Pierre Broué

The Socialist Youth in Spain (1934–1936)

(When Carrillo was a Leftist)

(December 1983)

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4, 2008, pp. 193–228.
Originally from Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no. 16, December 1983.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Trotsky wrote about Spain and about the positions which Andres Nin adopted towards the proposal to enter the Socialist Youth, in a letter of 16 July 1936. This letter was a polemic against his comrade, Sneevliet, and was addressed to the leadership of the Dutch RSAP. He wrote:

The splendid Socialist Youth came spontaneously to the idea of the Fourth International. To all our urgings that all attention be devoted to the Socialist Youth, we received only hollow evasions ... The Socialist Youth then passed over almost completely into the Stalinist camp. The people who called themselves Bolshevik-Leninists and who calmly saw this happen, or better yet, who caused it, have to be condemned for ever as traitors to the revolution. [1]

In the documents recently published in the Oeuvres [French edition of Trotsky’s writings], from 1934 onwards, there are abundant references to and remarks about the entry which Trotsky advocated into the Socialist Youth and the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), and the refusal of the Communist Left (Izquierda Comunista), which ended in 1935 in its fusion with Maurín’s Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc within the POUM. In La Révolution espagnole, I tried to throw all the light I could on the content of Trotsky’s proposals – the text of which we do not have – and on the successive refusals of the Spanish Trotskyists, and I was content to mention as an important element in the context the “radicalisation”, which has sometimes been called the “revolutionisation” of the PSOE, as well as some external signs of the evolution to the Left, even to “Leftism”, of its youth organisation, the Federación Nacional de Juventudes socialistas (FNJ).

Recent developments in post-Franco Spain have had positive results in the field of historiography, because they have finally given access, not merely to the collections of books and journals of the 1930s, but also to the documents in the archives which were seized on a huge scale by Franco’s army between 1936 and 1939 and were preserved at Salamanca [2]. Consequently it has now become possible to study in itself the evolution to the left of an important fraction of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain, under the authority of Largo Caballero, and notably that of its most active wing, the Federation of Socialist Youth, one of the leaders of which was to have a long political career – because he was, quite simply, Santiago Carrillo. In the course of the last five years, important works have been devoted to this question from various standpoints, [3] and a first review of the question is now possible, based on printed sources as well as on hitherto unknown archives.

The Radicalisation of Largo Caballero

The pressure to the left within the socialist parties from 1933 onwards is not, of course, a purely Spanish phenomenon, as some experts on Spain believe and certain political writers maintain. The phenomenon was due in general both to the economic crisis and its socio-political consequences and to the defensive reflex provoked by Hitler’s victory without a struggle in Germany; it was a world-wide phenomenon. The special feature in Spain was that the radicalised left wing of the Socialist Party was to have as its spokesman and its principal leader a man who until then had been correctly regarded as one of the most hardened reformists in the Second International, Francisco Largo Caballero.

He was a former plasterer, who only had learned to read and write at the age of twenty-four, and was one of the best-known leaders of the party and of the union which he controlled, the General Union of Workers (UGT). He was one of the most stubborn opponents of affiliation to the Communist International and one of the active supporters of the PSOE, and then, under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the determined supporter of collaboration which would allow the UGT to grow. He favoured the alliance with the republican bourgeois parties to bring down the monarchy, and since the coming of the Republic had been Minister of Labour in the Socialist-Republican coalition government, accepting the responsibility for measures of repression as severe as, for example, the famous “law for the defence of the Republic”. [4]

But in the middle of 1933, at the moment moreover when the Socialists entered the government, several factors combined to pressure Largo Caballero to use more sharply left language – as much directed to the bourgeoisie as to the workers. He noticed with great bitterness that the social legislation of which he was the author continued to be sabotaged by functionaries high and low, while the employers were resuming the offensive everywhere and in every field. Moreover he was greatly impressed by the victory of Hitler and the destruction of the entire German workers’ movement and of its social conquests, as well as by the analysis of these events by his comrade, Luis Araquistáin. [5] Like thousands and thousands of others he was convinced that the leader of the Popular Alliance, José Maria Gíl Robles [6] was taking the road of fascism in Spain and acquiring power by legal means, so he thought that the very existence of his party was now at stake.

The first indication that he was turning to the left was given in a speech which he delivered on 23 July in the Pardiñas Cinema in Madrid, to the Socialist Youth of the capital. He defended the participation of the Socialists in the republican government; when he pointed out that fascism was the last resort of capitalism in its extremity, he advanced some daring formulations, in particular declaring that he preferred “the socialist dictatorship” to “the bourgeois dictatorship or to fascism” [7]. Some weeks later he returned to the charge when addressing the students at the Socialist Youth summer school, held at Torrelodones, where the interventions of Besteiro, followed by those of Indalecio Prieto, provoked much dissatisfaction. [8] Largo Caballero, for his part, did not disappoint his young audience. Speaking of participation in power, he said that he did not make this a question of principle, but that today less than ever did he believe in the possibility of achieving socialism within the framework of bourgeois society. He declared that the aim of socialists must be to conquer power, and that a socialist republic must put an end to the exploitation of man by man. He also recalled the formula of Engels about “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. [9]

Was the President of the PSOE really calling into question his old reformist thinking and practice? Most writers today strongly doubt this; they declare that Largo Caballero was quite happy following – from a safe distance and in words only – the working masses and the youth in an ever-stronger orientation towards the left since 1931. In any case, from that day onwards the alliance was made between the Socialist Youth and the old leader of the Party and of the UGT, whom they made their “honorary president”. He gave his first interview to their weekly journal, Renovación, after the Socialists left the government. From that time onwards, after the experience of these years, he was doubtful of possibility of winning even the most minimal demands of the proletariat within the bourgeois republican framework. He believed that Spain was on the eve of the social revolution, and set before the youth the mission of encouraging the indecisive and of driving out of the party the passive elements that were no use to the revolution. [10]

It was on this line that Largo Caballero flung himself into the electoral campaign in November, at the head of a Socialist Party which, this time, did not have an alliance with the bourgeois republican parties. His meetings came to seem like popular referenda and, as Paul Preston emphasises, “his language grew more revolutionary as he travelled”, in obvious response to the furious attacks of the right, but also and above all “to the unrestrained enthusiasm of the crowds, who cheered his speeches long after they were over.” [11]

The PSOE was defeated; it won only 58 seats, though it received 1,627,000 votes, more than any other party ever before. This was thanks to the electoral law, which favoured broad coalitions so twice as many votes were needed for a Socialist candidate to be elected. The anarchists abstained from voting, denouncing Caballero for participating in repressive governments. But, in addition, beyond the slightest doubt, the propertied classes, confident of getting away with it, massively employed methods such as pressure on the working people, threats of loss of employment in the countryside, violence and sometimes terror and in any case organised fraud: sufficient reasons to convince the Socialists that they had nothing more to expect from bourgeois democracy. The Socialist Youth identified themselves with the new course and with the President of the Party and launched a campaign of propaganda and enlightenment. It was in this way that they came to publish in pamphlet form a speech which Araquistáin delivered on 29 October 1933: Araquistáin, Largo Caballero’s adviser, explained in it, on the basis of the German experience, through part of which he had lived, that only the socialist revolution, by destroying the bourgeoisie, could really bar the road to fascism. [12]

At the end of December Largo Caballero reached the conclusion that an insurrection had to be prepared “to save the republic”. Supported by an agreement with Prieto, he was active, at the end of 1933 and in the early months of 1934, in removing the opposition within the PSOE and even within its leadership.

One of the bastions of the resistance to the new course was obviously the Executive of the UGT, presided over by Julián Besteiro. [13] The battle for control began in the leadership of the UGT when Gíl Robles, the Parliamentary leader of the CEDA,[see Note 6] who had emerged victorious in the elections, publicly declared his determination to establish a “Corporative State” in Spain in the near future. Amaro del Rosal, a leading member of the Socialist Youth and leader of the union of workers in banks and finance, proposed to the national council of the UGT a resolution in favour of “the immediate and urgent organisation, in agreement with the Socialist Party, of a revolutionary movement of a nationwide character to win total power for the working class”. It was defeated by 28 votes to 17. In response Largo Caballero then got a decision to create a joint committee of the PSOE and UGT, with himself in the chair, and which had the task of studying the practical aspects of creating a revolutionary movement if the CEDA took over the government. On 27 January 1934, the programme for this possible uprising, drafted by Prieto, was submitted to the national committee of the UGT, which approved it [14], a decision followed by the immediate resignation of the former Executive, which firmly opposed what it called “adventurism”. It was immediately replaced by a new team devoted to Largo Caballero, who was once more general secretary under the presidency of his comrade Anastasio de Gracia [15], a leader of the building trades’ union. Those in agreement with the new secretary-general of the UGT included leaders of the important metal-workers’ unions, those like Pascual Tomás, who led the building trade workers, the Young Socialist, Carlos Hernández Zancajo, who led the transport workers’ union, and the leader of the bank employees. They now became the majority, and took the leadership of the very important Federación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Tierra, the agricultural workers’ union, which was now in the hands of the team led by the teacher Ricardo Zabalza, the supporter of Largo Caballero from Navarre. [16]

The “Besteirist” leadership of the Socialist organisation in Madrid, the role of which was always a key one in the Party, likewise fell into the hands of the supporters of Largo Caballero, among which were many members of the Socialist Youth. [17]

The Federation of the Socialist Youth

Soon after the Russian Revolution in 1917, it was the Socialist Youth who, as in many other countries at that time, formed the first nuclei of the future Communist Party. After that, during the 1920s, the re-constructed Socialist Youth had hardly been conspicuous for boldness or audacity; they were a small organisation mostly composed of the children of leading comrades or active members, and were, until 1932, led by people known for their moderation and reformism without any problems. But this state of things changed completely after 1932 and especially in 1933.

When the PSOE and the UGT decided at the beginning of 1934 to launch an insurrection if the CEDA became the government and, in a word, defend the Republic and the work of the Constituent Cortes and of the Socialist Republican government, an important component of the Party and especially of its left wing, the FJS – which also occupied positions in the UGT – openly proclaimed that this insurrection would be nothing else than an insurrection for power, for the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

After 1932 the activity of elements “of the left”, whose views began to cause anxiety to some gentlemen, appeared in the Socialist Youth Federation. From summer 1933, the speech at the Pardiñas cinema and especially the intervention of Largo Caballero at the Socialist summer school, the “leftist” current behind Largo Caballero gained great strength. Already Renovación, the Federation’s weekly, was defending the most extreme positions being expressed anywhere in the Socialist milieu. This current – which had all the features of an organised fraction – took control of the leadership of the Socialist Youth at its 5th Congress in April 1934, when the organisation had 20,000 members, which it was to double in a few months. [18] This new leadership won an overwhelming victory on the basis of a political report presented to the congress by a former student leader, José Laín Entralgo, which stressed the need to break with the bourgeoisie and its parties in order to start immediately to prepare for the seizure of power by the proletariat, i.e. the Socialist Party. [19]

The new president of the Federation, Carlos Hernández Zancojo, who had been politically active for years, belonged to the “older” generation and was nearer to the upper age-limit of 35 than to the 20-year-olds who were the majority of members [20]; he was well known, in addition, for his leadership of his transport workers’ union and his work in the Socialist organisation in Madrid. But the new leaders around him were really very young. Santiago Carrillo, the new secretary-general, was just nineteen. He was the son of a faithful supporter of Caballero, brought up in the circles of the apparatus, apprenticed to type-setting at thirteen, then an apprentice-journalist on El Socialista; in 1933 he was the general secretary of the summer school. At Renovación, which he had been editing for a year, he was replaced by a young militant student, Segundo Serrano Poncela, aged twenty-two. Around this secretariat, there was an equally youthful administration: José Laín Entralgo, of course, but also Federico Melchor, José Cazorlá, Alfredo Cabello, Rafael Cuadrado. [21]

The new team hid neither its intentions nor its ambitions. It wanted to make use of the youth organisation as a faction in the internal struggle in the party, as the spearhead of the “revolutionary” tendency of Largo Caballero, which the whole leadership backed. We may note this interesting point: while Caballero’s young supporters constantly referred to the authority and the prestige of Largo Caballero, at the head of the Federation of Socialist Youth, inside the party they nonetheless posed the question as one of generations. The congress had not yet closed when Serrano wrote in Renovación, under the significant title Crisis of Confidence, that the men of the generation which held the reins of the party were in reality “crushed by so many years of erroneous reformist interpretations of the Marxist tactic”; he counterposed to them the principled firmness of the new arrivals:

The new socialist generation will oppose everything which signifies an alteration of Marxist purity in its conception of power. [22]

The political thought of these young people was certainly far from being perfectly clear. Their adversaries could often, and without great difficulty, detect their contradictions and sudden reversals of line. But the axis of their orientation was very clear. They believed that the proletarian revolution was on the immediate order of the day in Spain, and that as a result of the facts of history and the present consciousness of the masses the instrument of this proletarian revolution could only be the PSOE which they believed had to be swept clear of its reformist elements and reinforced by revolutionary elements from outside.

