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Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution: Part 1-Lars T. Lih

Posted by admin On July - 13 - 2019 Comments Off on Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution: Part 1-Lars T. Lih

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Before the War: The Bolsheviks Applaud Kautsky’s Tactics
Lenin remained true to the tactical ideas of Karl Kautsky after the latter had abandoned them.
By Lars T. Lih
Karl Kautsky

In recent months, Jacobin has seen an exchange of views on the theme of Kautsky vs Lenin. Many good points were made, but on the subject of the October Revolution, we are presented with a stark choice: either Kautsky is right and Lenin is wrong, or Lenin is right and Kautsky wrong.

But this is a strange and unhelpful debate, because — as Bolsheviks of Lenin’s generation knew very well and current research reaffirms — Kautsky and Lenin were on the same page over a whole range of fundamental issues. Indeed, Kautsky served as mentor to the Bolsheviks precisely on the issues that defined them and divided them from their Menshevik rivals.

Karl Kautsky even deserves to be called the architect of the Bolshevik victory in October. Of course, I am not saying that Kautsky was necessarily the first to come up with these ideas or that the Bolsheviks did not arrive at them independently. But Kautsky gave authoritative endorsement to the key tactical ideas of Bolshevism, giving clarity and confidence to the group with an impact that is hard to overestimate.

This two-part article was first published as an undivided text in Jacobin.
For Part 2, see “1917: The Bolsheviks Apply Kautsky’s Tactics.”
See also other articles by Lars Lih on this website.
These ideas were set forth in specific writings much lauded by the Bolsheviks and used by them in polemics against the Menshevik “opportunists.” The same ideas led to their party’s victory in October and the ensuing civil war. Lenin and the Bolsheviks never rejected these ideas nor the writings in which Kautsky expressed them.

Getting the Kautsky-Bolshevik relation right is not just an academic exercise, a “fun fact” about the Marxists of yore. As the current debate shows, the Russian and the Bolshevik victory are crucially distorted if we go along with the folklore that the Bolsheviks succeeded because they relied on “insurrection” rather than “electoralism” — folklore perpetuated by friends of October as well as by its foes. Nor did the revolution in 1917 have anything to do with Lenin’s argument that “soviet democracy” was a higher type than “parliamentary democracy,” as incarnated in the Constituent Assembly that was shut down in January 1918 by the Soviet government (at the time, a coalition of Bolsheviks and Left SRs). During 1917, “soviet power” was not understood in these terms either by the Bolsheviks or the mass soviet constituency.

Therefore, if we want to appreciate the centrality of Kautsky’s tactical advice to the October victory, we must first document the concrete links between him and the Bolsheviks. We will then examine what the revolution was not and refute the standard account just mentioned. After looking at the actual political dynamics of 1917, I conclude using Lenin’s own account to present a much better idea of what the “Leninists” learned from their victory.

The Love/Hate Relationship Between Kautsky and Lenin
I first began to appreciate the strength of the Kautsky-Lenin link almost two decades ago when writing a long study of Lenin’s famous 1902 book What Is to Be Done? (Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, 2006). The young Ulianov (not yet Lenin) paid Kautsky an extravagant compliment when he remarked that his famous formula — “Social Democracy is the merger of socialism and the worker movement” —  “reproduced the foundational ideas of the Communist Manifesto.”[1]  This remark is only a symbol for Kautsky’s immense impact on Russian Social Democracy and the Bolsheviks in particular. Indeed, his seminal 1892 book, The Erfurt Program, taught young Russian Social Democrats such as Lenin what it meant to be a social democrat.

The Kautsky theme prominent in Lenin Rediscovered upset many otherwise favorable critics. Sure (they argued), the young Lenin had a lot of complimentary things to say about the prestigious popularizer Kautsky. But doesn’t Lih realize that, in 1914, when Kautsky failed to call for a revolutionary response to the declaration of war, the scales fell from Lenin’s eyes, he rethought Marxism, and denounced “Kautskyism” root and branch?
V.I. Lenin

But did Lenin actually ever reject Kautskyism, if by this term we mean the ideas that he, Lenin, had earlier praised so enthusiastically? What, in fact, did the post-1914 Lenin have to say about the pre-1914 Kautsky? Luckily, Soviet scholars created a research tool that allowed me to answer this question definitively: exhaustive bibliographic references to any literary production mentioned by Lenin in any way. Soviet censors did not allow any really useful commentary on the context of Lenin’s works, so scholars compensated by providing the fifth edition of Lenin’s complete works that came out in the 1960s with these amazing bibliographies.

What I found stunned me. First of all was the sheer volume of references — not just to the post-1914 Kautsky who became a more and more virulent critic of Bolshevism — but rather to long-ago Kautsky publications from before the war. Lenin’s remarks start immediately after the outbreak of war in 1914 and continue right up to the end (Lenin’s last article contains one). Clearly Lenin had a Kautsky fixation, even while Kautsky was becoming yesterday’s man in the West.

The references are also remarkable for the wide range of Kautsky’s pre-1914 writings that Lenin felt called upon to discuss. Indeed, Lenin once answered a party questionnaire by affirming that he had read just about everything by Kautsky. And finally, these references are striking because they are overwhelmingly positive. Taken all in all, they constitute a strong endorsement of Kautsky-when-he-was-a-Marxist (as Lenin expressed it). I have put together a sort of database of these references that I hope to put online soon.[2]

But if the scales — much to the chagrin of many socialists today — refused to fall from Lenin’s eyes, why did he attack Kautsky so relentlessly after 1914? Precisely because he saw Kautsky as a renegade, that is, as someone who renounced or refused to act on his own correct views. This term is prominently displayed in the title of a once-famous book Lenin wrote in late 1918 when recovering from an assassination attempt: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. Legend has it that red-diaper babies in the thirties and forties grew up thinking “Renegade” was Kautsky’s first name — thus showing a better sense of Lenin’s attitude than many Marxist intellectuals today.
Lev Trotsky

The word translated as “Kautskyism” in Soviet-era editions of Lenin’s works is kautskianstvo — that is, not an ism, but a type of political behavior that can be summed up as “talking the talk, but not walking the walk.” As such, Lenin hurls the terms at a wide range of opponents who had nothing to do with Kautsky’s ideas — for example, before 1917, Lev Trotsky. In the case of Kautsky himself, the accusation of kautskianstvo was an affirmation of Kautskyism, that is, the ideas found in Kautsky’s prewar writings that had so thrilled Lenin back in the day.

Lenin’s personal relationship to Kautsky and his ideas is not the half of it. Kautsky was an essential mentor to the Bolsheviks as a whole. Lenin’s longtime lieutenant, Lev Kamenev, when sitting down to the task of preparing the first edition of Lenin’s complete works, lamented the difficulties faced by Lenin before 1917 in getting his ideas to the Russian worker: the short-lived and small-circulation underground newspapers, the censored “Aesopian” language, the need for deceptive pseudonyms, the books pulled off the press by the authorities. In contrast, Bolshevik reading groups had a steady supply of legal and illegal Russian translations of Kautsky’s works (some prepared by Lenin himself). I have looked at enough reading lists of such groups to assert that Kautsky was by far the most important author, more so than any Russian Social Democrat. In State and Revolution, Lenin himself made the point:

Undoubtedly, an immeasurably larger number of Kautsky’s works have been translated into Russian than into any other language. It is not without justification that German Social Democrats sometimes say jokingly that Kautsky is more read in Russia than in Germany (we may say, in parentheses, that there is deeper historical significance in this joke than those who first made it suspected; for the Russian workers, by making in 1905 an unusually great and unprecedented demand for the best works of the best Social Democratic literature and editions of these works in quantities unheard of in other countries, rapidly transplanted, so to speak, the enormous experience of a neighboring, more advanced country to the young soil of our proletarian movement).[3]

To convince yourself of Kautsky’s centrality, take down your copy of Bukharin and Preobrazhensky’s 1918 textbook of Bolshevism, The ABC of Communism, and peruse the reading lists recommended for earnest new recruits to Bolshevism. The pre-revolutionary entries from Lenin are mainly about agricultural statistics (What is To be Done? is not included), and they are vastly outnumbered by Kautsky material, with writings covering a wide range of essential topics, from Karl Marx’s economic doctrines to anti-Semitism (including Road to Power discussed below).

Kautsky’s Tactical Advice for the Upcoming Revolution
I continue to be amazed at the list of crucial topics about which Kautsky served as a Bolshevik mentor. But I’ll concentrate on two items of tactical advice that were undoubtedly crucial to the party’s victory in October and beyond. I will first look at the specific writings where Kautsky put forth these ideas as well as the immediate Bolshevik reaction to them.

The first crucial piece of Kautsky advice is what I call — in order to distinguish it from so many other meanings of the word —  “Bolshevik hegemony.” According to the Bolsheviks themselves, if there was one word that summed up specifically Bolshevik tactics, it was hegemony. In 1906, Lenin summed up “the fundamental principles of Bolshevik tactics” in this way: “A bourgeois revolution, brought about by the proletariat and the peasantry despite the instability of the bourgeoisie.” He then claimed that Kautsky had provided “a brilliant vindication … the essence of this tactic [is] totally affirmed by Kautsky … Kautsky’s analysis satisfies us completely.”

Lenin was referring to an article entitled “Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution.” Kautsky’s title poised the following questions: what class forces in Russian society are capable of pushing the upcoming revolution “to the end,” that is, as far as it can go? What can this revolution maximally hope to accomplish under present social conditions? Kautsky answered both questions by pointing to the Russian peasantry: on the one hand, its unsatisfied needs made it an essential ally for the socialist proletariat, and on the other, this ally set up a barrier to full socialist transformation.

The Bolsheviks were ecstatic about this article. Lenin arranged a translation and wrote detailed commentaries. Down in the Caucasus, the young Bolshevik Iosif Stalin produced his own commentary, using Kautsky’s arguments to expose Menshevik errors. Indeed, Kautsky’s 1906 article can truly be called a charter document of Bolshevism.

If there was anyone who was even more enthusiastic about this article than the Bolsheviks, it was Lev Trotsky. He asserted in this connection that anyone who had read works such as his own Results and Prospects “will see that I have no reason to reject even a single one of the positions formulated in the article I have translated by Kautsky, because the development of our thinking in these two articles is identical.”[4] And, it should be added, Trotsky was if anything more insistent than the Bolsheviks that the Russian peasants were an insuperable barrier to socialist transformation. He argued that immediately after a democratic revolution, conflicts would begin to emerge between socialist workers and the peasant majority, and that these conflicts would likely lead to an armed clash. Barring a successful European revolution, this clash would end in proletarian defeat.

Aha, some will say, Bolshevik hegemony is tied to the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and thus irrelevant to the proletarian-socialist revolution in October. What this objection overlooks is that for all parties to the discussion — Trotsky as well as Lenin and Kautsky — a fully socialist revolution was incompatible with an alliance with a peasantry that itself was not consciously and voluntarily in favor of socialism. And yet, both before and after October, the Bolsheviks were committed to respecting basic peasant interests. During the civil war, the Bolsheviks placed heavy burdens on the peasantry (though hardly more than on workers) in pursuit of common interests as perceived by the peasants, namely, preventing victory of a landowner/capitalist counterrevolution. Bolshevik leaders stressed many times that victory in 1917, victory in the civil war, and (hopefully) victory via New Economic Policy (NEP) was based on proletarian leadership of the peasants in pursuit of common interests — that is, on Bolshevik hegemony.

In other words, after October the Bolsheviks surprised themselves by deciding that socialist revolution was compatible with proletarian leadership of the peasants. Thus there was continuity in the actual policy of Bolshevik hegemony and there was discontinuity in ideological assumptions about socialist revolution.

In articles written in 1909, Kautsky affirmed the continuing relevance of his analysis — and, as usual, his remarks were energetically circulated by Russian Bolsheviks:

The industrial proletariat of Russia is the bearer of the [democratic] Russian revolution, and this is precisely why it cannot count on the support of the bourgeoisie for the revolution. Only in the peasantry does the Russian proletariat find a class whose economic interests do not contradict its own and who cannot achieve a satisfactory position in society without revolution. … At present the tsarist government itself [because of the Stolypin reforms] is energetically working at broadening the outlook of the Russian peasant beyond the narrow boundaries of his native village … And this in the final analysis will lead to even further intensification of his dissatisfaction.

After the October revolution, both Lenin and Trotsky endorsed the argument of Kautsky’s 1906 article and called Kautsky out for abandoning it himself. As Lenin wrote in Renegade Kautsky:

But now Kautsky does not say a single word about the controversies of that time (for fear of being exposed by his own statements!), and thereby makes it utterly impossible for the German reader to understand the essence of the matter. Mr. Kautsky could not tell the German workers in 1918 that in 1905 he had been in favor of an alliance of the workers with the peasants and not with the liberal bourgeoisie, and on what conditions he had advocated this alliance, and what program he had outlined for it. [5]

Bolshevik hegemony was not the only piece of tactical advice by Kautsky that proved crucial in 1917. In 1909, Kautsky published a small book entitled Road to Power. The Bolshevik reacted with by now typical enthusiasm. In a glowing book review, Lenin’s closest lieutenant, Grigorii Zinoviev, brought out the book’s wide range of topics as well as its significance as a weapon of the “orthodox” against the “revisionists” — or, in Russia, the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks:

Kautsky’s work, along with its great significance for general politics, has also, of course, large implications specifically for Social Democracy. His book sums up the events of the last five years: revolution in Russia, the awakening of the East, the regrouping of social forces in Germany, the successes of the proletariat in Austria, the sharpening of the class struggle in England, and so forth … This new work of Kautsky’s has already sparked off a battle between the orthodox and the revisionists, and this battle is still expanding, providing us with the opportunity once more to judge the respective positions of the two camps as applied to the vital questions of today.

Only a few years later, this 1909 publication came to be viewed as the swan song of the good “Kautsky-when-he-was-a-Marxist.” In early 1915, in the first throes of his indignation against Kautsky the sell-out, Lenin wrote:

It was none other than Kautsky himself, in a whole series of articles and in his book Road to Power (which came out in 1909), who described with the fullest possible definiteness the basic traits of the approaching third epoch and who pointed out its radical distinctiveness from the second (yesterday’s) epoch … But Kautsky now commits to the flame what he once worshipped and he is changing front in the most incredible, most indecent, most shameless fashion.[6]

Of particular interest to the Bolsheviks was Kautsky’s condemnation of any kind of political “agreements” (Russian: soglasheniia) with liberal or democrat reformers. I give the Russian translation of “agreement,” because in 1917 the rejection of “agreementism” (soglashatelstvo) became central to the Bolshevik message, as we shall see. Zinoviev (undoubtedly speaking for Lenin in this instance) cited Kautsky as an authority on this issue:

The issue of the relation of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie (both liberal and democratic), of possible blocs and agreements [soglasheniia] with it, of the growth or the blunting of contradictions between it and the proletariat, and so forth, has for a long time been the central point of dispute between Marxists and revisionists in all countries … Social Democracy, in Kautsky’s opinion, must conduct a purge of its own ranks, it must free itself from petty-bourgeois elements, it must stand out more sharply than ever before against the politics of blocs and agreements with the bourgeoisie.

Kautsky’s case for anti-agreementism rested on his perception that the world was entering a new era of revolutionary upheaval. He argued that in this new age of revolutions, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) must not compromise, or go soft on imperialism or even join a coalition government — rather, it must remain true to its heritage of irreconcilable opposition. In Kautsky’s words:

The more imperturbable, consistent, and irreconcilable the Social Democratic Party remains, all the more readily will it get the better of its opponents. To demand that the Social Democratic Party participate in a policy of coalition or alliance now … at the very time when those parties have prostituted and utterly compromised themselves; to want the Party to link itself with them in order to further that very prostitution—is to demand that it commit moral suicide.

If the party stands uncompromisingly for a “great idea, a great goal,” it will be able to “unleash all the energy and devotion” that lie below the surface in non-revolutionary periods:

When times of revolutionary ferment come, the tempo of progress all at once becomes rapid. It is quite incredible how swiftly the masses of the population learn in such times and achieve clarity about their class interests. Not only their courage and their desire to fight, but also their political interest is spurred on in the most powerful way by the consciousness that the moment has arrived for them to rise by their efforts out of the darkest night into the bright glory of the sun. Even the most sluggish become industrious; even the most cowardly, bold; even the most intellectually limited acquire a wider mental grasp. In such times, political education of the masses takes place in years, that otherwise would require generations.

Sounds like 1917!

In particular, the tactic of militant anti-agreementism gave the revolutionary Social Democrats a chance to win over the wavering “petty bourgeoisie” (in Russia, this term referred primarily to the peasant majority). The party, Kautsky argued, should not write off the peasant or the member of the urban lower classes because of his present hostility, since an outbreak of war or some other catastrophe might enrage him. “One day, under intolerable pressure from taxation and shaken by a sudden moral collapse of those in power, he might swing over to us en masse and perhaps thereby sweep away our opponents and decide the struggle in our favor.”

The description “present hostility” refers to the situation in Germany, but, as we have seen, Kautsky urged the Russian Social Democrats to look upon the Russian peasantry as a revolutionary ally. In 1915, looking ahead to the imminent Russian revolution, Lenin was quick to make the connection between the two prongs of Kautsky’s tactical advice:

To the question of whether it is possible for the proletariat to assume the leadership [rukovodstvo] in the bourgeois Russian revolution, our answer is: yes, it is possible, if the petty bourgeoisie swings to the left at the decisive moment; it is being pushed to the left, not only by our propaganda, but by a number of objective factors, economic, financial (the burden of war), military, political, and others.[7]

For Part 2 of this article, see “1917: The Bolsheviks Apply Kautsky’s Tactics”

Related Articles on Kautsky, Lenin, and the Road to Socialism
Why Kautsky Was Right and Why You Should Care, by Eric Blanc, April 2, 1919
Kautsky, Lenin, and the Transition to Socialism: A Reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber, April 6, 2019
The Democratic Road to Socialism: A Reply to Mike Taber, by Eric Blanc, April 11, 2019
Revolutionary Strategy and the Electoral Road, by Mike Taber, April 13, 2019
On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution, by John Riddell, pending
Notes

[1] Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 5th ed., (PSS), 4:189 (1899).

[2] Forthcoming on John Riddell’s blog.

[3] Lenin PSS, 33:104.

[4] Richard Day and Daniel Gaido, Witnesses to Permanent Revolution (Brill 2009), 580.

[5] Lenin, CW, 28: 295; for a similar comment by Trotsky, see the 1922 preface to his book 1905 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1907/1905/1905.pdf).

[6] Lenin, PSS, 26:143-44.

[7] Lenin, Collected Works, 21:403.

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Kautsky, Lenin, and the transition to socialism: A reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber
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From → Lars T. Lih, Policies and debates, USSR/Russia, Workers’ government
3 Comments

geoff1954 permalink
This article includes some unquestionably correct ideas but I will reserve judgement on its fundamental argument until I read the second part.

As I argued on John Riddell’s blog when he opened it to contributions from Eric Blanc and Mike Taber, Blanc (and Lih in this first article — unless I missed it) does not take up one of Lenin’s most fundamental works, that discusses his differences with Kautsky and their roots. That work is State and Revolution, which I recommend to others who are interested in this debate.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/

Reply

James Creegan permalink
Chapter VI of Lenin’s “State and Revolution”, “The Vulgarisation of Marxism by the Opportunists”, contains an extensive criticism of the pre-1914 Kautsky. A couple excerpts:

“…shortly before he came out against the most prominent representatives of opportunism in France… and in Germany… Kautsky betrayed very considerable vacillation. The Marxist “Zarya” … was forced to enter into a controversy with Kautsky and describe as ‘elastic’ the half-hearted, evasive resolution, conciliatory toward the opportunists, that he proposed at the International Socialist Congress in Paris in 1900. Kautsky’s letters published in Germany reveal no less hesitancy on his part before he took the field against Bernstein.” (CW, 1964, p. 482)

And further:

“From 1852 to 1891… Marx and Engels taught the proletariat that it must smash the state machine. Yet, in 1899, Kautsky, confronted with the complete betrayal of Marxism by the opportunists on this point, fraudulently Substituted for the question of whether it is necessary to smash this machine the question of the concrete forms in which it is to be smashed, and then sought refuge behind the ‘indisputable’ (and barren) philistine truth that concrete forms cannot be known in advance!!” (ibid., p. 484)
louisproyect permalink
https://louisproyect.org/2019/07/01/lars-lih-versus-eric-blanc/
https://johnriddell.com/2019/07/04/karl-kautsky-as-architect-of-the-october-revolution-part-1/
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Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution: Part 2-Lars T. Lih

Posted by admin On July - 13 - 2019 Comments Off on Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution: Part 2-Lars T. Lih

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1917: The Bolsheviks Apply Kautsky’s Tactics
Lenin remained true to the tactical ideas of Karl Kautsky after the latter had abandoned them.

By Lars T. Lih
Lars T. Lih

As we have seen, the Bolsheviks came into 1917 with two pieces of Kautsky advice firmly under their belts: enlist the peasantry as a revolutionary ally, and do not deviate from militant anti-agreementism. In order to see how this advice played out in 1917, we need first to dispense with a couple of will-o’-the-wisps about the October revolution.

What the 1917 Revolution Was Not

In his Jacobin article [republished on this blog], Eric Blanc states the following: “Following Lenin’s arguments in his 1917 pamphlet State and Revolution, Leninists for decades have hinged their strategy on the need for an insurrection to overthrow the entire parliamentary state and to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils.”

This remark brings together not one, but two, deep-rooted misconceptions about 1917: first, that a clash between two types of democracy—parliamentary vs soviet—as found in the pages of State and Revolution, had anything to do with the October victory or the politics of the revolutionary year. (State and Revolution was drafted in 1917 but only published in 1918 and it is irrelevant to the events of the previous year.) Second, that the Bolsheviks took power by means of an “insurrection,” “armed uprising,” or whatever. Let us consider.

This two-part article was first published as an undivided text in Jacobin.
For Part 1, see “Before the War: The Bolsheviks Applaud Kautsky’s Tactics.”
See also other articles by Lars Lih on this website.
“All power to the Soviets!” — this was the rallying cry of 1917. But “soviet” here expresses merely the institutional form of class power. “Soviet power” meant a vlast (sovereign authority or “power”) based on the workers and peasants. No one particularly cared about how much more democratic the soviets were as opposed to parliamentary democracy — these concerns were pretty much confined to Lenin, and even he downplayed them in 1917 (compare State and Revolution to writings published in 1917 such as Can the Bolsheviks Hold State Power [vlast]?). The Bolshevik message was based rather on anti-agreementism: the workers and peasants cannot get their basic needs met in league with the elite (more below on anti-agreementism in 1917).

In no way can it be said that the Bolshevik message was based on rejection of the Constituent Assembly as “parliamentary democracy”. The opposite is the case: defense of the Constituent Assembly was an integral part of the Bolshevik agitation throughout 1917. This was particularly true in October, when Bolshevik accusations that the Provisional Government would sabotage the elections for the Assembly reached a fever pitch. In fact, fear of such sabotage was a central argument for an immediate takeover of power. After the Constituent Assembly was disbanded, Trotsky affirmed that “when we argued [in October] that the road to the Constituent Assembly lay … through the seizure of power by the Soviets, we were absolutely sincere.”[1] (It is no surprise that this statement by Trotsky is met by a scornful laugh from academic historians. What is truly remarkable, however, is that many self-styled Trotsky admirers will also automatically assume that Trotsky is lying for political reasons and that I am naïve for taking him at his word.)

Nor, further, were the alleged defects of parliamentary democracy prominent among the announced motivations for disbanding the Constituent Assembly in January. Witness: Trotsky, who gives a number of pertinent reasons for disbandment at the time, but does not mention any contrast between soviet-style government and “bourgeois parliamentarianism”. Witness: The Left SRs, who cooperated with disbandment for their own reasons.

In October, when the Second Congress of Soviets voted for soviet power, a Bolshevik-dominated committee arrested members of the Provisional Government and took other actions to prevent armed overthrow of the new government. For a number of reasons, both academic and activist historians come together in exaggerating the importance of a violent “insurrection” in the Bolshevik path to power. Essentially, the academics want to delegitimize the Bolsheviks as a whole, while the Trotsky tradition only wants to delegitimize most of the top Bolshevik leadership.

But any contrast, whether in approval or disapproval, between the Bolshevik takeover and “electoralism” is absurd. The Bolsheviks won in 1917 through winning elections — through acquiring a majority in key soviet bodies as a result of arduous campaigning — campaigning that was based on a message (anti-agreementism) that made sense to people. In fact, the Soviet government set up in October was the only government in 1917 that had any real electoral legitimacy.

The Bolsheviks won majority support for full soviet power (in other words, for anti-agreementism) in the key capital soviets in early September. After that, it was only a matter of time, of making things official. Of course, this process was dramatic and no doubt that Bolsheviks could have screwed it up. But essentially what happened was that the Petrograd Soviet officially set up a body to protect the revolution and this body did so by making a few arrests in order to protect the Second Congress. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Second Congress would declare for full soviet power — so that the existing national soviet body, the agreementist TsIK, was already a lame-duck walking corpse.

Throughout 1917, the final say in the composition of the government had always rested with the Soviet, for the simple but profound reason that it commanded the ultimate loyalty of the Petrograd workers and soldiers (that is, “real force”). Thus the February Revolution and the October Revolution gave rise to a government in essentially the same way: the relevant soviet authority spoke, and that was it. In February, there was indeed a real “insurrection” from below, but in October the so-called uprising was a police action set in motion by duly constituted authorities.

One ill effect of the over-intense focus (I might even call it fetishism) on the October “insurrection” is to obscure the real problem with Bolshevik rule, which is neither the rejection of parliamentary forms nor the use of “insurrection.” It is, plain and simple, the rapid and complete destruction of political freedom. The Bolsheviks started by outlawing political parties and newspapers (the Kadets were outlawed in December 1917) and ended up squeezing all independent political and civil life out of society. This was done by the time NEP was established in 1921 and the resulting suffocation of independent civil society was never dented until perestroika.

However, it must be strongly emphasized that at no time prior to October did Lenin or the Bolsheviks speak of “insurrection” as a method opposed to majority rule, nor can we find any hint of a project to destroy political freedom. Quite the opposite. The Bolsheviks had long defined themselves as champions of political freedom for Russia, and indeed Russian Social Democracy was key in giving Russia what political freedom it had in the decade before the revolution. But ultimately the significance of this fact fades before the realities of the system created during the civil war.

Whether for good reasons or bad, Lenin and the Bolsheviks defined themselves after October as the destroyers of political freedom in Russia. People in Western Europe had a sense that Communists wanted to use “bourgeois” political freedom to get into power, and then eliminate it for everybody else. Did the Communists give them any reason to think they were wrong?

What the 1917 Revolution Was
In the aftermath of the February Revolution, the Bolshevik party as a whole emerged from the underground with Kautsky’s tactical advice in their political DNA: enlist the peasantry as a revolutionary ally, and do not deviate from militant anti-agreementism. From the very beginning of the revolution, the Bolsheviks acted on this advice and as a result they were accurately perceived as distinctive by all actors on the political scene. (Many people want to believe that the Bolsheviks were not anti-agreementist until Lenin presented his April Theses upon his return to Russia. I have documented the problems with this view elsewhere, but the issue has no bearing on the present discussion.[2])

A crucial fact, not sufficiently emphasized, is that the Petrograd Soviet was not a “Soviet of Worker Deputies” (as was the case in 1905) but a “Soviet of Worker and Soldier Deputies.” This fact changed the whole political meaning of the soviet and therefore of “soviet power.” At first, the preponderance of soldiers caused serious problems for the Bolsheviks and partly explains their original isolation within the Petrograd Soviet. But later, they began to see soldier membership in the Soviet as a great opportunity: win over the soldiers to the Bolshevik message (difficult as that may have been) and it’s game over for the Provisional Government. Which is what happened.

For this reason, Eric Blanc’s comment that Leninists wanted “to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils” leads to a serious distortion of the political dynamics of 1917. The Bolsheviks then and later interpreted the soldier presence in the soviets as a link to the peasantry — that is, as a gateway to carrying out the tactic of Bolshevik hegemony. And also from the very beginning, the Bolsheviks had their eye on the wider peasant constituency. A remark by Bolshevik activist Viktor Nogin in late March succinctly foreshadows one of the principal political dynamics of the following months:

This resolution [by the Moscow Bolsheviks] proposes the organized seizure of the lands without waiting for the Constituent Assembly. The SRs could not bring themselves to propose such a slogan, since they prefer to wait for the Constituent Assembly. When they learned of the decision of the Moscow [Bolsheviks], the SRs said, “too bad for us! Now the peasants are going to elect the Bolsheviks.”[3]

Thus the Bolsheviks quickly became identified with anti-agreementism. At an all-Russian conference of soviets in late March—that is, prior to Lenin’s return and his April Theses—the red line between agreementists and anti-agreementists was sharply drawn, with the Menshevik Irakli Tsereteli as the spokesman of agreementism and the Bolshevik Lev Kamenev as the spokesman of anti-agreementism. No one deluded themselves about the reality of this clash. The agreementists wagered their political future on a viable working relationship with the social elites represented in the Provisional Government, while the anti-agreementists wagered their political future on a rapidly growing split between Provisional Government and the soviet constituency.

What was the heart of the message the Bolsheviks addressed to the soviet constituency to convince them of the necessity for all power to the soviets? It wasn’t: the soviets are a higher type of democracy, down with parliamentary democracy! It wasn’t: we need a socialist revolution in Russia! As noted earlier, the Bolsheviks had previously assumed that “socialist revolution” was incompatible with the peasant ally. After 1917, they changed their mind — not about the peasant ally, but about the meaning of “socialist revolution.” The Bolshevik message in 1917 was not even: land, peace, and bread! What political party was against land, peace, and bread?

The question was how to attain goals that everybody accepted as valid. And here the Bolsheviks had a clear if primarily negative answer: we cannot attain these goals through any sort of “agreements,” dual power, coalitions or political understandings with elites! Socialists who insist on these agreements are leading us to disaster. We need a worker/peasant vlast (state power), as expressed through the soviets, that excludes any political voice for the elite.

Thus the Bolsheviks championed a message based directly on Kautsky’s advice about hegemony and anti-agreementism, advice of long standing that was familiar to the whole party. Of course, there existed anti-agreementist factions within the other socialist parties — but they remained opposition factions until the very eve of October, when the anti-agreementist faction of the SR party bolted and founded the Left SR party, which promptly joined with the Bolsheviks in an anti-agreementist coalition government. Until October, then, the Bolsheviks remained the only party united around anti-agreementism. This fact determined the dynamics of the party system in 1917.

Full soviet power only became feasible when the two streams of Kautsky’s advice came together, that is, when the soldiers and the peasant majority in the country swung over to anti-agreementism. At least, such was the view of Lenin, as expressed in February 1918. (In the following passage, “the opportunists of October” refers to Zinoviev and Kamenev. Too much should not be read into this label, since Lenin is merely adopting the term used by his polemical opponents at the time. What can be legitimately read into Lenin’s comment is a challenge to the Trotskyist/Stalinist consensus that Zinoviev and Kamenev were enemies of the revolution and opposed in principle to soviet power. From Lenin’s standpoint, the dispute arose rather from different readings of empirical forces by leaders striving for an identical goal.) In Lenin’s words:

As matters stood in October, we had made an exact account precisely of mass forces. We not only thought, we knew with certainty, from the experience of the mass elections to the Soviets, that in September and in early October the overwhelming majority of the workers and soldiers had already come over to our side. We knew, even if only from the voting at the Democratic Conference, that support for the coalition [of moderate socialists and “bourgeois” politicians] had also collapsed among the peasantry—and that meant that our cause had already won.

The following were the objective conditions for the October insurrectionary struggle:

1. There was no longer any bludgeon over the heads of the soldiers—it was overthrown in February 1917 (Germany has not yet reached “its” February);

2. The soldiers, like the workers, had already experienced enough of the coalition and had completed a purposive, thought-through, heartfelt withdrawal from it.

This, and this alone, determined the correctness of the slogan “for an insurrection” in October (the slogan would have been incorrect in July, when in fact we did not advance it).

The mistake of the opportunists of October was not that they “worried too much” about objective conditions (and only children could think it was) but that they incorrectly evaluated the facts —they focused on details without seeing the main thing: that the Soviets had come over from agreementism [soglashatelstvo] to us.[4]

Both “Leninists” and anti-Leninists should take careful heed to what the man himself says here: only support from an “overwhelming majority” of the mass worker-soldier-peasant soviet constituency made the armed action in October politically meaningful. This support can be measured by electoral success. Rejection of agreementism is equivalent to support for all power to the soviets. These political facts as set out by Lenin are overwhelmingly more significant than whether the “insurrection” took place the day before or the day after the Second Congress of Soviets.

History’s Lessons, History’s Questions
Alas, history does not always give us usable lessons to apply in the present day. At most, it thrusts upon us some unsettling questions. Here are some that arise from the episode we have just considered.

For Russia in 1917, Kautsky’s advice about anti-agreementism was political gold, enabling the Bolsheviks to win power. In Western Europe, Kautsky’s advice was political lead, with would-be Bolsheviks never successfully attaining power.

In my view, neither Lenin nor Kautsky really understood why Kautsky’s anti-agreementist tactics met such different political fates in Russia and Europe. One key difference, perhaps hard for the Marxist tradition to fully analyze: the complete and sudden collapse of state authority in Russia, which had no equivalent in Western Europe. In any event, this deficient understanding finds expression in both the Bolshevik’s expectations for socialist revolution in Europe and Kautsky’s often arid polemics against the Bolsheviks.

Our final question is about the Russian revolution and its fate. It was best put by Kautsky himself, to whom we should give the last word. In March 1917, immediately after the fall of the tsar, before the political lines of force became clear to outsiders, Kautsky recapitulated his longtime argument that “the new revolutionary regime will be well protected against a counterrevolution, [because] the peasants will join it and remain faithful to it.” He then wondered how long the worker-peasant alliance would remain in force, since “the peasantry’s dependence on the revolution does not mean that they will support a further revolutionary advance of the proletariat.” Therefore, “the peasant is the ‘x’, the unknown variable, in the equation of the Russian Revolution. We are still unable to insert a figure for it. And yet we know that this figure is the crucial one, the decisive one. For this reason, the Russian Revolution can and will spring tremendous surprises on us.”[5]

Kautsky is right on target: the key question for the revolution and indeed for all of Soviet history, the equation that had to be solved, was always the nature of worker-peasant relations. We know now how tragically that history played out.

See also Part 1 of this article: “Before the War: The Bolsheviks Applaud Kautsky’s Tactics“

Related Articles on Kautsky, Lenin, and the Road to Socialism
Why Kautsky Was Right and Why You Should Care, by Eric Blanc, April 2, 1919
Kautsky, Lenin, and the Transition to Socialism: A Reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber, April 6, 2019
The Democratic Road to Socialism: A Reply to Mike Taber, by Eric Blanc, April 11, 2019
Revolutionary Strategy and the Electoral Road, by Mike Taber, April 13, 2019
On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution, by John Riddell, pending
Notes
[1] Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk can be found at https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/hrr/index.htm.

[2] See my series “All Power to the Soviets!,” posted on John Riddell’s blog (see https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/all-power-to-the-soviets-part-1-biography-of-a-slogan/).

[3] Trotsky, Stalinskaia shkola falsifikatsii, 264.

[4] From “The Revolutionary Phrase,” February 1918; see https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/feb/21a.htm (accessed 9 May 2015). I have modified this translation in accordance with the Russian text at Lenin PSS, 39:349-50.

[5] Ben Lewis’s translation of Kautsky’s article of March 1917 can be found at http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/800/supplement-prospects-of-the-russian-revolution/.

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Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution: Part 1
In “Lars T. Lih”
Kautsky, Lenin, and the transition to socialism: A reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber
In “Theory”
Lenin’s strategic continuity: 1905 through 1917 and beyond
In “USSR/Russia”
From → Lars T. Lih, Policies and debates, USSR/Russia, Workers’ government
One Comment

geoff1954 permalink
As in the first part of this article posted previously, there are a number of useful points made above. Yet I do not share its primary conclusions which appear to view the October Revolution as a static event rather than a living process that continued to develop after October 1917.

A full examination of Lars Lih’s argument is well beyond the scope of an initial reaction such as mine today. I will note a few points to indicate my thinking.

Lars concludes, “Our final question is about the Russian revolution and its fate.” Here at least he concedes that the revolution that began in October 1917 did not end there. And neither I would add, did Lenin’s thinking about it, nor the thinking of other Bolsheviks who continued to support the revolution and Soviet power, taking the opposite path from Kautsky. Not for nothing is Lenin’s well known 1918 polemic NOT titled “Proletarian Revolution and the Architect Kautsky.”

Lars then argues, “It was best put by Kautsky himself, to whom we should give the last word.”
Really? Was Kautsky’s analysis truly the last word? Or is it rather the word that Lars agrees with, as opposed to later words offered by Lenin and others? Let’s examine Lars’ thesis a bit further:
“Kautsky recapitulated his longtime argument that ‘the new revolutionary regime will be well protected against a counterrevolution, [because] the peasants will join it and remain faithful to it.’ Note as Lars does that Kautsky wrote this in March 1917 so the regime he is discussing was that of the Provisional Government, not the one established by the October Revolution.

Lares continues regarding Kautsky: “He then wondered how long the worker-peasant alliance would remain in force, since ‘the peasantry’s dependence on the revolution does not mean that they will support a further revolutionary advance of the proletariat.’”

A an absolutely essential question to be sure and one that preoccupied Lenin and the Bolsheviks until the end of Lenin’s life (and then following that, by those who tried to continue Lenin’s course).
Lars then elaborates the question a bit further and, in my view muddles it in a way that Lenin did not:
“Therefore, [now citing Kautsky’s words again] ‘the peasant is the ‘x’, the unknown variable, in the equation of the Russian Revolution. We are still unable to insert a figure for it. And yet we know that this figure is the crucial one, the decisive one. For this reason, the Russian Revolution can and will spring tremendous surprises on us.’”

Was the peasant the unknown variable? Was the peasantry an undifferentiated economic class or was it made up of different elements with political interests that were not always identical? I would argue the political course followed by the Bolsheviks — in the real situation that unfolded that included Civil War and foreign intervention — aimed at sustaining and strengthening the worker-peasant alliance, was the decisive variable. I am not quibbling about semantics here. The key difference is both the nature of the peasantry and the role of a revolutionary party in this process.
As anyone who has read Lenin’s final writings knows, this issue preoccupied him until the very end of his life and he was not hesitant to express his concerns that the party was making important errors that required sharp correction. (I recommend this book to others but Lenin’s writings are all available separate from this collection.)

https://www.amazon.com/Lenins-Final-Fight…/dp/1604880279

Lars appears to discount Lenin’s post-1917 writings (or most of them) for the purposes of this discussion. I find that decision inexplicable. Especially because Lars devotes quite some attention to the issue of the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks advocacy of it and then its dissolution. and he concludes with this:

“Whether for good reasons or bad, Lenin and the Bolsheviks defined themselves after October as the destroyers of political freedom in Russia.”

Really? If we are going to look at what happened “after October” should Lenin not be given at least equal time with Kautsky in any summation or “final word”? Is there no place in Lars’ analysis for Lenin’s arguments in his 1918 polemic with Kautsky mentioned above, including an entire chapter titled, “The Constituent Assembly And The Soviet Republic”?

https://www.marxists.org/…/1918/prrk/soviet_republic.htm

Early in this second article Lars refers to, “two, deep-rooted misconceptions about 1917: first, that a clash between two types of democracy—parliamentary vs soviet—as found in the pages of State and Revolution, had anything to do with the October victory or the politics of the revolutionary year. (State and Revolution was drafted in 1917 but only published in 1918 and it is irrelevant to the events of the previous year.)”

Lenin, who even Lars must admit has at least an equal claim to being the architect of the October Revolution as Kautsky, did not see it quite that way. Read Lenin’s postscript:

“This pamphlet was written in August and September 1917. I had already drawn up the plan for the next, the seventh chapter, ‘The Experience of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917’. Apart from the title, however, I had no time to write a single line of the chapter; I was ‘interrupted’ by a political crisis–the eve of the October revolution of 1917. Such an ‘interruption’ can only be welcomed; but the writing of the second part of this pamphlet (‘The Experience of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917’) will probably have to be put off for a long time. It is more pleasant and useful to go through the ‘experience of revolution’ than to write about it.
The Author
Petrograd
November 30, 1917
——————-
Having gone further through “the experience of revolution” Lenin DID write more on this subject, even if he did not return to the precise title of his unwritten chapter.

By 1918 Lenin was again able to address these issues based on the actual experience of the first successful proletarian revolution, which led him to his polemic with Kautsky.

The attempt to dispense with both this polemic and “State and Revolution,” in a discussion about Kautsky’s place in the history of Bolshevik thinking and analysis of October 1917, is quite mistaken it seems to me.

My “initial reaction” has already gone on far longer than I intended so I will simply stop here and allow Lenin to have the last word:

“Kautsky took an indirect part in this controversy in 1905, when, in reply to an inquiry by the then Menshevik Plekhanov, he expressed an opinion that was essentially against Plekhanov, which provoked particular ridicule in the Bolshevik press at the time. But now Kautsky does not say a single word about the controversies of that time (for fear of being exposed by his own statements!), and thereby makes it utterly impossible for the German reader to understand the essence of the matter. Mr. Kautsky could not tell the German workers in 1918 that in 1905 he had been in favour of an alliance of the workers with the peasants and not with the liberal bourgeoisie, and on what conditions he had advocated this alliance, and what programme he had outlined for it….

“The question which Kautsky has so tangled up was fully explained by the Bolsheviks as far back as 1905. Yes, our revolution is a bourgeois revolution as long as we march with the peasants as a whole. This has been as clear as clear can be to us; we have said it hundreds and thousands of times since 1905, and we have never attempted to skip this necessary stage of the historical process or abolish it by decrees. Kautsky’s efforts to “expose” us on this point merely expose his own confusion of mind and his fear to recall what he wrote in 1905, when he was not yet a renegade.
Beginning with April 1917, however, long before the October Revolution, that is, long before we assumed power, we publicly declared and explained to the people: the revolution cannot now stop at this stage, for the country has marched forward, capitalism has advanced, ruin has reached fantastic dimensions, which (whether one likes it or not) will demand steps forward, to socialism. For there is no other way of advancing, of saving the war-weary country and of alleviating the sufferings of the working and exploited people.

Things have turned out just as we said they would. The course taken by the revolution has confirmed the correctness of our reasoning. First, with the “whole” of the peasants against the monarchy, against the landowners, against medievalism (and to that extent the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then, with the poor peasants, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the rural rich, the kulaks, the profiteers, and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one. To attempt to raise an artificial Chinese Wall between the first and second, to separate them by anything else than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and the degree of its unity with the poor peasants, means to distort Marxism dreadfully, to vulgarise it, to substitute liberalism in its place. It means smuggling in a reactionary defence of the bourgeoisie against the socialist proletariat by means of quasi-scientific references to the progressive character of the bourgeoisie in comparison with medievalism.

“Incidentally, the Soviets represent an immensely higher form and type of democracy just because, by uniting and drawing the mass of workers and peasants into political life, they serve as a most sensitive barometer, the one closest to the ‘people’ (in the sense in which Marx, in 1871, spoke of a real people’s revolution[35]), of the growth and development of the political, class maturity of the people. The Soviet Constitution was not drawn up according to some ‘plan’; it was not drawn up in a study, and was not foisted on the working people by bourgeois lawyers. No, this Constitution grew up in the course of the development of the class struggle in proportion as class antagonisms matured. The very facts which Kautsky himself has to admit prove this.

“At first, the Soviets embraced the peasants as a whole. It was owing to the immaturity, the backwardness, the ignorance of the poor peasants that the leadership passed into the hands of the kulaks, the rich, the capitalists and the petty-bourgeois intellectuals. That was the period of the domination of the petty bourgeoisie, of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries (only fools or renegades like Kautsky can regard either of these as socialists). The petty bourgeoisie inevitably and unavoidably vacillated between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (Kerensky, Kornilov, Savinkov) and the dictatorship of the proletariat; for owing to the basic features of its economic position, the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of doing anything independently. Kautsky, by the way, completely renounces Marxism by confining himself in his analysis of the Russian revolution to the legal and formal concept of ‘democracy’, which serves the bourgeoisie as a screen to conceal their domination and as a means of deceiving the people, and by forgetting that in practice ‘democracy’ sometimes stands for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, sometimes for the impotent reformism of the petty bourgeoisie who submit to that dictatorship, and so on.”

From the chapter in the 1918 polemic titled, “Subservience To The Bourgeoisie In The Guise of ‘Economic Analysis’”

Reply
https://johnriddell.com/2019/07/05/karl-kautsky-as-architect-of-the-october-revolution-part-2/
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On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution-By John Riddel

Posted by admin On July - 13 - 2019 Comments Off on On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution-By John Riddel

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John Riddell in the 1970s

Under the headline “Karl Kautsky was right,” Eric Blanc wrote on the blog on April 5:

Leninists for decades have hinged their strategy on the need for an insurrection to overthrow the entire parliamentary state and to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils.[1]

When I read these words, my mind went back to a day 40 years earlier when this formulation was hurled at me by members of Canada’s security police.  They used it as justification for their illegal disruption and harassment directed against me and fellow members of the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL).

