Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 4


When the Proletariat Rose

Workers Fight
When the Proletariat Rose to Change the World
Internationalist Communist Forum no. 27, London 1996, pp. 32, 70p

SURPRISINGLY LITTLE has been produced by the left in Britain in book or in pamphlet form to defend Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom from the ferocious attacks of the Stalinists. An honourable exception is Bob Pitt’s translation of the crucial passages from Hernández’s memoirs reviewed elsewhere in this issue, and this pamphlet ranks with it as a valuable summary of the real politics of the Spanish Civil War.

Far from being a conflict of ‘Fascism versus democracy’, it tells us right at the start that ‘the reality was entirely different’ (p. 1), and develops its argument step by step from there. It is clearly written, and crams an amazing amount of accurate material into a few pages. No better guide can be placed in the hands of those approaching the subject for the first time, and it deserves to be sold outside every showing of the film.

There is only one minor factual slip, the assertion that the mass base of the CNT was limited to Catalonia (p. 3), forgetting the support that it possessed amongst the very poorest peasantry in Andalusia, and indeed elsewhere in Spain. The CNT was, after all, by far the largest trade union federation, numbering some 1.5 million members to the UGT’s one million, and many of the UGT’s strongest sections were caught behind the Nationalist lines.

More could also have been done to discredit the dishonest and sinister claim dealt with on page 20 that the USSR granted disinterested ‘aid’ to the Republic. As a matter of fact, every piece of Soviet weaponry that arrived had been paid for several times over, for Spain’s gold reserve, one of the largest half dozen in the world, had been shipped into Odessa harbour. Stalin’s hold over the Republic’s wealth not only prevented it from buying any arms elsewhere, but also enabled the Comintern advisors, the Russian diplomats and the local Stalinist hierarchy to keep a stranglehold over the war effort and the country. It was for this reason rather than his expansion of the carabineros (p. 22) that Juan Negrín became prime minister after the Stalinists had ousted Largo Caballero (p. 28), for it was he who was responsible for the removal of this gold along with the Russian military attaché, Arthur Stashevsky.

This brings us to this pamphlet’s only real weakness, its failure to make much of a distinction between the Socialist left, which Trotsky regarded as centrist, and the Socialist right, which allied wholeheartedly with the Stalinists in the counter-revolution. Indeed, it even argues that the defeat of the left was its own fault: ‘If the Communist Party was able, in the end, to act as the policeman of the bourgeois order, it was primarily because the vast majority of revolutionary workers remained under the influence of the reformist leaders.’ (p. 32) By so placing an equals sign between gangsters like Orlov and muddled old Socialists like Caballero, the Stalinists are let neatly off the hook – and Trotsky placed the main responsibility for the betrayal squarely upon their shoulders. This stems from the strange assumption of Workers’ Fight and its co-thinkers that Stalinists are always to the left of Socialists, an assumption dubious in Spain, and laughable over here.

But if all the reader learns from this brochure is to watch his back where Stalinists are involved, it will have served a useful purpose.

Al Richardson

Updated by ETOL: 30.9.2011