On the publication of texts from "L'Internationale' on the war in Spain

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The revolutionary milieu in France in the 1930''s was a real microcosm of the revolution­ary currents existing at that time. While Trotskyism was in the process of losing its proletarian character and becoming a real counter-revolutionary force, a few groups clung to class positions during this period. The Italian communist left was the most authentic expression of revolutionary coherence and firm­ness.

The confusion which the group Union Communiste gave into unfortunately meant that it was unable to pass the test of the events in Spain. Born out of confusion, it disappeared in 1939 back into confusion, without making a substant­ial contribution to the proletarian movement.

One of its founders (Chaze), over forty years later, has re-edited a collection of texts from its organ, L'Internationale, and written a preface to it. Unfortunately, by remaining fixated on positions which have become bank­rupt (anarchism, councilism), by slipping into pessimism and bitterness, old proletarian mili­tants often provide a tragic illustration of the gulf between the previous generation of revol­utionaries, exhausted and demoralized by the counter-revolution, and the new generation which has a great difficulty in reappropriat­ing past experience. Let us hope that a critical balance-sheet of the past can stir the flame of proletarians who have not lived through the stifling atmosphere of the counter­revolution.

L'Union Communiste

The war in Spain (1936-39) has provoked a number of studies in recent years, though sadly they are often equivocal and of the academic or ‘memoirs' variety. Often indeed, it is the voice of the ‘Frente Popular', ‘POUmist', ‘Trotskyist' or ‘anarchist', that makes itself heard. All these ‘voices', these multiple ‘visions' come together in chorus to sing the merits of the ‘Frente Popular', the virtues of the collectivizations, or the courage of the ‘anti-fascist fighters'.

The revolutionary voice, by contrast, could only make itself heard faintly. The publi­cation in the ICC's International Review and then in a French paperback edition of texts from Bilan[1] dealing with this period has filled a gap, and has broadcast -- weakly, it's true, -- the voice of the internationalist revolution­aries. The interest in these class positions, defended in total isolation, is a positive sign; little by little, and still too slowly, the grip is loosening of the ideological vice that the world bourgeoisie clamped on the proletariat to annihilate its theoretical and organizational capacity to fight on the only terrain where its real nature can be expressed; that of the world proletarian revolution.

It is, then, with great interest that the small internationalist revolutionary milieu has observed the publication in French of the Chroniques de la Revolution Espagnole, a colle­ction of texts by the Union Communiste, written between 1933 and 1939, one of these texts' main editors was H.Chaze, who republishes them today.

Origins and political itinerary of Union Communiste

Union Communiste was born in 1933. In April of the same year, it had regrouped under the name "Gauche Communiste" the old opposition from the 15th ‘rayon' of Courbevoie and Bagnolet[2], as well as the Treint group (Treint, before being expelled, had been a leader of the French Comm­unist Party), which had broken with the Trotsky­ist Ligue Communiste of Frank and Molinier. In December, 35 expelled members of the Ligue, almost all coming from the "Jewish group", joined with Gauche Communiste in forming Union Communiste.

This group pronounced itself against the form­ation of a 4th international, and against "socialism in one country". Union Communiste (UC) was a revolutionary group, but retained many confusions from its Trotskyist heritage. Not only did it pronounce itself for "the defence of the USSR", but its positions were not clearly distinguishable from the surrounding anti-fascism. In February 1934, it was to call for workers' militias, reproaching the PCF and the SFIO (Socialist Party)[3] for not wanting to set up a "united Front" to beat "fascism". In April 1934, it was pleased to see Marceau Pivert's Gauche Socialiste[4] "taking a revolutionary attitude", pushed "into posing the problem of the revolutionary seizure of power" (L'Internationale, no.5, publication of the UC). In 1935, it was to contact Revolution Proletarienne[5], pacifists, Trotskyists, all "anti-fascists", to advocate a regroupment of these organizations. In 1936, it was to participate, in a consultative capacity, in the creation of a Trotskyist party (Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste).

This goes to show the UC's enormous difficulty in defining itself as a proletarian organization. In the surrounding confusion, which expressed the weight of the counter-revolution, revolutionary militants were reduced to a hand­ful, and their progress towards the clarific­ation of class positions came up against inn­umerable obstacles. In his introduction to Chroniques de la Revolution Espagnole, H.Chaze recognises this, and reviews the past with a critical eye:

"As regards the nature and counter-revolution­ary role of the USSR, we were at least 10 years behind our Dutch comrades (council communists) and the comrades of the German Left."

