” Today, the question has been shifted onto the terrain of intervention. But just as in the modern army of the rebel region there are workers and peasants whom the revolutionary party can attract, along with their tanks and artillery, so there are workers, peasants and colonial peoples in the interventionist army whom the working class can attract as well.

Against imperialist intervention, the party of Lenin and Trotsky based itself at the start on tiny groups in Germany and France, which, basing themselves in their turn upon the Russian Revolution, became a powerful International, which prevented the victory of intervention in the Soviet Union.

No! The victory of intervention is no more inevitable than the defeat of the insurrection. Nor are the arguments any more valid than those which are drawn from the ‘general downturn’. The downturn is always at hand. In June and July 1936 was there not a revolutionary upsurge? And was it not the beginning of an upsurge, even in Fascist countries?

These same fatalists are now saying: “With Stalinism in Spain, the movement was inevitably doomed to destruction ...” But what was Stalinism? It was the most rational organisation of the democratic revolution and of the “Socialist” counter-revolution. “In order to win the war, it is necessary to put an end to the revolutionary verbiage of those who want to be more revolutionary than anybody else ... and to the Trotskyists’ masquerade as they chatter unceasingly about the proletarian revolution”, as Mundo Obrero [55] put it.

Such was the policy. But has it not occurred to you that other organisations were able to make the task of Stalinism easier, particularly by proposing the same policy? This is obvious for the bourgeoisie, the democrats and the classical reformists, whether of the left or the right. What about the Anarchists, for example?


“We are all united in a fighting front, a sacred unity that has made all classes, political parties and tendencies that have hitherto divided us, disappear.” In such a way, well before becoming a minister, did the Anarchist leader, Frederica Montseny, express it. And this is how the Anarchist Minister of Industry put it in the journal Politica of Madrid:

Our victory depended and depends upon Britain and France, and not on the revolution, but on condition of carrying on the war and not the revolution.

La Batalla noted that the CNT minister identified completely with reformism. It is true that Anarchism in power is pure and simple reformism. “The war first of all ... not the revolution!” Reformism is the most deadly policy during a revolution.

It must be admitted that an Anarchist opposition, which the CNT unceasingly tried to silence, made every effort inside the AIT [56] to criticise this policy from a principled point of view. But what is the use of revolutionary principles that do not apply during a revolution, when the organisation that professes these principles has the majority of the working class on its side, and even the power to carry them out, as was the case with the CNT?

But let us take up a position from a purely Anarchist point of view. Anarchism is different from Marxism in that it rejects all states and politics (that worst of evils ...).

To start with, during the revolutionary spring this principled anti-statism and apolitical attitude, with which Anarchism had impregnated the Catalan masses, had the most deadly consequences upon the course of the revolution itself. The contempt for politics and the state must have contributed strongly to leaving the bourgeois politicians and state intact. “What does it matter”, the Anarchist militants, from the highest to the rank and file, told us when we talked about it at the time, since “they had the power in Catalonia”.

“Power”, they said, “is all right for Companys and the politicians. For our part, we will make the revolution. This political stuff does not interest us.” This benevolent neutrality in the baggage of the anti-politicians was a real windfall for the bourgeois politicians. They were able, at their leisure, to consolidate their shaken bureaucratic apparatus. It ‘interested’ them alright ...

In the second place, through not understanding the question of the proletarian state, in other words the state of the committees, Anarchism left in the lurch the overwhelmingly Anarchist committees that had seized effective power in the whole of Catalonia, and had thus carried out Marxism without knowing it. The committee dealt with everything, and adapted to every function of working class power with the greatest flexibility. Anarchism tended to substitute the trade union for the committee, the most routinist, the most narrow, and the most bureaucratic organisation, which, because of its traditions, was more likely to adapt to the bourgeois state instead of opposing it, whereas the committee, by its very functioning, tended to destroy it.

