Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Reform and Revolution - the P.O.U.M.

I've been re-reading this book lately, I remember at the time being really eager to track it down, only to be disappointed while reading it. On a second reading I'm a bit more charitable and grateful to its strengths but still can't shake the feeling completely. A placeholder title for this was `Confused and Weak` because that was the main impressions I got from my first reading.

I believe that this account is the POUM at their best and at their worst.

The problem with the P.O.U.M.

The problem with coming to terms with the POUM and its legacy is that thanks to its brutal repression by the Spanish Republic, partisan attacks by the Communist Party of Spain (CPE) and the decades of additional suppression during the Franco years is that we're left essentially with a passing interest from Spanish Civil War historians and the surviving members of the party most of whom wrote their reflections while in exile or shortly after the restoration of democracy in Spain. This book was originally written by Victor Alba in 1973 but Schwartz the translator updated it somewhat in the late 1980s.

On the positive side many of the authors were present for many of the events they describe and so are full of information, but a series negative is that honestly a lot of them don't seem particularly interested in properly analysing their own groups impact and strategy. For another example Wilebaldo Solano the last leader of the POUM from 1947-80

It completely glosses over the major issues it had after legalisation and that the party collapsed for good in 1980. Solano ends the piece giving the impression that the party was still functioning after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This book also has a similar issue, though the narrative ends during the Spanish Civil War. But if the POUM are gone and the sources so polarised why bother? Well aside from personal interest, I have noticed renewed interest in the POUM, unfortunately a lot of it isn't very useful. It comes in two flavours, the positive, but that usually just contents itself to repeat old propaganda slogans from the POUM newspaper and congratulate it on exaggerated achievements. The other worryingly is attempting to resuscitate the old lies about the POUM being a bunch Trotskyists in league with the Fascists and the Gestapo. Thank fully I've encountered this one very rarely, but given that its no longer the 1930s and even the Soviet Union and the Communist movement attached to it moved away from the absurd lies this line should be extinct.

Both obscure and exploit the POUM for their own ends, and given what happened to them this rubs me the wrong way.

I'm not going to waste time looking for an example of the latter, but the preface of the book will give an example of what the former wants.

While there had always been some Marxists in Spain, there exists historically only one party that not only analyzed the reality of the country in the light of Marxism, but which tried to apply Marxism to the formulation of its political line. This was the Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification, better known from its initials as the P.O.U.M. Another of its aspects makes this party special: it has been the only dissident, anti-Stalinist Communist movement, so far, not to remain a tiny grouping of intellectuals and students; The P.O.U.M. came to be a party of the worker masses and was, in reality, originally more powerful than the official Communist party from which the founders of the P.O.U.M. derived. The history of how this party was organized—beginning within the ranks of the anarchosyndicalist National Labor Confederation (CNT), then passing through the Third (Communist) International, and finishing with an attempt at its physical elimination from the scene by representatives of the same Third International—is an especially instructive episode in the history of the labor movement, in Spain and worldwide. The P.O.U.M. arrived early at an understanding of the true character of Stalinism—and this cost the lives of many of its militants, as well as obscuring its interpretation of Spanish social reality, which continues to be the most adequate, even with the coming of later changes. The history of the P.O.U.M., then, proves that it is possible to cease being a "groupuscule" and swim against the political stream without for that reason losing influence, although probably not without running risks. It is, then, a living lesson for an epoch in which it seems everyone fears distancing
Essentially they're looking for an idol they can point to without the usual criticisms of them being written off because they're tiny, or all talk, or guilty of sectarian violence. For a self declared Leninist (whatever that means) on a surface reading the POUM are very attractive. Even though it was dwarfed by others most modern left wing groups would kill for the POUMs pre 1936 membership and can only dream of achieving its peak. And instead of being just another talking shop the POUM and its ancestors managed to build a functional trade union organisation and an education movement of sorts, and of course the famous militias. And while they weren't pacifists they managed to resist the temptations to murder fellow travellers or starve farmers by stealing grain, the victims of the their violence were unsympathetic reactionaries. They even have a martyr figure in Andreu Nin, for propaganda purposes there's a lot worse material out there.

