Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From "The Spanish Revolution in Danger" Leon Trotsky

 Members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain

We reprint this important article by Trotsky on the dangers facing the Spanish revolution in 1931. The first danger is that of opportunism, of aiming at a 'intermediate' stage between the bourgeois and socialist revolutions which in fact falls short of the overthrow of bourgeois power. This was the role played by the Stalinist Comintern for most of the Spanish civil war. The other danger is that of ultraleft adventurism, of revolutionaries impatiently trying to pressure workers into premature uprisings before they are ready.  This is especially true of those who say that in countries with no history of democracy that it is possible to jump over parliament directly to the seizure of state power. Both dangers result in defeat as is clear in Spain. Trotsky's lessons on how to assess the situation and raise the correct demands to advance the revolution from democratic to socialist aims in Spain are vital lessons for those trying to understand and intervene in the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East today.

The leadership of the Comintern in the face of Spanish events

Spanish revolution is growing. In the process of struggle its internal forces are growing. But together with them the dangers are growing. We do not speak of the dangers that proceed from the ruling classes and their political servants, the republicans and Socialists. Here it is a matter of open enemies and the tasks in relation to them are entirely clear. But there are also internal dangers.

The Spanish workers look confidently upon the Soviet Union, the product of the October Revolution. This mood represents a valuable capital for communism. The defense of the Soviet Union is the duty of every revolutionary worker. But we must not permit the workers’ faith in the October Revolution to be abused for the purpose of foisting upon them a policy that runs counter to all the lessons taught by October.

It must be said clearly. It must be said so that the vanguard of the Spanish and the international proletariat will hear: The present leadership of the Comintern threatens the proletarian revolution in Spain with an immediate danger. Any revolution can be ruined, even the most promising one; this was proved by the experience of the German revolution of 1923 [7] and still more clearly by the experience of the Chinese revolution of 1925-1927. In both instances, the immediate reason for the defeat was the wrong leadership. Spain is next in order. The leaders of the Comintern have learned nothing from their own mistakes. Worse yet, in order to cover up their past mistakes, they are compelled to defend them and to elaborate them. To the extent that it depends upon them, they are preparing the same fate for the Spanish revolution as for the Chinese.

For two years, the advanced workers were misled by the luckless theory of the “third period”, which weakened and demoralized the Comintern. The leadership finally sounded the retreat. But when? Precisely at a moment when the world crisis created a radical break in the situation and revealed the first possibilities for a revolutionary offensive. The internal processes in Spain, in the meantime, were occurring unnoticed by the Comintern. Manuilsky kept declaring – and Manuilsky at the present time acts in the capacity of a Comintern leader! – that events in Spain are in general not deserving of attention.

In our sketch of the Spanish revolution, written prior to the April overturn [The Revolution in Spain] , we expressed ourselves to the effect that the bourgeoisie, playing with different shadings of republicanism, will with all its strength and up to the very last moment retain its alliance with the monarchy. “A combination of circumstances is possible, to be sure,” we wrote, “in which the possessing classes are compelled to sacrifice the monarchy in order to save themselves (example: Germany!).” These lines gave the Stalinists an excuse – after the event, of course – to speak about an incorrect prognosis. [1] People who themselves have foreseen nothing, demand of others not a Marxian prognosis but theosophic forecasts about the day and the form in which the events will take place; this is the manner in which the ignorant and superstitious sick demand miracles of medicine. The task of a Marxist prognosis is to help in orient our ideas in the general direction of developments and to help forearm us against “surprises”. 

The fact that The Spanish bourgeoisie decided to part with the monarchy is to be explained by two equally important reasons. The stormy deluge of the mass resentment forced the bourgeoisie to attempt to convert the generally despised Alfonso into a scapegoat. But such a serious manoever, which has a serious risk connected with it, was available to the Spanish bourgeoisie only because the masses had confidence in the republicans and the socialists and because during the change of regimes, the Communist danger could be ignored. The historic variant which has taken place in Spain is consequently a result of the force of the mass pressure on the one hand, and the, weakness of the Comintern on the other. One must begin by establishing these facts. It is a basic rule of tactics: if you want to get stronger, do not begin with an exaggeration of your forces. But this rule is not for the epigone bureaucracy.

On the eve of events, Manuilsky foretold that in general nothing serious would happen; then a day after the overturn, the irreplaceable Péri [2] [8], the purveyor of false information from the Latin countries, began sending telegram after telegram to Moscow about how the Spanish proletariat was almost unanimously supporting the Communist party and how the Spanish peasants were building soviets. Pravda printed this nonsense, supplementing it with the nonsense about the “Trotskyists” being at the tail of the Zamora government. Meanwhile, Zamora was jailing Left Oppositionists and continues to jail them.[9] Finally, on May 14, Pravda printed a programmatic editorial, "Spain in Flames", which constitutes a distillation of the ramblings and mistakes of the epigones, translated into the language of the Spanish revolution. 

What about the Cortes [the Spanish national assembly]?

Pravda attempts to use as its point of departure the irrefutable truth that bare propaganda is insufficient: “The Communist party must tell the masses what they should do today.” What does Pravda itself propose in this connection? To organise the workers “for the disarming of reaction, for the arming of the proletariat, for the election of factory committees, for the realization of the seven-hour working day, etc.” Etc. – that is just how it is put. The slogans enumerated are incontestable, even though they are presented without any internal cohesion and without the sequence which should flow from the logic of the development of the masses. But what is shocking is that the leading article in Pravda does not by as much as a single word mention the elections to the Cortes, as though this political event did not even exist in the life of the Spanish nation, or as if the workers had nothing to do with it. How is this silence to be understood?

From external appearances, the republican overturn took place, as is known, through the medium of the municipal elections. It is understood that underlying the overturn were deeper reasons and we spoke about them long before the collapse of the Berenguer ministry. But the “parliamentary” form of the liquidation of the monarchy fell entirely to the benefit of the bourgeois republicans and the petty bourgeois democrats. A great many workers in Spain imagine now that the basic questions of social life can be decided with the aid of the ballot. This illusion can be shattered only by experience. But one must know how to assist this experience. How? By turning one’s back on the Cortes or, on the contrary, by participating in the elections? This question demands an answer.

Besides the editorial mentioned above, the same paper carries a “theoretical” article (in the issues dated from May 7 to May 10) which pretends to a Marxian analysis of the internal forces of the Spanish revolution and a Bolshevik determination of its strategy. This article too fails to mention the Cortes by as much as a single word: boycott the elections or participate in them? In general, Pravda is completely silent about the sgans and the tasks of political democracy, even though it calls the revolution democratic. What does this silence signify? The elections can be participated in, they can be boycotted. But can they be ignored?

With regard to the Berenguer Cortes, the tactic of boycott was perfectly correct. It was clear beforehand that Alfonso would either succeed for a certain period in turning once more to the road of a military dictatorship or else the movement would roll over the head of Berenguer with his Cortes. Under these conditions, the Communists. had to take upon themselves the initiative in the struggle for the boycott of the Cortes. This is precisely what we insisted upon with the aid of those meager means which we had at our disposal. [3] Had the Spanish Communists come out in time and resolutely for a boycott, even if only by the distribution of the biggest proclamation on the subject, their authority would have grown considerably at the moment when the Berenguer ministry was overthrown. The advanced workers would have said to themselves: “These people are capable of foreseeing something.” Unfortunately, the Spanish Communists, thrown off the track by the leadership of the Comintern, did not understand the circumstances of the situation and made preparations for participating in the elections, but again without any confidence. The events rolled over their heads, and the first victory of the revolution brought the Communists almost no increase in influence.

