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(en) Australia, Rebel Worker Vol. 24 No.1 (187) Feb.- Mar. 2005 Review of "The Spanish Civil War, The Soviet Union and Communism" By Stanley G.Payne

From Rebel Worker <rebel_worker@yahoo.com.au>
Date Thu, 10 Feb 2005 13:19:38 +0100 (CET)

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“The Eclipse of Class Consciousness & Class Analysis in Anti-Capitalist Milieus”
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the associated collapse of the State
Socialist Bloc, witnessed a global capitalist media propaganda campaign
which exploited this demise to deny any alternative to the capitalist
set up with its notion of the “End of History”. Any alternatives to
Capitalism were equated with the bureaucratic regimes of the state
socialist bloc which had collapsed and so discredited as a viable challenge.
It has also seen the displacement of class consciousness and analysis
within much of the anti-capitalist milieus in the Anglo-American world
by the bourgeois ideology of identity politics informed by “Post
Modernist” conceptions which have particularly invaded tertiary
education courses and institutions. The former is particularly divisive
and undermines notions of working class unity and consciousness,
replacing it with various imagined identities and “communities” e.g.
queer, women, black, indigenous, etc, spanning social classes. These
“identities” crystallize on the basis of various myths such as “women’s
oppression”, indigenous genocide, etc, cooked up by various middle
class intellectuals. (See Peter Siegl’s article “Feminism & Class
Struggle” for a good critique of “Identity Politics”, along these
lines on the internet.) Whilst the latter precludes an historical
analysis of the development of the capitalist mode of production and
denies the existence of class struggle. Encouraging the ahistorical and
absurd notion of capitalism existing in some form throughout human history.
Concurrent with this upsurge in the influence of bourgeois ideology has
been the growth of the “Anti-Globalist” movement which has largely been
based amongst students/lower middle class elements whose activism is
inspired by moral outrage rather than experience of the class struggle,
and the Leftist milieus in countries like Australia. It mushroomed in
the wake of the Seattle 1999 Anti-W.T.O. protests. It in turn has
converged with the existing left subculture informed by the
Stalinist/Trotskyist legacy of vanguardist sect/party building. The
outcome has been the further engulfing of what constitutes the
anti-capitalist movement in the mire of elitist vanguardist aimless
activism, with an intoxication for protest spectacles and a divorce from
assisting workers self organisation and direct action on the job, but a
strong fascination with parliamentary electoral charades with the
formation of “socialist alliances” composed of various left sects and
organising protest spectacles.

The book under review looks at an important contribution to the current
worsening disarray and divorce from the revolutionary project of what
passes as the anti-capitalist milieus in many countries. In the shape
of the impact of the Stalinist legacy on the existing left subculture.
Characterised presently by a manipulative/Machiavellian orientation
amongst various leftist groups entailing , authoritarian internal
regimes whether formal or informal via the psychological manipulation of
“swell headed” gurus and hostility toward scientific processes of
analysis, debate and research, and takeover/infiltration tactics. It
throws important light on a key phase leading to the expansion of
Stalinism as an international movement, its role in the defeat of a key
revolutionary upsurge in the 20th Century, the marginalisation of the
revolutionary movement internationally and the crystallisation of the
so called “Socialist Bloc” after WWII.