Finally, Anarchism, as it was unable to deal with the problem of the state, went on to consolidate the bourgeois state at the time when it was most shaken, as in its participation in the first Taradellas government, and then in numerous ‘participations’ afterwards. Anarchist power and vitality were used to reinvigorate the old Generalitat and to dissolve the committees, which were the elements of the workers’ and peasants’ state ...

The lessons drawn by Marx from the Paris Commune, confirmed by Lenin in State and Revolution, found fresh confirmation in the Spanish Revolution. In fact the most important and the first task of the revolution must consist in destroying the bourgeois state in order to substitute for it the form “at last discovered” by the Paris Commune and illustrated by the Russian Revolution – the committee-state, or Soviet.

The workers’ state is the most democratic and unitary organisation of the worker and peasant masses, in their factory, village and soldiers’ committees, linked together by regional committees and by the central committee, and deliberating at a state level in the congress of committees. Obviously, the functioning of this state presupposes a minimum of bureaucracy, but did we not see ‘Libertarian and anti-Stalinist Communism’ develop the worst of trade union bureaucracies?

Bureaucracy in itself represents an evil, but a transitory evil, the necessary constraint to avoid a return to the old state of things by directing the apparatus of repression against the dangers of restoration, the means of assisting the organisation of the new order. Bureaucracy can degenerate and drag down the entire state with it, such as happened in Russia, but the guarantee against degeneration lies not in the absence of a state apparatus, which is indispensable from the start.

The guarantee lies in the internal liaison of this leading apparatus with the masses, who unceasingly control it in their committees, and with the worldwide revolutionary vanguard. But when, on a world scale, the betrayed working class retreats, then the best, the most ‘Anarchist’ of the bureaucrats in power risk sinking under the weight of the retreat. In any case the masses must know how to adapt themselves to retreat in time in order to prepare for a fresh leap forward. Here the lessons of Lenin’s State and Revolution have to be completed by the lessons drawn by Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed.

Anarchism has not yet discovered the magic talisman that would allow it to bypass the revolutionary party and the workers’ state, and to make a revolution, to consolidate it and to begin the building of the regime. On the contrary, because it lacks an understanding of these questions, it has achieved the most resounding failure in the most favourable conditions.

If Spanish Anarchism had understood the necessity for a workers’ state, instead of strengthening the bourgeois state, in Catalonia we would have seen a tremendous and extremely original experience. The libertarian instincts of the Catalan worker would have successfully reacted against the bureaucratic deviations and dangers. The Marxist party would have been able in all honesty to go through the common experience all the better because Anarchism would have become Marxism without being aware of it.

Yes, but Kronstadt ...

But at Kronstadt, it was said, the Marxist party shot down the Anarchists. But in fact the aim of this pathetic harking back about Kronstadt was to cover the crucial fact that in Spain official Anarchism prevented and even suppressed the revolutionary insurrection, and consolidated the bourgeois state.

Leon Trotsky, the main person held responsible by Fascism and by Popular Fronts of any sort and type, has already replied in substance: Do not look at petit-bourgeois feelings, but at facts. Everybody knows that civil war is not waged with kid gloves. What matters is what helps the organisation and victory of the revolution. That is the supreme morality. Now at Kronstadt, whilst the power of the soviets was being established, had organised the new order, and had taken the first steps towards Socialism, the Anarchist insurrection was – and it is no accident – welcomed by all the enemies of the revolution, and was above all directed against the revolutionary power.

But in Barcelona in May 1937 it was the Anarchist leaders themselves who collaborated with the state that consolidated the positions of the bourgeoisie and suppressed the insurrection of the POUMist and Anarchist workers; an insurrection whose aims were the defence of the gains of the revolution and the establishment of the power of the ‘Juntas’ or committees – soviets in the true sense of the word.

The general intention of the moralists who chatter on about Kronstadt is to use verbiage to prevent the workers from distinguishing revolution from counter-revolution. They are being counter-revolutionary.

But the POUM?

Some Anarchist comrades can say to us: “But you Marxists, have you not made the same mistake by participating in a government which began to restore the old bourgeois power? What about the participation of the POUM in the Taradellas government?”