Now the Zamora government has undertaken to convene a Constituent Cortes. Is there a basis for thinking that the convocation of this Cortes will be interrupted by the second revolution? There is no basis whatever. Powerful movements of the masses are quite possible, but without a program, without a party, without a leadership, these movements cannot bring about a second revolution. The slogan of boycott would now be the slogan of self-isolation. The most active participation in the election must take place.

The parliamentary cretinism of the reformists and the anti-parliamentary cretinism of the anarchists

Parliamentary cretinism is a revolting sickness, but anti-parliamentary cretinism is not much better. We see this most clearly in the fate of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists. The revolution poses political questions directly and at the present stage gives them a parliamentary form. The attention of the working class cannot but be concentrated on the Cortes, and the anarcho-syndicalists will secretly vote for the socialists or perhaps the republicans. To fight against parliamentary illusions without fighting simultaneously against the anti-parliamentary metaphysics of the anarchists, is less possible in Spain than anywhere else.

In a series of articles, and letters, we proved the tremendous importance of the slogans of democracy for the further development of the Spanish revolution. Unemployment relief, the seven-hour working day, the agrarian revolution, national autonomy all these vital, basic questions are in one way or another connected in the consciousness of the great majority of the Spanish workers – the anarcho-syndicalists included – with the future Cortes. In the period of Berenguer, the Cortes by grace of Alfonso, had to be boycotted – in the name of revolutionary Constituent Cortes. From the very beginning, the question of suffrage had to he advanced to the very foreground of the agitation. Yes: the prosaic question of suffrage! Soviet democracy, needless to say, is incomparably higher than bourgeois democracy. But Soviets do not fall from the sky. To achieve the takes work. 

There exist Marxists who have a lofty contempt for such a slogan, for example, as universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage for all men and women from the age of 18. Nevertheless, had the Spanish Communists advanced this slogan in time and defended it in speeches, articles, pamphlets and leaflets, they would have acquired tremendous popularity. Precisely because the Spanish people are inclined to exaggerate the creative power of the Cortes, every awakened worker, every revolutionary peasant woman, wants to participate in the elections. We do not solidarize ourselves for a moment with the illusions of the masses; but whatever is progressive under these illusions must be utilized by us to the utmost otherwise we are not revolutionists but contemptible pedants. The mere lowering of the voting age grips the heart of many hundreds of thousands of working men and working women, peasants and peasant women. And which ones? The young and active ones, those who are called upon to create the second revolution. To set this young generation against the socialists, who seek the support of the older workers, is quite an elementary and incontestable task of the communist vanguard.

Furthermore, the Zamora government wants to put through the Cortes a constitution providing for two houses. The revolutionary masses who have just overthrown the monarchy and who are imbued with an impassioned, even if very vague striving towards equality and justice, will respond warmly to the agitation of the Communists against the plan of the bourgeoisie to foist a “house of lords” upon time backs of the people. This small question can play a tremendous rôle in the agitation, create heavy difficulties for the socialists and drive a wedge between the socialists and the republicans, that is, divide even for a time the enemies of the proletariat and – what is a thousand times more important – drive a wedge between the working masses and the Socialists.

The demand for a seven-hour working day, advanced by Pravda, is quite correct, extremely important and unpostponable. But can this bare demand be advanced, ignoring the political surroundings and the revolutionary tasks of democracy? By speaking only of the seven-hour working day, of factory committees and the arming of the workers, by ignoring “politics”, and by not having a single word to say in all its articles about the elections to the Cortes, Pravda goes all the way to meet anarcho-syndicalism, fosters it, covers up for it. In the meantime, the young worker whom the republicans and the socialists deprive of suffrage – in spite of the fact that bourgeois legislation considers him sufficiently mature for capitalist exploitation and on whom they want to impose a second house – will tomorrow, in the struggle against this abomination, want to turn his back upon anarchism and stretch out his hand for a rifle. To counterpose the slogan of the arming the workers to the reality of the political processes which grip the masses at their vitals, means to isolate oneself from the masses - and the masses from arms.

The slogan of national self-determination has acquired exceptional significance in Spain today. But this slogan too exists on a democratic plane. What are not concerned, of course, with calling upon the Catalan and the Basques to separate from Spain; but it is out duty to insist on their right to do this should they themselves want it. But how is it to be determined whether or not they want it? Very simply: through universal, equal, direct and secret vote of the districts concerned. There is no other method at present. In the future, national questions, as well as all others, will be decided by Soviets as the organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But we can only lead the workers towards soviets. We cannot force soviets on the workers at any desired moment; still less can we force upon the people the Soviets which the proletariat will create only in the future. In the meantime, it is necessary to answer today’s question. In May, the municipalities of Catalonia found themselves called upon to elect their deputies to elaborate a temporary constitution for the province, that is, to determine its relation to Spain as a whole. Can the Catalan workers have an indifferent attitude to the attempts of the petty bourgeois democracy, subordinated as always to big capital, to decide the fate of the Catalan people with the aid of anti-democratic elections? Without the slogans of political democracy to supplement and concretize it, the slogan of national self-government is a senseless formula, or still worse, it is dust thrown in the eyes.

For a certain time, all the questions of the Spanish revolution will in one way or another be refracted through the prism of parliamentarism. The peasants will wait with the greatest anxiety for what the Cortes will say about the agrarian question. Is it hard to see the significance a Communist agrarian program unfolded from the forum of the Cortes under present conditions? But to do this, it is  necessary to have an agrarian program and gain access to the parliamentary forum. The Cortes will not solve the land question, this we know; that will require the fighting initiative of the peasant masses themselves. But to take such an initiative the masses need a program and a leadership. The communists need the forum of the Cortes as a bond with the masse; and from this bond will develop actions which will submerge the Cortes. Here lies the essence of the revolutionary dialectic with regard to parliament.

Nevertheless, how is it to be explained that the leadership of the Comintern is silent upon this question? Only by the fact that it is a captive of its own past. Too loudly have the Stalinists rejected the slogan of a constituent assembly for China. The Sixth Congress officially condemned the slogans of political democracy for colonial countries as “opportunism”.[10] The example of Spain, a country incomparably more advanced than China and India, reveals all the inconsistency of the decisions of the Sixth Congress. But the Stalinists are bound hand and foot. Not daring to call for a boycott of parliamentarism, they simply pass over it in silence. Let the revolution perish, but long live the leaders’ reputation for infallibility! [4]

What kind of a revolution Is ahead in Spain?

The theoretical article quoted above, which seems to have been especially written to muddle the brain, after attempting to determine the class character of the Spanish revolution, continues literally: “Taking all this into consideration [!] it would, however, [!] be incorrect to characterize the Spanish revolution at the present stage as a socialist revolution.” (Pravda, May 10, 1931.) This sentence alone sums up the analysis. Are there people in the world, the reader must ask himself, capable of thinking that the Spanish revolution “at the present stage” can be characterized as socialist, without taking the risk of landing in an insane asylum? Where then did Pravda get the idea that this sort of “outline” was necessary, and moreover in such a mild and reserved form: “Taking all this into consideration, it would, however, be incorrect...”?

This is explained by the fact that the epigones, to their misfortune, read in Lenin's writings the phrase about the “growing over” of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. Not understanding Lenin, forgetting or distorting the experiences of the Russian revolution, they make the concept of “growing over” a basis for the grossest opportunist meanderings. It is not – let us say it outright – a matter of academic subtleties, but of a life-and-death question for the proletarian revolution. 