To be sure, Eric Blanc is a firm defender of the legality and legitimacy of socialist groups, including those that who draw inspiration from the 1917 Russian revolution and the writings of V.I. Lenin. He will also be the first to agree that the hundreds of political groups worldwide that draw inspiration from Lenin represent a broad gamut of political strategies, including a great many that accept his thesis as a preference that, were it possible, “the path to anticapitalist rupture in conditions of political democracy [passes] through the election of a workers’ party to government.”

This text continues a discussion on this blog initiated by Eric Blanc, which also included contributions by Mike Taber and Lars Lih. See list of articles below.

However, the charge of a “strategy of insurrection” has a life of its own. It lies very close to the standard accusation of seditious intent made by rightist security police around the world against socialist movements. This charge arouses concern among many working people who rightly prize democratic and electoral rights. Clarity is all the more important given that some twentieth-century socialist revolutions in Russia and elsewhere brought to power Stalinist regimes hostile to workers’ democracy and sometimes murderously repressive toward dissidents, real or imagined.

Replying to Eric Blanc, Mike Taber has convincingly challenged the concept that Lenin ever advanced such an “insurrectionist strategy.” Lars Lih has demonstrated that no such notion is found in Bolshevik policy in 1917. We are left, however, with the question of how to respond to such charges, whether raised by pro-capitalist forces or, on occasion, by anti-Leninist currents in the labour movement.

With that in mind, let us return to my exchange with police spokespersons in an Ontario Commission of Inquiry forty years ago.

A Campaign of Police Disruption
Canada’s security police have a long record of repressive actions against working-class and left-wing political activists, people of colour, Quebec nationalists, Indigenous peoples, and homosexuals. Victims of this harassment have been fired, blacklisted, jailed and deported; their organizations have been banned. During the rise of radical movements in the 1960s and 1970s, such police disruption was escalated, particularly in Quebec. Many police actions were blatantly illegal. In October 1970, the federal government went so far as to invoke Canada’s War Measures Act, under which civil liberties were suspended and 465 left activists in Quebec were arbitrarily jailed.

This repression aroused strong protests, including from the organization to which I then belonged, the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL). In 1978 the RWL itemized a wide range of the known secret police operations against our members in a long out-of-print book by Richard Fidler, RCMP: The Real Subversives. Richard has published two major excerpts from this book online. The first, his introduction to the volume, is accompanied by an account of a particularly brazen case of RCMP theft during that period. The second is a 30-page submission that Richard drafted for the RWL submission to a government inquiry into RCMP misdeeds.

I was among the targets of this illegal harassment. In 1972, after I became Executive Secretary of a predecessor of the RWL, the League for Socialist Action (LSA), the RCMP provided LSA members with a series of anonymous letters seeking to discredit me and secure my removal from office. One of the charges against me was that I had once sought psychiatric help. LSA members shrugged off the letters as an obvious police operation, and that was that.[2]
Horace Krever

Six years later, however, the incident came to the attention of an Ontario government inquiry looking into quite another matter, the confidentiality of health information submitted to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. Learning of the 1972 poison-pen campaign against me, the inquiry’s head, Justice Horace Krever, summoned me and the responsible RCMP officers for questioning at a hearing on March 9, 1979. The police perpetrators, Stanley Chisholm and Ronald Yaworski, claimed the medical information had not come from the health insurance agency, at least, not directly. Of more interest, however, was how they explained their motivation in attacking me.

On the Witness Stand
The RCMP officers told Justice Krever that I had been targeted because I was known to be violence prone. They did not say that I had ever committed an act of violence or uttered a threat or raised my voice in anger. Instead, they claimed an ability to predict my future behaviour based on my political beliefs. They noted my allegiance to the example of the establishment of Soviet power in Russia in 1917 and also my membership in the Fourth International, which, they stated, was dedicated to “violent overthrow of the existing government.” The Fourth International was founded in 1938 by Leon Trotsky, a central organizer of the allegedly subversive October 1917 revolution in Russia.

When I took the stand, I flatly denied the charge of seditious intent. Unconvinced, Justice Krever then led me through an extensive discussion of the four socialist Internationals and the Russian revolution, which he claimed to find very enlightening.[3] Even so, in the three-volume report of his commission, Krever stated without explanation that my disavowal of seditious intent was not “objective or even valid.” Nonetheless, he warned sternly that the RCMP has become “a law unto itself.” Its security services, he proposed, should be separated off from the federal police. This was in fact done in 1984.[4]

Public outcry against the crimes of the RCMP security service forced the new agency in this field, the Canadian Security Information Service, to be more circumspect in disruptive activity. In recent years, the security service has grown bolder and its powers have been augmented. See Richard Fidler, “Trudeau Government Gives Dangerous New Powers to Canada’s Political Cops.”

Although I had testified with only a few hours warning and without preparation, I knew well enough what to say. Learning how to respond to charges of sedition was a staple of basic RWL education.

I drew on the RWL’s 30-page brief to the federal government’s whimsically named “Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP,” and headed by Judge D.M. McDonald. The brief, included in Richard Fidler’s The Real Subversives (Toronto: Vanguard Publications, 1978), has been republished in his blog, Life on the Left.

‘An Assault on the Rights of All’

Richard Fidler, 1978

The RWL brief to the McDonald Commission, drafted by Fidler, itemized the RCMP’s crimes against the League’s members: raids on their homes, seizures of documents, threats, bullying of relatives, visits to employers to get them fired, slanders, break-ins, inclusion in government blacklists. Victims of such actions included “political parties, Quebecois nationalists, trade unionists, farmers organizations, Native activists, and others” – in short, “an assault on the rights of all Canadians and Quebecois.”

As for the RWL, the brief pointed out that on a broad range of social issues “our views are shared by many, if not most, Canadians and Quebecois…. However, on the question of socialism we are in a minority. We seek to win a majority to our point of view” through activities such as meetings, publications, running candidates in elections, and participation in trade unions and social movements. “None of these activities is illegal or undemocratic.”

Moreover, the security police are “utilizing a sweeping definition of ‘subversion’ so broad that it could encompass any organization or individual holding dissident opinions.” Their working definitions of subversion refer to “any threat … to the stability of society” even if expressed through legal advocacy.

“That is why we say it is not us but the RCMP – and its ‘political masters’ in the government – who are the real subversives in this country.”

‘We Can Win Over the Majority’
In giving my testimony, I also took as a model the testimony of James P. Cannon, a leader of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP), at his trial for sedition in 1941. A pioneer U.S. Communist leader, Cannon had worked closely with Trotsky, Zinoviev, and other Communist leaders in the 1920s and 1930s, His testimony is published in Socialism on Trial, available at Marxists Internet Archive.
James P. Cannon

Cannon’s testimony begins with the concept of social revolution as a “radical transformation of the underlying economic structure of society, the property basis of society.” This becomes possible when the ruling class of society is no longer able to solve its problems and has to a large degree lost confidence in itself. “The misery and desperation of the masses must have increased to the point where they desire at all costs a radical change.” They share “a tremendous sentiment … for socialist ideas and for socialist revolution.” Also necessary is “a workers’ party that is capable of leading and organizing the movement of workers in a resolute fashion for a revolutionary solution of the crisis.”

 

So long as workers hold democratic rights, Cannon states, his socialist party will “exhaust all the possibilities for a peaceful transformation” of society “to the very end.” Revolutionary socialists will contest elections with the purpose of getting elected and opening up the debate on socialism in parliament or congress. “We have every reason to be confident that we can win over the majority of the people to our program,” Cannon says.

If democratic processes are maintained and not disrupted by fascist actions by the government, Cannon states, socialism “can secure a victory by the democratic process,” even to the point of legislating the ensuing transformation through constitutional amendments. U.S. constitutional protection of private property rights must be changed, but the “Bill of Rights” should be upheld as a foundation for a qualitative expansion of democracy.

In all probability, however, “the [capitalist] minority will not allow such a peaceful transformation.” History shows that no privileged class leaves the scene “without trying to impose its will on the majority by force.”

Cannon projects two methods of heading off such minority violence. “First, we are going to try to assert our rights… to get the support of enough people, whether they agree with our political theory or not, to maintain the democratic processes and civil rights.” Further, if fascist bands threaten to break up the labor movement, “we are going to advise the workers, before it is too late, to organize workers’ defense guards and not permit the fascist hoodlums to break up workers’ organizations and meetings.”

Cannon invokes the example of President Abraham Lincoln when faced with a pro-slavery rebellion by “a good section of the American army and its best officers” in 1861. “Lincoln took what he could and recruited some more and gave them a fight, and I always thought it was a wonderfully good idea.”

Elections and Social Movements
The electoral path to a workers’ government sketched out by Cannon expresses revolutionary socialists’ preference but does not reflect the usual course of struggles for social change. The very fact that he and 17 comrades – SWP members and unionists – were tried and ultimately jailed for socialist advocacy shows that defenders of capitalism do not wait until socialism nears majority support before assailing socialists and the workers’ movement with repression.

All experience shows that the electoral process under capitalism is constrained by the surrounding institutions of the capitalist state and economy, which prevent elected governments, under most conditions, from initiating radical social change.

Movements for social change usually run far ahead of the electoral process or bypass it entirely. For example, the great mass movement in the U.S. for Afro-American human rights in the 1950s and 1960s gained ground through a campaign of non-violent mass action that defied existing segregationist laws and endured fierce and brutal police repression and rightist violence. Dozens of activists for Black freedom were murdered before their movement won significant legislative support.

In a similar way, the movement for abortion rights in Canada mobilized in the streets in the face of a campaign of widespread rightist violence that killed ten supporters of abortion rights in the U.S. and attacked many others in Canada. The movement in Canada openly defied existing prohibitions, winning mass support to the degree that the reactionary law against on a woman’s right to choose became unenforceable. Only at that point did parliament take action, repealing the reactionary law.

Great social movements redefine legality and human rights, setting in motion a process of change that becomes irresistible. Socialists utilize electoral opportunities while recognizing that they are far from the whole story.

A workers’ government committed to socialism will probably be achieved as the democratic ratification of a program that has already gained majority support through discussion and mobilization among the population at large.

Criticisms of Cannon’s Testimony
Some members of the Fourth International, of which Cannon was a leader, criticized his testimony for having focused on democratic and defensive formulations rather than stating boldly socialists’ intentions of launching an insurrection to overturn the bourgeois government and smash its state. Grandizo Munis, a Spanish member of the International then living in Mexico, wrote a discussion article along these lines, claiming that Cannon and his fellow defendants had bent to the pressure of the bourgeois court.

The U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) published the critique by Munis together with a response by Cannon.[5] Cannon’s reply, appended to the online version of What Is Socialism, defended his testimony on the establishment of Soviet rule in Russia, backing this up with an impressively broad array of quotations from Lenin and Trotsky. Cannon’s interpretation is also a close match for the view more recently expounded by Lars Lih on the basis of historical research (see Lars Lih, Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution).

Another part of Cannon’s reply, Defensive Formulations and the Organization of Action, considers the method of his testimony: presenting socialist revolution as a democratic process that must defend itself against minority violence. This “defensive” approach is not a lawyer’s ploy to impress a jury, Cannon explains. “Defensive formulations” correspond to the logic and dynamics of working-class struggle and of great mass progressive movements. Those who attribute an “insurrectional strategy” to revolutionary socialism do not merely misread the October 1917 overturn; they misunderstand the logic of working-class struggle.

Related Articles on the Road to Socialism
Why Kautsky Was Right and Why You Should Care, by Eric Blanc, April 2, 1919
Kautsky, Lenin, and the Transition to Socialism: A Reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber, April 6, 2019
The Democratic Road to Socialism: A Reply to Mike Taber, by Eric Blanc, April 11, 2019
Revolutionary Strategy and the Electoral Road, by Mike Taber, April 13, 2019
Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution, by Lars Lih, July 4, 2019
Defensive Formulations and the Organization of Action, by James P. Cannon
Notes
[1]. With regard to “workers’ councils,” it should be noted that the councils that took power during the Russian revolution embraced workers and soldiers, and that the huge masses of soldiers represented land-holding peasants as well as a great many self-employed toilers.

[2]. Many years later, I made application to the RCMP for a copy of their file on me. More than a year later, I received three boxes containing more than 2,000 pages. They consisted mostly of notations that text or entire pages had been removed, through what must have been an infinite labour of word-by-word obliteration and re-copying. Among the removed material were the RCMP poison-pen letters. But they had long been publicly available in the report of the Krever Commission.

[3]. Krever also took evidence at much greater length from Ross Dowson, who had drawn the Commission’s attention to the poison-pen letters against me. For a transcript of Dowson’s testimony, see Ross Dowson v. RCMP.

During the hearing, Yaworsky and Chisholm of the RCMP testified that the information contained in the poison-pen letters against me was fabricated and untrue, making them criminally liable to a charge of libel.

Dowson and his lawyer, Harry Kopyto, subsequently pursued this angle with great tenacity. They initiated a campaign demanding that the RCMP officers be charged and, when that was refused, pressing charges on their own. I joined Ross and Harry in some of these initiatives.

[4]. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Confidentiality of Health Information, Commissioner the Hon. Mr. Justice Horace Krever, 1988, vol. 2, pp. 38-48.

[5]. James P. Cannon, Socialism on Trial (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1942) is available in an expanded edition from Pathfinder Press and is also online. The article by Grandizo Munis is included in the print edition and in Part 4 of the online version.

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Kautsky, Lenin, and the transition to socialism: A reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber
In “Theory”
Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution: Part 1
In “Lars T. Lih”
Revolutionary strategy and the electoral road
In “Policies and debates”
From → USSR/Russia, Workers’ government
One Comment

geoff1954 permalink
I agree with much of the thrust of John Riddell’s contribution to this discussion, which began with the article by Eric Blanc titled, “Why Kautsky was right (and why you should care).”

John’s follow-up post, sharing James P. Cannon’s insightful review of the use of “defensive formulations” is essential. Cannon wrote not only as a “theorist” but as a revolutionary leader with real experience helping to lead workers in open struggle against the employers and their government who then faced arrest, trial and imprisonment for his views and actions.

Cannon concludes with a reference to the experience of the Russian Revolution. I would draw that out even further in order to make a point as clearly as it can be made to Eric Blanc and others who share his view. The October 1917 Revolution that replaced the rule of the Provisional Government, which came to power as a result of the February Revolution, was a defensive action.

The October insurrection that brought the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers Deputies to power was required and was possible precisely because Lenin’s Bolshevik Party had won the majority to the conclusion that the only way to defend the Russian Revolution was for the soviets to take the power.

One need not re-read all of Trotsky’s three-volume “History of the Russian Revolution” to grasp this central point. A simple review of the table of contents with its list of chapter titles offers clear clues.

https://www.marxists.org/ebooks/trotsky/history-of-the-russian-revolution/ebook-history-of-the-russian-revolution-v1.pdf

Volume One is titled, “The Overthrow of Tzarism.” Suffice it to say for the purposes of this discussion, that overthrow was not the result of any parliamentary election. Elections — of a different type — were a consequence of the overthrow of the Tsar. In the wake of the overthrow, the 1917 revolution recreated — and expanded — the councils of workers that first appeared in Russia’s 1905 revolution (now including soldiers — largely peasants in uniform) and elected representative of the various worker and peasant parties to them.

Volume Two is titled, “The Attempted Counter-Revolution.” It begins with a chapter on the “July Days” of 1917 and — of particular interest — includes a chapter titled, “Kerensky’s Plot,” followed immediately by another titled, “Kornilov’s Insurrection.”

Volume Three is titled, “The Triumph of the Soviets.” There we find chapters entitled, “Lenin Summons to Insurrection,” “The Art of Insurrection,” “The Conquest of the Capital,” “The October Insurrection,” etc.

The deadly threat of counterrevolution posed by the forces represented by Kornilov as well as the machinations of the Provisional Government led by Kerensky in response to that threat, ultimately had to be countered by the October action that replaced the Provisional Government with a government of the soviets of workers and soldiers. As Mike Taber has already explained well in his response to Eric Blanc, this action and the subsequent actions taken by the soviet government were anything BUT “undemocratic.”

I do take issue with one element of John Riddell’s article. He refers to:

“The electoral path to a workers’ government sketched out by Cannon expresses revolutionary socialists’ preference but does not reflect the usual course of struggles for social change.”

I don’t think this accurately captures the political perspective Cannon defended in both his trial testimony or his defense of the SWP’s course at the trial, that is excerpted in John’s follow-up post titled, “James P. Cannon on Defensive Formulations and the Organization of Action.”

One reason I consider this important is because John’s words do not answer as forthrightly as I had hoped to see, the basic political line put forward in Eric Blanc’s original article and — equally important — the practical political perspective Eric is putting forth every day in his determined support for Bernie Sanders campaign for U.S. president in the 2020 elections.

In summarizing Jim Cannon’s views I would cite, as he did in his original court testimony, this unequivocal sentence from what was known then as the SWP’s “Declaration of Principles”:

“The belief that in such a country as the United States we live in a free democratic society in which fundamental economic change can be effected by persuasion, by education, by legal and purely parliamentary method, is an illusion.”

The heart of the debate with Eric Blanc and those who share his views is not — as Eric claims — the lack of validity, “in such a country as the Unite States,” of Lenin’s alleged “insurrectionary strategy.” That term does not summarize Lenin’s political strategy. Rather it is the long standing debate over whether there is a “parliamentary” or “electoral” “road to socialism.”

Jim Cannon — because he learned from Lenin — defended the value of revolutionary socialists and the working class participating in capitalist elections (or as in Russia, in some elections in a historical period even before the capitalist class held political power). But he never believed or acted as if a workers and farmers government could truly come to power that way. He may not have completely precluded such an unlikely possibility, but he made clear it was an illusion.

Cannon returned to this issue in his trial testimony:

Q: What would you say is the opinion of Marxists as far as the desirability of a peaceful transition is concerned?

A: The position of the Marxists is that the most economical and preferable, the most desirable method of social transformation, by all means, is to have it done peacefully.

Q: And in the opinion of the Marxists, is that absolutely excluded?

A: Well, I wouldn’t say absolutely excluded. We say that the lessons of history don’t show any important examples in favor of the idea so that you can count upon it.

He is then asked to clarify his views further:

Q: Explain the sentence that I read from page 6 of the Declaration of Principles, Government’s Exhibit 1:

“The belief that in such a country as the United States we live in a free democratic society in which fundamental economic change can be effected by persuasion, by education, by legal and purely parliamentary method, is an illusion.”

A: That goes back to what I said before, that we consider it an illusion for the workers to think that the ruling-class violence will not be invoked against them in the course of their efforts to organise the majority of the people.

Cannon enunciated clearly two central ideas that have stood the test of all anti-capitalist revolutions up until today.

1) A workers and farmers government can only be brought to power in the U.S. based on winning majority support of the working people; a majority that includes not only a decisive majority of the working class but significant sections of the middle classes as well.

2) As much as the working class movement would ALWAYS prefer to minimize violence, we will face violence from the capitalist class which will always claim that legal means — as defined by the capitalist class and its government — are being violated by the oppressed.

I should also add that whatever the political weaknesses in Kautsky’s theory and practice later in his life (not the subject of this contribution) even he subscribed to these two ideas, at least in words.

Reply
https://johnriddell.com/2019/07/09/on-the-democratic-character-of-socialist-revolution/
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An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part II)-Nathan Moore

Posted by admin On July - 10 - 2019 Comments Off on An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part II)-Nathan Moore

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PART II – Trotsky’s Marxism and the test of events, 1931-1935
1. The Republican-Socialist coalition government, 1931-1933
2. Prelude to Revolution and Civil War – the rise of the right and the Asturian insurrection, 1934
3. The pace of revolution and its dangers: Spain 1931 and Russia 1917
4. Repression, political realignments, and the “Popular Front”, 1935
5. The failure to build a revolutionary party Spain, 1930-1935
a. Political tensions and breaks between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky
i. Establishing a solid political operation
ii. Independence vis-à-vis the PCE
iii. Entry into the PSOE or fusion with BOC?
b. Looking at factors outside the time and space of 1930-35 Spain
6. The struggle for self-determination in Spain, 1931-1936
a. Morocco, Cataluña, and The Basque region
b. Cataluña
c. The Basque region
7. Trotsky’s analysis of pre-revolutionary Spain: an assessment

1. The Republican-Socialist Coalition Government, 1931-1933

With the establishment of the Republican-Socialist cabinet following the April municipal elections and the June elections to the Cortes, a number of modest reforms were passed to secularize Spain and ameliorate dire living conditions in the countryside. Socialist cabinet ministers had passed a number of decrees to help, albeit in a very limited way, tenant farmers and agricultural workers. A decree of “municipal boundaries” (términos municipales) was passed, which mandated that landowners could contract labor from another municipality only on the condition that all laborers within the landowners’ municipality were already employed. A law was passed to protect tenant farmers from unjust eviction – failure to pay rent being the only grounds for eviction. Furthermore, tenant farmers could petition the courts to get reductions on rents. Mixed juries (jurados mixtos) were inaugurated to settle rural labor disputes. On July 1st, an edict was passed proclaiming the 8-hour day in the countryside, and overtime pay for work performed over eight hours.1 The Socialists, during their party congress on July 10th, endorsed a number of reforms before the Constituent Cortes, namely: separation of church and state, civil rights, divorce, agrarian reforms, secular education and the nationalization of railways, mines, and forests.2 Another important Socialist reform that would be included in article 44 of the Constitution was the ability of property to be expropriated for the purpose of “social utility.”3
Even if this legislation appeared radical to some, the constitution passed on December 9th, 1931 epitomized the substantive limitations of capitalist democracy. The document included the following: compulsory military service (similar to that under the monarchy); powers to suspend constitutional rights under “threats” to the Republic (for example, “denigration of public institutions,” actions provoking the “flight of capital”, illicit possession of arms, and “unreasonable refusal to work”); revoking the right to assembly for “threats to the public order”; compulsory arbitration for labor disputes; and limiting the voting age to 23 (in a country where leading militants were as young as sixteen years old).4
The economic downturn hit industry (particularly the mining sector) and agriculture hard. Competition from British coal imports depressed the market for Spanish coal. Mine owners in Asturias had responded by closing mines, reducing hours, and ignoring workers’ demands for the 7-hour day. 5 On September 9th, 1931 a modest agrarian reform bill was passed which included small wage increases for agricultural workers. In the context of an economic downturn and reduced profits, increased wages essentially meant direct redistribution of wealth to the poor. The far-right mobilized to oppose it, claiming that “high” rural wages would bankrupt them. The truth was agricultural families lived on a starvation wage that did not allow many to introduce meat into their diets. The landowners declared an economic war on laborers, conducting rural lockouts and refusing to hire workers and withholding wages for work already performed. The latifundistas, backed by the political right, also refused any concessions to tenant farmers who lived in virtual enslavement and were threatened with eviction. These forms of economic sabotage on behalf of the landowners popularized the idea among laborers and tenant farmers organized in the FNTT (the UGT affiliate and main organizer of the agricultural workers) that “if they won’t produce we should take the land and run it collectively.”6
The substance of this reform paled in comparison to what Trotsky and the OCE argued was necessary. They understood that the dismal state of industry and agriculture, in the midst of plenty for the wealthy, required the implementation of radical reforms as the only solution to the crisis. Trotsky and the OCE argued that Spanish industry was unable to keep up with foreign competition, prompting protectionist measures to safeguard markets for Spanish goods. As Spanish protectionism provoked British and French retaliation on Spanish agricultural exports, the cyclical downturn of the economy could only be solved through the state monopoly of trade.7 As for agriculture, there needed to be a radical redistribution of land to the peasantry. In this connection, the demands regarding church were: confiscation of all church wealth; dissolution of all orders; prohibition of religious teachers in schools; Church funds to be redirected to aid peasantry and confiscation and redistribution of land to the peasantry.8 Concerning the reform of the military, Trotsky and the OCE demanded the elimination of the officer corps and elections of officers by the common soldier.9
Republicans did little to curb the excesses of the Church. The Republicans were so tied to landowners’ wealth; the landowners, in turn, were economically and ideologically bound to Church. Accordingly, the Republicans proposed only to disrupt church groups if they were considered detrimental to Spanish nation. The Jesuit order, a group which had amassed incredible wealth, was eventually disbanded in 1932. However, the Jesuits avoided the confiscation of their wealth, funneling their riches into the coffers of other religious orders. Although state funding for the Church had officially ended, state subvention of Catholic schools continued. With respect to reforming the military, the Republicans offered officers an early retirement with pay. Although this led to the exodus of 7,000 officers, the aristocratic milieu within the army remained intact.10
While the Republicans and Socialists deliberated over petty reform in the Cortes, a generalized strike wave continued throughout Spain. Trotsky wrote in April, 1931 about the role of strikes in advancing the gains of the revolution:
“The revolution awakens – and in this lies its force – the most backward, downtrodden, the most oppressed toiling masses. The strike is the form of their awakening. By means of the strike, various strata and groups of the proletariat announce themselves, signal to one another, verify their own strength and the strength of their foe. One layer awakens and infects another…. Only through these strikes, with all their mistakes, with all their ‘excesses’ and ‘exaggerations’, does the proletariat rise to its feet, assemble itself as a unit, begin to feel and conceive of itself as a class, as a living historical force. Never have revolutions developed under a conductor’s stick. Excesses, mistakes, and sacrifices are the very nature of any revolution.”11
The strike wave of 1931-1932 was formidable in its magnitude and geographical scope12 These years matched 1930 in militancy and struggle; the critical difference was that the Republicans and Socialists were now in power. If the Republicans and Socialists did not deliver on their promises of social reform, the masses would look for another way forward. The far-right (conservative, monarchist, and increasingly fascist) in Spain, caught unawares by the swift Republican-Socialist victory at the polls in April and June, was quick to regroup. Acción Popular, the organization of the far-right headed by Gil Robles, was poised to obstruct any attempt to introduce sweeping social reform in the countryside and of the Church.13
As Trotsky predicted, the Socialists acted as the velvet glove covering the Republican fist. In all of the strike actions throughout 1931 and 1932, the PSOE and UGT bureaucracy discouraged strike actions, sought to bring these struggles out of their control to a swift end, or even explicitly supported government repression of these actions. Likewise, as Trotsky anticipated, the increased militancy of the rank-and-file within the UGT resulted from their increased expectations for winning reforms; after all, workers now had Socialist representation in the government. Trifón Gómez, a right-wing Socialist and leader of the railwaymen’s union within the UGT summed up the sentiment of the rank n’ file this way:
“If there were not three Socialist ministers in the government, the concessions would have been received by the workers with applause and gratitude. However, since there are Socialist ministers, they think the railways should be handed over to them lock, stock, and barrel.”14
For the Republicans, the whole purpose of having the Socialists in the coalition was to dampen militancy. Azaña, the Republican prime minister, would write in his diary: “if the presence of three Socialist ministers in the government cannot prevent the strike, what use is it?”15
Throughout 1931, the Socialists and the UGT trade-union bureaucracy advocated winning reform through the government bodies i.e. the Cortes, believing that strike action would only do the disservice of antagonizing the right wing. When strikes broke out, they were often led by the anarchist CNT and FAI unions (and much less often by the Communist Party) although they frequently had the sympathy of the UGT rank-and-file. The PSOE and the UGT bureaucracy’s endorsement of the Republican crack-down on these struggles fomented political division and distrust between the UGT and anarchist unions, and did nothing to appease the right-wing. On the contrary, Acción Popular was emboldened and strengthened by the repression of the left.16
Despite the UGT’s attempts to divert the struggle throughout these years, their unions witnessed incredible growth. Beginning at a membership of approximately 287,000, it is estimated that, per week, between four and five thousand workers were joining the UGT and between two and three thousand agricultural workers were joining the FNTT.17 By 1934, the UGT and FNTT together boasted a membership of approximately 1.2 million – or 500% growth in the span of three years. The FNTT alone grew from 36,000 to 400,000 from 1930 to 1932.18 The CNT-FAI grew from 500,000 to 1.2 million between 1931 and 1932.19 This was consistent with Trotsky’s perspective that the masses, in revolution, would flood into reformist organizations and parties first, before joining any revolutionary party.
Trotsky anticipated that increased struggle would force the rank-and-file workers to politically break from their leadership. In the mining region of Asturias the Sindicato Minero Asturiano (SMA), a UGT affiliated union, consistently defied the UGT bureaucracy, led most of the miners and performed many united actions with the CNT and PCE-led unions. In another case, the UGT railway union voted to organize itself in an independent union because of the UGT failure to address worker grievances adequately.20 Furthermore, the FNTT was compelled to take actions in the countryside independent of the position of the UGT leadership.
By 1932, the PSOE leadership was aware and concerned that their moderate posture threatened their credibility among the membership. In February 1932, a UGT national committee meeting was held where representatives expressed concern about not delivering enough on reform and questioning the effectiveness of a coalition with the Republicans.21 UGT representatives recognized that government repression of strike action was demoralizing the PSOE and UGT base. What they had refused to acknowledge was that the real battle for winning reform, lie not within the Cortes, but implementing that reform in society at the grassroots level.
The two-year period of struggle of 1931-1932 culminated the libertarian uprising of Casas Viejas (Cádiz). During the month of January in 1933, the FAI led an uprising that spread from Cataluña, Zaragoza, Seville, Madrid, all the way to Casas Viejas. In Casas Viejas, the FAI declared a libertarian commune and the Civil Guard repressed the uprising Guard killing 12 people.
The massacre put in bold relief the lengths to which the Republicans would go to repress the very people who had elected them. It also expressed Socialist prostration and duplicity. The PSOE, which many regarded as the political leader of the working class, came out publicly against the uprising. Casas Viejas emboldened the far-right which lumped socialists, anarchists, and communists into one group that threatened the existence of private property and the Church. Acción Popular had opportunistically utilized the incidents in Casas Viejas to portray the Republicans and Socialists as incapable stable government as well as enemies of the peasant.22
2. Prelude to revolution and Civil War: the rise of the right and the Asturian insurrection, 1934

By the end of 1933, the PSOE was on the political defensive after having opposed workers’ struggle for more than two years. Acción Popular grew as result, forming a coalition of right-wing groups – CEDA. This coalition won increasing votes in the April municipal elections in 193323 and obtained the largest representation of any other political group or coalition in the elections to the Cortes held in November. The results of the Cortes elections on November 19th, 1933 were as follows: CEDA – 115 seats, Radicals – 104 seats, the Republicans – 99 seats, the Socialists – 58 seats. Clearly, the PSOE’s dampening of struggle did nothing to appease the right-wing and win reform; on the contrary, it strengthened the right and weakened the left. Nevertheless, the election results did not represent a decisive political shift to the right among the Spanish populace – the right-wing never won more than 40% of the vote in any one location and the abstention rate was very high, and was attributed mainly to anarchist abstention in the election.24
In response to the radicalization of the rank-and-file workers and peasants, and the growing momentum of the right, the PSOE began to reevaluate its role in the Republican coalition. Largo Caballero, the Minister of Labor of the Republic, became the most prominent spokesperson of a more salient left-wing within the PSOE and UGT. 25 Indalecio Prieto represented the more moderate wing and controlled the party and union bureaucracy. Having learned nothing from the previous two years, Prieto continued to advocate a reformist and gradualist strategy to socialism.
By mid 1933 Caballero began to denounce right-wing obstruction of reform, warn about the threat of fascism, and the need to take new revolutionary measures. He had concluded that establishing a coalition with the Republicans was a mistake and the reason for the growth of the far-right. The increase of the fascist right alarmed Caballero and he warned that if the government did not put a stop to fascism in Spain, the working class would have to create its own organizations for doing so.26 Caballero, on July 23rd, had called fascism “the bourgeoisie’s last resort at a time of capitalist crisis” and, in a speech to the Socialist youth, argued that capitalism was too inflexible to accept progressive social reform and, therefore, a transition to socialism was necessary.27 Luis Araquistáin (another left Socialist leader), told the Socialist Youth that the passivity of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the reason for fascism succeeding in Germany.28 After Republican Martinez Barrio had formed an exclusively Republican cabinet on October 8th, and called elections to the Cortes for November 19th, Caballero declared in a campaign speech that “if Socialist progress were made impossible… the Socialists would have to abandon bourgeois democracy and proceed to a revolutionary seizure of power.”29
Although CEDA had won more voters than any other political party or coalition, the Radicals and other Republicans did not want to risk the potential backlash of letting the far right assume leadership positions in the cabinet. Parallel to this, Gil Robles, cautiously following the example of Hitler, did not want to overreach politically but rather ensure the consolidation of his base and assume power peacefully.
In response to the election results, the PSOE left-wing became more vocal through 1934. They had witnessed the fascist takeovers in Germany and Austria and saw the fascist right in their own country gain considerable electoral ground within CEDA. In the event that the far-right entered the government, Caballero had advocated the building of a revolutionary organization and fighting for the revolutionary seizure of power.30 However, Caballero did not follow through organizationally on his threats. Radicals from the BOC approached Caballero and proposed forming “worker alliances” (Alianzas Obreras), organizations that could unite left political forces for the purpose of combating fascism and fighting for socialism. Although Caballero participated in meetings to discuss their formation, he was ultimately dismissive and did not contribute to building them.31 Also, the anarchists, true to their anti-political inclinations, opposed these bodies on the grounds that they involved parties.32 Instead, throughout 1934, the PSOE left-wing leadership sat passively by while important struggles were left to be repressed.
The first struggle that the PSOE ignored was a general strike in Saragosa of April-May 1934 which lasted 36 days. The second struggle was an FNTT called strike on June 5th to protest landowners withholding wages from agricultural workers in the southern provinces. The PSOE denounced the strike, leading to government suppression and the imprisonment of 500 militants in Badajoz and four killed at the hands of the Civil Guard in Fuente del Maestre.33 The PSOE could have called for industrial action in solidarity with their FNTT comrades, but neglected to do so.
The third, and by far the most radical movement which foreshadowed the social revolution and Civil War to come, was the Asturias uprising in October of 1934. On October 4th, the Radical Party Prime Minister Alejandro Lerroux announced the ascension of three CEDA ministers to cabinet posts. In response, the Asturian miners led an uprising, taking over the mining region in northern Spain.
As previously noted, militancy among the Asturian miners was quite high throughout the first years of the Republic. The dominant union in Asturias was the UGT affiliate, the SMA. Others were the anarchist Sindicato Único (SU) and the Communist breakaway from the latter, the Sindicato Único de los Mineros Asturianos (SUMA). The position of the SMA leadership was very moderate. The union daily Avance stated in August 1932:
“By respecting the existing work norms we will create a system of civility and mutual understanding and limit social conflict to that natural area defined by the logical antagonism of interests. It should not be a war between slavers and Africans, a struggle between slaves and tyrants, but simply the disagreement between the worker who aspires to a more humane and better life and the employer who understandably desires to obtain a reasonable return on his investment. From a struggle imbued with this spirit it is always easy to reach an understanding which harms the interests of neither party. This is how we understand the class struggle and this is how we will practice it.”34
The rank-and-file did not heed this message of conciliation. In August 1932, a strike was called to protest the imposition of the four-day week.35 Following an agreement between owners and miners, strike activity resumed on a number of occasions because mine owners did not respect the promised agreement. Ultimately miners struck in mid-November. The strike lasted six days and involved 50,000 miners. The government was forced to agree to miners’ demands: control of iron imports, tariff protection, and state acquisition of coal.36
In January 1933 another strike was called which lasted from February 6th to March 4th. Miners protested the owners raising coal prices, lowering wages, and firing miners. The government responded to miners demands; they reviewed the mine owners’ bookkeeping and owners agreed to retirement fund contributions. Nevertheless, the owners discontinued contributions to retirement in September 1933 provoking a general strike – the first national miners’ strike in Spanish history – which ended in a victory.37
Compared to the SMA, the CNT-led SU had a small following, and the PCE led SUMA even smaller. Their strikes only mobilized a small section of the mining population and often resorted to ultra-militant tactics of dynamiting mines and armed confrontations with police. This did not attract the radicalizing miners. Herein explains the paradox: the militancy of the miners did not lead to their split from the SMA. Even when there was open disagreement with the policy of the leadership, this union remained the predominant leader among the miners.38
The election of the CEDA pushed the miners even further to the left. Out of a total of thirty-two strikes in the first nine months, eight were explicitly political (and three of these eight were general strikes). The Socialist Youth played a leading role among the miners, and were more militant relative to their leadership. 39
The Asturian insurrection, which began on October 4th with CEDA’s entrance into key government positions, was planned as part of a broader uprising throughout Spain in order to kick the CEDA right out of the government. The movement lasted a total of two weeks. Miners took control of the coalfields, disarming the Civil Guard and even repelling military personnel sent by the Republican government. After some considerable fighting, the miners took control of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. At the peak of the struggle, they controlled about thirty percent of the region and eighty percent of the total population. Adrian Shubert relates how democratically elected committees began to run the daily affairs of the area:
“These local committees took control of all aspects of social organization incumbent on a government. As well as military affairs they were active in food supply and rationing, health, labour, communications, propaganda, public order and justice. Money was abolished and replaced by vouchers issued to each family and valid for an amount of food determined after a thorough census. In Sama the supply committee dealt with local farmers to assure quantities of milk, eggs, and meat. In Oviedo, Sama, and Mieres hospitals were organized and the wounded of both sides treated… Work committees organized the conservation of the mines and the operation of essential public services such as water and electricity. Explosives were produced in Mieres and armored vehicles in Turón. In La Felguera the FAI kept the Duro-Felguera foundry going, turning out armoured cars in three eight-hour shifts per day.”40
However, the PSOE leadership, concerned most about the institutional integrity of the UGT as a peaceful bargainer in the government, was not politically and organizationally equipped to lead a revolution. They did not prepare their unions and party branches to participate in the strike in Madrid. Even the more militant CNT within Cataluña did not mobilize. What is worse, following the insurrection, Caballero dissociated himself politically from the uprising while in prison, out of fear of provoking the right-wing and he stated that strikes only “dissipated the energies of the working class before the final seizure of power.” The miners held out for two weeks but were eventually beaten by detachments of Moroccan legionaries led by Francisco Franco. Repression was the most violent yet seen in Spain; 3,000 militants were executed and the rest imprisoned. The government throughout Spain went on the offensive, arresting every radical and left-wing leader.41
3. The Pace of Revolution and its dangers: Spain 1931 vs. Russia 1917

Trotsky had observed that, toward the end of 1931, the workers’ movement had experienced an ebb (the exception being workers’ uprisings in Cataluña in January 1932) that continued through early 1932 and ended with the failed right-wing coup of General Sanjurjo in August, 1932. However, Trotsky insisted that the revolution had not exhausted itself. Trotsky wrote toward the end of 1931:
“The extraordinary delay of the proletarian vanguard lagging behind the events, the politically dispersed character of the heroic struggles of the working masses, the actual assurances of reciprocity between anarcho-syndicalism and Social Democracy – these are the fundamental political conditions that made it possible for the republican bourgeoisie, in league with Social Democracy, to establish an apparatus of repression, and by dealing the insurgent masses blow for blow, to concentrate a considerable amount of political power in the hands of the government[….]
Needless to say, the Spanish revolution has not yet ended. It has not solved its most elementary tasks (the agrarian, church, and national questions) and is still far from having exhausted the revolutionary resources of the popular masses. More than it has already given, the bourgeois revolution will not be able to give. With regard to the proletarian revolution, the present internal situation in Spain may be characterized as pre revolutionary, but scarcely more than that. It is quite probable that the offensive development of the Spanish revolution will take on a more or less protracted character.”42
Trotsky attributed the slower pace of the Spanish Revolution, in part, to the absence of a revolutionary party that could compete politically with the Socialists and anarchists. Nevertheless, there were other “objective” factors that Trotsky identified that affected the slower character of the revolution. To identify these factors and gauge their relative weight in shaping the revolution, Trotsky compared the Spanish experience to that of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the French Revolution of 1789:
“The Great French Revolution took over three years to reach its highest point, the dictatorship of the Jacobins. The Russian Revolution produced the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks within eight months. Here we see a tremendous difference in tempo. If in France events had developed faster, the Jacobins would not have had the time to take shape, because they did not exist as a party on the eve of the revolution. On the other hand, had the Jacobins represented a power on the eve of the revolution, events would probably have proceeded faster. That is one of the factors determining the tempo. But there are also others, perhaps more decisive ones.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was preceded by the revolution in 1905, which Lenin called a dress rehearsal. All of the elements of the second [February 1917] and third [October 1917] revolutions were prepared beforehand, so that the forces participating in the struggle moved as if according to plan. This hastened extraordinarily the period of the revolution’s rise to its culmination.
Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind that the decisive factor in relation to the tempo in 1917 was the war. The agrarian question might have been postponed for months, perhaps for a year or two, but the question of death in the trenches could bear no postponement. The soldiers were saying: ”What good is the land to me if I am not alive?” The pressure of twelve million soldiers was a factor in the extraordinary acceleration of the revolution. Without the war, in spite of the ‘dress rehearsal’ of 1905 and the presence of the Bolshevik policy, the pre-Bolshevik period of the revolution might have lasted not eight months, but perhaps a year or two more [emphasis in original].”43
Spain of 1931 was not Russia of 1917. The Russian Revolution was propelled forward by the mass defection of the peasantry fighting in WWI compounded by an agricultural crisis in the countryside. Although there was an agricultural crisis in Spain, there was no war pushing the peasantry to desert the front and flood into soviets. The soviets, which represented heavily the soldiers and peasants, were critical forums for the Bolsheviks to establish political alliances with the peasantry. Absent workers’ councils and a war in Spain, Trotsky predicted that the revolution may take years to fully mature and develop, whereas the Russian Revolution took nine months to lead to a workers’ victory.
Objective factors aside, the presence of a mass revolutionary party – the Bolsheviks – to raise, fight and win the demands of the working class and peasantry, greatly accelerated the pace of the Russian Revolution.44 The absence of a revolutionary party in Spain would, after a period of time, make the masses impatient with their lack of progress. Trotsky warned that this could lead to an early revolutionary confrontation between radical workers in Cataluña and the ruling class before the working class throughout Spain was ready to fight for political power. Trotsky observed:
“…there are factors that pull in the opposite direction and may provoke premature attempts at a decisive battle that are equivalent to defeat of the revolution: the weakness of the party accentuates the strength of the spontaneous elements in the movement; the anarcho-syndicalist traditions have the same effect…”45
Trotsky related that revolutionary impatience among sections of radicalized workers was a typical phase in social revolution and evident in a number of historical examples: June 1848 and the French Paris Commune March 1871 in France, and the “July days” of the Russian revolution of 1917. Trotsky explained the general nature of these moments:
“The possessing class, having come to power through the revolution, is inclined to think that the revolution has by that exhausted its mission, and is concerned more than anything else with proving its reliability to the forces of reaction. The ‘revolutionary’ bourgeoisie provokes the indignation of the masses by the very measures with which it strives to gain the good graces of the overthrown classes. The disillusionment of the masses proceeds very quickly, even before its vanguard has had a chance to cool off from the heat of the revolutionary battles. It appears to those at the head of the movement that by a new blow it can finish or correct what it previously did not carry out resolutely enough. From this comes the impulse for the new revolution, unprepared, without a program, without looking back at the reserves, without a thought for the consequences. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie, which has come to power, acts as though it were waiting for a stormy uprising from below in order to attempt to settle matters with the people. Such is the social and psychological basis for that supplementary semi revolution, which more than once in history became the provocation for a victorious counterrevolution.46
During the “July Days” of 1917, the movement experienced an upsurge in St. Petersburg that almost led to a premature confrontation of revolutionaries with the Kerensky-led bourgeois government; nonetheless, this movement did not lead to a decisive defeat of the revolution:
“… The blow dealt to the masses and the party in July 1917 was very heavy. But it was not the decisive blow. The victims were counted by the tens, but not by the tens of thousands. The working class emerged from this trial neither beheaded nor debilitated. It preserved its fighting cadres intact. These cadres learned a great deal and led the proletariat to victory in October.”47
What distinguished the Russian experience from France of 1848 and 1871 was the ability of the Bolshevik Party to deter the frustrated vanguard of the workers and soldiers from taking power too early. Whereas the “July days” of Russia 1917 led to an acceleration of the revolution, the Asturian insurrection of 1934 led to defeat. However, like the “July days,” this blow, albeit the most brutal yet delivered to the Spanish workers, did not defeat the revolution. Revolutionaries would still have some time to learn from their mistakes and provide a new strategy. Even though Trotsky’s concerns vis-à-vis the over-acceleration of the Spanish Revolution were written in 1931 for the purpose of warning about the early rise of the Catalan proletariat, they presage the events of Asturias in 1934.
The Asturian insurrection highlighted another important matter – the relationship between “civil war” and “revolution.” Following the suppression of the Asturian commune, Trotsky countered sections of the reformist left who believed that the defeat in Asturias proved revolutionary tactics were ineffective and counterproductive. Trotsky explained at length that Asturias was the result of an inevitable consequence of revolution – the armed confrontation between the workers and capitalists – in other words, civil war. Trotsky summarized:
“Civil war, we have said, following Clausewitz, is a continuation of politics by other means. This means that the result of the civil war depends for one-forth, not to say one-tenth, upon the development of the civil war itself, its technical means, its purely military leadership, and for three-fourths, if not for nine-tenths, on the political preparation.
Of what does this political preparation consist? Of the revolutionary cohesion of the masses, of their liberation from servile hopes in the clemency, generosity, and loyalty of ‘democratic slave-owners,’ of the education of revolutionary cadres who know how to defy official public opinion and who know how to display towards the bourgeoisie one-tenth the implacability that the bourgeoisie displays towards the toilers. Without this temper, civil war, when conditions force it – and they always end by forcing it – will take place under conditions most unfavorable to the proletariat, will depend upon many hazards, and even then, in the case of military victory, power can escape the hands of the proletariat. Whoever does not foresee that the class struggle leads inevitably to armed conflict is blind. But he is no less blind who fails to see behind this armed conflict and its outcome the whole previous policy of the classes in struggle….48
Furthermore, the successful counter-revolution in Asturias was predicated on the whole previous policy of the Socialists and anarchists:
“In Spain… the Socialist Party, like the Russian Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, shared power with the republican bourgeoisie to prevent the workers and the peasants from carrying the revolution to its conclusion. For two years the Socialists in power helped the bourgeoisie disembarrass itself of the masses by crumbs of national, social, and agrarian reforms. Against the most revolutionary strata of the people, the Socialists used repression.
The result is two-fold. Anarcho-syndicalism, which would have melted like wax in the heat of revolution had the workers’ party pursued the correct course, was strengthened and drew around it the militant layers of the proletariat. At the other pole, social catholic demagogy, succeeded in skillfully exploiting the discontent of the masses with the bourgeois-Socialist government.
When the Socialist Party was sufficiently compromised, the bourgeoisie drove it from power and took over the offensive on the whole front. The Socialist Party had to defend itself under the most unfavorable conditions, which had been prepared for it by its own previous policy. The bourgeoisie already had mass support at the right. The anarcho-syndicalist leaders, who during the course of the revolution committed all of the mistakes typical of these professional confusionists, refused to support the insurrection led by the traitor ‘politicians.’ The movement did not take on a general character but remained sporadic. The government directed its blows at the scattered sections of the workers. The civil war forced by the reaction ended in the defeat of the proletariat [emphasis in original].”49
4. Repression, political realignments, and the ‘Popular Front’: 1935

