Pierre Broué

Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution

(April 1967)

Written as introduction to a Spanish language edition of Trotsky’s writings on the Spanish Revolution.
From Fourth International, Vol. 4 no. 1, April 1967, pp. 4–17.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Chris Clayton.
Proofread by Einde O’Callaghan (September 2011).

The article below gives no translator but in all probability it was John Archer.
I have corrected a number of typos and improved consistency in italicising etc. Note by transcriber – ERC


This essay, specially written for this collection at the request of Jorge Alvarez, was not intended to retrace, even in outline, the stages of the Spanish revolution which covered the peninsula with blood from 1936 to 1939. I can simply refer those of my readers who wish to complete their knowledge of this or that particular point to the work which I devoted, together with my friend Émile Témime, to La Revolution et la Guerre d’Espagne (Les Editions de Minuit, 1961.)

We deal here simply with a sketch of Trotsky’s positions in this Spanish drama, the last proletarian revolution between the two wars and the prologue to the second world war – a drama which concerns us all, whether we think it or not. For I think that the Russian revolutionary, outlawed by Stalin, posed, in terms which remain valid today, whatever his detractors and some of those who praise him may say, the problem of the crisis of humanity as that of revolutionary leadership.

Spain in 1936 was the last battlefield on which, during Trotsky’s lifetime, armed workers and peasants confronted the class enemy in a revolutionary struggle. The Spanish war was, in fact, the preface to the Second World War, the first year of which was marked by Trotsky’s murder. But Spain was also the first field of activity of the GPU outside the Soviet Union on a large scale. At the same time as the old Bolsheviks were dying in the cellars of the GPU in Moscow during the purge and the trials, Stalin’s murderers were liquidating in Spain all those revolutionaries vaguely defined as Trotskyists. And yet, no party and no group which played any real role in the Spanish revolution was Trotskyist. The POUM, exterminated by the Stalinists in 1937, hotly denied being Trotskyist, and in any case Trotsky did not spare them in his political writings.

Trotsky’s biographers, and especially Deutscher, pass very quickly over the Spanish Civil War, the role which Trotsky tried to play in it, and the place it had in his thought and action. This is most probably not an accident. For Isaac Deutscher, indeed, the struggle for the building of the Fourth International was, on Trotsky’s part, a considerable mistake, since the objective was utopian. But Trotsky’s position on the Spanish events cannot be understood outside his overall perspectives of the time and especially his central aim of the period: the building of a revolutionary leadership, of a world party of the revolution, the Fourth International. The blows that Stalin and his henchmen struck at the anti-Stalinist revolutionaries like the POUM on the Spanish battlefield were in fact aimed at the Fourth International.

The tasks of the Spanish Revolution

Trotsky did not wait until 1936 to become interested in the Spanish question. The third volume of his Works, published in French, contains several hundred pages on Spain, which represent only a few of his articles and part of his correspondence: Trotsky’s writings on Spain compare honourably with his writings on Germany, the country which, it will be recalled, he correctly estimated to be the key to the world situation at the time of Hitler’s and the Nazis’ rise to power.

The revolution which began in Spain with the fall of the monarchy and the flight of Alfonso XIII should, of course, have resolved the tasks which Marxists call ‘bourgeois-democratic’. But it would be a dangerous mistake to believe that the weak Spanish bourgeoisie, represented politically by the Republican parties, had the strength to carry out this democratic revolution. ‘The Spanish Republicans’, writes Trotsky, ‘remain entirely on the basis of the present property relations. We can expect from them neither the expropriation of large landed property, nor the liquidation of the privileged position of the Catholic Church, nor the radical cleansing of the Augean stables of the civil and military bureaucracy’. In conformity with the theory known for thirty years as the ‘Permanent Revolution’, brilliantly confirmed positively by the Russian Revolution and negatively by the defeat of the Chinese revolution of 1927, he thought that it was only under the dictatorship of the proletariat that the democratic tasks of the revolution would be achieved, along with the beginning of socialist transformation. The problem is thus essentially that of the revolutionary policies of the proletariat, of its ability to rise against both the oligarchy of the old regime and the bourgeoisie.

In an article dated January 24, 1931, analysing the political situation in Spain, Trotsky commented on the scale of the strike movement in Spain as well as its entirely spontaneous character. He categorised the period as a ‘period of the awakening of the masses, of their mobilisation, of their entry into the struggle’. ‘With these strikes’ he wrote, ‘the class begins to consider itself as such.’ However, the spontaneous nature which gives the labour movement all its strength at a given moment, risks becoming, at the next stage, the source of its weakness and defeat. A labour movement abandoned to its own fate, ‘without a clear programme, without leadership’ inevitably finishes by being confronted with ‘a perspective without hope’. The Socialists (the PSOE) had collaborated with the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera: they now followed in the wake of the republicans. ‘If the Socialist Party’, wrote Trotsky, ‘had conquered the majority of the proletariat, it would only be able to do one thing: hand over the power conquered by the revolution into the pierced hands of the republican wing, which would, automatically, let it slip back into hands of the present holders.’ The Spanish Communist Party was very weak, deeply divided by the methods of the leadership imposed on it by the Stalinised Communist International. It went through split after split, and thus largely discredited itself in the eyes of a part of the conscious workers, who reproached it as much for bureaucratic methods of leadership as for its servile submission to the orders of Moscow, notably the adoption of ‘adventurist’ slogans during the ‘Third Period’. The real revolutionary cadres were expelled or turned away. The masses turned their backs on the party.

In truth, the revolutionary vanguard, the most combative elements of the proletariat, were organised in the CNT, where, Trotsky stated, ‘selection has taken place over a number of years’. He wrote: ‘to consolidate this organisation and to transform it into a real mass organisation is a duty for every advanced worker and above all for the Communists.’ They would inevitably come up against the small conspiratorial group of anarchists of the FAI who control it. The mobilisation of the proletariat on the democratic transitional slogans could only be done with soviets – the ‘juntas’ – but it will demand, from the revolutionaries, a struggle on two fronts inside the labour movement: against the ‘parliamentary cretinism’ of the socialists and against the ‘anti-parliamentary cretinism’ of the anarchists. ‘The anarchists’, he wrote, “deny” politics at the very moment when it takes them by the throat, then they give way to the politics of the class enemy.’

To win the masses to organised, bold revolutionary politics, to wrench them away from the influence of the socialist and anarchist leaders, to establish in the form of the ‘juntas’ the superior class organisation, to prepare the victorious insurrection and the complete liquidation of the old state machine, this was the first political task of the Spanish revolutionaries. To resolve it Trotsky believed three conditions necessary: ‘a party and again a party, and again a party.’ But in Spain this party did not exist. In 1931 Trotsky wrote: ‘If the leadership of the Comintern proves to be incapable of offering anything to the Spanish workers but bureaucratic leadership and splits, then the real Communist Party of Spain will be formed and steeled outside the cadres of the Comintern. In any event, this party must be built.’