Already in 1933, in a series of articles in Renovación, the young Federico Melchor, fresh from the summer school, was stressing important points of agreement with the organisations which had just declared for the Fourth International: the “struggle against fascism, the conquest of political power by revolution, the imminence of the revolution, the necessity to destroy reformism, the internal democracy of the party”, and declared that their role would be even more important inside the existing Internationals. Then he declared that the Trotskyists and the Socialist Youth were fighting the same struggle to break with “Stalinism and revisionism”, but that he did not believe in the construction of the Fourth International and wanted the support of the Trotskyists to help to defeat the reformist faction in the Socialist Party. [23]

The German experience – which had first been made known by Araquistáin – had informed them of Trotsky’s positions as well as of the double “failure” of the two equally erroneous tactics, “the reformist, petty-bourgeois social democratic tactic” and “the intransigent, sectarian tactic of the Communist International”. [24] This is what Santiago Carrillo explained in July 1934 to a delegation of Communist Youth. The important thing in his eyes was that the movement of the masses was forcing the workers’ organisations to form a united front, to take power through the formation countrywide, of Workers’ Alliances. [25] The Socialist Youth refused to accept the demand of the Communist Youth that the Trotskyists should be excluded from the joint activities. [26] On this point Carrillo did not spare the Communist Youth his criticisms. He said that he was certain that the mass movement would oblige the Communist Party of Spain to join in the Workers’ Alliances which it had been slandering for months.

The Socialist Youth were not yet ready to join the Communist Youth in a “People’s Anti-Fascist Bloc” as the latter proposed. Carrillo mentioned ironically the recent conclusion in France of the unity agreement between the SFIO and the PCF:

They say that they renounce systematic violence. But we must unite in order to organise violence! [27]

Moreover the Socialist Youth allowed criticisms and did not go in for insults. Carrillo said that it was not the use of insults which would make them decide to adopt a policy of the so-called “anti-fascist front”, for they believed it impossible to form a front against fascism with people who, like the Radicals, were clearly engaged in opening the way for fascism.

For all that, they defended – particularly against the Trotskyists, but also against other formations – what appears at first sight to be a rather surprising conception of the “united front”, which was apparently only possible, according to them, for preparing to seize power: this was the role which they ascribed, at any rate in theory, to the Workers’ Alliances. In 1934, in any case, and as soon as the decision for the possible insurrection, which they wished to make the start of the dictatorship, had been taken, they subordinated everything to this one objective. Santiago Carrillo declared to his questioners from Communist Youth, “The proletariat has nothing to gain in skirmishes: it wants to give battle in a definitive way.” [28] He therefore strongly opposed any partial action, any strike which could risk drawing the proletariat into a premature battle, because according to him not even the General Strike itself could be any more than the complement “of the insurrectional action of the armed bodies for the conquest of power.” [29]

This rejection of partial actions, described as “the will to conserve the forces of the proletariat” for “D-Day” was put to the other workers’ organisations with all the confidence of an organisation which was seriously preparing, if not “the great social revolution”, at least an insurrection in all the workers’ regions in Spain, and which was conscious that it was benefiting from the immense popularity of Largo Caballero, who at this time was the incarnation of the deepest aspirations of the workers and of the masses of toilers in the countryside, and whom the Socialist Youth began to call “the Spanish Lenin”.

Military Preparations for the Insurrection

The technical preparation of the insurrection evidently involved the delicate problem of arming, forming and training militias which would be the spearhead of the insurrection. On these points we have a certain number of documents and some valuable statements about the specific activity of the Socialist Youth in particular.

The search for arms seems to have begun fairly early in 1934. The largest deal was to be the purchase of an important stock which some Portugese conspirators collected, part of which was to be seized with the steam-ship Turquesa, which had tried to land the arms on the coast of the Asturias. [30] A report from the head of the Security makes clear that the Socialists also succeeded in making several “purchases” of arms under the cover of foreign governments, in particular of the government of Ethiopia, the cargoes being redespatched secretly to another destination, in Spain, soon after having been landed to be sent on to their destination in East Africa. Moreover, substantial stocks of guns were acquired by thefts which the workers themselves organised in the arsenals where they made them. (La Trubia, Toledo). When the time came, they counted on seizing in the first hours of the insurrection arms held in the stores of the arsenals, – in the Asturias they got 17,000 rifles – and the arms from a certain number of police stations, Assault Guards and civil guards, with the complicity of Socialists in the army or the police. [31]

As to the militias, the Security report already quoted includes two circulars from the leadership of the Socialist Youth in Murcia, dated respectively 6 June and 28 July, as well as a general report of 30 May 1934, about the military preparations of the Youth and of the Socialist “Militias”. [32]

The Socialist Youth circular of 6 June refers to earlier directives about the immediate creation of militias, indicating that many already exist and are functioning perfectly. It insists that the militiamen must not carry their arms unnecessarily, must hide all documents which could be compromising and must immediately form an underground alternative leadership. It stresses that the preparation properly so-called – exercises and handling of weapons – must be carried out as far as possible in the country, under the cover of excursions of a “scouting” type, in order to protect the militiamen from being caught by surprise by the police. It insists on the importance of “surveillance” and even “espionage” of the enemy camp – the “fascist” organisations and the police – and insists that this be undertaken where it is not already being done, as quickly as possible and, of course, in the strictest secrecy. It pointed out, finally, that it is necessary to form in every locality a “chemical” section, with the duty of making bombs and explosive devices; this to be rigorously separated from the rest of the organisation. Finally, it repeated the necessity for the strictest discipline and on the decision, already taken, to punish with death any who might betray or be detected in giving information.

The organisation of the militias itself was the subject of an eleven-point summary. To be admitted to it were members of the Socialist Youth and those of the PSOE and of the UGT, while the two latter categories could be “allocated by quota”, in order to avoid the leadership of the militia by the Socialist Youth being questioned. The militiamen were organised in groups of ten – known as “tens” – commanded by a “leader”, nominated like the local leader of the Socialist Youth, by its local committee. Preference was to be given to members who had done their military service and possibly had training as officers or non-commissioned officers. The members of the “tens” would learn to handle their rifles within the framework of the “ten”. Preparing explosives, holding stocks of them and handling them would be reserved for a special section. Each of the men admitted to the ranks of the militias must have a weapon. The local committee of the Socialist Youth had a free hand to nominate people for tasks, for training and for judging and punishing traitors on occasion. The order to mobilise, on the other hand, as well as strategic directives, were to come from the Provincial Federal Committee and the “senior leader” appointed by it. [33]

The circular from the same provincial committee on 28 August was more laconic and already had a smell of gunpowder about it. The local and provincial committees of the JS were dissolved. Authority on a local level was with the weekly meeting of the leaders of tens with the local leader who was now responsible to the senior leader who had to have means of contacting all the local leaders. Were the JS really dissolved into their own military organisation, thus becoming semi-clandestine? We may feel legitimate doubt as to how radical this transformation was in a framework in which public political activities – distribution of Renovación, mass meetings – and trade union activity were being carried on legally. There was doubtless at least a certain division of labour.

The national leader of the militias was José Laín. We have a fairly complete report on the militias in Madrid, by Manuel Tagüeña, who at the time was a student of science, aged 21 and a member of the Communist Youth:

At first there were almost public mass meetings in the Socialist Club in the West; these were followed by small meetings in squads of ten men who belonged to a secret organisation. [34]

It was actually in a building belonging to the Casa del Pueblo that he learned, from the leader of his squad, how to handle a Mauser. The first interventions by these militias took place at the time of the General Strike in Madrid, which was the response to the gathering of the fascists planned by the extreme right CEDA at the Escorial for 22 April. [35] Tagüeña left the Communist Youth when it wanted to make him give up the socialist militias, and he made rapid progress in them: with his militant friends, the medical student Federico Coello, and the law student Francisco Ordoñez, he entered the “General Staff” of the real military command of the militias, with José Laín, the bank employee Victoriano Marcos Alonso and the Italian militant Fernando De Rosa. [36] At the beginning of September, he received the command of a “company” formed of ten squads of ten men each, plus a command unit, the members of which lived in the quarter of Glorieta de Quevado. Ordoñez told him at the beginning of September that the insurrection was now inevitable and would in all probability be started at the beginning of October. [37]

It was within this framework of preparing an insurrection which the majority of the leaders of the UGT no doubt wished with all their hearts to avoid, but for which the Socialist Youth were consciously and enthusiastically preparing, that the discussion, within the UGT, the PSOE and the Workers’ Alliance of Madrid took place on the situation of the agricultural workers and their strike at the beginning of the summer – a discussion which Paul Preston has decided to locate in a political setting independent of the preparations for insurrection. [38]

1934 was in fact the year of the great offensive of the proprietors of the large estates to bring down wages and get rid of the organised farm workers, following the notorious formula: “You are hungry? Go eat the Republic!” We have seen that, on 28 January 1934, under the pressure of the members who wanted to fight, the leadership of the powerful UGT trade union, the Federación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Tierra – with half a million members – passed into the hands of the team of Ricardo Zabalza. The trade union leaders exhausted all legal means and methods of propaganda and had accumulated proofs of violations of legality and of violence and provocations by the landed proprietors, and ended by deciding to call the strike, under the threat of being removed from office by their followers.

They did not call the strike lightly, as Paul Preston emphasises. A first warning was issued on 31 March, in the journal E1 Obrero de la Tierra. But the Executive Committee of the UGT advised the leadership of the FNTT against issuing the strike call: the harvest was not at the same time all over the country, the small farmers risked being hit by it and, especially, the strike would lead to an inevitable confrontation. During March and April, Largo Caballero and the Executive Committee of the UGT did their utmost to convince Zabalza and his comrades not to call for a strike by agricultural workers which the UGT would not be able to support in the other sectors. The joint PSOE–UGT committee, which was commissioned to study the insurrection, repeatedly warned the provincial organisations and emphasised that the strike of the agricultural workers had nothing to do with the proposed insurrection and, in this way, indicated that it was premature!

However, the union members were dying of slow starvation; they demanded the strike, which in the end they imposed on the leaders who could no longer hold them back. After a final attempt to negotiate, the National Committee of the FNTT, meeting on 11–12 May, announced the strike, which would begin on 1 June on a programme of truly minimal demands. [39] The reply of the government was a decree which made harvesting a “national public service” and the strike a “revolutionary conflict”: all meetings, demonstrations and propaganda in connection with the strike were prohibited and a severe censorship imposed for several weeks. There were thousands of arrests and the local leaders were mostly sentenced to years of imprisonment without remission. The agricultural workers were left isolated and were crushed. The harvest was brought in by the army: two years and the electoral victory of 1936 were needed for the union to raise its head and come back to life ...