Unfortunately I'm not interested in propaganda, and if you read even aggressively pro POUM sources like this account you encounter a lot of baggage and issues.

Some Strengths 

I think its just briefly worth mentioning some of the strengths of Alba's work, and I'm going to be referring to this book as Alba's throughout, I know Schwartz added a lot of material, but aside from the final chapter which is on foreign volunteers and the parts that refer to Alba in the third person it honestly isn't clear at all which parts of the texts were from Alba or Schwartz.

A common misconception about the POUM is that it was a Trotskyist party, this book does an excellent job of disputing that reputation, it argues quite convincingly that really the POUM was essentially a continuation of the B.O.C. the Workers and Peasants Bloc which I'm going to refer to as the Bloc from now on. The Bloc is often considered a Bukharin influenced party though interestingly the book barely mentions Bukharin and then only in a brief sketch of the political trajectory of Andreu Nin who was from the Trotskyist (at fist) Left Communists of Spain part of the merger. In addition the book contains a lot of information about the destructive and hostile attitude of Trotsky in regards to Spain and the Fourth International that he was setting up at the time. If your interested in a rebuttal to Trotskyism its a solid argument though it is spread across several chapters.

 In March 1932, Nin was elected general secretary of the O.C.E., which changed its name to the Spanish Communist Left (Izquierda Comunista Espanola—I.C.E.). Relations between Trotsky and Nin grew cooler and were aggravated by differences over personalities within the "International Secretariat" of the Trotskyist movement. In August 1933, Trotsky, in a letter to all the sections of the Opposition, criticized the Spanish section and spoke of "the falseness and danger of the politics of Comrade Nin," In September 1934, "Comunismo," in an editorial, informed its readers that the I.C.E. had broken with the international Trotskyist organization, because it had refused to accept the new tactic, put forward by Trotsky, of entering the Socialist parties (known as the "French turn," because it was inspired by the situation in France at that moment.) But although Nin and the I.C.E., in 1934, were to favor just such a unification with the Bloc, resulting in the organization of the P.O.U.M., and, indeed, called for "Marxist unity" to extend to the Socialists, with whom the I.C.E. and Bloc united in the Workers' Alliances, they resisted carrying out a "turn" in an artificial way. Had Nin been accepted into the Bloc in 1931, he would have had to defend the successive changes of line of the Trotskyists within the ranks of the Bloc, producing divisions and, necessarily, eventual expulsions. 

It also goes into detail about the relationship between the USSR and the Spanish Republic. Its quite well known that the Soviet Union supplied military assistance to the republic, and its also common knowledge that the Soviet Union took advantage of this leverage, using arms shipments to get privileges and gold, and the access its advisers received to build up operations against groups like the POUM and the CNT union. But the details are often obscured, this account explain how a number of their shadier operations were carried out.

In addition it also contained some interesting information on the French border and the actions of France and its own Popular Front, which had succeeded in coming to power.

From time to time, a shipment of arms would arrive. They had been bought secretly in France by the P.O.U.M. and likewise secretly transported, with the help of some socialists in the French customs service. To pay for these arms, the P.O.U.M. used money obtained in the requisitions of the July days. Since the Paris brokers paid a higher rate for the fascist Burgos peseta than for republican money, rubber stamps were made up and the money was stamped as if it had come from Burgos, rather than Madrid, boosting the amount of money available for arms purchases.
My bolding

It also contains a lot of information about the POUM and earlier Blocs enmeshing with Catalan nationalism, the party had been pushing for several years for independence for Catalunya, it had built close links with the Catalan republican movement, and published most of its material in the Catalan language until 1936 when it finally moved to try and build links in the rest of Spain. This is the first time I've come across material that deals with this in any detail, at best the other sources I've read just give a passing mention to petits bourgeois Catalonians in the membership.


