The P.O.U.M. in Spain
By Albert Weisbord
(From Class Struggle Vol. VII No.1+2 February 1937)

In previous articles in the Class Struggle we have exposed the dreadfully false policies of those who have undertaken to lead the working class forces in Spain, namely the Stalinists, the Socialists, the Anarchists, and the Syndicalists. It is because of the crimes and blunders of these elements, each committing grievous mistakes in its own way, that the fascist-monarchist reactionaries have been able to carry on their fight for so long a time. However, there exists another organization in Spain, particularly in Catalonia, the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (P.O.U.M.) With which we intend to deal in the present article.

Many advanced workers, disillusioned with the Socialists and Stalinists, have been willing to believe that in the P.O.U.M. there is some hope that the workers will be able to surmount their difficulties and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and a socialist regime. They point out that the most influential leader, Andreas Nin, was closely connected with Trotsky for many years and was a strong adherent of the theory of peasant revolution. They show that the P.O.U.M. in contradistinction to the other parties in Spain, has called for the rule of the workers, even for Soviets, and has steadily maintained its independence from the other opportunistic organizations.

On the other hand there are those workers who assert that the P.O.U.M. was willing to become a part of the capitalist Catalonian government and that no revolutionary party could possibly have taken such a move. They also declare that the Catalonian government, being capitalist, was as bad as the Madrid government and both were reactionary and against the working class.

In the light of this polemic, it seems to us that the best way to treat the question of revolutionary policy as involved as the actions of P.O.U.M. is to take up the following basic questions:

1. What is the character of the present governments of Madrid and of Catalonia; is it correct to call these governments "reactionary"?

2. Can a revolutionary party at any time enter a government such as that which exists in Madrid or Catalonia?

3. Can the Spanish workers rest their hopes upon the P.O.U.M.?

It seems to us entirely incorrect to estimate the present governments either of Madrid or of Catalonia as "reactionary". Certainly they are not reactionary from the point of view of the bourgeoisie. The present republican-democratic set-up can not be compared with the regime under Alphonso XIII. It is not the habit of Marxists to use the term "reactionary" as a mere expletive. The word "reactionary" means something: it means going backward. A reactionary system is one that would move the social order backward bringing back outworn techniques and methods of production and outworn political forms and social customs.. Alphonso XIII and his forces are clearly reactionary in that sense of the word since they rested state power upon the old feudal grandees and a system of production that was stifling Spain.

The government in Madrid, from the angle of the capitalists, is far from reactionary, since this government intends to unleash all the productive forces of Spain for their benefit. Power will shift from the country to the city, from agriculture to industry, from the landlord to the industrialists and modern capitalist elements. From the capitalist point of view the victory of the present Madrid or Catalonian government means the beginning of the modernization of Spain.

To draw an historical analogy: It might be said that the present Madrid government stands to Alphonso XIII as the French Revolitionary government stood to Louis XVI. There is, however, this vast distinction. In the 18th century the French Revolutionary Government, operating on behalf of modern capitalism, could not help be progressive and clear the road for the new social order. In the 20th century, there has appeared on the horizon a new class, a working class that should be able to make an independent bid for power. No longer tied to the apron strings of capital, the proletariat of Spain is ready to modernize Spain not in the capitalist sense but in the socialist sense. And thus the modernization of Spain in the capitalist sense has to be the work not of a progressive government but of forces that stifle and crush the revolutionary proletariat and the toiling masses.

Many of those who wish to modernize Spain from a bourgeois point of view are now with the forces of Franco precisely for this reason. The insurgents are not of one piece; there are the Carlists and the Bourbonists, but there are also the fascists. The fascists do not wish to bring back the old Spain that has been irrevocably destroyed. They too wish essentially to industrialize and modernize Spain, but they understand clearly that no longer is this the job of revolution - as was the case in France in 1789 - but of counter-revolution.

In this the counter-revolutionary fascists disagree violently with their capitalist brethren who are still behind the Madrid government. The capitalists of the Madrid government who are in the Left Republican Parties, believe that the workers can be controlled, that they will not make a bid for power and that therefore the Madrid government can become, like the government of present day England or of France, a fine vehicle for the development of capital. The fascist capitalists, however, believe that the day is too late for this, that democratic control is too weak, that the working class can no longer be restrained and that the first job of the day is to crush the aspirations of the masses for Socialism. Only thus can capitalism be revived in Spain.