1935 was a year of repression of the left. Nevertheless, the revolution was not defeated; radicals and militants of all shades were discussing what the lessons of the past struggle were as well as next steps for the movement. Caballero himself was reading Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and identified (at least in words) with Bolshevism, concluding that a new revolutionary International be constructed beyond the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. 50
Therefore, 1935 was also a year of critical political alignments that would shape the future formation of the Popular Front government in February of 1936. The youth section of the PSOE, the Partido Socialista de la Juventud (PSJ), boasted a following in the tens of thousands of young radicals already looking for a Bolshevik-style party. Caballero’s revolutionary bombast and lack of action demonstrated him to be an impotent leader of the growing radicalization. The Socialist Youth, who were looking for a consistent revolutionary alternative to the moderate PSOE, eventually merged with the Communist Youth in April of 1936 to form one organization in which the Communist Party would dominate – the JSU (Juventud Socialista Unificado).
The Communist Party internationally had, since Hitler’s rise to power, moved from the ultra-revolutionary policy of the “third period” to a policy of accommodation to moderate reformist parties – the Popular Front. The Communist Party adopted the “popular front” policy in August of 1935 at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) and advocated unity with all left parties, including the Republicans.51 The PCE had grown from a membership of 800 in 1931 to 10,000 in 1934 and 30,000 by the end of 1935.52
Aside from the inability of the CNT-FAI and the PSOE to effectively harness the radicalization into a unified revolutionary force, the following factors can explain the rise of the Communist Party in Spain from 1931-1936: 1) the masses in Spain, and worldwide, still looked to the Communist Party as heir to the first successful workers revolution in Russia, 2) the Communist Party advocated the “popular front” strategy of uniting all left forces in the government and beyond, a policy that comforted many who were frustrated with political divisions on the left for years, even decades, and 3) they were given credit for leading militant struggles, particularly among the miners in Asturias in 1934.53
The Trotskyist organization (ICE), the group with the best political ideas was also the smallest and therefore could not win revolutionary militants and leaders away en masse from reformist socialism, Stalinist communism, and anti-political insurrectionary anarchism. The size of ICE proved decisive. At its highest point, it had boasted only 800 members.54 Thus, it was incapable of competing politically with the PSOE, CNT, and FAI. These were mass organizations which, all together, organized between 2.5 and 3 million workers – a clear majority of the Spanish proletariat. Instead, during 1935, the ICE, not seeing a clear way to influence events as a small group and having come to sharp political and personal disputes with Trotsky, opted to merge with Juan Maurin’s dissident communist BOC to form the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) in September. This organization was based in Cataluña and as BOC had a membership of 5,000 by 1934 and 6,000 by 1936 as the POUM.55
CEDA’s increasing influence and control over the government frightened even the Republican Party. On May 5th, 1935 the number of CEDA ministers in the government increased to five which included Gil Robles as head of the Ministry of War with Francisco Franco appointed as Commander in Chief of the army. The Radical Party, true to their tradition, had become mired in scandal and corruption which led to their virtual implosion as a political party and Lerroux’s exit from the political scene as prime minister. CEDA’s presence in the government appeared ever more ominous. Therefore, when the time had come to either cede the position of prime minister to Gil Robles or dissolve the Cortes and call new elections, Zamora had chosen the latter. The elections to the Cortes resulted in the victory of the Popular Front – an electoral coalition of left parties. Only months later, the fascist right would counter with an uprising, initiating the Civil War.56 Gil Robles had tried Hitler’s peaceful road to institute fascism and failed; the only solution left would be to wage war.
The Communist Party had convinced the reluctant PSOE to join the Republicans once again in a government coalition. The Republicans had formally proposed that the Socialist Party join the Popular Front government on November 14th, 1935.57 Finally, the PSOE met on December 15th, and the moderate-wing led by Prieto dominated the discussion, distancing itself from the Caballero left-wing and endorsed the Popular Front strategy. The anarchist leadership, who had historically advocated abstention from elections, for the first time did not explicitly tell their members to not vote.58 Even the POUM, the political formation that most approximated a revolutionary Marxist position (and even still quite far in Trotsky’s purview) signed on to the Popular Front.59
5. The failure to build a revolutionary party in Spain, 1930-1935

Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. He, along with a number of revolutionaries who agreed with his assessment of Stalinism, formed the International Left Opposition (ILO). However, the political pressures were intense: many capitulated and dissociated themselves from “Trotskyism” and sought re-entry into the Russian party; some even committed suicide. The ILO entered the 1930’s as a tiny force relative to the cadres in the Communist Parties worldwide. What they lacked in resources they made up for in political clarity – trying to rescue a revolutionary Marxist perspective from the clutches of a Stalinist counter-revolutionary policy.
For the ILO, Spain was unique in 1930 relative to other countries because there existed a nucleus of followers in exile and throughout Spain who agreed with (and decided to organize with) Trotsky. Meanwhile, the PCE in Spain had only 800 members and negligible influence in the workers movement. Furthermore, the other “dissident communist” current, the FCC-B (or BOC) organized itself independently and dissociated itself from the PCE. As noted earlier, this group was larger than ICE with a few thousand members. The possibility of winning these radicals, and PCE members away from Stalinism, and toward more consistent revolutionary positions seemed more probable relative to other places. In addition, Spain was entering into a period of increased struggle with its transition from a monarchical dictatorship to a liberal democracy in 1931. The opportunity to expose the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism would be just as great in Spain as it would be for the ILO in Germany in the fight against Hitler’s growing fascist movement.
A number of people have recounted the discussion between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky concerning how a revolutionary party could be built in Spain between 1930 and 1935. Some take Trotsky’s side in the debate, others side with the ICE’s decision to form the POUM, and some simply explain the political disputes.60 The decisions and positions Trotsky and the OCE/ICE advocated need to be seen within the context of the incredible obstacles and limitations they faced in real time. Only then is it possible to understand better why they advocated certain positions and why they reached the conclusions they did. Such an approach needs to account for the historical context in which OCE/ICE and Trotsky made decisions without the benefit of hindsight that the historian possesses while simultaneously using a historical view to look at factors beyond the 1930-35 time frame that impacted the ability of the revolutionary current associated with Trotsky to grow.
a. Political tensions and breaks between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky

The OCE established itself in exile at a meeting in Liege, Belgium in 1930. Andreu Nin, the most prominent member, who spent his exile in the USSR during the 1920’s, finally made his way to Barcelona in 1931. The composition of the OCE, despite being small (about only 50 people at its founding), possessed a number of capable cadres. Furthermore, they were from a variety of areas of Spain: Asturias, the Basque region, Cataluña, Madrid, and the agricultural regions of southern Spain.61 Trotsky, living in exile at this time in Turkey, relied on his contact with Nin who was proficient in Russian.
i. Establishing a solid political operation

The correspondence between Trotsky and Nin during the years 1931 and 1932 shows that Trotsky appeared uneasy with a number of actions Nin had taken, and not taken. For Trotsky, the priority of any revolutionary organization aspiring to be a mass party of the working class was to establish a political base of operation. Nin and his comrades needed to operate independently as a leadership and build political roots throughout the country through the establishment of a regular paper and journal.
Nevertheless, Nin (after arriving in Barcelona) prioritized collaboration with BOC over establishing a political base for the OCE. He believed that BOC’s criticism of Stalinism would make it more amenable to influence and would therefore be an important part of the building of a real mass party in Spain. In addition, Nin communicated that Joaquín Maurín, the leader of BOC, and he were neighbors which facilitated political work and collaboration.62In the end, Nin believed he could win Maurín over to the OCE’s and Trotsky’s perspectives.63 While Trotsky communicated that he was encouraged about Maurin’s openness, he harbored some concerns. First, BOC’s publications demonstrated a lack of political clarity and consistency on a range of issues and assumed political positions that were deeply at odds with the OCE. Second, although Nin collaborated with Maurín in drafting theses within the BOC group, did this mean that he was coming closer to the OCE in terms of organizing in the same group? There was no indication that this was the case. For Trotsky, it was more probable that Maurín would join the OCE if it were already established with an independent analysis and organization. Thus for Trotsky it came back to the priority of the OCE building its own organizational strength first, and then winning influence on that basis.64 To many radicals in BOC, Nin was an outsider because he had not been in Spain for a long time (about a decade) and had little in terms of political and organizational links.65
Over the course of 1931 and 1932, Nin found that there were big political disagreements with Maurín that led to breaks in their political relationship, re-establishing ties, and renewed breaks. BOC’s politics were far from consistent with revolutionary Marxism. The BOC never took a principled position regarding the increasingly Stalinist Comintern and wanted to keep relations open with it. This reflected in their propaganda, referring to Socialists as “social fascists” and campaigning on the slogan “class against class.” Maurín was the undisputed, charismatic leader of BOC and, beyond him, the organization was far from being on the same page politically. From 1931 to 1935, BOC’s viewpoints regarding Trotsky in their publications were erratic: at times they voiced praise and defense of Trotsky’s ideas, and in the next breath, heavy criticism and political distancing. In terms of the organization itself, BOC was created to be a broader organization with the FCC-B, or “Catalan Federation,” being the leader within it. In reality, both groups were indistinguishable from one another, and so it was simply known as BOC. Even still, Nin, as a representative of the OCE, was not allowed to join openly as a member because of his affiliation with Trotsky.
Maurín and BOC accommodated heavily to Catalan nationalism and not only supported the right for Cataluña to separate but actively advocated that it do so. In addition, they overestimated the pre-revolutionary events of 1931 and 1932, thinking the revolution was upon them. Maurín believed the CNT was the body through which workers could take power and called on the CNT to do so in 1932. After Maurín found the CNT difficult to influence, he advocated building a separate trade union, effectively isolating its organization of militants from the CNT. While the BOC was a key leader in the formation of the Alianza Obrera in 1934, like with the CNT, he overestimated the revolutionary nature of this body and argued that it would become the organ of workers’ power in the revolution. After the Asturias uprising, the Alianza Obrera dissipated shortly thereafter.66 Trotsky argued that the OCE had wasted precious time trying to influence the politically confused BOC when it could have spent the time establishing its independent political operation. The movement of the worker and peasant masses in Spain was promising but it was missing a key ingredient – a revolutionary party with an established political center.
The OCE did not officially announce itself publicly in Barcelona until September, 1931 and did not have, as of yet, a regular paper of which to speak. The OCE did have a theoretical monthly journal Comunismo which had started in May 1931. It is estimated that this journal had a circulation of 1,500 copies before it ended in October 1934. Although the journal held some political sway among radicals with its consistent publication schedule and its high political quality, its purpose was more theoretical and it did not comment regularly on everyday struggles and political questions.
Following the political fallout with the BOC and the official announcement of the OCE’s existence in Barcelona, Nin and the OCE leadership produced a paper, El Soviet. This paper’s existence was sporadic and short-lived. It launched on October 15th, 1931 in Barcelona. Only three editions were issued that month before ceasing publication. The paper surfaced again in May, 1932 until July 1932, before disappearing for the final time. By this time, the strike movement that swept the country in 1930 and 1931 had already ebbed with the exception of important miners strikes that took place in Asturias throughout 1932. Another paper the ICE published was La Antorcha which appeared in May 1934 in Madrid but, like its predecessor El Soviet, only three editions appeared.67
ii. Independence vis-à-vis the PCE

As previously noted, the PCE was a very small group in Spain, and did not exist at all in Cataluña outside of Barcelona, the most politically radical region. Trotsky, through the ILO, maintained the perspective that Stalin’s policy in the USSR was an unstable centrist position that swung widely from the political left to right. In this way, Stalin was very vulnerable and could be dislodged from political power. Trotsky did not believe that Stalin’s move to industrialize the country through the forced collectivization of the peasantry in 1928 represented a counter-revolution from above and the acceleration of the consolidation of a new ruling class in Russia. Some in Russia, were drawing different conclusions than Trotsky and were already defining Russia as state capitalist.68 Even though Trotsky argued against state-capitalism as an apt description of the USSR years later, he fully understood the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism as a political force. He believed Stalin could be pushed from power if the conditions were ripe (i.e. renewed revolutionary activity).69
The political and organizational conclusion from Trotsky’s perspective of the Soviet Union was that the ILO should, despite expulsion, remain a faction of the official Communist Party. In practical political terms this meant that ILO groups, like the OCE, should not view themselves as a separate organization from communist parties like the PCE; rather, they should try to win over these poorly advised parties. In terms of a concrete approach, this meant that the OCE should support PCE candidates in elections and not run candidates of their own. Over the course of 1930 and 1931, this created an increasingly confusing situation for the OCE. Nin questioned a policy that forced them to politically endorse a group that was completely hostile and hardly a political force. The PCE during this time never related with the OCE in a friendly manner and called “Trotskyism” counter-revolutionary.70 Early on, Nin asked Trotsky if they should convince people coming around the OCE to enter the PCE first and then later join the OCE.71 Trotsky responded that such an approach hardly made sense because the PCE would miseducate people politically and they would never arrive to the OCE.72 Nonetheless, Nin’s question was a valid one based on the overall relationship Trotsky advocated toward the Communist Parties worldwide: how does one reconcile being an expelled faction of a party while being an independent political force and what are the concrete political applications of this seemingly contradictory approach?
Nin’s and the OCE’s experience with this policy led them to question its worth in Spain. During the third Congress of the OCE in March 1932, the OCE voted to change its name to the ICE (Izquierda Comunista de España) and in favor of putting forth its own candidates in elections. By this time direct correspondence between Nin and Trotsky had ceased and Trotsky understood the name change as a political challenge to the decisions of the ILO; for the ICE, it represented a much needed independence from the rigid and hostile PCE.73 The ICE, still officially part of the ILO and seeing themselves as such, defended their decision for greater independence as follows:
“As great as the differences between the Communist Left and Stalinism may be, in practice the Opposition has no program other than the ‘reform of the party,’ which makes this reform a prior condition for the execution of its policy. The traditional attitude of the Opposition is totally insufficient in the actual circumstances, and by persisting in it the Opposition will not achieve a political solution in the decisive moments since any partial reforms that might be achieved in the International [i.e. Comintern] would not substantially modify the nature of Stalinism. [My emphasis]”74
Thus, a rift developed between the ICE and Trotsky as political bridges were being reconstructed between ICE and BOC. This rift between Trotsky and the ICE widened over the course of the following year. Even as early as 1931, when Nin was beginning to settle in Spain, intense factional disputes had developed regarding the ILO’s French section. Over time, this issue would become intertwined with problems within the OCE/ICE involving a founding member.75 These disputes did not involve issues directly related with the political situation in Spain; nonetheless, they exacerbated already existing political disagreements. The assumption of Hitler to power in Germany in 1933, due primarily to Stalin’s ultra-leftist directives to the KPD to not unite in struggle with the SPD to defeat Hitler, led Trotsky to conclude that the Third International was dead. He argued that ILO groups should no longer be organized as factions of the official party and needed to be completely independent. The ILO decided to rename itself the International Communist Left (ICL), a name very similar to the Spanish Communist Left (Izquierda Comunista de España). Experience seemed to vindicate the Spanish comrades experiences regarding relations with the PCE as well as their name change to ICE. This opened Trotsky to the charge that he was not sufficiently informed of the specific conditions that comrades faced in Spain, a charge that ICE members would say repeatedly, distancing themselves further from Trotsky.
iii. Entry into the PSOE or fusion with BOC?

After four years of political activity, the ICE had grown from 50 members to between 700 and 800. The political shift to the right following the Republican-Socialist coalition government of 1931-33, led to the CEDA winning a majority in the Cortes in 1933. They attempted to push themselves into cabinet positions a year later prompting the Asturias uprising. The electoral swing to the right politically in Spain produced a left-wing radicalization among the rank-and-file of the Socialist Party and the UGT that reflected itself in the leadership of the party. Largo Caballero, the most prominent spokesperson for the left-wing, drew the conclusion that forming a coalition government with the Republicans had been a mistake and went so far as to conclude that a Bolshevik-style party needed to be created.76
At this time Trotsky had advocated entry of the ICE into the PSOE in order to win the recently radicalized left (particularly the Socialist Youth) away from this party. This could lead to the foundation of a revolutionary party in the tens of thousands. The ICE membership had their doubts. How could they go into a party and then break people away from that party? Wouldn’t they be treated in a hostile manner? Did this not contradict Trotsky’s earlier argument about having an independent party to draw people to? Instead, the ICE decided to merge with the BOC and form the POUM.77
This decision provoked a political and organizational break with ILO, although Trotsky remained open to communication with the POUM through the Civil War.78 Why did the ICE decide to form the POUM? First, the desire for unity was strong following the brutal repression of the Asturian commune and the continuing political persecution of 1935. The PSOE had been a party that was responsible for repressing struggle. This soured the expectations of the ICE to gain anything from entry into that party. Moreover, the French group’s entry into the French Socialist Party failed to establish a revolutionary party of any size; the move completely failed and greatly demoralized the French ILO. Trotsky’s push to enter the PSOE was a desperate attempt to build a party in an increasingly difficult situation where immediate prospects for growth were limited.79 With the benefit of hindsight, we know that POUM did not succeed in leading a workers’ revolution during the Civil War; but does that mean entry into the PSOE would have built the party that could have led a successful revolution? Although a limited degree of collaboration among ICE and Socialist Youth did happen, this was not deep enough to win people away from the party en masse.80 The choice available to the ICE in 1935 that would allow them to break out of their isolation was entry into the PSOE or joining with BOC in a unified, but very small, revolutionary organization. This choice the ICE faced stemmed from one problem: the limits of being a small organization trying to build a party in the middle of pre-revolutionary events. Hence, the question is: why did the ICE fail to grow from 1930-35?
The answer to this question lies, in part, through making some concluding remarks about the polemics between Trotsky and OCE/ICE discussed above. However, a fuller answer will require to look beyond these years and briefly discuss the pre-history of revolutionary marxist organization in Spain, one that developed very differently from the bolshevism Trotsky knew.
The factors already noted that contributed to the OCE/ICE failure of building a revolutionary Marxist party during the years 1930-35 include: 1) delays in getting a political operation up and running along with the sporadic and limited frequency of a revolutionary press, 2) Trotsky’s, and the ILO’s, tactical approach to the PCE, one that greatly disoriented and confused the Spanish comrades during the pre-revolutionary struggles of 1930-33, and 3) Nin and the OCE having become embroiled in factional struggles within their own organization and within the ILO that greatly strained relations between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky. These factional struggles within the ILO were occurring before Nin had even settled into a political routine in Barcelona. When it came time to take advantage of the radicalization taking place in society from 1933-34, the ICE was too small to attract the radicalized sections of the PSOE, UGT and FNTT. Therefore, they opted to merge in a united party with radicals who most identified with their viewpoints (the BOC) even though this party lacked a clear and consistent revolutionary program.
b. Looking at factors outside the time and space of 1930-35 Spain

Any analysis that describes the failures of a revolutionary party to form in Spain during these years needs to understand the problem of Stalinism as the primary cause. Stalin, whose power grew in proportion to the degeneration of the Russia and failure of European-wide revolution, effectively isolated dissidents. Having the formidable resources of the state behind him, Stalin was able to lay claim to the revolutionary legacy of the Russian Revolution effectively co-opting newly radicalized people into Communist Parties worldwide.
Revolutionaries, like Trotsky, who had concluded that the Stalin-led USSR was on the wrong track had difficulty defining its nature. He did not see Stalin as having initiated an economic and political counter-revolution in the USSR. Trotsky never broke completely from the idea that Stalin represented an unstable, and therefore transient, phase in the political history of the USSR. Consequently, from 1930 to 1933, he believed the left faction could win political power back once people saw how far Stalin’s policies had diverged from revolutionary Marxism. Therefore, Trotsky was being careful not to dismiss the cadres in the Communist parties internationally; doing so could mean the loss of leadership over the Communist movement and the experienced political cadres that would be the foundation of a renewed revolutionary policy. On the other hand, Trotsky’s theoretical views regarding the USSR and Stalin’s role within it did have costs: it led the ILO factions to not view themselves as an independent political force from the official communist parties. He would quickly change his position after seeing how Stalin’s counter-revolutionary policy directly led to Hitler’s rise to power and did not end in Stalin’s removal from power. Nonetheless, regarding pre-revolutionary Spain there was a real loss of time between 1930 and 1933 – a period of struggle that could have formed and shaped a revolutionary party had already passed.
The final, and probably the most important, consideration is that the process of building a successful revolutionary party begins long before the revolution. Lenin and the Bolshevik tendency within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) came from a rich revolutionary tradition that began with the Narodnick movement of the mid to late 1800’s and the formation of the first Marxist group, The Emancipation of Labor Group. Over a period of decades, they maintained contact with their Russian comrades through a revolutionary press and meetings, even during long periods of exile. In contrast, Anarchism had dominated the radical politics of the Spanish for decades and the Socialist Party – suffering from all the political weaknesses of Social Democracy after WWI – did not attract the most militant revolutionary workers. Likewise, the Spanish communist movement, born in 1920 was small, mired in fractious polemic, and failed to attract the most revolutionary workers. Nin, being one of the foremost Spanish Marxists, was not in a position to build a revolutionary organization to the extent that Lenin had in Russia over a 30-year period.
Trotsky explained to his Spanish comrades that a revolutionary party is “welded” together in the ups and downs of struggle – a process that requires a period of decades, not years.81 Absent this work in non-revolutionary times, the network of cadre indispensable to shaping events during a revolution will not be formed. Around the same time that the OCE began organizing in Spain, Trotsky wrote in his History of the Russian Revolution: “Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box but the steam.”82
Trotsky’s revolutionary experience brought to the fore his ability to offer a very clear strategy on the fight for workers revolution in Spain. However, while Trotsky understood the need for a revolutionary party, his limitation was that he joined the Bolshevik party at the height of struggle during the Russian Revolution when it was already established. He never had the experience of building a party of cadre as Lenin did. He was learning how to do this for the first time in conditions that were in many ways more difficult than for Lenin. The only example of living socialism in the form of the Soviet Union had degenerated into a bureaucratic nightmare with Communist Parties worldwide subjected to its dictates. Furthermore, the Spanish revolutionary process of the 1930’s came at a time when the workers’ movements throughout Europe had already suffered a number of historic defeats with the Social Democratic parties becoming discredited in the face of revolution. Both Nin and Trotsky, among others, were trying to build revolutionary organization in a hurry and at the end of a European-wide revolutionary movement during the interwar period.
6. The struggle for self-determination in Spain, 1931-1936

Throughout the Rivera dictatorship of the 1920’s, Spain spent seven-hundred million pesetas per year to fund its colonization of northern Morocco – a policy that benefited only a handful of Spanish capitalists and government officials. The Republican-Socialist coalition continued the colonial occupation on the pretext that Moroccans benefited from “progressive” democratic government.
Trotsky and the OCE demanded the self-determination for Morocco. This position would help the development of the Spanish revolution in a number of ways: first, it would win the confidence of the Moroccan people to the side of the Spanish proletariat and weaken Spanish imperialism. In addition, counteracting Spanish chauvinism with the demand for Moroccan self-determination could placate the counter-revolutionary groups in the colony – such as the Moorish troops and the foreign legion – who could be sent to Spain to repress a revolutionary movement. Finally, any movement for self-determination would undermine Spanish imperialism, facilitating workers’ power over the bourgeoisie.83
Indeed, the absence of a policy for Moroccan self-determination among the Socialists and anarchists proved detrimental to the development of the revolution from 1931 to 1936. A sincere commitment to Moroccan self-determination could have neutralized the reactionary regiments of the foreign legion that crushed the Asturias uprising. Furthermore, Spanish Morocco was the base from which General Francisco Franco launched the fascist uprising of July of 1936.
a. Morocco, Cataluña, and the Basque Region

The question of independence (or, as it played out, autonomy) for Spain’s provinces was equally critical. The Basque and Catalan regions were the most industrialized areas of Spain. As previously noted, Trotsky and the OCE advocated the broadest autonomy for these national regions, even separation, if the populace so demanded. Not raising this demand would mean acquiescing to the politics of Castilian bureaucratic centralism and imperialism exhibited toward the colonies and semi-autonomous regions.
The development of nationalism was different in character between the Basque and Catalan regions. The difference, in part, was due to the nature of capitalist development in each region. In the case of Cataluña, the agricultural sector developed, more or less, side-by-side with industry – each sector facilitated the growth of the other through mutual investment and consumption. Furthermore, compared to the Basque region, capitalist firms were smaller on average, greater in number, and more evenly distributed. In contrast, agriculture in the Basque region had a more antagonistic relationship with industry84 – there was a higher concentration of industry (bigger firms and smaller in number) and these enterprises were heavily dependent on foreign capital. In Cataluña, the capitalists had developed in relative autonomy to the Castilian center (although they did benefit from Madrid’s coddling of Catalan industry through protectionist policies).85 In contrast, the Basque industrial and financial firms were more integrated – and therefore, less antagonistic – to Madrid.86
As noted earlier, Trotsky argued that the politics of nationalism could not be separated from the nature of struggle between classes.87 In the case of Cataluña, these politics found a social base in the radicalized sharecroppers of the region – the rabassaires – and among the capitalists of the light industrial sector. For the Basque region, the impetus for autonomy (and separation) came from the reactionary rural, middle-class landowners in the countryside and small business-owners in the urban areas.88 Nevertheless, the desire for autonomy also seeped into the working class – in Cataluña, militants in the CNT were supportive of autonomist initiatives89; in the Basque region, workers within the Solidarity of Basque Workers (SOV) union favored autonomy, and some even separation. For Trotsky and the OCE, socialism was the only system capable of abolishing the imperialist subjugation of the semi-autonomous regions and the capitalist system that propped up imperialist relations. Therefore, for the Catalan and Basque workers, the battle for self-determination was a democratic demand that could only be fully realized through workers’ revolution.
b. Cataluña

Catalan nationalism, which had a long history, grew under Rivera, culminating in the declaration of an independent Catalan republic following the April municipal elections of 1931. The left-Republican party Esquerra gave expression to the petty-bourgeois nationalism of Cataluña. This party had won a plurality of votes (36% of the total vote) in the regional elections, including a majority of the working class vote. Colonel Francesc Macià, the leader of Esquerra, formed a regional Catalan government – the Generalitat. Although, Macià spoke in favor of a “Federation of Iberian Republics,” the autonomy statute he drafted did not propose separation from Madrid. Conceding to pressure from Madrid, the statute Macià proposed only granted a limited degree of autonomy on political and economic questions related to the province.
Norman Jones summarizes the limited nature of the autonomy statute:
“The statute of autonomy… created a Catalan parliament, whose legislative competence was limited to agriculture, the secondary transport network, public health and poor relief, regulation of municipal government, and Catalan civil law. However, the statute also authorized the Generalitat to administer (as agent for the central power, without any legislative competence) public education, major public works, labor conciliation services, and the police forces and law courts. In all these areas, nevertheless, amendments had introduced close state inspection and provision for unilateral intervention from Madrid. The gravest alteration inverted the draft statute’s financial terms: barely one-third of Catalan taxation was allotted to the Generalitat, to be handed over to cover the costs of existing state services in the region as they were transferred from Madrid. The remainder – the direct taxation – was retained by the state.” 90
On August 2nd, Macià presented the statute to the Catalan people in the form of a referendum. The referendum passed with an overwhelming endorsement – 99.4% of the vote. It was then transmitted to the Cortes for consideration. After a prolonged period of political haggling and stalling, the central government passed the referendum on September 9th, 1932.91
Cabinet Ministers in the newly formed Republic in Madrid were not friendly to the idea of Catalan autonomy. Miguel Maura, a Republican and Minister of the Interior, sought to curb the political jurisdiction of the Generalitat by having the final word on bureaucratic appointments to the regional government, including Cataluña’s four civil governorships. Prieto, then the Minister of Finance, used his authority to financially sabotage the Barcelona city council for attempting to resolve its debt issues, withdrawing all government deposits from Barcelona’s largest bank.92 Furthermore, Largo Caballero, then Minister of Labor, sought to subject all labor disputes through binding arbitration boards. This often led to opportunistic practices on the part of Caballero who, anxious to establish growth of UGT unions within Cataluña, favored UGT led unions in settlements over the CNT.93
Catalan workers felt the brunt of Madrid’s centralism in the newly formed republic. In one case, CNT-led dockworkers in Barcelona struck and reached an agreement with the governor Macià. However, Maura had appointed a right-Republican Anguera de Sojo as civil governor to Barcelona who rescinded the agreement established. This provoked a resumption of the CNT dockworkers’ strike. As Jones explains: “August [1931] brought a wave of industrial disputes in which he increasingly used his police powers to try to compel observance of Largo’s labor legislation. If a union refused to go to arbitration, its strike was illegal; Anguera had its pickets and strike committee arrested and encouraged the employer to resist and recruit fresh labor.”94
From mid 1933 through 1934, the question of autonomy became more significant with the rise of the far-right throughout Spain. CEDA was staunchly opposed to any form of autonomy for Spanish provinces. The right-wing shift electorally throughout Spain in 1933 also expressed itself in Cataluña with the election of Lliga Regionalista, a conservative Republican party, to the leadership over the Generalitat after the November elections. Lliga feared the Catalan working class: they opposed separation or independence worrying that the fight for autonomy would provoke further militancy and depended on Castile’s repressive institutions to discipline the Catalan working class. 95
The piece of legislation that escalated the confrontation of political forces in Cataluña was the Cultivation Law (Ley de Cultivos) passed on April 12, 1933. This law allowed tenant farmers in Cataluña “the option to purchase the land they farmed – provided they had done so for eighteen years – by payments to the proprietors spread over fifteen years.”96 Even with this modest social reform, the government, filled with cedistas97, did not bend. On June 8th, the central government, with the backing of the Catalan landowners, voided the law on the basis that the Generalitat had overstepped its jurisdiction. The Generalitat and the Catalan government responded by passing another cultivation law identical to the first.98 The battle grew more pitched as Gil Robles mobilized CEDA and Catalan landowners to protest the legislation.
The final showdown between Madrid and Cataluña in the pre-Civil War years occurred during the Asturias uprising. BOC, through Alianza Obrera, called a general strike to declare solidarity with the miners’ revolt. However, the Alianza Obrera’s call to strike did not receive the support it had hoped; the CNT in Barcelona did not join the battle.99 The Generalitat, despite feeling the pressure from below, did not wage a fight for a more substantive autonomy. The central government entered Barcelona, quickly suppressed the strike, and declared martial law after having met no resistance on the part of the Generalitat.
From 1931 to 1936, the left was unclear about the question of Catalan autonomy. The PSOE, while in the government, assumed a chauvinistic attitude toward Cataluña. The CNT, which dominated the radical left in Cataluña, did not offer a clear revolutionary perspective on the right of Catalan to autonomy; the anarchist leaders of the FAI variety either supported separation (but did not distinguish their position from Esquerra) or abstained from political questions, whereas the syndicalist wing within the CNT was against any move to separate from Madrid.100 Finally, the smaller dissident group BOC, led by Joaquín Maurín, through the Alianza Obrera, demanded that the Generalitat proclaim Cataluña an independent republic – a position synonymous with Esquerra.101 The question of autonomy in Cataluña, temporarily stymied, would resurface with the formation of the Popular Front in 1936, and Esquerra’s resumption of political leadership over Cataluña.
c. The Basque Region

Whereas Cataluña was the cauldron of the Spanish revolution – and a home for left radical parties, unions, and organizations – the Basque region (Euzkadi) was politically more conservative. While the nationalist opposition of Esquerra to Madrid in Cataluña was politically to the left of the central government, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), a moderate-conservative catholic party that won in the November 1933 general elections in the Basque provinces, did not support the anti-clerical positions of the Republican-Socialist government, nor the Asturias uprising of 1934. The PNV led union, the Solidarity of Basque Workers (SOV), was the only union that competed with the PSOE and UGT in the region during these years, still this competition did not come from the left.102 Juan Medrano sums up the contradictory nature of Basque nationalism within a context of Castilian imperialism:
“Catholicism was the true religion of the Basque Country, that political independence was both right and the objective to be achieved by the Basque people, that efforts needed to be made to preserve and strengthen the Basque race, and that the old practices and traditional institutions of the Basque provinces should be re-established.”103
The Republican-Socialist coalition rejected the Basque autonomy statute on the grounds that the region would become a right-wing stronghold hostile to the republic.104 However, opposition to Basque autonomy meant that the Republicans and Socialists were the new chauvinists, putting them in political agreement with the surrounding, and politically conservative (and even increasingly fascist) provinces like Navarre, the northern base for the future fascist uprising of July, 1936.105 Indeed, there were questions concerning whether or not the vote for autonomy was democratic since the electoral system (the fueros) favored the rural districts over the urban – the former being more inclined toward autonomy than the latter).106
Although, the Basque electoral process to achieve autonomy from 1931-1933 was questionable from a formal democratic viewpoint, even more questionable was the coalition government position of rejecting autonomy on the basis of strengthening “democracy” when, in fact, they were undermining the will of the Basque people. Only a movement from within the Basque urban centers could question the democratic process of the autonomy movement. The Madrid government rejecting Basque autonomy set into motion contradictory political forces: it strengthened the influence of Basque clerics over the working class while simultaneously directing Basque working class anger at Castilian chauvinism.107
Furthermore, while the PNV was politically conservative, they were not fascists. The party had gone through a progressive phase of development reflected in the modernization of the economy in the region.108 To be sure, the PNV did join the far-right CEDA coalition in the elections of 1933. However, they soon realized they were in enemy camp. The other groups in CEDA – like Renovación Española and Acción Popular – were extremely hostile to the idea of Basque autonomy. Calvo Sotelo, a reactionary monarchist politician, famously and facetiously remarked that Spain would be “ red before broken” (roja antes que rota). In other words, it was preferable that the country be under communist control than being broken up into a number of republics. The fascists in CEDA viewed any concession to Basque autonomy as a step toward total separation from Spain; accordingly, they squashed any proposal for Basque autonomy during the years 1934-1935.109 During these years, the Basque PNV formed a temporary alliance with Republicans and Socialists, resisting CEDA’s extreme nationalism. The PNV endorsed the Popular Front government which assumed political power in February 1936. Basque autonomy was formally granted on October 1st, 1936 when the Civil War was already underway. Ultimately, the fascist National Front defeated resistance in the Basque region in June of 1937. One of the most brutal and notorious examples of fascist repression occurred in the Basque town of Guernica.
7. Trotsky’s analysis of pre-revolutionary Spain: an assessment

Trotsky’s starting point for understanding the Spanish Revolution was grasping the economic character and nature of Spain. Spain, like Russia of the early 20th century, combined feudal features in the countryside with advanced modern industry in the urban areas. The difference was that Spain, by 1931, was already well passed Russia of 1917 in terms of industrialization and the working class in Spain was larger in proportion to the peasantry than Russia and boasted a substantial rural proletariat. This “combined and uneven development” created the prospect for the working class to be the leading political force in Spain. The ruling bourgeoisie, represented in the various republican parties, was too timid to overturn the feudal institutions on which it depended to discipline the working class.
The political corollary of “combined and uneven development” was the leading role of the working class in the developing revolution, what Trotsky called “permanent revolution.” The working class was the only social class structurally capable of assuming leadership over the struggle for democracy and socialism. Revolution required, first and foremost, that the working class have a revolutionary party – a leadership of tested and experienced cadres, rooted in day-to-day struggles at the grassroots level. The revolutionary party would lead a “united front” of left forces at the base of society to fight the right and realize democratic reforms that the “democrats” were completely incapable of realizing on their own. The process of fighting for even the most innocuous reforms with revolutionary means (i.e. strikes, pickets, and demonstrations) would build the struggle for socialist revolution. One of the most important democratic demands to fight for was the withdrawal of the Spanish imperialism from the colony of Morocco and support the right of the Catalans and Basques to self-determination.
The Republican-Socialist coalition under the Republic of 1931-1933, although passing modest reforms through the Cortes, did not fight the industrialists and landowners, and their right-wing political backers, for the realization of these reforms within society. The gradualist and reformist posture of the PSOE and the UGT bureaucracy was adopted to preserve their institutional power at all costs within capitalism. The Socialists, and the UGT bureaucracy, gave their Republican partners a left-wing cover to dampen workers struggle and endorsed the suppression of strikes, consistently labeling them as untimely and provoking a backlash from the right. This demoralized the hopes of the worker and peasant masses, who had hopes in the newly established democracy wiping away centuries of oppression and exploitation, and contributed to their radicalization to the left. Likewise, the CNT’s general rejection of politics and the fight for political power of the working class and peasantry produced a muddled program for revolutionary action and did little to lead the Spanish masses in consolidating and strengthening their struggles. The anarchists demonstrated much in terms of militancy and leadership in struggles; nevertheless, their actions were often isolated and led to premature “insurrections” with the government that provoked significant repression and did little in terms of strengthening their revolutionary forces.110 The lack of political clarity and revolutionary leadership on the part of the Socialists and the anarcho-syndicalists meant that the masses, who were radicalizing and drawing revolutionary conclusions, were left without a political home. This diffused and demoralized the overall struggle from 1931 and 1933 leading to the rise of the right in the November 1933 elections and, ultimately, the savage defeat of the Asturias insurrection of 1934. The years 1933 to 1935 were aptly referred to as the bienio negro, (the black biennial).
During the reign of the right in Spain from 1934 to 1935, a left-wing within the PSOE and UGT at the leadership and rank-and-file level became more vocal. Having witnessed the rise of fascism internationally, Caballero (the most prominent spokesman of this tendency within the PSOE) declared the 2nd International was dead and a Bolshevik-style party needed to be formed. Even though, Caballero did nothing to build a revolutionary party and bring about workers’ revolution in Spain (he, along with the CNT, did not support the Alianzas Obreras), the Socialist Youth was ready to fight for political power. The left in Spain, with the absence of a mass revolutionary working class party, remained incredibly divided and weak. This was already apparent with the failure of the Asturian uprising, when the PSOE, UGT, and CNT forces throughout Spain did not wage a struggle in solidarity with the miners (even though an incredible level of solidarity existed between the CNT, UGT, and PCE affiliated unions within Asturias).
The radical communist left was too small to influence the larger groupings of Socialists and anarchists. The Communist Party had grown the most of all “radical” groups. It hardly had a party history before being subjected to the dictates of the Comintern and following a policy of sectarianism exemplified in the “third period” (1928-1934). Then, performing an about-face, the PCE advocated a policy of accommodation to liberalism in the form of the “popular front” (beginning in 1935). The politically best and clearest grouping, the Trotskyist ICE, was also the smallest; consequently, it was unable to wrest political influence from the anarchist CNT and Socialist PSOE during these years.
The lack of a revolutionary party during the pre-Civil War period of 1931-1935 shaped the policy of the Civil War to come. The left, plagued with divisions, yearned for unity. The desire for unity led to an increase in the popularity of the Communist Party message and the formation of the Popular Front government in February of 1936. However, this broad umbrella of political groups, representing all social class interests and political viewpoints to the left of fascism, would prove to be a diffuse political force during the coming revolution and Civil War in July of 1936. Indeed the Civil War and revolution formed an indissoluble whole. The Civil War was merely the military expression of a social revolution taking place throughout Spain’s countryside and cities; it embodied fascist counter-revolution and workers and peasants’ social revolution. Without workers’ revolution, the Civil War could not be won in a way beneficial to the oppressed and exploited; in other words, the working class would not be able to dictate the terms of the new society following the Civil War. Without civil war, workers would have lost the revolution (and thus the battle to overturn capitalism and capitalism’s “last card,” fascism), as soon as it began.
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Notes
1 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 56.
2 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 61.
3 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 65.
4 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pp. 19-20.
5 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 71-2, 76, 80.
6 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 74-5.
7 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 11.
8 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, 12-13 and Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 116.
9 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 14.
10 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 14.
11 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 180.
12 The notable strikes are as follows: during 1931 at the end of May Port workers struck in Pasajes (San Sebastian). The government repressed the strike killing eight; on June 1st miners struck in Asturias; during the summer there was general unrest among agricultural workers in Andalucía and Estremadura as well as strikes in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville; on July 6th the CNT led a strike at the telephone exchange ITT, an American multinational company which was supported by sections of the UGT; on July 18th the CNT organized a general strike in Seville; from November to December miners struck in Asturias; on December 6th Anarchists led a general strike in Gijón that was repressed leading to the deaths of four workers; in late December the FNTT led a general strike throughout the southern agricultural region where in the town of Castiloblanco (Estremadura) the Civil Guard killed one and in Logrono (Castile) the Civil Guard opened fire on a crowd killing four women, a child and a worker; during 1932 the CNT called a national general strike in Cataluña in January; on May, 15th miners in Asturias organized under the SMA (a UGT affiliated union) struck demanding the nationalization of the mines and the 7-hour day; on September, 19th miners called a strike which was averted when demands were met; on December, 10th the UGT called a general strike in Salamanca despite opposition from the UGT bureaucracy; In November miners struck in Asturias and raised the demands that the government reorganize mining industry and institute protectionist measures to protect the domestic market for coal. See Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 62-81.
13 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 41, 44, 46.
14 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 66.
15 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 66.
16 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 61, 67.
17 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 70.
18 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 190 see footnote 118.
19 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 164 see footnote 30.
20 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 66, 80.
21 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 69.
22 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pp. 22-23.
23 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 82-83.
24 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 91.
25 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 78-79.
26 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 84.
27 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 85-87.
28 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 99-100. This is also Trotsky’s conclusion.
29 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 90.
30 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 102-114.
31 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 117-119.
32 Bailey, The Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War, http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
33 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 116-118.
34 Adrian Shubert. “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pg. 119
35 This was a forced reduction of hours without compensation i.e. a “furlough.”
36 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pp. 119-120.
37 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pg. 120.
38 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pp. 120-122.
39 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pg. 124.
40 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pg. 131.
41 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 132.
42 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 192-193.
43 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 144-145.
44 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 100-101.
45 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 145.
46 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 139-140.
47 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 142.
48 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 232.
49 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 232-234.
50 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 133-134 and Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pg. 63.
51 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 143.
52 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 157 and Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” url:http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367
53 Durgan, Andy. “Largo Caballero and Spanish Socialism.” International Socialism 18 (Winter 1983): pp. 93-94. Also available online: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/durgan/1983/xx/caballero.html.
54 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 187 see footnote 107.
55 For BOC membership numbers see Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 205 footnote 40. Among scholars associated with the Trotskyist movement there is much debate regarding what led to the failure of the ICE in building a revolutionary party in Spain. This debate is reflected in the discussion that had occurred in 1935 within the ICE on how to approach the PSOE. Some, including Trotsky, had favored “entryism;” that is, entering the PSOE in order to advocate building a Bolshevik style party. Others sought to form a united revolutionary party of all the “dissident communist” (i.e anti-Stalinist) forces in Cataluña while members in other regions of Spain would join the PSOE (this was considered the “compromise” position advocated by ICE leaders Andrés Nin and Juan Andrade). Finally, there were those who argued for founding a Marxist party in Cataluña and entering the PSOE in other areas of Spain in order to split the party and declare solidarity with the party in Cataluña. The majority of ICE came out firmly against the first entryist position favored by Trotsky and decided on the third option and formed the POUM on July 12, 1935. This debate is seen by some as the critical decision that determined the future success or failure of the ICE to build a party. However, regardless of the debate on this tactical question, what was most decisive, in my view, was the size of the ICE. In order to understand the development of the Trotskyist ICE during the pre-Civil War years, the debates and discussions that ultimately led to its fusion with the POUM, the best descriptions in English are: Andy Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” in ed. Al Richardson. The Spanish Civil War: A View from the Left. Revolutionary History. Available online at:http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367; Tony Cliff, “Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution,” in: Trotsky: The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Star, 1927-1940, Volume 4. Bookmarks, London. Available online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1993/trotsky4/11-spanrev.html; and, finally Alan Sennett, Revolutionary Marxsim in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 193-206. The most thorough analysis of the Trotskyist movement in Spain during the pre-Civil War years and which covers the above debate is the following out-of-print work, available only in Spanish: Pagès, Pelai. El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935). Ediciones península. Barcelona. 1977, 238-288.
56 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 151-176.
57 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 144.
58 Geoff Bailey, “Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War,” http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
59 One justification the leaders of the POUM gave for joining of the Popular Front was that it was a tactical alliance in order to free the thousands of militants jailed after the Asturias uprising.
60 For those who largely defend Trotsky’s positions see Broué summarized in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 186 and Cliff, “Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution,” in: Trotsky Vol. 4, The Darker the Night the Brighter the Star (1927-1940), http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1993/trotsky4/index.html. In their later years, participants in the POUM such as former ICE and POUM member Juan Andrade and POUM members Victor Alba and Ignacio Iglesias defended the decision to form the POUM as well as later decisions Trotsky disagreed with; see Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 59, 81-91 along with the footnotes to these pages that reference these authors works. For those who give accounts of the time period and provide context to the disagreements between ICE and Trotsky without taking a position see Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935), 1977; Andy Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” in ed. Al Richardson. The Spanish Civil War: A View from the Left. Revolutionary History. Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367; and Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 193-206.
61 Andy Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367.
62 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 430-431.
63 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 429-434.
64 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 447-458.
65 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 205-206, 270.
66 For the above-mentioned political inconsistency of Maurín and BOC see Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” url:http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367 and Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pp. 146-8, 155-6, 160-5.
67 Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935), pp. 97-99.
68 Yuri Columbo, “Sapronov and the Russian Revolution,” International Socialist Review (103: Winter, 2016-7), pp. 110-122.
69 Sennett makes the observation that Trotsky wrote very little about the nature of the USSR until his work The Revolution Betrayed published in 1936. This indicates that he did not think there was anything new to grasp with respect to the nature of the USSR. See Sennett Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 35.
70 Sennett notes that the early PCE leadership of 1930-31 questioned Stalin’s dictates and arrived at conclusions similar to Trotsky regarding the slower tempo of events in Spain. They were expelled and replaced by others like Díaz. See Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 158. Regardless, this never led to their coming closer to Trotsky or the OCE.
71 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 436-439. Sennett also recounts this conversation between Nin and Trotsky in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, pp. 161-162.
72 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 455-458.
73 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 162.
74 ICE “Thesis on the International Situation” quoted in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 163. The ellipsis is Sennett’s.
75 For a more detailed summary regarding these disputes see Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367 and Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935), pp. 129-141.
76 Andy Durgan, “Largo Caballero and Spanish Socialism,” International Socialism (18 Winter 1983), pp. 89-95. URL:https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/durgan/1983/xx/caballero.html.
77 See footnote 162 of this work for a more detailed explanation for how ICE had reached this decision.
78 Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367
79 Isaac Deutscher makes this argument summarized in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 91.
80 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 119.
81 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 148.
82 Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, (Pluto Press, London; 1977), pg. 19.
83 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 15.
84Juan D. Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War.” Theory and Society 23, no. 4 (August 1994): 554, JSTOR, accessed 2010.
85 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 553.
86 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pp. 557-561.
87 The critical point Trotsky is making is that the politics of nationalism, as a program to be realized abstractly and as an end in and of itself, is a set of politics alien to working class emancipation.
88 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pp. 554-545.
89 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 550.
90 Norman Jones. “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pg. 93.
91 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pp. 85-89.
92 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 89.
93 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 90.
94 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 91.
95 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 550.
96 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 103.
97 A term to refer to the adherents of the CEDA coalition.
98 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 104.
99 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pp. 105-106.
100 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 176.
101 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 106.
102 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pg. 183.
103 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 547.
104 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” pg. 191.
105 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 548.
106 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,”pp. 192-193 and Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 556.
107 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 16.
108 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” pg. 189.
109 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” pg. 195.
110 Geoff Bailey, “Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War,” http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
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An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part II)-Nathan Moore