Only very recently, the epigones expected that the dictatorship of the Kuomintang [1*] would “grow over” into the workers’ and peasants’ dictatorship, and the latter into a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. In this connection they imagined - Stalin developed this theme with particular profundity – that on one flank of the revolution, the “rightist elements” would gradually split away, while on the other flank the “leftist elements” would grow stronger; this is what the organic process of “growing over” was supposed to consist of. Unfortunately, the magnificent theory of Stalin-Martinov is entirely contrary to the class theory of Marx. [11]

The character of the social régime, and consequently also the character of every revolution, is determined by the character of the class that holds the power in its hands. The power can pass from the hands of one class into the hands of another only through a revolutionary overthrow, and not by any means through an organic “growing over”. This basic truth the epigones have trampled under foot – first for China and now for Spain. And we see the learned wizards of Pravda who cover their heads with skull caps, put the thermometer under Zamora’s tongue, and debate: Can we or can we not acknowledge that the process of “growing over” has brought the Spanish revolution over into the socialist stage? And these sages – let us give their wisdom its due – come to the conclusion: No, so far we cannot.

Having presented such a valuable sociological survey, Pravda enters into the sphere of prognosis and directives. “In Spain,” it says, “the socialist revolution cannot be an immediate task of the day. The most immediate task [!] is the workers’ and peasants’ revolution against the landowners and the bourgeoisie.” (Pravda, May 10, 1931.) That the socialist revolution is not an “immediate task of the day” in Spain is indisputable. Yet it would have been much better and more accurate to say that the armed uprising with the aim of the seizure of power by the proletariat is not an “immediate task of the day” in Spain. Why? Because the dispersed vanguard of the proletariat does not as yet lead the class behind it, and the class does not lead behind it the oppressed masses of the village. Under such conditions, a struggle for power would be adventurism. 

But under these circumstances, what is the meaning of the additional phrase: “the most immediate task is the workers’ and peasants’ revolution against the landowners and the bourgeoisie”? Does it mean that in between the present bourgeois republican régime and the dictatorship of the proletariat, there looms before us a distinct “workers’ and peasant’ revolution”? And furthermore, does it mean that this distinct intermediary “workers’ and peasants’” revolution, as distinguished from the socialist revolution, is an “immediate task” in Spain? Does it mean that on today’s agenda stands a new overthrow? By means of an armed uprising or by some other means? In precisely what way will the workers’ and peasants’ revolution “against the landowners and the bourgeoisie” be distinguished from the proletarian revolution? What combination of class forces will lie at its foundation? What party will lead the first revolution in contrast to the second? Wherein lie the differences in the programs and methods of these two revolutions? 

We would seek in vain for an answer to these questions. The blurring and confusion of thought is covered up by the word “growing over”; in spite of all the contradictory reservations, these people dream of a process of evolutionary transition from a bourgeois into a socialist revolution, through a series of organic stages, figuring under different pseudonyms: Kuomintang, “democratic dictatorship”, “workers’ and peasants’ revolution”, “people’s revolution” – and what is more, the decisive moment in this process when one class wrests the power from another is unnoticeably dissolved.

The Ppoblem of the permanent revolution [12]

To be sure the proletarian revolution is at the same time a peasant revolution; but under contemporary circumstances, a peasant revolution without a proletarian revolution is impossible. We can say to the peasant quite correctly that our aim is to create a workers’ and peasants’ republic just as, after the October Revolution, we called the government of the proletarian dictatorship in Russia a “workers’ and peasants’ government”. But we do not counterpose the workers’ and peasants’ revolution to the proletarian; on the contrary, we consider them identical. This is the only correct way of putting the question.

Here we once more touch the very heart of the problem of the so-called “permanent revolution”. In the struggle against this theory, the epigones have come to a complete break with the class point of view. After the experience of the “bloc of the four classes” in China, it is true, they became more careful. But because of this their confusion has only grown, and they now strain all their strength to confuse others.

Fortunately, however, events have now lifted the question out of the sphere of the "Red professors" whose specialist is philosophizing over old texts. It is not a matter of historical reminiscences, nor of picking out quotations, but of a new, magnificent historical experience unfolding before the eyes of all. Here two viewpoints have been brought face to face on the field of revolutionary struggle. Events will speak the last word. To slip out from under their control is impossible. The Spanish Communist who does not give timely consideration to the essence of the questions connected with the struggle against “Trotskyism’ will stand theoretically disarmed before the fundamental questions of the Spanish revolution.

What is the “growing-over” of the revolution?

Yes, Lenin in 1905 advanced the hypothetical formula: “bourgeois democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. If there ever existed a country where an independent democratic agrarian revolution preceding the seizure of power by the proletariat might have been expected, this country was Russia, where the agrarian problem dominated the whole of national life, where revolutionary peasant movements existed for decades, where an independent revolutionary agrarian party existed with a great tradition and a widespread influence among the masses. 

However, even in Russia there proved to be no place for the intermediary revolution between the bourgeois and the proletarian. In April 1917, Lenin repeated and repeated for the benefit of Stalin, Kamenev, and others who were clinging to the old Bolshevik formula of 1905: There is not and there cannot be a “democratic dictatorship” other than the dictatorship of Miliukov-Tseretelli-Chernov. [13] The democratic dictatorship by its very nature, is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. Only the dictatorship of the proletariat can take the place of such a “democratic dictatorship”. Whoever invents intermediary, middle-of-the-road formula is either a wretched visionary or a charlatan. This is the conclusion Lenin drew from the living experience of the February and October revolutions. We stand entirely on the ground of these experiences and these conclusions.

Nevertheless, what does Lenin’s “growing-over” of the democratic into a socialist revolution signify under such conditions? Nothing of the kind dreamed of by the epigones and the wind bags like the Red professors. 

The fact is that the dictatorship of the proletariat does not at all coincide mechanically with the conception of the socialist revolution. The seizure of power by the working class occurs in definite national surroundings, in a definite period, for the solution of definite tasks. In backward nations, such immediate tasks are of a democratic character: the national liberation from imperialist subjugation and the agrarian revolution, as in China; the agrarian revolution and the liberation of the oppressed nationalities, as in Russia. We see the same thing at present in Spain, even though in a different combination. Lenin even said that the proletariat in Russia came to power in October 1917 primarily as an agent of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The victorious proletariat began with the solution of the democratic tasks, and only gradually, by the logic of its rule, did it take up the socialist tasks; it took up seriously the collectivization of agriculture only in the twelfth year of its power. This is precisely why Lenin called the growing-over of the democratic revolution into the socialist.

It is not the bourgeois power that grows over into a workers’ and peasants’ and then into a proletarian power; no, the power of one class does not "grow over" from the power of another class, but is torn from it with rifle in hand. But after the working class has seized power, the democratic tasks of the proletarian régime inevitably grow over into socialist tasks. An evolutionary, organic transition from democracy to socialism is conceivable only under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is Lenin’s central idea. The epigones have disfigured all this, have confused and distorted it, and now they poison the consciousness of the international proletariat with their falsifications.

Two variants: opportunist and adventurist

What is at issue – let us repeal – is not academic subtleties but vital problems of the revolutionary strategy of the proletariat. It is not true that the “workers’ and peasants’ revolution” is on the agenda in Spain. It is not true that a new revolution, that is, an immediate struggle for power, is at present on the agenda in Spain in general. No; the question on the agenda is the struggle for the masses, for their liberation from republican illusions and from faith in the Socialists, for their revolutionary consolidation. This second revolution will come, but it will be the revolution of the proletariat leading behind it the poor peasants. Between a bourgeois regime and the dictatorship of the proletariat, there will be no room for any sort of distinct “workers’ and peasants’ revolution”. To count on such a revolution and to adapt one’s policy to it, is to foist a Kuomintang on the proletariat, and to ruin the revolution.