Here, then, are the exploiting classes divided. Generally speaking, it is the big capitalists of heavy industry and the financiers that take the side of the fascists; the landowners go with the monarchists; both units against the present Madrid regime. It is the petty bourgeoisie and the factory owners of small and light industry that tend to support the Madrid Republic or at least not openly fight against it.

Nor can it be said that even from the workers' point of view that either the Catalonian government or the Madrid government was "reactionary". Were these governments engaged in shooting down the working class and putting down the lower orders, were the masses ready to push the revolution forward to socialism and were being kept back by the broad might of these governments, then it might be said that these governments were reactionary in the sense that they were preventing the people from building Socialism, the only system of society that could improve upon the moribund capitalism of the present.

But the fact of the matter is, the masses are more or less imprisoned by the opportunism of the Socialists and Stalinists on the one hand, and the Anarchists and Syndicalists on the other. The Socialists and Stalinists have openly declared that they are not fighting for Socialism but merely for bourgeois democracy. They have become ardent bourgeois democrats and republicans and have no other thought than loyal support of the status quo that was being attacked by the rebel reactionaries. The Socialists and Stalinists do not want Socialism, they do not want even workers' control over production. They make no move to socialize the industries. They do not form Soviets. They do not resists the formation of a new capitalist army under the control of bourgeois officers. They do not break from the Azanas and the Companys, bourgeois leaders of the Madrid and Catelonian governments. They make no effort to carry the revolution forward for the benefit of the people. Instead they carry on bitter war against the Left Wing, especially the P.O.U.M. that tends to go in the revolutionary direction.

The Anarchists also have come out strongly against the dictatorship of the proletariat and it was for this reason that the Anarcho-Syndicalists of the C.N.T. refused to participate in the Asturias revolt of 1934 and quietly saw their own brethren shot down by the Madrid government of those days because the workers refused to pledge themselves to the Asturias revolt that they would not take the power and inaugurate Socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Today, together with the Socialists and Stalinists, the Anarchists and Syndicalists have also become part of the governmental forces of Madrid and of Catalonia. These Anarchists, who would not fight for the rule of the workers, are quit ready to give their lives for the continuance of Madrid rule, and thus they prove to be basically one with the petty-bourgeois reformists of the Socialist and Stalinist parties.

In the light of the fact that all of the big proletarian organizations, Anarchist, Syndicalist, Socialist and Stalinist support the present governments of Madrid and of Catalonia, it is difficult to call these governments reactionary. They would be reactionary only if the mass organizations were ready to go forward beyond the present capitalist system and were throwing themselves against this government. But for this there would have to be a genuinely revolutionary party guiding the masses. Up to the present, unfortunately, this is not the case; the masses through their organizations are heartily supporting the governmental regimes.

But if the Madrid and Catalonian governments are not reactionary, this does not mean that they are not capitalistic. For anyone to idealize the Madrid governments or the Left Madrid government that exists in Catalonia would be to make a criminal error. There is no such thing as a government without classes and class domination. The class that dominates Madrid and to a weaker degree Catalonia, is the capitalist class.

It is true there has been some talk of socialization of the factories in Catalonia and also in Madrid, but the Socialists and Stalinists have seen to it that it is mostly talk. There have been some spontaneous seizures of the factories by the workers and a degree of worker control over them, but private property in the means of production is still retained intact, on the whole. Foreign property is carefully protected; the property of the agrarian landholder is assured, the petty-bourgeoisie is quieted. During the present civil war, there may have to be some severe measures of confiscation, some degree of nationalization of industry and public utilities, as there was in the days of the Jacobins of the 18th century in France, but the system of private property remains secure. That is the situation today where the Republicans control.

Nor can much of a distinction be drawn between Catalonia and Madrid. It is true that Barcelona is the proletarian heart of Spain and events have gone considerably further there than elsewhere. But, at bottom, Barcelona has not gone too far beyond Madrid. As Azana, the bourgeois Radical heads the latter regime, the bourgeois Radical, Companys, heads the former.