That is true, comrades. From the Marxist point of view this participation was a grave mistake. And we revolutionary Marxists must understand every mistake.

Firstly: A mistake of principle on the question of the state and of the government ... Obviously in certain cases Communists can take part in a non-Communist workers’ government, but under certain conditions: firstly, that it should be a workers’ government and not a reformist democratic petit-bourgeois one; and secondly, that the old state apparatus has been destroyed and replaced by a state of armed workers (committees, militias).

Now two thirds of the participants in the Taradellas government were democrats and reformists, and hence hostile to the Socialist revolution, whatever they may have said. For the Generalitat and its bureaucracy continued to exist, and, just before the formation of the Taradellas government, were even reinforced by the incorporation into the council of the Generalitat, of the committee of the militias and the organisations that had arisen from the struggle.

Secondly: A mistake in adapting to the dominant policy among the official élite during the civil war, instead of practising the precept of Danton [57], recommended by Marx, “Audacity” ... Remember the justification for this:

In this sense, the Central Committee of the POUM thinks that today, as yesterday, this government must consist of working class parties and trade union organisations only, but as this point of view is not shared by the other organisations we will not impose it ...

Remember, too, the previous justifications about dual power being out of date Russian ‘classicism’.

In the brutal conditions of revolution there is a great danger of putting on one side the application of Communist principles because of ‘other organisations’. But when will revolutionary policy apply, if not during a revolution?

We should remember that in Russia in 1917 (and here historical memory is applicable, because it is a matter of old and tested principles) the first success of Lenin with his April Theses of 1917 was in the first instance a lightning victory over the policy of adaptation of the old Bolsheviks Stalin and Kamenev, the editors of Pravda, who also wanted to support the ‘Popular Front’ of the time consisting of the SRs, Mensheviks, and Cadets ...

The main argument was “we are a minority ... we must win the masses”. Now Lenin’s teaching as regards general principles also applies in Spain: Know how to remain a minority if necessary, to win the majority, go to the masses and go deep into the soviets or committees. Do not adapt to the leaders of the counter-revolutionary bourgeois democracy. Patiently explain our policy. Against the aggression of the main reactionary Fascist enemy we know how to build a united military front with the democrats. But our fundamental strategy is to transfer power to the committees, to mobilise them against the official power and towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, towards the workers’ and peasants’ government.

In explaining this lesson, which is not something made up after the event, but was always our position, particularly in Barcelona at that time, we can no longer be satisfied with the disillusioned attitude that, even if it avoided the mistake of joining the government that had abolished the committees, in any case the POUM would still have succumbed to the Stalinists’ intervention.

Such an attitude forgets that in August 1936 we still had in France the workers of June 1936, whilst in Catalonia, with the real power in the hands of the committees, we were still in a period of revolutionary upsurge. Moreover, Stalinism was non-existent in Catalonia. In any event, a revolutionary policy and all power to the committees was the best weapon in the struggle against intervention.

The Old Marxism

At bottom, it is always the old Marxism that appears to be a matchless guide to understanding the essence of the universal nature of civil war, that is the relations between classes and the general laws of revolution, in spite of the situation or, even more, because of its novelty.

Principled hostility to the Popular Front programme and to joining governments with the petit-bourgeois democrats may appear as sectarianism which is even opposed to Marxism. However, was it not Marx himself, starting in 1850, whilst drawing the lessons of 1848, who addressed to the workers of the world these prophetic lines?

During and after the struggle the workers must at every opportunity put forward their own demands against those of the bourgeois democrats. They must demand guarantees for the workers as soon as the democratic bourgeoisie sets about taking over the government. They must achieve these guarantees by force if necessary, and generally make sure that the new rulers commit themselves to all possible concessions and promises – the surest means of compromising them. They must check in every way as far as is possible the victory euphoria and enthusiasm for the new situation which follow every successful street battle, with a cool and cold-blooded analysis of the situation and with an undisguised mistrust of the new government. Alongside the new official governments, they must simultaneously establish their own revolutionary workers’ governments, either in the form of local executive committees and councils or through workers’ clubs or committees, so that the bourgeois-democratic governments not only immediately lose the support of the workers, but find themselves from the very beginning supervised and threatened by authorities behind which stand the whole mass of the workers. In a word: from the first moment of victory the workers’ suspicion must be directed no longer against the defeated reactionary party, but against their former ally, against the party which intends to exploit the common victory for itself. (Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, 1850). [58]