I've read this book twice, and I stand by my belief that its the most thorough and comprehensive look at the POUM and its origins in English. But, if you were to ask me what is Spanish Marxism, I wouldn't be able to offer an answer beyond "what the POUM/Bloc said and sometimes what they did, unless there was a rift between the two". Because that is apparently the criteria used by Alba and Schwartz never challenges or develops it.

The title is a bit misleading, there isn't much ink written about ideas here, much of the intellectual discussion is done via criticism of other groups (clearly incorrect) ideas, while the Bloc and POUMs views are just stated or briefly quoted from speeches or newspapers and then framed as being completely correct, and then it moves on.

But what's very bizzare is that the text is also full of examples of the Bloc/POUM effectively going against its own lines. Sometimes you just have to turn the page to see that the party is actively undermining its own positions.

From beginning to end their are ample examples of this, but I think this quotation lays it out most plainly.
The Bloc offered no hopes for the impatiently ambitious. It held positions that were anything but simple: it was Communist, but outside the Communist International; revolutionary and worker-based, but defending at that moment the necessity of a bourgeois democratic revolution in favor of the Republic, while working to avoid illusions among the people about it; Marxist, and, therefore, an adversary of anarchism, but working within the ranks of the C.N.T. internationalist, but defending the right of nationalities to self-determination. It demanded discipline in a country where it was "every man for himself; and individual initiative and activism in a country where heretofore political parties had concentrated on the personalities of leaders ("personalismo").

This is the closest we get to some awareness of the issue, and honestly it reads as just an attempt to spin double talk. They're committed Marxist Internationalists, but the same chapters go into detail about how the Bloc built extensive links with the Catalan nationalist movement and how in 1934 they urged the in Albas words pettits-bourgeois politicians to declare a republic in Catalunya.

That's just the most egregious example, time and again the text will viciously criticise a rival group for some supposed crime, but if you keep reading its quickly revealed that the Bloc or POUM is actively collaborating with them on the same project at the same time its newspaper is denouncing them. But mysteriously the critical tone has vanished.

This intellectual confusion is not only limited to its propaganda and praxis, it extended to the international subcurrent they mixed with. The Bloc and later POUM were members of the London Bureau, or to give it its official but less common name the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre. This sounds impressive and I've seen more then a few POUM sympathisers point to this organisation and its official title for rhetorical purposes, but it loses a lot of its shine once you take a closer look.

The London Bureau is also sometimes referred to as the 31/2 International, because it mainly consisted of parties that were nominally communist but usually had split from or had lost a factional fight with a much larger party. Many of them were political refugees from the Moscow dominated Third International or the Social Democratic Second International. And at least one member the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party under Sneevliet moved to the London Bureau after a break with Trotsky.

As far as Marxism goes the London Bureau was a bit of a mess, parties and personalities involved in it ranged from dissident Social Democrats like the Norwegian Labour party, isolated Trotskyists, the Bukharin influenced, council communists, others closer to the Italian left, and left wing parliamentarians. Add to that pacifists and at least one Marxist-Zionist faction of the Poale Zion movement.

In addition to odd bed fellows the international was fundamentally unstable, if you find a list of members you'll find a lot of those members either dropped out early, dissolved, merged or were re-founded. Alba states that not only was the POUM the largest member party from 1936, but despite fighting a vicious war the POUM was still able to contribute much more material support to the Bureau then any other member.

Apart from POUM the most prominent member of the Bureau was the Independent Labour Party from the United Kingdom. The ILP had just left the Labour party, its support for POUM in the Civil war was how its most famous foreign volunteer Eric Blair (George Orwell) arrived in the country.