It is to this task that the Spanish militants of the international Left Opposition applied themselves, organised in the Izquierda comunista. Their tasks seemed perhaps more realisable in Spain than that of the oppositionists in any other country. The Spanish oppositionists had in their ranks some of the best elements of Spanish communism: pioneers of the movement like Andres Nin, who came to communism whilst he was secretary of the CNT and had been secretary of the red trade union international; Juan Andrade, who had brought the majority of the socialist youth to the Comintern on the morrow of the war; and many others of great value. Their journal Comunismo was distinguished by the quality of its research and theoretical studies and by its effort to make a concrete analysis of the Spanish situation. In the labour movement, the anti-parliamentarianism of the anarchists and the parliamentarianism of the socialists co-existed, each serving the other as a foil, but the slogans of the Izquierda comunista showed a way out to the militant who had been led astray by the other tendencies. The road opening up to a communist party of the Bolshevik type was indisputably more accessible than in many other countries. This is probably why some militants became impatient and proposed to abandon the position of ‘opposition’ to a non-existent party and to go ahead and build a new communist party. Trotsky fought against them energetically in the discussion. For him, the question was to correct the Communist Parties and especially the Communist International itself, by a vigorous political struggle. One single analysis must prevail for the tactics of all revolutionary communists on an international scale. No supporter of the Opposition must leave the International of his own free will and give up the defence of the ideas of its founders inside it so long as there was any chance of correcting it. The ‘Trotskyists’ – who called themselves ‘Bolshevik-Leninists’ – remained in opposition, and the majority of the Izquierda comunista followed Trotsky in those years when the centre of the struggle moved to Germany and the attempt to correct the International took the form of merciless criticism of Stalin’s catastrophic policies which were opening up the way for Hitler.

The 1934–1935 turn

Hitler’s coming to power – the crushing of the German working class without a struggle because to the end it was tied down by the policies of the Stalinist and social-democratic apparatuses – was the decisive turning point of the inter-war period. It gave notice of the coming second world war and the inescapable approach of decisive struggles between the working class and the fascists, shock-troops of the counter-revolution. The Communist International accepted the policy dictated by Moscow without turning a hair, trumpeted the infallibility of its leaders, denied the importance of the defeat in Germany, directed all its blows against internal criticism, and sabotaged the establishment of a workers’ united front, which alone would have constituted an effective weapon against the troops of Hitler. For Trotsky, the defeat in Germany was the ‘August 4, 1914’ of the Comintern, i.e., the equivalent of what the support of the Second International’s leaders for the imperialist war had been to Social-Democracy. The Second and Third Internationals were no more than corpses, and henceforth it would be in vain to try to bring them back to life by struggling inside them to ‘correct’ them. The Bolshevik-Leninists must give up their standpoint of internal opposition: from henceforth they must work to build the revolutionary leadership which the working class lacked, and must harness themselves to the building of a new International, the Fourth. Whilst directing political activity to the formation of a workers’ united front, they must train independent revolutionary nuclei in order to wrest away from the old leaderships the militants of the younger generations.

The development of the class struggle in Spain seemed to provide favourable ground for carrying out this plan. In fact, the Izquierda comunista, during its few years’ work as a communist opposition, had made serious progress. Its minimum programme was a series of transitional demands aimed at raising the level of consciousness of the masses in struggle and leading them into further struggles, and was summed up in this way by one of its leaders:

‘The immediate demands possible were: the working day, wages, equality of the working day for both sexes, security for the working class, collective contracts; the demands of the democratic revolution: confiscation and distribution of the great estates, separation of church and state, full freedom to meet and hold demonstrations, etc.; general demands against the reaction: a demand for responsibility, confiscation of all property – agricultural and urban, personal and real estate – of the monarchist reactionaries; political demands capable of organising the masses for their own defence and bringing them nearer to the seizure of power: united front against reaction, trade-union unity, workers’ committees in the factories, the farms and the barracks ... Other important demands not immediately realisable but capable later of making a bridge from the bourgeois to the socialist republic, included workers’ control of production, the total disarming of all bourgeois bodies and the arming of the proletariat.’

The Izquierda Comunista grew rapidly: in 1932 it contained at least 2,000 members, recruited amongst the youth of all political backgrounds and from all trade unions, not only in Catalonia, and especially Barcelona, but in Madrid, the two Castilles, Bilbao and in the Asturias, Salamanca, Andalusia and Extremadura. Its influence among the advanced workers in the socialist and communist parties and in the CNT and UGT grew unceasingly. This took place under conditions where the bankruptcy of the socialist policy of compromise with the bourgeois parties was exposed, as well as the anarchist policy of isolated uprisings. There also became apparent the need for a workers’ united front, which the Spanish Communist Party fought against with all its strength, just as it had done in Germany, under the pretext of the prime need to fight the socialists, called by the Stalinists ‘social fascists’.

In Catalonia, the Izquierda Comunista agreed on the necessity to form a united front, with another organisation originating in opposition to the communist party and to the Stalinist line of the third period. Under the leadership of Joaquin Maurin, another pioneer of Spanish communism, and of other cadres of the communist movement in Catalonia, there was established, starting from a split in the Federation Comunista Catalano-Balear, the Bloque Obrero Campesino (Workers’ and Peasants’ Alliance), which took out of the communist party in Catalonia all the worthwhile militants that were left. According to Trotsky, Maurin’s opposition was a ‘right opposition’ of the type that Brandler developed in Germany, Lovestone in the USA, and Tasca in Italy. Ideologically, it was linked with the ‘rightists’ inside the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Bukharin tendency, and it grew essentially on opposition to the sectarian policy of the Communist Party and the Comintern during the ‘third period’, the rejection of the ‘united front’ and the accusation of ‘social fascism’ aimed at the socialists. Trotsky wrote of the right opposition groupings that they ‘had no clear programme for action’ and, even worse, that ‘they had been won over by the prejudices that the epigones of Bolshevism ... had spread so widely’. After the publication of the manifesto of the Bloque Obrero y Campesino, he wrote. in June 1931, that this document was ‘as it is, pure “Kuomintangism” transplanted on to Spanish soil’. He was soon to reproach the Maurinists for opportunism in their relations with the petty-bourgeois nationalist movements of Catalonia, their refusal to criticise the Stalinist policy inside the USSR, and their efforts to convince the Moscow leaders that the leadership of the Spanish Communist movement should be given to them. He warned, in his correspondence, time and again against Maurin and the Bloque and called for a merciless criticism of what he considered as a kind of ‘centrism’ even worse than the ‘official centrism’ of Stalinism, in fact, the Maurinist opposition created confusion which harmed the development of the Izquierda: it was only in Madrid that the Bolshevik-Leninists were able to win the majority of members of a communist party federation. Elsewhere, and notably in Catalonia, the confused and often contradictory policies of the Bloque, its opportunism in practice, together with its criticism of principle, made it play the part of a screen between the Izquierda and the dissatisfied communist militants in the party rank and file.

