Cassandras of the Spanish Revolution

The lessons of the Spanish civil war and revolution are well known: The failure of the Popular Front policy embraced by the Stalinists and the right-wing of the socialist movement and the refusal of the anarchists organized in the CNT-FAI to take power when the opportunity  arose ensured the victory of the fascist armies led by Franco. Only a bold revolutionary policy could have led to a Republican victory in the war and such a policy could only have been implemented by a Bolshevik party with the support of the pro-Republican masses. This was the prospective advanced by Trotsky at the time and embraced by Marxists today, but were there any major parties in Spain during the civil war period that, at least in principle, accepted such conclusions?

Grandizo Munis’ Seccion Bolshevik-Leninista, the organization of the 4th International in Spain, adopted such a revolutionary perspective, but lacked the numbers to have a major influence on events. It was, therefore, obliged to focus its efforts on winning support in other organizations, such as the youth organization of the PSOE (which was eventually taken over by the Stalinist PCE) and the anarchist Durruti Column. The main focus of Munis and his comrades, however, consisted of trying to win over the much larger  Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification, POUM), which contained many of their old comrades and held a similar outlook but stood aside from the 4th International and sought an alliance with CNT-FAI anarchists (who refused to take power and carry out the revolution) in order take power to see the revolution carried out.

The POUM was led by Andreu Nin and Joaquín Maurín and formed from a fusion of the Trotskyist Izquierda Comunista de España (Communist Left of Spain, ICE) led by Nin and Maurín’s Bloque Obrero y Campesino (Workers and Peasants Bloc, BOC), which was the International Communist Opposition faction in Spain. ICE had always had a rocky relationship with the rest of the International Left Opposition because of its orientation towards open work instead of towards the Comintern prior to the mid-1930s and its decisions to merge with the pro-Bukharin BOC and reject the advice of Trotsky to work with the PSOE youth organization led to break with the 4th International and the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists, such as Munis. During the civil war period, the POUM accepted the need to take power on the basis of a revolutionary program, but was only willing to act on the basis of an alliance with the CNT-FAI leadership and was consequently drawn into halfheartedly offering critical support to the Popular Front at the very moment it should have been offering unsparing opposition to it. These mistake crippled the POUM’s potential to expand its support base and become the dominate party in the Republican camp. Further, the brutal murder of leading POUM activists (including Nin himself) by Stalinists agents deprived the POUM of any opportunity to reorganize and rectify its mistakes. The POUM could not convince its anarchist allies, the Trotskyists could not convince the POUM, and the Cassandras of the Spanish revolution wept as Franco’s advance fulfilled their unheard prophecies.

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