He adds that this backwardness was to lead some members of the UC to give up:

"...some looking for an audience from Doriot[6] in ‘34-‘35, others because in the UC they couldn't play at ‘number one', still others simply because our rapid evolution frightened them. They left, either on tiptoe, or after a short and friendly discussion. A few years later, almost all these comrades were either in Marceau Pivert's Gauche Socialiste or with the left Stalinists of the group that published Que Faire[7]."

The UC, then, was set up in the greatest polit­ical heterogeneity. It was nonetheless capable -- this is its merit -- of attaching itself pro­gressively to class positions, in rejecting the "defense of the USSR" and the Popular Front, quite rightly defined as a "national front".

Was this clarification really complete? Were the events in Spain, decisive as they were through the massacre of the Spanish prolet­ariat and the preparation of the imperialist war, to lead the UC to break definitively with its past confusions, and to make it a firm aid to revolutionary consciousness?

This is what H.Chaze affirms in his preface:

"After 40 years of Francoism, the Spanish workers have begun to confront the traps of bourgeois democracy in a context of world economic and social crisis....the class struggle cannot be lastingly ensnared... always providing that the workers take account of the lessons of past struggles. It is to help them break the straitjacket they are held in that we publish this chronicle of the 1936-37 revolution."

What kind of "help" is this?

The "teachings" of the "Spanish Revolution" L'Internationale 1936-37

Reading the texts of L'Internationale forces us to the conclusion that they do not help break any straitjackets. L'Internationale like the Trotskyists, thought that the revol­ution had begun in Spain. In October 1936, after the Barcelona workers' 18th July insurr­ection, followed by the insurrection in Madrid, it wrote

"the army, police, and state bureaucracy have been cut to pieces, and the proletar­iat's direct intervention has pulverized the republican remnants. In a few days, the proletariat has created from nothing its militia, its police, its tribunals, and it has laid the foundations of a new economic and social edifice" (no.23).

The UC saw the foundations of the "Spanish revolution" above all in the collectivisations and the formation of base militias.

To support this "revolution", the UC founded, at the end of 1936, a "Committee for the Spanish Revolution" in which Trotskyists and syndic­alists also participated. As H.Chaze reminds us, this included military support, although the UC did not take part formally in the Spanish milit­ias; "Several comrades, who were technicians specializing in arms production and members of the Engineers and Technicians Federation, had asked me to find out from the CNT leaders whether they could be of use. They were ready to leave their jobs in France to go and work in Catalonia".

Here, the UC joined the same chorus as the Trotskyists and the PCF who were demanding arms for Spain. L'Internationale proclaimed that "non-intervention (by the French Popular Front government; our note) means the blockade of the Spanish revolution". Finally, the UC saw the CNT and the POUM as vanguard workers' organizations. The POUM especially, despite its "gross errors" seemed to be "called to play an important part in the international regroup­ment of revolutionaries", provided it rejected "the defense of the USSR". Until its disapp­earance, L'Internationale set itself up as the adviser, first of the POUM, and then of its "left" wing; it saw a revolutionary ferment among the anarchist youth, and congratulated itself on the fact that its paper was being read among young POUMists and anarchists.

All these positions, which we will come back to, were moreover very confused. In the article already quoted, we read that the republican state which has been "pulverized" a paragraph earlier is still alive and kicking: "a lot is left to demolish, for the democratic bourgeoisie is hang­ing on to the last fragments of bourgeois power left to it". Alongside a call for "intervention" in Spain, we read further on "the struggle for a real support for our comrades in Spain in real­ity comes down to the revolutionary struggle against our own bourgeoisie".

Enthusiasm for the "Spanish revolution" was to wane as the days went by. By December 1936, L'Internationale was writing, in its no.24, "The Spanish revolution is in retreat... Imperialist war threatens....the bankruptcy of anarchism faced with the state....the POUM is set on a path which may rapidly lead it to betray the revolution, if it does not radically alter its policies".