Indeed, the policy of Largo Caballero and the UGT leadership is heavy with responsibility; when it warned the strikers, it was, in effect tipping off the government that it would have its hands free to hit out at the strikers. The attitude of the Socialist Party led to lively discussions in the Workers’ Alliance in Madrid. On the evening of 1 June, Munis, who represented the Communist Left (Izquierda Comunista) in the Workers’ Alliance in Madrid, called for a solidarity strike of 48 hours, to show the Government that the peasants were not alone. The delegates of the Socialist organisations, the PSOE, the UGT and the Socialist Youth retorted that the matter concerned the peasants alone, who had been warned in good time. They declared that the “time to act had not yet come” and that they could not run the risk that the government might decide to close the Casa del Pueblo. In order to be better understood and, no doubt, for lack of arguments, the Socialist leader and supporter of the UGT, Rafael Henche de la Plata, without speaking, pulled a gun out of his belt and laid it openly on the table in front of him. [40] On 31 July, at the National Committee of the UGT, Ramón Ramírez, the young secretary of the Federación de Trabajadores de la Enseñanza (“Teachers’ Union”) – and who better than teachers to feel the need of the alliance of workers and peasants? – vigorously criticised the leadership of the UGT, which he accused of having brought the defeat on the striking agricultural workers and handed them over to repression. Largo Caballero in person undertook to reply to him; he spoke ironically of the “infantile leftism” and “verbal revolutionism” of his young comrade who quoted Marx and Lenin, and explained to him that Spain in 1934 was not Russia in 1917 ... [41]

In Paul Preston’s opinion, an analysis of the way in which Largo Caballero behaved in the face of the strike which the FNTT called reveals clearly that the old leader had not definitively broken from his longstanding reformism. Moreover, this behaviour constitutes a decisive argument for those who believe that the president of the PSOE and secretary-general of the UGT was talking about the coming insurrection merely in order to frighten his political opponents and, especially, to make sufficient impression on the president of the Republic to discourage the latter from calling in the CEDA. The interpretation seems to be a good one. Can we apply the same conclusions and give the same explanation for the attitude of the Socialist Youth? At this time they too were not sparing of adopting “leftist postures” and playing at “verbal revolutionism”, to use the expressions of Largo Caballero, but none the less they were unconditionally on the side of Largo Caballero against his teacher-critic and against the land workers who had been guilty of an “untimely” strike. I do not think so. Their work was entirely round the axis of the technical preparations for the coming insurrection; they were convinced that a strike in solidarity would lead to a premature confrontation, in which the armed force of the proletariat could not have been sufficiently prepared. The leaders of the Socialist Youth made the mistake of what we may call “military leftism” – though, it is true, this came in useful to cover up a profoundly opportunist policy. [42]

Nonetheless, such as they were in this summer of 1934, with their absolute rejection of all class-collaboration, their refusal to form any lasting alliance with the bourgeois republican parties and their double condemnation of the Second and the Third Internationals, the Socialist Youth of Spain were one of the most advanced sectors which were emerging from European Social-Democracy in crisis. We can understand how Trotsky, who correctly understood that the organisation of the Socialist Youth was only expressing, to be sure in a deformed way, but none the less directly, the revolutionary aspirations of the working-class youth in Spain, came to take it upon himself to advise his comrades in the Communist Left in Spain to follow the French example and to enter the PSOE and especially the Socialist Youth. In other words, that he conceived of an operation which could, in the best case, have enabled the best elements of the Socialist Youth to be won for the Fourth International, and, in the worst, have inoculated the great majority of the latter against the virus of Stalinism, against which they incorrectly believed themselves to be immune.

The Socialist Youth in October and What Followed

There can be no question in this article of retracing the unfolding of the “October Revolution in Spain”, from the struggle in the Asturias to the defeat in Catalonia, by way of the aborted insurrection in the other centres of the country, which demonstrated yet again the primacy of politics in the framework of proletarian military policy.

Trotsky had believed that a bold policy on the part of the Catalan revolutionaries in favour of the independent republic of Catalonia could have formed the first step in the proletarian revolution in the peninsula. [43] The timidity and opportunism of the organisations which made up the Workers’ Alliance in Catalonia at the time explain the defeat without a struggle of the Workers’ Alliance at least as much as the abstention of the CNT, which remained outside the struggle. In the Asturias, the realisation of total workers unity with the adherence of the CNT to the Workers’ Alliance and the adherence of the Communist Party at the last minute gave, on the contrary, an extraordinary energy to the workers’ struggle. [44] The Asturias insurrection, in the words of Luis Araquistáin, “was the work of the working-class youth, an irresistible movement from below of a mass which did not mean to miss its battle against fascism ... in which this working-class, which hitherto had rejected violence, demanded its baptism of fire as the beginning of a new historical period.” [45]

In the rest of Spain the grand design of the Socialist Youth came to nothing: Manuel Tagüeña has left us the account of his wanderings at the head of his company. His men were mobilised on 4 October and told at 9 o’clock to move to a bar in the La Prosperidad quarter which they had difficulty in reaching ... because of the general strike: these armed men ran into patrols of assault guards or civil guards who did not ask them to account for themselves. Several companies found themselves in the same place without instructions. At midnight he took the initiative of occupying the Socialist club in the district and putting armed sentries outside it. Soon after, a messenger brought the order to move to Cuadros Caminos, where they would put on uniforms of civil guards, before attacking the barracks at Guindalera, where a Socialist guard would let them in: an order, as he wrote forty years later, which could not be carried out in a city with a general strike going on and in a state of war. Nonetheless, he was preparing to move when he was surprised by the arrival of a truck-load of assault guards; after a brief exchange of fire, the militiamen were completely surrounded, and surrendered. [46]

The analysis which Munis gives does not differ from the impression which we form from the story by Tagüeña; he writes that the workers were ready to fight and had sufficient arms to begin the insurrection. On the evening of 4 October, the streets were filled with crowds of strikers waiting for the slogans of “a peaceful strike”. There were some exchanges of fire on 5 October and some lightning operations by commandos of Socialist militiamen against the Ministry of the Interior, the Telefónica Company and the Capitanía General. In the afternoon of the 5th several thousand workers tried on their own initiative to get possession of the barracks at Moncloa, but were driven back by the officers alone, for lack of weapons [47] ...

However, the revolutionary spirit of the Spanish proletariat was such in these years that neither the inglorious defeat of the rising in Madrid and elsewhere, nor the crushing in a desperate battle of the Asturian miners interrupted their advance, quite the contrary. October 1934 was for the proletariat a defeat rich in promise. It proved that the strength of the proletariat lies in its unity, and that this unity required the workers’ organisations to put an end to their divisions. In this sense, the Socialist Youth, who had made themselves among other things the defenders of the “Workers’ Alliances” and supported them against the Communist Party could now claim for themselves what was effectively a political victory.

However the practical unfolding of the revolution brought them little satisfaction. The heroes of the Asturias insurrection were the traditionally moderate leaders of the Asturian miners, like Ramón González Peña. [48] The Socialist Youth had played no role in Catalonia, which was natural enough, because their implantation there was weak. But in the regions where the militants had taken charge of the preparations for the insurrection – in Madrid, where it was to be “commanded” by Amadeo del Rosal [49], but not only in Madrid – the insurrection had misfired in an often pitiable way. Moreover, part of its leadership had been arrested and imprisoned in the Carcel modelo, for instance, Carrillo, De Rosa, Del Rosal, Hernández Zancajo, without counting Largo Caballero himself. Others had taken refuge, like Serrano Foncela, in France, or, like José Laín, in the USSR.

The faction whose strengths and weaknesses in 1934 we have described was without doubt now threatened by the political counter-offensive of the right and the centre, taking advantage of the destabilisation provoked by repression which struck principally at the left. The representatives of the ruling classes were quite clear on this point. One high functionary, sent in March 1935 to the Asturias, wrote in his report:

The young people in all the revolutionary organisations are united in a desire for subversion, and the leaders and senior figures in the CNT and the UGT are engaged in splits and tactical changes which ought to be taken into consideration and may produce excellent results.

Moreover, he added:

The dangerous potential of the working class, it seems to us, should be combated very soon, by means of division. [50]

It is probably this delicate situation, which the leadership of the Socialist Youth – or that part of it which was imprisoned in the Carcel Modelo in Madrid – were taking into account. In fact they went over to the attack in public with a pamphlet entitled, October: The Second Stage. The second edition of it was signed by the president of the Federation, Carlos Hernández Zancajo, but it appears to be the work of Santiago Carrillo in collaboration with he fellow-prisoner Amaro del Rosal. [51] In a few pages, the authors sketched a history of their own fabrication: the revolution of 1917, defeated in Spain, victorious in Russia, a split which could evidently be explained by the enthusiasm for revolution of the Socialist Youth of the period but which was above all the responsibility of the Communist International of Lenin which imposed the 21 Conditions on a Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party which then quite legitimately refused to give up its independence and internal democracy, and which, alone on the extreme left of the Second International, pursued a revolutionary policy – including within the Azaña government in the first years of the Republic [52] ...

Then the Socialist Youth, who regarded themselves as the finest fruit of this revolutionary party, had just noticed, through October and their preparations for it, that they were under threat from within. They recalled the attitude of Besteiro and his friends of the “reformist” current in 1930 and their hostility to the revolutionary plans to bring down the monarchy. They recalled also their role at the head of the UGT from 1932 onwards when they opposed the policy advocated by Largo Caballero. The authors of October took pains to show how those whom they called “the chiefs and little chiefs” resisted the insurrectional line and at best ignored or most often sabotaged the directives. They wrote about the UGT, with its structures too rigid to meet the needs of the times, with its parliamentary group that spread confusion by defending in the Cortes its own policy in opposition to that of the Party – not to mention the local leaders, who had not lifted a finger in October, the “moderate Socialists”, whom a Government circular said had to be humoured. They should all be unmasked, removed from their positions and eventually expelled. This purge, to which the Socialist Youth at the time applied a name with a really provocative implication, “Bolshevisation”, was to be carried out from the bottom to the top, without weakness and especially without fear of a split, because the reformists had no real basis in the party – at least outside its apparatus.

But matters were not the same where the “centrists” or “middle of the road people” were concerned. The role which the leaders of this tendency, Indalecio Prieto and González Peña played before and during the insurrection is well-known, and won them a great increase in prestige. In the period which opened immediately after the October defeat, it is clear that “centrism” was preparing systematically to defend the reformists against the revolutionaries, in the name of “unity”. Furthermore, it was to try to put forward, along with the perspective of new elections, the renewal of the alliance with the bourgeois republican parties, this “Popular Anti-Fascist Bloc” which had just found a place at the centre of the agitation of the Communist Party. On this point, the supporters of “Bolshevisation” were sharp and unambiguous:

This slogan will find people to defend it in our party: the centrists. Every militant must be ready to prevent them from having their way. Centrism will try on this occasion to join battle against the revolutionary faction and to become the axis of the party. The fight will be hard. Our revolutionary capacity will be put to the test ... We must disarm the Communists who on this question agree with the right of the party, by showing that it is we, like real Bolsheviks, who issue the slogan of the Alliance of the Proletarians against the slogan of the Popular Anti-Fascist Bloc. [53]

The authors of October conducted a long and bitter polemic against the leaders of the Communist Parties, whom they called, like Trotsky, the “epigones”, recalling their slanders and insults and their bitter struggle against the Workers’ Alliances, which they were finally to join at the eleventh hour.

But they dwelt at perhaps still greater length on what they called “the second stage of Bolshevisation”, by which they meant the question of the International.

“Our aim”, they said, “is not only the Spanish revolution but the world revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat in all countries.” [54]

They proposed not only to break immediately from the International of Socialist Youth, but that the PSOE should break from the Second International, which they described as “a corpse”. A first element of their response should, according to them, be to construct a new centre to regroup Socialist Youth internationally, which they could construct quickly with the Socialist Youth of France, the Socialist Young Guard of Belgium, the Italian and the Austrian youth.

The Fourth International – from which they had not been very far in 1933 – was now, on the contrary, “an unfortunate slogan”. They regarded it as possessing no real base and therefore no possibility of development, precisely since the Third International had abandoned its sectarian policy which had led to the disaster in Germany. Moreover, they believed that Trotsky himself had “tacitly renounced” the slogan – apparently since he advocated the policy of “entrism” into Social-Democracy.

For all that, the Socialist Youth did not think it possible for the PSOE to join the Third International, although it had a fundamental programmatic agreement with it. In fact they were not only in total disagreement with its policy of a “Popular Anti-Fascist Bloc” in Spain and elsewhere, but, even more, with its constitution, which signified “the dictatorship of the Executive” and the strangling of all internal democratic life. To be sure, a development was certainly possible and desirable, and that would then permit the PSOE to join the Third International, since, as the authors of October stressed, “Russia is the first Socialist country, the Mecca of the proletariat, and in her and her alone can rest the centre of the world proletariat as long as the revolution has not conquered in other countries”. [55] We may observe that the word “Stalinism”, which occurred with some frequency in the articles of the writers in Renovación in 1933 and 1934, does not appear a single time in October: the Second Stage.

