Bilan 36 The isolation of our fraction in the face of the Spanish events
Basing our work of today on the example of the Bolsheviks after 1914, we are trying in vain to discover those rare, isolated, marxist groupings who, confronted with the war in Spain and the world-wide wave of betrayals and abrupt changes of course, stand firm - those who, despite the activity of that rabid pack of traitors of yesterday and today, continue to proclaim their loyalty to the independent struggle of the proletariat for its own class goals.
How many of them are there? Where are they? The facts of the situation provide us with a laconic and sinister reply. It seems that all have gone under and that we are living in a lamentable epoch of the bankruptcy of the few remaining revolutionary elements.
Our isolation is not fortuitous. It is the consequence of a profound victory by world capitalism which has managed to infect with gangrene even those groups of the communist left whose spokesman up until now was Trotsky. We do not claim that at the present moment we are the only group whose positions have been confirmed by every turn of events, but what we do claim categorically is that, good or bad, our positions have been based on a permanent affirmation of the necessity for the autonomous class activity of the proletariat. And it is on this question that we have seen the bankruptcy of all Trotskyist and semi-Trotskyist groups.
At no price and under no pretext do we want to depart from a principled position in determining the groups with whom we can pursue joint work and with whom we can set up a centre for international liaison with a view to establishing the programmatic foundations of the International which tomorrow’s revolutionary wave will allow us to build. The criterion we use consists of a merciless rejection of those elements who have succumbed to the course of events or who are openly working on the side of the enemy. We must bear in mind that any agreement with opportunists of this kind on a question that the proletariat must approach with brutal intransigence the question of the formation of parties - could cause irreparable harm to the future of the working class.
Even before Hitler assumed power and before Trotsky began his campaign to create a IVth International, the first issue of Bilan laid down the programmatic basis of our break with Trotsky, as a result of his orientation towards a compromise with the left of social democracy on the question of founding new parties. Subsequent events have only served to widen the gulf separating ourselves from Trotsky: which on his side has taken the form of a re-entry tactic into the traitorous parties of the Ilnd International; then leaving these parties to create a type of IVth International composed of brawlers and demagogues who use the name of Trotsky as political capital in order to introduce their rubbish into the revolutionary proletariat. It is impossible to come to any agreement with these people in a situation where, despite the enforced silence of Trotsky, they are participating in the bloody masquerade of intervention in Spain. To do so, what’s more, would be a grave betrayal. We have got to fight against the buffoons of the IVth International, the Navilles and Cies in France, the Lesoil-Dauges in Belgium. When they joined with the traitors in demanding “arms for Spain”, when they jumped on the bandwagon behind the opportunists of the POUM, when they sent young French militants to their death under the pretext of sending military aid to the POUM - then the Trotskyists placed themselves on the other side of the barricade, among the battalions capitalism has dispatched to greet the proletariat with salvoes of fire and steel. We don’t know whether Trotsky - who has to remain silent because he is in prison - will follow his followers in their policies of capitulation and treason. Let us hope that he will not sanction opportunistic politics by disavowing his glorious past of 1917.
We can expect nothing from this utterly bankrupt tendency. From now on events themselves will justify the marxist criticism of these organizations and sweep them away. This is the only way of freeing a number of militants precious to the revolutionary struggle. At the present time the ‘IVth International’ has two important (?) sections - France and Belgium. In the USA the Trotskyists entered the official Socialist Party after fusing with an independent socialist party, and they are still there today. Within the Italian emigration, Blanco and Cie have widened their field of activity to encompass the movement for going off to Spain; they are now talking pompously about an Italian group of the IVth International. But this is all a farce, the kind of farce which the conditions of life in the emigration frequently produce.
Neither in France nor in Belgium do the two Trotskyist parties have anything to do with the life and struggle of the proletariat. They have replaced the search for a programmatic basis for a new party with a faction fight between Naville’s clique and Molinier’s ,clique. When the June wave of strikes broke out in France the new party was formed on the basis of a compromise, wherein adventurism and demagogic positions were dressed up as a programme (armament of the workers, the creation of armed militias, etc). After this, the Molinier clique was liquidated and we had the Spanish events in which (despite Trotsky calling Nin a traitor) the French Trotskyists went full steam behind the POUM.