In May 1937, the massacre of the Barcelona workers would lead L'Internationale to denounce the treason of the anarchist leaders. It insisted that the counter-revolution had triumphed. It nonetheless continued to see revolutionary possibilities in the POUM's ‘left' wing and in the Friends of Durruti. When war broke out 2 years later, the UC dis­banded.

The counter-revolution in Spain

So what revolution are we talking about?

The only examples that F.Chaze gives are the anarchist collectivisations and the Popular Front "committees" in 1936. Attacking Revolution Internationale, the ICC's publicat­ion in France, he accuses us of speaking only of the counter-revolution, while "denying that there was so much as a revolutionary ferment to provoke this ‘counter-revolution'" , he adds "They affirm that the Spanish proletariat was not organized in ‘councils'". But what then were all these committees born just after the 19th July? In France, the word ‘council' is usually used by the bourgeoisie to describe managerial, juridical and political bodies.

While it is true that 19th July 1936 expressed the Spanish proletariat's revolutionary potential, this was quickly exhausted. It was pre­cisely these committees, often formed at the initiative of anarchists and POUMists that were to line the proletariat up behind the defense of the Republican state. Very rapidly these committees were to enroll the workers in the militias, which took them out of the towns and sent them off to the military front. In this way, the republican bourgeoisie kept its state apparatus practically intact and espec­ially its government, which did not delay in banning strikes and demonstrations in the name of "national unity" for the "defense of the revolution". The Popular Front's openly counter-revolutionary role was to be fully supported by the CNT and the POUM, in which H.Chaze still detects revolutionary virtues 40 years later.

"We know that revolutionaries existed and that they showed themselves, especially during the 1937 May days"

he says in his preface. But the fact that individual revolutionaries remained, and that they took part in the armed struggle against the Republican government in May 1937, should not become a tree hiding in the forest. The in­eradicable lesson of these events is that the policy of POUMists and anarchists led the pro­letariat to the slaughter. It is they who put an end to the general strike in July ‘36; who pushed the workers out of the towns; who supported the "Catalonian Generality"; who made these "committees" into instruments that compelled the workers to "produce first, demand afterwards".

This is the sad result of this ‘revolutionary' policy, whereby the "committees" became instruments of capitalism. Nothing to do with the workers' councils -- real organs of power thrown up by the revolution. It's not just a question of words!

But worst of all in the Union Communiste's pos­ition, which H.Chaze defends to this day, is its call for arms for Spain, the under-estimat­ion, if not the denial of the Spanish war's imperialist nature. H.Chaze still proudly reminds us that his organization put itself at the disposal of the CNT to aid in the fabricat­ion of arms. Doesn't he know that these guns were used to send workers into a massacre? He complains that the Blum government gave no weapons. The USSR did. What were they used for if not to shoot down the Barcelona insurrection­ists in May 1937? Of all this, not a word from H.Chaze. He prefers to hide the counter-revol­utionary nature of these policies by calling them "class solidarity with the struggle of the Spanish workers".

It's painful to see an old militant like H.Chaze hang onto the same illusions as L'Internationale in 1936-39. When, today, he still insists that in the war in Spain, the position of revolutionary defeatism was "madness", he denies the imper­ialist character of this ‘civil war'. "This war is indeed a class war" said L'Internationale in October 1936. H.Chaze repeats it today. And yet the same articles in L'Internationale show clear­ly the war's imperialist nature; "On one side Rosenberg, soviet ambassador in Madrid, is Caballero's ‘eminence grise', on the other Hitler and Mussolini direct the operations.... In the Madrid sky, Russian planes and pilots do battle with German and Italian planes and pilots." (No.24, 5th Dec.1936). This passage, clear as it is, was not enough to clarify the UC (nor H.Chaze today), who wondered "Will the civil war in Spain be transformed into an imperial­ist war?" H.Chaze does not see the transform­ation into imperialist war until after May ‘37, as if this massacre were not the result of the imperialist bloodletting begun in July '36!

"Lies", "Falsification", "Amalgam"?

H.Chaze takes the opportunity offered by the preface to Chroniques de la Revolution Espagnole to settle accounts with Bilan and Communisme, the publications, respectively, of the suppos­edly "Bordigist" Italian and Belgian fractions of the communist left. He says; "A handful of young Belgian Bordigists had, from 1935 and so before publishing Communisme, cheerfully used the practice of lies, the falsification of texts, and amalgams....As regards Spain, they continued to do so in Communisme and were upheld by the leadership of the Italian Bord­igist organization that published Bilan, and often used the same methods, unworthy of revol­utionary militants". And he concludes: "The ‘a priori' position of the Bordigist leadership led them to a monstrous refusal of class solid­arity with the struggle of the Spanish workers." (Preface, p.78).