The confusionist formulations of Pravda open two roads that have also been followed to the end in China: the opportunist and the adventurist. If Pravda today does not yet dare to “characterize” the Spanish revolution as a workers’ and peasants’ revolution, then who knows if we will not be confronted with it tomorrow when Zamora–Chiang Kai-Shek will be replaced by a true true Wang Chin Wei, let us say a left Lerroux. [2*] [14] Will not then the wise diagnosticians – Martinov, Kuusinen and the associates – decide that this is the workers’ and peasants’ republic, that should be “supported conditionally" (the formula of Stalin in March 1917), or "supported completely" (the formula of the same Stalin towards the Kuomintang in 1925-1927)?

But there is also an adventurist possibility which is perhaps more suited to the centrist moods today. The Pravda editorial speaks about the fact that the Spanish masses “are also beginning to direct their blows against the government”. But can the Spanish Communist Party advance the slogan of the overthrow of this government as a task of the day? In its learned investigations, Pravda says, as we are already aware, that the immediate task is the workers’ and peasants’ revolution. If we are to understand this “stage” not in the sense of “growing over” but in the sense of the overthrow of the power, then the adventurist variant becomes completely clear. The weak Communist Party may say to itself in Madrid, as it said to itself (or as it was commanded to say) in December 1927 in Canton: “We have not yet  ready, of course, for the proletarian dictatorship; but as it is an intermediary stage, a workers’ and peasants’ dictatorship, then let us attempt even with our weak forces to stage an uprising – perhaps something will come of it.” It is really not difficult to foresee that after the criminal neglect of the first year of the Spanish revolution has been revealed, the ones guilty for the loss of time will start to whip up their agents with a cat-o’-nine-tails and may lead them into a tragic adventure in the style of Canton.

The perspectives of “July days”

How real is this danger? It is quite real. It is rooted in the inner conditions of the revolution itself, which add an ominous character to the omissions and confusion of the leaders. The possibility of a new mass explosion is contained in the present Spanish situation, which corresponds more or less to the battles of 1917 in Petrograd, which have passed into history as the “July days”, which did not result in the crushing of the revolution only thanks to the correctness of the Bolshevik policy.[15] It is necessary to pause on this question which is a burning one for Spain.

We come across a prototype of the “July days” in all the old revolutions too, beginning with the Great French Revolution, with varying, but as a general rule unfavorable, and often catastrophic outcomes. Such a stage is built into the mechanism of a bourgeois revolution insofar as the class which sacrifices most for its success and places the  most hope in it receives from it least of all. 

The regularity of the process is quite clear. 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 impulsion from below in order to settle matters with the people. Such is the social and the psychological basis for that supplementary semi-revolution which more than once in history became the provocation for a victorious counter-revolution.

In 1848, the “July days” in France fell in June and assumed an immeasurably more magnificent and tragic character than in Petrograd in 1917. The so-called June days of the Parisian proletariat grew out of the February revolution. The Parisian workers, with the February rifles in their hands, could not but react to the contradiction between the pompous program and the sorry reality, an unbearable contrast, which struck at their stomach and hearts every day. Without a plan, without a program, without a leadership, the June days of 1848 were like a powerful and ungovernable reflex of the proletariat. The insurgent workers were mercilessly crushed. Thus, the democrats paved the way for Bonapartism.[16] 

The gigantic conflagration of the Paris Commune stood in the same relation to the September revolution of 1870 as the June days  did to the February revolution of 1848. [17] The March uprising of the Parisian proletariat was least of all a matter of strategic calculation. It rose out of a tragic combination of circumstances, supplemented by one of those provocations for which the French bourgeoisie is so inventive, when fear spurs on its malice. In the Paris Commune, the reflected protest of the proletariat against the deceit of the bourgeois revolution rose to the level of a proletarian revolution for the first time, but it rose only to fall again.

At present, the bloodless, peaceful, glorious revolution in Spain (this list of adjectives is always the same) is preparing its own “June days” before our very eyes, if we take the calendar of France, or “July days”, according to the Russian calendar. The Madrid government, soaked with phrases which often appear to be translations from the Russian language, promises strong measures against unemployment and land-hunger, but it does not dare to touch a single one of the social ulcers. The coalition Socialists help the republicans to sabotage the tasks of the revolution. The head of Catalonia, which is the most industrial and revolutionary part of Spain, preaches a millenial kingdom without oppressed nations and oppressed classes, but at the same time he does not dare to lift a finger in order really to help the people cast off even part of the most hated of the old chains. Macia hides behind the Madrid government, [18] which in turn hides behind the constituent assembly, as if life was waiting on this assembly! As if it is not clear in advance that the coming Cortes will only he an enlarged replica of the republican-socialist bloc, which is primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo. 

Is it hard to foresee the feverish mounting of the workers and peasants rebelliousness? The discordance between the progress of the mass revolution and the policy of the new ruling classes – that is the source of that irreconcilable conflict which, in its future development, will either bury the first revolution - the April one - or produce a second one.

If the Bolshevik party had been obstinate in evaluating the July movement in Petrograd as “untimely” and had turned its back upon the masses, the uprising, such as it was, would inevitably have fallen under the dispersed and discordant leadership of anarchists, adventurists, the incidental figures of the revolt of the masses, and would have exhausted itself in hopeless, bloody convulsions. But also on the other hand, if the party, standing at the head of the movement, had given up its overall evaluation of the situation and had allowed itself to be swept into decisive battles, the uprising would undoubtedly have assumed an audacious scope; the workers and soldiers under the leadership of the Bolsheviks would have conquered power temporarily in Petrograd in July, only in order to set the stage for the crushing of the revolution afterwards. Only the correct leadership of the Bolshevik party avoided both variants of fatal danger: the spirit of the June days of 1848 and the spirit of the Paris Commune of 1871. The blow dealt to the masses and the party in July 1917 was very heavy. But it was not a 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.

Precisely from the viewpoint of the “July days”, the fiction of the “intermediary”, middle-of-the-road revolution which is supposed to be next in order in Spain, constitutes a terrific danger.

The struggle for the masses and the workers’ juntas

It is the duty of the Left Opposition to uncover and expose mercilessly, and once and for all, to discredit in the minds of the proletarian vanguard the formula of a separate “workers’ and peasants’ revolution” distinct from the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions. Do not believe in it, Communists of Spain! It is an illusion and deception. It is a diabolical snare which will be transformed tomorrow into a noose around your neck. Do not believe in it, advanced workers of Spain! Study the lessons of the Russian revolution and the lessons of the defeats of the epigones. 

A perspective of struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat is opening up before you. To accomplish this task, you must consolidate around you the working class and arouse the millions of village poor to the aid of the workers. This is a gigantic task. Upon you, the Spanish communists, lies a vast revolutionary responsibility. Do not close your eyes to your weakness; do not by seduced by illusions. The revolution does not believe in words. It tests everything, and what is more it tests it in blood. Only the dictatorship of the proletariat can overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie. There is not, there will not be, and there cannot be any intermediary revolution more “simple”, more “economical”, more adapted to your forces. History will not invent for you any transitional dictatorship, a dictatorship of a second order, a dictatorship at a discount. Whoever speaks to you about it, is deceiving you. Make your preparations for the dictatorship of the proletariat, prepare seriously, stubbornly, tirelessly!

However, the immediate task of the Spanish communists is not the struggle for power, but the struggle for the masses, and furthermore, this struggle will develop in the next period on the basis of the bourgeois republic and to a great degree under the slogans of democracy. The creation of workers’ Juntas [3*] is undoubtedly the principle task of the day. But it is absurd to counterpose the slogans of the Junta to democratic slogans. The struggle against the privileges of the church, the abuses of the monastic orders and monasteries – a purely democratic struggle – produced a mass explosion in May that created favorable conditions for the election of workers’ deputies; unfortunately those conditions were allowed to slip away.  