It was in the Socialist Party, and especially amongst its youth, that the radicalisation of the Spanish working class and the progress of Trotskyist ideas in its vanguard was most clearly evident. It is well known that the bankruptcy of the socialist policy of class collaboration with the republican governments provoked a deep crisis in the party ranks, followed by the emergence of a powerful left wing, paradoxically led by the old workers’ leader Francisco Largo Caballero, who, learning from his reformist experience, rallied spectacularly to revolutionary politics and declared himself in favour of the proletarian dictatorship. Carried forward by extraordinary enthusiasm, Largo Caballero thus considerably accelerated the movement of radicalisation which had caused him to change. His disciples, the leaders and members of the Socialist Youth and the intellectuals who surrounded him and who edited the UGT journal Claridad, were a clear expression of this phenomenon and of the immense consequences that it contained. Thus, Luis Araquistain, his unofficial spokesman, wrote in 1934 in the preface to Discursos a los trabajadores, the organ of the UGT: ‘I think that the Second and Third Socialist Internationals are virtually dead; reformist, democratic and parliamentary socialism that the Second International represented is dead; and so is the revolutionary socialism of the Third International which received from Moscow the santo y sena for the entire world. I am convinced that a fourth International must spring up, founded on the two that have died, taking from the one the revolutionary tactic and from the other the principle of national autonomy. In this sense, the attitude of Largo Caballero, which is that of the Spanish Socialist Party and of the UGT, seems to be the attitude of the Fourth International, that is, a carrying forward of historical socialism.’ Even making allowances for the demagogic exaggerations of life-long opportunist leaders who had rallied but late to revolutionary politics, the current in favour of the ‘bolshevisation’ of the Socialist Party and of its joining in the building of the Fourth International was extremely vigorous among the rank and file, as is shown by the resolutions of the regional conferences of the youth and the content of their journals and demonstrations.

At the same time, the CNT was going through a deep crisis. Whilst the rightist tendency of the ‘treintistas’, led by the ex-secretary Angel Pestana, was openly moving towards a kind of reformist trade unionism, the vigorous reaction of the FAI did not prevent the growth in consciousness amongst the majority of anarcho-syndicalist militants that ‘apoliticism’ was nothing more than a kind of passivity, which benefited only the class enemy. During, and despite, the hesitations and twisting of its leaders, the left socialists included, the Asturian working class fought with its well-known energy in the October insurrection. The leaders of the CNT who, except in the Asturias, had kept out of the mass movements by refusing to join the Allianzas Obreras set up by the call of the Izquierda and of the Bloque, ran an even greater risk: isolation from the powerful movement for revolutionary proletarian unity (the Union de los Hermanos Proletarios) which swept the country after the October insurrection and which the official communists joined at the last minute.

For Trotsky, no hesitation was possible. On the eve of huge class struggles and of the future realisation of the united front between the Stalinists and the reformists on a platform of ‘defence of democracy’, under the immediate threat of the counter-revolution, the small Bolshevik-Leninist organisations did not have time enough to play a decisive role in the class struggles, especially if they were excluded from the socialist-communist united front which was being established. Despite their progress, they were still numerically small, lacked links with the working-class masses, which were still attracted by the large organisations, and were unable to capture to their advantage in a reasonable time the spontaneous current of radicalisation which was shaking up the reformist dust in the socialist party. Already in August 1934, on the morrow of the fascist riot of February 6 in Paris and the first reply of the socialist-communist united front, the French Bolshevik-Leninists grouped around La Verité entered the SFIO (Socialist Party), where they were in the process of solidly establishing their influence among the best lefts of the Seine Federation and in the ranks of the youth.

The ground was even more favourable in Spain, where the radicalisation was deeper and the influence and prestige of the Trotskyists greater. The journal of the Madrid socialist youth, Renovacion, contains many appeals to the Trotskyists, which it calls

‘the best revolutionists and theoreticians in Spain and urged them to join the youth movement and the Socialist Party, to bring about bolshevisation.’

Trotsky thought that it was necessary to take full advantage of the situation and to establish a solid faction inside the Socialist Party, making it a centre of attraction able to influence the Communist Party members surprised by the abruptness of the opportunist turn by their party as well as the CNT militants bewildered by the impotence of the opportunist turn by their party, as well as and able too to give a really Bolshevik form to this spontaneous radicalisation which, lacking revolutionary leadership, was in danger of being led astray by the Stalinists and left socialists, who were determined to be revolutionary only in words.

But Trotsky was not able to convince his Spanish comrades. Whilst the majority of the French Bolshevik-Lenisist carried out the ‘turn’, the majority of the Spanish organisation refused to do so. The minority, which was favourable to Trotsky’s theses, did not go so far as to break the discipline of the organisation which, after a long and difficult discussion at the end of 1934, refused to enter the Socialist Party. Instead, the leadership of the two organisations, the Izquierda Communista and the Bloque Obrero y Campesino, in the following year on September 25, 1935, held a unification congress, giving birth to a new party: the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista). Thus, at first sight paradoxically, the political regrouping in Spain and the radicalisation born from the events of 1933-35, gave rise to a new Communist Party born from the fusion of the right and left oppositions, a ‘Trotsky-Bukharinist bloc’ as the Stalinist Koltsov wrote: Instead of the struggle for a new party through political differentiation, as specified by Trotsky, his former disciples substituted a path of fusion of the old apparatuses, declaring at the congress of unification:

‘The great revolutionary Socialist (Communist) Party will be formed by grouping into a single entity the nucleus of existing Marxist revolutionaries, together with the new wave of revolutionists motivated by Marxist unity and those elements which, demoralised by subdivisions in the labour movement, have been temporarily inactive ...

going so far as to proclaim that the POUM intended to merge with the big party at a congress which would take place:

... as soon as the principle of Marxist unity triumphed in the Socialist and Communist Parties.’

Trotsky, rightly from his point of view, was to consider as a betrayal the passing of the former leaders of the Izquierda Comunista over to the positions which had always been those of Maurin and the Bloque: for them, it could no longer be a question of working for the building of the Fourth International, but only of fusing the two former Internationals, which were considered by Trotsky to be corpses. It is not surprising that at the international level the POUM quickly joined the London Bureau, the liaison organisation between the different groups which had split from the Socialist or Communist Parties of their countries, but had in common the refusal to struggle for a ‘new International’.