Speaking of which here's a brief list of some of those supporters

August saw the arrival of the first among a legion of foreigners whose participation in the struggle of the P.O.U.M., further examined in Chapter 7 of this work, would, through the power of the pen that many of the foreign volunteers used with skill, record for non-Iberians the truth of the party's role and program. Because the P.O.U.M. was a member of the London Bureau, members of other parties affiliated with the bureau naturally flocked to the party, some as journalists, others as political leaders, to express their solidarity, and still others to fight. These last were especially useful because many of them had served in the First World War, and had a better knowledge of the use of arms than the militiamen. The Hotel Falcon, where they were billeted, was a Babel An Italian Trotskyist, Nicola de Bartolomeo, known as Fosco, in Spain since May 1936 and a participant in the July fighting, was charged by the P.O.U.M. with handling the party's relationship with antifascist refugees. A dissident member of the Italian extreme-left Bordighist movement, Enrico Russo, soon became a militia chief. Pavel Thalmann, a Swiss former Comintern functionary, had also come soon after July, following his companion Clara Ensner, came before hoping to compete as a swimmer in the Barcelona antifascist Olympics held as a counter to the 1936 Berlin games. Others included a Hungarian comrade of Bela Kun in that country's short-lived 1919 revolution,
Its quite an eclectic mix.

I bring all this up to make a point, the Bloc and the POUM said a lot about the need for a vigorous Marxist education, but aside from their specific action programs which often tended to alliances and reforms they don't really seem to know themselves what that is. The closest they come to a definition is either just a statement of what the party is doing, or much more commonly what it is not. Marxism for the Bloc and POUM is simply

  • Not Anarchism
  • Not the Comintern
  • Definitely not the CPE
  • Not Trotsky
  • Not the other rival Communist groups*
*With one or two exceptions like Andreu Nin and any others who would be willing to take out a membership.

Its quite disorientating.

Sour Grapes

I said in the earlier section that the Bloc and the POUM often had a bit of an issue with double standards. Well Alba does have an explanation for why this is the case in some areas. A phrase that pops up a lot in the narrative is "Swimming against the stream" this is usually brought up to explain why the Bloc/POUM seem to be disregarding their own criticisms and work in their own words for reformism.

The argument goes in stages.

  1. The Bloc/POUM is correct
  2. However the Bloc/POUM is too small to make everyone go along with it
  3. And the other groups are too blinkered by their own prejudices to listen
  4. So in order to maintain its links with the masses the Bloc/POUM had to join in
In general I find an acknowledgement of a groups physical strength and ability and its limitations to be refreshing. I've grown sick of small grouplets publishing pompous pamphlets "demanding" this or boasting about leading the masses. But the issue here is that at no point in the text does Alba show the Bloc/POUM putting up much resistance. They criticise the other groups for reformism, and half measures and then turn a page and they've immediately fallen into line alongside them. 

Here's just one example of this 

This presented a problem for the P.O.U.M. Was it necessary to enter the People's, or Left Front? The party would have preferred a workers' front candidacy to that of unity between labor and the Republicans, because it believed it could win the majority and lead to a workers' government For this reason, on November 4 it addressed a letter to the workers' parties proposing the formation of a workers' electoral front. There was no response. The masses, agitated by the continued imprisonment of 30,000 militants arrested because of the insurrectionary events of October 1934, reacted sentimentally and not politically; the feeling was that all should unite to free the 30,000, without considering the consequences of repealing the experience of 1931. On the other hand, to remain outside the People's Front would mean to swim against the stream to no profit, to lose the possibility of gaining a parliamentary tribune, to remain without contact with the masses, and to accept isolation.
(Bolding is mine)

The POUM thought the Popular Front was a compromise, advocated a more radical alternative, and then ditched that call when it found no support and because it feared losing its influence and a parliamentary seat it quickly moved to join the Popular Front anyway. This was in 1935 before the military conflict had started, so a form of pragmatic survival instinct didn't apply.

This also touches on another common misconception about the POUM. Its common to talk about the Popular Front or Left Front as it was called in Catalunya and the POUM as being separate and antagonistic. But until the May days fighting in 1937 this wasn't really accurate.

 "Our party has agreed to enter the Generalitat because it has not wanted to go against the stream in this extremely grave moment and because it considers that the socialist revolution can be pushed ahead through the Generalitat."

The Popular Front started out as an electoral coalition and the POUM were early supporters of it. The CPE despised the POUM and had done since back when the Bloc was founded but other partners like the Socialist party and the Republicans of Catalunya had a more productive relationship with the POUM until 1937 when the CPE's domination of the police and army made that unsafe.