Moreover, it is not without interest to reproduce the conclusions of the brochure of the “Bolshevisers” of the Socialist Youth who were jailed in the Carcel Modelo, at the moment when in Moscow the general turn was being prepared towards the policy of the Popular Front, one of the first consequences – or, if you prefer it, one of the first aspects – was in France to be the support of French national defence advised by Stalin in his conversation with Pierre Laval [56] and the abandonment of anti-militarist work:

For the Bolshevisation of the Socialist Party!

For the transformation of the party structure in the direction of centralisation and with an illegal apparatus!

For the political unification of the Spanish proletariat in the Socialist Party!

For anti-militarist propaganda and the penetration of the State Forces!

For the unification of the trade union movement!

For the defeat of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the Revolution in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat!

For the reconstruction of the international workers’ movement on the basis of the world revolution!

To realise these slogans, the Socialist Youth must demonstrate their superiority and their spirit of sacrifice in order that the workers will entrust to them the responsibilities of leadership.

The Federation of the Socialist Youth of Spain, today more united and stronger than ever, draws its inspiration, in issuing these slogans, from the revolutionary history of our country, from the best traditions of Russian Bolshevism and from the two great champions of classical socialism: Marx and Lenin.

The Socialist Youth regard Comrade Largo Caballero as the chief and inspiration of this revolutionary rebirth; today he is the victim of the reaction which sees in him its most determined enemy. [57]

The entire ambiguity of the Socialist Youth is to be found in this document: legitimate ambition alongside the manoeuvres of politicians, the pressures exerted by the masses alongside the concerns of men of the apparatus. Yet nothing was settled: the historic fate of the leadership and of the Socialist Youth of Spain was not yet sealed. The Trotskyist militant Enrique Fernández Sendón [58], who in September 1934 had moved at the Central Committee of the Communist Left of Spain a resolution, agreed unanimously, which haughtily rejected Trotsky’s proposals of “entrism”, now found himself imprisoned in the Carcel Modelo with the militants of the Socialist Youth and their leaders. Convinced by his daily contact with them, he became in turn a supporter of “entrism” and succeeded in convincing the majority of the Executive of the Communist Left, including Nin, that this solution should apply to the whole organisation with the exception of Catalonia, where the fusion with Maurín’s Bloc and a number of small organisations was in hand. But, on the demand of the Madrid organisation, which saw in such a decision a de facto split, the question was submitted to a referendum, which rejected the solution of the Executive: in September the Communist Left of Spain dissolved itself into the POUM. There was to be no “entrism” in Spain.

None the less the developments of the following months would further strengthen the arguments of the supporters of “entrism”. The centrists were counter-attacking. Prieto, who was in exile in Belgium, wrote in El Liberal in Bilbao and in La Libertad in Madrid at the end of May a series of articles in which he disputed the right of the Socialist Youth to express their views in public as they had, accusing them of both indiscipline in relation to the party and of “the cult of the leader” with regard to Largo Caballero. [59] The very journals which published these articles refused the right of reply to the prisoners in the Carcel Modelo: the leaders of the Socialist Youth could reply only thanks to the hospitality which the columns of La Batalla, Maurín’s weekly organ in Barcelona, offered to them.

Once again Santiago Carrillo issued an appeal for help directed to the oppositional Communists in the Bloc and in the Communist Left, who were preparing to unite in a new organisation. He ended an article entitled The Bolshevisation of the Socialist Party on 28 June as follows:

We have a correct theory and we have faith. But in order to win we need the support of every real Marxist. Without this support our efforts run the risk of being sterile. According to our classics, we must seek the masses where they are. And today they are in the Socialist Party, which has an unequalled history and capacity for struggle. You must come into our ranks to fight against those who, if we do not stop them, will lead these masses on the road to defeat. The gentlemanly revolutionaries who look down from on high at the way we work, instead of taking part in our tasks, these people are assuming a very heavy historical responsibility. [60]

Here we can feel the contradiction between the extent and the urgency of the task to be accomplished and the obstacles which were encountered by these leaders of the Socialist Youth, mostly in prison or in exile, or even reduced to semi-clandestinity. Maurín, who polemicised with Carrillo because the latter rejected the idea of a “unification” and called upon the “Marxists” to enter the PSOE in order to fight there, evidently did not understand that the stake in this battle between internal factions in the PSOE, which was going on in the full light of day, was quite simply the class independence of the Spanish proletariat expressed through the orientation of its principal political party. In another article in La Batalla, it was the task of Carlos Hernández Zancajo to demonstrate very clearly the connection between the accusations of Prieto directed at the Socialist Youth and his intention of imposing on the PSOE the policy of alliance with the republicans which Manuel Azaña, from his side, had taken up. [61] For this policy to succeed, two conditions were needed: the PSOE must “bury its arms” and, likewise, it must silence its Youth.

Towards the United Socialist Youth

It was the Communist Party which was to carry through, to its profit, the operation which the PSOE was striving to achieve, without success. The Socialist Youth were disarmed – by their inadequate political education and, in particular, their total ignorance of the history of Stalinism and their profound failure to understand the nature of Stalinism. Even more than Largo Caballero, but in precisely the same way, they were caught in the trap of the turn in the Communist International in 1935, which implied, for a whole period, the alliance between the Communist Party and the Socialist right wing, which the Socialist Youth claimed to be getting rid of by means of “Bolshevisation”. Moreover, concretely, the powerful appeal to sentiment of the argument that there must be an amnesty for the 30,000 political prisoners of October 1934 [62] was to ensure that every formation would accept, if only in a forced manner, the “Popular Anti-Fascist Bloc”, of which Azaña was to be the standard-bearer; once more the workers’ parties would be the auxiliaries and the working people the infantry.

The Socialist Youth alone, despite their principled position, were no doubt in no position to prevent this development, which Largo Caballero never thought of confronting head on. Nonetheless, opposition on their part, a split on this question, the split of the Left from the PSOE of which it had been the driving force, would have formed a terrible obstacle to the new policy of Stalin and the generalisation of the Popular Front. In any case the Communist International spared no effort to win the most important leaders of the Socialist Youth by one means or another. In this connection the small colony of socialist refugees in the USSR appears to have played an important role. It appears that Margarita Nelken had been won to the Communist Party [63], which she was to join officially later on. José Laín, the former leader of the socialist militias, a member of the leadership of the Socialist Youth, had taken refuge in the USSR. He was present at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International and then at the Congress of the Young Communist International. Thirty-five years later, Fernando Claudín, the former leader of the Communist Youth, was to write that the Seventh Congress gave a striking confirmation “of the way the national sections of the Comintern were totally subordinated to the policy of the Soviet state”, and that the point of departure for the new, Popular Front policy was “a pragmatic response to the urgent requirements of Soviet foreign policy”. [64] José Laín wrote, for the new weekly organ of the Largo Caballero Left, that the Seventh Congress had definitively responded to the hopes of the Socialist Youth by the transformation of the Communist International and its recognition of “national roads”, and by opening the perspective of organic unity in every country. [65]

The pressures to which the young leaders, and sometimes also old militants, were subjected in the USSR can be detected between the lines in the letters which they wrote from Moscow to the West or to Spain. While the letters in 1935 written in “Spanish” speak about the problems of Spain and the PSOE, those written in 1936 in jargon think only of celebrating “the socialist fatherland and its beacon” and make the attitude towards the USSR as a whole – Stalinism included – the touchstone of being a “revolutionary”. [66]

Inside Spain the conditions of detention in the Carcel Modelo for the “politicals” were flexible enough to permit a similar rapprochement. The young Socialists and the political prisoners who supported Largo Caballero were the object of the attentions of the Communist Party. Its General Secretary, José Diaz, had just visited Largo Caballero to propose to him that their two parties take equal responsibility for the insurrection. [67] Codovilla, the representative of the Communist International in Spain [68], could, we are told, count on the unconditional support of Araquistáin’s brother-in-law, Julio Álvarez del Vayo, a member of the entourage of Largo Caballero. Codovilla was to visit Santiago Carrillo in the Carcel Modelo and have a long political discussion with him. Was it really Jacques Duclos, the leader of the French Communist Party, as people assert, who convinced Largo Caballero not to oppose the “electoral bloc of the Left” which prefigured the Popular Front – a new version, barely varnished over, of the policy of collaboration which Prieto advocated and which the old “Lenin of Spain” had wanted to reject for ever? In a book which he wrote in Paris and which the POUM published in Barcelona, El Partido Socialista y la Conquista del Poder [The Socialist Party and the Conquest of Power], S. Serrano Poncela, a member of the secretariat of the Socialist Youth, showed that he saw in the turn of the Communist International most of what José Laín saw in it in Moscow, but not what Araquistáin had guessed in Madrid. [69]

Finally Andrés Nin was quite right to judge the attitude of the left socialists totally “incongruous” with regard to the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, of which they approved and even celebrated its results boasting of democratisation which was entirely imaginary without apparently understanding that it had revived for reasons relating to the foreign policy of the USSR, the policy of class collaboration which they had fought for years and which was that of their unshakeable adversaries on the right wing of the PSOE. [70]

But perhaps we should look elsewhere than in political analysis for the reasons for an incongruous attitude which ignorance alone cannot explain. To begin with, it is clear that the imprisonment of Largo Caballero and the exile or imprisonment of a number of his supporters enabled Prieto and his political friends to win back some of the ground which they had lost, and that the “Bolshevisation” project of the Socialist Youth appeared quite unrealistic to the extent that it became clear that the policy of Prieto was going to coincide more and more with that of the Communist Party, which was more than ever in pursuit of a “Popular Anti-Fascist Bloc”. In any case, for the leaders of the Socialist Youth, the reasons which they advanced were what they believed to be a new element in the problem: according to them, the Seventh Congress of the Communist International opened the prospect of organic unity enabling the historic split in the workers’ movement since the beginning of the 1920s to be overcome in a positive way. On this point, Santiago Carrillo wrote in October 1935:

Our ambition cannot be limited to occasional unification in the struggle. We must go further. We must advance towards organic unity, towards reuniting the Marxist proletariat in one party and one youth movement. We must recognise with pleasure that we have made giant strides in this during the last few months... In our country, this unity must take place within the old, the glorious Socialist Party. Because it has the strength, because it has the quality, because it has the prestige ... The fusion of the Marxist workers on the national scale under our banners is necessary. On the international ground, where then we shall all decide freely and democratically. On this point, I have my criterion. It is in Russia that the basis of the world unification is situated, as long as the working class has not trodden down bourgeois institutions and begun to construct socialism in other countries. [71]

Carrillo could speak out loud. The Congress of the Socialist Youth which met at Ruzafa on 1 September had approved by an overwhelming majority the perspective of fusion for the organic unity of the Youth and had endorsed the pamphlet October. The new element was what he called his “personal criterion”. Already in Paris Serrano Poncela had written that the constitution of the Communist International should not be an obstacle to a union between socialists of the left and the Third International. Marta Bizcarrondo notes very rightly in this connection that “The Russian Revolution and the USSR played from that time onwards a mythical role which was absent from October”. [72]

In September the Congress of the Young Communist International was held in the wake of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International. José Laín was, of course, present. The Congress came out in favour of organic unity with a view to forming a very broad youth organisation, “an organisation of the masses of non-party youth”, according to the official formula. The majority of the leadership of the Socialist Youth in Spain were won to this proposal, but on the condition that the unification should be carried out by the entry of the Communist Youth into their ranks. In parallel the return of the CGTU, the trade union centre controlled by the Communist Party of Spain, into the ranks of the UGT was prepared. On 6 December 1935, Santiago Carrillo hailed “the forced march towards organic unity”: the Third International at last had “come round”:

We cannot lose sight of the fact that this turn, this return to the postulates of Marxism by way of the corrections of the Third International places us now on the same political plane as the Communists ... We cannot hesitate to define our position. We have organic unity; we want it and we shall have it by forced marches, because we also are communists like Marx, Engels and Lenin, because the Chinese walls which separated us from the Communist International have crumbled and because we are going to achieve their final destruction by extirpating the bureaucratic and petty bourgeois residues which cemented them. [73]

Was the die cast? Had the “personal criterion” which Carrillo mentioned in September definitively carried the day in the Socialist Youth? Doubtless not yet. The discussion was lively, even in the leadership, and critical opponents were going to express themselves in public. Serrano Poncela, for example, returned from exile, was to attack the proposals of the Young Communist International’s Congress with some vigour:

