Chapter 12: The Fight Against the POUM

Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

That the hatred of the holders of power in Russia is directed today with especial bitterness at the P.O.U.M. is easy to understand. To Stalin, who for a considerable time has been busy exterminating the last remnants of the Old Bolshevism in Russia and getting rid, one after the other, of his former comrades, who under Lenin used to hold the highest positions in the Soviet state, it could not, of course, be pleasant that there should be men in foreigm countries who were unwilling to believe that nine-tenths of the old and most influential leaders of the Bolshevist Party are in the service of Hitler and the Japanese militarists. Still less could it please him that there should be heretics who just could not swallow the nursery tale of a conspiracy on so large a scale that it had been sabotaging the Russian industrial system day and night for years, had its men in the highest circles of the Russian army, and even in the G.P.U., and yet could not bring itself to act, but calmly let its alleged leaders one by one be stood against the wall.

The leaders of the P.O.U.M. ("Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista," Workers' Party of Marxist Unity) have all come from the Communist Party. As a result of their past experiences they were better informed concerning the secret machinations of the Russian politicians than anybody else, and they were not shy about sharing their information with the public. For this reason the P.O.U.M. was for a long time a thorn in the flesh of the Stalinists; the more so because the official Communist Party in Barcelona had earlier never been able to show as many as three hundred members, while the great majority of the Catalonian Communists were in the P.O.U.M. organization. This was changed only after the Stalinists succeeded in cozening the Socialist Party of Catalonia into setting up the P.S.U.C.

There was never any intrinsic relation between the C.N.T. and the P.O.U.M. people. This must be emphasized, as the Stalinist press is today purveying to its readers the falsehood that the P.O.U.M. has very strongly influenced the attitude of the C.N.T. in Catalonia. There could really be no talk of such a thing, as the two factions are diametrically opposed in their theoretical basic principles as uell as in their methods and their organizational objectives. The P.O.U.M. was always a small party, counting in all Spain scarcely more than thirty thousand members. Its tendency was Bolshevistic; its adherents believed that only a single political party should undertake to conduct the revolution. The P.O.U.M. embraced in its ranks hair-splitting Marxist factions of the most diverse types, from the Catalonian followers of Caballero to the Trotzkyists. Still it would be incorrect to designate it as a "Trotzkyist" party, for Trotzky himself had repeatedly spoken out in sharp condemnation of the tactics of the P.O.U.M. people. From the beginning the P.O.U.M. had taken a hostile attitude toward the C.N.T., as all the productions of its press and all the public announcements of the organization reveal most clearly.

This attitude was quite natural, for the C.N.T. had been from the first, the outspoken opponent of any guardianship over the labor movement by political parties. Its socialism was of a constructive sort and was based on the trade-union organizations of the workers and peasants. It was not the result of an abstract theory coming from the study-closet, but the vital product of long and sacrificial struggles, out of which the ideas of social liberation had grown of themselves and had in the course of years taken on organic form. The C.N.T., with its two million members, is a mass movement and reveals a very definite current in the history of the country, which can look back on an ancient and glorious tradition intimately interwoven with the deeds and thoughts of the Spanish people. The P.O.U.M., however, was a foreign factor in the Spanish libertarian movement and was, therefore, never able to strike root among the great masses of the Spanish workers and peasants.

The P.O.U.M. people tried at first to penetrate into the U.G.T. of Catalonia, and they even succeeded in getting possession of a few important posts in it. But as the Stalinists of the P.S.U.C. gained ground there, it became just so much harder for the P.O.U.M. people to retain their places, and at last they were completely forced out of the U.G.T.

After the first of the big political trials of the so-called "Trotzkyists" in Moscow, the attacks of the Spanish Stalinists upon the P.O.U.M. were redoubled and steadily grew more hate-filled and malevolent. In Madrid, the Stalinists broke into the quarters of the P.O.U.M. Youth and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on. The government even suppressed the P.O.U.M. paper for a time and under pressure from the Russian embassy excluded the P.O.U.M. from representation in the Committee of Defense of the revolutionary militia, an act which called forth the unanimous protest of all the other revolutionary factions.

In Barcelona, where the P.O.U.M. was stronger than in other cities, its leaders made a sharp response to the malicious attacks of their Stalinist opponents. On November 27, 1936, "La Batalla," the organ of the P.O.U.M. in Barcelona, carried an article about the back-stairs politics of Russian diplomacy in Spain, in which it declared: "It is unbearable that, under the pretext of affording us certain assistance, some one wants in return to force upon us definite political forms and presumes to dictate Spanish policy."

This article let loose a veritable flood of the vilest accusations in the Stalinist press. There was no deed of infamy that was not charged to the P.O.U.M. Even the Russian consul at Barcelona took part personally in these disgraceful proceedings and attached the P.O.U.M. as an instrument of Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini -- a wretched calumny for which not a shadow of proof can be adduced. These occurrences led to the famous crisis in the Catalonian government, deliberately provoked by the Stalinists in order to force Andres Nin, leader of the P.O.U.M., who held the position of Minister of Justice there, out of office. That finally happened in December of last year under immediate pressure from the representative of the Russian government, who made the assistance of his government dependent on it -- and against the unanimous protest of the C.N.T., which wished at any cost to avoid the disruption of the anti-Fascist front.

After the bloody May events in Barcelona, there finally arrived for the Stalinists the hour in which they could give their revenge on the P.O.U.M. free rein. On orders from the bourgeois-Communist government at Valencia, all the unions of the P.O.U.M. were dissolved by the police and its most influential leaders arrested and taken away to Madrid. The scandalous campaign of lies in the Stalinist press pointed to the intention of staging on Spanish soil one of those infamous "espionage trials" after the Russian pattern.

Whatever one's attitude may be toward the ideas and objectives of the P.O.U.M., one cannot deny that in the war against Franco and his allies, its adherents took their places like men and fought bravely. On July 19 they fought shoulder to shoulder with the workers of the C.N.T.-F.A.I. They did the same in Madrid and on the other fronts. A large number of their best men lost their lives in those battles. Maurin, one of the founders of the P.O.U.M. and, next to Andres Nin, the most influential leader of the movement, was shot by the rebels. José Oliver fell in Galicia; Germinal Vidal and Pedro Villarosa died on the Aragon front. One could hardly suppose that they would sacrifice their lives in the war against Fascism, if they were in the service of Franco and Mussolini.

The government's measures against the militants of the P.O.U.M., and especially the transparent maneuvers of the Stalinists, have elicited numerous protests from the most diverse sources both in Spain and in foreign countries. The National Committee of the C.N.T. in Valencia appealed to President Aza-a, the Cortes, and the Minister of Justice in an open letter demanding justice for the arrested leaders of the P.O.U.M. in manful and vigorous language. Even under present conditions it is hard to believe that Spain will become the scene of one of those judicial comedies which for the past few years have been a part of the political orders of the day in Russia.