From then on, there was no political force in Spain, however tiny, able to oppose the pressure exerted by the right wing Socialists and Stalinist Communists for an electoral alliance with the bourgeois Republicans. The coming fusion of the socialist youth and the communist youth into the JSU, which from 1936 on was to be the mass base of Spanish Stalinism, and the joining of all working-class organisations in the bourgeois programme of the Popular Front were, in a certain sense, implied in the decision of the Spanish Trotskyist leaders, Andrade and Nin, to refuse to enter into the Socialist Party and instead to choose unification with the ‘right’ Communists of Maurin. G. Munis expresses Trotsky’s thoughts on this matter when he writes:

‘The ghastly tragedy of civil war, the systematic destruction of the revolution by the popular front, the particularly criminal role of Stalinism and the consequent triumph of Franco had as premises, the recomposition which occurred in all sectors of the working class movement in 1935. Taught by previous experience, the masses followed a procedure which was a reversal of that of the parties. The former took to the left, becoming radicals and afire with a socialist consciousness, the latter fled to the right, forming a closed circle of collaborating organisations.

‘At the very moment when the masses were about to make an attack on bourgeois property and on the state, all the parties, some to a greater extent than the others, were bowing in reverence to that same state.’

Whilst in 1934 those fighting for the Fourth International to be set up against the reformists and the Stalinists had a real influence and possibilities to extend it and consolidate it, fighting directly against the supporters of class collaboration, by the end of 1935 there was no group in the labour movement to uphold the need for ruthless ideological demarcation and the denunciation of class collaboration under the mask of unity. This is what Trotsky called the betrayals of his former comrades in struggle, with which he bitterly reproached them until his death.

From the Popular Front to the Revolution

Deported from France in 1935, and despite the numerous difficulties that he met in his Norwegian abode, Trotsky had analysed the ‘Popular Front’ as it had arisen in France on the initiative of the new directives given to the Communist Party by the Stalinised Third International. The noisy rallying of the French Communists to the declaration of Stalin ‘fully approving the policy of national defence’ of Pierre Laval’s reactionary government, on the morrow of the Franco-Soviet Pact, the expulsion of revolutionary elements from the Communist Parties and Socialist Parties, as part of the new ‘Holy Alliance’, the efforts of the leaders of these parties to canalise the radicalised French workers along parliamentary paths and into the alliance with the Radical Party, their condemnation of the spontaneous and ‘savage’ movements of the arsenal workers of Brest and Toulon, in the name of solidarity with the bourgeois Republican Parties, gave its true face to the French Popular Front: a rehabilitation of the Radical Party, the party of imperialism and of the French bourgeoisie, the crushing of the revolutionary aspirations of the French proletariat in the name of the principles of bourgeois democracy and a purely parliamentary perspective.

The Spanish Popular Front Agreement, signed in Madrid on January 15, 1936, was written in the same ink as its French equivalent. Every historian of the time took pleasure in stressing its extremely moderate character, which was in fact as little revolutionary as possible. The parties which signed it had established a common programme, to serve among other things, ‘the form of government to be established by the Republican Parties of the left with the support of the working-class forces, should they be victorious’. They invoked ‘public peace’ to justify the amnesty and maintained ‘in all its strength the principle of authority’. The declaration set out in these very words: ‘The Republicans do not accept the principle of nationalization of land and its distribution gratis to the peasants.’ Its economic programme, under the sign of the ‘general interests of the economy’ and of ‘national production’ foresaw the creation of ‘Institutions of economic and technical investigation, whereby the state not only was in a position to acquire elements for its political direction but the individual managers as well, so that they could exercise their own initiative.’ It specified that the Republican Parties would not accept ‘the measures for nationalization of the banks ... control by the working-man ... sought by the representatives of the Socialist Party.’ And it stated that ‘the Republic envisaged by the Republican Parties is not a Republic directed by social or economic motives of class but by a plan for democratic freedom and moved by public interest and social progress.’ The declaration ended by the statement by the subscribing parties that ‘International politics will be orientated to the principles and methods of the League of Nations.’

The Agreement was signed by the representatives of the Republican Parties the Socialist Party and the UGT, the Socialist Youth, the Communist Party, the Syndicalist Party of Pestana and ... by the representative of the POUM, Juan Andrade. Twelve days earlier, the editorial of the POUM paper, La Batalla, of January 3, 1936, had written under the title ‘The Crucial Year of our Revolution’: ‘two roads are open before us, and only two: either the march to socialism, to the second revolution, or a shattering retreat and the triumph of the counter-revolution ... We are now about to enter into a period of great struggles on the march to socialism.’ The POUM adopted Maurin’s declaration: the only alternatives are ‘fascism or socialism’. How then, can we explain its support for the Popular Front? How can we explain its appeal to workers to vote for this electoral alliance which permitted the establishment of a bourgeois republic, and forbade itself any attack against property and the bourgeois order? The leaders of the POUM explained their action by the desire to do everything to prevent the electoral victory of the right and the desire to obtain the immediate freeing, through the amnesty, of thousands of worker militants still detained after the defeat in the Asturias together with the tactical desire of not cutting themselves off from the masses, of not isolating themselves from the powerful unitary current among the masses, expressed now in enthusiasm for the Popular Front. Was there any sensitivity to the criticisms of Trotsky, which were immediate and which condemned the ‘centrists’ of the POUM for their complicity with the Stalinist-bourgeois coalition? Was there a lively reaction from any of the POUM’s members, surprised at what was, after all, a rather brutal turn? In any case, the POUM, although its only MP, Maurin, voted for Azana, immediately declared that it retained its independence arid only signed the pact with the exclusive intention of ensuring the defeat of the right at the elections. These precautions did not prevent Trotsky from showing that the policies of the POUM, precisely because of the criticisms that it made of the Popular Front after having signed the Agreement, made it the left cover of the coalition and linked it to the bourgeoisie through the intermediary of the big workers’ parties.

When, a few months later, Franco’s military pronunciamento exploded, prepared with the connivance of the Popular Front government, whose only concern was to restrain the mass movement, to reassure the right and to protect the army and the officer corps, Trotsky once again stressed the class nature of the Popular Front: ‘When the bourgeoisie is forced to carry out an alliance with the organisations of labour, through the intermediary of its left wing, it then has even more need of the officer corps as a counterweight.’ The policy of the Republican Popular Front government towards the army, allowing it to prepare openly its overthrow, was not the result of its ‘blindness’ or of any mistake, but simply the policy of the Spanish bourgeoisie. In Trotsky’s eyes, of course, the most guilty were the labour leaders who allowed the fraud of the Popular Front to be carried out. He wrote: ‘We can now see very much more clearly the crime that the leaders of the POUM, Maurin and Nin, committed earlier this year. Every thinking worker can ask them – and will ask them: – “did you not foresee anything? How could you sign the programme of the Popular Front, making us give confidence to Azana and company, instead of filling us with the greatest mistrust of the radical bourgeoisie? Now, we will have to pay for your mistakes with our blood”.’ He added: ‘The rage of these workers against Nin and his friends must be of a specially pronounced kind, for they belonged to a tendency which some years ago gave an exact analysis of the policy of the Popular Front, and which repeated this analysis at every stage, concretising it and making it more precise. Nin cannot plead ignorance (a feeble excuse for a leader) for he must have read the documents which he once signed.’