We can sum up this part of our argument, therefore, as follows:

1. The governmental regime neither at Madrid nor at Catalonia can be called reactionary at present, either from the capitalist or from the workers' point of view.

2. Both the Madrid and the Catalonian governments are capitalist governments which do not carry out a policy on behalf of the working class.

As soon as possible the workers must disassociate themselves from these governments and overthrow them as blocking the path to Socialism and the victory of the toiling masses in Spain.


The fact that the regime in Catalonia is a capitalist one, does not mean, however, that a revolutionary organization should not, under certain circumstances, have to join that government. To understand this we must study the concrete circumstances that exist in Spain and in Catalonia today.

Were the governments of Catalonia or of Madrid stable capitalist governments run by big bourgeois elements with all the reactionaries to keep the masses down, then, of course, it would be out of the question for a revolutionary organization to enter into such a government and accept the responsibility for its actions. This was the situation within the French government in the late 19th century and led to the split between the reformist and revolutionary groups. At that time the reformist Socialists, as represented by Millard and by Briand, believed they could enter the French cabinet. Their idea was to reform the State from within and peacefully and gradually through a series of reforms introduce a better society for the workers. In reality, through their entrance into the capitalist government, the reformist Socialists merely tied the workers to the wheels of capitalism still more tightly. As events unfolded themselves in Europe it became clear to the revolutionary working class that the capitalist State could not be reformed to be transformed, but had to be smashed and an entirely new regime set up.

But this is not the situation in Catalonia, nor in Madrid. The opening up of the revolution in 1930 established in reality two centers, a dual authority. On the one hand there was the regular government, successor to Alphonso XIII, which was elected when the Republic was founded: on the other hand, there were the mighty trade unions and other working class organizations that began to speak for themselves. The government could do little without the consent of these mass organizations. It might seem then that these organizations would strive to take over power themselves, but led as they were by the opportunist Socialists, Stalinists, Anarchists and Syndicalists, they made no effective effort to do so. On the other hand, the capitalists and agrarian lords strove with might and main to break down this second power of the people. In the course of their efforts they finally decided to attack the government itself and thus, in 1936, there broke out the present insurgent rebellion.

But with the rise of the reactionaries the people also began to strengthen themselves. The old reactionary forces were driven out of the government and the government made prisoner of the popular movement for the time being. A People's Front Government was set up which expressed the coalition of the masses with certain weak elements of the bourgeoisie. In the course of the present civil war this People's Government has moved even further to the Left. Now the administration of the State is in the hands of workers' representatives directly. A Socialist is the premier, several Stalinists are in the cabinet together with other so-called revolutionary factors.

It would seem that since the workers' organizations and representatives are actually leading the government, that the workers would try to remold that government to introduce Socialism. But Socialism cannot be introduced through bourgeois parliaments and through the State system set up by the capitalists. To set up the rule of the workers there would be necessary a complete new apparatus and governmental machine, on the style of the Soviets established in Russia. The fact that the Socialists, Stalinists and others have entered into the present governments of Madrid and of Catalonia means that they are fighting not for Socialism but for capitalism and mean to keep the capitalist forms and functions intact. Thus, although the government is made up of workers' representatives, it is still a capitalist government, carrying out capitalist policies. It is a sign that the capitalist class in Spain was entirely too weak to carry out its own policies. As in Germany just after the War, so in Spain today, capitalism can be preserved only by the activity of the Socialists and Stalinists and other petty-bourgeois forces who do for the bosses what the bosses cannot do for themselves. It is the Socialists and Stalinists and the others who save the day for private property in Spain today.

However, this new government, precisely because of its composition, precisely because of the power of the people that put them into office, precisely because the chief task of the hour is the destruction of the reactionaries threatening the government, have not been able to put down the real strength of the people which is increasing all the time. A new dual power, even more menacing that before, has been set up. On the one hand are the Socialist and Stalinist functionaries and their ilk behind Azana or Companys who defend capitalism; on the other hand, there are the masses of workers who have taken over many of the factories and who mean to run them for themselves. This has taken place in a more extreme fashion in Catalonia than it has in Madrid or generally throughout Spain.