One looks in vain for any arguments to support such serious accusations. What's certain is that during the war in Spain Bilan and Commun­isme defended internationalist positions with­out any concessions to the prevailing ‘inter­ventionist' atmosphere. They refused to support one or other of the imperialist camps, and untiringly affirmed that only struggle on a "class front" against all bourgeois fractions, including the anarchists and POUMists, could put an end to the massacre on the imperialist "mili­tary front". The "Bordigist" current opposed the only possible internationalist slogan - "make the revolution to turn the imperialist war into civil war" -- to the classic chorus of all traitors to the proletariat "war first, the revolution after­wards". Only the Italian and Belgian left, with the Mexican Marxist Workers' Group[8], firmly defended this position, without concessions, against the tide of resignation and betrayal that carried away even the small communist groups to the left of Trotskyism. Such a position could only leave the Italian and Belgian left communists isolated. They made this choice rather than betray the internat­ional proletariat.

Hidden behind these charges of "falsification", "lies", and "amalgams" is a political intransigence that the Union Communiste group was incapable of adopting. The UC remained in an ill-defined swamp where it tried, for better or worse, to reconcile bourgeois and class positions. This was the reason for the definitive break between the UC and the Italian left who up to then had maintained some links with UC. The "Bordigist" current even thought that the UC had passed to the other side of the barricades during the massacre in Spain[9].

Because it prepared, right from the beginning, the second great imperialist massacre, the war in Spain was a decisive test for all prolet­arian organizations. While the UC did not, like the Trotskyists, pass over to the enemy camp in 1939, its confusions and lack of polit­ical coherence condemned it to disappear with­out leaving the proletariat any real contri­butions.

No doubt H.Chaze thinks he wounds us deeply by representing us as the heirs of the "falsifiers" "our critics of ‘36 have heirs, who rant and rave in their paper Revolution Internationale." We pass over this reduction of the ICC to its section in France -- this is the usual method used to deny our current's international reality. Far from feeling wounded, we can only be flatter­ed to be identified as the "heirs" of the UC's "critics". The Belgian and Italian left commun­ists' heritage, which H.Chaze considers "mons­trous", is one of staunch revolutionary stead­fastness, which allowed them to survive as a proletarian current during the Second World War. What Bilan and Communisme denounced, was precisely the lie of an imperialist war presented to the Spanish workers as a "class war". What they denounced, was the most gigan­tic historical falsification, which dressed up the massacre of workers on military fronts in May 1937 as a "workers' revolution". The worst kind of amalgam was, and still is, to mix up the capitalist and the proletarian terrain when they are mutually exclusive; the proletarian terrain being the destruction of the capitalist state, the capitalist terrain being the prolet­ariat's regimentation in its enemy's cause, in the name of the ‘revolution'.

The lessons of the Communist left are not a dead heritage. Tomorrow, as yesterday, the workers may perfectly well be taken off their class terrain and called to die for their enemy's cause. In a situation as difficult as that of Spain in ‘36, it is decisive to understand -- whatever difficulties the prol­etariat may encounter on a military terrain faced with the advance of capitalist armies -- that these military fronts can only be beaten if the proletariat firmly and resolutely oppo­ses to them its class front. Such a front can be strong only if it stands against the capitalist state and the ‘workers' parties. The proletari­at has no momentary or ‘tactical' alliances to make with them: alone, relying on its own strength, it must do battle with these supposed ‘allies' which seek to paralyze it for the slau­ghter and condemn it to a new May ‘37. The pro­letariat of any given country has no allies other than the worldwide working class.

The road of defeatism or the road of revolution?