Posted by admin On July - 10 - 2019 Comments Off on An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part II)-Nathan Moore

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PART II – Trotsky’s Marxism and the test of events, 1931-1935
1. The Republican-Socialist coalition government, 1931-1933
2. Prelude to Revolution and Civil War – the rise of the right and the Asturian insurrection, 1934
3. The pace of revolution and its dangers: Spain 1931 and Russia 1917
4. Repression, political realignments, and the “Popular Front”, 1935
5. The failure to build a revolutionary party Spain, 1930-1935
a. Political tensions and breaks between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky
i. Establishing a solid political operation
ii. Independence vis-à-vis the PCE
iii. Entry into the PSOE or fusion with BOC?
b. Looking at factors outside the time and space of 1930-35 Spain
6. The struggle for self-determination in Spain, 1931-1936
a. Morocco, Cataluña, and The Basque region
b. Cataluña
c. The Basque region
7. Trotsky’s analysis of pre-revolutionary Spain: an assessment

1. The Republican-Socialist Coalition Government, 1931-1933

With the establishment of the Republican-Socialist cabinet following the April municipal elections and the June elections to the Cortes, a number of modest reforms were passed to secularize Spain and ameliorate dire living conditions in the countryside. Socialist cabinet ministers had passed a number of decrees to help, albeit in a very limited way, tenant farmers and agricultural workers. A decree of “municipal boundaries” (términos municipales) was passed, which mandated that landowners could contract labor from another municipality only on the condition that all laborers within the landowners’ municipality were already employed. A law was passed to protect tenant farmers from unjust eviction – failure to pay rent being the only grounds for eviction. Furthermore, tenant farmers could petition the courts to get reductions on rents. Mixed juries (jurados mixtos) were inaugurated to settle rural labor disputes. On July 1st, an edict was passed proclaiming the 8-hour day in the countryside, and overtime pay for work performed over eight hours.1 The Socialists, during their party congress on July 10th, endorsed a number of reforms before the Constituent Cortes, namely: separation of church and state, civil rights, divorce, agrarian reforms, secular education and the nationalization of railways, mines, and forests.2 Another important Socialist reform that would be included in article 44 of the Constitution was the ability of property to be expropriated for the purpose of “social utility.”3
Even if this legislation appeared radical to some, the constitution passed on December 9th, 1931 epitomized the substantive limitations of capitalist democracy. The document included the following: compulsory military service (similar to that under the monarchy); powers to suspend constitutional rights under “threats” to the Republic (for example, “denigration of public institutions,” actions provoking the “flight of capital”, illicit possession of arms, and “unreasonable refusal to work”); revoking the right to assembly for “threats to the public order”; compulsory arbitration for labor disputes; and limiting the voting age to 23 (in a country where leading militants were as young as sixteen years old).4
The economic downturn hit industry (particularly the mining sector) and agriculture hard. Competition from British coal imports depressed the market for Spanish coal. Mine owners in Asturias had responded by closing mines, reducing hours, and ignoring workers’ demands for the 7-hour day. 5 On September 9th, 1931 a modest agrarian reform bill was passed which included small wage increases for agricultural workers. In the context of an economic downturn and reduced profits, increased wages essentially meant direct redistribution of wealth to the poor. The far-right mobilized to oppose it, claiming that “high” rural wages would bankrupt them. The truth was agricultural families lived on a starvation wage that did not allow many to introduce meat into their diets. The landowners declared an economic war on laborers, conducting rural lockouts and refusing to hire workers and withholding wages for work already performed. The latifundistas, backed by the political right, also refused any concessions to tenant farmers who lived in virtual enslavement and were threatened with eviction. These forms of economic sabotage on behalf of the landowners popularized the idea among laborers and tenant farmers organized in the FNTT (the UGT affiliate and main organizer of the agricultural workers) that “if they won’t produce we should take the land and run it collectively.”6
The substance of this reform paled in comparison to what Trotsky and the OCE argued was necessary. They understood that the dismal state of industry and agriculture, in the midst of plenty for the wealthy, required the implementation of radical reforms as the only solution to the crisis. Trotsky and the OCE argued that Spanish industry was unable to keep up with foreign competition, prompting protectionist measures to safeguard markets for Spanish goods. As Spanish protectionism provoked British and French retaliation on Spanish agricultural exports, the cyclical downturn of the economy could only be solved through the state monopoly of trade.7 As for agriculture, there needed to be a radical redistribution of land to the peasantry. In this connection, the demands regarding church were: confiscation of all church wealth; dissolution of all orders; prohibition of religious teachers in schools; Church funds to be redirected to aid peasantry and confiscation and redistribution of land to the peasantry.8 Concerning the reform of the military, Trotsky and the OCE demanded the elimination of the officer corps and elections of officers by the common soldier.9
Republicans did little to curb the excesses of the Church. The Republicans were so tied to landowners’ wealth; the landowners, in turn, were economically and ideologically bound to Church. Accordingly, the Republicans proposed only to disrupt church groups if they were considered detrimental to Spanish nation. The Jesuit order, a group which had amassed incredible wealth, was eventually disbanded in 1932. However, the Jesuits avoided the confiscation of their wealth, funneling their riches into the coffers of other religious orders. Although state funding for the Church had officially ended, state subvention of Catholic schools continued. With respect to reforming the military, the Republicans offered officers an early retirement with pay. Although this led to the exodus of 7,000 officers, the aristocratic milieu within the army remained intact.10
While the Republicans and Socialists deliberated over petty reform in the Cortes, a generalized strike wave continued throughout Spain. Trotsky wrote in April, 1931 about the role of strikes in advancing the gains of the revolution:
“The revolution awakens – and in this lies its force – the most backward, downtrodden, the most oppressed toiling masses. The strike is the form of their awakening. By means of the strike, various strata and groups of the proletariat announce themselves, signal to one another, verify their own strength and the strength of their foe. One layer awakens and infects another…. Only through these strikes, with all their mistakes, with all their ‘excesses’ and ‘exaggerations’, does the proletariat rise to its feet, assemble itself as a unit, begin to feel and conceive of itself as a class, as a living historical force. Never have revolutions developed under a conductor’s stick. Excesses, mistakes, and sacrifices are the very nature of any revolution.”11
The strike wave of 1931-1932 was formidable in its magnitude and geographical scope12 These years matched 1930 in militancy and struggle; the critical difference was that the Republicans and Socialists were now in power. If the Republicans and Socialists did not deliver on their promises of social reform, the masses would look for another way forward. The far-right (conservative, monarchist, and increasingly fascist) in Spain, caught unawares by the swift Republican-Socialist victory at the polls in April and June, was quick to regroup. Acción Popular, the organization of the far-right headed by Gil Robles, was poised to obstruct any attempt to introduce sweeping social reform in the countryside and of the Church.13
As Trotsky predicted, the Socialists acted as the velvet glove covering the Republican fist. In all of the strike actions throughout 1931 and 1932, the PSOE and UGT bureaucracy discouraged strike actions, sought to bring these struggles out of their control to a swift end, or even explicitly supported government repression of these actions. Likewise, as Trotsky anticipated, the increased militancy of the rank-and-file within the UGT resulted from their increased expectations for winning reforms; after all, workers now had Socialist representation in the government. Trifón Gómez, a right-wing Socialist and leader of the railwaymen’s union within the UGT summed up the sentiment of the rank n’ file this way:
“If there were not three Socialist ministers in the government, the concessions would have been received by the workers with applause and gratitude. However, since there are Socialist ministers, they think the railways should be handed over to them lock, stock, and barrel.”14
For the Republicans, the whole purpose of having the Socialists in the coalition was to dampen militancy. Azaña, the Republican prime minister, would write in his diary: “if the presence of three Socialist ministers in the government cannot prevent the strike, what use is it?”15
Throughout 1931, the Socialists and the UGT trade-union bureaucracy advocated winning reform through the government bodies i.e. the Cortes, believing that strike action would only do the disservice of antagonizing the right wing. When strikes broke out, they were often led by the anarchist CNT and FAI unions (and much less often by the Communist Party) although they frequently had the sympathy of the UGT rank-and-file. The PSOE and the UGT bureaucracy’s endorsement of the Republican crack-down on these struggles fomented political division and distrust between the UGT and anarchist unions, and did nothing to appease the right-wing. On the contrary, Acción Popular was emboldened and strengthened by the repression of the left.16
Despite the UGT’s attempts to divert the struggle throughout these years, their unions witnessed incredible growth. Beginning at a membership of approximately 287,000, it is estimated that, per week, between four and five thousand workers were joining the UGT and between two and three thousand agricultural workers were joining the FNTT.17 By 1934, the UGT and FNTT together boasted a membership of approximately 1.2 million – or 500% growth in the span of three years. The FNTT alone grew from 36,000 to 400,000 from 1930 to 1932.18 The CNT-FAI grew from 500,000 to 1.2 million between 1931 and 1932.19 This was consistent with Trotsky’s perspective that the masses, in revolution, would flood into reformist organizations and parties first, before joining any revolutionary party.
Trotsky anticipated that increased struggle would force the rank-and-file workers to politically break from their leadership. In the mining region of Asturias the Sindicato Minero Asturiano (SMA), a UGT affiliated union, consistently defied the UGT bureaucracy, led most of the miners and performed many united actions with the CNT and PCE-led unions. In another case, the UGT railway union voted to organize itself in an independent union because of the UGT failure to address worker grievances adequately.20 Furthermore, the FNTT was compelled to take actions in the countryside independent of the position of the UGT leadership.
By 1932, the PSOE leadership was aware and concerned that their moderate posture threatened their credibility among the membership. In February 1932, a UGT national committee meeting was held where representatives expressed concern about not delivering enough on reform and questioning the effectiveness of a coalition with the Republicans.21 UGT representatives recognized that government repression of strike action was demoralizing the PSOE and UGT base. What they had refused to acknowledge was that the real battle for winning reform, lie not within the Cortes, but implementing that reform in society at the grassroots level.
The two-year period of struggle of 1931-1932 culminated the libertarian uprising of Casas Viejas (Cádiz). During the month of January in 1933, the FAI led an uprising that spread from Cataluña, Zaragoza, Seville, Madrid, all the way to Casas Viejas. In Casas Viejas, the FAI declared a libertarian commune and the Civil Guard repressed the uprising Guard killing 12 people.
The massacre put in bold relief the lengths to which the Republicans would go to repress the very people who had elected them. It also expressed Socialist prostration and duplicity. The PSOE, which many regarded as the political leader of the working class, came out publicly against the uprising. Casas Viejas emboldened the far-right which lumped socialists, anarchists, and communists into one group that threatened the existence of private property and the Church. Acción Popular had opportunistically utilized the incidents in Casas Viejas to portray the Republicans and Socialists as incapable stable government as well as enemies of the peasant.22
2. Prelude to revolution and Civil War: the rise of the right and the Asturian insurrection, 1934

By the end of 1933, the PSOE was on the political defensive after having opposed workers’ struggle for more than two years. Acción Popular grew as result, forming a coalition of right-wing groups – CEDA. This coalition won increasing votes in the April municipal elections in 193323 and obtained the largest representation of any other political group or coalition in the elections to the Cortes held in November. The results of the Cortes elections on November 19th, 1933 were as follows: CEDA – 115 seats, Radicals – 104 seats, the Republicans – 99 seats, the Socialists – 58 seats. Clearly, the PSOE’s dampening of struggle did nothing to appease the right-wing and win reform; on the contrary, it strengthened the right and weakened the left. Nevertheless, the election results did not represent a decisive political shift to the right among the Spanish populace – the right-wing never won more than 40% of the vote in any one location and the abstention rate was very high, and was attributed mainly to anarchist abstention in the election.24
In response to the radicalization of the rank-and-file workers and peasants, and the growing momentum of the right, the PSOE began to reevaluate its role in the Republican coalition. Largo Caballero, the Minister of Labor of the Republic, became the most prominent spokesperson of a more salient left-wing within the PSOE and UGT. 25 Indalecio Prieto represented the more moderate wing and controlled the party and union bureaucracy. Having learned nothing from the previous two years, Prieto continued to advocate a reformist and gradualist strategy to socialism.
By mid 1933 Caballero began to denounce right-wing obstruction of reform, warn about the threat of fascism, and the need to take new revolutionary measures. He had concluded that establishing a coalition with the Republicans was a mistake and the reason for the growth of the far-right. The increase of the fascist right alarmed Caballero and he warned that if the government did not put a stop to fascism in Spain, the working class would have to create its own organizations for doing so.26 Caballero, on July 23rd, had called fascism “the bourgeoisie’s last resort at a time of capitalist crisis” and, in a speech to the Socialist youth, argued that capitalism was too inflexible to accept progressive social reform and, therefore, a transition to socialism was necessary.27 Luis Araquistáin (another left Socialist leader), told the Socialist Youth that the passivity of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the reason for fascism succeeding in Germany.28 After Republican Martinez Barrio had formed an exclusively Republican cabinet on October 8th, and called elections to the Cortes for November 19th, Caballero declared in a campaign speech that “if Socialist progress were made impossible… the Socialists would have to abandon bourgeois democracy and proceed to a revolutionary seizure of power.”29
Although CEDA had won more voters than any other political party or coalition, the Radicals and other Republicans did not want to risk the potential backlash of letting the far right assume leadership positions in the cabinet. Parallel to this, Gil Robles, cautiously following the example of Hitler, did not want to overreach politically but rather ensure the consolidation of his base and assume power peacefully.
In response to the election results, the PSOE left-wing became more vocal through 1934. They had witnessed the fascist takeovers in Germany and Austria and saw the fascist right in their own country gain considerable electoral ground within CEDA. In the event that the far-right entered the government, Caballero had advocated the building of a revolutionary organization and fighting for the revolutionary seizure of power.30 However, Caballero did not follow through organizationally on his threats. Radicals from the BOC approached Caballero and proposed forming “worker alliances” (Alianzas Obreras), organizations that could unite left political forces for the purpose of combating fascism and fighting for socialism. Although Caballero participated in meetings to discuss their formation, he was ultimately dismissive and did not contribute to building them.31 Also, the anarchists, true to their anti-political inclinations, opposed these bodies on the grounds that they involved parties.32 Instead, throughout 1934, the PSOE left-wing leadership sat passively by while important struggles were left to be repressed.
The first struggle that the PSOE ignored was a general strike in Saragosa of April-May 1934 which lasted 36 days. The second struggle was an FNTT called strike on June 5th to protest landowners withholding wages from agricultural workers in the southern provinces. The PSOE denounced the strike, leading to government suppression and the imprisonment of 500 militants in Badajoz and four killed at the hands of the Civil Guard in Fuente del Maestre.33 The PSOE could have called for industrial action in solidarity with their FNTT comrades, but neglected to do so.
The third, and by far the most radical movement which foreshadowed the social revolution and Civil War to come, was the Asturias uprising in October of 1934. On October 4th, the Radical Party Prime Minister Alejandro Lerroux announced the ascension of three CEDA ministers to cabinet posts. In response, the Asturian miners led an uprising, taking over the mining region in northern Spain.
As previously noted, militancy among the Asturian miners was quite high throughout the first years of the Republic. The dominant union in Asturias was the UGT affiliate, the SMA. Others were the anarchist Sindicato Único (SU) and the Communist breakaway from the latter, the Sindicato Único de los Mineros Asturianos (SUMA). The position of the SMA leadership was very moderate. The union daily Avance stated in August 1932:
“By respecting the existing work norms we will create a system of civility and mutual understanding and limit social conflict to that natural area defined by the logical antagonism of interests. It should not be a war between slavers and Africans, a struggle between slaves and tyrants, but simply the disagreement between the worker who aspires to a more humane and better life and the employer who understandably desires to obtain a reasonable return on his investment. From a struggle imbued with this spirit it is always easy to reach an understanding which harms the interests of neither party. This is how we understand the class struggle and this is how we will practice it.”34
The rank-and-file did not heed this message of conciliation. In August 1932, a strike was called to protest the imposition of the four-day week.35 Following an agreement between owners and miners, strike activity resumed on a number of occasions because mine owners did not respect the promised agreement. Ultimately miners struck in mid-November. The strike lasted six days and involved 50,000 miners. The government was forced to agree to miners’ demands: control of iron imports, tariff protection, and state acquisition of coal.36
In January 1933 another strike was called which lasted from February 6th to March 4th. Miners protested the owners raising coal prices, lowering wages, and firing miners. The government responded to miners demands; they reviewed the mine owners’ bookkeeping and owners agreed to retirement fund contributions. Nevertheless, the owners discontinued contributions to retirement in September 1933 provoking a general strike – the first national miners’ strike in Spanish history – which ended in a victory.37
Compared to the SMA, the CNT-led SU had a small following, and the PCE led SUMA even smaller. Their strikes only mobilized a small section of the mining population and often resorted to ultra-militant tactics of dynamiting mines and armed confrontations with police. This did not attract the radicalizing miners. Herein explains the paradox: the militancy of the miners did not lead to their split from the SMA. Even when there was open disagreement with the policy of the leadership, this union remained the predominant leader among the miners.38
The election of the CEDA pushed the miners even further to the left. Out of a total of thirty-two strikes in the first nine months, eight were explicitly political (and three of these eight were general strikes). The Socialist Youth played a leading role among the miners, and were more militant relative to their leadership. 39
The Asturian insurrection, which began on October 4th with CEDA’s entrance into key government positions, was planned as part of a broader uprising throughout Spain in order to kick the CEDA right out of the government. The movement lasted a total of two weeks. Miners took control of the coalfields, disarming the Civil Guard and even repelling military personnel sent by the Republican government. After some considerable fighting, the miners took control of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. At the peak of the struggle, they controlled about thirty percent of the region and eighty percent of the total population. Adrian Shubert relates how democratically elected committees began to run the daily affairs of the area:
“These local committees took control of all aspects of social organization incumbent on a government. As well as military affairs they were active in food supply and rationing, health, labour, communications, propaganda, public order and justice. Money was abolished and replaced by vouchers issued to each family and valid for an amount of food determined after a thorough census. In Sama the supply committee dealt with local farmers to assure quantities of milk, eggs, and meat. In Oviedo, Sama, and Mieres hospitals were organized and the wounded of both sides treated… Work committees organized the conservation of the mines and the operation of essential public services such as water and electricity. Explosives were produced in Mieres and armored vehicles in Turón. In La Felguera the FAI kept the Duro-Felguera foundry going, turning out armoured cars in three eight-hour shifts per day.”40
However, the PSOE leadership, concerned most about the institutional integrity of the UGT as a peaceful bargainer in the government, was not politically and organizationally equipped to lead a revolution. They did not prepare their unions and party branches to participate in the strike in Madrid. Even the more militant CNT within Cataluña did not mobilize. What is worse, following the insurrection, Caballero dissociated himself politically from the uprising while in prison, out of fear of provoking the right-wing and he stated that strikes only “dissipated the energies of the working class before the final seizure of power.” The miners held out for two weeks but were eventually beaten by detachments of Moroccan legionaries led by Francisco Franco. Repression was the most violent yet seen in Spain; 3,000 militants were executed and the rest imprisoned. The government throughout Spain went on the offensive, arresting every radical and left-wing leader.41
3. The Pace of Revolution and its dangers: Spain 1931 vs. Russia 1917

Trotsky had observed that, toward the end of 1931, the workers’ movement had experienced an ebb (the exception being workers’ uprisings in Cataluña in January 1932) that continued through early 1932 and ended with the failed right-wing coup of General Sanjurjo in August, 1932. However, Trotsky insisted that the revolution had not exhausted itself. Trotsky wrote toward the end of 1931:
“The extraordinary delay of the proletarian vanguard lagging behind the events, the politically dispersed character of the heroic struggles of the working masses, the actual assurances of reciprocity between anarcho-syndicalism and Social Democracy – these are the fundamental political conditions that made it possible for the republican bourgeoisie, in league with Social Democracy, to establish an apparatus of repression, and by dealing the insurgent masses blow for blow, to concentrate a considerable amount of political power in the hands of the government[….]
Needless to say, the Spanish revolution has not yet ended. It has not solved its most elementary tasks (the agrarian, church, and national questions) and is still far from having exhausted the revolutionary resources of the popular masses. More than it has already given, the bourgeois revolution will not be able to give. With regard to the proletarian revolution, the present internal situation in Spain may be characterized as pre revolutionary, but scarcely more than that. It is quite probable that the offensive development of the Spanish revolution will take on a more or less protracted character.”42
Trotsky attributed the slower pace of the Spanish Revolution, in part, to the absence of a revolutionary party that could compete politically with the Socialists and anarchists. Nevertheless, there were other “objective” factors that Trotsky identified that affected the slower character of the revolution. To identify these factors and gauge their relative weight in shaping the revolution, Trotsky compared the Spanish experience to that of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the French Revolution of 1789:
“The Great French Revolution took over three years to reach its highest point, the dictatorship of the Jacobins. The Russian Revolution produced the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks within eight months. Here we see a tremendous difference in tempo. If in France events had developed faster, the Jacobins would not have had the time to take shape, because they did not exist as a party on the eve of the revolution. On the other hand, had the Jacobins represented a power on the eve of the revolution, events would probably have proceeded faster. That is one of the factors determining the tempo. But there are also others, perhaps more decisive ones.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was preceded by the revolution in 1905, which Lenin called a dress rehearsal. All of the elements of the second [February 1917] and third [October 1917] revolutions were prepared beforehand, so that the forces participating in the struggle moved as if according to plan. This hastened extraordinarily the period of the revolution’s rise to its culmination.
Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind that the decisive factor in relation to the tempo in 1917 was the war. The agrarian question might have been postponed for months, perhaps for a year or two, but the question of death in the trenches could bear no postponement. The soldiers were saying: ”What good is the land to me if I am not alive?” The pressure of twelve million soldiers was a factor in the extraordinary acceleration of the revolution. Without the war, in spite of the ‘dress rehearsal’ of 1905 and the presence of the Bolshevik policy, the pre-Bolshevik period of the revolution might have lasted not eight months, but perhaps a year or two more [emphasis in original].”43
Spain of 1931 was not Russia of 1917. The Russian Revolution was propelled forward by the mass defection of the peasantry fighting in WWI compounded by an agricultural crisis in the countryside. Although there was an agricultural crisis in Spain, there was no war pushing the peasantry to desert the front and flood into soviets. The soviets, which represented heavily the soldiers and peasants, were critical forums for the Bolsheviks to establish political alliances with the peasantry. Absent workers’ councils and a war in Spain, Trotsky predicted that the revolution may take years to fully mature and develop, whereas the Russian Revolution took nine months to lead to a workers’ victory.
Objective factors aside, the presence of a mass revolutionary party – the Bolsheviks – to raise, fight and win the demands of the working class and peasantry, greatly accelerated the pace of the Russian Revolution.44 The absence of a revolutionary party in Spain would, after a period of time, make the masses impatient with their lack of progress. Trotsky warned that this could lead to an early revolutionary confrontation between radical workers in Cataluña and the ruling class before the working class throughout Spain was ready to fight for political power. Trotsky observed:
“…there are factors that pull in the opposite direction and may provoke premature attempts at a decisive battle that are equivalent to defeat of the revolution: the weakness of the party accentuates the strength of the spontaneous elements in the movement; the anarcho-syndicalist traditions have the same effect…”45
Trotsky related that revolutionary impatience among sections of radicalized workers was a typical phase in social revolution and evident in a number of historical examples: June 1848 and the French Paris Commune March 1871 in France, and the “July days” of the Russian revolution of 1917. Trotsky explained the general nature of these moments:
“The possessing class, having come to power through the revolution, is inclined to think that the revolution has by that exhausted its mission, and is concerned more than anything else with proving its reliability to the forces of reaction. The ‘revolutionary’ bourgeoisie provokes the indignation of the masses by the very measures with which it strives to gain the good graces of the overthrown classes. The disillusionment of the masses proceeds very quickly, even before its vanguard has had a chance to cool off from the heat of the revolutionary battles. It appears to those at the head of the movement that by a new blow it can finish or correct what it previously did not carry out resolutely enough. From this comes the impulse for the new revolution, unprepared, without a program, without looking back at the reserves, without a thought for the consequences. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie, which has come to power, acts as though it were waiting for a stormy uprising from below in order to attempt to settle matters with the people. Such is the social and psychological basis for that supplementary semi revolution, which more than once in history became the provocation for a victorious counterrevolution.46
During the “July Days” of 1917, the movement experienced an upsurge in St. Petersburg that almost led to a premature confrontation of revolutionaries with the Kerensky-led bourgeois government; nonetheless, this movement did not lead to a decisive defeat of the revolution:
“… The blow dealt to the masses and the party in July 1917 was very heavy. But it was not the decisive blow. The victims were counted by the tens, but not by the tens of thousands. The working class emerged from this trial neither beheaded nor debilitated. It preserved its fighting cadres intact. These cadres learned a great deal and led the proletariat to victory in October.”47
What distinguished the Russian experience from France of 1848 and 1871 was the ability of the Bolshevik Party to deter the frustrated vanguard of the workers and soldiers from taking power too early. Whereas the “July days” of Russia 1917 led to an acceleration of the revolution, the Asturian insurrection of 1934 led to defeat. However, like the “July days,” this blow, albeit the most brutal yet delivered to the Spanish workers, did not defeat the revolution. Revolutionaries would still have some time to learn from their mistakes and provide a new strategy. Even though Trotsky’s concerns vis-à-vis the over-acceleration of the Spanish Revolution were written in 1931 for the purpose of warning about the early rise of the Catalan proletariat, they presage the events of Asturias in 1934.
The Asturian insurrection highlighted another important matter – the relationship between “civil war” and “revolution.” Following the suppression of the Asturian commune, Trotsky countered sections of the reformist left who believed that the defeat in Asturias proved revolutionary tactics were ineffective and counterproductive. Trotsky explained at length that Asturias was the result of an inevitable consequence of revolution – the armed confrontation between the workers and capitalists – in other words, civil war. Trotsky summarized:
“Civil war, we have said, following Clausewitz, is a continuation of politics by other means. This means that the result of the civil war depends for one-forth, not to say one-tenth, upon the development of the civil war itself, its technical means, its purely military leadership, and for three-fourths, if not for nine-tenths, on the political preparation.
Of what does this political preparation consist? Of the revolutionary cohesion of the masses, of their liberation from servile hopes in the clemency, generosity, and loyalty of ‘democratic slave-owners,’ of the education of revolutionary cadres who know how to defy official public opinion and who know how to display towards the bourgeoisie one-tenth the implacability that the bourgeoisie displays towards the toilers. Without this temper, civil war, when conditions force it – and they always end by forcing it – will take place under conditions most unfavorable to the proletariat, will depend upon many hazards, and even then, in the case of military victory, power can escape the hands of the proletariat. Whoever does not foresee that the class struggle leads inevitably to armed conflict is blind. But he is no less blind who fails to see behind this armed conflict and its outcome the whole previous policy of the classes in struggle….48
Furthermore, the successful counter-revolution in Asturias was predicated on the whole previous policy of the Socialists and anarchists:
“In Spain… the Socialist Party, like the Russian Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, shared power with the republican bourgeoisie to prevent the workers and the peasants from carrying the revolution to its conclusion. For two years the Socialists in power helped the bourgeoisie disembarrass itself of the masses by crumbs of national, social, and agrarian reforms. Against the most revolutionary strata of the people, the Socialists used repression.
The result is two-fold. Anarcho-syndicalism, which would have melted like wax in the heat of revolution had the workers’ party pursued the correct course, was strengthened and drew around it the militant layers of the proletariat. At the other pole, social catholic demagogy, succeeded in skillfully exploiting the discontent of the masses with the bourgeois-Socialist government.
When the Socialist Party was sufficiently compromised, the bourgeoisie drove it from power and took over the offensive on the whole front. The Socialist Party had to defend itself under the most unfavorable conditions, which had been prepared for it by its own previous policy. The bourgeoisie already had mass support at the right. The anarcho-syndicalist leaders, who during the course of the revolution committed all of the mistakes typical of these professional confusionists, refused to support the insurrection led by the traitor ‘politicians.’ The movement did not take on a general character but remained sporadic. The government directed its blows at the scattered sections of the workers. The civil war forced by the reaction ended in the defeat of the proletariat [emphasis in original].”49
4. Repression, political realignments, and the ‘Popular Front’: 1935

1935 was a year of repression of the left. Nevertheless, the revolution was not defeated; radicals and militants of all shades were discussing what the lessons of the past struggle were as well as next steps for the movement. Caballero himself was reading Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and identified (at least in words) with Bolshevism, concluding that a new revolutionary International be constructed beyond the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. 50
Therefore, 1935 was also a year of critical political alignments that would shape the future formation of the Popular Front government in February of 1936. The youth section of the PSOE, the Partido Socialista de la Juventud (PSJ), boasted a following in the tens of thousands of young radicals already looking for a Bolshevik-style party. Caballero’s revolutionary bombast and lack of action demonstrated him to be an impotent leader of the growing radicalization. The Socialist Youth, who were looking for a consistent revolutionary alternative to the moderate PSOE, eventually merged with the Communist Youth in April of 1936 to form one organization in which the Communist Party would dominate – the JSU (Juventud Socialista Unificado).
The Communist Party internationally had, since Hitler’s rise to power, moved from the ultra-revolutionary policy of the “third period” to a policy of accommodation to moderate reformist parties – the Popular Front. The Communist Party adopted the “popular front” policy in August of 1935 at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) and advocated unity with all left parties, including the Republicans.51 The PCE had grown from a membership of 800 in 1931 to 10,000 in 1934 and 30,000 by the end of 1935.52
Aside from the inability of the CNT-FAI and the PSOE to effectively harness the radicalization into a unified revolutionary force, the following factors can explain the rise of the Communist Party in Spain from 1931-1936: 1) the masses in Spain, and worldwide, still looked to the Communist Party as heir to the first successful workers revolution in Russia, 2) the Communist Party advocated the “popular front” strategy of uniting all left forces in the government and beyond, a policy that comforted many who were frustrated with political divisions on the left for years, even decades, and 3) they were given credit for leading militant struggles, particularly among the miners in Asturias in 1934.53
The Trotskyist organization (ICE), the group with the best political ideas was also the smallest and therefore could not win revolutionary militants and leaders away en masse from reformist socialism, Stalinist communism, and anti-political insurrectionary anarchism. The size of ICE proved decisive. At its highest point, it had boasted only 800 members.54 Thus, it was incapable of competing politically with the PSOE, CNT, and FAI. These were mass organizations which, all together, organized between 2.5 and 3 million workers – a clear majority of the Spanish proletariat. Instead, during 1935, the ICE, not seeing a clear way to influence events as a small group and having come to sharp political and personal disputes with Trotsky, opted to merge with Juan Maurin’s dissident communist BOC to form the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) in September. This organization was based in Cataluña and as BOC had a membership of 5,000 by 1934 and 6,000 by 1936 as the POUM.55
CEDA’s increasing influence and control over the government frightened even the Republican Party. On May 5th, 1935 the number of CEDA ministers in the government increased to five which included Gil Robles as head of the Ministry of War with Francisco Franco appointed as Commander in Chief of the army. The Radical Party, true to their tradition, had become mired in scandal and corruption which led to their virtual implosion as a political party and Lerroux’s exit from the political scene as prime minister. CEDA’s presence in the government appeared ever more ominous. Therefore, when the time had come to either cede the position of prime minister to Gil Robles or dissolve the Cortes and call new elections, Zamora had chosen the latter. The elections to the Cortes resulted in the victory of the Popular Front – an electoral coalition of left parties. Only months later, the fascist right would counter with an uprising, initiating the Civil War.56 Gil Robles had tried Hitler’s peaceful road to institute fascism and failed; the only solution left would be to wage war.
The Communist Party had convinced the reluctant PSOE to join the Republicans once again in a government coalition. The Republicans had formally proposed that the Socialist Party join the Popular Front government on November 14th, 1935.57 Finally, the PSOE met on December 15th, and the moderate-wing led by Prieto dominated the discussion, distancing itself from the Caballero left-wing and endorsed the Popular Front strategy. The anarchist leadership, who had historically advocated abstention from elections, for the first time did not explicitly tell their members to not vote.58 Even the POUM, the political formation that most approximated a revolutionary Marxist position (and even still quite far in Trotsky’s purview) signed on to the Popular Front.59
5. The failure to build a revolutionary party in Spain, 1930-1935

Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. He, along with a number of revolutionaries who agreed with his assessment of Stalinism, formed the International Left Opposition (ILO). However, the political pressures were intense: many capitulated and dissociated themselves from “Trotskyism” and sought re-entry into the Russian party; some even committed suicide. The ILO entered the 1930’s as a tiny force relative to the cadres in the Communist Parties worldwide. What they lacked in resources they made up for in political clarity – trying to rescue a revolutionary Marxist perspective from the clutches of a Stalinist counter-revolutionary policy.
For the ILO, Spain was unique in 1930 relative to other countries because there existed a nucleus of followers in exile and throughout Spain who agreed with (and decided to organize with) Trotsky. Meanwhile, the PCE in Spain had only 800 members and negligible influence in the workers movement. Furthermore, the other “dissident communist” current, the FCC-B (or BOC) organized itself independently and dissociated itself from the PCE. As noted earlier, this group was larger than ICE with a few thousand members. The possibility of winning these radicals, and PCE members away from Stalinism, and toward more consistent revolutionary positions seemed more probable relative to other places. In addition, Spain was entering into a period of increased struggle with its transition from a monarchical dictatorship to a liberal democracy in 1931. The opportunity to expose the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism would be just as great in Spain as it would be for the ILO in Germany in the fight against Hitler’s growing fascist movement.
A number of people have recounted the discussion between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky concerning how a revolutionary party could be built in Spain between 1930 and 1935. Some take Trotsky’s side in the debate, others side with the ICE’s decision to form the POUM, and some simply explain the political disputes.60 The decisions and positions Trotsky and the OCE/ICE advocated need to be seen within the context of the incredible obstacles and limitations they faced in real time. Only then is it possible to understand better why they advocated certain positions and why they reached the conclusions they did. Such an approach needs to account for the historical context in which OCE/ICE and Trotsky made decisions without the benefit of hindsight that the historian possesses while simultaneously using a historical view to look at factors beyond the 1930-35 time frame that impacted the ability of the revolutionary current associated with Trotsky to grow.
a. Political tensions and breaks between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky

The OCE established itself in exile at a meeting in Liege, Belgium in 1930. Andreu Nin, the most prominent member, who spent his exile in the USSR during the 1920’s, finally made his way to Barcelona in 1931. The composition of the OCE, despite being small (about only 50 people at its founding), possessed a number of capable cadres. Furthermore, they were from a variety of areas of Spain: Asturias, the Basque region, Cataluña, Madrid, and the agricultural regions of southern Spain.61 Trotsky, living in exile at this time in Turkey, relied on his contact with Nin who was proficient in Russian.
i. Establishing a solid political operation

The correspondence between Trotsky and Nin during the years 1931 and 1932 shows that Trotsky appeared uneasy with a number of actions Nin had taken, and not taken. For Trotsky, the priority of any revolutionary organization aspiring to be a mass party of the working class was to establish a political base of operation. Nin and his comrades needed to operate independently as a leadership and build political roots throughout the country through the establishment of a regular paper and journal.
Nevertheless, Nin (after arriving in Barcelona) prioritized collaboration with BOC over establishing a political base for the OCE. He believed that BOC’s criticism of Stalinism would make it more amenable to influence and would therefore be an important part of the building of a real mass party in Spain. In addition, Nin communicated that Joaquín Maurín, the leader of BOC, and he were neighbors which facilitated political work and collaboration.62In the end, Nin believed he could win Maurín over to the OCE’s and Trotsky’s perspectives.63 While Trotsky communicated that he was encouraged about Maurin’s openness, he harbored some concerns. First, BOC’s publications demonstrated a lack of political clarity and consistency on a range of issues and assumed political positions that were deeply at odds with the OCE. Second, although Nin collaborated with Maurín in drafting theses within the BOC group, did this mean that he was coming closer to the OCE in terms of organizing in the same group? There was no indication that this was the case. For Trotsky, it was more probable that Maurín would join the OCE if it were already established with an independent analysis and organization. Thus for Trotsky it came back to the priority of the OCE building its own organizational strength first, and then winning influence on that basis.64 To many radicals in BOC, Nin was an outsider because he had not been in Spain for a long time (about a decade) and had little in terms of political and organizational links.65
Over the course of 1931 and 1932, Nin found that there were big political disagreements with Maurín that led to breaks in their political relationship, re-establishing ties, and renewed breaks. BOC’s politics were far from consistent with revolutionary Marxism. The BOC never took a principled position regarding the increasingly Stalinist Comintern and wanted to keep relations open with it. This reflected in their propaganda, referring to Socialists as “social fascists” and campaigning on the slogan “class against class.” Maurín was the undisputed, charismatic leader of BOC and, beyond him, the organization was far from being on the same page politically. From 1931 to 1935, BOC’s viewpoints regarding Trotsky in their publications were erratic: at times they voiced praise and defense of Trotsky’s ideas, and in the next breath, heavy criticism and political distancing. In terms of the organization itself, BOC was created to be a broader organization with the FCC-B, or “Catalan Federation,” being the leader within it. In reality, both groups were indistinguishable from one another, and so it was simply known as BOC. Even still, Nin, as a representative of the OCE, was not allowed to join openly as a member because of his affiliation with Trotsky.
Maurín and BOC accommodated heavily to Catalan nationalism and not only supported the right for Cataluña to separate but actively advocated that it do so. In addition, they overestimated the pre-revolutionary events of 1931 and 1932, thinking the revolution was upon them. Maurín believed the CNT was the body through which workers could take power and called on the CNT to do so in 1932. After Maurín found the CNT difficult to influence, he advocated building a separate trade union, effectively isolating its organization of militants from the CNT. While the BOC was a key leader in the formation of the Alianza Obrera in 1934, like with the CNT, he overestimated the revolutionary nature of this body and argued that it would become the organ of workers’ power in the revolution. After the Asturias uprising, the Alianza Obrera dissipated shortly thereafter.66 Trotsky argued that the OCE had wasted precious time trying to influence the politically confused BOC when it could have spent the time establishing its independent political operation. The movement of the worker and peasant masses in Spain was promising but it was missing a key ingredient – a revolutionary party with an established political center.
The OCE did not officially announce itself publicly in Barcelona until September, 1931 and did not have, as of yet, a regular paper of which to speak. The OCE did have a theoretical monthly journal Comunismo which had started in May 1931. It is estimated that this journal had a circulation of 1,500 copies before it ended in October 1934. Although the journal held some political sway among radicals with its consistent publication schedule and its high political quality, its purpose was more theoretical and it did not comment regularly on everyday struggles and political questions.
Following the political fallout with the BOC and the official announcement of the OCE’s existence in Barcelona, Nin and the OCE leadership produced a paper, El Soviet. This paper’s existence was sporadic and short-lived. It launched on October 15th, 1931 in Barcelona. Only three editions were issued that month before ceasing publication. The paper surfaced again in May, 1932 until July 1932, before disappearing for the final time. By this time, the strike movement that swept the country in 1930 and 1931 had already ebbed with the exception of important miners strikes that took place in Asturias throughout 1932. Another paper the ICE published was La Antorcha which appeared in May 1934 in Madrid but, like its predecessor El Soviet, only three editions appeared.67
ii. Independence vis-à-vis the PCE

As previously noted, the PCE was a very small group in Spain, and did not exist at all in Cataluña outside of Barcelona, the most politically radical region. Trotsky, through the ILO, maintained the perspective that Stalin’s policy in the USSR was an unstable centrist position that swung widely from the political left to right. In this way, Stalin was very vulnerable and could be dislodged from political power. Trotsky did not believe that Stalin’s move to industrialize the country through the forced collectivization of the peasantry in 1928 represented a counter-revolution from above and the acceleration of the consolidation of a new ruling class in Russia. Some in Russia, were drawing different conclusions than Trotsky and were already defining Russia as state capitalist.68 Even though Trotsky argued against state-capitalism as an apt description of the USSR years later, he fully understood the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism as a political force. He believed Stalin could be pushed from power if the conditions were ripe (i.e. renewed revolutionary activity).69
The political and organizational conclusion from Trotsky’s perspective of the Soviet Union was that the ILO should, despite expulsion, remain a faction of the official Communist Party. In practical political terms this meant that ILO groups, like the OCE, should not view themselves as a separate organization from communist parties like the PCE; rather, they should try to win over these poorly advised parties. In terms of a concrete approach, this meant that the OCE should support PCE candidates in elections and not run candidates of their own. Over the course of 1930 and 1931, this created an increasingly confusing situation for the OCE. Nin questioned a policy that forced them to politically endorse a group that was completely hostile and hardly a political force. The PCE during this time never related with the OCE in a friendly manner and called “Trotskyism” counter-revolutionary.70 Early on, Nin asked Trotsky if they should convince people coming around the OCE to enter the PCE first and then later join the OCE.71 Trotsky responded that such an approach hardly made sense because the PCE would miseducate people politically and they would never arrive to the OCE.72 Nonetheless, Nin’s question was a valid one based on the overall relationship Trotsky advocated toward the Communist Parties worldwide: how does one reconcile being an expelled faction of a party while being an independent political force and what are the concrete political applications of this seemingly contradictory approach?
Nin’s and the OCE’s experience with this policy led them to question its worth in Spain. During the third Congress of the OCE in March 1932, the OCE voted to change its name to the ICE (Izquierda Comunista de España) and in favor of putting forth its own candidates in elections. By this time direct correspondence between Nin and Trotsky had ceased and Trotsky understood the name change as a political challenge to the decisions of the ILO; for the ICE, it represented a much needed independence from the rigid and hostile PCE.73 The ICE, still officially part of the ILO and seeing themselves as such, defended their decision for greater independence as follows:
“As great as the differences between the Communist Left and Stalinism may be, in practice the Opposition has no program other than the ‘reform of the party,’ which makes this reform a prior condition for the execution of its policy. The traditional attitude of the Opposition is totally insufficient in the actual circumstances, and by persisting in it the Opposition will not achieve a political solution in the decisive moments since any partial reforms that might be achieved in the International [i.e. Comintern] would not substantially modify the nature of Stalinism. [My emphasis]”74
Thus, a rift developed between the ICE and Trotsky as political bridges were being reconstructed between ICE and BOC. This rift between Trotsky and the ICE widened over the course of the following year. Even as early as 1931, when Nin was beginning to settle in Spain, intense factional disputes had developed regarding the ILO’s French section. Over time, this issue would become intertwined with problems within the OCE/ICE involving a founding member.75 These disputes did not involve issues directly related with the political situation in Spain; nonetheless, they exacerbated already existing political disagreements. The assumption of Hitler to power in Germany in 1933, due primarily to Stalin’s ultra-leftist directives to the KPD to not unite in struggle with the SPD to defeat Hitler, led Trotsky to conclude that the Third International was dead. He argued that ILO groups should no longer be organized as factions of the official party and needed to be completely independent. The ILO decided to rename itself the International Communist Left (ICL), a name very similar to the Spanish Communist Left (Izquierda Comunista de España). Experience seemed to vindicate the Spanish comrades experiences regarding relations with the PCE as well as their name change to ICE. This opened Trotsky to the charge that he was not sufficiently informed of the specific conditions that comrades faced in Spain, a charge that ICE members would say repeatedly, distancing themselves further from Trotsky.
iii. Entry into the PSOE or fusion with BOC?