There's also a strong theme of bitterness in this book over the fate of their Trade Union organisation the Workers Federation of Trade Union Unity (FOUS).

The P.O.U.M. unions and those of the former U.S.C. fused in a Union of Peasant Trade Unions (Unio de Sindicats Camperols), which joined the U.G.T. and from whose leadership the P.S.U.C. members quickly eliminated the poumistes. The P.O.U.M., in this way, also lost its base among the peasantry.
I understand that this was a blow and it strengthened a very active and hostile rival, but bizarrely Alba blames this on the Anarchists in the CNT.

 Thanks to the sectarian attitude of the anarchists, the P.S.U.C. had won the battle. And the EO.U.S. adopted the only possible decision in such circumstances: it ordered its unions to join the U.G.T., since, labeled as Marxists, they would not be allowed into the C.N.T. Thus,' the EO.U.S. unions found themselves, for the moment, led locally by the P.O.U.M., but under the overall control of a Catalan leadership in communist hands. Little by little, the local P.O.U.M. leaders were eliminated through bureaucratic maneuvers.
But at no point is there any explanation for why the  POUM suddenly decided to let the CNT dictate what they did with their own organisations? Why did the POUM dissolve the FOUS at all? The decision to join the UGT occurred in response to a law pushed by the Generalitat saying that peasants must belong to a rural Union. That law was supported by the POUM delegates on the Generalitat, and it did not specify which union. If they couldn't join the CNT and the FOUS was the dominant union in several areas why could they not maintain them as independent unions? The Catalan Republicans had a much smaller agricultural union and they kept that one functioning.

To maintain its influence, the Unio de Rabassaires set up the Federation of Agricultural Trade Unions of Catalunya (Federacio de Sindicats Agricoles de Catalunya).
So, what exactly was stopping them? And I find it astonishing that this is being portrayed as sectarianism or that the CNT branded the FOUS as Marxist. This book and nearly every account by a surviving Poumista makes clear that was their own identification, they very rarely use the word communist to refer to themselves and reserve it for their enemies.

The closest we get to an explanation is this passage with a footnote

Little by little, the local P.O.U.M. leaders were eliminated through bureaucratic maneuvers. The P.O.U.M. found itself, then, two months after the beginning of the revolution, without a base in the unions. The party had undergone a disastrous repetition of the experience at the beginning of the year, which had convinced the P.O.U.M. to set up its own union federation: that of the impossibility of acting within the C.N.T. thanks to anarchist sectarianism.10
But that footnote is just listed as "conversation between Victor Alba and Pere Bonet a former assistant General Secretary of the FOUS. We don't even get a quotation to explain how the CNT managed to take control of the POUMs own trade union affiliate and dictate what they did with it. I'm trying to be open minded but this looks a lot like the POUM made a terrible mistake and Alba and possibly Pere Bonet are trying to make excuses for that mistake.
This isn't the only time Alba and Schwartz make some strange accusations about the CNT without bothering to substantiate them.

Vague Terminology

One key lamentation of the surviving Poumistas is that the CNT did not "seize power" and this accusation has been repeated ever since by the small number of modern day sympathisers. What always annoys me is that there is never any explanation about what this means. We don't get an answer here either, like the POUMs views on Marxism the working class seizure of power is defined at best by what it isn't.

Alba when he describes the events of 1936 describes a situation where the economy and the military functions in Catalunya are controlled by the collectives and a committee of militias of which the CNT dominated in numbers. So what function of the state is left to be conquered? The closest we get to an answer is that the Generalitat still had access to credit

 For a month, the C.N.T. decided everything in this field, but by asking for credit from the Generalitat for the enterprises whose owners had left them without funds. This gave the Generalitat the power to influence the future of the collectivizations.
Now having to rely on credit does show one of the limitations of the collectivisation process in Barcelona. But I don't think this is a smoking gun, because the credit came from the overall republic so even if the CNT had taken over the Generalitat if the pace of the economic revolution remained the same they would still require credit from the Spanish government. Or alternatively had to finance their collectives through monopolisation of trade in its Mediterranean ports, which was a proposal they debated, but given the hostile even the Soviet Union and the Popular Front governed France, the two most "friendly" international powers were to the Spanish revolution I don't see how that would have been sustainable.