Moreover, that was the issue at a time when the proletariat could still go all the way with the democrats to conquer democratic liberties. But how much more valuable are these lessons during the epoch of capitalist decay when the Socialist revolution is on the agenda, in which, as we have seen, the supporters of the ‘democratic revolution’ play a counter-revolutionary rôle? No, Marx would never have justified taking part in the Popular Front and its governments.


However, it is sometimes put that a correct opinion can be formulated in a sectarian manner. This criticism is made of the Bolshevik-Leninists (Fourth International). In particular it was possible to object thus to the writer from the press service of the Fourth International in Barcelona, who, from the months of August-September 1936 onwards, argued the above views. It was said: though correct, it was presented in a sectarian form. If you believed your policy to be the best, you had to persuade the POUM comrades in a friendly way. But you had the opposite effect – there was no cooperation, only conflict. On the contrary, the opponents of the Fourth International, the SAP, the Brandlerites and Co, by their intrigues and their usual criticisms, succeeded in getting the Bolshevik-Leninists expelled from the POUM.

On our part, we do not in any case, once the question of principle has been clarified – the fundamental political question – reject this accusation of sectarianism. Sectarianism? Possibly. Personally, we willingly accept this criticism, by reminding ourselves of the facts. An international political collaboration by the Bolshevik-Leninists with the POUM could only be conceivable by there being a friendly and positive attitude at all times, and by support in all spheres, which would not allow itself even to be irritated by certain ‘International’ intrigues.

Criticism in the case of disagreement must be inspired by the revolutionary interests of the POUM, and must have nothing in common with the preoccupation of satisfying one’s outraged conscience by the typical mistake of having a programme that rejects sectarianism and ultra-leftism, whilst still behaving as a sectarian in one’s attitude and methods. That is a danger that also exists in the ranks of the Fourth International, which stands, above all, for the only seriously worked out transitional programme, and which has, in the first place, separated itself from typical sectarians of the sort exemplified by Vereeken’s group in Belgium. [59]

We are not entirely sure that, as regards the POUM, a certain way of posing formal conditions or of demanding ready-made guarantees in advance has not done Bolshevik-Leninist ideas a disservice, instead of helping them, and has, in the same way, prevented the political strengthening of the POUM, thus favouring the game played by the adversaries of Bolshevism.

Let us be properly understood: it is not a question of excusing the faults and principled errors of the one by the tactical errors or even the lack of tact of the others. It is a matter of understanding everyone’s mistakes. Now it is generally true to say that attitude, tact and tone are secondary, in comparison with principles. But we cannot stop with this general statement and be satisfied with it.

The Marxist dialectic (and not the ‘independent’ morality of sectarianism) shows us that, at a given moment, a secondary factor can play a preponderant part. The revolutionary party is itself a secondary factor in comparison with the objective conditions for the revolution: the level of the productive forces, the weight of the various classes, etc. However, during given conditions, this factor becomes decisive.

Similarly, in the same way on a lower level, we can talk about how concerns, attitudes, tone and tactics get the ideas that objective conditions demand to prevail in a workers’ democracy. Mistakes in attitude, tone and tactics at a given moment can result in correct and tested ideas being rendered ineffective. Here sectarianism becomes a serious crime against the interests of the vanguard and of Marxism. Woe betide those revolutionaries who would not thus understand this point of view, and who would content themselves by making ‘their truth’ out of the Marxist truth! They risk the revolution passing them by, as they always criticise, but never play a rôle ...

At present this danger must not be neglected in France, when, above all, it is a matter of working without sectarianism for the political and organisational strengthening of the vanguard [60], but without ever abandoning our ideas (above all because their truth has been verified on the fundamental principled questions) in order to prepare the working class for the decisive struggles.