After four years of political activity, the ICE had grown from 50 members to between 700 and 800. The political shift to the right following the Republican-Socialist coalition government of 1931-33, led to the CEDA winning a majority in the Cortes in 1933. They attempted to push themselves into cabinet positions a year later prompting the Asturias uprising. The electoral swing to the right politically in Spain produced a left-wing radicalization among the rank-and-file of the Socialist Party and the UGT that reflected itself in the leadership of the party. Largo Caballero, the most prominent spokesperson for the left-wing, drew the conclusion that forming a coalition government with the Republicans had been a mistake and went so far as to conclude that a Bolshevik-style party needed to be created.76
At this time Trotsky had advocated entry of the ICE into the PSOE in order to win the recently radicalized left (particularly the Socialist Youth) away from this party. This could lead to the foundation of a revolutionary party in the tens of thousands. The ICE membership had their doubts. How could they go into a party and then break people away from that party? Wouldn’t they be treated in a hostile manner? Did this not contradict Trotsky’s earlier argument about having an independent party to draw people to? Instead, the ICE decided to merge with the BOC and form the POUM.77
This decision provoked a political and organizational break with ILO, although Trotsky remained open to communication with the POUM through the Civil War.78 Why did the ICE decide to form the POUM? First, the desire for unity was strong following the brutal repression of the Asturian commune and the continuing political persecution of 1935. The PSOE had been a party that was responsible for repressing struggle. This soured the expectations of the ICE to gain anything from entry into that party. Moreover, the French group’s entry into the French Socialist Party failed to establish a revolutionary party of any size; the move completely failed and greatly demoralized the French ILO. Trotsky’s push to enter the PSOE was a desperate attempt to build a party in an increasingly difficult situation where immediate prospects for growth were limited.79 With the benefit of hindsight, we know that POUM did not succeed in leading a workers’ revolution during the Civil War; but does that mean entry into the PSOE would have built the party that could have led a successful revolution? Although a limited degree of collaboration among ICE and Socialist Youth did happen, this was not deep enough to win people away from the party en masse.80 The choice available to the ICE in 1935 that would allow them to break out of their isolation was entry into the PSOE or joining with BOC in a unified, but very small, revolutionary organization. This choice the ICE faced stemmed from one problem: the limits of being a small organization trying to build a party in the middle of pre-revolutionary events. Hence, the question is: why did the ICE fail to grow from 1930-35?
The answer to this question lies, in part, through making some concluding remarks about the polemics between Trotsky and OCE/ICE discussed above. However, a fuller answer will require to look beyond these years and briefly discuss the pre-history of revolutionary marxist organization in Spain, one that developed very differently from the bolshevism Trotsky knew.
The factors already noted that contributed to the OCE/ICE failure of building a revolutionary Marxist party during the years 1930-35 include: 1) delays in getting a political operation up and running along with the sporadic and limited frequency of a revolutionary press, 2) Trotsky’s, and the ILO’s, tactical approach to the PCE, one that greatly disoriented and confused the Spanish comrades during the pre-revolutionary struggles of 1930-33, and 3) Nin and the OCE having become embroiled in factional struggles within their own organization and within the ILO that greatly strained relations between the OCE/ICE and Trotsky. These factional struggles within the ILO were occurring before Nin had even settled into a political routine in Barcelona. When it came time to take advantage of the radicalization taking place in society from 1933-34, the ICE was too small to attract the radicalized sections of the PSOE, UGT and FNTT. Therefore, they opted to merge in a united party with radicals who most identified with their viewpoints (the BOC) even though this party lacked a clear and consistent revolutionary program.
b. Looking at factors outside the time and space of 1930-35 Spain

Any analysis that describes the failures of a revolutionary party to form in Spain during these years needs to understand the problem of Stalinism as the primary cause. Stalin, whose power grew in proportion to the degeneration of the Russia and failure of European-wide revolution, effectively isolated dissidents. Having the formidable resources of the state behind him, Stalin was able to lay claim to the revolutionary legacy of the Russian Revolution effectively co-opting newly radicalized people into Communist Parties worldwide.
Revolutionaries, like Trotsky, who had concluded that the Stalin-led USSR was on the wrong track had difficulty defining its nature. He did not see Stalin as having initiated an economic and political counter-revolution in the USSR. Trotsky never broke completely from the idea that Stalin represented an unstable, and therefore transient, phase in the political history of the USSR. Consequently, from 1930 to 1933, he believed the left faction could win political power back once people saw how far Stalin’s policies had diverged from revolutionary Marxism. Therefore, Trotsky was being careful not to dismiss the cadres in the Communist parties internationally; doing so could mean the loss of leadership over the Communist movement and the experienced political cadres that would be the foundation of a renewed revolutionary policy. On the other hand, Trotsky’s theoretical views regarding the USSR and Stalin’s role within it did have costs: it led the ILO factions to not view themselves as an independent political force from the official communist parties. He would quickly change his position after seeing how Stalin’s counter-revolutionary policy directly led to Hitler’s rise to power and did not end in Stalin’s removal from power. Nonetheless, regarding pre-revolutionary Spain there was a real loss of time between 1930 and 1933 – a period of struggle that could have formed and shaped a revolutionary party had already passed.
The final, and probably the most important, consideration is that the process of building a successful revolutionary party begins long before the revolution. Lenin and the Bolshevik tendency within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) came from a rich revolutionary tradition that began with the Narodnick movement of the mid to late 1800’s and the formation of the first Marxist group, The Emancipation of Labor Group. Over a period of decades, they maintained contact with their Russian comrades through a revolutionary press and meetings, even during long periods of exile. In contrast, Anarchism had dominated the radical politics of the Spanish for decades and the Socialist Party – suffering from all the political weaknesses of Social Democracy after WWI – did not attract the most militant revolutionary workers. Likewise, the Spanish communist movement, born in 1920 was small, mired in fractious polemic, and failed to attract the most revolutionary workers. Nin, being one of the foremost Spanish Marxists, was not in a position to build a revolutionary organization to the extent that Lenin had in Russia over a 30-year period.
Trotsky explained to his Spanish comrades that a revolutionary party is “welded” together in the ups and downs of struggle – a process that requires a period of decades, not years.81 Absent this work in non-revolutionary times, the network of cadre indispensable to shaping events during a revolution will not be formed. Around the same time that the OCE began organizing in Spain, Trotsky wrote in his History of the Russian Revolution: “Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box but the steam.”82
Trotsky’s revolutionary experience brought to the fore his ability to offer a very clear strategy on the fight for workers revolution in Spain. However, while Trotsky understood the need for a revolutionary party, his limitation was that he joined the Bolshevik party at the height of struggle during the Russian Revolution when it was already established. He never had the experience of building a party of cadre as Lenin did. He was learning how to do this for the first time in conditions that were in many ways more difficult than for Lenin. The only example of living socialism in the form of the Soviet Union had degenerated into a bureaucratic nightmare with Communist Parties worldwide subjected to its dictates. Furthermore, the Spanish revolutionary process of the 1930’s came at a time when the workers’ movements throughout Europe had already suffered a number of historic defeats with the Social Democratic parties becoming discredited in the face of revolution. Both Nin and Trotsky, among others, were trying to build revolutionary organization in a hurry and at the end of a European-wide revolutionary movement during the interwar period.
6. The struggle for self-determination in Spain, 1931-1936

Throughout the Rivera dictatorship of the 1920’s, Spain spent seven-hundred million pesetas per year to fund its colonization of northern Morocco – a policy that benefited only a handful of Spanish capitalists and government officials. The Republican-Socialist coalition continued the colonial occupation on the pretext that Moroccans benefited from “progressive” democratic government.
Trotsky and the OCE demanded the self-determination for Morocco. This position would help the development of the Spanish revolution in a number of ways: first, it would win the confidence of the Moroccan people to the side of the Spanish proletariat and weaken Spanish imperialism. In addition, counteracting Spanish chauvinism with the demand for Moroccan self-determination could placate the counter-revolutionary groups in the colony – such as the Moorish troops and the foreign legion – who could be sent to Spain to repress a revolutionary movement. Finally, any movement for self-determination would undermine Spanish imperialism, facilitating workers’ power over the bourgeoisie.83
Indeed, the absence of a policy for Moroccan self-determination among the Socialists and anarchists proved detrimental to the development of the revolution from 1931 to 1936. A sincere commitment to Moroccan self-determination could have neutralized the reactionary regiments of the foreign legion that crushed the Asturias uprising. Furthermore, Spanish Morocco was the base from which General Francisco Franco launched the fascist uprising of July of 1936.
a. Morocco, Cataluña, and the Basque Region

The question of independence (or, as it played out, autonomy) for Spain’s provinces was equally critical. The Basque and Catalan regions were the most industrialized areas of Spain. As previously noted, Trotsky and the OCE advocated the broadest autonomy for these national regions, even separation, if the populace so demanded. Not raising this demand would mean acquiescing to the politics of Castilian bureaucratic centralism and imperialism exhibited toward the colonies and semi-autonomous regions.
The development of nationalism was different in character between the Basque and Catalan regions. The difference, in part, was due to the nature of capitalist development in each region. In the case of Cataluña, the agricultural sector developed, more or less, side-by-side with industry – each sector facilitated the growth of the other through mutual investment and consumption. Furthermore, compared to the Basque region, capitalist firms were smaller on average, greater in number, and more evenly distributed. In contrast, agriculture in the Basque region had a more antagonistic relationship with industry84 – there was a higher concentration of industry (bigger firms and smaller in number) and these enterprises were heavily dependent on foreign capital. In Cataluña, the capitalists had developed in relative autonomy to the Castilian center (although they did benefit from Madrid’s coddling of Catalan industry through protectionist policies).85 In contrast, the Basque industrial and financial firms were more integrated – and therefore, less antagonistic – to Madrid.86
As noted earlier, Trotsky argued that the politics of nationalism could not be separated from the nature of struggle between classes.87 In the case of Cataluña, these politics found a social base in the radicalized sharecroppers of the region – the rabassaires – and among the capitalists of the light industrial sector. For the Basque region, the impetus for autonomy (and separation) came from the reactionary rural, middle-class landowners in the countryside and small business-owners in the urban areas.88 Nevertheless, the desire for autonomy also seeped into the working class – in Cataluña, militants in the CNT were supportive of autonomist initiatives89; in the Basque region, workers within the Solidarity of Basque Workers (SOV) union favored autonomy, and some even separation. For Trotsky and the OCE, socialism was the only system capable of abolishing the imperialist subjugation of the semi-autonomous regions and the capitalist system that propped up imperialist relations. Therefore, for the Catalan and Basque workers, the battle for self-determination was a democratic demand that could only be fully realized through workers’ revolution.
b. Cataluña

Catalan nationalism, which had a long history, grew under Rivera, culminating in the declaration of an independent Catalan republic following the April municipal elections of 1931. The left-Republican party Esquerra gave expression to the petty-bourgeois nationalism of Cataluña. This party had won a plurality of votes (36% of the total vote) in the regional elections, including a majority of the working class vote. Colonel Francesc Macià, the leader of Esquerra, formed a regional Catalan government – the Generalitat. Although, Macià spoke in favor of a “Federation of Iberian Republics,” the autonomy statute he drafted did not propose separation from Madrid. Conceding to pressure from Madrid, the statute Macià proposed only granted a limited degree of autonomy on political and economic questions related to the province.
Norman Jones summarizes the limited nature of the autonomy statute:
“The statute of autonomy… created a Catalan parliament, whose legislative competence was limited to agriculture, the secondary transport network, public health and poor relief, regulation of municipal government, and Catalan civil law. However, the statute also authorized the Generalitat to administer (as agent for the central power, without any legislative competence) public education, major public works, labor conciliation services, and the police forces and law courts. In all these areas, nevertheless, amendments had introduced close state inspection and provision for unilateral intervention from Madrid. The gravest alteration inverted the draft statute’s financial terms: barely one-third of Catalan taxation was allotted to the Generalitat, to be handed over to cover the costs of existing state services in the region as they were transferred from Madrid. The remainder – the direct taxation – was retained by the state.” 90
On August 2nd, Macià presented the statute to the Catalan people in the form of a referendum. The referendum passed with an overwhelming endorsement – 99.4% of the vote. It was then transmitted to the Cortes for consideration. After a prolonged period of political haggling and stalling, the central government passed the referendum on September 9th, 1932.91
Cabinet Ministers in the newly formed Republic in Madrid were not friendly to the idea of Catalan autonomy. Miguel Maura, a Republican and Minister of the Interior, sought to curb the political jurisdiction of the Generalitat by having the final word on bureaucratic appointments to the regional government, including Cataluña’s four civil governorships. Prieto, then the Minister of Finance, used his authority to financially sabotage the Barcelona city council for attempting to resolve its debt issues, withdrawing all government deposits from Barcelona’s largest bank.92 Furthermore, Largo Caballero, then Minister of Labor, sought to subject all labor disputes through binding arbitration boards. This often led to opportunistic practices on the part of Caballero who, anxious to establish growth of UGT unions within Cataluña, favored UGT led unions in settlements over the CNT.93
Catalan workers felt the brunt of Madrid’s centralism in the newly formed republic. In one case, CNT-led dockworkers in Barcelona struck and reached an agreement with the governor Macià. However, Maura had appointed a right-Republican Anguera de Sojo as civil governor to Barcelona who rescinded the agreement established. This provoked a resumption of the CNT dockworkers’ strike. As Jones explains: “August [1931] brought a wave of industrial disputes in which he increasingly used his police powers to try to compel observance of Largo’s labor legislation. If a union refused to go to arbitration, its strike was illegal; Anguera had its pickets and strike committee arrested and encouraged the employer to resist and recruit fresh labor.”94
From mid 1933 through 1934, the question of autonomy became more significant with the rise of the far-right throughout Spain. CEDA was staunchly opposed to any form of autonomy for Spanish provinces. The right-wing shift electorally throughout Spain in 1933 also expressed itself in Cataluña with the election of Lliga Regionalista, a conservative Republican party, to the leadership over the Generalitat after the November elections. Lliga feared the Catalan working class: they opposed separation or independence worrying that the fight for autonomy would provoke further militancy and depended on Castile’s repressive institutions to discipline the Catalan working class. 95
The piece of legislation that escalated the confrontation of political forces in Cataluña was the Cultivation Law (Ley de Cultivos) passed on April 12, 1933. This law allowed tenant farmers in Cataluña “the option to purchase the land they farmed – provided they had done so for eighteen years – by payments to the proprietors spread over fifteen years.”96 Even with this modest social reform, the government, filled with cedistas97, did not bend. On June 8th, the central government, with the backing of the Catalan landowners, voided the law on the basis that the Generalitat had overstepped its jurisdiction. The Generalitat and the Catalan government responded by passing another cultivation law identical to the first.98 The battle grew more pitched as Gil Robles mobilized CEDA and Catalan landowners to protest the legislation.
The final showdown between Madrid and Cataluña in the pre-Civil War years occurred during the Asturias uprising. BOC, through Alianza Obrera, called a general strike to declare solidarity with the miners’ revolt. However, the Alianza Obrera’s call to strike did not receive the support it had hoped; the CNT in Barcelona did not join the battle.99 The Generalitat, despite feeling the pressure from below, did not wage a fight for a more substantive autonomy. The central government entered Barcelona, quickly suppressed the strike, and declared martial law after having met no resistance on the part of the Generalitat.
From 1931 to 1936, the left was unclear about the question of Catalan autonomy. The PSOE, while in the government, assumed a chauvinistic attitude toward Cataluña. The CNT, which dominated the radical left in Cataluña, did not offer a clear revolutionary perspective on the right of Catalan to autonomy; the anarchist leaders of the FAI variety either supported separation (but did not distinguish their position from Esquerra) or abstained from political questions, whereas the syndicalist wing within the CNT was against any move to separate from Madrid.100 Finally, the smaller dissident group BOC, led by Joaquín Maurín, through the Alianza Obrera, demanded that the Generalitat proclaim Cataluña an independent republic – a position synonymous with Esquerra.101 The question of autonomy in Cataluña, temporarily stymied, would resurface with the formation of the Popular Front in 1936, and Esquerra’s resumption of political leadership over Cataluña.
c. The Basque Region

Whereas Cataluña was the cauldron of the Spanish revolution – and a home for left radical parties, unions, and organizations – the Basque region (Euzkadi) was politically more conservative. While the nationalist opposition of Esquerra to Madrid in Cataluña was politically to the left of the central government, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), a moderate-conservative catholic party that won in the November 1933 general elections in the Basque provinces, did not support the anti-clerical positions of the Republican-Socialist government, nor the Asturias uprising of 1934. The PNV led union, the Solidarity of Basque Workers (SOV), was the only union that competed with the PSOE and UGT in the region during these years, still this competition did not come from the left.102 Juan Medrano sums up the contradictory nature of Basque nationalism within a context of Castilian imperialism:
“Catholicism was the true religion of the Basque Country, that political independence was both right and the objective to be achieved by the Basque people, that efforts needed to be made to preserve and strengthen the Basque race, and that the old practices and traditional institutions of the Basque provinces should be re-established.”103
The Republican-Socialist coalition rejected the Basque autonomy statute on the grounds that the region would become a right-wing stronghold hostile to the republic.104 However, opposition to Basque autonomy meant that the Republicans and Socialists were the new chauvinists, putting them in political agreement with the surrounding, and politically conservative (and even increasingly fascist) provinces like Navarre, the northern base for the future fascist uprising of July, 1936.105 Indeed, there were questions concerning whether or not the vote for autonomy was democratic since the electoral system (the fueros) favored the rural districts over the urban – the former being more inclined toward autonomy than the latter).106
Although, the Basque electoral process to achieve autonomy from 1931-1933 was questionable from a formal democratic viewpoint, even more questionable was the coalition government position of rejecting autonomy on the basis of strengthening “democracy” when, in fact, they were undermining the will of the Basque people. Only a movement from within the Basque urban centers could question the democratic process of the autonomy movement. The Madrid government rejecting Basque autonomy set into motion contradictory political forces: it strengthened the influence of Basque clerics over the working class while simultaneously directing Basque working class anger at Castilian chauvinism.107
Furthermore, while the PNV was politically conservative, they were not fascists. The party had gone through a progressive phase of development reflected in the modernization of the economy in the region.108 To be sure, the PNV did join the far-right CEDA coalition in the elections of 1933. However, they soon realized they were in enemy camp. The other groups in CEDA – like Renovación Española and Acción Popular – were extremely hostile to the idea of Basque autonomy. Calvo Sotelo, a reactionary monarchist politician, famously and facetiously remarked that Spain would be “ red before broken” (roja antes que rota). In other words, it was preferable that the country be under communist control than being broken up into a number of republics. The fascists in CEDA viewed any concession to Basque autonomy as a step toward total separation from Spain; accordingly, they squashed any proposal for Basque autonomy during the years 1934-1935.109 During these years, the Basque PNV formed a temporary alliance with Republicans and Socialists, resisting CEDA’s extreme nationalism. The PNV endorsed the Popular Front government which assumed political power in February 1936. Basque autonomy was formally granted on October 1st, 1936 when the Civil War was already underway. Ultimately, the fascist National Front defeated resistance in the Basque region in June of 1937. One of the most brutal and notorious examples of fascist repression occurred in the Basque town of Guernica.
7. Trotsky’s analysis of pre-revolutionary Spain: an assessment

Trotsky’s starting point for understanding the Spanish Revolution was grasping the economic character and nature of Spain. Spain, like Russia of the early 20th century, combined feudal features in the countryside with advanced modern industry in the urban areas. The difference was that Spain, by 1931, was already well passed Russia of 1917 in terms of industrialization and the working class in Spain was larger in proportion to the peasantry than Russia and boasted a substantial rural proletariat. This “combined and uneven development” created the prospect for the working class to be the leading political force in Spain. The ruling bourgeoisie, represented in the various republican parties, was too timid to overturn the feudal institutions on which it depended to discipline the working class.
The political corollary of “combined and uneven development” was the leading role of the working class in the developing revolution, what Trotsky called “permanent revolution.” The working class was the only social class structurally capable of assuming leadership over the struggle for democracy and socialism. Revolution required, first and foremost, that the working class have a revolutionary party – a leadership of tested and experienced cadres, rooted in day-to-day struggles at the grassroots level. The revolutionary party would lead a “united front” of left forces at the base of society to fight the right and realize democratic reforms that the “democrats” were completely incapable of realizing on their own. The process of fighting for even the most innocuous reforms with revolutionary means (i.e. strikes, pickets, and demonstrations) would build the struggle for socialist revolution. One of the most important democratic demands to fight for was the withdrawal of the Spanish imperialism from the colony of Morocco and support the right of the Catalans and Basques to self-determination.
The Republican-Socialist coalition under the Republic of 1931-1933, although passing modest reforms through the Cortes, did not fight the industrialists and landowners, and their right-wing political backers, for the realization of these reforms within society. The gradualist and reformist posture of the PSOE and the UGT bureaucracy was adopted to preserve their institutional power at all costs within capitalism. The Socialists, and the UGT bureaucracy, gave their Republican partners a left-wing cover to dampen workers struggle and endorsed the suppression of strikes, consistently labeling them as untimely and provoking a backlash from the right. This demoralized the hopes of the worker and peasant masses, who had hopes in the newly established democracy wiping away centuries of oppression and exploitation, and contributed to their radicalization to the left. Likewise, the CNT’s general rejection of politics and the fight for political power of the working class and peasantry produced a muddled program for revolutionary action and did little to lead the Spanish masses in consolidating and strengthening their struggles. The anarchists demonstrated much in terms of militancy and leadership in struggles; nevertheless, their actions were often isolated and led to premature “insurrections” with the government that provoked significant repression and did little in terms of strengthening their revolutionary forces.110 The lack of political clarity and revolutionary leadership on the part of the Socialists and the anarcho-syndicalists meant that the masses, who were radicalizing and drawing revolutionary conclusions, were left without a political home. This diffused and demoralized the overall struggle from 1931 and 1933 leading to the rise of the right in the November 1933 elections and, ultimately, the savage defeat of the Asturias insurrection of 1934. The years 1933 to 1935 were aptly referred to as the bienio negro, (the black biennial).
During the reign of the right in Spain from 1934 to 1935, a left-wing within the PSOE and UGT at the leadership and rank-and-file level became more vocal. Having witnessed the rise of fascism internationally, Caballero (the most prominent spokesman of this tendency within the PSOE) declared the 2nd International was dead and a Bolshevik-style party needed to be formed. Even though, Caballero did nothing to build a revolutionary party and bring about workers’ revolution in Spain (he, along with the CNT, did not support the Alianzas Obreras), the Socialist Youth was ready to fight for political power. The left in Spain, with the absence of a mass revolutionary working class party, remained incredibly divided and weak. This was already apparent with the failure of the Asturian uprising, when the PSOE, UGT, and CNT forces throughout Spain did not wage a struggle in solidarity with the miners (even though an incredible level of solidarity existed between the CNT, UGT, and PCE affiliated unions within Asturias).
The radical communist left was too small to influence the larger groupings of Socialists and anarchists. The Communist Party had grown the most of all “radical” groups. It hardly had a party history before being subjected to the dictates of the Comintern and following a policy of sectarianism exemplified in the “third period” (1928-1934). Then, performing an about-face, the PCE advocated a policy of accommodation to liberalism in the form of the “popular front” (beginning in 1935). The politically best and clearest grouping, the Trotskyist ICE, was also the smallest; consequently, it was unable to wrest political influence from the anarchist CNT and Socialist PSOE during these years.
The lack of a revolutionary party during the pre-Civil War period of 1931-1935 shaped the policy of the Civil War to come. The left, plagued with divisions, yearned for unity. The desire for unity led to an increase in the popularity of the Communist Party message and the formation of the Popular Front government in February of 1936. However, this broad umbrella of political groups, representing all social class interests and political viewpoints to the left of fascism, would prove to be a diffuse political force during the coming revolution and Civil War in July of 1936. Indeed the Civil War and revolution formed an indissoluble whole. The Civil War was merely the military expression of a social revolution taking place throughout Spain’s countryside and cities; it embodied fascist counter-revolution and workers and peasants’ social revolution. Without workers’ revolution, the Civil War could not be won in a way beneficial to the oppressed and exploited; in other words, the working class would not be able to dictate the terms of the new society following the Civil War. Without civil war, workers would have lost the revolution (and thus the battle to overturn capitalism and capitalism’s “last card,” fascism), as soon as it began.
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Durgan, Andy. “Largo Caballero and Spanish Socialism.” International Socialism (18) Winter 1983: 89-95. URL:https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/durgan/1983/xx/caballero.html.
Durgan, Andy. “Revolutionary Anarchism in Spain.” International Socialism (11) Winter 1981: 98-103. URL:https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/durgan/1981/xx/cnt.html.
Fusi, Juan P. “The Basque question 1931-7” In: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, 182-200. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Jones, Norman. “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” In: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, 85-110. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Juliá, Santos. “Economic crisis, social conflict and the Popular Front: Madrid 1931-6” In:Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, 137-155. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Lannon, Frances. “The Church’s crusade against the republic.” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, 35-54. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Lenin, V.I., “What is to be Done?,” Collected Works:Volume 5 (Progress Publishers: U.S.S.R., 1971), 514. Available online at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/rd/3.htm
Medrano, Juan D. “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War.” Theory and Society (23, no. 4) August 1994: 541-569. JSTOR. Accessed 2010.
Morrow, Felix. The Civil War in Spain: Toward Socialism or Fascism?. Pioneer Publishers: New York, 1936. URL:https://www.marxists.org/archive/morrow-felix/1936/09/civilwar.pdf.
Morrow, Felix. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, 2nd ed. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974.
Pagès, Pelai. El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935): La izquierda comunista de España y las disidencias comunistas durante la Segunda República. Barcelona: ediciones península, 1977.
Preston, Paul. “The agrarian war in the south” In: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, 159-179. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Preston, Paul. The Coming of the Spanish Civil War. London: The Macmillian Press LTD, 1978.
Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939. New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Sennett, Alan. Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015.
Shubert, Adrian. “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” In: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, 113-134 New York: Methuen & Co., 1984.
Trotsky, Leon. The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939). New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973.
Notes
1 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 56.
2 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 61.
3 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 65.
4 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pp. 19-20.
5 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 71-2, 76, 80.
6 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 74-5.
7 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 11.
8 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, 12-13 and Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 116.
9 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 14.
10 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 14.
11 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 180.
12 The notable strikes are as follows: during 1931 at the end of May Port workers struck in Pasajes (San Sebastian). The government repressed the strike killing eight; on June 1st miners struck in Asturias; during the summer there was general unrest among agricultural workers in Andalucía and Estremadura as well as strikes in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville; on July 6th the CNT led a strike at the telephone exchange ITT, an American multinational company which was supported by sections of the UGT; on July 18th the CNT organized a general strike in Seville; from November to December miners struck in Asturias; on December 6th Anarchists led a general strike in Gijón that was repressed leading to the deaths of four workers; in late December the FNTT led a general strike throughout the southern agricultural region where in the town of Castiloblanco (Estremadura) the Civil Guard killed one and in Logrono (Castile) the Civil Guard opened fire on a crowd killing four women, a child and a worker; during 1932 the CNT called a national general strike in Cataluña in January; on May, 15th miners in Asturias organized under the SMA (a UGT affiliated union) struck demanding the nationalization of the mines and the 7-hour day; on September, 19th miners called a strike which was averted when demands were met; on December, 10th the UGT called a general strike in Salamanca despite opposition from the UGT bureaucracy; In November miners struck in Asturias and raised the demands that the government reorganize mining industry and institute protectionist measures to protect the domestic market for coal. See Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 62-81.
13 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 41, 44, 46.
14 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 66.
15 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 66.
16 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 61, 67.
17 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 70.
18 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 190 see footnote 118.
19 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 164 see footnote 30.
20 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 66, 80.
21 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 69.
22 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pp. 22-23.
23 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 82-83.
24 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 91.
25 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 78-79.
26 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 84.
27 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 85-87.
28 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 99-100. This is also Trotsky’s conclusion.
29 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 90.
30 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 102-114.
31 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 117-119.
32 Bailey, The Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War, http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
33 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 116-118.
34 Adrian Shubert. “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pg. 119
35 This was a forced reduction of hours without compensation i.e. a “furlough.”
36 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pp. 119-120.
37 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pg. 120.
38 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pp. 120-122.
39 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pg. 124.
40 Shubert, “The epic failure: The Asturian revolution of October 1934,” pg. 131.
41 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 132.
42 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 192-193.
43 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 144-145.
44 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 100-101.
45 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 145.
46 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 139-140.
47 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 142.
48 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 232.
49 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 232-234.
50 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 133-134 and Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pg. 63.
51 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 143.
52 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 157 and Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” url:http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367
53 Durgan, Andy. “Largo Caballero and Spanish Socialism.” International Socialism 18 (Winter 1983): pp. 93-94. Also available online: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/durgan/1983/xx/caballero.html.
54 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 187 see footnote 107.
55 For BOC membership numbers see Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 205 footnote 40. Among scholars associated with the Trotskyist movement there is much debate regarding what led to the failure of the ICE in building a revolutionary party in Spain. This debate is reflected in the discussion that had occurred in 1935 within the ICE on how to approach the PSOE. Some, including Trotsky, had favored “entryism;” that is, entering the PSOE in order to advocate building a Bolshevik style party. Others sought to form a united revolutionary party of all the “dissident communist” (i.e anti-Stalinist) forces in Cataluña while members in other regions of Spain would join the PSOE (this was considered the “compromise” position advocated by ICE leaders Andrés Nin and Juan Andrade). Finally, there were those who argued for founding a Marxist party in Cataluña and entering the PSOE in other areas of Spain in order to split the party and declare solidarity with the party in Cataluña. The majority of ICE came out firmly against the first entryist position favored by Trotsky and decided on the third option and formed the POUM on July 12, 1935. This debate is seen by some as the critical decision that determined the future success or failure of the ICE to build a party. However, regardless of the debate on this tactical question, what was most decisive, in my view, was the size of the ICE. In order to understand the development of the Trotskyist ICE during the pre-Civil War years, the debates and discussions that ultimately led to its fusion with the POUM, the best descriptions in English are: Andy Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” in ed. Al Richardson. The Spanish Civil War: A View from the Left. Revolutionary History. Available online at:http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367; Tony Cliff, “Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution,” in: Trotsky: The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Star, 1927-1940, Volume 4. Bookmarks, London. Available online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1993/trotsky4/11-spanrev.html; and, finally Alan Sennett, Revolutionary Marxsim in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 193-206. The most thorough analysis of the Trotskyist movement in Spain during the pre-Civil War years and which covers the above debate is the following out-of-print work, available only in Spanish: Pagès, Pelai. El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935). Ediciones península. Barcelona. 1977, 238-288.
56 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 151-176.
57 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 144.
58 Geoff Bailey, “Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War,” http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
59 One justification the leaders of the POUM gave for joining of the Popular Front was that it was a tactical alliance in order to free the thousands of militants jailed after the Asturias uprising.
60 For those who largely defend Trotsky’s positions see Broué summarized in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 186 and Cliff, “Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution,” in: Trotsky Vol. 4, The Darker the Night the Brighter the Star (1927-1940), http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1993/trotsky4/index.html. In their later years, participants in the POUM such as former ICE and POUM member Juan Andrade and POUM members Victor Alba and Ignacio Iglesias defended the decision to form the POUM as well as later decisions Trotsky disagreed with; see Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 59, 81-91 along with the footnotes to these pages that reference these authors works. For those who give accounts of the time period and provide context to the disagreements between ICE and Trotsky without taking a position see Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935), 1977; Andy Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” in ed. Al Richardson. The Spanish Civil War: A View from the Left. Revolutionary History. Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367; and Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 193-206.
61 Andy Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367.
62 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 430-431.
63 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 429-434.
64 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 447-458.
65 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pp. 205-206, 270.
66 For the above-mentioned political inconsistency of Maurín and BOC see Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” url:http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367 and Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pp. 146-8, 155-6, 160-5.
67 Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935), pp. 97-99.
68 Yuri Columbo, “Sapronov and the Russian Revolution,” International Socialist Review (103: Winter, 2016-7), pp. 110-122.
69 Sennett makes the observation that Trotsky wrote very little about the nature of the USSR until his work The Revolution Betrayed published in 1936. This indicates that he did not think there was anything new to grasp with respect to the nature of the USSR. See Sennett Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 35.
70 Sennett notes that the early PCE leadership of 1930-31 questioned Stalin’s dictates and arrived at conclusions similar to Trotsky regarding the slower tempo of events in Spain. They were expelled and replaced by others like Díaz. See Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 158. Regardless, this never led to their coming closer to Trotsky or the OCE.
71 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 436-439. Sennett also recounts this conversation between Nin and Trotsky in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, pp. 161-162.
72 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 455-458.
73 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 162.
74 ICE “Thesis on the International Situation” quoted in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 163. The ellipsis is Sennett’s.
75 For a more detailed summary regarding these disputes see Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367 and Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935), pp. 129-141.
76 Andy Durgan, “Largo Caballero and Spanish Socialism,” International Socialism (18 Winter 1983), pp. 89-95. URL:https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/durgan/1983/xx/caballero.html.
77 See footnote 162 of this work for a more detailed explanation for how ICE had reached this decision.
78 Durgan, “The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM,” Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=287:rr0412&catid=102:rh4&Itemid=367
79 Isaac Deutscher makes this argument summarized in Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 91.
80 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, pg. 119.
81 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 148.
82 Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, (Pluto Press, London; 1977), pg. 19.
83 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 15.
84Juan D. Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War.” Theory and Society 23, no. 4 (August 1994): 554, JSTOR, accessed 2010.
85 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 553.
86 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pp. 557-561.
87 The critical point Trotsky is making is that the politics of nationalism, as a program to be realized abstractly and as an end in and of itself, is a set of politics alien to working class emancipation.
88 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pp. 554-545.
89 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 550.
90 Norman Jones. “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pg. 93.
91 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pp. 85-89.
92 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 89.
93 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 90.
94 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 91.
95 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 550.
96 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 103.
97 A term to refer to the adherents of the CEDA coalition.
98 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 104.
99 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pp. 105-106.
100 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 176.
101 Jones, “Regionalism and Revolution in Catalonia,” pg. 106.
102 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pg. 183.
103 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 547.
104 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” pg. 191.
105 Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 548.
106 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,”pp. 192-193 and Medrano, “Patterns of Development and Nationalism: Basque and Catalan Nationalism before the Spanish Civil War,” pg. 556.
107 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pg. 16.
108 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” pg. 189.
109 Fusi, Juan P., “The Basque question 1931-7,” pg. 195.
110 Geoff Bailey, “Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War,” http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
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An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part I)-Nathan Moore,

Posted by admin On July - 10 - 2019 Comments Off on An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part I)-Nathan Moore,

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PART I – Trotsky’s Marxism and Pre-revolutionary Spain, 1930-1931
1. Introduction

2. The set-up, 1930-1931

3. The “objective” elements of the revolution

a. A survey of economic development

b. The leading role of the working class

c. The political forces

4. The “subjective” elements of revolution

a. The role of democratic reforms and demands

b. The “united front”: a strategy to win the masses

i. The Socialist Party (PSOE)

ii. Anarcho-Syndicalists (CNT and FAI)

c. The need for a revolutionary party

5. The rights of nations to self-determination

6. Conclusion

Introduction
The enmities that gave rise to the Civil War were not of sudden growth. They had been steadily developing since the fall of the monarchy and the proclamation of the Republic in April, 1931…”1
Burnett Bolloten
“[R]evolution itself must not by any means be regarded as a single act… but as a series of more or less powerful outbreaks rapidly alternating with periods of more or less complete calm.”2
V.I. Lenin
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) witnessed the most significant military confrontation between revolutionary workers and fascists of the 20th century. Workers’ control of industry and political life in the cities accompanied collectivization movements in the countryside. This historical moment cannot be fully understood without looking at the pre-Civil War period – the transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1931 until the election of the left-wing Popular Front government in February of 1936. These pre-revolutionary years pushed to the surface a plethora of political parties, organizations and tendencies vying for leadership in the eventual struggle against fascism, and for democracy and socialism. Leon Trotsky offered considerable insight and clarity into the nature of the revolution during these years despite an assortment of competing political forces, vast geographical distance, and the constraints of political exile. The purpose of this two-part article is to examine the pre-Civil War years (1931-1935) utilizing Trotsky’s analysis of Spain (part 1) and assess the accuracy of Trotsky’s approach by looking at the historical events as they unfolded from 1930-1935 (part 2).3 This is necessary in order to understand how critical these years were to shaping the Civil War and revolution of 1936 and, ultimately, how the revolution failed to become socialist.4

Trotsky brought to the Spanish Revolution the experience of generations of revolutionary struggle. By 1931, Trotsky had participated in, and had led, the Russian revolutionary movement for three decades and through three Russian Revolutions: 1905, February 1917, and October 1917. During the 1920’s, Trotsky opposed Joseph Stalin’s abandonment of international socialism and his role in stifling a promising pre-revolutionary moment in England and a revolutionary one China. For his dedication in defending an internationalist and socialism-from-below perspective, Trotsky was expelled from the USSR in 1929. He had already spent a year within the USSR as an exile, physically and politically barred from the Communist Party and living in Alma-Ata (present day Kazakhstan).
By the end of 1931 – about one year after a mass movement for democracy had begun to sweep Spain – Trotsky had already articulated a thorough analytical and strategic approach to pre-revolutionary Spain. Trotsky’s writings of 1930 and 1931 are compilations of articles, letters, pamphlets, and bulletins that were written to the Communist Opposition of Spain (Oposición Comunista de España – OCE), a group that hoped to build a revolutionary workers’ party. Trotsky’s writings were not meant to provide day-to-day coverage on the events unfolding in Spain; rather, they provide a general analysis regarding the character of the revolution and articulate a political strategy that the OCE would utilize in shaping its political and organizational activity.5
Through this correspondence, Trotsky sought to answer this central question: how can workers win political power and collectively administer society in their interests? Trotsky’s answer can be summarized with the following series of interrelated questions:
What are the peculiarities of Spanish economic development?
What social classes result from that economic development? What is the relative weight of the working class in relation to other social classes?
What political parties and organizations exist, in the interests of which social class(es) do they speak, and within which social class(es) have they established leadership?
How can the working class politically lead itself and the diverse middle class surrounding it?
What reforms should be fought for, and what demands should be advanced, that can unify parties and organizations on the left – and all social classes subordinated to capital – in order to fight the political forces on the right who defend capitalism in decline?
These questions demonstrate the scientific nature of Trotsky’s thought and a Marxist approach to revolution. The economic base of society produces social classes, determines which classes are predominant, and those that are structurally capable of leading other social classes in the transformation of society. All social classes have political leadership i.e. parties and organizations that represent them. Nevertheless, it is not automatic that a given political party represents the interest of the social class it claims to represent. These conditions require that the working class organize themselves in a political party to fight for their primary class interest: an end to the exploitation of workers’ labor under capitalism and the establishment of socialism. This party is the structure through which the working class fighters can unify and mobilize other political forces – and social classes that are fettered by capitalism –around specific democratic demands. The process of mobilizing and fighting for these “immediate” and democratic demands empowers the working class to struggle for more and is the starting point for a complete social transformation.
The set-up, 1930-1931
The dictatorship that ruled Spain through the 1920’s ended when General Primo de Rivera abdicated in January of 1930. General Dámaso Berenguer Fusté assumed leadership over an interim government created to oversee the transition to “democracy” (in reality, a constitutional monarchy). Although the upper echelons of Spanish society anticipated the transition to be peaceful, 1930 was a year of rising struggle. According to Paul Preston, “1930 saw, in comparison with 1929, four times as many strikes, involving five times as many strikers, with a loss of ten times as many working days.”6 The strike wave first emerged in the provinces of Cataluña, Levante, Aragon, and Andalucía in June. It swept through the south during that summer to the regions of Seville, Granada, again to Andalucía, and Málaga. By September, it had reached the north – Asturias, Galicia, and the Basque region. Come November, the two largest trade union federations had helped organize a general strike in Madrid.7
This deluge of struggle was, in part, a response to the contraction of the Spanish economy with the onset of the worldwide economic downturn of the 1930’s. Nonetheless, while economic grievances certainly provided an impetus to the struggle, as the year of 1930 passed, the strikes took on an increasingly political character – the masses were protesting government repression and advocating change to a more democratic form of government.8 The strikes of 1930 reached proportions they did because there were trade unions and political parties on the left to harness and lead that sentiment, lending mutual support to one another.
Berenguer proposed elections to the Cortes (the equivalent of a parliament) to be held for March 1st, 1931. The masses responded with protests, pushing the Republican Party to lead the call for an election boycott. The protests eventually forced the resignation of Berenguer in February. King Alfonso assumed leadership over the interim government, hoping to consolidate support for a constitutional monarchy through municipal elections which were announced for April 12, 1931. The elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for the liberal capitalist Republican Party. The Republican Party formed a cabinet with the Socialist Party and announced elections to the Cortes for June.9
The Cortes elections in June resulted in an endorsement for the Republican and Socialist parties, solidifying the coalition government that inaugurated the Second Republic. The Republicans represented a majority in the coalition – the Socialists, the minority. The Republican leader Niceto Álaca-Zamora assumed the presidency, and Manuel Azaña, also a Republican, became prime minister. The office of the president held a mandate for a six-year term during which he would be empowered to dissolve the Cortes and call new elections on two occasions.10 Trotsky observed that Republican assumption to government was not due to any revolutionary initiative of their own but rather the pressures of the mass democratic movement sweeping Spain.11
The objective elements of the revolution
A survey of economic development