At the present stage, Juntas are the organizational forms for the united proletarian front – for strikes, for the expulsion of the Jesuits, for participation in the elections to the Cortes, to establish contact with the soldiers, as well as to provide support to the peasant movement. Only through Juntas embracing the basic core of the proletariat can the Communists assure their hegemony in the proletariat, and thus also in the revolution. Only to the extent that the influence of the communists grows among the working class will the Juntas be transformed into organs of struggle for power. At one of the later stages – we do not yet know when – the Juntas, as organs of the power of the proletariat, will find themselves opposed to the democratic institutions of the bourgeoisie. Only then will the last hour of bourgeois democracy have struck.

Every time the masses are involved into straggle, they invariably feel – and cannot help but feel – an acute need for an authoritative organization rising above the parties, factions, sects, and capable of uniting all the workers for joint action. This is the form that the Juntas elected by the workers must take. It is necessary to know how to put forward this slogan to the masses on appropriate occasions – and such occasions arise now at every step. But to counterpose the slogan of soviets as organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the realities of the present struggle means to convert the slogan of soviets into a supra-historical divinity, into a super-revolutionary icon, which individual saints may worship but which the masses will never follow.

The problems of the tempo of the Spanish revolution

But is there still time left to apply correct tactics? Isn’t it too late? Haven’t all the opportunities been missed?

It is extremely important to determine the exact tempo with which the revolution is developing - if not to determine the basic strategic line then at least to determine the tactics. For without correct tactics, the best strategy may lead to ruin. Of course, to guess the tempo far in advance is impossible. The tempo has to be examined in the course of the struggle, making use of the most varied indicators. Moreover, in the course of events the tempo may change very abruptly. But we must nevertheless keep before our eyes a definite perspective in order to introduce the necessary correctives into it in the process of experience.

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 general rehearsal. All the elements of the second and the third revolution were prepared beforehand, so that the forces participating in the struggle moved as if according to a 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 Party, the pre-Bolshevik period of the revolution might have lasted not eight months, but perhaps a year or two or more.

These general considerations have an unmistakable significance for determining the possible tempo of development of the events in Spain. The present generation of Spaniards has known no revolution, has gone through no “general rehearsal” in the past. The Communist party went into the events in an extremely weak condition. Spain is not carrying on any foreign war; the Spanish peasants are not concentrated by the millions in the barracks and trenches, and are not in immediate danger of extermination. All these circumstances compel us to expect a slower development of events and consequently permit us to hope for a lengthier period in which to prepare the party for the seizure of power.

But there are factors which pull in the opposite direction and may provoke premature attempts at a decisive battle that are equivalent to a 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; finally, the false orientation of the Comintern opens the gates to explosions of adventurism.

The conclusion from these historical analogies is clear: the situation in Spain (where there is not recent revolutionary traditions, no strong party, no foreign war) leads to a condition in which the normal birth of the dictatorship of the proletariat will, from all indications, prove to be delayed for a considerably longer period than in Russia and therefore there are circumstances that strengthen to an extraordinary degree the danger of a miscarriage of the revolution.

The weakness of Spanish communism, which is the result of a wrong official policy, makes it extremely susceptible to the most dangerous conclusions from the wrong directives. A weakling does not like to look his weakness in the eye, he is afraid of being late, he is nervous and runs ahead. The Spanish Communists may be particularly afraid of the Cortes.

In Russia, the Constituent Assembly, which was repeatedly postponed by the bourgeoisie, was convened only after the decisive encounter and was liquidated without any difficulties. The Spanish constituent Cortes is being convened at an earlier stage in the development of the revolution. The communists in the Cortes will be a negligible minority, assuming that they get into it at all. From here it is not far to the thought: try to overthrow the Cortes as quickly as possible, utilizing some kind of a spontaneous attack of the masses. Such an adventure will not only fail to solve the problem of power, it will also throw the revolution back for a long time, and in all probability will break its back. The proletariat will be able to wrench the power out of the hands of the bourgeoisie only if the majority of the workers strive passionately towards it and if the majority of the oppressed people have confidence in the proletariat.

Precisely on the question of the parliamentary institutions of the revolution, the Spanish comrades should refer not so much to the Russian experience as to the experience of the Great French revolution. The dictatorship of the Jacobins was preceded by three parliaments. Upon these three steps, the masses mounted to the dictatorship of the Jacobins. It is ridiculous to think - as the Madrid republicans and Socialists do - that the Cortes will really put a stop to the revolution. No, it can only give a new impetus to the development of the revolution, assuring it at the same time a more regular evolution. Such a perspective is extremely important for an orientation in the course of events, for a remedy for nervousness and adventurism.

Of course this does not mean that the communists act as a brake upon the revolution. It means still less that the communists separate themselves from the movement and from the upsurges of the masses of town and village. Such a policy would ruin the party, which is still confronted with gaining the confidence of the revolutionary masses. Only because the Bolsheviks led all the battles of the workers and soldiers were they in a position to hold the masses back from a catastrophe in July.

If the objective conditions and the treachery of the bourgeoisie were to force the proletariat into a decisive battle under unfavorable conditions, the Communists, or course, would take their place in the front ranks of the fighters. A revolutionary party will always prefer to subject itself to a defeat together with its masses, rather than to stand aside, occupying itself with moralizing, and leaving the workers without leadership under the bayonets of the bourgeoisie. A party beaten in battle will root itself deeply in the hearts of the masses and will sooner or later take revenge. But a party that has deserted the class at the moment of danger will never come to life again. However, the Spanish communists are by no means confronted with such a tragic dilemma. On the contrary, there is every reason to calculate that the disgraceful policy of the Socialists in power and the sorry bewilderment of the anarcho-syndicalists will push the workers further towards communism. and that the party – providing it has a correct policy – will have sufficient time to prepare itself and to lead the proletariat to victory.

For the unity of the communist ranks!

One of the most malicious crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy is the systematic splitting of the weak Communist ranks in Spain, a split which did not result from the events of the Spanish revolution but was injected in advance in the form of directives, issuing from the struggle for existence of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The revolution always creates in the proletariat a powerful attraction to the Left wing. In 1917, all the currents and groups that were near in spirit to Bolshevism fused with it, even though they had fought against it in the past. Not only did the party grow rapidly; it also lived an extremely stormy internal life. From April to October, and later in the years of the civil war, the struggle of tendencies and groupings in the Bolshevik party attained an extraordinary acuteness at certain moments. But we do not see any splits. We do not even see individual expulsions.

The mighty pressure of the masses welds the party together. The internal struggle trains the party and makes its own road clear to it. In this struggle, all the members of the party gain a deep confidence in the correctness of the policy of the party and in the revolutionary reliability of the leadership. Only such a conviction in the rank-and-file Bolshevik, won through experience and ideological struggle, gives the leadership the chance to lead the whole party into the battle at the necessary moment. And only a deep confidence of the party itself in the correctness of its policy inspires the working class masses with confidence in the party. Artificial splits forced from outside; the absence of a free and honest ideological struggle; the branding of friends as enemies; the creation of myths serving to split the communist ranks – this is what now paralyzes the Spanish Communist Party. It must wrench itself out of the bureaucratic grip that condemns it to impotence. The communist ranks must be assembled on the basis of open, honest discussion. A unity conference of the Spanish Communist Party must be prepared.

The situation is complicated by the fact that not only the official Stalinist bureaucracy in Spain, small in numbers and weak, but also the Opposition organizations formally outside of the Comintern – the Catalonian Federation, the Madrid autonomous group [5] [19] have no clear program of action, and what is worse yet, are to a considerable extent contaminated with the prejudices that the epigones of Bolshevism have sowed so generously for the last eight years. On the question of the “workers’ and peasants’” revolution and the “democratic dictatorship” and even the “workers’ and peasants’ party”, the Catalonian Oppositionists do not possess the necessary clarity. This doubles the danger. The struggle for the restoration of the unity of the Communist ranks must be combined with the struggle against the ideological decay and falsifications of Stalinism.

This is the task of the Left Opposition. But here too the truth must be stated: the Left Opposition has barely approached the solution of these tasks. The fact that the Spanish comrades adhering to the Left Opposition have not as yet established their own press is an inexcusable waste of time and the revolution will not leave it unpunished. [6] We know under what difficult conditions our co-thinkers find themselves: unremitting police persecution under Primo de Rivera, under Berenguer, and under Zamora. Comrade Lacroix, for instance, emerges from prison only to return there again. [20] The apparatus of the Comintern, impotent in the matter of revolutionary leadership, shows great ingenuity in the domain of persecution and slander. All this makes our work extremely difficult. Nevertheless, it has to be done. We must assemble the forces of the Left Opposition throughout the country, establish a journal and a bulletin, group together the working class youth, organize groups, and fight the unity of the communist ranks on the basis of a correct Marxian policy.

KADIKOY, May 2, 1931  

[Class Struggle editors note. This version is based on the Trotsky Internet Archive "The Spanish Revolution and the Dangers Threatening it. 
This has been corrected for errors in transcribing against the text that appears in The Spanish Revolution (1931-39) pages 111-134, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973.
The notes of the online version are augmented by the endnotes in the printed text from note 7-20.]

1. The American Stalinists excel all the others. It is difficult to imagine the Herculean pillars of vulgarity and stupidity which officials, who get paid for it and whom nobody controls, are capable of talking themselves into. – L.Trotsky

2. The foreign editor of the central organ of the French Communist Party who was recently sent to report the events in Spain. His correspondence caused considerable resentment among the Spanish readers of the paper because of its falsehoods and misrepresentations – Editor

3. The Left Opposition has no daily press. We are compelled to develop thoughts in private letters which should form the contents of daily articles. In the supplement to this work, we give extracts from such letter-articles in chronological order. – L.Trotsky

4. The Italian group “Prometeo” (the Bordigists) reject revolutionary democratic slogans in general, for all countries and all peoples. This sectarian doctrinarism, which coincides in practise with the position of the Stalinists has nothing in common with the position of the Bolshevik-Leninists. The International Left must reject any shadow of responsibility for such ultra-Leftist infantilism. It is precisely the fresh experiences in Spain which hear witness that in the process of crushing the régime of the Fascist dictatorship in Italy, the slogans of political democracy will undoubtedly play an extremely important rôle. To enter the Spanish or the Italian revolution with the program of “Prometeo” – is tantamount to plunging into water with hands tied behind the hack. Such a swimmer almost runs the risk of drowning. – L.Trotsky

5. The Catalonian-Balearic Federation is an influential group centered in Barcelona and led by such former party leaders as Maurin and Arlandis. While it agrees generally with the theories and practises of the present leadership of the Communist International it diverges from it essentially on questions of organizational and tactical significances in Spain. It defends many confused and false conceptions, but at the present moment it is the most powerful of the Communist groups in Catalonia, and probably in Spain. The independent Communist group of Madrid (“Agrupacion Comunista do Madrid”) represents a relatively strong organization which was expelled from the party for opposition to the bureaucratic methods of the empty shell called the “Executive Committee” of the Communist Party of Spain, and particularly for refusing to follow the directives to split the National Confederation of Labor. While it does not support the platform of the left Opposition, the Madrid group does permit discussion and participation in its ranks of the local adherents to the Opposition. – Editor

6. Since these lines were written, the first issue of the theoretical organ of the Spanish Section of the International Left Opposition, “Comunismo” has appeared in Oviedo, containing a draft of its political platform, its trade union thesis, etc., etc. – Editor
[7] The German Revolution of 1923. The French invasion of the Ruhr in 1923, because Germany had not paid reparations on time, triggered a revolutionary situation that rapidly turned a majority of the German working class toward support of the Communist Party. But the CP leadership vacillated, missed an exceptionally favourable opportunity to conduct a struggle for power, and permitted the German capitalists to recover their balance before the year was ended. The Kremlin's responsibility for this wasted opportunity was one of the factors that led to the formation of the Russian Left Opposition at the and of 1923. 

[8] Gabriel Peri (1902-1941) was the foreign editor of l'Humanite, the French Communist Party newspaper. He was sent to report the events in Spain, but his correspondence caused considerable resentment among the Spanish readers of the paper because of its falsehoods and misrepresentations. He was shot by the Nazis during World War II.

[9] Niceto Alcala Zamora (1877-1949), a large landowner, was the head of the Progressive Party and a liberal Catholic. He was prime minister of the first republican government in April 1931, and president of the republic from June 1931 until May 1936.

[10] The Sixth Congress of the Comintern was held in 1928, after a lapse of four years since the Fifth Congress. It marked the swing of the Stalinists toward ultraleftism and began the departure from the united front policy that had been developed in earlier congresses. 

[11] Alexander Martinov (1865-1935) was an extreme right-wing Menshevik before 1917 and an opponent of the Bolshevik Revolution. He joined Martov's Menshevik-Internationalists in 1917. He joined the CP only in 1923, and became a vocal opponent of Trotskyism. He was chief architect of the theory of the "bloc of four classes" in China, which sought to justify the Stalinist tactic of having the Chinese CP join Chiang Kai-shek's bourgeois Kuomintang on the basis that the Kuomintang was a party of the "progressive" bourgeoisie. This was the forerunner of the Popular Front approach. 

[12] The Marxist theory of permanent revolution elaborated by Trotsky states, among other things, that in order to accomplish and consolidate even bourgeois democratic tasks such as land reform in an underdeveloped country, the revolution must go beyond the limits of a democratic revolution into a socialist one, which sets up a workers' and peasants' government. Such a revolution will therefore not take place in "stages" (first stage of capitalist development to be followed at some time in the future by a socialist revolution), but will be continuous or "permanent", passing immediately to a post-capitalist stage. For a full exposition of the theory, see The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, by Leon Trotsky (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1969). 

[13] Leon Kamenev (1883-1936) was an Old Bolshevik. In 1923 he helped Stalin initiate the crusade against Trotskyism, but in 1926 he blocked with the Left Opposition until being expelled from the party in 1932. He repented again, but was a victim of the first big Moscow show trial and was executed. 
Pavel Miliukov (1859-1943), a leader of the Cadets (Constitutional Democrats), was minister of foreign affairs in the Russian Provisional Government, March-May 1917, and an outstanding enemy of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Iraklii Tseretelli (1882-1959), a Menshevik leader who supported the war, held ministerial positions March-August 1917; he was an opponent of the Bolsheviks. 
Victor Chernov (1876-1952) was a founder and leader of the Russian Social Revolutionaries. He participated in the Zimmerwald conference, served as minister of agriculture in the Kerensky government, and opposed the Bolshevik Revolution. 

[14] Wang Ching-wei (1884-1944) was a government leader in the industrial area of Wuhan in China. Wang was as disappointing as Chiang in the role of revolutionist that the Comintern had assigned to him; his program, like Chiang's went no further than the preservation of the Chinese bourgeoisie at all costs. Only six weeks after Chiang's coup at Shanghai, Wang attacked the workers in Wuhan. Thus the allies of Stalin drowned the Chinese revolution in blood. 
Alejandro Lerroux Garcia (1864-1949) was the leader of the Spanish Radical Party. He was premier from 1933 to 1936. 
Ottomar W. Kuusinen (1881-1964) was a Finnish Social Democrat who fled to Moscow after the collapse of the Finnish revolution in April 1918. He became a Stalinist functionary in the Comintern. 

[15] The July Days of 1917 in Petrograd broke out without any direction and led to bloody encounters. The Bolsheviks were declared responsible, their leaders arrested, and their papers shut down. 

[16] Bonapartism is a Marxist term describing a dictatorship or a regime with certain features of a dictatorship during a period when class rule is not secure; it is based on the military, police, and state bureaucracy, rather than on parliamentary parties or a mass movement. 

[17] The February revolution of 1848 in France overthrew Louis Phillipe. The liberal bourgeoisie and the workers won the struggle against the monarchy, big financiers, and industrialists, and the second republic was proclaimed. 

[18] Colonel Francisco Macia y Llusa (1859-1933) was the leader of the Catalan Esquerra, the party of the Barcelona lower middle class. 

[19] The Madrid autonomous group was a strong organization in 1931 that had been expelled from the CP for opposition to the bureaucratic methods of the CP's  executive committee, and particularly for refusing to follow the directives to split the CNT. While it did not support the platform of the Left Opposition, the Madrid group did permit discussion and participation in its ranks of the local adherents of the Opposition. 

[20] Henry Lacroix was a pseudonym of Francisco Garcia Lavid, one of the first leaders of the Spanish Left Opposition while it was in exile in Belgium. He was arrested in Spain in June 1930 and released after the fall of the monarchy. He became secretary-general of the Spanish Opposition at is second conference in June 1931, and as its chief leader was arrested several times during this period. After November 1932, he broke with Nin and published a bulletin maintaining that Trotsky had been correct in his criticisms of the Spanish Left Opposition. In 1933 he was expelled from the Spanish section for "misappropriation of funds"; he joined the Socialist Party, later leading a division in the civil war. In January 1939 he was recognized as a former Trotskyist by some officers of the Stalinist "Lister" division, and was arrested and hanged by them only a few dozen yards from the French border.

Footnotes  1*. Kuomintang or KMT (Nationalist Party). 2*. Radical minister in the Zamora cabinet. 3*. Councils.

Friday, August 26, 2011

After the collapse of the Gaddafi regime: Where now for the Libyan Revolution?

Resolution of the Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB), 24.8.2011,, e-mail:

1. According to many media reports the Gaddafi regime is about to collapse. This is great news for the rebelling working people in Libya and the whole Arab world and also for the international working class movement. As the RKOB has repeatedly stated the Gaddafi regime was in no way socialist or anti-imperialist. It was a state-capitalist, bourgeois-bonapartist regime based on the fortunes of huge oil reserves and the exploitation of nearly 700.000 migrant workers (close to a half of the total work force!). In the last years the Gaddafi regime has closely collaborated with European imperialism in stopping people from migrating via the Mediterranean Sea to the EU. It also started to privatise its companies and sell them to imperialist capital.

2. We restate our assessment that the uprising and the civil war in Libya was and is part of the Arab Revolution. This was clear from the whole history of the uprising which started as part of the revolutionary wave in spring 2011. This was also obvious from Gaddafi’s repeated expressions of condemnation toward the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and his solidarity with the fallen dictators Ben Ali and Mubarak. The final stage of the civil war was marked by the popular revolt in the working-class districts in Tripoli which is why the rebels coming from Western Libya met only little resistance. This once more demonstrates how empty the regime's claims about its popular support were. The popular masses did not raise a single finger to defend the dictatorship but instead supported the revolution.

3. Imperialist NATO undoubtedly played a role in finishing off the Gaddafi regime. Indeed they did everything possible to derail the revolution and to bring it under their control. This is why they have built close relations with the leadership of the rebels in Benghazi. However this was not of decisive importance and did not determine the character of revolution against Gaddafi. The lack of modern weapons, the militia character of the rebels, and their lack of coordination (indeed NATO was surprised about the sudden fall of Tripoli) all make a mockery of the claims by some Western socialists that the rebels were not part of a popular revolution but rather stooges of a CIA-conspiracy against Gaddafi.

4. However after the successful and welcome overthrow of the Gaddafi dictatorship it is necessary to repeat our warning about the dangers for the Libyan revolution. These dangers come from the bourgeois leadership around the Transitional National Council (TNC) which is prepared to serve the imperialists as their marionette government. This is why the RKOB spoke about the process of bourgeoisification of the rebel movement and the danger of counter-revolution within the revolution. This danger becomes now particularly urgent.

5. Indeed the main danger now is that the victory of the Libyan popular masses will be snatched away from them and that they become politically expropriated by the imperialist powers and their stooges in the TNC. The Bolshevik-Communists therefore consider the following demands and tactics as essential for the working and oppressed masses in Libya to defend their interest:

  • Build councils of actions in all enterprises, urban districts and villages! Elect delegates to form a workers and peasant government based on these councils! Down with the TNC!
  • Don’t dissolve the militias but rather transform them into a national army under the control of the councils! Smash the remaining elements of the regimes military and security apparatus!
  • No to any privatisation of the oil industry! For the nationalisation under workers control of the central sectors of the industry, the financial sector and the service industry!
  • Expropriate the foreign multinational assets! The Western government must give back the assets of the Gaddafi regime to the Libyan people!
  • No to any NATO military and advisors in Libya!
  • For an election of a revolutionary Constitutional Assembly!
  • For full citizenship rights for the migrant workers! Equal wages for equal work!
  • Equal rights for all national minorities like the Berber and the Tuareg and Tebu people! Down with Arab chauvinism against them! No discrimination of their languages! For their right of national self-determination including the right to have their own state
  • A central task of the works movement in Europe is to fight against the racist policy of immigration control. They must demand from the EU governments to open the borders for all refugees from Libya and North Africa! 

6. The victory of the Libyan Revolution over the Gaddafi dictatorship must be used for a new push for the Arab Revolution – in particular in Syria where the masses are struggling against the repressive apparatus of the Assad regime. The only road forward is the strategy of the permanent revolution!

7. However the permanent revolution will not succeed if a revolutionary party, as part of the Fifth Workers International, is not built in the coming period. Because only such a party – composed of dedicated fighters for socialist revolution and based on a revolutionary program – can lead the masses to victory against the imperialist powers, the local ruling class and their various liberal and reformist lackeys. The RKOB is dedicated to this task.

For a workers and peasant government in Libya!

Victory to the Arab Revolution!

For a socialist federation of North Africa and the Middle East!

As a background for the RKOB’s analysis of the Libyan civil war we refer readers to excerpts of our recently published book on the Arab Revolution:

The Intervention of the imperialist powers in Libya, the struggle of the masses against Gaddafi's dictatorship and the tactics of revolutionary communists

Friday, August 19, 2011

The August uprising of the poor and nationally and racially oppressed in Britain: What would a revolutionary organisation have done?