Some people proceed from a correct criticism of sectarianism to repudiate Marxist-Leninism. In fact, sectarianism can only be criticised because sectarian methods do a disservice to ideas, principles and a correct policy which is thus proved correct. On the contrary – to reject Bolshevism because there are sectarian deviations in the ranks of the Bolsheviks [61] that sometimes degenerate into revisions of Marxism (like the Bordigists, and some small groups around the London Bureau [62] as well) is to render the best service to the enemies of revolutionary politics, and is to practise the worst of sectarianism with regard to Bolshevik-Leninist ideas. At the same time, overcoming sectarian tendencies demands the duty of maintaining the greatest political firmness.


After working class Spain, whose heroic struggle must be helped to the utmost, it is now the turn of France.

Finance capital in France will play its decisive trump card for Europe’s domination by Fascism. The French proletariat will have a decisive opportunity to liberate France, and as a consequence Europe too, from finance capital and Fascism.

The lessons of Spain will prove very valuable to the international working class vanguard, which feels the whole importance of the present situation.

Let us remember these lessons:

Miserable cliques of petit-bourgeois middlemen, having lost the confidence and the subsidies of the bourgeoisie, sought to salvage the past without giving any concessions to the future. Under the label of the Popular Front, they set up a joint stock company. Under the leadership of Stalin, they have assured the most terrible defeat when all the conditions for victory were at hand.

The Spanish proletariat gave proof of extraordinary capacity for initiative and revolutionary heroism. The revolution was brought to ruin by petty, despicable, and utterly corrupted ‘leaders’. The downfall of Barcelona signifies above all the downfall of the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of Anarchism, rotten to its core. Forward to a new road, workers! Forward to the road of the international Socialist revolution! [63]

15 February 1939

P.S. This pamphlet was written while the Madrid events were occurring – the armed struggle between Miaja-Casado [64] and the Communist Party.

The main meaning of these events appears, above all, to be this: the democratic bourgeoisie, under pressure from London and Paris, after having made use of Stalinism as the main gendarme against the Socialist revolution, has in turn liquidated its ally which had been completely discredited by its bloody rôle. Similarly, at a less advanced stage of the decay of the Comintern, the Chinese General Chiang Kai-Shek destroyed the Communist Party after having used it.

Miaja-Casado prepared to betray the proletariat to Franco. Through the unpopularity of the Moscow criminals and butchers they found a means to be better able to drag along the workers into their work of betrayal. They continue the policy of the Popular Front without Stalin. It is not surprising that the Anarchist leaders and the Socialists from the left and right support Casado and Besteiro. [65] These people continue on the road of the betrayal of the revolution.

The Communist workers, abandoned by their leaders, those friends of Miaja who have fled and handed over power to Casado, now have to rely on revolutionary solidarity against the new hangmen of the new-style Popular Front. The revolutionary party must explain that the Popular Front of Negrín, Stalin and Azaña meant the destruction of the revolution. It should be added that the Casado-Miaja-CNT-Besteiro-Carrillo Popular Front means the end of the resistance to Franco.

Down with all Popular Fronts! Long live the workers’ and peasants’ front of class struggle!



34. For Rodríguez Salas, cf. p.220 n166.

35. Marcel Ollivier was a French proofreader who witnessed the Barcelona May Days in 1937 and wrote a classic account of them in Les Journées sanglantes de Barcelone, which is still available in the Cahiers Spartacus series: M. Ollivier and K. Landau, Espagne: Les Fossoyers de la révolution sociale, pp.63-93.

36. For the Friends of Durruti, cf. p.215 n85.

37. New Leader, 28 May 1937. Signed “A member of the ILP contingent”. From internal evidence the author is probably John McNair.

38. This has been translated in full into English. Cf. Katia Landau, Stalinism in Spain, Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.2, Summer 1988, pp.40-55.

39. For Uribe, cf. p.210 n10.

40. Fernando de los Ríos Urruti (1879-1949) was a right wing Socialist and Minister of Justice in the first Republican government of 1931; during this period he was ambassador in Washington.