1. What are the peculiarities of Spanish economic development?
Trotsky’s analytical point of departure was to answer this question. To begin, he discussed how Spain’s past shaped its level of development in 1931:
“Spain is unmistakably among the most backward countries of Europe. But its backwardness has a singular character, invested by the great heroic past of the country. While the Russia of the czars always lagged far behind its western neighbors and advanced slowly under their pressure, Spain knew periods of great bloom, of superiority over the rest of Europe and of domination over South America. The mighty development of domestic and world commerce increasingly overcame the effect of feudal dismemberment of the provinces and the particularism of the national regions of the country. The growth of the power and importance of the Spanish monarchy in those centuries was inextricably bound up with the centralizing role of mercantile capital and with the gradual formation of the ‘Spanish nation.’ ”12
Paradoxically, the wealth that poured into Spain during the colonial era did not contribute to its industrialization; rather, it facilitated Spain’s eventual economic and political decay. The riches were squandered on sustaining an overbearing and bureaucratic empire, the extravagant consumption of the monarchy, and imports from the maturing capitalist regions –the Netherlands and England. Domestic industry was not encouraged to develop, and could not, as long as the English and the Dutch could provide Spanish markets with cheap industrial goods.13 Spain’s colonial empire fomented anemic capitalist development, contributing to its decentralization and the prominence of provincial peculiarities. Trotsky writes:
“Spain’s retarded development inevitably weakened the centralist tendencies inherent in capitalism. The decline of commercial and industrial life in the cities and of the economic ties between them inevitably led to the lessening of the dependence of individual provinces upon each other. This is the chief reason why bourgeois Spain has not succeeded to this day in eliminating the centrifugal tendencies of its historic provinces. The meagerness of the national resources and the feeling of restlessness all over the country could not help but foster separatist tendencies. Particularism appears in Spain with unusual force, especially compared with neighboring France, where the Great Revolution finally established the bourgeois nation, united and indivisible, over the old feudal provinces.”14
The weak thrust and “centrifugal” tendencies of capitalist development produced fragile political institutions void of any semblance of democracy and aggravated provincial antagonisms between the capital, Madrid, and the Basque and Catalan regions, provoking movements for autonomy and independence in these two latter areas. Trotsky observed:
“The predominance of the centrifugal tendencies over the centripetal ones in the economy as well as in politics undermined the foundation of Spanish parliamentarism. The government’s pressure on the electorate was decisive: throughout the last century, elections unfailingly gave the government a majority. Because the Cortes found itself dependent upon the successive ministries, the ministries themselves naturally sank into dependence on the monarchy. Madrid held the elections but the king held the power. The monarchy was doubly necessary to disunited and decentralized ruling classes, which were incapable of governing the country in their own name.” 15
Feeble economic development and political institutions had reinforced one another, producing the need for the monarchy to rely on its backward institutions in order to hold the country together. These institutions were the church, the army, and the Guardia Civil (the police force in the countryside). Trotsky explained the centralizing role of the church:
“Alongside the monarchy, and in alliance with it, the clergy represents another centralized force. Catholicism, to this day, remains a state religion; the clergy plays a big role in the life of a country, being the firmest axis of reaction. The state spends many tens of millions of pesetas annually to support the church.” 16
The church garnered wealth in the midst of poverty and misery. A report to the Cortes in 1931 estimated that the Jesuit order possessed one-third of the country’s entire wealth. They owned industrial and financial enterprises, even exploiting unpaid labor to amass profits.17
The army was another bureaucratic and parasitic left-over from the monarchy – one in six military personnel were officers and one in every hundred, a general.18 Trotsky described the centralizing role of the army:
“The history of Spain is the history of continual revolutionary convulsions. Military coups and palace revolutions follow on each other’s heels. During the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth, political regimes kept changing kaleidoscopically. Not finding sufficiently stable support in any of the propertied classes – even though they all needed it – the Spanish monarchy more than once fell into dependence upon its own army”19
The army, an institution which sought to arbitrate political upheaval and conflict contributed to the instability; during the reign of Queen Isabella, there were eighteen major military coups and thirty-nine different cabinets in the span of twenty-five years.20 Spain lost its colonial possessions – the Philippines, Cuba, and Hispañola – to the United States after the Spanish-American war in 1898. The victory over Morocco proved pyrrhic, costing tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of pesetas.21
Spain’s weighty feudal past meant that agriculture was predominant – seventy percent of the total population still derived a living from the countryside in 1931. The latifundios (large estates) were a dominant feature of the Spanish countryside. Francis Lannon relates the underdevelopment of these areas:
“Tracts of uncultivated land; a wasteful three-field system (tres hojas) with only one-third cultivated at any one time; scandalously low harvest yields; lack of fertilizers, irrigation, and other technical improvements; fertile land given over to raising fighting bulls; absentee landlords; day-laborers living in appalling barracks (cortijos) separated for months on end from their families; laborers with little or no income in the winter months…”22
The church, which profited greatly from this misery in the hinterlands, was solidly against even the most modest reform that would alleviate this poverty.23 Land was so tied up with finance capital that its redistribution threatened the very basis of capitalism. The Institute for Agrarian Reform, in order to not threaten the precarious stability of Spanish capitalism, did not redistribute land but merely rented it out to sharecroppers and tenant farmers, leaving these small proprietors to remain under the tutelage of the latifundistas (large landowners).
Spain had experienced a boost in industrial production during World War I, providing goods for foreign markets in the mining, textile, and agricultural goods sectors. However, when the war came to an end, Spain lost those markets and, under the Rivera dictatorship, protected its industry with high tariffs. Britain and France retaliated, raising tariffs on Spanish agricultural goods. This crippled the Spanish economy since agricultural goods accounted for two-thirds of total exports, precipitating an agricultural crisis and reinforcing the industrial downturn.24 Consequently, the domestic prices of goods rose, diminishing the purchasing power of the poor.25
By 1931, industry represented roughly thirty percent of the total economy. The iron, steel, and extractive industries, as well as the financial sector, were located in the Basque region. Much of the financial capital was foreign-based giving Spain a “semi-colonial status” in Europe. Mining was predominant in the region of Asturias. The textile and light-manufacturing sector, which consisted of small firms, resided mostly in Cataluña.26 Madrid’s main enterprises were in the transportation, service, construction, light industrial and textile sectors.27 The vast countryside was a combination of small to medium-sized peasant-owned plots of land in the northern and central provinces and latifundios in the southern provinces that employed agricultural labor and were rented out to tenant farmers and sharecroppers.28
The leading role of the working class

2. What social classes result from that economic development? What is the relative weight of the working class in relation to other social classes?
Uneven industrial development throughout Spain created the following arrangement of social classes:
the privileged classes represented roughly one million people i.e. bureaucratic officials, priests, military officers, big landowners and capitalists.
the upper middle-classes represented approximately two million people: one million well-to-do peasants, one million middle-class professionals and small business owners in the urban centers.
The lower middle classes and working classes represented about eight million people: one million small craftsman, between two and three million industrial workers and miners, between two and three million agricultural workers, and two million small rural proprietors (i.e. peasants, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers).29
Spanish capitalism, although appearing late relative to other industrial nations, had fully penetrated the countryside but was marked with primitive production techniques bequeathed by a feudal past. Consequently, the capitalist class – itself composed of the most backward looking agrarian landlords – was ill-suited to fight for even modest democratic reform, let alone establishing a robust democracy. Trotsky compared the weak Spanish capitalist class with the bolder bourgeoisies of England in the 17th century and the French in 1789. He wrote:
“Now even less than in the nineteenth century can the Spanish bourgeoisie lay claim to the historic role which the British and French bourgeoisie’s once played. Appearing too late, dependent on foreign capital, the big industrial bourgeoisie of Spain, which has dug like a leech into the body of the people, is incapable of coming forward as the leader of the ‘nation’ against the old estates, even for a brief period. The magnates of Spanish industry face the people hostilely, forming a most reactionary bloc of bankers, industrialists, large landowners, the monarchy, its generals and officials, all devouring each other in internal antagonisms.”30
It was impossible for the capitalist class to wage a fight against the feudal features of production because capitalism had grown relatively peacefully within feudalism, depending much on the traditional institutions of the monarchy to discipline the working class. Trotsky explained:
“In Spain, capitalism must use feudal means to exploit the peasantry. To aim the weapon of revolution against the remnants of the Spanish Middle Ages means to aim it against the very roots of bourgeois rule” 31
Uneven economic development and the overwhelming participation of large landowners in capital formation produced significant inequities in land distribution – 1.5 million of the small rural proprietors only possessed 2.5 acre plots of land and they were forced to work on large estates in order to survive. In contrast, 50,000 members of the gentry owned half of the total acreage in Spain and 10,000 landowners owned 250 or more acres.32
Industrialization in the early decades of the 20th century Spain changed the class composition of the country, concentrating workers into large enterprises. Trotsky wrote:
“The last decades, particularly the years of the world war, produced important changes in the economy and the social structure of the country. Of course, Spain still remains at the tail end of Europe. But the country has experienced its own industrial development, in both extractive and light industry. During the war, coal mining, textiles, the construction of hydroelectric stations, etc. were greatly advanced. Industrial centers and regions sprang up all over the country. This created a new relationship of forces and opened up new perspectives… industrial development raised the proletariat to its feet and strengthened it.”33
In the Spain of old, small entrepreneurs (the “petty-bourgeoisie”) – the social class scrunched between the big capitalists and the working class – dominated in the production and distribution of goods. However, industrialization took the leading role away from this social class. Trotsky explained that the working class was not only the newer social class, but the most formidable. Unlike peasants or small businessmen, the working class owned nothing but their labor and had an interest in running those firms for the collective good of society. In other words, the working class was the only group structurally capable of leading society out of a capitalist system. For Trotsky, the emergent Spanish working class in a primarily agrarian country resembled the social composition of Russia during the revolution of 1917.34
For the working class, the fight against feudal forms of exploitation and capitalism could not be separated – capitalist economic relations were dominant and had fully penetrated the Spanish countryside. However, the industrial working class being the critical social class did not mean that the it could wage revolution on its own – it needed an alliance with other groups and social classes subjugated and oppressed by big capital. One group was the agricultural workers – they would lead the revolution in the countryside. Trotsky explained:
“…we must by no means forget about the independent role of the agricultural workers. They are the main instruments of the proletarian revolution in the rural districts. With the peasants, the workers have an alliance, but the agricultural workers are a part of the proletariat itself. This important distinction must always be kept in mind.”35
To summarize, the working class was the only class capable of reconstituting society on the basis of collectivized wealth. This class included agricultural laborers who worked, but did not own, the land, the machinery or tools i.e. the “means of production.” Revolution demanded that the industrial working class in the cities, and the agricultural laborers in the countryside, organize themselves and lead the sympathetic middle-classes (peasants, tenant farmers, sharecroppers, well-to-peasants, small businessmen, professionals etc.) in the fight for socialism. However, all this demanded a revolutionary leadership among the working class with a clear political program and strategy to lead itself and other potentially sympathetic social forces.
The political forces

3. What political parties and organizations exist, in the interests of which social class(es) do they speak, and within which social class(es) have they established leadership?
By 1931, a variety of organizations and parties existed that gave political expression to the struggle between social classes.36 The political party that spoke consistently for the “democratic” reform interests of the ruling class was the Republican Party, itself a grouping of liberal capitalist parties of various political shades. The Radical Party (Alejandro Lerroux) represented the right wing of the Republican coalition parties. This party was thoroughly conservative – they had the allegiance of those sectors of the middle and lower middle-classes who were tired of the monarchy, sick of the role of the church and the army in political affairs, but were most afraid of the popular social movements simmering under the surface of Spanish society.37 The conservative Republican party in Cataluña was the Lliga Regionalista which had the allegiance of the sharecroppers (rabassaires). The smaller left-wing Republican parties were: the Catalan party Esquerra (Miguel Maura and Lluis Companys); Acción Republicana (Manuel Azaña); the Radical Socialists and a Republican party in Galicia. These parties represented the interests of those progressive middle and lower middle-class members who wished for a completion of the liberal revolution that failed during the 19th century. They were predominantly doctors, lawyers, university professors and other professionals. 38 Although separated into respective right and left tendencies, all parties in the Republican coalition desired a peaceful transition from monarchical dictatorship to capitalist democracy and economic development – a tall order during revolution. Trotsky said of the Republicans:
“In their highest echelons, the Spanish republicans are distinguished by an extremely conservative social program… their fear of the masses is greater than their hostility to the monarchy.”39
In the same letter, Trotsky wrote of this bourgeois party:
“The base of support of the Spanish republicans, as we have already said, is completely on present property relations. We can expect them to neither expropriate the big landowners, nor to liquidate the privileges of the Catholic Church, nor to cleanse the Augean stables of the civil and military bureaucracy.”40
The mass formations of the political left were Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists. The Spanish Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrera de España – PSOE) held leadership over the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), an important trade union federation. In 1930, the UGT boasted a membership of 287,000 but its union would expand rapidly in the next few years of the Second Republic.41 The UGT would incorporate into it the National Federation of Land Workers (Federación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Tierra – FNTT) – a union for agricultural laborers. The PSOE was affiliated with the Second International and sought the peaceful expansion and protection of workers’ rights.42 Both the PSOE and UGT were dominant in Madrid, New Castile, Old Castile, Estremadura, Asturias, and the Basque Country.43 The most prominent leaders of the PSOE and UGT were Indalecio Prieto and Largo Caballero.
The anarcho-syndicalists, although not an official political party, led the Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT) and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) trade unions. The CNT (Angel Pestaña and Juan Peiro) dominated politically in Cataluña and also held political sway in the provinces of Aragon, Valencia, and among the agricultural workers in the southern province of Andalucía.44 The anarchists had led many important struggles, facilitating the expansion of their unions, but abstained from political issues on principle, and supported isolated insurrections against the government without a program of ultimately taking political power.45 The FAI (Buenaventura Durruti and Garcia Olivar), established in 1927, was the more political and militant wing of the anarchist movement and, when it ultimately fused with the CNT, politically led that new grouping – the CNT-FAI. Unlike the PSOE and the UGT, which bargained peacefully with the Primo de Rivera dictatorship during the 1920’s, the CNT was declared illegal and forced underground.46 In 1931, total membership of the CNT-FAI was 500,000 members.47
On the far right, the monarchist parties still possessed substantial influence over the most traditional institutions of Spanish society: the church, the aristocratic officer corps of the army, and the Guardia Civil. These parties were: Renovación Española (Antonio Goicoechea and Calvo Sotelo); the explicitly monarchist Traditionalist Communion, a Carlist tendency that had a social base in the reactionary well-to-do peasantry of the Navarre province; Acción Popular (Gil Robles) which was a Catholic party that sought political power through legal means and was by far the most successful of the far-right parties. By 1934, Acción Popular had gathered thirty-six conservative groups and parties into a coalition called CEDA (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas). CEDA sympathized with Hitler and Mussolini and consolidated the base of future fascism in Spain, funneling their members into the Falange Española (the explicitly fascist party led by José Antonio Primo de Rivera) with the outbreak of Civil War in 1936.48 Acción Popular/CEDA, represented the typical politics of a proto-fascist coalition – it desired, through electoral means, a return to life under the monarchy, “a corporatist state,” the rule of traditional institutions, and consequently fought every progressive reform proposed by the Second Republic.49
The groups on the radical left were: the Spanish Communist Party (Partido Comunista de España – PCE), with about 800 members in 1930 50 and led by José Díaz and Jesús Hernández; the Catalan-Baleric Communist Federation, also known as the Workers’ and Peasants Bloc (Bloc Obrer i Camperol – BOC), 51 and led by Joaquín Maurín with a few thousand members; and the Spanish Communist Opposition (Oposición Comunista de España – OCE) whose most distinct leaders were Andreu Nin and Juan Andrade. The OCE was an affiliate of the International Left Opposition (ILO), the expelled faction of the official Communist Party of the USSR led by Trotsky. Although the OCE possessed only a handful of followers (about 50) in 1931, it was the organization with the clearest political analysis of the unfolding revolution and the best program for political action. Consequently, it offered the best chance for building a revolutionary party that could lead the working class to power. The OCE would name itself the Izquierda Comunista de España (ICE) at their congress held in March 1932.
The “subjective” elements of revolution
4. How can the working class politically lead itself and the diverse middle class surrounding it?
5. What reforms should be fought for, and what demands should be advanced, that can unify parties and organizations on the left – and all social classes subordinated to capital – in order to fight the political forces on the right who defend capitalism in decline?
The past economic and political development of Spain (the “objective” elements of revolution), shaped 1931 Spain. This accumulation of history was what Marx referred to as the “circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” I now turn to the role of human agents in transforming their world – the part where “men make history” (the “subjective” elements of revolution) according to the circumstances in which they are rooted. Trotsky’s answer to these questions comes in three parts: 1) understanding the important role in fighting sincerely and wholeheartedly for democratic demands, 2) conducting a “united front” with other left parties to win these demands in order to 3) build and consolidate a mass revolutionary leadership of workers within a single political party. This party would be the only force capable of leading the oppressed and exploited majority to take state power in order to organize production collectively for the benefit of the majority. Because the OCE was a very small organization at the start of the pre-revolutionary events, Trotsky spoke most about the critical role of democratic demands in the developing social upheaval that would facilitate the growth of the OCE.
The role of democratic demands

As explained earlier, a modern industrial working class existed in an economically backward Spain that knew no democracy. Because the capitalists, through the Republican Party, were too cowardly to champion substantive democratic reform, the working class had to be the leading force in the fight for democracy. Democratic demands were the medium through which the OCE could unify the forces on the left to fight the right and consolidate the best working class fighters into one party, thereby pushing the revolution forward. The struggle for democracy, in the midst of a revolution, overlapped with the fight for working class demands (decent wages and land), and would inevitably transcend to more radical socialist demands (for example, workers’ control of industry and establishment of workers’ councils) at a certain stage of the struggle. Democratic demands would have to be fought for utilizing “extra-parliamentary” means (i.e. pickets, demonstrations, strikes etc.). During the struggle for democracy the masses reach a point where they gain confidence in their momentum and power; this is the stage when revolutionaries can advance more radical democratic, and socialist, demands.
In his first letter to the Spanish Opposition in January 1930 (written following Primo de Rivera’s abdication), Trotsky discussed the role of democratic demands in the future revolution:
“By advancing democratic slogans, the proletariat is not in any way suggesting that Spain is heading toward a bourgeois revolution…Spain has left the stage of bourgeois revolution far behind…But in this epoch, the proletariat can lead the revolution – that is, group the broadest masses and of the working class and oppressed around itself and become their leader – only on the condition that it now unreservedly puts forth all democratic demands, in conjunction with its own class demands.”52
So, according to Trotsky, the revolution could not be bourgeois in character, the peaceful development of capitalism within a feudal Spain thwarted such an endeavor. However, the Spanish workers and peasants were not yet committed to socialist revolution. The masses yearned for democracy, and it was the role of revolutionaries within the working class to demonstrate how the instinctual democracy of the working and peasant masses was synonymous with class demands and revolutionary socialism i.e. radical economic democracy. Would raising democratic demands fool the masses into believing the Republicans had their interests at heart? Trotsky answered:
“Needless to say, democratic demands under no circumstances have as their object drawing the proletariat closer to the republican bourgeoisie. On the contrary, they create the basis for a victorious struggle against the leftist bourgeoisie, making it possible to disclose its anti-democratic character at every step. The more courageously, resolutely, and implacably, the proletarian vanguard fights for democratic slogans, the sooner it will win over the masses and undermine the support for the bourgeois republicans and Socialist reformists. The more quickly their best elements join us the sooner the democratic republic will be identified in the mind of the masses with the workers’ republic.”53
Bold democratic slogans would expose the vacuous democracy of the Republican bourgeoisie, ill-suited for waging a determined battle for liberty against the monarchy:
“By supporting all really democratic and revolutionary movements of the popular masses, the communist vanguard will be leading and uncompromising struggle against the so-called republican bourgeoisie, unmasking its double-dealing, its treachery, and its reactionary character, and its attempts to subject the toiling masses to its influence.”54
When Berenguer had announced elections to the Cortes for March 1st, Trotsky argued that a boycott of this election was appropriate, understanding that any Cortes set up would be a “sham.” Nevertheless, it was not sufficient to merely criticize Berenguer through a boycott – it was necessary to provide an alternative. Therefore, the OCE should advance the argument for a “revolutionary Constituent Cortes” instead of the anti-democratic Berenguer Cortes in order to initiate the discussion among left workers and peasants about how real democracy could be won i.e. through workers’ revolution and socialism. Trotsky argued:
“But even while boycotting Berenguer’s Cortes, the advanced workers would have to counterpose to it the slogan of a revolutionary Constituent Cortes. We must relentlessly disclose the fraudulence of the slogan constituent Cortes in the mouth of the ‘left’ bourgeoisie, which, in reality, wants a conciliationist Cortes by the good graces of the king and Berenguer, for the purpose of haggling with the old ruling and privileged cliques. A genuine constituent assembly can be convoked only by a revolutionary government, as a result of a victorious insurrection of the workers, soldiers, and peasants [emphasis in original].”55
After mass protest forced the resignation of Berenguer from the interim government, Trotsky reiterated the importance of agitating for the “revolutionary constituent Cortes” based on “universal suffrage without discrimination of sex, from the age of eighteen, with no restrictions.”56 The April elections and the creation of a “democratic” capitalist government allowed for revolutionaries to raise the most radical demands. Trotsky argued:
“The communists issue the most radical democratic slogans: complete freedom for the proletarian organizations; freedom of local self-administration; election of all officials by the people; admission of suffrage to men and women from the age of eighteen, etc.; formation of a workers’ militia and later on of a peasants’ militia, confiscation of all properties of the monarchy and the church for the benefit of the people, above all, for the unemployed and the poor peasants and for improving the conditions of the soldiers; complete separation of church and state.”57
In addition, Trotsky argued that his comrades should demand the “arrest [of] the most prominent leaders and supporters of the old regime [and] confiscate the property of the monarchy.” These democratic demands – far from channeling working class struggle down the path of pure reformism – were very radical, and served to connect in the minds of the Spanish masses, the relationship between democracy and socialism.
The Communist Party of Spain (PCE) had (consistent with its ultra-radicalism during this time) raised the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as the principal slogan to advance the revolution. Trotsky discussed the limitations of this slogan in the following way:
“We can and must counterpose the revolutionary Cortes to the conciliationist Cortes; but, to our mind, it would be incorrect, at the present stage to give up the slogan of the revolutionary Cortes. To counterpose the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the problems and slogans of revolutionary democracy (for a republic, for an agrarian revolution, for the separation of church and state, the confiscation of church properties, national self-determination, a revolutionary constituent assembly) would be the most sterile and miserable doctrinairism. Before the masses can seize power, they must unite around the leading proletarian party. The struggle for democratic representation in the Cortes, at one or another stage of the revolution, can immeasurably facilitate the solution of this problem [emphasis in original].”58
For Trotsky, the slogan “dictatorship of the proletariat” sounded too abstract and did not reach the masses of workers and peasants who had their “eyes and ears fixed on the Cortes” elections. Even worse, to the peasants, this slogan sounded as if the workers wanted to subjugate them rather than give them freedom to work the land. Trotsky asked rhetorically: why was it important to raise democratic demands to the Cortes as a focal point for revolutionary agitation? He answered:
“Precisely because the Spanish people are inclined to exaggerate the creative power of the Cortes, every awakened worker, every revolutionary peasant woman, wants to participate in the elections. We do not solidarize ourselves for a moment with the illusions of the masses; but we must utilize whatever is progressive about these illusions to the utmost [emphasis in original]…”59
Trotsky was persistent in his criticism of the thoughtless formula Stalin had advocated through the PCE: that democratic reforms were synonymous with opportunism and socialist demands with revolutionary Marxism. According to Trotsky, revolution did not obey such a formal scheme. The slogan “dictatorship of the proletariat” was, on its own, a worthless demand. Trotsky related:
“To reduce all the contradictions and all the tasks to the lowest common denominator – the dictatorship of the proletariat – is a necessary, but altogether insufficient operation. Even if one should run ahead and assume that the proletarian vanguard has grasped the idea that only the dictatorship of the proletariat can save Spain from further decay, the preparatory problem would nevertheless remain in full force: to weld around the vanguard the heterogeneous sections of the working class and the still more heterogeneous masses of the village toilers. To contrast the bare slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the historically determined tasks that are now impelling the masses towards the road of insurrection would be to replace the Marxist conception of social revolution with Bakunin’s.” 60
Rather than obeying formal laws, revolution was a dynamic process which based itself, not simply on how the masses are acting, but on how they are thinking about how they are acting: in other words, their consciousness. Consciousness in revolution, or struggle of any magnitude, always lags behind action; people may be acting in a revolutionary way but their hopes still remain in finding a solution within the capitalist system. The slogan “dictatorship of the proletariat,” standing alone, was abstracted from the actual events of the revolution. In Trotsky’s mind this formal slogan needed to be filled and complemented with democratic demands that were historically relevant to the struggle. If this did not occur, the revolutionaries would not be making sense to workers around them (let alone to the non-workers) which, in turn, would reinforce their isolation.
The PCE demand for “dictatorship of the proletariat” sounded radical, but Trotsky argued that not only did such a demand not make sense and fit the present moment of the struggle, it led to disastrous tactics – around the time of the elections to the Cortes the PCE had called for the arming of workers and peasants. Trotsky argued that the arming of the workers and the peasants could not be associated with any offensive action; rather, distribution of arms could only make sense as a demand for armed defense of their organizations from right-wing attack.
Even though the revolution was in its early stages, this did not mean that the OCE need advance the hollow reforms proposed by the Republican-Socialist coalition (Part II will address these specific reforms later). Rather, Trotsky argued for radical social legislation in the form of unemployment insurance, increased taxation of the wealthy and “free popular education.” In addition, there also needed to be a series of “transitional demands” – these included: nationalization of railroads, mineral resources, banks, workers’ control of industry, and state regulation of the economy. Such transitional demands served not only to advance the revolution at a certain advanced stage of the struggle (such as a general strike) but, if won, would facilitate the planning of the state economy once workers took political power.61
Also, clear democratic demands were crucial for winning the peasants, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers to workers’ revolution. Peasants would see that the revolutionary working class party fought also for the interests of the peasants. Trotsky explained:
“The peasantry cannot give the proletariat its confidence a priori by accepting the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a verbal pledge. The peasantry, being a large and oppressed class, at a certain stage inevitably sees in the democratic slogan the possibility for the oppressed to overthrow the oppressors. The peasantry will inevitably link the slogan of political democracy with the slogan of the radical redistribution of land. The proletariat will openly support both demands.”62
Trotsky talks about the specific reforms that revolutionaries should advance and fight for together with the peasantry:
“In order to break the peasantry away from localism and reactionary influences, the proletariat needs a clear revolutionary democratic program. The yearning for land and water, the bondage caused by high rents, acutely pose the question of confiscation of private land for the benefit of the poor peasants. The burden of state finances, the unbearable government debt, bureaucratic pillage, and the African adventures pose the need for a cheap government, which can be achieved not by the owners of large estates, not by bankers and industrialists, not by the liberal nobility, but only by the toilers themselves.
The domination of the clergy and the wealth of the church put forward the democratic problem: to separate church and state and to disarm the church, transferring its wealth to the people [emphasis in original]. ”63
From Trotsky’s writings during this period it is evident that the OCE was still trying to grasp how the struggle for democratic reforms would augment the fight for more radical demands like the establishment of “soviets” – workers’ councils. Addressing the OCE, Trotsky turned to the experience of the Russian Revolution of February 1917 as a reference point for appraising Spanish conditions of the moment and their future trajectory:
“a) Spain is not at war and you do have no slogan for peace; b) you don’t have workers’ soviets yet, not to speak of soldiers’ soviets… I do not even see that this slogan is being raised among the masses; c) the republican government from the very outset applies repressive measures against the left-proletarian wing, which we did not have in February because the bayonets were at the disposal of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets and not in the hands of the liberal government….
The February regime, in the political sphere, immediately realized full and absolute democracy. The bourgeoisie maintained itself by the good will of the masses of workers and soldiers. Your bourgeoisie maintains itself not only on the good will but also on the organized violence that it took over from the old regime. You do not have complete and unconditional freedom of assembly, speech, press, etc. The electoral basis of your new municipalities is very far from democratic. Meanwhile, in a revolutionary epoch, the masses are particularly sensitive to every inequality in rights, to every form of police rule. This should be utilized. In other words, it is necessary for the communists at present to come forward as the party of the most consistent, decisive, and intransigent, defenders of democracy.”64
Democratic reforms provided the OCE with points of unity around which the left forces would consolidate their forces, expose the government ambivalence and betrayal to popular social reform, thereby building a revolutionary alternative and home for the radicalizing workers and peasants to organize. Trotsky explained:
“[Fighting for the most modest democratic reforms can] create serious difficulties for the Socialists, and drive a wedge between the Socialists and the republicans, that is, divide even for a time the enemies of the proletariat and – what is a thousand times more important – drive a wedge between the working masses and the Socialists” 65
The experience of the Russian Revolution again provided a roadmap for how this struggle for democratic reforms within a united front was absolutely necessary to win socialist revolution:
“The enormous role of the Bolshevik slogan ‘Down with the ten capitalist ministers” is well known. The slogan was adopted in 1917 at a time of the coalition between the conciliators and the bourgeois liberals. The masses still trusted the Socialist conciliators but even the most trusting masses always have an instinctive distrust of the bourgeoisie, of the exploiters, and of the capitalists. It is upon this distrust that tactic of the Bolsheviks was based during the specific period. We didn’t say ‘Down with the Socialist ministers,’ we didn’t even advance the slogan ‘Down with the Provisional Government’ as a fighting slogan of the moment, but instead we hammered incessantly on the same theme: ‘Down with the ten capitalist ministers.’ This slogan played an enormous role, because it gave the masses the opportunity to learn from their own experience that the Socialist conciliators thought much more of the capitalist ministers than of the working masses.
Slogans of that type are best fitted for the present stage of the Spanish revolution. The proletarian vanguard is fully interested in pushing the Spanish Socialists to take power into their hands. For that to happen, it is necessary to split the coalition. The present task is the fight to drive the bourgeois ministers from the coalition. The achievement of this task even in part is conceivable only in connection with important political events, under pressure of new mass movements, and so on. Thus, in Russia, under the constant pressure of the masses, first Guchov and Miliukov, then Prince Lvov, were ousted from the coalition government; Kerensky was put at the head of the government; the number of ‘Socialists’ in the government rose, and so on. After Lenin’s arrival, the Bolshevik Party did not solidarize itself for one moment with Kerensky and the conciliators, but it helped the masses to push the bourgeoisie out of power and to test the government of the conciliators in practice. That was an indispensable stage in the Bolshevik rise to power.” 66
The experience here resembled the situation in Spain and could provide the necessary next steps in the struggle:
…. The slogan ‘Down with Zamora-Maura’ is quite timely. It is only necessary to make one thing clear: the communists are not agitating in favor of the Lerroux ministry, nor are they assuming any responsibility for the Socialist ministry; but at every given moment they deliver their strongest blows against the most determined and consistent class enemy, thereby weakening the conciliators and clearing the way for the proletariat.” 67
The struggle for democratic reforms was integral to the fight for broader social transformation. Herein lies the essence of what Trotsky called “permanent revolution.” The strategy for fighting for these reforms was the “united front” – revolutionaries uniting with those who are not yet won to revolution, and in the course of struggle, weakening the political right, the capitalist system as a whole, bolstering the confidence of the working and peasant masses, and ultimately winning them over to the side of revolution and organizing workers within a revolutionary party. Now let us examine in detail the role of the “united front” and its conceptual application to the Spanish struggle.
The “united front”: a strategy to win the masses

The municipal elections in April and the Cortes elections in June confirmed Trotsky’s and the OCE’s conviction that revolution was underway – the masses had voted for democracy and against the restoration of the monarchy. The time had come to unapologetically demand widespread reform and direct all political force, criticism, and agitation toward the monarchy. At the same it was critical to place the Republican-Socialist coalition under relentless criticism for balking on social reform.68
The united front strategy Trotsky articulated consisted of this: fight the reactionary and conservative monarchist right with all the forces on the left who agree; in fighting alongside other left parties and organizations, the revolutionary left would force the tepid “democrats” and reformist leaders to act; when the Republican and Socialist leadership fail to carry the struggle forward against the right, the rank-and-file would become disappointed with their leadership and seek out a new bold and revolutionary alternative. In this way, the radicalizing masses would be won to organizing within a revolutionary workers’ party, the vehicle through which workers’ revolution will be explicitly fought for and won. The united front required open discussion of the movement among all left parties involved. The revolutionary party needed to maintain political independence from other left parties in order to explicitly fight for the interests of the working class while extending the alliance of left groups “in the broadest fashion” possible.69
The need for the united front arose from the very nature of revolution. Revolution, Trotsky argued, awakened “millions of the toiling masses” for the first time; accordingly, it did not translate into the people identifying immediately with revolutionary politics. Instead, the workers and peasants would first pass through liberal and reformist political parties on the left that they believe will struggle for their interests:
The masses of workers, soldiers, and peasants must pass through the stage of Socialist-republican illusions in order to rid themselves of these illusions all the more radically and conclusively, so that they are not trapped by phrases, can look the facts straight in the face, and stubbornly prepare the second revolution, the proletarian revolution. ”70
Trotsky brought his revolutionary experience to bear. During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the vast majority of workers, peasants, and soldiers first gave their political allegiance to the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary parties before they were won to the Bolshevik Party program of taking state power through the democratically elected workers’ councils, or “soviets.” Likewise, during the German Revolution of 1918-1919, workers first identified with the political program of the more conservative wings of the workers movement (the United Social Democratic Party, or USPD, and the Social Democratic Party, or SPD), before moving further to the left and joining the German Communist Party (KPD).71
The united front approach contrasted sharply with the PCE’s ultra-left tactic that labeled all non-communist parties as “social fascists,” and therefore, unworthy of an alliance to defeat the right. From the experience of the Russian Revolution Trotsky concluded that no matter how reactionary the reformist coalition governments of the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks were, and how repressive they acted toward the Bolsheviks, it was the united front between these reformist parties and the Bolsheviks that defeated the Kornilov fascists in August 1917. This anti-fascist front proved critical in the Bolshevik party winning the confidence of the soviet majority and establishing a workers’ government a few months later.72
Trotsky argued that the joint action of the OCE with the PSOE Socialists and the CNT and FAI anarcho-syndicalists was essential for defeating the right and ultimately winning workers to revolution. In 1931 the UGT and the CNT represented the majority of Spain’s working class – the UGT boasted a membership of roughly 250,000 and the CNT had about 500,000 members (and the membership of these unions would increase rapidly in the next few years). I now turn to Trotsky’s analysis of, and strategic approach to, each of these two most important political forces.
The Socialists (PSOE)

Trotsky was convinced that the PSOE leadership would, in the end, betray the revolution. The PSOE had just emerged from a dictatorship in which it was a political partner. However, the Socialists had the allegiance of hundreds of thousands of workers in the city and the countryside – and it was on the backs of those workers, through the massive wave of struggle in 1930, that pushed the PSOE to align with the Republicans, establishing a democratic government.73 Trotsky wrote the following about Socialist participation in the new Republican government:
“The fact that the Socialist leaders trail behind the republican leaders is quite in the nature of things. Yesterday, the Social Democracy clung with its right arm to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. Today it clings with its left arm to the republicans. The principal aim of the Socialists, who do not and cannot have an independent policy, is participation in a solid bourgeois government. To this end, they would not refuse to make peace even with the monarchists….”74
The socialism of the PSOE was consistent with other “social democratic” (i.e. reformist) parties that had leading working class constituencies in other countries during times of revolution – most notably, the Menshevik Party in Russia 1917 and the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1918-1923. The Menshevik Party opposed workers’ taking power through their democratically elected workers’ councils (or “soviets”). A few years after the Bolsheviks led the formation of an exclusively workers’ and peasants’ government in October of 1917, Trotsky decried the politics of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD, even though it had been at the head of a democratic movement of workers in 1918 and 1919, refused to dismantle the capitalist state and build a workers government based on workers councils, setting the German Revolution backward and contributing decisively to the slow degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky warned in Spain:
“If the Socialists were to acquire a leading position over the proletariat during the revolution, it would be capable of only one thing: spilling the power conquered by the revolution into the republican sieve, from which power would automatically pass to its present possessors.”75
The PSOE was condemned to play a conservative role during the revolution because they shared power with the Republicans who were at the helm. Accordingly, the PSOE would be responsible for any repression of worker and peasant protest. The role of minority partner explained the Socialists psychological predisposition to fear the rising class struggle which is best summed up by Miguel Cordero, a UGT trade-union official, in the following way: “our revolutionary optimism had hardly been excited at all. It was just obvious that we were faced with an imminent revolution, which would take place with us or without us or even against us.”76 A mass movement pushed the hesitant PSOE and UGT leadership into the government – this dynamic foreshadowed a clash between the PSOE and UGT leadership with the rank-and-file membership as strike activity increased:
“The Socialist leaders consider themselves lucky because they do not have a majority in the Cortes, and because their coalition with the bourgeoisie is thus justified by parliamentary statistics. The Socialists do not want to take power, for they justly fear that a Socialist government will only be a stage on the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat…. The Socialists intend to support the coalition as long as it is possible to hold back the proletariat by doing so and then, when the pressure of the workers becomes too strong, to pass into opposition, under some radical pretext, leaving it to the bourgeoisie to discipline and crush the workers.77
What made the Socialist Party particularly dangerous in Trotsky’s mind was their ability to assume a radical façade, providing a left-wing cover to Republican repression of the workers’ and peasants’ movement. They could blame the Republicans for stalling on important reforms and, when the struggle heated up, use the Republicans to discipline the workers. Acquiescence to repressing the workers’ movement aside, Trotsky anticipated the Socialist excuses for not deepening social revolution and provided the OCE with a way forward:
“The Socialists will say they cannot give up the coalition because they do not have a majority in the Cortes. Our answer to that is to call for democratic elections to the Cortes on the basis of truly universal and equal suffrage for men and women from eighteen years of age. In other words, to the nondemocratic, falsified Cortes, we counterpose at this stage, a truly popular, truly democratic, honestly elected Cortes.”78
Thus, when the Socialists place the blame on the Republicans for sabotaging reform, revolutionaries must respond with the demand for a new election to the Cortes that truly represented the will of the Spanish masses. This would give the Socialists the majority they need to take government power in their hands.79 The inevitable gulf that would develop between the Socialist leadership and their rank-and-file would facilitate workers’ radicalization to the left and, consequently, their seeking out a revolutionary alternative to the PSOE. 80 The united front, Trotsky argued, was the best revolutionary strategy to reap the benefits of the political gulf developing between the Socialist leadership and the rank-and-file and bolster the forces of the revolution:
“The participation in power of the Socialists means that violent clashes between the workers and the Socialist leaders will increase. This opens up great possibilities for the revolutionary policy of the united front. Every strike, every demonstration, every approach of the workers to the soldiers, every step of the masses towards the real democratization of the country will henceforth collide with the resistance of the Socialist leaders acting as the men of ‘order.’ It is therefore all the more important for the communist workers to participate in a united front with the Socialist, syndicalist, and nonpartisan workers, and to draw them under their leadership […]”81
The starting point for Trotsky was clear – revolutionaries should, at every moment, agitate and expose the halfway measures of the Republican-Socialist coalition to expand “democracy” within Spain:
“Their leaders, the Socialists, have power. This increases the demands and tenacity of the workers. Every striker will not only have no fear of the government but will also expect from it. The Communists must direct the thoughts of the workers precisely along these lines: ‘Demand everything from the government since your leaders are in it.’ In reply to the workers’ delegations the Socialists will say that they do not have the majority yet. The answer is clear: with truly democratic suffrage and an end to the coalition with the bourgeoisie, a majority is guaranteed. But this is what the Socialists do not want. Their situation places them in conflict with bold democratic slogans… under the slogan of democracy and of an end to the coalition between the between the Socialists and the bourgeoisie, we drive a wedge between the workers and the Socialists and prepare the next stage of the revolution.”82
To summarize , Trotsky knew the PSOE would fail the test of leading the revolution. However, the masses did not understand this in 1931. Therefore, the strategy of diverting the influence of the Socialist Party away from their rank-and-file amounted to the following: direct all political attacks toward the monarchy and to the Republicans for conceding too much to the monarchist right-wing with the intent of pushing the Socialists deputies into power. These reformist leaders, being tied to the Republicans in a coalition, would eventually betray the interests of the poor, pushing the radicalized layers of society into a party that could offer a revolutionary alternative to the politics of strict reformism.
Winning the masses away from their Socialist leaders required more than words. Trotsky explained:
“Social Democracy must be politically discredited in the eyes of the masses. But this cannot be achieved by means of insults. The masses trust only their collective experience. They must be given the opportunity during the preparatory period of the revolution to compare in action the communist policies with those of the Social Democrats.”83
In other words, the oppressed of Spain needed not only the negative experience of the PSOE’s betrayal, but a positive example of an organized revolutionary alternative that provided leadership and clarity in struggle. As Trotsky knew well, variants of Spanish socialism had already been put to the test of revolution in Russia in 1917, and in Germany from 1918-1923. Success of the revolution in Russia and its failure in Germany had everything to do with the presence of a revolutionary party that could harness and direct the energy of the masses.
The Anarcho-Syndicalists (CNT and FAI)

Spain was a country with a strong anarchist tradition. The anarchist CNT grew immensely during World War I from 25,000 in 1914 to 500,000 in 1918,84 becoming the undisputed leader of the Spanish labor movement and far surpassing the UGT in membership and militancy. Trotsky argued early on that addressing the limitations of anarchist theory and practice regarding revolution was critical. While the Socialists flung themselves into the government with the Republicans, the anarchists ignored both the municipal and Cortes elections. They did so not because they had a clear revolutionary analysis, perspective and strategy concerning how the elections encapsulated the radicalization of the Spanish masses; rather, they denied the importance of political questions in general. The avoidance of politics was rooted in the contradictory anarcho-syndicalist approach of leading the working class to take economic power in society without establishing a revolutionary workers’ government – a body consisting of immediately recallable delegates, that would organize production according to the needs of society and defend against counter-revolution of the capitalist class. Trotsky explained how anarchist politics, applied to a revolutionary situation, had counterrevolutionary consequences:
“Anarcho-syndicalism disarms the proletariat by its lack of a revolutionary program and its failure to understand the role of the party. The anarchists ‘deny’ politics until it seizes them by the throat; then they prepare the ground for the politics of the enemy class.”85
Surrendering politics, and political power, to the capitalist parties was the equivalent of giving the ruling class the instruments with which to bludgeon the working class back into submission. The anarchists believed that by ignoring the Cortes elections they were exhibiting “control” over that body. Trotsky explains sarcastically how this conception misunderstood fundamental power relations:
“The brilliant idea of the syndicalists consists of controlling the Cortes without participating in it! To employ revolutionary violence, to fight for power, to seize power – all this is not permitted. In its place, they recommend the ‘control’ of the bourgeoisie which is in power. A magnificent picture: the bourgeoisie breakfasts, lunches and dines and the proletariat led by the syndicalists ‘controls’ these operations – on an empty stomach.”86
Trotsky predicted that as the mass struggle at the grassroots level rose, there would be political disagreements, debates, and splits among the anarchist leadership (indeed there already existed the divergent tendencies of the CNT and FAI) and rank-and-file. Understanding this “political differentiation” would be important for implementing a strategy on how to relate to the anarchists in struggle. Trotsky explained:
“One cannot doubt that… the differentiation [will grow] among the anarcho-syndicalists. The most revolutionary wing, the further it goes, will find itself ever more in conflict with the sindico-reformists. From this, left-wing putschists, heroic adventurists, individual terrorists, and others will inevitably surge up.
Needless to say, we cannot encourage any kind of adventurism. But we must make sure in advance that not the right-wing, which combats the strikes, but the left revolutionary syndicalist wing will come closer to us.”87
Trotsky remained optimistic: “among the rank-and-file anarcho-syndicalists, there are potentially great forces for revolution.”88 Therefore, it was crucial for the OCE to participate in the CNT. In this way, approaching the anarchists was similar to the Socialists: after the politics of anarchism fail to push the struggle forward, win the rank-and-file to build a political movement and organization that advanced the goal of the working class taking political power. The only difference in approach to the anarchists (relative to the Socialists) was recognizing, and encouraging, their level of militancy, but subjecting them to criticism when their anti-power politics rolled the struggle backward.89
In the end, Trotsky argued, anarchist theory and practice would fail the test of revolution; but he warned that it not also lead to the failure of the revolution itself:
“The whole fate of world Anarchism… is intimately bound up with the Spanish Revolution and since Anarcho-syndicalism is moving inevitably to the most pitiful and ridiculous bankruptcy, there is no doubt that the Spanish Revolution will be the tombstone of Anarchism. But it is necessary to be sure that the tombstone of Anarcho-syndicalism does not at the same time become the tombstone of the revolution.”90
The need for a revolutionary party