However, some people could still believe in the possibility of rapprochement. The POUM was far from homogeneous. The experience of six months of Popular Front government obviously condemned the January Agreement in the eyes of many militants. Above all, the workers’ reply to the military coup d’etat had transformed overnight the political atmosphere in Spain: the armed workers were in control of the streets and were everywhere setting up the power of their committees, destroying the army, the police and the bourgeois law courts, seizing the factories and the land. Trotsky and Nin were once again in agreement that the spontaneous revolutionary action of the Spanish workers and peasants had carried them to a higher level even than that of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in its first stages. The International Secretariat of the Fourth International delegated Jean Rous to Barcelona to meet Andres Nin. Negotiations took place on the question of the ‘entry’ of the Trotskyists into the POUM: the POUM leadership agreed to publish on the front page of La Batalla a weekly article by Trotsky, and promised to demand for him the right of asylum. Then, brutally, everything was broken off. Was this really because of the clumsiness of Rous, as several witnesses suggest? Or was any compromise impossible after the latest attacks of Trotsky against Nin and Andrade, as others declared? We can, however, believe that the tactical disagreements were deeper than the revolutionary enthusiasm of the first days allowed to appear; the POUM was to make a move which Trotsky judged even more serious for the revolutionaries than the ‘crime’ that they committed in signing the Popular Front Agreement.

The entry of the POUM into the Catalan government

Commenting on the formation in Madrid of a Popular Front government on September 6, including republicans and communists, and presided over by Largo Caballero, Andres Nin declared: ‘the present government doubtless represents a step forward compared with the previous government, but it is a Popular Front government, a government which corresponds to the situation before July 19, when the workers’ insurrection had not taken place, and in this respect ... it represents a step backwards. There is thus no other way out but a workers’ government. The slogan for the entire working class for the coming period is “Out with the bourgeois ministers, and long live the government of the working class” ’.

A few days later, on September 26, under the patronage of the Catalan Republican President of the Generality, Companys, a new government was set up on the Madrid model: Andres Nin himself was a member of it, with the title of ‘Councillor for Justice’. It is this government of the Generality that will decree and carry out the effective dissolution of the revolutionary committees and the liquidation of the situation of ‘dual power’, established by the workers’ response to the military insurrection. Companys’ biographer was to describe this political episode as follows:

‘Companys, who has recognised the right of the workers to govern and has also shown himself to be prepared to abandon his position, manipulates the situation with such skill that gradually he re-establishes the legitimate organs of power, undermines any action taken by the committees and reduces the labour organisations to the mere role of auxiliaries accessories and executives. Within four to five months a normal state of affairs had been established.’

Commenting on the refusal by the workers’ organisations of the Popular Front (of the CNT and the POUM as of the Communist and Socialist Parties,) to take the power on the morrow of July 19 in the so-called republican zone, Trotsky was to write: ‘to renounce the conquest of power, is to leave it voluntarily to those who hold it, to the exploiters. The basis of any revolution has consisted and consists in carrying a new class to power and thus giving it the opportunity to carry out its programme ... The refusal to take power inevitably throws any working-class organisation into the marsh of reformism and makes it the plaything of the bourgeoisie; it cannot be otherwise, given the structure of society’. This was in striking agreement with the point of view of president Azana, the spokesman of the republican bourgeoisie, who wrote, with some cynicism:

‘Because of the suppression of military insurrection and at a time when the government lacked any combined means of action, there was an uprising of the proletariat which was not directed against the government itself ... A revolution must have the support of the mandate, must take over the government, must direct the country in accordance with its views. This had not been done.... The old order could have been replaced by a revolutionary one. This was not so’.

Andres Nin, commenting on the entry of his party into the Catalan government, declared on the radio: ‘the struggle which is beginning is not the struggle between bourgeois democracy and fascism, as some people think, but between fascism and socialism.’ The Journal of the POUM youth, Juventud comunista, indirectly revealed the hesitations and oppositions inside the POUM leadership on this question when it wrote: ‘There are in the chamber too many representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, who have given us so many demonstrations of their ineptitude and short-sightedness. In our case, our party entered the government because it did not want to be out of step in these very grave times, and it believed that the socialist revolution could receive some impetus from the Catalan government.’ (My emphasis. P.B.) In fact, Andres Nin who, twenty days previously, had declared at a meeting in Barcelona that the dictatorship of the proletariat already existed in Catalonia, went on to say: ‘In these circumstances, it is incomprehensible that there should be a government in Catalonia made up of representatives of the republican left (Esquerra), and it is absolutely incomprehensible that there should be in Spain a government with bourgeois ministers’. But he handed the task of eliminating the bourgeois ministers over to the anarchist leaders, saying: ‘If the anarchist comrades take charge of the situation and make a few sacrifices, before long there won’t be a single bourgeois minister in Spain’.

Trotsky retorted: ‘Nin has, in practice, turned the Leninist formula into its opposite; he has entered a bourgeois government whose aim was to plunder and to stifle all the gains and all the supports of the socialist revolution. The basis for his thought was approximately as follows: since this revolution is a socialist revolution ‘in its essence’, our entry into the government can only further it ... Did not Nin recognise that the revolution was socialist ‘in its essence’? Yes, he proclaimed it, but only in order to justify a policy which undermined the very basis of the revolution. In another article, he stated: ‘Certainly, the POUM attempted theoretically to base itself on the theory of the permanent revolution (and this is why the Stalinists called the Poumists Trotskyists), but the revolution is not satisfied with mere theoretical recognition. Instead of mobilising the masses against their reformist leaders, the POUM tried to convince these gentlemen of the advantage of socialism over capitalism’.

The entry of the POUM into the Catalan parliament finally severed relations between Trotsky and the party. However, the dialogue between them was to continue until the crushing of the POUM and the liquidation of the revolutionary conquests by the Stalinist-bourgeois coalition government of Negrin and the restored bourgeois state.

The Spring 1937 Discussion

From this point of view, we are lucky enough to have access to two important documents: the speeches made by Andres Nin in Barcelona on March 21 and April 25, 1937, and an article by Trotsky, replying to the first speech, dated April 23, on the eve of the May Days.