“The Rise of Spanish Stalinism”
It analyses the trajectory of Spanish Communism – its orthodox, Moscow
line variety such as the PCE (Spanish Communist Party) and the PSUC
(United Socialist Party of Catalonia) and the unorthodox version
associated with the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity) and the BOC
(Worker and Peasant Bloc) from its origins to the end of the Civil War
in 1939. It takes account of new research into the history of the
Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the role of Soviet intervention based
on newly released Soviet files, and its role in assisting the counter
revolution in the Republican zone, by Stalinist and Bourgeois forces.
In looking at the success of the PCE in breaking out of its isolation
as a small sect, the author focuses on the radicalisation which occurred
in the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) associated with the emergence of
the Bolshevisation current and the Comintern’s (international Communist
Party organisation dominated by Moscow) adoption of the Popular Front
policy. The key proponent of the Bolshevisation current in the PSOE was
Largo Caballero, the Secretary General of its affiliated union
confederation – the UGT (General Confederation of Labour). It was
inspired by the role of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution of
1917-21, and favored the seizure of State Power and the
nationalisation of industry and peasant seizure of estates. The FNTT
(National Federation of Farm workers), the UGT rural workers affiliate
was a major base of this current. The author fails to discuss a major
contribution to the radicalisation of this major base of the UGT. It
stemmed from the hemorrhaging of the CNT (National Confederation of
Labor – anarcho-syndicalist union federation -favoring direct action and
ultra democratic practices) rural base associated
with a wave of state/employer repression and en masse recruitment to the
UGT and was the outcome of a cycle of insurrections carried out by
the CNT in the early 1930’s encouraged by the Barcelona based FAI
(Iberian Anarchist Federation- based on affinity groups). This FAI
predominance in the CNT resulted from its purge of more coherent
anarcho-syndicalist currents and its moves to transform the CNT from an
anarcho-syndicalist labour organisation which sought to be the class
organisation of workers, providing for a plurality of viewpoints into
an anarchist workers association. The rise of the Bolshevisation
current in the PSOE was challenged by a “moderate” group associated with
the journal “Democracia”. The author shows that the rise to prominence
of the Bolshevisation current enabled the PCE to reap important
organisational gains with the merger of the Socialist and Communist
Youth movements and subsequent takeover by the PCE and the merger of
Communist associated unions with the UGT resulting in the acquisition of
important Stalinist influence at the Catalan leadership level of the

The author shows that initially the PCE followed closely the Comintern’s
3rd Period ultra militant policy of encouraging strikes, and the
formation of factory and peasant committees which would later on become
Soviets (councils consisting of elected mandated delegates from
workplaces/neighborhood assemblies) which would provide a power base for
a Bolshevik style seizure of state power. One pioneering initiative
along these lines was the formation of MOAC(Anti-Fascist Worker and
Peasant Militia) in 1933. This body would later form the nucleus of the
Communist controlled 5th Regiment which would play a key role in
ensuring predominant Stalinist influence in the Republican State’s
“People’s Army” during the Civil War. Another prong of this policy was
the setting up of Worker Alliance groups (AOs) as part of its strategy
of building the Bloques Populares Antifascistas.

With the success of Nazism in Germany, the Comintern adopted the new
policy of the Popular Front, which was tardily implemented in Spain by
the PCE. It involved an alliance of different “anti-fascist” groupings
including “bourgeois parties” (which were not hostile to the Soviet
Union) on the political scale for parliamentary electoral purposes and
to resist fascism. The author argues that this tactic provided a means
for the Soviet Union to manage “revolutions politically” by providing
a pluralist and democratic screen, which would allow a gradual Stalinist
takeover and not alienate western powers which it was trying to make
alliances with such as Britain and France.

“Dissident Communism”
In the volume, the author discusses the “dissident communism”
associated with such currents and groupings as the BOC (Worker &
Peasant Bloc), formerly the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees and the
ICE (Communist Left of Spain) which merged to form the POUM (Workers
Party of Marxist Unification) in September 1935 whose most prominent
figures were Andreu Nin and Joaquin Maurin. The author shows that the
BOC/POUM differed with the PCE/PSUC on some key issues such as in
regard to the AOs -with the BOC favoring union at the top of various
revolutionary workers groupings rather than at the base favored by the
PCE which the BOC denounced as a Stalinist attempt at domination. The
author examines the BOC/POUM’s AO strategy recognising its pioneering
character – as it created the first genuine alliance of revolutionary
worker groups. The objective of the AO was to defeat fascism and advance
socialist revolution. This strategy initially was successful in drawing
the support of a wide range of groupings in Catalonia and led to the
general strike “Against Fascism” in Catalonia in March 1934 . In regard
to the internal regime within the BOC/POUM, the author shows its sharp
divergence from the orthodox communism of the PCE/PSUC, with the
existence of ultra democratic structures – with committees on various
levels being directly elected by the base. In discussing this aspect
the author fails to provide much detail and does not consider this
feature stemming from the day to day practice of anarcho-syndicalism by
BOC members whose background was largely as members of the CNT–
involving a high level of grass roots participation in union affairs
and assembly based decision making. In regard to the Popular Front
policy, the author shows that the POUM whilst initially opposed to the
policy, to avoid isolation it became involved in the electoral pact at
the last moment in 1936.