Fusion of the Socialist Youth and the Communist Youth into one body which puts its strength at the service of socialism, but which is structured in such a fashion that other organisations, which are not yet in the service of the working class, can be absorbed into it ... that it fights for democracy and against fascism, but at the same time for workers’ power, which is eminently anti-democratic. A Youth movement without a party, without a programme, without concrete objectives ... It is correct for the working-class to form a ring of iron round the Soviet Union, undertake the struggle against its enemies, but there is no basis in a materialist interpretation of history for these enormous efforts to make the entire international workers’ movement rotate around the defence of the USSR, however important that may be … In my opinion, the Congress, the International and its youth appendage have responded in the first place to the defence of the Soviet Union and only in the second place to the interests of the proletariat of countries other than the fatherland of socialism. This means that Russia is doing what is right for it when it creates in the West democratic and petty bourgeois alliances instead of working-class alliances, account being taken of the threat of the front from Central Europe to Japan, but the national working class also is doing what is right for it when it does its best to defend the sacred interests of the land of socialism without harming its own sacred national interests. [74]

The struggle was becoming more poisonous within the PSOE between the partisans of Largo Caballero and those of Prieto, particularly with the resignation on 15 December 1935 of Largo Caballero from the presidency and the Executive of the party and the campaign for a congress which would give the party a homogeneous leadership. In this context the orientation of the Socialist Youth towards “organic unity” with the Communist Youth in fact diverted them from the internal struggle in the PSOE and gave solid arguments to their adversaries. [75]

Shortly after he was released from prison, at the beginning of March, Santiago Carrillo went for a week to the USSR with Trifón Medrano in a joint delegation intended to settle with the Young Communist International the final details of the joint text entitled Bases of Unification. [76]

The “unification meeting” – in anticipation of a congress which was planned but never took place because of the civil war – was to take place in Madrid, Plaza de Las Ventas, on Sunday 5 April 1936, under the effective chairmanship of Largo Caballero, of whom it is known that he had expressed in private strong reservations about the unification of the Youth organisations and in any case had totally rejected a break by the PSOE with the Second International, though he was no less on the line of “organic unity”. The new organisation – which was called in a slightly improper way the Unified Socialist Youth – seems, on good evidence, to have had much greater material resources than hitherto, which cannot be explained simply by the fact that its membership quickly doubled. [77] The first issue of its weekly, Juventud, in a new and very unpolitical style, abundantly illustrated, had a print-run of 100,000 copies. The history of the Socialist Youth was ended. The history of the Unified Socialist Youth had begun. It was not only a new chapter; it was a new book.

By way of a Conclusion

Was the Unified Young Socialists already won to the Stalinist policy when it came into existence? All the evidence suggests that Trotsky thought so – or estimated that, at least, the men of the Communist International believed that they controlled the leadership, which implied that a certain number at least of the old leaders of the Socialist Youth had secretly joined them. The official version of the history of the Communist Party of Spain would have us believe that Carrillo and the other leaders of the JSU came and asked to enter the Communist Party en bloc at the most dramatic moment of the siege of Madrid, at the time of the departure of the Largo Caballero government for Valencia and of the formation of the Junta for Defence of Madrid: this is the date which fits in best with the explanation that the valiant fighters of the JSU joined the most courageous and far-seeing formation of fighters. In fact, we know that Santiago Carrillo, months before, was already taking part in the work of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. [78] And a speech delivered on the day before the unification meeting by the general secretary of the Socialist Youth warned his members against internal criticisms voiced by the “Trotskyists”, which, at the time of the first Moscow Trial, presented his true visiting-card and displayed his political colour. [79]

The history of the JSU still remains to be written. Manuel Tagüeña, who went back to the Communist Party with his comrades, points to the powerful tension which existed at the national level in the leadership, between Carrillo and Cazorlá on one side and Laín, Melchor and Fernando De Rosa on the other. The political career of Santiago Carrillo in the apparatus of the Communist Party of Spain is well known. Many of the other leaders of the 1934–1936 period were all pushed more or less rapidly to the side-lines. [80] In 1937, when, with Largo Caballero had been eliminated thanks to Carrillo’s efforts, the coalition of moderate socialists and Stalinists which gathered round the Negrín Government undertook to liquidate the positions of Caballero’s supporters, especially in the press and in the UGT, a resistance formed itself in the JSU. Its spokesman was the former president Carlos Hernández Zancajo, and he grouped round himself a certain number of provincial leaders who refused to go to the Communist Party, such as José Grigorí, Juan Tundidor López, from Valencia, and Rafael Fernández from the federation of the Asturias. In reality, one last stand by Largo Caballero’s supporters demonstrated their personal loyalty to the old leader who all now rejected and expressed their refusal of being Stalinised under the banner of anti-fascism. No doubt this opposition was not as dangerous as the leaders of the Communist Party themselves seem to have believed. [81]

These were in reality the last twitches of a current which was finally worn down by capture and which formed the “mass basis” of the Spanish Communist Party. What a master stroke this capture was, the possibility of which was not evident at the outset. Can we believe – as Trotsky was convinced – that the fate of the Socialist Youth would have been different if in 1934 and still more in 1935 the militants of the Communist Left had taken the step which Trotsky suggested to them? Personally, at the end of this study I believe that it would. The contradictions, the oscillations and the uncertainties which the Carrillo current displayed were never in fact subjected to the fire of serious internal criticism or the test of coherent contradiction – which would have been the case if the Trotskyists had entered and which was purely a matter of their choice. It seems to me especially that the companions of Carrillo displayed, in relation to the history of the Soviet Union and of Stalinism itself, a lack of comprehension and of knowledge so profound that we may rightly suppose that they would never have offered any insuperable barrier to the analyses of the Trotskyists.

It is of course useless to imagine what could have happened but did not happen. Therefore we have to content ourselves with observing that as early as 1934 the leaders of the Communist Left had given up on the Socialist Youth, the leaders of which they regarded as perfect little bureaucrats, who had very quickly learned in the closed circle of the organisation how to manoeuvre like politicians, how to lie and even to slander. They were convinced – correctly – that the “radicalisation” of Largo Caballero came above all from the realm of talk and threats, but did they not understand how powerful would be the pressure with which the working-class base responded to this “verbal revolutionism”? Did they not know that, in order to construct a party which “wants and is able to make the revolution”, as Esteban Bilbao wrote in 1934, it was necessary to be able to go and seek, where they were, the elements who, in tens of thousands, were allowing themselves to be misled by a Socialist Party capable only of “brandishing threats”. [82]

This is what Trotsky, in any case, criticised especially in his Spanish comrades; they observed and commented, without intervening, and in this way allowed this considerable, generous, devoted militant force, which was ready for every sacrifice, to fall in the end into the hands of Stalin and of the fresh young Stalinists as the instrument which betrayed the Spanish revolution in the name of “the defence of democracy”, which, precisely they had rejected at the outset as a deception!

Juan Andrade, who was an opponent of “entrism”, wrote about the Socialist Youth that they were “a confusionist Jacobin current”, and that its propaganda was nothing but “shouts and phrases”, but that it had “extraordinary importance” as arousing an echo among the youth. He agrees that he does not know why the leaders of the Socialist Youth limited themselves to the fusing of the youth organisations. But likewise he stresses that the Socialist Youth contributed to the Communist Party “the great complementary force which it lacked” and that this aid was fundamental. Finally, he mentions that it was the former militants of the Socialist Youth “more than the old Communists, who were to lead the repression against the other working class tendencies”. He observes: “The phenomenon of the conversion of these young Socialists, their activity and their conduct during the civil war, would be worthwhile studying thoroughly from every point of view.” [83]

This article has no other ambition than to stimulate a reply to his appeal by opening a discussion.


1. Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935–36), Pathfinder Press, NY, p. 368. [There is a very brief discussion of this question in Broué & Témime, The Revolution and Civil War in Spain; see note 4 below – note added by Revolutionary History]

2. The Archivo Historico Nacional, Civil War section, in Salamanca, the former archive section of the Civil Guard, which helped the repression during and after the civil war, is today under the control of the Ministry of Culture and is run by an archivist. The earlier indexing, which was certainly helpful in police investigations, is very inadequate for scientific research nowadays, but the documentation is of exceptional quantity and quality.

3. Among these studies, I shall first mention the work of the British historian Paul Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, London 1978, which closely studies the internal life of the PSOE, of the UGT and of the Socialist Youth, simultaneously, in the dialectic of development, of the CEDA and of the JAP. We must place on the same level a very important study in the history of ideas, the book by Marta Bizcarrondo, Araquistáin y la Crisis Socialista en la IIIa República: Leviatán 1934–1936 (1975) (while we await her thesis on the PSOE in those years); the interesting essay by Ricard Viñas, La Formación de las Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas 1934–1936, 1978, to which it would be right to add the two works by Santos Julía, La Izquierda del PSOE (1935–36) (1977), and Origines del Frente Popular en España 1934–36 (1980). Marta Bizcarrondo has produced and annotated a new re-printed edition of Leviatán, the review of the Left Socialists, and Paul Preston has made an anthology of the same Leviatán (Antología). Many of the important documents used for this study have likewise been republished, and we have used here the new edition of the Discursos a los Trabajadores of Francisco Largo Caballero and the anthology of the speeches of Indalecio Prieto prepared by Edward Malefakis under the title Discursos fundamentales, as well as the anthology of the discussions about the revolution of October 1934 prepared by Marta Bizcarrondo under the title Octubre del 34: Reflexiones sobre una Revolucion, which reproduces the text of the pamphlet of the Socialist Youth Octubre: Segunda Etapa [October: The Second Stage]. We have also used other, older works, notably the second volume of the memoirs of the former secretary of the PSOE, Juan-Simeón Vidarte, El Bieno Negre y la Insurrección de Asturias (1978), which includes many documents and useful pieces of information.

4. The text in French of this repressive law of October 1931 is included in my book, La Revolution espagnole: 1931–1939, Paris 1973, pp. 105–106. [This book has not been translated into English. The document referred to does not appear in P. Broué & E. Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, London 1972. – note added by Revolutionary History]

5. Marta Bizcarrondo, Araquistáin …, pp. 124–140.

6. José Maria Gíl Robles (1898–1980), lawyer, was the head of the Acción Popular, which was trusted by the Catholic hierarchy, and was the leader of the “accidentalistas”, the supporters of playing the parliamentary game within the constitution, in order to block reforms and take back power. From 1931 onwards he was the leader – known as “The Boss” – of the CEDA (Confederación Española de Derechas Autonomas). This was the bloc of the Right, the youth organisation of which, the JAP (Juventud de Acción Popular) gave itself the airs of a fascist militia.

7. El Socialista, 25 July 1933.

8. The summer school of the Socialist Youth met in tents in August 1933, with some 150 students from all over the country, of whom a dozen were girls. In the Archivo Nacional Historico de Salamanca, Sección Guerra Civil, Politico-Social, “Madrid”, Legajo 1460, there is an important file devoted to the sessions of 1932 and 1933. The level of theoretical education of the students was very weak; nearly all of the seventeen written replies to the question, “What is Socialism?” made of socialism a moral ideal. Largo Caballero had not been previously announced as a speaker, but the students felt frustrated and were and dissatisfied by the speeches of Besteiro and Prieto. This dossier in particular tells us that the young Santiago Carrillo, the son of a supporter of Largo Caballero, named Wenceslao Carrillo, was an apprentice printer, then an apprentice journalist on El Socialista, who was just beginning his political career, was the secretary of the summer school and responsible in particular for inviting the speakers.

9. This speech was published in the form of a pamphlet, entitled Possibilismo en la democrácia socialista. The part in which the old Social-Democrat presented himself to his young listeners is reproduced in Discursos a los Trabajadores, in the 1979 edition, pp. 27–31.