Nin declared: ‘The POUM, and with it the entire vanguard of the proletariat, realises that the revolutionary upsurge which began on July 19 has considerably retreated, that the revolutionary process is going through a period of pause, and that the workers’ positions are much weaker today than they were six months ago’. Recalling the dislocation of the bourgeois state machine in July and August 1937, the fact that the proletariat ‘imposed its will and its decisions’ because it was armed, and the fact that ‘power was in the streets’, he remarked: ‘Today, Companys, in the name of the bourgeosie, dares to tell the workers to keep quiet and to obey’.

Nin then analysed the ‘symptoms of the retreat that the revolution is now going through’: he saw them in ‘the process of rebuilding of the mechanism of the bourgeois state’, ‘the campaign for the creation of a non-political regular army’, the desire of the Madrid government to revoke the Catalan freedoms, the proposed reform of the ‘services and organisations entrusted with public order’, which notably were to forbid those concerned with public order to belong to political or trade union organisations. This whole process, according to him, began with the elimination of the POUM from the Catalan government in December.

In an attempt to analyse the causes of this ‘counter-revolutionary process’, Andres Nin first of all took up the political role of reformism in our revolution, supported by that international organisation which still has the cynicism to call itself “communist”. ‘Reformism’, he said, ‘confined itself, and still confines itself in Catalonia, in Spain, to play the part which it has played on a world scale: that of being the bourgeoisie’s watch dog.’ He then pointed out the responsibility of the CNT leadership in the retreat ‘which was able to take place, in the absence of any clear understanding in that organisation of the problem of power as the essential problem of the revolution’. He specified: ‘the mistaken attitude of that organisation has had some important consequences in the counter-revolutionary process. Without it, in any case, the retreat that we are now experiencing would have been impossible’.

The remedies were within reach, time still remained, and ‘all is not yet lost’. Turning to the Anarchist leaders, Nin declared: ‘The CNT must examine its conscience, give up its old prejudices which have been one hundred times overtaken by events’. Was it a question of a violent struggle for power? ‘No, with the positions which the working class still holds today, it can take power without resorting to violence’.

He once again confirmed that the war and revolution were inseparable, and that this war was a revolutionary war, as the political importance of the victory at Guadalajara showed, gained as it was by revolutionary propaganda amongst the Italian troops. He demanded greater repression against the agents of fascism, reprisals for the bombing, and concluded that for victory they needed ‘One flag. The red flag of the proletarian revolution. One government. The workers’ and peasants’ government, the government of the working class’.

On April 25, during a conference on ‘the problem of power in the revolution’, Nin completed and clarified his views. According to him, ‘the formulae of the Russian revolution, applied mechanically, would lead to defeat. We must take not the letter, but the spirit of the Russian revolution’. Although it is true that in Spain, as in Russia, the bourgeoisie was unable to carry out the democratic revolution, there were, nonetheless, important differences between the situation in Russia in 1917 and the present situation in Spain: the Spanish reformists were very much more powerful and benefited from Anglo-French support and the desire of these supporters to turn the civil war into an imperialist war. The bourgeoisie had sought refuge inside the so-called workers’ parties. Also, the Russian working class had no democratic tradition. In Spain, the existence of trade unions, parties, labour organisations, explained why soviets had not sprung up. And finally, in Spain, Anarchism was a mass movement, which it was not in Russia, and this imposed ‘new problems and different tactics’: ‘the problem is for the revolutionary instinct of the CNT to be changed into revolutionary consciousness, and for the heroism of the masses to be changed into a coherent policy’. And the POUM leader turned to the leaders of the FAI and of the CNT, calling on them to form a revolutionary workers’ front which would ‘call and convene a congress of delegates from workers’ and peasants’ trade unions and from the fighting units, which would establish the basis of the new society and from which would be born the workers’ and peasants’ government, the government of victory and of the Revolution’.

At the same time, as he was weighing up the problems of the Spanish revolution, Trotsky asked ‘Is victory possible?’ It was from henceforth indisputable that the Popular Front Republican regime of Largo Caballero was trying to turn the army into ‘the democratic guardian of private property’. The duty of revolutionaries was clear: to defend bourgeois democracy, even in armed struggle, but without taking any responsibility for it, without entering its government, preserving complete freedom of criticism and of action, and preparing the overthrow of the bourgeois democracy at the following stage. ‘Any other policy,’ he stated, ‘is criminal and has no hope of cementing bourgeois democracy, which is inevitably doomed to collapse, whatever the immediate outcome of the civil war. It was because it defended property that the Popular Front prepared the triumph of fascism: without a proletarian revolution, the victory of democracy would merely mean a detour in the road to the very same fascism’.

Trotsky stressed the fact that Nin admitted that the revolution had retreated. He wrote: ‘Nin forgets to add: with the direct co-operation of the POUM leadership who, under the cover of ‘criticism’, adapted to the socialists and to the Stalinists, or in other words, to the bourgeoisie, instead of opposing at every stage their party to all other parties and thus preparing the victory of the proletariat. We predicted to Nin, six years ago, at the very beginning of the Spanish revolution, what would be the consequences of this fatal policy of hesitation and adaptation.’

Contrary to what Nin believed, it was not the expulsion of the POUM from the Catalan government, but its entry, which marked the beginning of the reaction. In fact, Trotsky stated, ‘they should say: “our participation in the Catalan government made it easier for the bourgeoisie to strengthen itself, to chase us out and to openly take the road of reaction”. Basically, the POUM was still half in the Popular Front. The POUM leaders plaintively exhorted the government to take the socialist road. The POUM leaders respectfully requested the CNT leaders to understand, at long last, Marxist teaching on the state. The POUM leaders considered themselves to be the “revolutionary advisers” to the leaders of the Popular Front’.

What was to be done? ‘The masses must be openly and courageously mobilised against the Popular Front government. It is necessary to reveal to the syndicalist and anarchist workers the betrayal of those gentlemen who call themselves anarchists, but who are really just simple liberals. Stalinism must be mercilessly castigated as the worst agent of the bourgeoisie. You must feel yourselves to be the leaders of the revolutionary masses, and not the advisors of a bourgeois government.’

The victory of the revolution would be far from ensured, even if the ‘Republican’ army defeated Franco: this victory, in fact, ‘would necessarily mean the explosion of a civil war inside the Republican camp’. ‘In this new civil war, the proletariat would only be able to win if there was at its head an inflexible revolutionary party, which had managed to gain the confidence of the majority of the workers and of the semi-proletarian peasants. But if this kind of party does not appear at the critical moment, the civil war inside the Republican camp threatens to lead to the victory of a Bonapartism which would be very hard to distinguish from the dictatorship of General Franco. This is why the Popular Front is a detour on the road to the same fascism.’