In Belgium, where the working class character of the Trotskyist groups is much more marked than in France, we saw at Trotsky’s instigation their entry into the Parti Ouvriere Belge (Workers’ Party of Belgium). This was resisted by the Brussels group, not on principle but for ‘tactical’ reasons (in France it was justified, but not in Belgium, etc ....). Within the POB we had the alliance between the orthodox Trotskyists and the ex-left of Minister Spaak, deprived of its old leader, who was replaced by Walter Dauge. The circumstances in which the faction ‘Action Socialiste Revolutionnaire’ (Revolutionary Socialist Action) was expelled are not very edifying: it was over an electoral incident when the POB decided to remove Dauge from its list of candidates unless the latter was prepared to accept certain preconditions which would have finished him as a leftist. After various attempts to come to a deal the split took place, and after the elections there was a campaign for the creation of a revolutionary socialist party, which has recently been founded, taking in the Spartacus group of Brussels. On Spain, they have the same position as in France: arms to Spain, the struggle against neutrality, sending young workers to the battlefields of Spain, etc .... It is thus clear that our differences with the Trotskyist groups over Spain have now become .a gulf, the same gulf which separates those who are struggling for the communist revolution from those who have taken up capitalist ideology.
But already last year at the Congress of our fraction, we expressed our concern about the isolation of the fraction and we looked to see what groups could be approached with a view to joint work. First of all we rejected the proposal of the American group, Class Struggle, who wanted to call an International Conference which would draw up the programme of a New International. Against this we put forward the more serious idea of setting up a centre for liaison with those groups who claim continuity with the IInd Congress of the Communist International, have broken with Trotsky, and see the necessity to make a fundamental critique of the whole experience of the Russian Revolution.
Our proposition didn’t have any outcome and our relations with all other groups remain the same. In Belgium relations with the Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes (International Communist League) are still marked by a mutual desire for discussion and confrontation, and this has been the only place where our fraction has encountered the desire for work in a positive direction. Today the only internationalist voices daring to make themselves heard amid the din of the Spanish debacle are in the Ligue, and it is a real joy for us to be able to publicly salute these comrades, who remain loyal to the basic principles of marxism.
The majority of the comrades of the Ligue1 have profound differences with our fraction, but our co-operation with them, including the project of setting up a liaison centre, is based on the fact that the Ligue like our fraction is evolving on a working class terrain and the programmatic documents of the Ligue do not show any break with this evolution.
As for France, it is time to draw up a balance-sheet summarizing our attempts to come to an agreement with groups of revolutionary militants.
The failure of the group Union Communiste (Communist Alliance) is not accidental. It is a result of the fact that, despite many invitations and warnings from us, they have refused to follow the historic route which will eventually lead to the formation of a proletarian party. A conglomeration of conflicting tendencies, the Union Communiste has always shied away from a strict delineation of its programme. Its political positions are nothing but an eternal compromise between orthodox Trotskyism and a confused attempt to break away from Trotskyism. When the events of June took place, the Union collapsed and a section of its membership went back to the Trotskyist party. At that time we intervened in France in order to push the comrades of the Union to use this latest split as a signal for drawing up a programme. We proposed the organization of meetings at which different communist groupings (including the Union) would confront each other, each one bringing its own specific political contribution, and justifying its existence as a separate group, in order to give some direction to the workers’ movement in France today. Here again, our efforts met with failure because of the inability of any of these groups to make the slightest step forward, because of their desire to give faithful expression to the degeneration of the French proletarian movement rather than reacting against it. The Spanish events sorted things out here as well. Thus we saw the debris of the Union Communiste falling in step with the POUM and more or less defending the positions of the Trotskyist groups. We don’t doubt for a moment that within the Union there are militants who want to remain loyal to internationalism and marxism. But if, in the light of the massacres in the Iberian Peninsula, they are unable to break out of the rut and prepare themselves for a rupture with the past and with the political premises of the Union, they will be lost to the proletarian cause.
We say openly that we were mistaken about the possibility of engaging in a process of clarification with the Union Communiste. The positions which it has more or less put forward on Spain force us to have the same attitude to it as to any other groups that we may encounter.
It would be useful to see what class organizations of the proletariat exist in Spain. On this question we refuse to regard the POUM as anything but a counter-revolutionary obstacle to the development of consciousness in the class.