10. Renovación, 23 September l933.

11. P. Preston, op. cit., p. 90. According to the pamphlet attacking Caballero in 1936 by the reformist journalist G. Mario de Coca, Anti-Caballero: Una critica marxista de la bolchevización dal partido socialista obrero español (republished in 1975, with introduction by Marta Bizcarrondo), it was at the start of his campaign in the provinces that he was called “the Spanish Lenin”, a title against which he politely protested. (p. 86) Gabriel Mario de Coca also gave an account of Largo Caballero’s campaign: on 30 October, at Zafra, he foretold the opening of a new revolutionary period, which was not that of 1931 which had culminated in the Republic: “The new period will culminate with the establishment of the social republic”. On 9 November, at Don Benito, he declared that Spain was nearing the social revolution and that the bourgeoisie had to be expropriated by violence. It would be necessary to fight until “the red flag of the revolution floats over all the public buildings”. On 10 November, at Azuaga, he said that if a movement arose in the army, it would not be a movement of generals, but a movement of “soldiers and sergeants”, to “install the social Republic”. On 13 November, at Elbacete, he said: “It is true, if legality does not serve us, if it obstructs our advance, then we shall leave bourgeois democracy on one side and shall go to the revolutionary conquest of power”. On the 14th, in Murcia, where he was frantically applauded by the Socialist Youth, he ended: “A period of transition to socialism will be needed by us, and this period is the dictatorship of the proletariat, towards which we are headed”. op. cit., pp. 88–90.

12. L. Araquistáin, Una lección de historia: El derrumbamiento alemán (1933). Luis Araquistáin Quevedo (1886–1959) was a brilliant intellectual who moved to the left. He was ambassador in Berlin from February 1932 to February 1933, where he drew the conclusion that both the Communist Party and the Social-Democratic parties were bankrupt. The only way to overcome fascism, or “open bourgeois dictatorship”, was by “open socialist dictatorship”. Bourgeois democracy was of interest to the proletariat only to the extent that it enabled the proletariat to “strengthen its positions in its struggle for power”.

13. Julian Besteiro Fernández (1870–1940) was a veteran of the party, a university professor, with a reputation as a theoretician. He had been chairman of the strike committee in 1917 and advocated that the Socialists should leave the tasks of governing to the republicans alone and especially the tasks of the “democratic revolution”, without trying to “skip stages”. He was President of the Cortes in 1931; his base in the PSOE was in Madrid, and in the UGT it lay in the support of the railway workers and the agricultural workers. He was regarded as the leader of the “reformist” wing.

14. Boletín de la Unión General de Trabajadores de España, December 1933–January 1934, for the debates as a whole and their various sudden changes. The text of the programme drafted by Prieto is in Guerra y Revolución en España, by Dolores Ibárruri and others, pp. 52–54. It included ten points: nationalisation of all the land; financial priority to irrigation works; reform of public education; dissolution of the religious orders and the confiscation of their property; dissolution of the army and a new army on a democratic basis; dissolution of the Civil Guard and formation of a people’s militia; reform and purging of the state bureaucracy; improvement of the material and moral condition of industrial workers; reform of the tax system; rapid application of all these measures by new legislative organs which the people will create. This programme was only known about fifteen months later, long after the insurrection which was to apply it had been checked! Largo Caballero moreover got decisions about action voted on (ibid., p. 54), to (1) organise an “undisguisedly revolutionary” movement, (2) to launch such a movement at the opportune moment independent of the initiatives of the enemy, (3) the PSOE and the UGT to make contact with elements ready to take part in this movement, (4) in the event of victory, the formation of a PSOE – UGT Government open to all organisations which had taken a direct part in the battle, and (5) this government carrying out the above programme. Indalecio Prieto y Tuero (1883–1962), was linked with business men and had a very “liberal” style. For many years he was the great rival of Largo Caballero in the PSOE.

15. Anastasio de Gracia Villariabia (1890–1981) came from Toledo. He was for many years a leader in the union of building trade workers, of which he had recently become the President. He was to become a minister in the Largo Caballero government in 1936–37. He died in exile in Mexico in the early 1980s.

16. The agricultural workers were at one and the same time the most wretchedly paid and those whom unemployment hit hardest. The FNTT (Federación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Tierra) had had a mushroom-like growth since the proclamation of the Republic; in June 1932 it had 445,414 members out of a total of 1,041,539 in the UGT. It was the very strong pressure from its very combative militant base which had driven out of its leadership Lucio Martínez Gíl, the supporter of Besteiro, and was to dictate its policy to his successor, Ricardo Zabalza (died 1939), one of the leaders of the PSOE in Navarre.

17. El Socialista, 28 January 1934. Gabriel Mario de Coca, op. cit., p. 101, says that on this occasion there was no political discussion and no confrontation of ideas, but that votes were taken only on purely procedural questions. He states moreover that the meeting was “fixed” in advance by the Socialist Youth. Among the new leaders of the Agrupación Socialista Madrileña, we find particularly the names of Wenceslao Carrillo, the father of Santiago, and of Carlos Hernández Zancajo.

18. Until 1933 the leadership of the Socialist Youth was drawn from the so-called “reformist” wing of the PSOE, the leader of which was Besteiro. The supporters of the last named were Juan and Mariano Rojo, José Castro, Felix García, at the head of the Socialist Youth. For the figures, see Santiago Carrillo, Demain 1’Espagne, p. 31.

19. Jose Laín Entralgo had been one of the main leaders in Madrid of the student organisation, FUE. His report to the Congress, entitled Posición política de las Juventudes, was published in El Socialista, 21 April 1934.

20. The upper age-limit for admission to the Socialist Youth was 35. But the overwhelming majority of the members were very much younger. In the PSOE there was a very important generation gap, because the recruitment of youth had practically died away during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and had speeded up in 1930.

21. Segundo Serrano Poncela (1912–1976), then a student of literature, had been (according to the Archivo Historico Nacional, Madrid, 1460) one of the students at the summer school of the Socialist Youth in 1932 at El Pardo. Federico Melchor belonged to the group which attended the school the following year. His written reply to the set essay, What is Socialism? (cf. footnote 8), in which he displayed his knowledge, mentioning the utopians, Hegel, Marx and the dialectic with a touch of pedantry, contrasted with the candour and modesty of the work of his fellow-students.

22. Renovación, 18 April, 1934.

23. Fed-Mel, Hacia la IVa Internacional?, Renovación, 30 September 1933; F. Melchor, La IVa Internacional, ibid., 11 November and 9 December 1933. We may also look at Posición de los jovenes trotskistas, ibid., 27 January 1934, and A los jovenes trotskistas, 3 March 1934, discussion articles on the policy of the United Front which the Left Communists in Spain were advocating. In his book, Jalones de derotta, promesa de Victoria, (1948), the Trotskyist G. Munis emphasises the great influence which the Trotskyists of the Communist Left had in the ranks of the Socialist Youth and the prestige which their leaders enjoyed. He gives some examples of this, such as the vote of a provincial federation, that of Old Castile, to join the Fourth International which was being built, the constant references to Trotsky by the leaders and their appeals to the Trotskyists to “enter”, as well as the pressure which was put on him personally to join the Socialist Youth without in any way renouncing his political ideas. Andrade says that political portraits of Trotsky could be found in the offices of the Socialist Youth leaders.

24. For the account which follows, which is a synthesis of the ideas of the leaders of the Socialist Youth in the middle of 1934, reference is made throughout to the minutes of the discussion with the delegation from the Communist Youth of 26 and 30 July, published in Renovación, 28 July and 4, 11 and 18 August 1934, a document which Ricard Viñas published as an appendix to his work, to which we refer the reader. The delegation of the Socialist Youth was composed of Santiago Carrillo, Serrano Poncela and José Laín. Carrillo was the only member of the delegation to speak (Viñas, op. cit., p. 78).

25. Ibid., p. 81. The “Workers’ Alliances” were united front organisations, the initiative for which had been taken by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc led by J. Maurín and by the Communist Left led by Andres Nin: the Workers’ Alliance in Catalonia came into existence at the end of 1933. That in Madrid had been formed in May 1934, apparently on the initiative of the Socialist Youth. The CNT joined the Workers’ Alliance only in the Asturias. The Communist Party opposed the “Workers’ Alliances”, which it regarded as the worst form of “social fascism” and called them “the Holy Alliance of the counter-revolution” ... until September 1934, when it decided in extremis to join them.

26. Among others, Victor Alba, El Partido Comunista de España, p. 170, states that Trifón Medrano, the secretary of the Communist Youth, having laid down in advance that the young Trotskyists were to be excluded from the Workers’ Youth Alliance which was being formed, Santiago Carrillo, in the name of the Socialist Youth and with the support of the Libertarian Youth preferred to drop the project. Nonetheless it seems that the Madrid leadership of the Socialist Youth was not always firm in opposing expulsions of the Stalinist type, and agreed to joint demonstrations from which the Trotskyists had been excluded in advance. This was notably the case in the huge demonstration, “The Meeting in the Stadium” on 10 September 1934, where over 100,000 young people protested against a governmental decree which attacked their civil rights, prohibiting anyone under 23 from joining a political body without previous authorisation by their parents.

27. Viñas, op. cit., p. 80. Carrillo at the time was diametrically opposed to the line of the Communist International on this point.

28. Ibid., p. 79. Despite these peremptory statements and at least partly under the pressure of their own rank and file, the leaders of the Socialist Youth agreed to the organisation of large united demonstrations, which were extraordinary factors in mobilising in this period, at the time of the funerals of the Young Socialist militant Juanita Rico, murdered on 10 July, and of the young Communist leader, Joaquín de Grado, who was assassinated on 29 September.

29. Ibid., p. 104.

30. M. Tagüeña, Testimonio de dos Guerras, p. 52, gives the explanation about the arms purchase by a secret Portugese organisation, as does B. Diaz Nosty in, La Comuna Asturiana (The Case of the Turquesa, pp. 108–113), and Santiago Carrillo in Demain 1’Espagne, p. 35. They all claim that the Civil Guard got only part of the cargo. There are many obscure aspects in the episode of the Turquesa, the organising of which was believed to have been done by Prieto. According to the judicial enquiry in 1934–35 (AHN “Madrid”, Legajo 721), the arms had been paid for by the leader of the UGT miners’ union (SMA), Amador Fernández: the investigators believed that this union had obtained the funds simply by a bank loan contracted by the management of the San Vicente mine, which belonged precisely to it. Santiago Carrillo says (op. cit. p. 35) that, if his memory does not betray him, the Socialist Party obtained the money in question by successfully forging a cheque of the Marquis de Villapadierna “for a million pesetas and a little over”, and getting it cashed by a well-dressed comrade. Manuel Tagüeña Lacorte (1913–1972), a student of mathematics and physics at Madrid, had at first belonged to the Communist Youth. But he joined the Socialist militias and refused to leave, abandoning the Communist Youth for the Socialist Youth; he had important responsibilities in the militias in 1934 on the eve of October. He was jailed for several months after the insurrection, did his military service and in 1936 joined the leadership of the United Socialist Youth. He organised the first militia units of the JSU in 1936 and joined the Communist Party of Spain in 1937. In 1938 he was in command of the 5th Army on the Ebro front with 70,000 men. He emigrated to the USSR in 1939 and studied at the Frunze Academy, then was an instructor in an officers’ school until 1946, and then was in Yugoslavia until 1951. At that date he became a research worker in a medical laboratory in Czechoslavia, a country which he left, at the same time as he left the Communist Party, in 1955, to go to settle in Mexico. He refused to return to Spain when the Franco regime invited him to do so.

31. Tagüeña mentions (p. 53) a plan to attack the barracks of the motorised group of the Civil Guard of Guindalera in Madrid, where the conspirators counted on the complicity of lieutenant Fernando Condés, a member of the PSOE, who was to play in 1936 an important role in the kidnapping of José Calvo Sotelo, which led to his murder, and was killed at the very beginning of the civil war. It seems that, among the officers on whose support Largo Caballero had counted was Rodrigo Gíl, who in July 1936 was to play an important role, as the lieutenant-colonel in command of the artillery park, in the distribution of rifles. Tagüeña tells (pp. 45–50) in detail of a long-range expedition – to Valladolid – to seize a stock of arms belonging to the right; he describes (p. 52) how the constant moving of stocks of arms could not fail to attract attention and revealed a dangerous amateurishness, with the precious parcels deposited on the doorsteps of the people for whom they were intended! In this way is explained, no doubt, how so many arms came to be seized before D-Day and the biggest haul of all was made during a search of … the Casa del Pueblo, about which the right-wing press constantly alleged that it was crammed with arms. Among the collections of weapons which the police discovered, which are mentioned in the works of Amaro del Rosal (Historia de la UGT, vol. I, pp. 390–396) and Juan Simeón Vidarte (El Bieno Negro, pp. 214–219 and 158–159), were those in apartments rented by Socialist deputies or other personalities, as for example Gabriel Morón in Madrid, Juan Lozano, a deputy for Jaen, Rodriguez Vera and Professor Rafael de Buen. Certain aspects of this technical preparation were so obviously improvised by amateurs that they are completely incomprehensible. On the other hand, there is still a real problem concerning the officers who were involved in preparing the insurrection. All the authors speak of complicity among the officers, republicans or Socialists, whose intervention in the insurrection at the head of their troops would have been decisive. The names are often mentioned of the officers of the Assault Guards, Moreno and Castillo, of captains Benito Sánchez and Carlos Faraudo, of the lieutenant of the Civil Guard, Fernando Condés, and, of course, of sergeants. However, it is hardly likely that Prieto, who was responsible for contact in the armed forces, failed to make contact on this point with the generals who belonged to the freemasons in the army, such as Miguel Cabanellas, Riquelme, Nuñez del Prado, and Gómez Caminero or with the brigadiers, Llano de Encomienda, Miaja, Pozas, Martínez Cabrera, Martínez Monje, etc. Alvarez del Vayo says that the movement counted on “certain officers”, who should have brought out their troops but did not move. But no one has offered any explanation of this “defaulting”: perhaps it is one of the factors in the violent antagonism in later years between Prieto and Caballero. The only soldier who was really compromised was sergeant Vásquez, who was shot on 1 February 1935.