The main problem for Trotsky, just as it had been in.1931, was that of the party, of the revolutionary leadership. And this is why he took up Nin once again - saying before the Dewey Commission: ‘He is my friend. I know him very well. But I criticise him very vigorously.’ He wrote: ‘Nin sententiously announces that “the revolution is in retreat” whilst in fact preparing ... his own retreat ... If Nin was able to reflect on his own words, he would understand that if the leaders of the revolution prevent it from rising to the dictatorship of the proletariat, it must inevitably descend into fascism. It was so in Germany, it was so in Austria, it will be so in Spain, only in a very much shorter time’.

According to Trotsky, Nin and his friends did not analyse the situation correctly and, above all, did not go through to the end in the conclusions that had to be drawn. ‘When Nin says that the Spanish workers can still today take power by peaceful means he is telling a flagrant untruth. Already today, power is in the hands of the chiefs of the military and of the bureaucracy in alliance with the Stalinists and the anarcho-reformists. In the struggle against the workers, these gentlemen lean on the foreign bourgeoisie and on the Soviet bureaucracy. To speak, in these conditions, of the peaceful conquest of power is to deceive oneself and to deceive the working class. In the same speech, Nin says that they want to disarm the workers, and advises the workers not to give up their arms. The advice is good. But when one class wants to disarm another and this class, and especially the proletariat, refuses to give up its arms, this means precisely the approach of a civil war’. And Trotsky attacked Nin’s perspectives, which he called ‘mealy-mouthed’: ‘Nin’s mealy-mouthed and false perspective for the peaceful conquest of power is the reverse of all Nin’s radical reasoning on the dictatorship of the proletariat’. The essence of Nin’s politics lies in this: ‘It enables him to avoid drawing the practical conclusions from his radical reasoning and to continue in his policy of centrist oscillation ... The policy of the POUM corresponds, neither by its content nor by its tone, to the sharpness of thesituation. The POUM leadership consoles itself by thinking that it is ‘in front’ of the other parties. That is very little. One must base oneself, not on other parties, but on events, on the march of the class struggle.’

Thus, Nin’s revolutionary phrases did not convince Trotsky that the POUM had reformed. ‘You must’, he wrote, ‘fearlessly cut yourself off from the umbilical cord of bourgeois public opinion. You must break from the petty bourgeois parties including the syndicalist leaderships. You must go to the masses, in their deepest and most exploited layers. You must not lull them with illusions about any future victory which will come of its own accord. You must tell them the truth, however bitter. You must teach them to be suspicious of the petty-bourgeois agents of capital. You must teach them to rely on themselves. You must link them indissolubly to their own destiny. You must teach them to build their own combat organisations – the Soviets – in opposition to the bourgeois state.’

He asked: ‘Can we hope that the POUM will make this turn? Alas, the experience of six years of revolution leaves no room for such hopes. The revolutionaries inside and outside the POUM would reveal themselves to be bankrupt if they reduced their own role to exhorting Nin, Andrade, and Gorkin in the same way as these latter have exhorted Caballero, Companys and the others. The revolutionaries must speak to the workers, to the rank and file, against the hesitations and vacillations of Nin’. On the latter point, this was a platonic declaration: the militants organised in the Voz leninista group, the Spanish section of the Fourth International, and their comrades, all very young and almost all of foreign extraction, organised in the rival El Soviet group, would have neither the means nor the time to speak ‘to the rank and file’ to denounce Nin, either inside or outside the POUM, whose destruction was approaching.

Las Jornadas de Mayo (the May Days)

The action of the May Days was to break off all discussion irrevocably between the factions. Confronted by the provocation that the men of the CPSU organised against the workers of the Telefonica the Barcelona workers replied by a spontaneous uprising. To Trotsky ‘this event shows what a gap had been dug between the anarchist and the POUM on the one side and the working masses on the other. The concept spread about by Nin that the “proletariat can take power by peaceful means” has been demonstrated to be absolutely false’.

According to Nin, the movement took place because the problem of reaction had not been put in political terms and ‘the accumulated irritation of the working class’ had finally provoked ‘a violent explosion followed by a spontaneous and chaotic movement without any immediate perspectives’. The POUM took its place by the side of the workers: ‘The course of the armed struggle, the impetus of the revolutionary workers and the importance of the strategic positions taken were so great that we could have taken the power’. However, he specified: ‘our party, a minority force in the labour movement, could not take on the responsibility to put forward this slogan, especially as the leaders of the CNT and of the FAI, by asking the workers in the most urgent manner, in speeches broadcast by the Barcelona transmitters, to give up the struggle, sowed confusion and disarray amongst the workers’. The POUM too, pointing to the promise to withdraw the Force Publique and not to disarm the workers, on the morning of the 7th, called on the workers to give up the struggle and to return to work: ‘The attempt (at provocation) having been brought to nothing by the magnificent response of the working class, withdrawal now becomes necessary’.

In this document, draw up for the May 12 Central Committee meeting of the POUM, Andres Nin wrote on this subject: ‘We are proud to announce that the attitude of our party effectively contributed to the ending of the bloody struggle ... and to preventing the labour movement from being crushed by ferocious repression’. On May 28, La Batalla was suppressed. On June 16 Nin himself was arrested, to be murdered by Stalin’s men. The policy of the POUM did not prevent the ferocious repression which beat down on all the Spanish revolutionaries; during the insurrection Trotsky wrote: ‘It is necessary to arm the revolutionary vanguard against everything that is ambiguous, confused, equivocal, in the upper layers of the proletariat, both nationally and internationally. Whosoever does not have the courage to oppose the Fourth International to the Second and Third will never have the courage to lead workers in decisive battles’, summing up in a sentence what Nin’s political line had represented for him during these years of the Spanish revolution.

The general lessons of the Spanish revolution

Thus despite the years devoted to the training of real Communist cadres in the Izquierda comunista, despite the real influence gained during 1933–35 among the Spanish advanced workers, Trotsky found himself reduced, at the time of the revolution, to a commentator – some say a prophet – the very opposite of the role which he had hoped to play. From this point of view, we are indebted to him for brilliant analyses which perfectly explain some aspects of the class struggle on this battlefield.

On civil war – and its particular aspects – he wrote: ‘In civil war, far more than in ordinary war, politics dominate strategy. Robert E. Lee, as a military commander, had certainly more talent than Grant, but the policy of abolishing slavery ensured Grant’s victory. During the three years of our civil war our enemies were often superior in military technique and art, but, in the end, it was our Bolshevik programme that carried the day. The worker knew very well what he was fighting for. The peasant hesitated a long time, but, having compared the two regimes through his experience, he finally supported the Bolshevik camp. In Spain, the Stalinists, who command from on high, put forward the formula which Caballero adopted: first the military victory, then the social reforms. Not seeing any basic difference between the two programmes in reality, the working masses, and especially the peasants, remained indifferent. In these conditions, fascism will inevitably win, because it has military superiority on its side. Bold social reforms are the most effective weapon in civil war and the fundamental condition for a victory over fascism’.