And either option would've brought them directly into immediate conflict with the republic as well as the rebelling army. Its tempting with hindsight to say that yes the CNT/FAI and POUM and the left Socialists in Catalunya should have done that and struck against the Communist party's regional organisation the PSUC immediately, but that's just projecting wishes backwards into time.

There is also another issue, the explanation for why the POUM didn't try to seize power and build "the dictatorship of the proletariat" is that they were too weak, and had to go along with the rest and hope they could convince the CNT to change its mind. But the book also states that there was several parts of the country where the POUM were the dominant group in the area, so why did they not seize power there? Not only would this secure power bases for the POUM it would provide examples of the benefits of their programs and show what they actually meant.

It can't have been a desire to maintain tactical and territorial unity, the POUM were all for the CNT seizing Catalunya regardless of the potential reaction from Madrid, so why the hesitation in Lleida or Tarragona?

But the ranks of the P.O.U.M. did not resign themselves to this situation. They were the main force in some places and they could see coming a time when they would find themselves converted into a minority in every town hall. The C.N.T., by contrast, accepted the change because it gave them a strength in the towns that they had never had outside the city of Barcelona. The poumistes in Lleida, the majority force in the province, protested to the party executive. They had already been warned that if the P.O.U.M. entered the Generalitat they would have to accept such measures; indeed, such measures would have had to be accepted whether the P.O.U.M. was in the government or not.
Instead the POUM leadership compromised even when the local POUM organisations seem to be a bit more committed.

 Nin accepted responsibility for settling the situation in Lleida and went there with a government commission to convince the Lleida P.O.U.M. to accept the decree. They received the delegation weapons in hand, but when they found Nin among the group, they accepted party discipline and agreed to the division of power. This was, unquestionably, a low point for the party.

Given the negative outlook of these passages this might have been a good place to analyse the role of the POUM in a more serious manner, but after this the section ends and the next one is back to talking about other POUM activities.

Essentially Alba lays the blame for the defeat of the revolution on other organisations not putting the POUMs program into action for them. But he and Schwartz can't even say what that program was, and even they have to admit that the POUM didn't make any attempts on their own and just like in 1935 openly collaborated with a group they were calling a mistake and a compromise.

If I sound a bit too harsh here I do agree with the assessment that the decisions by the revolutionary groups the CNT, POUM left wing socialists etc, to work with the Generalitat and the Popular Front, was a mistake, it held back the potential for economic and social restructuring, and allowed the reactionary Soviet Union and CPE to build up their own forces and attack from behind.

But the frustrating thing I have with the line of the surviving Poumistas that gets echoed by some  modern Leninists, is that the POUM failed to practice what they preached and no one can actually articulate what the revolutionary groups should of done instead. What does it mean to seize power in Catalunya in 1936? What even is this fabled dictatorship of the proletariat if the workers and peasants controlling the land and the factories and the police and army being replaced with workers militias isn't it?

Nin is probably the most frustrating example of this vague idolisation in his frequent attempts to argue for a proletarian dictatorship.

The nearly sterile effort to win over the anarchists continued. On March 23, "La Batalla" had published another long article by Nin in which he explained that the dictatorship of the proletariat the P.O.U.M. called for was not like that of the U.S.S.R., which was based on a single party. "We have a system of workers' democracy with parties, unions, publications. For this reason, there are no soviets in Spain. In Russia, there was a tradition neither of democracy, nor of proletarian organization and struggle, things that would make impossible the dictatorship of a single revolutionary organization."
I find this passage really revealing, it shows that Nin and presumably the rest of the POUM leadership didn't know much about how the revolution in the Russian Empire occurred, despite Nin living in the Soviet Union for several years and having direct access to party members who had fought in it.