32. AHN. “Madrid”, Legajo 721, Salamanca.

33. AHN. “Madrid”, Legajo 721, Salamanca.

34. Tagüeña, op. cit., p. 47. The Ten Commandments of the young Socialist explain that the group of ten must move in three ranks of three, with the leader marching alone on the left. See Renovación, 17 February 1934.

35. The Juventud de Acción Popular, the youth organisation of the CEDA, with fascist style and methods, decided to organise a gigantic meeting at the Escorial on 22 April. For several weeks in the Workers’ Alliances in Madrid the Socialist organisation opposed the proposals for action against this meeting which came from the delegate, G. Munis, of the Communist Left, (see Munis, Jalones ..., pp. 114–115) In the end Munis and his supporters wrung from the Workers’ Alliance a slogan of a twenty-four hour General Strike, on the evening of 21 April. The strike was a total success. The workers opposed the gathering at the Escorial by every means – including the intervention of armed Socialist militiamen. Only some ten thousand managed to get there, and these included a number of peasants who were forced to go by their local employer. Faced with this success, the leaders of the Communist Youth and of the Socialist Youth both began to claim the credit for the initiative which had not come from either of them. (On these claims, see Viñas, op. cit., pp. 73, 81, 83!)

36. Tagüeña, op. cit. p. 48. Fernando De Rosa (1908–1936) had done his military service and was a second lieutenant in the Italian military reserve. He emigrated to Belgium, where he organised – unsuccessfully – an attack on the life of the Crown Prince Umberto of Italy. He was a member of the maximalist Socialist Party of Italy. He emigrated to Spain, where he was a member of the Socialist Youth. In the plan for the insurrection, he had received from Largo Caballero and from the “revolutionary committee” the mission of arresting the President of the Republic. He was sentenced to nineteen years in prison. When released in February 1936 under the amnesty, he again became head of the organisation of the Socialist militias, with the officers who were connected with the conspiracy of 1934, the captain of engineers Faraudo, the Assault Guard lieutenant José Castillo and the Civil Guard Condés. In July 1936 he organised the 11 October battalion, of which José Laín was the commander and was in conflict with Santiago Carrillo. He was killed by a bullet in the head on 15 September 1936. Among the other militia commanders, J.S. Vidarte mentions Enrique Puente.

37. Tagüeña, op. cit. p52. The revolutionary committee, which was formed of six people (Largo Caballero, Enrique de Francisco, Juan-Simeón Vidarte, Felipe Pretel and the leaders of the Socialist Youth, Hernández Zancajo and Santiago Carrillo) had approved the formation of a government, but had not yet decided whether it would consist of “ministers” or of “people’s commissars”.

38. See the account and analysis in Preston, op. cit., pp. 112–120.

39. El Obrero de la Tierra, 19 May 1934.

40. Munis, op. cit., pp. 120–122.

41. Boletín UGT, August 1934: summarised in Preston, op. cit., pp. 197–198.

42. Juan-Simeón Vidarte speaks of the “rage” which Largo Caballero felt against Zabalza, the teacher from Navarre who led the strike (which he himself believed to be a pointless action), but emphasises nonetheless that it was supported by over 90% of the workers concerned. We can refer to the declarations of Santiago Carrillo in his meeting with the leaders of the Communist Youth (Viñas, op. cit., pp. 78–79); according to him, they should not “start off partial battles, the immediate aim of which was not the taking of power”. He explained: “The peasants have made a very great sacrifice to get very little, because, if they were to win their demands, the struggle would have had to have the taking of power as its main aim.” The history of the workers’ movement in the 20th century shows at least one more example in which the workers’ leaders saw fit to restrain “partial struggles” in order to “preserve the forces intact” for “the Great Day” in preparation: it is that of the leaders of the German Communist Party in September 1923 in the course of preparing for an insurrection – also in October – which also came to nothing (cf. Broué, The German Revolution 1917–1923, pp. 766–778.) Was not the underlying idea of the military policy of the Socialist Youth that they must fight “for” the masses, whose own movement was therefore not taken into account, even in the plans for insurrection? Therefore, the peasants were abandoned and, some weeks later, the officers who had undertaken to lead their troops into the streets having defected, the leader of the Socialist militias, del Rosal, came to explain to the leaders of the insurrection that “things were going badly, the troops from the barracks had not come down into the streets” (Alvarez del Valo, op. cit., pp. 174–178). They had made the workers wait until then. They were still waiting. But from then on they had nothing to wait for but the repression that was to strike them.

43. This document is published in French in Léon Trotsky: Oeuvres, Vol. 4, April 1934–December 1934, pp. 182–186. [The French-language text here is a translation from a somewhat indifferently translated English-language text, undated, which was found in the archives of the Communist League of America. It appears to have been a letter addressed to the International Secretariat, the contents of which enable it to be situated approximately between July and September.][Sentences in brackets added by John Archer] The title in the Oeuvres is Le Conflit catalan et les tâches du prolétariat: the article contains very striking formulations, including an extraordinary anticipation of 1936, the role of the central committee of the militias, etc.

44. We find in the AHN Madrid (Legato 721) a report from the civil governor of the Asturias, Fernando Blanco Santamaria, entitled, Notes on my management; it is the justification of a sacked man. He says there: “The enormous masses of workers who people the Asturias – not less than 120,000 – all members of the organisations, the UGT, the PSOE, the Communist Party and the CNT, when they agreed to work together in what was called the ‘Workers’ Alliance”, made this province a unique case of extreme danger in Spain”.

45. L. Araquistáin, La Revolución de Octubre en España, Leviatán, February 1936, p. 33.

46. Tagüeña, op. cit., pp. 53–55. It seems that the events in which Tagüeña took part in the Prosperidad quarter are the same as Munis (op. cit., p. 135) situated in the Guindalera, namely the essential of this failed insurrection in the capital.

47. Munis, op. cit., pp. 134–139

48. Ramon González Peña (1889–1952), a working miner, had been in 1910 one of the founders of the Union of Miners in the Asturias (SMA), had been the leader in 1920 of the famous strike at Peñarroya and then organised the strikes in Rio Tinto. He was condemned to death for his role in 1934 and pardoned in 1935 after an international campaign. It was he who, when in prison, had launched the first attack on the Socialist Youth in an interview. He became president of the UGT in 1937 when Largo Caballero and his supporters were eliminated.

49. Amaro del Rosal Díaz (born in 1904) was a leader in the Socialist Youth, of the Federation of Bank Employees and a member of the Executive of the UGT. According Álvarez del Vayo, he was the principal leader of the socialist militias(op. cit., p. 175), and it was as such that he went to the apartment of the painter Quintanilla where the members of the revolutionary committee were hiding, to account to them for the failure of the undertaking. Munis (op. cit., pp. 136–7) is particularly severe in his criticism of him, and Largo Caballero was not less so, according to certain unverified reports.

50. This report, signed D. Vicente Santiago, dated 9 March 1935, is to be found in AHN Madrid, Legajo 721. We do not know whether it was addressed to the Minister of the Interior or to the head of the Government.

51. Marta Bizcarrondo (cf. her introduction to Octubre del 34, p. 50) states definitely that Amaro del Rosa, in May 1976, declared to her that he was the author of 36 of the 98 pages of the pamphlet.

52. I have already touched on this question, in an article entitled Santiago Carrillo, the USSR and History, which appeared in No. 9 of Nueva Politica in Mexico in 1979. This study dealt with the explanations which the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Spain gave at that time of the history of the Communist movement since 1917, and, especially, with the “historic antecedents” of what he called “Eurocommunism”. This examination of both the writings of the first years of his career and of those of what, no doubt, will be its last years reveals that, in this man who never hesitated to contradict himself or to deny that he contradicted himself, there exists at least one consistent element. This element is a colossal contempt for History, which, in fact, he manipulates in one presentation or another to suit his particular political needs at the moment: it is an element which we cannot call anything other than cynicism. It may seem difficult to claim, in 1935, to be a “Bolshevik” and, at the same time, to denounce the Twenty-One Conditions. Yet at that same time he was, on the one hand, complaining about the “independence” of the parliamentary fraction of the PSOE and even of the absence of control over the party’s press, while, on the other hand, he was saying that the party’s policy of collaborating with the regime of the dictator Primo de Rivera and its later policy of actually participating in the Azaña government from 1931 to 1933 were “revolutionary”. He did, indeed, declare, on the one hand, that the PSOE was a revolutionary party, the only one in the Second International, and, at the same time, on the other hand, that it needed to be “Bolshevised”. Let us note that in 1933–35 Carrillo permitted himself the liberty of criticising Lenin, but never mentioned Stalin. The common element between Carrillo in 1935 and Carrillo in 1978 is this: like every anti-Communist, he treats Bolshevism and Stalinism as the same. During the intervening years, he has been an authentic “Stalinist”, in the sense in which Thorez used the term when he boasted of that “honour”.

53. Octubre, according to Bizcarrondo, op. cit., p. 126. Caballero and Prieto had been in agreement, it seems, during the period of preparation of the insurrection, when the latter agreed that it should be organised by the PSOE with the collaboration only of workers’ formations. On the reasons advanced by the two tendencies later on, see Vidarte, op. cit., p. 409, who summarises them as follows:

We (i.e. Negrin, Prieto, etc.) had drawn the following conclusions from the October movement: it is impossible to conquer against an organised State and we must, therefore, create an electoral bloc in order to win back the Republic as the only road... The friends of Caballero drew other conclusions and very different ones: the Asturias had taught that the people could win, even against an army and all the organisation of the State”. Of course, other factors were involved: the desertion of the officers with whom Prieto had organized connections, certain declarations by Prieto abroad, his criticisms of the imprisoned leaders’ refusal to claim responsibility for the strike, a decision which had been reached earlier with the support of his vote, etc.

54. Ibid., p. 126.

55. Ibid.

56. Pierre Laval, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been to Moscow to sign the Franco-Soviet non-aggression pact. He had met Stalin there and had declared to the press on 15 May 1935: “M. Stalin understands and fully approves the policy of national defence adopted by France to maintain its forces at the level needed for its security”. The Communist Party, which until that time had been resolutely opposed to the very idea of “national defence”, had covered Paris with posters headed “Stalin is Right”.

57. Octubre, pp. 155–156.

58. Enrique Fernandez Sendón was a member of the Communist Left under the pseudonym of L. Fersen.

59. The most important of these articles, Socialist Positions: My Right to an Opinion (El Liberal, 22 May), Socialist Positions: the Amnesty, the basis for the electoral coalition (ibid., 23 May), Socialist Positions: The Value of Parliamentary Action (ibid., 24 May), Socialist Positions: The Remorse of Defeat (ibid., 25 May), Socialist Positions: The Exotic Plant of Caudillism (ibid., 26 May), are reproduced in the anthology Discursos Fundamentales, pp. 228–254.

60. Santiago Carrillo, Habla el secretario de la Juventud socialista, La Batalla, 28 June 1935.

61. C. Hernández Zancajo, En defensa de las Juventudes socialistas: Posiciónes socialistas, La Batalla, 12 July 1935.

62. Some examples taken at random in Legajo 2371 give an idea of the scope and severity of the repression, including the regions where one might feel that nothing happened. According to a letter from someone imprisoned at Pamplona, dated 17 August 1935, there were in that town 175 charged of whom 145 were imprisoned while the same correspondent tells of heavy penalties inflicted by the court at San Sebastian: two were condemned to 20 years, two to fourteen years, two to ten years, and seven acquittals after ten months of preventive detention.