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB), 18.8.2011
The uprising of the poor, of the black and migrant people in Britain between the 6th and the 10th of August was a “historic moment” in the country’s history as the black civil right activist Darcus Howe and a number of other people have accurately put it. It was a “historic moment” which ended up in defeat. Why? Because the existing leadership of the workers movement and the oppressed communities betrayed the struggle, left it alone and in most cases denounced it. The most urgent task in the coming period is to build a new revolutionary party which can give future uprisings a perspective to win and to build a socialist society.
Our organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB), has explained its analysis and perspectives for the uprising in the statement from 10th of August (These are not "riots" – this is an uprising of the poor in the cities of Britain! The strategic task: From the uprising to the revolution!, ) Based in Austria, the RKOB sent a delegation to Britain to follow the events on the ground, get involved with the activists and get a better understanding of the situation and the tasks following from it. Given the complete failure of the left in Britain to intervene in the uprising and to take a revolutionary position we will elaborate in this statement concretely what in our opinion a revolutionary organisation should have done in this situation.
1.                   This uprising is often wrongly characterised only as “riots”. This makes it easier for the Tory government and the bureaucrats in the workers movement to criminalise this uprising, to declare that looting was its main focus. A revolutionary organisation in Britain would have said from the beginning that this uprising is in its essence a spontaneous rebellion of the lower strata of the working class and of the racially and nationally oppressed minorities against the police repression and the poverty of the capitalist system. It would have declared that these so called “riots” are in essence a form of class struggle. Of course a form of class struggle with all its weaknesses, its raw and unorganised features, but a form of justified and progressive class struggle nevertheless. It would have explained that while certainly criminal acts happened in the context of the uprising this was in no way its essential character. It would therefore have sharply denounced all those non-revolutionary forces who associate this uprising with the “lumpenproletariat”, who slander it as “cancer” (e.g. IMT/Socialist Appeal), who “is appalled at the current rioting” and reject the uprising as “only damaging for the communities in which working-class people live” (CWI/Socialist Party) or who are vague about the motivation of this uprising (“Some are motivated by hatred of the police and rage at this society – others by the promise of raiding local shops for goods – some by both.”, LFI/Workers Power)
2.                   Recognising the character of the uprising as a form of class struggle of the lower and oppressed strata of the working class, a revolutionary organisation would have immediately after the beginning of this spontaneous rebellion issued a public call to support and join the uprising. It would have criticised all those reformist and centrist forces which restrict themselves to merely explain why the poor and oppressed take the streets, to explain why this is understandable or who only call for abstract solidarity without raising a finger for practical participation and support for the uprising. A revolutionary organisation would have worked on the basis of the Marxist approach of the founder of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky, when he explained the abyss which divides Bolshevism and centrism (taking the example of the German centrist Ledebour) in their attitude to the struggle of the oppressed:
"Nevertheless, Ledebour’s position even on this question does not leave the precincts of centrism. Ledebour demands that a battle be waged against colonial oppression; he is ready to vote in parliament against colonial credits; he is ready to take upon himself a fearless defense of the victims of a crushed colonial insurrection. But Ledebour will not participate in preparing a colonial insurrection. Such work he considers putschism, adventurism, Bolshevism. And therein is the whole gist of the matter.
What characterizes Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude toward oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognizing their “right” to self-determination and to parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of this right. Bolshevism penetrates into the midst of the oppressed nations; it raises them up against their oppressors; it ties up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat in capitalist countries; it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Hindus, or Arabs in the art of insurrection and it assumes full responsibility for this work in the face of civilized executioners. Here only does Bolshevism begin, that is, revolutionary Marxism in action. Everything that does not step over this boundary remains centrism" (Leon Trotsky: What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, 1932)
3.                   As a consequence a revolutionary organisation would not have only called to join the uprising but would have mobilised its members and supporters as much as possible to actually go to the areas of the struggle (Tottenham, Brixton etc.) and to play an active role in the resistance against the police. It would have denounced all those who speak only about solidarity in words but in practise don’t join the class struggle as it is - typical for centrist cowards and windbags. At the same time it would also have sent its supporters to other working class areas not yet affected by the uprising to call for solidarity, to counter the bourgeois lies against the riots etc. It would have sent delegations to trade unions, to the various organisations of the workers movement to urge them to join the struggle, to organise solidarity actions etc. – in short to call for a united front campaign.
4.                   A revolutionary organisation would have intervened by disseminating revolutionary ideas to help raise the activist’s consciousness from spontaneous outrage and hatred against the system to a political class consciousness. For this it would have distributed leaflet and made agitation and propaganda for the central tasks. Revolutionaries would not have called only for the “right of self-defence” but would have called for building organised workers and oppressed self-defence units now. It would have called for the organisations of the labour movement to come and help build these self-defence organisations. It would have called for councils of action, i.e. mass assemblies in the communities, to discuss the most urgent tasks and elect delegates to coordinate and build a movement of the workers and oppressed. It would have called for spreading the struggle nation-wide by calling the workers movement to join and link the struggle against the police repression and poverty with the movement against the cuts. The perspective would have been a general strike against the cuts, against racism and for the overthrow of the Tory government.
5.                   A revolutionary organisation would have tried to organise the resistance to drive out the police and to stop acts of vandalism. It would have explained that looting is no solution. It would have argued that the task of workers and oppressed self-defence units is to prevent acts of vandalism, of looting small shops etc.
6.                   A revolutionary organisation would have issued public appeals for the organisation and the activists of the workers movement to come to Tottenham, Brixton, Birmingham etc and to help organising the struggle. It would have applied the united front tactic to spread the struggle, to organise solidarity, to call for the defence against the police repression.
7.                   A revolutionary organisation would have called to spread the struggle and to link it with the perspective of struggle against cuts etc and for a general strike. Not at some time later when the bureaucrats might be ready to prepare and build another of their impotent one-day actions but in the concrete situation of the uprising. To call for a link with the struggle against the cuts not at the same time while the riots take place but one, two or three months later (as the IST/SWP, CWI/SP, IMT/SA, LFI/WP etc. did) is a schematic, passive, non-revolutionary approach to an explosive situation of class struggle. It is a refusal to understand the revolutionary dynamic of the class struggle and the call for the activist of the uprising to subordinate to the plans of the labour bureaucrats and their one-day actions.
8.                   Today after the defeat of the uprising two things are urgent. First, to organise a broad defence campaign against the police repression. Secondly, to draw the lessons, to spread these lessons amongst the activists and to organise the most militant and politically conscious amongst lower strata of the proletariat, the migrants and the black community in a revolutionary, Bolshevik force.
9.                   Organising a broad defence campaign means to call for a united front of the organisations of the labour movement and the migrant and black communities. Demands must be raised for an independent inquiry of the police murder of Mark Duggan by the workers movement and the migrant and black communities. Release of all those arrested in connection with the uprising, no criminal prosecution, no cuts in the social and communal services! Down with the “stop and search” operations of the police! Build for an indefinite general strike against the cuts, against police repression and to bring down the Tory government! The police and state forces will not behave better in the future – build workers and oppressed self-defence units! For a working class government based on councils of action of the workers, black and migrant communities!
10.               At the same time it is essential to understand the central lessons of the uprising and to spread them. The most important lesson is to recognise the huge crisis of leadership of the working class and the oppressed. The uprising of the poor, the black and the migrant people was completely spontaneous and lacked the involvement of any organised structures. It was unorganised because the organised workers movement and the established community leaders betrayed the struggle. They betrayed it by refusing any participation and in most cases even denounced the uprising. The trade union leadership calls only for limited and belated one-day actions. The reformist and centrist left adapted to the bureaucracy and didn’t participate itself in the uprising. It prefers to leave the poor and oppressed alone instead of acting alone and independent of the bureaucracy in the uprising.
11.               Understanding the lessons of the August uprising means also to recognise the isolation of the British left and labour movement from the poor and the nationally and racially oppressed. This is not an unexpected situation but the expression of the many decades long isolation of workers movement and the left from these masses of the middle and lower strata of the proletariat. Unfortunately their structures and influential forces are dominated by the middle class and the labour aristocracy. The ignorance of the uprising by this reformist and centrist left is therefore not an accident but the result of their aristocratism. It is now high time to understand the danger of this and the need to overcome this as soon as possible. One step to overcome this was to join the ranks of the struggle of the oppressed. But who has done this? Building the revolutionary organisation in Britain in the coming period is impossible without learning these lessons and recognising the historic failure of the reformist and centrist left in the past.
12.               A small revolutionary organisation would most likely not have made a difference to the outcome of the uprising. An organisation of one, two or five dozen activists is under normal circumstances too small to decide the fate of an uprising of the masses. But it could have made a major step in gaining experience, spreading revolutionary ideas and organising activists from the oppressed communities and also made steps in building roots in the community. It is highly urgent to correct the mistakes of the past and build a truly revolutionary, Bolshevik organisation in Britain now. The Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB) wants to collaborate with all those who share such an outlook.
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