Trotsky’s ideas regarding the “united front” strategy and the importance of raising democratic demands were interconnected pieces of the “subjective” element required for the successful advancement of the revolutionary process. Trotsky had clearly articulated a thorough revolutionary program; however, Trotsky was emphatic: “For a successful solution of all these tasks, three conditions are required: a party; once more a party; again a party!”91
Of course, a revolutionary program required a party of militants to implement that strategy and have a place for radicalizing workers to go. If the revolutionary left remained isolated, if their party had no influence during the revolution, the masses would eventually become demoralized and find no way out of the political impasse. This would strengthen the forces of reaction in Spain and eventually lead to the victory of fascism.92
As early as 1931, Trotsky was already identifying those who would build and lead the revolutionary party yet to be constituted in Spain: the radicalizing working class, small agrarian and urban proprietors, and agricultural workers who looked to both the Socialist Party and anarchists for leadership in struggle. As previously noted, these leaders would eventually leave them in the lurch once the revolutionary struggle peaked and the realization of proletarian power was a reality. Therefore, having a revolutionary alternative to reformist socialism and anti-political anarchism was critical if the revolution were to succeed.93
Trotsky was confident that the OCE could win the best elements of the revolutionary communist left in Spain to build a united party. The OCE had the best politics and analysis of the Spanish Revolution but it was only constituted in Madrid in April of 1931 and Barcelona in September of that year.94 Furthermore, it possessed only a handful of followers (the most prominent leaders being Andreu Nin and Juan Andrade) who had spent the 1920’s in exile. However, unlike the Bolshevik party during the February Revolution of 1917, the OCE did not have as strong a network of experienced revolutionaries (“cadres”) that were recognized leaders and agitators throughout Spain. The revolutionary communist organizations in 1931 were weak and politically confused. The Communist Party (PCE), which boasted only a few hundred members, was politically isolated, and subservient to the increasingly Stalinized Comintern. The “Catalan Federation”/BOC (led by Joaquín Maurín), a revolutionary communist organization, although critical of Stalin, was not consistent in its opposition to USSR policy, dissociated itself often from Trotsky, had accommodated to Catalan nationalism and anarchist syndicalism, and appeared content to not extend its influence beyond Cataluña.
In the absence of a politically sound and influential revolutionary socialist left, Trotsky discussed how continual unguided struggles could be a detriment to the revolution in the long run:
“The spontaneity – which at the present stage constitutes the strength of the movement – may in the future become the source of its weakness. To assume that the movement can continue to be left to itself without a clear program, without its own leadership, would mean to assume a perspective of hopelessness. For the question involved is nothing less than the seizure of power. Even the stormiest strikes do not solve this problem – not to speak of the ones that are broken. If the proletariat were not to feel in the process of the struggle during the coming months that its tasks and methods are becoming clearer to itself, that its ranks are becoming consolidated and strengthened, then a decomposition would set in within its own ranks. The broad layers aroused by the movement for the first time would once more fall into passivity [….] The awakened hopes would very quickly be converted into disappointment and exasperation.”95
This “disappointment” and “exasperation” would abet the forces of reaction and lead to the growth, and ultimate victory, of fascism:
“[…] but with the conditions pointed out above – the passivity and the hesitancy of the revolutionary party, and the spontaneity of the mass movement – genuine fascism would find a base in Spain. The big bourgeoisie would conquer the unbalanced, disappointed and despairing petty-bourgeois masses and direct their restlessness against the proletariat” 96
The lack of a revolutionary party rooted in the class struggle in 1931 meant that the pace of struggle would develop slower. Consequently, participation in the Cortes elections in June was an important starting point for winning political influence. Trotsky explained:
“Is there any basis for thinking that the convocation of this Cortes will be interrupted by a second revolution? There is no basis whatever. Powerful movements of the masses are quite possible, but without a program, without a party, these movements cannot bring about a second revolution. To call for a boycott would now be to call for self-isolation. It is necessary to participate most actively in the election.”97
The current pre-revolutionary period gave the OCE a chance to win the best fighters to its organization. Trotsky explained how a revolutionary party is steeled and disciplined in the struggle:
“The mighty pressure of the masses welds the party together. The internal struggle trains the party and makes its own road clear to it. In this struggle, all the members of the party gain a deep confidence in the correctness of the policy of the party and in the revolutionary reliability of the leadership. Only such a conviction in the rank-and-file Bolshevik, won through experience and ideological struggle, gives the leadership the chance to lead the whole party into battle at the necessary moment. And only a deep confidence in the party itself in the correctness of its policy inspires the working masses with confidence in the party.”98
The right of nations to self determination
The right of colonial Morocco, Cataluña, and the Basque region to self-determination was a democratic demand that would play a significant role in the development of the Spanish revolution. The demand for self-determination was derived from definite conditions of uneven economic development and could only be achieved through the leadership of the working class and the realization of socialism.
For centuries Madrid acted as an imperialist “bureaucratic centralizer” over a country that experienced weak economic development, regional dispersal and, the salience of culturally autonomous regions in its political life. The social base of regional nationalism predominated among the radicalizing petty-capitalists – small business owners, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and peasants – and also found a hearing among the working class. Even though the social basis of nationalist politics originated outside the working class, it was the duty of revolutionaries to defend these political movements. As long as Castile sought to subjugate these regions, the struggle for self-determination was a progressive and democratic movement of nations, or regions, to determine their own affairs. This was a demand ever more important for revolutionaries to defend, especially against the current “democratic” government of the Republicans and Socialists.
Trotsky explained:
“The chief carrier of the national tendencies and illusions is the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, striving to find support among the peasantry against the centralizing role of big capital and the state bureaucracy. At the present stage, the leading role of the petty-bourgeoisie in the national liberation movement, as in every revolutionary democratic movement in general, inevitably brings into the movement numerous prejudices of various kinds. From this source national illusions also seep in among the workers…. But what has been said does not at all diminish the progressive, revolutionary democratic character of the Catalan national struggle – against the Spanish great-power chauvinism, bourgeois imperialism, and bureaucratic centralism.
It must not be forgotten for a minute that Spain as a whole and Cataluña in particular are at present governed not by Catalan national democrats but by Spanish bourgeois imperialists in alliance with the landowners, old bureaucrats, and generals, and with the support of the Spanish national socialists [PSOE]. This whole fraternity stands on the one hand for the continued subjugation of the Spanish colonies, and on the other for the maximum bureaucratic centralization of Spain itself, that is, for the suppression by the Spanish bourgeoisie of the Catalans, the Basques, and the other nationalities. At the present stage of developments, with the given combination of class forces, Catalan nationalism is a progressive revolutionary factor; Spanish nationalism is a reactionary imperialist factor …”99
The nationalist politics of Catalans, Basques and Moroccans reflected a “petty bourgeois” social outlook which was directed at the big capitalist buttressed by the imperial state, not at the capitalist system as a whole. For this reason, revolutionary workers should maintain independence from the politics of these classes. On the other hand, the working class in the autonomous regions needed to support the struggle against the reactionary bourgeoisie in order to advance the workers’ revolution. Trotsky explained:
“Petty-bourgeois national illusions… are capable of dismembering the proletariat of Spain along national lines… But the Spanish communists can successfully fight against this danger in only one way: by pitilessly denouncing the violence of the bourgeoisie of the ruling nation and in that way winning the confidence of the proletariat of the oppressed nationality. Any other policy would be tantamount to supporting the reactionary nationalism of the imperialist bourgeoisie of the ruling nation against the revolutionary democratic nationalism of the petty-bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation. ”100
Therefore, the fight for self-determination, like any democratic demand, required revolutionary leadership of the working class to lead the battle within society to defeat the reactionary imperialist right.
From the correspondence between Trotsky and the OCE, it is evident that a burning question remained unanswered – what if the struggle for self-determination led to the complete separation of the autonomous regions from Madrid? This question was particularly pressing in the case of Cataluña, an industrially developed region relative to others and home to Spain’s most militant working class. Trotsky answered this question distinguishing between the two forms of “separatism” – that of the capitalists and that of the workers:
“The separatist tendencies present the revolution with the democratic task of national self-determination…. But while the ‘separatism’ of the Catalan bourgeoisie is only a pawn in its play with the Madrid government against the Catalan and Spanish people, the separatism of the workers and peasants is only the shell of their social rebellion. One must distinguish very rigidly between these two forms of separatism [emphasis in original].”101
However, if revolutionaries defended the right of Cataluña to separate and that struggle matured, would this not lead to the “Balkanization” of Spain into smaller antagonistic states? To answer this, Trotsky drew on the experience of the Bolsheviks’ approach to nations in the Balkan Peninsula. He explained:
“There was a time when the Balkan Peninsula was unified under the domination of the Turkish gentry, the militarists, and the proconsuls. The oppressed people longed to overthrow their oppressors. If [Bolshevik] opposition to partitioning the peninsula had been counter-posed to these aspirations of the people, we would have been acting as lackeys to the Turkish pashas and beys. On the other hand, however, we know that the Balkan peoples, liberated from the Turkish yoke, have been at one another’s throats for decades. In this matter, too, the proletarian vanguard can apply the point of view of the permanent revolution: liberation from the imperialist yoke, which is the most important element of the democratic revolution, leads immediately to the Federation of Soviet Republics as the state form for the proletarian revolution. Not opposing the democratic revolution, but on the contrary supporting it completely even in the form of separation (that is, supporting the struggle but not the illusions), we at the same time bring our own independent position into the democratic revolution, recommending, counseling, encouraging, the idea of the Soviet Federation of the Iberian Peninsula as a constituent part of the United States of Europe.”102
In sum, the right to self-determination of the Basques and Catalans was integral to the fight for (and establishment of) a socialist federation of states, and not a balkanized constellation of smaller, nationalistic and warring nations. Revolutionary workers needed to bring their independent socialist position into any democratic movement for self-determination – support the struggle, but not the illusions of the nationalist Basque and Catalan bourgeoisie. If separation were to take place, it would have to be realized in conjunction with workers’ revolution throughout Spain; anything less would mean probable counter-revolution. Trotsky noted that the workers formed the majority in Cataluña giving them decisive influence on the question of self-determination. It was plausible that workers may not want to separate and demand only regional autonomy, drawing the conclusion that they have a better chance of winning workers’ revolution as a united Spanish working class.103
Trotsky noted that while a movement for “separation” from Madrid may occur in these regions, it was not the duty of revolutionaries to insist on this policy absent the support of the majority of people in the region. Trotsky argued:
“… in order to draw the line between the nationally oppressed workers and peasants and their bourgeoisie, the proletarian vanguard must take the boldest and most sincere position on the question of national self-determination. The workers will fully and completely defend the right of the Catalans and Basques to organize their state life independently in the event that the majority of these nationalities express themselves for complete separation. But this does not, of course, mean that the advanced workers will push the Catalans and Basques on the road of secession. On the contrary, the economic unity of the country with extensive autonomy of national districts, would represent great advantages for the workers and peasants from the viewpoint of economy and culture [emphasis in original].”104
Whether the movement in Cataluña and the Basque regions declared itself for autonomy or complete separation, the objective for the revolutionary working class in the movement for national and regional determination was the same – workers’ revolution. Socialism would be the only way to substantively free colonies (like Spanish Morocco) and regions from Castilian imperialism.
How would revolutionaries gauge the sentiment among the Catalan and Basque masses for self-determination? Trotsky answered, “by means of a free plebiscite, or an assembly of Catalan representatives, or by the parties that are clearly supported by the Catalan masses, or even by a Catalan national revolt.”105 Trotsky added that the struggle for self-determination would not be decided merely by petty-bourgeois nationalists:
Can the Catalan workers have an indifferent attitude to the attempts of the petty-bourgeois democracy, subordinated as always to big capital, to decide the fate of the Catalan people with the aid of anti-democratic elections? Without the slogans of political democracy to supplement and concretize it, the slogan of national self-determination is a senseless formula, or still worse, it is dust thrown in the eyes”106
In other words, the Catalan and Basque fight for self-determination would be meaningless if the movement did not involve the working class (which held great social weight in the Catalan and Basque region) and become part of the broader movement for democracy (and socialist revolution) throughout Spain. With respect to Morocco, revolutionaries required unflinching anti-imperialist politics in order to solidarize with the colonial oppressed. In the end, the nationalist movements in Cataluña and the Basque region did not demand full separation, but regional autonomy.
Conclusion
Trotsky’s methodical scientific and Marxist approach to Spanish conditions at the very beginning of revolutionary process of 1930-31 has been established. Now it is time to turn to the pre-Civil War years of 1930-1935 and assess how well Trotsky’s ideas anticipated the general momentum of historical events during these years.
Notes
1 Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pg. 3.
2 V.I. Lenin, “What is to be Done?,” Collected Works:Volume 5 (Progress Publishers: U.S.S.R., 1971), pg. 514. Available online at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/rd/3.htm
3 I rely exclusively on the following compilation of Trotsky’s writings: Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), ed. Naomi Allen and George Breitman, (Pathfinder Press: New York, 2001). Other works have provided accounts of Trotsky’s ideas regarding the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, namely: Alan Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, (Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2015); Tony Cliff, “Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution,” in: Trotsky Vol. 4, The Darker the Night the Brighter the Star (1927-1940). 1991. url:http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1993/trotsky4/index.html and Broué, Pierre. “Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution” In Defense of Marxism. (1967), url:http://www.marxist.com/trotsky-and-spanish-revolution.htm. Cliff and Broué pass quickly over the pre-Civil War years. Sennett offers the most comprehensive discussion of Trotsky’s theoretical and practical contribution to the Spanish pre-revolutionary and revolutionary events from 1930-1937, as well as that of other dissident communists (Nin and Maurín). He examines the “divergences” and “convergences” of these leaders approaches, their polemics and actions during these years, and their ultimate political trajectories during the Civil War in 1936 in light of their interpretations of events pre-Civil War. He draws the conclusion that Trotsky’s general views on the revolution, despite at times very clear disagreements, held much influence within the dissident communist groups and even later in the POUM. Although readers may see my exposition of Trotsky’s thought as similar in presentation to Sennett’s (particularly with respect to pages 40 to 92 of his work), there are some critical differences. First, I explain “Trotsky’s Marxism” as an integral whole and not as separate theoretical, strategic and tactical themes (Part I). Second, I examine Trotsky’s observations on Spain in connection with the history of events as they unfolded from 1930-1935 in order to gauge the accuracy of Trotsky’s broad predictions (part II of this work) whereas Sennett’s is more of an exposition and discussion regarding the various ideas of the leaders in the movement.
4 This will be the forthcoming part III of this article.
5 Trotsky became acquainted with Spain in November and December of 1916 where he was forced to stay after an expulsion from France. He spent his time in libraries learning about the country. See Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pp. 62-4.
6 Paul Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1978), pg. 17.
7 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 18.
8 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 17-19.
9 Trotsky, Leon, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), pp. 55-56.
10 Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, 2nd ed., (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974),
pg. 19.
11 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 125-126.
12 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 71-72.
13 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 72. Celso Furtado, The Economic Development of Brazil: A Survey from Colonial to Modern Times, (Berkeley: University of California, 1965), pp. 11-15.
14 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 72.
15 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 73.
16 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 74.
17 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, 12 and Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pp. 47-48.
18 Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1943), pg. 58.
19 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 76.
20 Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pg. 58.
21 Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pp. 59, 81.
22 Frances Lannon, “The Church’s crusade against the republic,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, ( New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pp. 43.
23 Lannon, “The Church’s crusade against the republic,” pp. 45, 52-53.
24 Morrow, Felix, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, pp. 9-10.
25 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 78-9.
26 Broué, Pierre and Emile Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008), pg. 34.
27 Juliá, Santos, “Economic crisis, social conflict and the Popular Front: Madrid 1931-6,” in: Preston, Paul, ed. Revolution and War in Spain, 1931-1939, (New York: Methuen & Co., 1984), pp. 137-142.
28 Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, 34 and Preston, Paul. The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, (London: The Macmillian Press LTD, 1978), pg. 6. The northern and central provinces where small proprietors dominated were: Galicia, Asturias, Basque, Navarre, Old Castile, Leon, Aragon, Cataluña and Levante (Valencia, Murcia, and Lorca). The southern provinces where latifundia production was prevalent were: Salamanca, Andalucía, Estremadura, La Mancha, New Castile, and Valladolid. Also see Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pp. 92-113.
29 Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pg. 34. Morrow puts the number of peasants at 5 million: 2 million with insufficient holdings who need to supplement their income through labor on larger estates; 1.5 million sharecroppers and 1.5 million agricultural workers who own no land. See Felix Morrow, The Civil War in Spain: Toward Socialism or Fascism?, (Pioneer Publishers: New York, 1936), pg. 10. Available online URL:https://www.marxists.org/archive/morrow-felix/1936/09/civilwar.pdf.
30 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 79.
31 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 82.
32 Broué and Temime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pg. 34.
33 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 78-79.
34 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 79-80.
35 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 169.
36 For the purpose of easy historical reference, the names of the most prominent leaders are included in parentheses (in most places) following their respective political party.
37 Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pg. 233.
38 Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pg. 234.
39 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 77.
40 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 89.
41 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 164 see footnote 30.
42 Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pp. 59-66.
43 Pelai Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España, Barcelona: ediciones península, 1977, pg. 291 and Burnett Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pg. 199.
44 Pagès, El movimiento trotskista en España, 291 notes that the UGT and CNT held, more or less, equal sway among the agricultural labor movement in the regions of Guadalajara and Toledo (New Castile) and Albacete (Murcia) and Jaén (Andalucía). Also see Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War, pg. 199 and Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pg. 224 notes that the UGT also made inroads into Granada. The CNT had organized workers in a number of UGT-dominated regions: substantial sections of building workers’ and railway workers’ unions in Madrid, port workers in Gijón, and in the iron foundries of Sama and La Felguera (Asturias).
45 Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pp. 54-59. See also: Geoff Bailey, “Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War,” International Socialist Review, (24) July-August 2002: pp. 55-66. url:http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
46Andy Durgan, “Revolutionary Anarchism in Spain.” International Socialism (11) Winter 1981: 98-103, 98 and Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth, pg. 253.
47 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 164 see footnote 30.
48 Bolloten, The Spanish Civil War, pp. 17-19.
49 Broué and Témime, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, pp. 41-43.
50 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, pg. 157
51 The PCE was an affiliate of the increasingly Stalinist Communist International (Comintern) and only had a membership of a few hundred on the eve of the revolution. Maurin’s “Catalan Federation” formed BOC on March 1st, 1931 and maintained influence strictly in Cataluña among workers in the textile and manufacturing sector. They had been expelled from the PCE because they disagreed with the ultra-radicalism of Stalin’s “third period.” This organization will be discussed more in depth in a later section of this article: “The failure to build a revolutionary party in Spain, 1930-1935.”
52 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 62.
53 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 86.
54 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 64.
55 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 84-85.
56 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 99.
57 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 115.
58 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 85.
59 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 129.
60 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 86.
61 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 85.
62 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 62-63.
63 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 82-83.
64 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 116-117.
65 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 130.
66 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 160-161.
67 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 162.
68 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 129, 133-134.
69 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 64.
70 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 113-114.
71 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 64-65.
72 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 162-163.
73 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pp. 1-15.
74 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 89-90.
75 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 89-90.
76 Preston, The Coming of the Spanish Civil War, pg. 18.
77 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 166.
78 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 167.
79 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 167.
80 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 113-114.
81 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 113-114.
82 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 168.
83 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 65.
84 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-37, pg. 167.
85 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 90.
86 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 177.
87 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 181.
88 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 163.
89 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 163.
90 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 164-5.
91 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 94.
92 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 64-65.
93 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 64-65, 88-89, 120.
94 Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937, pg. 125.
95 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 88-89.
96 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 89.
97 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 128.
98 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 148.
99 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 121-122.
100 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 121-122.
101 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 83.
102 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 185-6.
103 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 63.
104 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 83.
105 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pp. 63, 131.
106 Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), pg. 131.
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The Comintern debates the United Front-Introduction by Mike Taber

Posted by admin On July - 10 - 2019 Comments Off on The Comintern debates the United Front-Introduction by Mike Taber

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Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell’s Marxist Essays and Commentary Blog — Below are excerpts from the February 1922 debate on the united front that took place at an enlarged meeting of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI). The speakers include Grigorii Zinoviev, Karl Radek, and Leon Trotsky.

The excerpts are reprinted from The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923. That book, edited by Mike Taber and translated by John Riddell, will be appear in a paperback edition this summer by Haymarket books. (A hardback edition was published last year by Brill.)

It is the seventh volume in the series on the Communist International in Lenin’s time, which was launched in 1983 under the editorship of John Riddell.

While the broad concept of the proletarian united front is rooted in a long tradition going back to the Communist Manifesto of 1847, its adoption by the Communist International began with an initiative by the Communist Party of Germany in January 1921, issuing an Open Letter to all German workers’ organizations calling for united action against the capitalist offensive.

Although that initiative was greeted at the time with hostility by many in the world Communist movement, Lenin endorsed it and urged Communist parties around the world to emulate it. The Comintern’s Third Congress in the summer of 1921 endorsed the Open Letter’s approach.

In December 1921 the Comintern Executive Committee went a step further, laying out the need for Communist parties around the world to immediately initiate a campaign for the united front. The Executive Committee’s proposal to seek unity in action with Social Democratic parties was met by perplexity and resistance by many Comintern members.

To debate out these differences, an enlarged plenum of the Executive Committee was held two months later, to which each party sent a broader delegation.

The following excerpts from the report and debate on the united front at this plenum present the main contending positions. After extensive debate (see pp. 103–181 of Communist Movement at a Crossroads), the plenum adopted the proposed policy, against the votes of its parties in France, Spain, and Italy.

Communist Movement at a Crossroads will be published in paperback in June by Haymarket Books: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1312-the-communist-movement-at-a-crossroads

Report on the United Front

Grigorii Zinoviev

Gregory Zinoviev: . . . In 1919 we were all full of hope that we would conquer the bourgeoisie within a very few years. That did not take place, above all because the subjective factor was lacking. Conditions were ripe or, as Comrade [Clara] Zetkin put it, overripe, but the working class lacked the necessary organisation. The Social Democracy was a negative factor, because at the decisive moment it fought on the side of the bourgeoisie. We did not see this immediately, and we continued to speak and write during the entire next year as if the goal were very close.

In the present stage of building the Communist parties, entirely new and interesting developments in the depths of the working class are coming into view. The masses long for rest and for bread. For us, as conscious revolutionaries, it is not always pleasant that the working masses, whom we so often glorify and idealise, are not always crowding up to the barricades. Yet after four years of hunger and breakdown, the working class has need for a respite and does not want to plunge into new dangers. That was the mood of the masses, and to some extent it still is. As Communists, we foresaw the war, the economic collapse, and the crisis. But we could not foresee this mood.

Given this situation, reformism has begun to flourish, to some degree, among the broad masses of the working class. This is not the reformism of a Bernstein, not a movement that is clear and purposeful, but rather a mood that opens new paths for reformism. This phenomenon was perceptible in 1920 and throughout almost all of 1921. That is the source of the muffled displeasure against Communists who were calling for struggle and did not understand this need for a respite. These are consequences of the imperialist World War and of how it was ended.

This development could have been very dangerous, were capitalism anything other than capitalism. As capitalism observed this need in the working class and saw that reformism was once again winning a portion of the backward workers, it began its offensive. There were also underlying economic factors at work here. The capitalist offensive started everywhere in the form of lengthening the working day, reducing real wages, and so on. This brought about a new turn in the workers’ movement, a new mood in the working class: initially as a muffled mistrust of the reformists. The ordinary worker now sees again that he will not achieve any respite unless he struggles. All the promises of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals[1] remain unfulfilled, and the living conditions of the working class are deteriorating.

The working masses that previously were striving for a respite now begin to comprehend that there is no way forward without struggle. But to win in this struggle, they must act in unity. When ordinary workers seek to explain the basis for the betrayal during the war, they come to a simple conclusion: It was because the working class was not united, because the Social Democracy split the working class. And now they want unity.

Comrades who now oppose our course of action cannot deny this reality. The workers seek unity; they want to struggle together against the bourgeoisie. If Communists do not take this mood into account, they will become sectarians, that is, they will be serving the interests of the Social Democracy.

During the Third Congress we did not fully understand this. The Third Congress was generally aware that a turn had taken place, but we were not yet fully alert to the strong spontaneous impulse for unity. Now it is necessary to take a further step. We must state that the Communist parties have the role of unifying the working class and leading it forward. The party is not the class; it is the head of the class. We will never enter into forming a united party with the Social Democrats. That would be equivalent to betrayal. We must not forget that the party’s role consists in pointing the way forward for the class.

We must never give way to this mood among the masses. To the degree that this mood arises from the muddled idea of uniting with everybody and becoming one single party, to that extent it is incorrect and reactionary. But in this mood there is nonetheless something else that is essentially healthy, and that is the striving to go forward together against the bourgeoisie. This factor may well be decisive for the entire future course of the revolution. If we succeed now in utilising this mood in a correct fashion, we will achieve not only clarity in the Communist Party but also a great mass movement.

Only now have we achieved the two great preconditions for the struggle. In 1920 the mass movement was perhaps bigger, but the party was lacking. Then we began to build up the party, but the pressure from the masses was lacking. Now we are entering a period where both factors are present and where we must succeed in combining them. From this it flows that we must keep our focus on the united front not only with the Social Democrats, the parties of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, but also with the anarchists, syndicalists, non-party workers, and Christian workers….

We say: join with us right now in the railway workers’ strike. Don’t betray the British miners. Join with us in the small everyday struggles. We do not need your resolutions on a general strike. Rather, we propose that you join in fighting shoulder to shoulder with us for immediate daily demands.

That is what is new, what we did not have until now. The comrades who are resisting the united-front policy do not realise that to a certain extent we have actually already won the campaign in real life. It is no longer possible to present Communists as professional splitters, and that is an enormous initial gain. They used to describe us as professional splitters, and objective conditions made it easier for these people to do so. Between 1914 and 1921 we carried out about a dozen splits, and this engendered a certain annoyance in the working class. But we had to split the old traitorous Social Democracy in order to safeguard the workers’ interests. We had to create a Communist Party, and it had to have elbow room. That’s how it happened that, because of Social Democracy, we were presented as professional splitters. Capitalism tried during these years to build up ill-feeling against splits and make this a factor working against communism. We must now succeed in overcoming this ill-feeling in an appropriate way, showing that we split the working class in order to unite it against the bourgeoisie.

The irritation of the working class regarding splits is only too understandable. The aspiration for unity is very often – indeed, almost always – a revolutionary factor. The power of the working class consists in the fact that it embraces millions. It is a power arising from numbers. Its opposition to splits is an entirely understandable and justified sentiment. But we cannot always give way to this sentiment, because the Social Democracy has utilised it in the interests of the bourgeoisie. We had to split. But now we have to reverse roles: It is now the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals – not us – that will stand before the working class as splitters.

We are now approaching a new rise of the working class. Many comrades misunderstand the united-front slogan, thinking it arises from despair at the failure of the Russian Revolution. The opposite is true. Without this new rise of the workers’ movement, the entire united front would have no foundation. As we wrote in our theses about this new rise, even in Germany our best comrades said that this new rise, for the present, is only perceptible in Moscow and not elsewhere. But consider the wave of strikes that we see everywhere. We have now become accustomed to strikes that embrace a million and a half workers. The united front is not a policy of despair; on the contrary, it is a policy for a new rise, which begins around economic issues but will move onto the political terrain.

Indisputably, this policy has dangers. We referred to that in our initial theses. Our policies often entail dangers. Do you think that there are no dangers in parliamentary participation? Nonetheless, we accept them. The united-front policy entails considerable dangers, and only serious Communist parties can accept them. But no one will be able to show that this policy is dreamed up out of thin air, or that some other feeling is dominant among the masses….

It’s not just a matter of the united front. What’s at stake is the unity of the working masses themselves, and for that we may have to struggle for months, perhaps years. And when this becomes a reality, then the social revolution will have begun. It will not be achieved in a month, but it is the only correct path to get to our goal. Our conference must take a clear position on this question. And if a few party comrades have not yet overcome their infantile disorders, they will be healthy again within a few months. We must make it clear to the masses why we split: to achieve freedom for propaganda and agitation. But now we are calling on you to unite against the bourgeoisie. And by taking this path, victory becomes absolutely certain.

Counter-reports

Daniel Renoult

Daniel Renoult (France): … We have just been told that application of the Third Congress decisions means summoning the masses to precisely defined actions, advancing immediate demands, and explaining to even the most uninformed workers what their duty is to the class. And then we are told that at some point in the future we will be concluding partial and temporary agreements with the discredited leaders of Social Democracy or the reformist syndicalists. Comrade Zinoviev says that drawing this distinction between appeals to the masses and agreements with the Social-Democratic and reformist syndicalist leaders does not constitute a weighty argument. For our part, we consider this agreement to be the most difficult aspect of the problem. I am expressing here not my personal opinion, but that of French Communists; it is the possibility of such an agreement that has generated so great an uproar.

That sums up the position of the Communist Party of France in a few words. The party is introducing minority theses on the united front, theses that reject the Executive Committee’s proposals….

If you tell us that united-front policy means calling for the eight-hour day and struggling against withholding taxes from wages, then we are in complete agreement with the united front and recognise that the French Communist Party called for it long ago. In this sense, we most decidedly support the united front and have been applying it for a considerable time. In France, we call this a revolutionary bloc. Whenever favourable circumstances arise, we take pains to achieve this revolutionary bloc with the anarchists, the revolutionary syndicalists, and the non-party workers, to the degree that they are open to our appeals. For example, when the danger of war was pressing, when the occupation of the Ruhr was on the agenda,[2] we formed action committees with the revolutionary syndicalists and the anarchists and were able to carry out mass agitation that surely did not fail to exert an influence on the decision taken by the government….

We believe that the application of the united front, which entails everywhere a rapprochement and an agreement with the reformist leaders, entails dangers not only for France but, in a general sense, for all sections of the International and the International itself….

Riccardo Roberto (Italy): … Comrade Zinoviev says that we need the united-front policy in order to go with the masses and not in order to expose the leaders. But that alone will not do. In my opinion, we must add to this something that Comrade Zinoviev does not mention. We must do more than merely strive to expose the leaders; we must also give assistance to the masses. We must assist the proletariat, which today does not see anything other than the economic questions.

Here I must ask a question: Do we perhaps think that the Social-Democratic leaders are a gang of complete fools? Do we think that the Social-Democratic leaders will look on gaping while we expose them? Of course not. We’re dealing here with people who are alert and know how to defend themselves. It is too simple to announce this in advance and then struggle with the means proposed by Comrade Zinoviev….

We Italian Communists say that this unity does exist in our country, that it grows stronger day by day, and that the united front can be established without approaching the leaders, whom we accused of betrayal and whom we are combating every day. How is this to be done? Through the organisations? We have these organisations. Communist groups and cells are raising their voices in both the trade unions and the labour halls, demanding the united front, and forcing the Social Democrats to expose themselves. We must loudly declare that every Communist Party has the duty to establish a united front not with the leaders but with the masses organised in trade unions, who will carry the Social Democrats and the leaders along with them and expose them. That is our position.
Umberto Terracini

Umberto Terracini (Italy): The question now before us is posed as follows: Should we, in order to win the masses, abandon precisely the principles that have enabled us to acquire strength? In our view, the methods proposed to us by the Executive Committee may indeed enable us to win the masses, but we will then no longer be Communist parties, but rather the spitting image of Social-Democratic parties….

Comrade Zinoviev spoke of an agreement with the parties and explained that it was necessary both to make such agreements with the leaders and simultaneously to combat these leaders. He added that we must negotiate with the leaders even as we speak directly to the masses. In a gathering like this one, we don’t just speak to the parties affiliated to the Communist International in generalities. We must say frankly what is to be done. Moreover, specific boundaries must be laid down, within which negotiations will take place.

In our theses we lay out the following guiding principle: Every party must set down a number of issues suitable for engaging all workers, issues relating to the economic situation and to political and military reaction. This proposal is to be directed solely to the national trade unions and not to the political parties. Moreover, when possible it should be sent not by the Communist Party but through the Central Committee of each trade-union organisation. It should also be sent to a committee established by the trade unions in a special assembly. The party pledges to commit all its organised forces to carry out the action led by this committee. The other parties should do the same.

When we raised this question for the first time, the trade unions did not respond. They did so, however, after the Communist cells in the trade unions had gotten to work and had won a majority on this question in all the assemblies. This will come much more easily when Communist groups raise the same question day after day in all the trade-union assemblies. This will lead slowly but very surely to the exposure of the leaders.

When we speak of ‘leaders’, we are not referring only to the Serratis, Levis, Renaudels, and Scheidemanns.[3] The parties as a whole are responsible for the workers’ defeats, and it is therefore not right to always counterpose the leaders of the Social-Democratic parties to their adherents. The Social-Democratic leaders are strong only because thousands of supporters have stayed in these parties. With regard to Germany, specifically, Communists there are supposed to join with the Social Democrats in forming a common government in order to resolve the reparations question in a manner acceptable to the working class.

Are you sure that the Social-Democratic leaders will accept your proposal? There is no country in which the Social Democrats will ever conclude such an agreement, because they know only too well that they will never be in a position to abide by its stipulations. They are experienced enough to know that it is not diplomatically appropriate to accept something publicly today and then be forced tomorrow to reject it.

However clearly and precisely the united-front question was formulated within the Executive Committee, it unleashed great confusion in the local sections. We had to go to the sections and explain there that it is not proposed to make agreements with our enemies of yesterday and to abandon our irreconcilable stance. Rather, the goal is to create a basis for future work. It has often been noted, for example in municipal elections, that the moment Communists and Social Democrats conclude an electoral agreement, petty-bourgeois layers withdraw their support from this bloc. The same thing happens in the trade unions. When Social Democrats and Communists propose a joint slate, the non-party workers immediately propose their own candidates. The result of a policy of agreements at the political-parliamentary level is that many supporters fall away from united action. The agreement may win us a hundred thousand workers, but in the process we will lose at least a thousand Communists. I would prefer to have this thousand stay with us….

Let us go with the masses, through unified general action, and not with the betrayers’ parties, through formal and fruitless unity. We ask only that the question be posed clearly and precisely without demagogy and without efforts to make a good impression.

From the Debate

Karl Radek

Karl Radek: … What is the difference between the present situation and that of 1919? Then the masses were in revolt, in Austria, in Hungary, in Germany. We were carrying on a struggle for power; the question was [proletarian] dictatorship or so-called democracy. This initial period of direct struggle is over, for now. The fact is that the initial onslaught was defeated by the capitalists, and workers in every country are engaged in struggles for partial demands. Here is what is at stake today in these struggles: The eight-hour day – yes or no? Higher wages – yes or no? So we as the Communist International have the task of showing the masses how in these practical struggles, we differ from all the other forces. We want to struggle and the others do not – not even for reforms. Our friends fear that this course of action would lead to a rapprochement with the Social Democrats. Let me remind you how the SPD and USPD reacted when we applied this policy in Germany in 1921. They yowled, because they knew we would unmask them before the masses.

Some of the comrades put it this way: The united front can be created only through struggle. That is their first argument. The second is that we want to unite the masses and drive away the leaders. Terracini wants to unite with the masses and Zinoviev wants to unite with Scheidemann and Renaudel. Granted, it is certainly a contradiction if I unite with Scheidemann today and then write tomorrow in the press that Scheidemann is a traitor. Well, we will resolve this contradiction at the expense of the Scheidemann people through actions in which their betrayal is made clear to the masses as well.

Terracini says that at the outset you must unite without the leaders. But in that case, Serrati’s supporters among the workers will be against you. If, however, it becomes clear during discussions with Serrati that he does not want to struggle together with us, Terracini can tell the workers, ‘Come and unite with us against your leaders.’ Then there is the argument that the united front can come into being only through struggle. Well, obviously. But the question is what promotes this struggle and what obstructs it.

Comrades, the questions are so simple that to make them complicated is like a hen inside a circle that does not dare step beyond it. The difference is simply that the hen did not draw the circle around itself; Terracini, however, helped to craft the formula that he cannot get beyond. The Italian comrades are against the united front because they are a minority; the French, because they are a majority.

The French comrades are suffering from an optical illusion. They confuse the proletariat with the old French Socialist Party, of which we now hold a majority. But the Socialist Party is not the French proletariat. In 1919, there was not a push for unity among the masses. At that time, the masses divided over the question of dictatorship or democracy. Now the capitalist offensive is creating the push for unity among the masses. Anyone who lacks a feel for that has no feel for what is taking place in the working class….
Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky: … Comrade Terracini says, ‘Of course we are for mass action and for winning over the masses.’ To be sure, but we are in a more advanced stage now. We’re discussing now the methods that we will use to win them over and take action. At the Third Congress we resisted tendencies that could result in premature actions. Today we see the same tendencies, but they find expression in a different form, namely in the danger of a negative stance. At the Third Congress we determined that we are at the beginning of a new stage. The bourgeoisie has not regained its equilibrium and stability, but it has achieved sort of a pretence of stability. After the years 1919–20 the revolutionary mood of the broad masses was changed into one of expectation. We must now concern ourselves above all with how we can win the masses. Looked at from this point of view, the parties are divided into three groups.

The first group includes parties of countries where the Communist parties must still fight to win a place in the proletarian front, namely, Britain and Belgium. Second, by contrast, Bulgaria, where the Communist Party already has absolute dominance. Clearly in such a situation the question of a united front is almost non-existent. Third, between these two extremes, we find the vast majority of parties. And it is precisely in the countries where the Communist Party is a wing of the proletariat’s organised vanguard that the question of the united front arises.

We do not know when the moment for the conquest of power will come. Perhaps in six months, perhaps in six years. I ask Comrades Terracini and Renoult: Is the proletariat’s struggle supposed to stand still until the moment when the Communist Party will be in a position to take power? No, the struggle goes forward. Workers outside our party do not understand why we split from the Socialists. They think, ‘These groups or sects should give us an opportunity to struggle for our daily necessities.’ We cannot simply tell them, ‘We split in order to prepare for your great day after tomorrow.’

But the Communist Party comes to them and says, ‘Friends, the Communists, syndicalists, reformists, and revolutionary syndicalists all have their separate organisations, but we Communists are proposing an immediate action for your daily bread.’ That is fully in step with the psychology of the masses. I understand entirely that for a journalist who perhaps worked with [French Socialist Party leader Jean] Longuet in L’Humanité, the prospect of having to turn once again to Longuet is psychological and moral torture. But the French workers really are indifferent to such considerations….

Right now, Comrade Terracini says, there are no great events, and we have no reason for a united front. And the French comrades say that if no great events come, then we must initiate them through our own actions. I must tell you that one of the most significant barriers to the unfolding of these events is that several political and trade-union organisations are arrayed side by side, and the masses do not understand the differences among them. We propose a specific action to an organisation of this type. I maintain that the unaffiliated workers, those who are most downcast and sluggish, will be swept into the stream at a moment of acute revolutionary crisis….

For more information on The Communist International at a Crossroads, go to Haymarket Books.

Notes

[1] The term ‘Two-and-a-Half International’ referred to the centrist International Working Union of Socialist Parties, or Vienna Union, founded at a congress in Vienna, 22–27 February 1921. It was established in opposition to both the reformist Second International and the Communist Third International. The Two-and-a-Half International fused with the Second International in May 1923.
[2]. The first French occupation of the Ruhr Valley occurred in March 1921, when the French army, with 130,000 troops, occupied the Rhineland cities of Düsseldorf, Duisburg, and Ruhrort, after Germany failed to meet an ultimatum on reparations payments. They withdrew in September. The Ruhr was reoccupied by French troops in January 1923.
[3] A reference to G. M. Serrati, leader of the Italian Socialist Party; Paul Levi, who had been expelled from the German CP in 1921; Pierre Renaudel, of the French Socialist Party, and Philipp Scheidemann of the German Social Democratic Party.
http://links.org.au/comintern-debates-the-united-front

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The workers’ and peasants’ government-Introduction by Mike Taber

Posted by admin On July - 10 - 2019 Comments Off on The workers’ and peasants’ government-Introduction by Mike Taber

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July 7, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell’s Marxist Essays and Commentary Blog — Reproduced below are a resolution and excerpts from a report adopted in June 1923 by the Communist International (Comintern). It took place at an enlarged meeting of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI).

It is reprinted from The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923. That book, edited by Mike Taber and translated by John Riddell, is being published in a paperback edition  by Haymarket books, available June 18. (A hardback edition was published last year by Brill.) It is the eighth installment in the series on the Communist International in Lenin’s time that was launched in 1983 under the editorship of John Riddell.

At its Fourth Congress in November-December 1922, the Comintern adopted the transitional demand of a workers’ government, linked to the perspective of the proletarian united front. Excerpts from the debate at the Fourth Congress over this issue were printed on this website, beginning with: https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-cominterns-workers-government-debate-1-introduction/.

Five months later the discussion was renewed at the Third Enlarged Plenum of the Communist International Executive Committee.

Below is the full text of the resolution on the call for a workers’ and peasants’ government adopted by that plenum, along with the report to the plenum on that topic by Comintern chairman Gregory Zinoviev.
Resolution on the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government

Relations between the working class and the peasantry constitute one of the fundamental issues in the international proletarian revolution. For our struggle to succeed both before and after taking power, the interrelationships of these two main classes of working people must be evaluated correctly.

A thorough general appreciation of these interrelationships is presented in the resolution on the agrarian question adopted by the Second World Congress of the Comintern. It reads as follows:

1.) Only the urban and industrial proletariat, led by the Communist Party, can liberate the working masses of the countryside from the yoke of capital and landed proprietorship, from ruin and the imperialist wars that will inevitably break out again and again if the capitalist system endures. The working masses of the countryside cannot find salvation except in alliance with the Communist proletariat, and unless they give the latter devoted support in its revolutionary struggle to throw off the yoke of the landowners (the big landed proprietors) and the bourgeoisie.

On the other hand, the industrial workers cannot accomplish their epoch-making mission of emancipating mankind from the yoke of capital and from wars if they confine themselves to their narrow craft or trade interests, and complacently restrict themselves to attaining an improvement in their own conditions, which may sometimes be tolerable in the petty-bourgeois sense. This is exactly what happens to the ‘labour aristocracy’ of many advanced countries, who constitute the core of the so-called socialist parties of the Second International. In reality they are the bitter enemies and betrayers of socialism; they are petty-bourgeois chauvinists and agents of the bourgeoisie within the working-class movement.

The proletariat can be a genuinely revolutionary class and act in a really socialist manner only if it comes out and serves as the vanguard of all the working and exploited people, as their leader in the struggle for the overthrow of the exploiters. However, this cannot be achieved unless the class struggle is carried into the countryside, unless the rural working masses are united around the Communist Party of the urban proletariat, and unless they are trained by the proletariat.

2.) The working and exploited people of the countryside, whom the urban proletariat must lead into the struggle or, at all events, win over, are represented in all capitalist countries by the following classes:

First, the agricultural proletariat, wage-labourers (by the year, season, or day), who obtain their livelihood by working for hire at capitalist agricultural enterprises. The fundamental tasks of the Communist parties in all countries are to organise this class (politically, militarily, in trade unions, co-operatives, culturally and educationally, etc.) independently and separately from other groups of the rural population; to conduct intensive propaganda and agitation among this class; and to win its support for the soviets and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

[For an explanation by Lenin of the term “dictatorship of the proletariat,” see appendix below.]

Second, the semi-proletarians or peasants who till tiny plots of land, that is, those who obtain their livelihood partly as wage-labourers at agricultural and industrial capitalist enterprises and partly by working their own or rented plots of land, which provide their families with only part of their means of subsistence. This group of the rural working population is very numerous in all capitalist countries. However, its existence and special position are played down by the representatives of the bourgeoisie and by the yellow ‘Socialists’ belonging to the Second International, partly by deliberately deceiving the workers and partly by blindly submitting to the customary petty-bourgeois views and lumping together this group with the mass of the ‘peasantry’.

This bourgeois method of duping the workers is to be seen mostly in Germany and in France, but also in America and other countries. If the work of the Communist Party is properly organised, this group will become its assured supporter, for the lot of these semi-proletarians is a very hard one and they stand to gain enormously and immediately from Soviet government and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In some countries there is no sharp division between the first and the second group. Under certain circumstances they can share a common organisation.

Third, the small peasantry, that is, the small-scale cultivators who, either as owners or as tenants, hold small plots of land that enable them to satisfy the needs of their families and their farms, and do not hire outside labour. This layer, as such, undoubtedly stands to gain by the victory of the proletariat….

3.) Taken together, the three groups enumerated above constitute the majority of the rural population in all capitalist countries. That is why the success of the proletarian revolution is fully assured, not only in the cities but in the countryside as well….

The Fourth World Congress of the Comintern further developed and expanded this resolution by providing an outline of a Comintern action programme (minimum programme) on the agrarian question.

The Second Congress thus provided programmatic foundations regarding the mutual relations of the working class and peasantry. The Fourth Congress made these foundations more specific. The present plenum of the Enlarged Executive Committee now has to provide a compact political formula that will permit us to carry out the decisions of the Second and Fourth Congresses with the greatest possible success.

This political formula is: the workers’ and peasants’ government.

After the first imperialist world war, the peasantry was different from what it had been before the war. In most of the countries that had taken part in the war, significant layers of the peasantry had already gained some political experience.

As a result, during recent years serious attempts have become evident to found peasant parties trying to play an independent political role. Note in particular the repeated attempts in recent years to found a ‘Green Peasants International’.[1]

All things considered, the attempts of the peasantry to pursue an independent policy midway between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have been without success. In the ‘advanced’ bourgeois countries, the bourgeoisie and the large landowners continue as before to lead the peasantry around by the nose. Even where apparently independent peasant parties exist, they are mostly led by alien class forces (clergy, lawyers, large landowners). The working peasant masses serve as merely a tool and as political cannon fodder for the worst enemies of their class. That is one of the pillars of the bourgeois government. Recent history is full of examples where broad layers of the working peasantry were able to defend their political interests only in close alliance with the revolutionary proletariat, and provided that the peasantry supported the revolutionary proletarian party.

Meanwhile, the parties of the Second International are altering their stance toward the peasantry. Instead of ignoring the peasants, as they had traditionally done, they are now making attempts to involve the peasantry in their counterrevolutionary Social-Democratic politics. The most important Social-Democratic parties are more and more losing influential positions in the working class and are frantically searching for a new social basis. As this happens, they unavoidably turn to the countryside, directing their attention to the prosperous layers of the peasantry.

The task of Communists today lies in immediately occupying the positions of strength that the Social Democrats are giving up, while simultaneously taking care to thwart the attempt of the Social Democrats to build a new base in the countryside. To this end, they must unite with the rural workers and agricultural semi-proletariat around our banner while winning the peasantry to an alliance with the revolutionary proletariat.

The mere fact that the Communist parties internationally are embracing the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government and beginning agitation for it will be the start of neutralising the middle layers of the peasantry and winning the small peasants.

The Executive Committee of the Communist International finds that the overwhelming majority of Comintern sections have been extremely sluggish with respect to work in rural areas and have caused enormous damage to our cause in this regard. This sluggish conduct reflects the regrettable tradition of the Second International, from which the largest Comintern parties emerged. It also reflects an incorrect theoretical position on the peasantry, which presents matters as if ‘orthodox Marxism’ means that a workers’ party need not concern itself with the peasantry. Thirdly, it reflects a narrow-minded craft-guild approach to the proletarian class struggle.

The task of Communist parties in the present period is to break once and for all with this guild-like attitude. The Communist parties must not regard themselves as representing only an extreme proletarian opposition within the bourgeois social order, as was the case in the heyday of the Second International. Communist parties must embrace the psychology of parties aware that in the near or not-so-near future they will lead the working masses in a struggle against the bourgeois order in order to overthrow the bourgeoisie and replace it in state administration. A limited guild-like psychology must be replaced by that of a party with a will to power, one that expresses the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution. A Communist Party must prepare itself to defeat the bourgeoisie tomorrow, and therefore it must today set goals that embrace the entire people. That is why it sets the task of drawing into support of the proletariat all layers of the population that, at the decisive moment, thanks to their social position, can lend aid to the proletarian revolution in one way or another.

The slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government, like that of the workers’ government before it, does not in any way replace agitation for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the foundation underlying all Communist policy. It does not in any way shove this agitation into the background. On the contrary, it is the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government that establishes the basis for carrying out the united front, the only correct policy under present conditions that points toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. A correct interpretation of the workers’ and peasants’ government slogan will enable Communists not only to mobilise the proletarian masses in the cities but also to establish important centres of influence in the countryside, and in this way to prepare the ground for taking power.

The workers’ and peasants’ government slogan will also be helpful to the Communist parties after the proletariat has won power. Through this slogan the proletariat can always and repeatedly remember that its forward march must be in step with the mood among the country’s peasantry, that a correct relationship must be established between the victorious proletariat and the peasantry, and that the proletariat’s economic measures must be carried out with prudent moderation. This corresponds to the conduct of the victorious Russian proletariat in the present phase of the Russian Revolution, which is known as the New Economic Policy.

