An anatomy of revolution: Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution, 1931-1935 (Part II)

Read Part I - Trotsky’s Marxism and pre-revolutionary Spain, 1930-1931 here By Nathan Moore, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

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.

Works Cited

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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,

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:

53 Durgan, Andy. "Largo Caballero and Spanish Socialism." International Socialism 18 (Winter 1983): pp. 93-94. Also available online:

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:; 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:; 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,”

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), 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:; 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:

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: 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: 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:

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:

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,”