POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista)
There was no political force in Spain, however tiny, able to oppose the pressure exerted by the right wing Socialists and Stalinist Communists for an electoral alliance with the bourgeois Republicans. By the end of 1935 there was no group in the labour movement to uphold the need for ruthless ideological demarcation and the denunciation of class collaboration under the mask of unity. This is what Trotsky called the betrayals of his former comrades in struggle, with which he bitterly reproached them until his death.
The Spanish Popular Front Agreement was signed in Madrid on January 15, 1936. The Agreement was signed by the representatives of the Republican Parties the Socialist Party and the UGT, the Socialist Youth, the Communist Party, the Syndicalist Party of Pestana and by the representative of the POUM, Juan Andrade.
The POUM was far from homogeneous. The experience of six months of Popular Front government obviously condemned the January Agreement in the eyes of many militants. Above all, the workers’ reply to the military coup d’etat had transformed overnight the political atmosphere in Spain: the armed workers were in control of the streets and were everywhere setting up the power of their committees, destroying the army, the police and the bourgeois law courts, seizing the factories and the land.
On September 26, under the patronage of the Catalan Republican President of the Generality, Companys, a new government was set up. Andres Nin, commenting on the entry of his party into the Catalan government, declared on the radio: ‘the struggle which is beginning is not the struggle between bourgeois democracy and fascism, as some people think, but between fascism and socialism.’
The entry of the POUM into the Catalan parliament finally severed relations between Trotsky and the party. However, the dialogue between them was to continue until the crushing of the POUM and the liquidation of the revolutionary conquests by the Stalinist-bourgeois coalition government of Negrin and the restored bourgeois state.
On 28 May 1937, La Batalla was suppressed. On 16 June 1937 Nin himself was arrested, to be murdered by Stalin’s men. The policy of the POUM did not prevent the ferocious repression which beat down on all the Spanish revolutionaries.
The Spanish working class did not have in 1936-39 the instrument which had ensured the victory of the revolution in Russia, a revolutionary party; according to Trotsky, it was in this failure of the revolutionaries that lay the basic reason for the defeat of the revolution. According to him ‘despite its intentions the POUM was, in the last analysis, the main obstacle on the road to building a revolutionary party’. Its destiny is worth thinking about. Trotsky wrote on this subject: ‘the problem of the revolution must be delved into to the very bottom, to its last concrete consequences. Politics must conform to the basic laws of revolution, that is, to the movement of classes in struggle and not to the fears and superficial prejudices of the petty-bourgeois groups who call themselves Popular Front and many other things. The line of least resistance in Revolution is revealed as the line of worst failure. The fear of isolation from the bourgeoisie leads to isolation from the masses. Adaptation to the conservative prejudices of the labour aristocracy means the betrayal of the workers and the revolution. Excessive prudence is the most fatal imprudence. This is the main lesson of the collapse of the most honest political organisation in Spain: the POUM, a centrist party.’
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