It is self-evident that agitation for a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ must be shaped by the specific relationships in each individual country. For example, in North America it is a question of the working farmers.

The starting point of all our agitation for a workers’ and peasants’ government is the protection of the peasantry’s economic interests, as set out in the decisions of the Comintern Second and Fourth World Congresses. The Enlarged Executive Committee instructs each national party to immediately develop a specific action programme for its relationship with the peasantry and introduce a corresponding draft law through its parliamentary fraction. If this draft really expresses the current interests of the working peasants, it will have a major political impact. Signatures can be gathered in the countryside to support it.

The ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ slogan is a propagandistic formula that enables us to express arithmetically what was previously expressed only algebraically. As such, it can be universally helpful. On the other hand, as a slogan for present political struggle, the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ slogan will be useful especially in countries like France, Germany, Italy, the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Finland, etc. Moreover, without assistance from the peasantry, whatever form it takes, the victory of proletarian revolution and its consolidation is not possible anywhere. In this sense, the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ must be a general slogan of Communist parties.

While strongly supporting the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ slogan, the Comintern Executive Committee also recommends that all Communist parties keep in mind the dangers that could result from its incorrect implementation. Just like the united-front policy in general, the slogans of the ‘workers’ government’ and the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ can undoubtedly lead to grave dangers if our parties do not implement them in a revolutionary Marxist spirit. The most evident dangers linked to the demand for a workers’ and peasants’ government are the following:

1.) In parties where Marxist education is still insufficient, there is a danger that the slogan could be interpreted in the fashion of the Russian Social Revolutionaries. That approach, in the spirit of petty-bourgeois ‘socialism’, views the entire peasantry as a compact mass and does not take into consideration that there are different layers within the peasantry. The Executive Committee of the Communist International calls to mind the corresponding passage in the programmatic resolution of the Second Congress, which reads:

The large peasants are capitalist entrepreneurs in agriculture, who as a rule employ several hired labourers and are connected with the ‘peasantry’ only in their low cultural level, habits of life, and the manual labour they themselves perform on their farms. These constitute the largest of the bourgeois strata who are open and determined enemies of the revolutionary proletariat. In all their work in the countryside, the Communist parties must concentrate their attention mainly on the struggle against this stratum, on liberating the toiling and exploited majority of the rural population from the ideological and political influence of these exploiters.

2.) The second danger is that an attempt might be made by not entirely reliable Communists to carry out revolutionary mass work among broad layers of the working peasantry through unprincipled deals in parliament with so-called parliamentary representatives of the peasantry and leaders of so-called peasant parties, which often represent the most reactionary forces of the bourgeoisie.

Although the Communist parties must remain aware of these and similar dangers associated with the use of the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ slogan, they should not turn their back on the advantages for the proletarian vanguard in being flexible in policy and in the corresponding tactics. They must learn the art of combining penetration of broad layers of working people with a tough, relentless, and consistent defence of the principles of revolutionary Marxism.

Obviously, penetrating the peasant masses and adopting the slogan for a workers’ and peasants’ government does not convert our party in any way from a workers’ party into a ‘party of labour’ or a ‘workers’ and peasants’ party’. Our party must remain a party of the working class in its social composition and its goals, but this signifies a working class that carries forward with it every layer of the working people and leads them into struggle against capitalism.

One of the most important preconditions for applying the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ slogan successfully among the broad rural masses is that Communists work very energetically in the trade unions of agricultural workers. In the coming period Communists will have to commit all their energy in order to win a majority of the already existing agricultural workers’ unions, or, if they do not exist, found such unions. Among the tasks of a farmworkers’ union is the important political goal of taking the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ slogan into the broad peasant masses. In this sense the agricultural workers’ unions provide a bridge between the Communist Party and the countryside.

But the Communist parties must not pass this new task onto the farmworkers’ unions alone. The entire party must take up, as one of the most urgent tasks, the winning of the peasant masses to an alliance with the revolutionary proletariat.
From the Report on the Workers’ and Farmers’ Government by Gregory Zinoviev
Grigorii Zinoviev

… I draw the conclusion that [the Communist movement must] broaden the slogan for a workers’ government to read, ‘For a workers’ and peasants’ government’. You remember how this developed over time, comrades: first the united-front policy, then the workers’ government. Now, I believe, we should broaden the slogan….

We must assess precisely how the workers’ and peasants’ government slogan relates to our old formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat. There will be comrades among us who will, without doubt, ask whether in calling for a workers’ and peasants’ government we are just dropping our old call for a dictatorship of the proletariat. And will we remain a workers’ party or become a workers’ and peasants’ party?

Anyone who understands anything about the united-front policy, who has begun to grasp what the proletariat’s class-based political strategy is, must see that the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government indicates the road to a dictatorship of the proletariat and does not negate it in any way. In the strict and scientific meaning of the term, a workers’ and peasants’ government can hardly be achieved. The Soviet government is in fact a workers’ government. Power is exercised by the working class and its party. The steering wheel of the state is held in the hands of the proletariat. But the proletariat and its party understand that the peasantry must be accommodated and drawn into participation in leadership of the state. In a word, the party aims to rule the country wisely. That is precisely why the proletariat in Russia, taking into account the real relationship of forces in its country, has summoned the peasantry to joint coordination in this framework, establishing a relationship within which the peasants support the workers. Thus the experience of one of the greatest of revolutions, the Russian Revolution, has proven that this is possible. The task of our Communist parties is to utilise the lessons of the Russian Revolution and apply them concretely to the specific conditions of each individual country.

In raising the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government, that does not imply in any way that we give up the dictatorship of the proletariat. We cannot retreat a single step from it. There is no way to free humankind from the yoke of capitalism other than the dictatorship of the proletariat. No other road is possible. The only genuine revolutionary class, revolutionary to the end, is the working class. But this class – which means its party – can act in either an intelligent or a stupid way. So we will reach the goal much faster and with fewer losses. We will partially neutralise significant layers of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie and partially draw them over to our side. However, if we act clumsily, if we conceive of the great class objectives of proletarian liberation along the lines of a craft guild, we will delay the moment of our victory.

We believe that the time has come to generalise the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government. Already at the Fourth Congress we had the feeling that things were evolving in that direction. Even then, we had formulated the task in Central Europe in almost those terms. Now it has become clear that this question has importance for all countries, that it is a genuinely international matter. And precisely at the moment that the Hamburg Congress has demonstrated so openly its complete political impotence, we must hurry to issue the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government.[2]Gentlemen like [Belgian Social Democrat Émile] Vandervelde will seek to win the peasants, but this will succeed only if we are completely short-sighted. If we proceed as we must, then we will lead significant layers of the peasantry to the party and the working class, which represents the interests of the nation.

This slogan will also play a not-insignificant role in the struggle against fascism. Take Italy, for example, which is the classic land of fascism. Consider the sequence of events. Fascism was born precisely in the peasant districts where the peasantry had risen up in struggle for the land. Fascism was initially a reaction of the estate owners against the authority achieved by the peasants. Now that fascism has achieved power, it hurls itself with brutal force against these peasant districts. Mussolini has introduced some genuinely mediaeval laws, such as the one forbidding people from leaving their homes after 8:00 p.m. It is in these peasant districts that the fascist bands are now raging. They seize the peasants who have ‘gone wrong’ and force them to drink the urine of fascist soldiers. These are facts passed on by our Italian comrades. Surely it is obvious that under such circumstances, the peasants’ anger and hatred against the fascists grows with every hour….

Isn’t it obvious that the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government is more appropriate than any other in present-day fascist Italy? We must raise this slogan.

To be sure, the Social-Democratic gentlemen will immediately assail us with abuse, claiming that, when advanced by us, this slogan is nothing more than demagogy. But workers who want to defeat the bourgeoisie will see things differently. They will understand that we are seeking and finding allies in this struggle against the bourgeoisie. Working peasants will also see things differently. We will make it possible not just to neutralise significant layers of working peasants, but to win them over. We must utilise this slogan in every country where there are peasants – and where is that not the case? Of course we will apply it in a manner befitting specific circumstances. We will naturally focus especially on peasants who do not employ wage labourers.

I will move on. At the Fourth Congress, we explained to you why, in our opinion, the Soviet government’s New Economic Policy is not merely an episode of the Russian Revolution; it has international significance. We showed you that almost every country, after its revolution, will have to go through a more or less extended period of this policy. We all agreed that the New Economic Policy is not a Russian phenomenon. No matter what the country, the victorious proletariat will have to pursue, at the appropriate time, unification of the working class and the peasantry. This fact – which is beyond any doubt – also seems to point to the logical conclusion of the workers’ and peasants’ government. Reviewing conditions in a wide range of countries, we cannot identify a single country in which this slogan would not be appropriate. We tell backward workers and peasants that we want to destroy the rich people’s state and create a workers’ state. Let us decide to add to this that we therefore propose the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government. By doing this we will make it impossible for the Social-Democratic party to outstrip us, even in the parliamentary arena.

Of course it is not enough merely to adopt empty resolutions on this question. The task is to see clearly that this slogan too is fraught with major dangers, just like the united-front policy as a whole.

The danger linked with the workers’ and peasants’ government slogan is that some sections that are less consolidated and less well-schooled in Marxism could slip into interpreting this slogan in the fashion of the Left Social Revolutionaries. This party presented itself as representing the workers, the peasants, and the intelligentsia. We say – now and in the future – that we are a party of the working class….

Under no circumstances must it adopt the Social-Revolutionary formula of being a ‘party of the workers, the peasants, and the intelligentsia’.

The danger posed by the workers’ and peasants’ government slogan is that our less-consolidated parties might be induced to water down the class character of our party. We need to act now to head that off. Now as before we remain Marxists, hard as a rock and irreconcilably ‘dogmatic’. We are still, now as before, a workers’ party fully committed to its class-based point of view. The social composition of our party must be proletarian. But we must be able to manoeuvre cleverly and successfully while successfully warding off the danger of sectarianism. We must become mass parties at all costs – a task that is by no means easy….

We do not close our eyes for even a moment to the dangers inherent in the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government. But those who are afraid of wolves should stay out of the forest. We have already learned a good deal about mastering the difficulties of our policy of manoeuvre. This was evident in carrying out the united-front policy. Our parties learned to swim by jumping in the water, and some of our parties have already mastered swimming. Indeed, the campaign linked to the united-front policy was our first campaign carried through on an international level. The difficulties it faced were not inconsiderable, but still they were almost completely overcome. Now is the moment to broaden out our radius of action and to alter the psychology of our party. Our parties must stop viewing themselves as a sort of guild carrying out specifically workers’ tasks. They must act as parties that set out with determination to prepare for victory over the bourgeoisie. We must take all preparatory measures, in the realm both of theory and also of organisation and politics. In this process we can be sure that issuing the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government will bring us gains not only in Czechoslovakia, France, Britain, Scandinavia, the United States, and Germany, but – in a word – everywhere.

At the Third Congress we summed up our tasks in three words: To the masses! At the Fourth Congress we defined our united front more precisely and developed it further. The last six months have shown that this has helped us to gain a footing in broader layers of the working class.

Now we face an even greater task. We must awaken the will to power in our parties. We must make them into parties aware in their every move of their task to overcome the bourgeoisie. Our parties are the vanguard of the working class. Imbued with the will to power, this vanguard will transmit this commitment to the broad layers of workers in their millions. And when millions and millions of proletarians are imbued with this will to power, victory will no longer be so difficult.
Appendix: On the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’

The term “dictatorship of the proletariat,” Lenin explained in 1919, referred to the “conquest of political power” by the proletariat, that is, the social class of those who sell their labour power to live, and its use for the “forcible suppression of the resistance always offered by the exploiters – a resistance that is most desperate, most furious, and that stops at nothing.”

This form of rule, Lenin continued, “provides an unparalleled extension of the actual enjoyment of democracy by those oppressed by capitalism – the toiling classes.”

The masses previously debarred from “participation in political life and enjoyment of democratic rights and liberties” are now “drawn into constant and unfailing, moreover, decisive, participation in the democratic administration of the state.”

Source: V.I. Lenin, “Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” in John Riddell, ed., Founding the Communist International, pp. 150, 156.
Notes

[1] The Green International (formally the International Agrarian Bureau) was founded in 1921 by bourgeois agrarian parties in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, and Poland, with offices in Prague.
[2] The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals fused at a congress in Hamburg May 21–25, 1923. The merged organisation was known officially as the Labour and Socialist International.

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On Cannon, Shachtman and early US Trotskyism: Bryan Palmer’s talk to the Havana conference on Leon Trotsky-

Posted by admin On May - 28 - 2019 Comments Off on On Cannon, Shachtman and early US Trotskyism: Bryan Palmer’s talk to the Havana conference on Leon Trotsky-

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Image: Max Shachtman with James P. Cannon.
What follows are Bryan Palmer’s notes for his presentation to the May 6th-8th, three-day conference in Havana, Cuba, organized to commemorate the centennial of the founding of the Third International, with a discussion of the topic, “Leon Trotsky and Trotskyism”.  The second volume of Palmer’s major biography, James P. Cannon: Revolutionary Continuity and Class-Struggle Politics in the United States, 1890 – 1974, will be published by Brill at the end of 2019, and will be published soon thereafter in soft-cover, by Haymarket Books. It is titled James P. Cannon and the Emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1928-1938.

Remarks to the Trotsky Conference, Havana
Thanks to Frank, the Trotsky Museum of Mexico, and other sponsors and organizers of this historical conference. Thanks to all present for coming, sharing ideas, differences, perspectives, and allowing us all – who share a common commitment to the heritage of revolutionary Trotskyism – to express our solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and defend the accomplishments and achievements of this society, forged against US imperialism, and threatened today by the forces of capitalist aggression.
My talk, upon which I will try to impose a Bolshevik discipline, is different than what is titled in various programs. I won’t be talking about Trotskyism in North America, too broad a subject to broach. I will address two critically important leaders of the US Trotskyist movement, Max Shachtman and James P. Cannon, and the emergence of Trotskyism in the US in the 1930s. These necessarily truncated comments might be called, “Theses on Cannon & Shachtman: United States Trotskyism, 1928-1938.” And they recall an earlier set of theses, one of which declared, ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.’
I start by tilting my sails against the winds of conventional wisdom. Shachtman is actually more written about than Cannon, and he is presented in the standard accounts in more sympathetic ways. Shachtman, who is often seen as representative of the immigrant strand of revolutionary socialism in the US, is usually presented as cosmopolitan, multilingual, sophisticated, internationalist, and Trotsky’s collaborator and translator.
Cannon, representative of the native born, English-speaking revolutionary, is presented as more parochial, uninterested in international questions, and somewhat wooden and mechanical in his translation of revolutionary politics into the United States context.
Over the course of the 1930s these two figures, more than any others, charted the course of American Trotskyism. But the path followed, and their relations with one another were contested and conflictual, and the actualities of their contributions were different than are often depicted in a mythologizing of Shachtman’s sophistication and superiority.
Cannon was in fact the experienced leader inside the Communist Party, which he helped to found in 1919-1921. Shachtman, along with Martin Abern, Albert Glotzer, Maurice Spector, and others were youthful recruits to Cannon’s eventual break from Stalinism and his embrace of Trotskyism in 1928, which eventually resulted in expulsion from the CP.
But from the moment that these figures, along with Rose Karsner, Cannon’s partner, formed the American Trotskyist movement and the Communist League of America, Cannon and Shachtman clashed.
Shachtman led a personalized assault on Cannon in the difficult days of the early Depression, chastising Cannon’s supposed laziness, his lack of theoretical sophistication, and his ignorance of international issues as they related to the struggle to forge a Trotskyist movement. Shachtman and Glotzer, fluent in European languages, met with Trotsky in Europe early in the 1930s. Cannon did not, and was forced to test Trotsky on a number of occasions in written communications and challenges that were structured so as to ascertain that Trotsky would not behave towards the American section of his movement in the same way that the Stalinist Comintern had behaved.
This accelerated an almost Freudian rift between Shachtman, Glotzer, Spector, with Cannon, a father figure, who now seemed displaced by a youthful cohort who demanded their place at the leadership table. The public denunciation of Cannon was vicious, and among Shachtman and his social and political network the sense that Cannon as a senior figure in the movement had three children to support and difficult material and personal circumstances to navigate was non existent. That Rose Karsner suffered what can only be construed as personal breakdown after the expulsion from the CP only worsened the situation.
Had the critique of Cannon, which had some basis, been entirely valid and fair-minded, it would have been devastating. It was not. And ultimately what was a personal assault on Cannon’s regime merged with a politics of political error and lackadaisical organizational activity that Trotsky identified with Shachtman, whom he criticized for forming political alliances in Europe on the basis of “chumminess” rather than political principles, for failing to follow through on basic organizational assignments because they might have ruffled some European feathers, and for acclimatizing to and papering over politically retrograde activities because of personal relations.
This was the beginning of Trotsky’s understanding that Cannon, who had flaws, was the more stable political element in the American movement, a steeled revolutionary with experience who could be trusted, whereas Shachtman was mercurial, too preoccupied with questions of a literary or journalistic nature, and simply incapable of holding to the necessarily firm politics of revolutionary principle.
The personal and political estrangement of Cannon and Shachtman in 1930-1933 was quite ugly and nasty, but it showed signs of moderating in 1933-1934.
There were three reasons for Cannon and Shachtman coming together: 1) NY hotel strike of 1933  brought Cannon and Shachtman closer, with Cannon especially playing a revived role in public agitation that ended in the two Trotskyists opposing B.J. Fields’ opportunistic and ultimately failed leadership of the strike; 2) the involvement of both figures in the highly successful Minneapolis teamsters strikes of 1934, led by Cannon allies like the Dunne brothers and Carl Skoglund; and 3) the anti-fascist campaign against developments in Germany and the need to prepare for war, although there continued to be factional bumps along this road. Ultimately, however, the anti-fascist struggle led Trotsky, as well as Cannon and Shachtman, to conclude that it was time to take Trotskyism out of the shadows of being merely an Opposition to the Comintern, forging a truly independent revolutionary organization and indeed a new Fourth International.
This led to Cannon and Shachtman’s alliance over fusion with the Musteites in the American Workers Party, which Cannon considered a variant of the French Turn, and the actual French Turn in America, entry into the US Socialist Party of Norman Thomas. Cannon and Shachtman found themselves together in opposing the sectarian opposition of Hugo Oehler, and Shachtman seemed to have broken from his young allies, Glotzer, Abern, and Spector, all of whom continued to harbour deeply personal resentments of Cannon and his leadership of the American Trotskyist movement.
But in the Socialist Party entry, Cannon and Shachtman again found themselves at loggerheads. Shachtman thought entry into the SP should be long-term, that the Trotskyists could ultimately take over the organization, and that the path to this end was negotiations with the SP’s seemingly left wing, known as the Militants and later the Clarityites.
Cannon ended up with an entirely different orientation, one supported by Trotsky.  Shachtman and the entire NY leadership of the Trotskyist movement, which included James Burnham, Cannon’s long-time supporter Arne Swabeck, Glotzer, Spector, youth leader Joe Carter, and to a limited extent Abern, were content to engage in endless negotiations with the so- called NY SP militants.
Cannon opted for a different course. He travelled the country, building the SP, especially in California, where he settled, and where he came, according to SP sources, perilously close to taking over the state Socialist Party. With SP left wing militant, Glen Trimble, Cannon started an agitational paper, the LABOR ACTION. He built relations with a seamen’s union figurehead, Harry Lundenberg, and influenced a successful mass struggle of seamen in a lengthy 99-day strike that paralyzed west-coast ports and pitted militant direct-action seamen against the capitulationist sensibilities of the Harry Bridges/Stalinist led longshore union. Cannon won over provincial militants in Ohio, such as the seasoned Musteite, Ted Selender, and consolidated his ongoing relations with the revolutionary leadership of the Minneapolis Teamsters, who were now central figures in the Socialist Party. He campaigned successfully to free Tom Mooney and other political prisoners, and while he and Shachtman differed greatly on what to do in the SP, they collaborated on the defence of Trotsky through organizing the Dewey Commission, a campaign in which Shachtman and New York-based Trotskyist comrades like George Novack, undoubtedly played the preeminent roles.
Throughout all of this Cannon was opposing both the Stalinists and the Socialist Party hierarchy, whether they were right wing or ostensibly left leaning. This was especially evident in his critique of the Popular Front and how it licenced and abetted the murderous assault on the revolutionary forces fighting in Spain.
All of this embarrassed the SP leadership, who grew increasingly agitated in their opposition to Cannon and the Trotskyists. As Cannon and Trotsky knew would happen, eventually the Socialist Party expelled the Trotskyists in 1937. Shachtman and Burnham resisted recognizing this until the very end.
But as the expulsion happened, hundreds of new recruits were drawn to Trotskyism, and the foundation was laid for establishing the Socialist Workers Party in 1938. Trotsky then turned to Cannon, first and foremost, to build the groundwork for establishing the Fourth International in the summer of that year. Yes, Shachtman would chair the actual meeting in France where the Fourth Internatinal was formed, but Trotsky explicitly tasked Cannon with meeting with the rancorous and divided British sections of his followers, to mould them into one entity and win over CLR James. Shachtman played a role in these international developments because of his linguistic abilities, but it was Cannon Trotsky trusted.
At this point in 1938, Shachtman and Cannon were as one in their views that Russia was a workers’ state, and only Burnham and Carter were dissenting. Within months another factional rift was in the making, in which Shachtman would renounce the view that Russia was a workers’ state, however Stalinistically degenerate. This would prove a slippery slope down which he would slide as he made his exit from revolutionary Trotskyism, breaking decisively from Cannon in the 1939-1940 disagreement within the SWP over the nature of the Soviet Union.
Cannon, in contrast, proved to be the red continuity that evolved from the revolutionary syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World to the founding of the Communist Party in 1921 to the break from Stalinism in 1928 to the founding of the Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International in 1938. Thereafter, whatever errors he may have committed, it was Cannon not Shachtman, who embodied revolutionary internationalism.
In the regroupment of the revolutionary left that is necessary at the current conjuncture, we will need and rely on a diversity of talents. Shachtman brought much to the making of the revolutionary Trotskyist left, but he contributed also a great deal of a negative kind. A great irony is how kind history has been to Shachtman, and how harsh it has been on Cannon, routinely dismissed as a limited theoretical mind with a Zinoviev appetite for bureaucracy. Yet it was Cannon, more than any other figure in the United States Trotskyist movement who built and sustained a revolutionary organization and remained firm in his programmatic principles, which were anything but parochial. In a reconstituted revolutionary left, we will need Cannon’s resolve, his principle, his steadfast adherence to a politics of class struggle, and his refusal of the clique politics and combinations that so often sadly animated Shachtman.
As Trotsky once said. “Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.” Cannon stayed such a course of revolutionary resolve, holding to old positions of programmatic principle while learning new lessons of how to function as a revolutionary.
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We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
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Leon Trotsky and cultural revolution-Doug Enaa Greene

Posted by admin On May - 16 - 2019 Comments Off on Leon Trotsky and cultural revolution-Doug Enaa Greene

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Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Cosmonaut — The argument that a “cultural revolution” is a necessary part of a socialist revolution is generally associated with Mao Zedong and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that he initiated in China. However, Leon Trotsky, in a vastly different way than Mao, stated that Russia needed a cultural revolution. According to Trotsky, a cultural revolution was needed along with industrialization to construct socialism. Trotsky’s industrialization plan for Russia would increase the social weight of the proletariat. A cultural revolution would raise the masses’ cultural level by eradicating mass illiteracy and superstition and change their habits and customs, which would make the working class fit to rule society.

The Heritage of Underdevelopment
According to Marx, socialism would develop first in industrialized capitalist countries with their vast productive powers and rich cultural heritage that the working class would use to build a new order. Contrary to Marx, the Bolshevik Revolution occurred in a backward country, which complicated matters in regards to cultural transformation. Although the major urban centers were “islands of capitalism” with a high concentration of workers in modern factories, large portions of the countryside were just emerging from feudalism. As the Bolsheviks recognized, Russia did not possess the material and cultural conditions needed to overcome capitalism on its own. Both Lenin and Trotsky believed that one of the tasks of the new Soviet republic was to begin the process of creating them. However, the low levels of culture, technical skill, etc., for most of the population along with the isolation of the revolution meant that options were limited.
For Lenin, questions of culture and ideology were intimately connected with the goals of communism – how to overcome the legacy of capitalism and class society. According to Georg Lukács, Lenin’s cultural strategy had three goals:
To abolish the difference between village and city, to abolish the difference between physical and intellectual labour, and to restore the meaningfulness and autonomous nature of labour. Here, too, economic construction and cultural revolution appear inseparable. The electrification of the village, the mechanisation of agricultural production, and such like, directly serve purely economic goals: increased production. However, this increase is not achievable by means other than continuously raising the cultural level of the village; so, too, it requires that agricultural production draw ever closer to the principles of planned factory-production, to principles supported by the latest achievements of science, which master nature ever more thoroughly, and which demand of the labour-force scientific capabilities.[1]
Lenin’s vision, shared by Trotsky, was that the working class had to not only master the achievements and culture of bourgeois society but overcome their limitations in the construction of socialism. The development of a socialist planned economy coincided with not only economic modernization, but also cultural transformation. Modernization and the increase of productive forces were not seen as ends in themselves – this would merely reinforce the inequalities of capitalism – but were part of an all-around transformation of the conditions of life.

Trotsky and the Proletkult
The Russian Revolution not only brought the working class power, but unleashed great artistic and cultural creativity. Among the changes there were assaults on the traditional family, divorce was made easy, women expanded their horizons, social privilege was rejected, new laws put national equality in place of Great Russian chauvinism (anti-Semitism was outlawed). There was social experimentation in everything from factory organization to education. The Revolution saw the flowering of the artistic avant-garde, as can be seen in the symbolic image of the “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” or the emblem of the hammer and sickle that are powerful representations to convey the values of the revolutionary cause to communists, artists, and workers. Lastly, there was the Proletkult, a movement of Bolshevik intellectuals, artists and workers inspired by the ideas Alexander Bogdanov and Anatoly Lunacharsky, who rejected class culture and wanted to create a culture, science, and art based on the values of internationalism, materialism, and atheism. A new proletarian culture, stripped of bourgeois influences, would be the basis of modern socialist society.

Lenin did not think very highly of the Proletkult movement, stating:
Proletarian culture is not something that suddenly springs from nobody knows where, and is not invented by people who set up as specialists in proletarian culture. Proletarian culture is the regular development of those stores of knowledge which mankind has worked out for itself under the yoke of capitalist society, of feudal society, of bureaucratic society.[2]

Lenin’s negative view of the Proletkult movement was shared by Trotsky, who argued that
It is fundamentally incorrect to contrast bourgeois culture and bourgeois art with proletarian culture and proletarian art. The latter will never exist, because the proletarian regime is temporary and transient. The historic significance and the moral grandeur of the proletarian revolution consist in the fact that it is laying the foundations of a culture which is above classes and which will be the first culture that is truly human.[3]

According to Trotsky, every class creates its own art and culture, but bourgeois culture developed in a protracted period of several centuries before taking power, while the proletariat did not develop its own culture before the revolution. Furthermore, a proletarian dictatorship was transitory (lasting years or decades) and during that time, the attention of the working class would mainly be absorbed in fierce political struggles. There would be no development of a distinctive proletarian culture, since the dictatorship of the proletariat leads to the end of class distinctions and the creation of a universal human culture. Considering the backwardness of the Russian proletariat in regards to culture, Trotsky said they needed to critically appropriate, absorb and assimilate the old culture. According to Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky said the working class
ought to view the cultural legacy dialectically and see its historically formed contradictions. The achievements of civilization had so far served a double purpose: they had assisted man in gaining knowledge and control of nature and in developing his own capacities; but they had also served to perpetuate society’s division into classes and man’s exploitation by man. Consequently, some elements of the heritage were of universal significance and validity while others were bound up with obsolete or obsolescent social systems. The communist approach to the cultural legacy should therefore be selective.[4]
Cover of Furnace, an official organ of Proletkult, designed by Aleksandr Zugrin

Economic Development and Cultural Revolution
Trotsky’s conception of a cultural revolution involved the proletariat eliminating illiteracy, superstition and raising their cultural level, so they would be fit to rule. However, Russian backwardness meant that different and contradictory conceptions of the world coexisted together among the people, even among communists:
A man is a sound communist devoted to the cause, but women are for him just “females,” not to be taken seriously in any way. Or it happens that an otherwise reliable communist, when discussing nationalistic matters, starts talking hopelessly reactionary stuff. To account for that we must remember that different parts of the human consciousness do not change and develop simultaneously and on parallel lines. There is a certain economy in the process. Human psychology is very conservative by nature, and the change due to the demands and the push of life affects in the first place those parts of the mind which are directly concerned in the case.[5]

A resolute struggle was needed to raise the cultural level of the proletariat and peasantry so they wouldn’t reproduce systems of oppression and domination under a socialist veneer. The battle against backward ideas and attitudes was not simply a struggle for ideas, habits, and attitudes needed to be connected with uprooting the material conditions that engendered them.

Socialism would overcome those conditions by creating modern industry, improving the standard of living and increasing the weight of the proletariat in Soviet society: “The decisive factor in appraising the movement of our country forward along the road of socialist reconstruction, must be the growth of our productive forces and the dominance of the socialist elements over the capitalist—together with an improvement of all the conditions of existence of the working class.”[6] At the same time, the bureaucracy who ruled had to be combated and the workers needed to be in firm control of the Soviets, trade unions and the Party. Although Trotsky did not believe that the USSR would be secure until the worldwide victory of socialism, they had a task to hold out until they could receive aid from revolutions abroad. Ultimately, the worldwide victory of socialism, the development of industry and culture would free the proletariat from the shackles of feudalism, make them fit to rule.
Trotsky’s ideas on cultural revolution and developing industry formed a single integrated strategic vision:
even the slightest successes in the sphere of morals, by raising the cultural level of the working man and woman, enhance our capacity for rationalizing production, and promoting socialist accumulation. This again gives us the possibility of making fresh conquests in the sphere of morals. Thus a dialectical dependence exists between the two spheres.[7]

A cultural revolution could not be delayed until the productive forces were already developed but needed to be done simultaneously, otherwise, old customs, relations, habits of Russian backwardness would engulf the revolution.

Soviet underdevelopment meant the bureaucratization of the party and state were real and pressing problems. There was a tendency among the bureaucracy to protect its monopoly to information from the working class. As Marx said, the bureaucracy “is a hierarchy of knowledge.”[8] The Soviet bureaucrats did not want the masses involved in the life of the country:
What is the use, they say, of wasting time in discussions? Let the authorities start running communal kitchens, creches, laundries, hostels, etc. Bureaucratic dullards usually add (or rather imply, or say in whispers—they prefer that to open speech): “It is all words, and nothing more.” The bureaucrat hopes…that when we get rich, we shall, without further words, present the proletariat with cultured conditions of life as with a sort of birthday gift. No need, say such critics, to carry on propaganda for socialist conditions among the masses—the process of labour itself creates “a sense of socialness.”[9]

Trotsky said this problem would not be solved by replacing the “bad” bureaucrats with “good” ones, but the working class taking charge in the construction of socialism.
Trotsky’s approach to the bureaucracy was guided by several considerations:
1) The party and state could not possibly know everything. Bureaucrats tend to be inert and distrust initiative, but socialism requires the masses taking conscious leadership to solve the problems of economic development and cultural change.
2) Socialist consciousness will not emerge in a spontaneous way. Although the “state can organize conditions of life down to the last cell of the community,” but unless the workers themselves were involved in the process, then “no serious and radical changes can possibly be achieved in economic conditions and home life.”[10] Whereas the previous generation of workers learned communism through class struggle and revolution, the next generation will learn “in the elements of construction, the elements of the construction of everyday life. The formulas of our program are, in principle, true. But we must continually prove them, renew them, make them concrete in living experience, and spread them in a wider sphere.”[11] While the state will play a major role in constructing socialism, the masses had to be the guiding force: “The proletarian state is the structural timber, not the structure itself. The importance of a revolutionary government in a period of transition is immeasurable… It does not mean that all work of building will be performed by the state.”[12]
3) The course of socialist development meant that change could not from enlightened bureaucrats, but through coordination of local needs within an overall plan. Ultimately, socialism requires revolutionary practice by the working class and not administration by bureaucrats.
Although the party needed to promote their own cultural workers (artists, writers, etc), this did not mean that the party had a monopoly on knowledge. A cultural revolution needed pluralism and competing currents of artistic and literary schools – save for those who were openly and unambiguously counterrevolutionary. While the party should provide guidance in the realm of culture, it should not enforce a state-led cultural revolution. According to Trotsky: “The state is an organ of coercion and for Marxists in positions of power these may be a temptation to simplify cultural and educational work among the masses by using the approach of ‘Here is the truth – down on your knees to it !”[13]

Trotsky rejected the claims of the Proletkult that Marxism was a universal system which provided a master key for every problem. According to him,
The Marxian method affords an opportunity to estimate the development of the new art, to trace all its sources, to help the most progressive tendencies by a critical illumination of the road, but it does not do more than that. Art must make its own way and by its own means. The Marxian methods are not the same as the artistic. …The domain of art is not one in which the Party is called upon to command. It can and must protect and help it, but it can only lead it indirectly….And at any rate, the Party cannot and will not take the position of a literary circle which is struggling and merely competing with other literary circles.[14]

Trotsky’s plan for a cultural revolution and economic development was to realize the communist dream where “free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”[15] A communist society would mean a transformation in the arts where “technique will become a more powerful inspiration for artistic work, and later on the contradiction itself between technique and nature will be solved in a higher synthesis.” Art and culture would be cleansed of the inequities of class society and flourish under communism. People would finally be free to develop their capabilities to the fullest. In a lyrical passage, Trotsky described the untold possibilities of cultural development under communism:
It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psychophysical self-education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts—literature, drama, painting, music, and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser, and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.[16]
Construction on White (Robot), by Aleksandr Rodchenko 1920

Trotsky and Mao
At the 1942 Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, Mao rejected Trotsky’s approach to culture as one of “dualism” or “pluralism” which confined the party’s leadership extended to “politics,” while art remained “bourgeois” (a mischaracterization of Trotsky’s position):
Party work in literature and art occupies a definite and assigned position in Party revolutionary work as a whole and is subordinated to the revolutionary tasks set by the Party in a given revolutionary period. Opposition to this arrangement is certain to lead to dualism or pluralism, and in essence amounts to “politics–Marxist, art—bourgeois”…[17]

For Mao, art and culture needed to be subordinate to the requirements of politics, since they
are part of the whole revolutionary cause, they are cogs and wheels in it, and though in comparison with certain other and more important parts they may be less significant and less urgent and may occupy a secondary position, nevertheless, they are indispensable cogs and wheels in the whole machine, an indispensable part of the entire revolutionary cause. If we had no literature and art even in the broadest and most ordinary sense, we could not carry on the revolutionary movement and win victory. Failure to recognize this is wrong. Furthermore, when we say that literature and art are subordinate to politics, we mean class politics, the politics of the masses, not the politics of a few so-called statesmen.[18]

While art and culture had previously served the bourgeoisie, now Mao said both would serve the proletariat.
Since art and culture were stamped by class and politics, reactionary ideas needed to be struggled against. Like Trotsky, Mao does not believe the working class should reject art from previous epochs, stating
We should take over the rich legacy and the good traditions in literature and art that have been handed down from past ages in China and foreign countries, but the aim must still be to serve the masses of the people. Nor do we refuse to utilize the literary and artistic forms of the past, but in our hands these old forms, remoulded and infused with new content, also become something revolutionary in the service of the people.[19]

It was the task of revolutionary artists, cultural workers, and intellectuals to take the stand of the working class and the masses, not those of the elite. Art had to be produced for the masses and taken up by them as a weapon of struggle. In order for writers and artists to accomplish this, their primary task was to know the people (their daily lives, “common sense,” feelings, struggles, etc) and develop the cultural forms created by the people and tease out the elements of “good sense.” Art and culture must reflect the problems and aspirations of ordinary people and not the aspirations of the old ruling classes. Mao’s conception of culture was successfully able to mobilize millions to take the fight against the Japanese and the People’s Liberation.

There was a potential for abuse in Mao’s conception of culture, which can mean cultural control by the party – who could determine what was or was not revolutionary. In contrast, Trotsky granted a greater scope for culture outside of the control of the party (save for openly counterrevolutionary voices).

Mao’s theory behind the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was that a series of cultural revolutions were necessary to “continue the revolution” since bourgeois survivals remained in both the economy and the superstructure that conflicted with new political, cultural and ideological ideas. According to Mao, the superstructure did not automatically change in response to developments in the base, rather there was a lag as the old culture lingered. A conscious effort is needed through mass campaigns and action. If a conscious effort is made to change the superstructure, this would in turn spur development of the economic base as encapsulated in the slogan “grasp revolution, promote production.”

Since the People’s Republic was a transitional society, the birthmarks of capitalism continued to exist and were reproduced – such as the law of value, disparities in decision-making, inequality, access to resources, education, culture, and the persistence of patriarchy which encouraged a breach between the party and the masses. Mao feared that these tendencies would lead to the growth of capitalist restorationist elements within both the party and state.

The Cultural Revolution rejected the premise of developing the productive forces and recognized that the class struggle continued under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only the continuing revolutionizing of the productive relations would increase the control of the masses in society, overcoming capitalist economic relations and the ideological and political relations which reproduce them, in order to continue on the socialist road.
The Cultural Revolution was launched in May 1966 a call to the masses, inside and outside of the party, to overthrow the “capitalist roaders” in the party and state, and root out old ideas and culture:
Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavour to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do the exact opposite: it must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and overthrow those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure not in correspondence with the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.[20]

The Maoist vision of Cultural Revolution was voluntaristic and idealistic with an under-estimation of the weight of economic factors. While socialists need to reject economism, this doesn’t mean socialism can be built by political will regardless of unfavorable conditions. The ultimate criteria for determining the capitalist or socialist character of a society was whether or not it followed the correct political line (in this case, Mao Zedong Thought). This can lead to declaring that the class character of the party and socialism have little to do with the working class, but that socialism is solely determined solely by ideology and political line.

The Soviet Cultural Front
Although Trotsky was ousted from power, at beginning of the Five Year Plans, the USSR did embark on its own cultural revolution. The Soviet cultural revolution opened vast avenues of educational and cultural mobility for the working class throughout society. According to the historian Sheila Fitzpatrick, the purpose of the cultural revolution was “both asserting party control over cultural life and opening up the administrative and professional elite to a new cohort of young Communists and workers.”[21] Although the Soviets had a long-standing policy of placing workers into administrative positions, this was done on an unprecedented scale during the cultural revolution. According to Fitzpatrick: “Of the 861,000 persons classified as ‘leading cadres and specialists’ in the Soviet Union at the end of 1933, over 140,000- more than one in six had been blue-collar workers only five years earlier. But this was only the tip of the iceberg. The total number of workers moving into white-collar jobs during the First Five-Year Plan was probably at least one and a half million.”[22]  Furthermore, the numbers of workers receiving higher education swelled: “About 150,000 workers and Communists entered higher education during the First Five-Year Plan, most of them studying engineering since technical expertise rather than Marxist social science was now regarded as the best qualification for leadership in an industrializing society.”[23] These newly educated workers and administrators rejected the claims of bourgeois experts to leadership in production, leading them to view some elements in the party “as protectors of the bourgeois intelligentsia, over-reliant on the advice of non-party experts, complacent about the influence of experts and former Tsarist officials within the government bureaucracy, and prone to infection by ‘rotten liberalism’ and bourgeois values.”[24] The Soviet cultural revolution (whatever its limitations) struggled against bourgeois values, intellectuals, culture, elitism and bureaucracy in all aspects of society. The cultural revolution fired the imaginations of young party members and workers who were encouraged to attack any manifestation of liberalism or capitalism, “but at the same time they were instinctively hostile to most existing authorities and institutions, which they suspected of bureaucratic and ‘objectively counter-revolutionary’ tendencies.”[25] Many of the cultural revolution’s initiatives were spontaneous and outside of party control, but their ideas “were also taken seriously, receiving wide publicity and also, in many cases, substantial funding from various government agencies and other official bodies.”[26]
Despite the great advancements in education and upward mobility for the Soviet working class during the 1930s, the same period also saw the growth of the bureaucracy and a “cult of personality” surrounding Stalin. In the USSR, the traditions of Marxism mixed uneasily with those of Tsarism and Greek Orthodoxy. As time passed, the structure of the Communist Party and society more and more resembled the spirit of the Orthodox Church with its dogmas, orthodoxy, heresies, and inquisitions (most grossly on display during the Purge Trials). Furthermore, the social weight of the peasantry and backwardness took their revenge as beliefs in “primitive magic” found expression in the party and state. According to Deutscher, primitive magic was common amongst the peasantry and “expressed man’s helplessness amid the forces of nature which he had not yet learned to control; and that, on the whole, modern technology and organization are its deadliest enemies. On the technological level of the wooden plough primitive magic flourishes.”[27] Initially, the Bolsheviks spoke a language of reason to the peasantry, but as the revolution’s emancipatory energies were exhausted, the party “lost the sense of its own elevation above its native environment, once it had become aware that it could only fall back on that environment and dig itself in, it began to descend to the level of primitive magic, and to appeal to the people in the language of that magic.”[28] Nothing exemplifies the Soviet embrace of primitive magic more than the cult of personality surrounding Stalin, who was seen as the all-knowing and all-wise leader. In the later Stalin years, rampant chauvinism was fostered in the USSR “to convince the Soviet people that the Russians, and the Russians alone, had been the initiators of all the epoch-making ideas and of all the modern technical discoveries…[which] goes back to that remote epoch when the tribe cultivated a belief in its own mysterious powers which set it apart from and above all other tribes.”[29]
By the time of the Great Purges, the sheer weight of Russian backwardness and isolation took their toll as the cultural revolution and emancipatory initiatives were rolled back. In their place, the Soviets reasserted old moral and cultural values, a need for order, authority and social hierarchy, promotion of the traditional family and increasingly, Russian nationalism. The USSR shed its iconoclasm in the cultural sphere and promoted “Socialist Realism” which glorified the achievements of the Soviet state and society. According to the Marxist cultural critic Ernest Fischer, Socialist Realism was a “tendency to control the arts, to administer and manipulate them, to drive out the spirit of criticism and free imagination, and to transform artists into officials, into illustrators of resolutions.”[30] Trotsky viewed Socialist Realism as a symptom of Thermidorian decline, disillusionment, and a move towards conservative uniformity:
The style of present-day official Soviet painting is called “socialist realism.” The name itself has evidently been invented by some high functionary in the department of the arts. This “realism” consists in the imitation of provincial daguerreotypes of the third quarter of the last century; the “socialist” character apparently consists in representing, in the manner of pretentious photography, events which never took place. It is impossible to read Soviet verse and prose without physical disgust, mixed with horror, or to look at reproductions of paintings and sculpture in which functionaries armed with pens, brushes, and scissors, under the supervision of functionaries armed with Mausers, glorify the “great” and “brilliant” leaders, actually devoid of the least spark of genius or greatness. The art of the Stalinist period will remain as the frankest expression of the profound decline of the proletarian revolution.[31]

Conclusion

Trotsky’s vision of a cultural revolution, just like that of industrialization, was connected with questions of working-class emancipation and socialism. Economic development would increase the proletariat’s social weight in society. The proletariat would need to assert their own interests by controlling both the party and state (meaning both had to be democratized). To enable the working class to rule, the USSR had to build a modern society with education, social provisions, and raise the standard of living. Therefore, a cultural revolution was necessary to raise the spiritual and cultural level of the working class so they could consciously create socialism.
Georg Lukács, “Literature and Democracy,” in The Culture of People’s Democracy: Hungarian Essays on Literature, Art, and Democratic Transition, 1945–1948, ed. Tyrus Miller (Boston: Brill, 2013), 35.
Quoted in Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 17.
Ibid, 32-33.
Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, Trotsky 1921-1929 (New York: Verso Books, 2003b), 142.
Leon Trotsky, “The Struggle for Cultured Speech,” in Problems of Everyday Life(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), 54.
Leon Trotsky, “The Platform of the Opposition: The Party Crisis and How to Overcome It,” in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980), 311.
“Habit and Custom,” in Trotsky 1973, 30.
“Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” Marx and Engels Collected Works 3 (London: Lawrence & Wishart), 46.
“Against Bureaucracy, Progressive and Unprogressive,” in Trotsky 1973, 57.
Ibid. 61.
“How to Begin,” in Trotsky 1973, 70.
Ibid. 6. This analysis of Trotsky on culture and cultural revolution is indebted to chapter 6 of Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Marxism of Leon Trotsky (electronic book in my possession).
“Leninism and Workers’ Clubs,” in Trotsky 1973, 289.
Trotsky 2005, 179.
Ibid, 205.
Ibid, 207.
Mao Tse-tung, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung Volume 3 (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1967), 86.
Ibid.
Ibid, 76.
“Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-33g.htm
Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 141
Ibid, 141.
Ibid. 144-145.
Ibid.
Ibid, 142.
Ibid. 143. See also Sheila Fitzpatrick, ed., Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-1931 (London: Indiana University Press, 1978).
Isaac Deutscher, Russia After Stalin (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953), 48-49.
Ibid, 49
Ibid, 52.
Ernst Fischer, Art Against Ideology (New York: Penguin Press, 1969), 173.
Leon Trotsky, “Art and Politics in Our Epoch,” Marxists Internet Archive.https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/06/artpol.htm
Doug Enaa Greene Trotsky
http://links.org.au/leon-trotsky-and-cultural-revolution

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