On world perspectives: ‘If fascism wins in Spain, France will be caught in a trap from which it will not be able to escape. Franco’s dictatorship will mean the inevitable acceleration of the European war in the most difficult conditions for France. It would be useless to add that a new European war would bleed the French people to its last drop of blood and would lead it to a decline that would at the same time be a terrible blow to the whole of humanity.’

On Stalinism and its role in the Spanish revolution, he wrote: ‘Stalin has certainly attempted to carry on to Spanish soil the external procedures of Bolshevism: political bureaux, commissars, cells, GPU etc. But he had emptied these forms of their socialist content. He had rejected the Bolshevik programme, and with it soviets, as the necessary form of mass initiative. He placed the techniques of Bolshevism at the disposal of the bourgeoisie. In his bureaucratic narrowness, he imagined that commissars in themselves were enough to ensure victory. But commissars for private property were only able to ensure defeat ... Neither the heroism of the masses nor the courage of isolated revolutionaries was lacking. But the masses were left to themselves and the revolutionaries were brushed aside, without a programme and without a plan of action. The military commanders were more concerned with crushing the social revolution than with gaining military victories. The soldiers lost confidence in their commanders, the masses in the government; the peasants held aloof, the workers grew tired, defeat followed defeat and demoralisation grew. It was not difficult to foresee all this at the beginning of the civil war. Whilst it gave itself the task of saving the capitalist regime, the Popular Front was vowed to military defeat. Turning Bolshevism upside down, Stalin carried out successfully the role of grave digger of the revolution.’

‘The Spanish revolution shows yet again that it is impossible to defend democracy against the revolutionary masses by any other means than fascist reaction. And conversely, it is impossible to carry out a real struggle against fascism except by the methods of the proletarian revolution. Stalin fought against Trotskyism (the proletarian revolution) by destroying democracy with Bonapartist measures and with the GPU. This refutes once again and for all time the old Menshevik theory which gives the socialist revolution two independent historical chapters, separated from each other in time. The work of the Moscow executioners confirms in its own way the correctness of the theory of the permanent revolution.’ This is the most general conclusion, a conclusion which, it must be admitted, the revolutionary events in the world for the last quarter century have in no way contradicted; indeed, quite the contrary.

The revolutionary party

It remains that the Spanish working class did not have in 1936-39 the instrument which had ensured the victory of the revolution in Russia, a revolutionary party; according to Trotsky, it was in this failure of the revolutionaries that lay the basic reason for the defeat of the revolution. According to him ‘despite its intentions the POUM was, in the last analysis, the main obstacle on the road to building a revolutionary party’. Its destiny is worth thinking about. Trotsky wrote on this subject: ‘the problem of the revolution must be delved into to the very bottom, to its last concrete consequences. Politics must conform to the basic laws of revolution, that is, to the movement of classes in struggle and not to the fears and superficial prejudices of the petty-bourgeois groups who call themselves Popular Front and many other things. The line of least resistance in Revolution is revealed as the line of worst failure. The fear of isolation from the bourgeoisie leads to isolation from the masses. Adaptation to the conservative prejudices of the labour aristocracy means the betrayal of the workers and the revolution. Excessive prudence is the most fatal imprudence. This is the main lesson of the collapse of the most honest political organisation in Spain: the POUM, a centrist party.’

However, it remains true that, once again, since Stalin’s victory in the Soviet Union, Trotsky was right in Spain only in a negative way: the Spanish ‘Bolshevik-Leninists’ were no more able than the German or French Trotskyists to build the revolutionary instrument that he called on them to create. The Fourth International, at that time, was incarnated by that man alone, a giant dominating in his thought and his experience of a quarter of a century of revolutionary struggles, over his supporters and over his adversaries. The impotence and the fatal divisions among the Spanish Trotskyists, their tragic inability to direct into the path of Marxism the groups of young socialists and militant libertarians, like the Friends of Durruti, which were, undeniably, developing in their direction, reveals a record no more attractive than that of the POUM leadership. Must we conclude, as some do, that Trotsky, in working unceasingly to build the Fourth International, was still caught up in an old, outdated dream, the dream of World Revolution, and that the age of revolution, which opened with October 1917, had also ended with it? This would be to display extraordinary optimism in capitalism’s ability to organise the world and ensure its domination of man, an optimism and confidence that nothing in the history of mankind since the tragic hours of the fall of Barcelona has confirmed. Quite the contrary: Spain, under Franco, is there to remind anyone who might tend to forget.

The great lesson which comes out of Trotsky’s works, and especially from the pages devoted to the Spanish revolution, is the conviction that humanity – that is, the class in which lies its future, the working class – is finally master of its destiny and that it must, by using the mechanism of historical laws, put an end to the capitalist regime. Whoever does not believe in the capacities of the working class, or in the necessity of its liberation from the yoke of exploitation; in a word, whoever does not believe in the revolution and is by that very fact against it, will certainly declare the building of the Fourth International to be ‘Utopian’. On the other hand, all those who believe that humanity is not wedded till the end of time to terrorist dictatorships, to Hitler or Mussolini, to Trujillo, Chiang Kai-shek or Lacerda, to concentration camps, to napalm bombing and atomic incineration, to pogroms and lynchings, all those who believe that lost battles reveal lessons which enable victory to be won one day, these people know that the question of a world revolutionary organisation is posed: the International.

These people will think over the lines which Trotsky devoted to the final warning of history before the second world war and will remember that revolutions, those locomotives of history, as Marx called them, can sometimes overtake the best intentioned revolutionaries. The bankruptcy of Nin, a revolutionary of integrity, was written in his political errors. A revolutionary Marxist cannot declare that ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat exists’, whilst the bureaucratic machines are busy transforming into empty shells the committees which, through the mobilisation of the masses, could have become real soviets, and whilst there remained, even if it was only a ‘phantom’ as Trotsky said, a bourgeois state which thirsts for revenge and will not be lacking in pseudo-socialists and pseudo-revolutionaries ready to undertake its rebuilding. A revolutionary Marxist cannot, on the pretext of ‘not isolating’ himself, and of ‘not marching out of step’, adapt to the prejudices of the masses, dictated by the reformist machines, refrain from criticism, make himself the adviser of leaders brought to power by the first revolutionary wave, exhort the same leaders who are afraid of the masses to revolutionary action, in a word, renounce being the faithful interpreter of the historical needs of the workers and poor peasant masses, their revolutionary leadership. When a revolutionary of rare merit, like Andres Nin, commits such mistakes, history is there to testify that future generations must pay for them, for decades, with their flesh and blood. This is the kernel of Trotsky’s message on Spain, a message addressed to revolutionary militants who may be tempted to think that there might be, on the path of the struggle for power, some short cuts and substitutes for the organisation of the working masses for conscious action.

Last updated on 24.9.2011