41. For Prieto, cf. p.211 n28.

42. On the fate of Berneri and Barbieri, cf. p.214 n72.

43. Manuel Maurín was in the Model Prison in Barcelona, was left untreated after torture, and died after being admitted to hospital.

44. Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma, London 1979, p.158. The same methods were still being used by the Stalinists in the postwar purge trials in Eastern Europe, cf. E. Loebl, Stalinism in Prague, New York 1969, pp.25-6.

45. L.D. Trotsky, The Murder of Andrés Nin by Agents of the GPU, 8 August 1937, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., p.268.

46. Robert Louzon (1882-1976) was a well known French Syndicalist and editor of La révolution proletarienne. The author was mistaken in thinking he was over 60.

47. For Daladier, cf. p.211 n16.

48. The Matignon agreements were concerned with wage concessions and other reforms, and were signed by the French trade unions and the Prime Minister, Léon Blum, at the Hotel Matignon in Paris on 7 June 1936. They brought to an end the French general strike, and consolidated the power of the first Popular Front government.

49. La Lutte Ouvrière was the weekly paper of the POI (International Workers Party), the official French Trotskyist organisation at the time.

50. The suppression of the Paris Commune, the first workers’ government in the world, was organised from the Palace of Versailles in 1871. ‘Versaillais’, therefore, means reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries in traditional Socialist parlance.

51. L.D. Trotsky, Interview with Havas, 19 February 1937, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., p.243.

52. This was David Rousset, who was in Fez in 1936 and brought two members of the Moroccan Action Committee, Wazzani and Abjelil, to negotiate first of all with the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias in Barcelona, and then afterwards with Largo Caballero. Negotiations broke down over the government’s refusal to recognise the independence of Morocco. Cf. David Rousset’s Testimony, in Miguel Romero, The Spanish Civil War in Euzkadi and Catalonia, Notebooks for Study and Research, no.13, Amsterdam, 1991, pp.41-3.

53. L.D. Trotsky, The Lessons of Spain – The Last Warning, 17 December 1937, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., pp.320-2.

54. The argument that the support of Italy and Germany for Franco, and of Britain and France for the Republic had converted the civil war into an inter-imperialist conflict pure and simple, and that revolutionaries should therefore adopt a policy of defeatism towards both sides was that of the French and Italian (Bordigist) ultra left at the time. Cf. Communist Workers Organisation, Spain 1936: Imperialist War, Revolutionary Perspectives, no.5, 1976; Courant Communiste Internationale, Le Trotskysme contre la classe ouvrière, Paris 1990, pp.15-6; La Consigne de l”heure: ne pas trahir, La Gauche communiste d’Italie, 1991, part 2, chapter 5, pp.127-49.

55. Mundo Obrero was and remains the main paper of the Spanish Communist Party.

56. International Association of Workers, the Anarchist International.

57. For Danton, cf. p.217 n107.

58. Karl Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850, The Revolutions of 1848, Harmondsworth 1978, pp.325-6.

59. Vereeken’s group was the PSR (Revolutionary Socialist Party). For the polemic between Trotsky and Vereeken over the events in Spain, cf. p.241 n14.

60. Particularly the core of its regroupment, the PSOP. [Author’s note]

61. There is also sectarianism of a different but perhaps greater kind among the anti-Bolshevik centrists. [Author’s note]

62. The London Bureau was the international organisation of left wing Socialist parties to which belonged the Spanish POUM and the British ILP. For Bordigism, cf. p.220 n168.

63. L.D. Trotsky, The Tragedy of Spain, The Spanish Revolution 1931-39, op. cit., pp.331-2.

64. For Miaja and Casado, cf. p.210 n2.

65. Julián Besteiro (1870-1940) was a right wing Socialist who opposed taking up arms both in 1934 and 1936. He supported the attempt of Miaja and Casado to overthrow Negrín and negotiate with Franco in 1939.

Updated by ETOL: 30.7.2003