“Soviet Intervention”
The author proceeds to examine the rise in influence of the PCE
facilitated by Soviet intervention in the Republican Zone of Spain
during the Civil War. The author discusses this intervention in the
context of the internal politics of the Soviet Union and its
international political/strategic priorities. He does an effective job
in looking at the interplay of these factors. Most importantly the
author, focuses upon the role of Soviet intervention in Spain in
maintaining its leadership aspirations in the international
anti-capitalist milieus, despite the radical acceleration of Stalinist
terror in the Soviet Union with the commencement of the great purges.
Whilst, other considerations were important such as the establishment
of a Soviet satellite state in Spain and the associated suppression of
revolutionary forces, the curtailment of the revolution in the
Republican Zone to assist the Soviet foreign policy objective of
acquiring a collective security alliance with Western powers,
challenging German influence and the testing of weapons and building the
international Soviet intelligence/espionage network. However, the
author fails to locate his discussion of Soviet intervention in Spain
and Soviet foreign policy in general, in a theoretical framework
which would explain its dynamics.

“The Soviet Transitional Regime & The Dynamics of Soviet Foreign Policy”
Given the bourgeois liberal orientation of the author, a useful
theoretical contribution which, he would be unlikely to consider is
Trotsky’s Marxist concept of the USSR as a “transitional regime” half
way between capitalism and “socialism” and as a result its social
system and power was inherently unstable and unviable due to its
competition with encircling capitalist states and need to suppress and
control its own working class. Such a theory would throw light on the
USSR’s contradictory role in the Spanish Civil War with regard to its
support for the repression of revolutionary forces and reestablishment
of the Republican state machine and the capitalist economy but
opposing certain capitalist forces in the shape of Franco and
German/Italian intervention. Whilst in the 1970’s and 1980’s the USSR
pursued a policy of de’tente with Western Powers, but at the same time
aided anti-imperialist forces in the 3rd World. (See, Michael Cox’s
essay “The Revolutionary Betrayal, The New Left Review & Leon Trotsky”
in “ The Ideas of Leon Trotsky” Ed. Hillel & Ticktin)

“The Republic of a New Type”
The author goes on to examine the role of senior Republican Govt.
officials in assisting Soviet influence and the rise of the PCE,
particularly in the regard to the notorious case of the transfer of
Spanish Gold Reserves to the Soviet Union to purchase arms at very
exorbitant prices. He shows that this move denied the Republican Govt. a
major bargaining chip in its relationship with the Soviet Union, and
dramatically assisted the machinations of Spanish Stalinism and counter
revolutionary forces. The PCE steadily enhanced its power in the
Republican Government, its police and army with the aid of Soviet
pressure and pre Civil War military training and paramilitary
organisation.. Through its Soviet contacts i t was much better
prepared for the task of seizing power and influencing the course of
the Republican War effort than other groupings particularly via the
MOAC, and its domination of the pre Civil War leftist UMRA(underground
officers’ organization). Most importantly it had a well developed
political strategy involving the establishment of a “Republic of a New
Type” a state heavily under PCE influence involving a NEP(New Economic
Program) style economic set up (major new economic policy introduced by
the Lenin Regime in the USSR at the end of the Russian Civil War)with
major large scale industries nationalised with a certain degree of
private ownership, and a degree of semi political pluralism. The
author shows that the CNT and FAI lacking any worked out political
strategy was drawn into collaboration with the Popular Front Government
structures on various scales. (Theauthor fails to explore the reasons
for the absence of such a strategy, such as the hysterical climate in
the CNT during the early 30’s associated with the Bareclona based FAI
takeover of the organisation, precluding a proper debate on political
strategy.) This orientation caused it to become steadily bureaucratised
at various levels and drawn into participation in the “Republic of a
New Type” which was steadily dominated by the PCE through successful
maneuvers/provocations and Soviet influence.