The Russian revolution of 1917 was not based on a single party, even if you only start looking at it in October/November of 1917. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were at the start part of a loose coalition of forces from various parties, unions and other organisations and tendencies. It wasn't until later when Lenin and the Bolsheviks started consolidating and pushing against their former allies that a single party dictatorship started to form.

But again here we have an explanation of what the POUM thought a proletarian dictatorship was based solely on what it isn't or won't be like.  If this proletarian dictatorship was so vital for the POUM why is it so hard for them to say what would be if they were planning on being involved with it?

Lost Opportunities

There were a couple of areas that were briefly touched on that I wish were expanded upon at least a bit. The first one is numbers, throughout the text Alba refers to the peak membership being around 30-40,000 except for one passage where he says this.

If the number of P.O.U.M. members, which had climbed from 10,000 to 30,000 in the first weeks of July, and had then risen to a possible 70,000 by December, had now fallen back to 40,000, the figure in October 1936, the P.O.U.M. nonetheless remained a force.
It possibly jumped to 70,000 before falling back to the more typical 40,000 in 1936. A nearly 50% fall in membership should be significant in a history of that organisation, but Alba just glosses over it. There's no footnote given for either the high number or the drop either.

And related to the membership number, Alba states that a reason for the membership growth to its 30,000 members level was because of an influx from the petits bourgeoise of Catalunya.
At that moment, the vacillations of the revolutionary leadership in Barcelona had an unexpected effect. The middle class, which sensed the Esquerra would not be able to continue defending its interests, began to believe in the P.O.U.M. as a counterforce to the C.N.T., seeing in the P.O.U.M. a sensible, "respectable" party. A good part of this feeling must have derived, curiously, from the differing language politics of the two revolutionary tendencies: The C.N.T. rejected use of Catalan as a middleclass characteristic, since a great part of the Barcelona proletariat, having emigrated from Andalucia and Murcia, spoke Castilian. But the radical intelligentsia and many workers in Barcelona, as well as the majority of the working class in such areas as Lleida, to whom the P.O.U.M. actively appealed, spoke, read, and wrote Catalan. Whether their motivations, it is more interesting to note that those petty bourgeois who entered the P.O.U.M. at this time, under probational membership, became real poumistes and did not abandon the party when the hour of persecution came. The 10,000 members of the party rose to 30,000 in two weeks.
However Alba maintains that despite this massive influx the POUM remained committed to its proletarian outlook. But what's interesting here is that other organisations that experienced an influx of petty bourgeois members did not.

By saying that "the new government will have a working class majority" (and to accept this one would have to agree that the P.S.U.C. was a workers' party, something very doubtful from an objective point of view) "but with some representatives of the petty bourgeoisie.' 

But the sympathy of the C.N.T. for Nin was sterile; the government of the Generalitat, which was supposed to be proletarian, was, in reality, petty bourgeois. To call the P.S.U.C. a workers' party was only a rhetorical exercise.
 I'm curious how this happened, if the class composition is accurate than it its remarkable that the POUM was able to absorb so many members and keep them committed to workers revolution, but Alba doesn't explore this angle in any depth.


The tone of this has been largely negative, but that is in part because its strengths are difficult to discuss in length, you can only say "it has lots of information" or it "explains itself in a clear manner for the most part" so often. I stand by my belief that its the most comprehensive history of the POUM up to 1937.

But I can't shake my sense of disappointment, I don't think its title reflects its contents, and the self serving nature of it means that large parts of it ring rather hollow, and a reader should engage with it critically.


On my second reading I took a number of notes of passages and pages that I found interesting, and since this is online I have the opportunity to share them.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Coal not Dole - The Miners Videotape Project

During the Miners strike of 1984-85 faced with unrelenting hostility from the government and much of the media the National Union of Mineworkers and members of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) and some other sympathisers started the Miners Videotape Project, to document the strike and raise awareness of events on the picket lines and in the mining communities.


Part 1: Not Just Tea & Sandwiches


Part 2: The Butchery of the Coal Board


Part 3: Solidarity


Part 4: "Straight Talking"


Part 5: The Media and the Miners Strike


Part 6: Just doing their Job? 


Archive links

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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