63. AHN “Madrid”, Legajo 2371 contains a significant exchange of letters between Indalecio Prieto, who was then in exile in Ostend, and a Socialist militant from Bilbao who had taken refuge in the USSR, Miguel Segurajauregui. In a letter dated August 23, the latter reports a violent incident which had just taken place between Virgilio Llanos and Margarita Nelken, when the latter boasted of having prevented Prieto from being invited to the USSR. Prieto replies on August 26 that he is not in any way surprised; his answer conveys that he believed that Margarita Nelken had already been won to the Communist Party and that she was playing the role of a “sleeper” in the PSOE. Margarita Nelken, who was elected a deputy in February 1936, formally joined the Communist Party in the December of the same year.

64. Fernando Claudín, The Communist Movement from Comintern to Cominform, London 1975, Part One, pp. 187 and 182–3. Ricard Viñas, in a book which elsewhere is very interesting, refers on this point to the work of Fernando Claudín, and at the same time offers an analysis of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International about which the best one can say is that it is astonishing in its ... candour; moreover it does not even take the trouble to refute the analysis of Claudín, to which it refers while it is the opposite of his own (op. cit., pp. 39–43).

65. Cf. the comments sent from Moscow on the Seventh Congress by José Laín, in Claridad of 17 August and of 12 and 19 October 1935.

66. José Laín and his comrades wrote on 2 February 1935 to Álvarez del Vayo – for Largo Caballero – that it was necessary at once to carry out a purge of the PSOE and to form the Workers’ Alliance on a national scale. On March 1935, they took up these points again and insisted on the need for a campaign of trade union unification which would include the UGT, the CGTU and the CNT. The same file (AHN, “Madrid”, Legajo 2371) includes two letters from the same group of Socialist refugees in the USSR, from Moscow and from Voroshilovgrad, dated January 1936, one of which speaks of “the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, which has made it the centre and shining light”, while the other declares that “the revolution, the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik political line are indivisible”. At this time there was no longer a Workers’ Alliance, and the Communist Party, along with the Socialist right-wing, had imposed the Popular Front on the Republicans. But the letters of the “Bolshevisers” of yesterday merely sing the praises of the USSR and its leaders. We should likewise take note of someone who writes to Prieto in August 1935 to tell him about a stay by Dr. Juan Negrín in Moscow and the Crimea. An undated list, which may be from January 1936, gives the names of 36 Socialist refugees in the USSR, 14 of whom belonged only to the PSOE, 13 only to the Socialist Youth and 9 to both. The figure is confirmed by a letter from the USSR by Enrique de Francisco, a devoted follower of Largo Caballero, who states, in connection with the Open Letter to Largo Caballero – published in Mundo Obrero but not in El Socialista – which was signed with 28 names, that eight members of the Socialist colony had refused to sign it: this letter was a apology for the USSR in the most tedious Stalinist style.

67. D. Ibarruri, op. cit., vol. I, p. 62. The Socialist leaders, including Largo Caballero, had denied before their judges the role which was imputed to them and refused to take the responsibility for the insurrection.

68. Vittorio Codovilla (1894–1970), was born in Italy. He was a leader of the Communist Party of Argentina and worked for the Communist International, especially in Spain, during the 1930s, under the name of Medina. On his visits to Carrillo in prison, see Viñas, op. cit., p. 36, note 30, who mentions the evidence of Pere Ardiaca and Fernando Claudín. In fact, Carrillo has recorded it himself in Demain L’Espagne, pp. 43–46. He says: “Codovilla worked very well with me. I partly have him to thank for having become a Communist. But I had not yet had any contact with the leaders of the Party apart from Uribe [...] It was the International which, with the leaders of the Communist Youth, maintained direct relations with us.” He mentions only one single visit by Codovilla in prison, but indicates that he had several discussions with him after leaving prison before he departed for the USSR. On his political “transition”, he says: “We, like many young people, were ‘leftists’. Our visit to the Soviet Union marked a decisive turn in our orientation”.

69. S. Serrano Poncela thought that the Communist International could accept the “Left Socialists” without immediately changing its constitution because its new policy corresponded to their aspirations: Araquistáin believed, for his part, that the Congress had increased the freedom of the national Communist Parties and lessened the centralisation of the Communist International: nonetheless he believed that the new policy was inspired by the immediate interests of the USSR.

70. Cf. Andrés Nin, El Congreso de la Internacional comunista y las socialistas de izquierda. Una incongruencia, in La Batalla, 30 August 1935. Nin analysed the policy of the Left Socialists as positive and progressive and the Stalinist turn as a considerable retreat and a turn to the right. He asked how the Left Socialists could envisage organic unity with the Communist Parties which were precisely in the process of accepting the positions of their “reformist” and “centrist” adversaries in the PSOE. The analysis was excellent, but there were no proposals which could have assisted in clarification.

71. Unidad de acción y unidad orgánica, Asturias, 25 October 1935.

72. M. Bizcarrondo, op. cit., p. 62.

73. Hacia la unidad orgánica a marchas rapidas, Claridad, 7 December 1935.

74. Rebelión, 11 January 1936. Rebelión was the organ of the Socialist Youth in Elda. The article is reproduced in Viñas, op. cit., pp. 140–143. Serrano Poncela, who was director of the daily paper Ahora during the civil war, taught in American universities after the war. In fact at this time there was a tendency forming in the Socialist Youth which was again raising the banner of “leftism”, with José Bullejos, Luis P. García Lago (a former supporter of the Fourth International in 1934), Grigorio López Raimundo, who later became the underground chief of the Communist Party of Spain.

75. On the reasons, which continue to be hotly debated, for this resignation, see Preston, op. cit., pp. 237–239 and Santos Julía, pp. 81–86. Largo Caballero had resigned a first time on 1 October, but then withdrew his resignation. On 16 December, he confirmed it. The pretext was a technical one, but it appears that he did not want to go on sharing power in the Executive and thought that a congress would give him the homogeneous leadership which he needed. Did the masses support Largo Caballero as he believed? It is probable. But the apparatus was for Prieto. The Socialist Youth – were they still advocates of the “Bolshevisation” which implied that they must remain within the PSOE? This is doubtful. Certain elements displayed tendencies to split away, and Paul Preston sees them as being behind the attack on Prieto at Ecija, which at the time would have been a kind of provocation to split.

76. The secretary of the party, Juan-Simeón Vidarte, in Todos fuimos culpables, vol. I, p. 58, says that at the end of 1935 Jacques Duclos had visited Hernández Zancajo in prison and made advances to him to join the Communist Party, mentioning a visit to the USSR as soon as he was released. Hernández was indignant. This is the reason why, in March 1936 and even though he was President of the Socialist Youth, he refused the invitation and was then replaced by Federico Melchor, who went with Carrillo to Moscow.

77. Viñas, op. cit., p. 61. Curiously, the author does not ask himself the question why the material means at the disposal of the United Socialist Youth were immediately – as he remarks – infinitely superior to those of the Socialist Youth before: he contents himself with noting that the Socialist Youth were “boycotted” by the press of the PSOE, Claridad apart. We can understand the legitimate concern of Ricard Viñas not to explain the rallying of the Socialist Youth leaders to Stalinism in terms of “shady manoeuvres”, political treachery, disloyalty, corruption, etc., but his lack of curiosity on this central question is astonishing. It seems likely that the United Socialist Youth, the most precious means of Stalinist penetration in Spain, received substantial material help from Moscow.

78. P. Preston, op. cit., p. 308, gives several references to Carrillo’s participation, as someone invited. What was Carrillo’s real status at this time? J.S. Vidarte (op. cit., pp. 58–59) writes that Carrillo “began to work for fusion” as soon as he returned from the USSR. This is obviously false: Carrillo was working for the organic unity of the youth organisations for months before. What is true, and what Carrillo confirms in his Demain l’Espagne, p. 45, is that he decisively finished his balancing act while he was staying in Moscow at the beginning of 1936. Vidarte, (op. cit., p. 595) says that the leaders of the Socialist Youth, which had become the United Socialist Youth, had already by that period “become Communists and faithful servants of Moscow”.

79. Mundo Obrero, 1 May 1936. Santiago Carrillo had professed great admiration for Trotsky in the past, but he was no longer ignorant of what it meant in the USSR to be called a “Trotskyist”.

80. Tagüeña, op. cit., p. 90, indicates the existence of these rivalries at the top. He makes clear, moreover, (p. 98), that after the death of Trifón Medrano, the former leader of the Communist Youth, Carrillo took the leadership with no competition, closely followed by Claudín. Among the leaders of the former Socialist Youth, the “marginalisation” of whom he mentions, let us quote the cases of José Cazorlá (after his brief passage as deputy to Carrillo in charge of public order in the Madrid Junta), José Laín (who was first director of the training of commissars and then a civil governor) and Federico Melchor. Serrano Poncela remained a journalist in the leadership of the daily Ahora. Tagüeña himself was the only important military chief to emerge from the ranks of the Socialist Youth. On the other hand, we find several of them in the police services, the lawyer Ordoñez and especially Santiago Garcés, who was the head of the Servicio de Investigación Militar (SIM), who was reputed to be linked to the Soviet secret services. He took refuge in Mexico, where he was investigated after the attempt on Trotsky’s life on 24 May 1940, but was later held not to have been involved. Tagüeña does not lay any emphasis on the role of the former members of the Socialist Youth in the repression against the other workers’ organisations. Sometimes his personal animosity against Carrillo warps his judgement: for example, it is not true that all the other leaders of the Socialist Youth were “marginalised”. José Cazorlá, the deputy Delegate and later the Delegate for Public Order in the Madrid Junta, held a post of confidence: he joined the Central Committee in 1937. We know that he was unable to leave Madrid in 1939 and there he led for some time under illegal conditions a “delegation” of the Central Committee, which left him no hope when he was arrested and sentenced to death. Moreover, at the time when Tagüeña was finishing his memoirs, Federico Melchor Fernández, the former admirer of Trotsky who had become one of the specialists in denouncing Trotskyists, was still a member of the secretariat of the Communist Party of Spain. Segundo Serrano Poncela distanced himself. One case of a “fall” is certain: it is that of José Laín, who took refuge a second time in the USSR and there became … a primary school teacher. He was to return to Spain during the life-time of Franco.

81. In AHN “Madrid”, Legajo 2371, there is a report by Manuel Delicado, in the name of the Central Committee, delivered to the members of the cells of the collaborators with the Central Committee on 1 September 1937, in which he states: “The supporters of Caballero and the Trotskyists, the malcontents and the capitulators ... could succeed in putting together a bloc, which would create a difficult situation.”

82. Estaban Bilbao, Algunas consideraciones ante la situación, Comunismo, April 1934, p. 168. Estaban Bilbao Urruza (1896–1954), was a member of the Socialist Youth in 1913, one of the founders of the Communist Party in Bilbao in 1920 and was excluded in 1929. He organised the Left Opposition in Bilbao and in Astillero. He had been the first to advocate “entrism” in the Socialist Party and the Socialist Youth. He himself entered the PSOE but remained isolated there. During the Civil War he joined the GBL of Munis. He died in exile in France.

83. Juan Andrade, Apuntes para la Historia del PCE, pp. 72–74. This is essentially the summary of a lecture delivered in Paris on 25 May 1966. Juan Andrade Rodríguez (1898–1981), was a Socialist in 1916 and in 1919–20 was one of the organisers of the Spanish Communist Party, a member of its Executive and the editor of its weekly journal, El Comunista. He was one of the principal leaders of the Communist Party of Spain and was expelled in 1928. He then became one of the leaders of the Left Opposition and then of the Communist Left, and a member of the Central Committee of the POUM when it was founded. He was arrested in June 1937 and sentenced to 15 years in jail in 1938 at the time of the POUM trial. He escaped in 1939, got to France and was sentenced in 1941 by a military tribunal to five years’ imprisonment, but was liberated by Spanish members of the Resistance. After a long exile in Paris, he went back to Madrid in 1980 and died there on 1 May 1981.

Last updated on 1.11.2011