Again, it would seem that since the masses have taken control over the factories in many localities that they would form Soviets or new organizations that are not represented in the official government. But this has not occurred for several reasons. In the first place there has been developed no force that favors Soviets except the relatively weak P.O.U.M. Today the Stalinists and the others bend all their efforts to liquidate whatever Soviets may appear in the villages or towns. It is not as in Russia in 1905 and 1917 where the masses themselves spontaneously formed Soviets and all the revolutionary parties entered into these new bodies. Today the degenerate Socialists, Stalinists and others know full well the menace of such organs as the Soviets and in advance break them down wherever they are formed.

Secondly, the masses still have the illusion that because the workers' representatives are in the government that the government is theirs, that they can really reform and change the government in their direction, that the government will socialize the factories and introduce workers' rule, etc.

In the third place, it is not inevitable that Soviets must be formed in every country without exception. In Spain, there has existed a very strong tradition of Syndicalism and Anarchism which has taught the people that they must expect nothing through the State but must take things in their own hands. Even in Russia there arose at the time of the Workers Opposition in 1921 the question whether the Soviets should run the factories or the unions would run them. It was pointed out that if the unions gave up the factories to the Soviets, made up so overwhelmingly of peasants and petty-bourgeois elements, that the unions would decay: thus the dictatorship of the proletariat would in fact be destroyed. A good deal of what the Worker Opposition predicted actually has come to pass in Russia. On the other hand, it was argued that if the unions operated the factories and not the Soviets it would break the alliance of the workers with the peasants, something fatal in such a country as Russia. The workers had to exercise control through the Soviets and not independent of the Soviets.

Now in Spain the Syndicalists and the workers in the unions refuse to give up the factories to the State at the present moment. Fundamentally this is a sound policy, since, as we have pointed out, the State is still a capitalist one. But along with the idea that the unions should control the factories, the workers have thus militated against forming Soviets of workers that would rally the mass of toilers with them. They still work within the frame-work of their unions, and since their unions are tied up with the capitalist State, they have not been able to go beyond spontaneous operation and control of the factories. There has not been established the socialization of factories and a unified and systematized program of Socialism. Everything is in chaos and confusion, with the officials of the unions and of the workers' parties doing their best to sabotage the Socialist direction of the workers and to keep capitalism intact in Spain and Catalonia.

Now it is this concrete situation with which we have to deal when treating of the question whether a truly revolutionary organization should enter the government of Catalonia at the present time. We can summarize the situation as follows: 1. The government is made up overwhelmingly of workers' representatives. 2. The government has the confidence of masses of workers who believe that through this government Socialism can be established. 3. The government is fighting a progressive battle against reaction. 4. The masses have not formed Soviets but have workers' organizations and united fronts which demand that every workers' organization takes responsibility in supporting the defense of the Republic.

Under such circumstances, if the other workers' organizations through their united front decide that all workers' groups should enter the government to carry on the struggle against reaction and for Socialism, it would be impossible for the P.O.U.M.. or any other organization to stand aside. To stand aside would mean not to have confidence in the masses, to step aside from responsibility in the strughgle against the fascist-monarchist reaction. It would be the height of folly and sectarianism.

In Russia, when Lenin raised the slogan "All Power to the Soviets" at that time the Mensheviks and opportunists were in control of the Soviets. Had the Soviets taken power then, the leaders of the Soviets in Russia, as today in Spain, would have carried out a policy of capitalism. Yet Lenin was perfectly correct in using this slogan, because the victory of the Soviets would have meant a decisive defeat for reaction and such development of the power of the masses as would render insecure and precarious the hold of the opportunists upon them. Now if in Russia, the Soviets had decided to take the power and to give a seat or two to the Bolsheviks, the Bolsheviks would have had to take these seats, even though the government policy were a capitalist one and under control of the Mensheviks.

As a matter of fact, when the Soviets actually did take power, the Bolsheviks did not take all the cabinet seats but shared them with the Left Social-Revolutionary Party and offered other seats to opportunists of various organizations. The regime that was formed in November, 1917, did not immediately socialize the factories but kept boss ownership for almost a year, or rather in the city for seven months longer, after the power was taken.