H.Chaze explains that he wanted to republish these texts from L'Internationale, to help "break a straitjacket". Sadly, his attempt has the opposite effect. Not only does he not budge an iota from the UC's positions, demonstrating an inability to draw up a serious balance-sheet of the period, but throughout the preface to Chroniques de la  Revolution Espagnole a clearly defeatist tone can be distinguished. While today, a compre­hension of the activity and organization of revolutionaries is fundamental to the prolet­arian struggle, and will be a decisive instr­ument in the maturing of class consciousness, H.Chaze advocates precisely that "libertarian communism" (or socialism) which went so lame­ntably bankrupt in Spain. He rejects any poss­ibility of, or necessity for a proletarian org­anization of revolutionaries, affirming: "the idea of the party (group or groupuscule), the sole bearer of revolutionary ‘truth', contains the seeds of totalitarianism." As for the present period, H.Chaze is the gloomiest of pessimists, saying that he has "few illusions in the international context, hardly any different from what it was in 1936, despite the number of long and bitter wildcat strikes against the policies of one-way austerity of the bosses in the industrialized countries" (...) "the forces of counter-revolution have grown throu­ghout the world." If we are still in a period of counter-revolution, what good will be the "lessons" that H.Chaze wants to give his readers?

H.Chaze is one of those old militants whose imme­nse merit has been to resist the counter-revol­utionary current. But like many who have gone through the blackest period in the history of the workers' movement, tragically impotent, he has been left with an immense bitterness, a disill­usionment in the possibility of a proletarian revolution. H.Chaze's pessimism , the lessons he wants to give, are not our's.[10] Today, the long night of the counter-revolution has been ended for more than ten years. The prol­etariat has appeared once more on the terrain of class struggle. Faced with a capitalism seeking as in the ‘30's to lead it into imper­ialist butchery, its combativity is unbroken it has not been defeated. In spite of the weight of its illusions, which H.Chaze rightly underlines, the proletariat is an immense force which is advancing towards the day when it can stand and proclaim in the face of the capitalist world "I was, I am, I will be".


[1] See: IR nos. 4, 6, 7

La Contre-Revolution en Espagne, UGE 1979, with a preface by Barrot, whose content we criticize in this issue.

Etcetera editions in Barcelona published in 1978, a translation of some of Bilan's texts on Spain: Textos sobre la Revolution Espagnola, 1936-39.

[2] "Rayon": rank-and-file organization of the Parti Communiste Francais.

Courbevoie, Bagnolet: working class suburbs of Paris.

[3] SFIO: "Section Francais de l'Internationale Ouvriere" ie the 2nd International.

[4] Pivert, Marceau: leading member of SFIO, his Gauche socialiste was a loyal opposition within the SFIO.

[5] La Revolution Proletarianne: a revolutionary syndicalist publication.

[6] Doriot: member of the PC from 1920, leader of the Rayon de Saint-Denis: supported United Front against the PC leadership, was expelled in 1934 and ended up forming his own fascist party in 1936.  

[7] Que Faire, run by Ferrat, was a split from the PCF, and a supporter of the "United Front" with the socialist SFIO. After the war, Ferrat joined Leon Blum's party (the SFIO).

[8] See the Texts published in IR's nos. 10, 19, 20.

[9] The Spanish question brought about the break between Bilan and the Belgian "Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes" in 1937. From this latter emerged the Belgian Fraction, which published Communisme up until the war. The attitude to adopt towards the war in Spain was at the bottom of this split. The LCI had basically the same positions as the Union Communiste of H. Chaze and Lasterade.

[10] The collection of L'Internationale's texts prefaced by H. Chase has found enthusiastic admirers in the PIC (Pour une Intervention Communiste), which publishes Jeune Taupe. In Jeune Taupe no. 30 of March 1980, we find this enticing invitation to "read so as not to die an idiot". For some time, JT has made a speciality of re-editing L'Internationale's texts. Unfortunately, the aim is often to oppose the "clearsightedness" of the UC to Bilan, which the PIC rejects as Leninist. Does this mean that the PIC identifies with the UC's position on Spain, in particular its support for the militias, and sees the CNT and the POUM as authentically ‘revolutionary' forces? While we wait for this point to be determined, we can't help noting that the PIC prefers paddling delightedly in modernism or even flirting with the "left socialists" of the review Spartacus - all of them great admirers of the ‘resistance' and the Spanish ‘anti-fascist revolution' - rather than concerning itself with serious revolutionary work. Apparently the PIC, in such a brilliant company, is abandoning a number of class positions, and is doing its utmost to die an idiot. How wretched to see so sad an evolution on the part of a group which only a few years ago showed a greater revolutionary firmness.

Historic events: 

History of the workers' movement: