Hugo Oehler Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Hugo Oehler

Communism and Syndicalism in Spain

(June 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 12, 15 June 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The programs of the different currents of the working class movement are being tested by the Spanish revolution – a revolution which is now in Socialist-Republican hands, but a revolution these forces are unable to solve, a revolution slipping from their grasp, either to be carried to the successful conclusion of a dictatorship of the proletariat by a Marxian leadership or to be spilled back in the hands of the capitalist-feudalist forces.

In the onward march of the revolution the syndicalists hold a key position not because of their theoretical position, but due to their lack of one and the fact that they are the most powerfully organized and militant proletarian force. The Communist program that does not give special attention to this part of the heterogenous problem will be unable “to reduce all the contradictions and tasks to one co-efficient – the dictatorship of the proletariat”. Before dealing with what kind of special attention we must take up the syndicalist movement of Spain.

The Russian Revolution and the German revolution had to contend with the socialists as the most powerful organized force with a non-Marxian position. The Chinese revolution has a different relationship of these forces. Although the present Spanish revolution brings out a relationship with the socialists resembling the German and Russian revolutions it nevertheless opens up a new problem when considering the relationship of the socialists syndicalists and Communists in Spain as well as what lessons revolutionists have already learned about the role of the socialists.

We are actively participating in a revolution that can be compared with the Russian revolution. If we are to list the striking differences between these two revolutions special attention must be given to the syndicalist problem, because the Left Opposition has already dealt with the other vital problems to a greater degree. The capitalist press of the continent is comparing the Spanish revolution with the French revolution and the American press has followed its lead. What blindness and lack of understanding of their own capitalist problems! The French revolution came in the period of the birth of capitalism and the Spanish revolution breaks out in the period of the decay of capitalism. The capitalist comparison holds no water.

The syndicalist movement took root in Spain at the beginning of the century, as it did in most capitalist countries, as a “healthy” reaction to the revision and opportunism of the Second International. The “denial” of politics and the attitude toward the State was the most favorable ground for the philosophy of Anarchism. The old problems of capitalism are incorporated in the new problems of capitalism and the old problems of the Marxian movement (Bakunin, Proudhon etc.) are incorporated in our new problems. They are not to be dismissed as settled problems, as an unnecessary retracing of steps over ground covered but to be treated as part of the contradictions of the present stage of imperialism. Stalinism as a revision of Marxism and the tactics of the Comintern have been feeding the stream of syndicalism. Driving workers to reformism and syndicalism is part of Stalinism. To win the workers from the reformist and anarcho-syndicalist leadership, to the road of the proletarian revolution is a task that falls upon the shoulders of the Left Opposition. We must remember that the road does not lead around the party but through the party. But we must also add that “through the party” does not exclude independent action – it necessarily includes such.

The General Confederation of Labor, as a syndicalist organization, is far from homogeneous. At present the anarcho-syndicalists are in control but the very process of the revolution and the wrong policies of this leadership must accelerate tho division in the organization. The 1919 Congress decided to join the Third International, but desiring to join and being Communist are two different things. By 1920 the confederation had over 800,000 members, according to their reports, but the eventful years and defeats since then have left them with a small underground organization which is rapidly growing in the present revolution.

The General Strike

The defeat of the general strike in 1923 in Spain and the general world effects of the defeat of the October German revolution enabled the dictatorship of Primo De Rivera to establish its rule on the backs of the workers and peasants of Spain. The syndicalist program is brought out in full light in the events since 1923 as an utter minus in relation to solving the problems of the proletariat and peasantry. To the syndicalist, the general strike means everything. To us the general strike is a most powerful weapon in the hands of Marxian leadership; yet it only RAISES the question of power but does not SETTLE it. Only the smashing of the capitalist state machinery and its replacement with a proletarian state machine, a dictatorship of the proletariat in Alliance with the peasantry in Spain, will settle the question of power.

The “Syndicat” as a federated system of autonomy is the syndicalist structure to take over production. Workers’ federalism vs. centralism is their keynote. Under capitalism the organization of production has already surpassed this syndicalist federated or local commune stage. Capitalism has combined industry, etc., nationally and internationally interlocking numbers of industries under finance-capitalism. The syndicalist proposal is a step backward to the organization of productive forces on a lower level, while the socialist solution of the proletarian problem lies in surpassing the capitalist mode of production. We must build a higher stage of economic production as well as distribution. The Centrist with his theory of socialism in one country is only different in degree from the syndicalist conception of the solution of the toiling masses’ problems under the socialist mode of production. Stalinism can build socialism in an isolated economic backward unit and the syndicalist can build socialism through local communes. The Left Opposition say the solution of our problems and of the Socialist mode of production lies in the world arena through the world revolution. The seizure of power in Spain now by the proletariat would be another step, a link in the chain of world revolution and would bring greater clarity to our ranks and more unity between the proletariat and peasantry – a unity with an accelerated solution of the peasant problem. Lenin wrote, “The basic question of any revolution is that of state power. Unless this is understood there can be no intelligent participation in the revolution, let alone directing it.” The leaders of the syndicalists have not learned this BASIC question but fortunately the rank and file followers of the syndicalist and some capable proletarian leaders of their camp are learning this basic problem not only in Spain but throughout the world. The quicker we teach this basic point to the Spanish syndicalist followers the faster will be the development of a party, a Marxian party of Communists.

The capitalists may be “dumb” but they at least can distinguish friend from foe. They recognize the Soviet Union not as a friend but as a foe, in spite of the blunders of Stalin. But the syndicalist cannot understand this distinction. No matter how far Stalin has gone up to now with his theory of socialism in one country the international capitalists will not confuse this with capitalist rule even though they realize his policies are strengthening the element that want the return of capitalist rule. The syndicalists often say they would rather have a capitalist dictatorship (U.S. “democracy”) than the Russian dictatorship (Soviet power under Communist leadership). Their actions in Spain prove it.

“Freedom” and Dictatorship

Pestaña, leader of the syndicalist says, “A dictatorship of the proletariat is continually mentioned. We want no dictatorship. The workers must be educated for freedom, not tyranny. The syndicate is the solution.” There is nothing in between the dictatorship of the capitalist today in Spain and the dictatorship of the proletariat tomorrow. The only choice lies between rule of the workers and peasants and the rule of the capitalist and feudalist. We say to the syndicalists: If you establish your “federation of syndicates” and the capitalists endeavor to take them back, you must either use force against them or give up – to use force against them, to keep them from a return to private property is the dictation of one class the working class over the capitalist class, and such, in plain English, is the dictatorship of the proletariat through the Soviets. You want freedom and we tell you freedom for the capitalist and feudalist is tyranny for the workers and peasants and freedom for the workers and peasants is “tyranny” for the capitalist and feudalist. Only, our rule is the rule of the majority over the minority.

The objective conditions favor us, the masses learn fast in a revolution and through united fronts with revolutionary syndicalists fighting the Socialist-Republican government we can help them to discard their anarchist prejudices.

Worker, peasant and soldier Juntas with the Communist program presented by the Left Opposition, is the road to power in Spain for the workers and peasants.

Hugo Oehler Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 30.12.2012