A somewhat analogous situation prevails in Spain even though there are no Soviets. There is a united front of the proletarian organizations to carry on the civil war. Should this united front demand all workers' organizations take on responsible posts, it is impossible for any workers' group not to accept. Failure to accept would doom that party in the eyes of the struggling masses.


However, it is an entirely different question what a revolutionary party should do once it gets into such a transition government as that represented by the sick capitalist State of Madrid or Catalonia. Of course, a truly revolutionary party would expose the capitalist operations of the government of which it was temporarily a part. It would issue the slogan: Out with the Azanas and the Companys. Out with the capitalist elements from the government. Such an organization would expose the workings of the State from within. It would show the masses that in reality this government and this State could not possibly carry out the will of the people, could not possibly carry out the struggle against capitalism in the most effective manner.

A revolutionary party would call for a complete transformation of the present State to a workers' State. It would call for all power to the united front councils of the workers' and toilers' organizations. It would call for the formation of a real people's and proletarian army to defend the interests of the masses. Inside the State the proletarian organization would declare war against the capitalist elements there in and create an utterly impossible situation where either the government would have to be changed in a revolutionary direction or the revolutionary party would have to be ousted from the government.

In the latter case those who did the ousting would have the onerous duty of telling the people why. The whole question of who is to rule whom and for what the people are fighting would come up in the most dramatic and drastic manner. It would not be the revolutionary party that would be placed in the light of fighting against the revolution, but rather the persecutors of such a party.

Whether the revolutionary organization takes part in the government or not it has the duty to tell the people that the government is a capitalist one and must be destroyed. It must carry out the policy of fighting reaction but absolutely giving no support to the Kerenskys and similar capitalist agents controlling the government.

A revolutionary workers' party in the government would strive to change the struggle from one against fascism and monarchism to one against capitalism as a whole. It would expose in detail the sabotage of the capitalist elements in the government and how these saboteurs are protected by the Socialists, Stalinists and others playing their game. The fact that the party was within the government and undertaking responsible tasks would weight mightily with the masses and would provide such a party with excellent first-hand material for its struggles.

The question now arises whether the P.O.U.M. has actually behaved in such a revolutionary manner. It is quite clear that it has not, although we are willing to admit that we may not have all the facts. In entering the government the P.O.U.M. did not sufficiently expose the capitalist nature of the present State. It is true that it has called for Soviets and for Socialism, but its calls have been rather vague and platonic. It did not fight sufficiently hard against the capitalist elements in the government nor demand their expulsion; it did not expose enough the capitalistic sabotage of the Socialists and Stalinists; it did not adopt the program of support to the policies of the present governments of Madrid and Catalonia even though it would do its share in fighting against reaction side by side with the forces of the government.

The weakness of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification could have been anticipated by the history of its formation, The P.O.U.M. is an incomplete amalgamation of two distinct trends: the trend represented by Maurin and that of Andreas Nin.

Maurin would have been called a Spanish variety of the American opportunist, Lovestone, although without the cowardice of the latter and his petty Jewish tricks. Maurin was a Right-Wing Communist of nationalist tendencies who favored a loose workers and peasants party and who hid his Communism in favor of opportunist policies. He was able to build in Catalonia an amorphous groupling which he called the Workers-Peasants Bloc within which his own communist tendency was supposed to work. The whole thing became affiliated to the Centrist international grouping, known as the London Bureau. Maurin held himself opposed to the line of the International Left Opposition although he did not agree with Stalinism.

With the liquidation of the forces of the Left by Trotsky when he sent his henchment into the Socialist parties everywhere, the Spanish group refused to follow the line of Trotsky and broke up into two parts, a minority going into the Spanish Socialist Party, but the rest following Nin who joined the Maurin group, which reformed itself into the Workers Party of Marxist Unification. The action of Nin was really no better than that of Trotsky; as Trotsky enterd the Socialist Party, Nin entered the "Left" Socialist grouping of Maurin. Both liquidated their own organizations and policies to enter into a hopeless Centrist outfit.