First we know that the Spanish Trotskyists refused to enter the Socialist Party as Trotsky had asked, but what they did do was jump into the opportunist party of Maurin, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc. It is also fitting to point out the Catalan regionalism of the POUM which it styles ‘marxism’ in the name of the right of the people to self-determination. (Regionalism is the result of this political marriage.) This allowed it to enter the government of the Union Sacree in Catalonia without having to worry about Madrid (just like the CNT). Finally, we should not forget that the POUM is a member of the London Bureau alongside the Independent Labour Party; that it works with the left of the French Socialist Party (Pivert, Collinet and Cie); that it is in close contact with the Italian maximalists of Balabanora and the Brandler group which, while continuing to stand for the reform of the IIIrd International and the defence of the USSR, has decided to give every assistance to the POUM.
The POUM has never really broken with the parties of the Esquerra Catalan with whom, in the name of the united front with the petty bourgeoisie, it has made all kinds of compromises. After 19 July, the POUM was connected to the Generalidad like the other Catalan organizations. It didn’t find it very difficult to move from its confused demand for a Constituent Assembly based on Committees of Workers and Soldiers and for a workers’ government, to participating in the Generalidad which is not exactly a workers’ government.
All the tendencies of the POUM Gorkin (who is the heir of Maurin’s policies), Nin, Andrade - gravitate around the same political axis without having any fundamental differences. They all participated in the strangling of the class response of the Spanish workers by organizing the military columns, and though Andrade attempted to differentiate himself in the POUM’s Madrid publication by using pseudo-marxist phraseology, in reality he still supported the overall policies of the POUM leadership. The Spanish Trotskyists wanted to concretely practice the ‘Leninist’ (?) notion of entering an opportunist party in order to win it over to revolutionary positions.
The result has been the transformation of the leaders of the former communist left into avowed traitors to the proletarian cause. It’s not by chance that Mr. Nin is now Minister of Justice in Catalonia, applying ‘class’ justice under the aegis of Mr Companys. Nin has forgotten his ‘Trotskyist’ interlude in Russia and has gone back to being the clown of the ISR that he was before. As for Andrade’s left faction, it’s also not by chance that it has associated itself with the POUM’s military campaign. And like Nin and Gorkin, it calls us counter-revolutionaries for daring to denounce the monstrous and criminal dupery to which the Spanish workers have fallen victim. The POUM is a field of activity for the class enemy and no revolutionary tendencies can develop within it. Just as the workers who want to rediscover the path of the class struggle must seek a radical transformation of the present situation in Spain, opposing the territorial fronts with their own class front, so the Spanish workers who want to lay the basis for a revolutionary party must first of all break with the POUM, opposing the capitalist terrain on which it is operating with the class terrain of the proletariat. Andrade and company have the function of tying the most advance workers to the counter-revolutionary politics of the POUM. Our task is not to give them credibility by supporting them politically; it is to denounce them with the utmost vigour.
Our fraction has no intention of coming to any agreement with anyone in the POUM (here it must be said that the minority in our fraction has a different position), or giving any support to the so-called Left in the POUM. The fact is that the proletariat of the Iberian Peninsula has still to lay the basic foundations of a marxist nucleus. This is something that can’t be accomplished by means of ‘revolutionary’ manoeuvres with opportunists. The only way to do it is to call upon the workers to act on a class basis, independently of any capitalist interest, outside of and against all the parties who defend the interests of the bourgeoisie, such as the POUM and the FAI, (Iberian Anarchist Federation), who have constructed a firm Union Sacree with the Republican Left and the Popular Front.
Thus we must conclude that in Spain, as in the rest of the world, there is no sign of the kind of historical political evolution the Italian workers underwent through several years of civil war against fascism, an evolution which our fraction, for all its limited resources, has attempted to express. We are profoundly aware of the impossibility of changing this international situation (which is simply the manifestation of a balance of class forces unfavourable to the proletariat) through proposals for creating new Internationals or through alliances with opportunists like the Trotskyists and the POUMists. If the defence of revolutionary marxism today means total isolation, we must accept this and understand that it is an expression of the terrible isolation of the proletariat, betrayed by everyone and cast into oblivion by all the parties who claim to stand for its emancipation. We do not hide the dangers that this situation could represent for our organization, knowing full well that it is not the perfect repository of marxist understanding. Only the social movements of the future, by setting the proletariat back on its class terrain, will give real strength to revolutionary marxism and the organizations which defend it, including our fraction.
(Bilan no.36, October-November 1936)
1 The current represented by comrade Hennaut fights energetically against our positions but has not fallen into a Trotskyist-type interventionism.