The author proceeds to examine the PCE campaign to establish
predominant influence in the Republican Government structures with its
role in the overthrow of the Caballero Government and its replacement by
the pro-Soviet and pro-PCE Negrin Government. The author does a good job
showing how these successful maneuvers were concurrent with a sustained
campaign to destroy various achievements of the first days of the
revolution involving attacks and suppression of collectives in the
Levant and Aragon and later on in urban industries, the replacement of
“control patrols” with Republican state police , and the militias
with an army and associated officer corps, dominated by the PCE.

Particularly the author shows how the combination of the PCE
manipulation of the war effort through its control of key Soviet
supplied military units such as the air force and the tank units,
together with its control of key sectors of the Republican army and the
suppression of revolutionary forces associated with its notorious
“Barcelona May Days of 1937 provocation”, propelled a splitting in the
Socialist Party and crisis in the Caballero Govt. which facilitated
its overthrow and replacement by the Negrin Govt. However, the author
shows that Soviet support for its emerging Spanish Satellite state was
not so sustained with a major decline in the supply of Soviet
weaponry and munitions due to increasing Soviet commitments in 1938 to
supply nationalist forces in China against the Japanese military, in a
sphere of much more strategic importance to the USSR. Whilst the master
plan of the PCE to merge with the PSOE and take it over, was never
realised due to the opposition of rival factions in the PSOE.

In discussing the final days of the Republic, the author ably examines
the circumstances surrounding the Casado Coup, mounted to negotiate a
surrender by the Republic due to the hopelessness of its military
situation and the associated civil war between Communist and
non-Communist Forces in the residual Republican territory.

Finally the author proceeds to examine the experiment of the Spanish
“Soviet Satellite” in the context of the post WWII spread of Stalinist
regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. These formations took the shape
of “Peoples Democracies” which were composed of such key elements as a
merged socialist/communist parties, “peoples armies”, nationalisation
of industries and the creation of police states and represented a
significant advance on the Spanish experiment in regard to more
extensive Stalinist control. However, the author fails to examine the
rapid tempo of this Stalinisation process in the late 1940’s with
regard to the threat posed to the Soviet hold on Central and Eastern
Europe and the USSR itself by the success of the Marshall plan in
encouraging flourishing market economies in other European countries.
In discussing the ramifications of the Civil War with regard to general
European politics, the author persuasively argues that its
manipulation by Hitler was much superior to that of Stalin, as it
effectively diverted Western Power attention from Nazi expansionism and
assisted its alliance building with fascist Italy and the eventual
formation of the Axis and Anti-Comintern Pact. Whilst, Stalin’s military
and otherwise intervention alienated Western Powers. The bitter fruits
of this maneuvering being the outbreak of WWII.

In conclusion, the book under review does a good job in throwing light
on Stalinist strategy during the Civil War /Revolution and its
ramifications for the spread of Stalinist states after WWII. This post
war Stalinist expansion was also associated with the extreme
marginalisation of revolutionary forces throughout the world and the
continuing mass support and predominance of Stalinism and associated
Communist Parties in many countries. This legacy must be seen as
contributing to the strong “Stalinist” influenced left subculture in
many countries today, which various Trotskyist groupings have played an
important role in transmitting and has even percolated into many
supposedly anti-authoritarian groupings. However, the author’s
discussion of Stalinist progress and dynamics would have been
enhanced by a marxist theoretical framework and a detailed discussion
of the factional struggle within the CNT in the early 1930’s and its
Mark McGuire
Anarcho-Syndicalist Network PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia email:
rworker@chaos.apana.org.au <mailto:rworker@chaos.apana.org.au> Subs: $12
per year in Australia; $25 airmail overseas.

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