However, Nin had a far better chance to work than did the ordinary variety of Trotskyites who liquidated their forces. He was one of the principal leaders of the P.O.U.M. which, under the blows of the revolution, actually moved to the left (as did the Socialist Parties of Spain and of Catalonia for that matter). Furthermore, Maurin was killed in action in the present civil war, leaving Nin practically the chief leader. But far from producing a monolithic organization, this set of circumstances is only bringing to a head a crisis within the P.O.U.M.

A section of the old Maurinists refused to follow the line of the former Trotskyists, especially when that Trotskyist leadership means unmitigated hostility on the part of the Stalinists who are now fused with the Socialists into one party in Catalonia. This section of the P.O.U.M. is now flirting with the other Centrists and threatening to break away. And as the Socialist-Stalinist center rains heavy blows upon the P.O.U.M. and throws them out of the government, in spite of the relatively timid and cautious approach of Nin, the Right Wing all the more is worked on by the Russian nationalist Stalinists and becomes determined to dump Nin and join the coalition.

Here is proof that should the revolutionary nucleus give up its banner for some sort of Centrist program and "mass" organization, it does not do away with the crisis in its ranks that drives it to liquidation, but only postpones it and in the long run, aggravates it. The Trotskyites will find that they have no short cut to the path of building a really Bolshevik organization. Nin fused with Maurin as Cannon fused with Muste. In the case of Cannon, the rottenness of this amalgamation became clear within less than a year. In Spain the forces have held together longer because of the development of the revolution, but this has only heightened the crisis. Now Nin sees that his "mass" party with which he hoped to realize the proletarian revolution is crumbling under his hands. Furthermore, the opportunism latent in the Nins, that induced them to fuse with the Maurins also crops up again and makes the Nins constantly compromise with the Right Wing rather than utter a truly revolutionary line. After all, the Cannons are not much different from the Mustes when the fusion actually does take place. In the long run, water finds its level. So it has been with Nin in Spain.

The opportunist line of the Nins was clearly brought out in relation to the stand of the P.O.U.M. on the question of Moroccan independence. Every Leninist who knows even his A.B.C.s understands that one of the burning questions in Spain today is the question of fighting for the independence of Spanish Morocco. Because the Spanish workers took a nationalist and chauvinist position to Morocco and to the African colonials generally, they are now paying dearly and see the Moroccans closely allied with the fascist forces. The P.O.U.M. should have made this one of their main points from the very beginning and used all the forces at their disposal to attack and expose the Madrid and Catalonian governments and the Socialists, Stalinists and others for their false line. Reports, however, do not show that the P.O.U.M. took such an intransigent internationalist line, except perhaps a word or two in some sheet not read by those directly affected.

The opportunism of the Nins and of the P.O.U.M. is also clearly revealed in their adherence to the bankrupt Centrist International grouping, the London Bureau. Here is seen in all its nakedness that not only the Socialists and Stalinists have broken down but also the Trotskyists of almost every variety. It is a farce to expect an organization believing the London Bureau is a revolutionary factor, to carry out the revolution in Spain. The sad situation is that there is no genuine revolutionary party in Spain today. It is an indication that Europe as a whole is burning out as a revolutionary force and cannot solve its problems. The fight is not absolutely hopeless, however. No doubt there do exist germs of such a genuine party both within the P.O.U.M. and in the other organizations. It is a question, however, whether these germs will be able to find their developmental way into the leading force in time to save the day.

All this does not mean, because we do not support the P.O.U.M. in the sense of joining it or agreeing basically with its like, that we are not willing to send money to the P.O.U.M. The fact is, there is no better organization than the P.O.U.M. in Spain today. We cannot simply stand aside sneering at the heroic battles of the Spanish people. We must help in every possible way. It is our duty to raise money for Spain for the shipping of arms and munitions and supplies to carry on the civil war to the end that the reactionaries be defeated and the proletariat stimulated to carry forward the revolution to the end. It may be that our help in this regard will compel us to send money to the P.O.U.M. or to the London Bureau. But together with this help to the Spanish working class we also send our word that there is only one way out for them: To break with the Socialists, Stalinists and Trotskyists of the Trotsky-Nin stamp and build up a real internationalist Communist organization that will establish the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Spain and extend the revolution throughout Europe.