Failure of the Workers Alliance: A split in the Spanish U.G.T. is engineered by the Communists by L. Nicolas * In La Revolution Proletarienne (Paris)

Readers of this magazine will no doubt recall the pact that was concluded towards the latter part of July, between the National Confederation of Labor (C.N.T.) and the General Union of Labor (U.G.T.). The entire press in loyalist Spain hailed the act as “an historic event.” Yet, in the two months following the event almost no attempt had been made to put any part of the adopted plans in operation. Of the numerous Liaison Committees elected by the two organizations for the purpose of creating local united councils, the press has mention only of one case where such a thing was accomplished, that between the metal workers’ unions in Madrid. The only statement issued by the National Liaison Committee to the press mentioned other cases without, however, naming the localities. (Solidad Obrera, September 9.)

The sabotaging of the alliance between the two unions is mainly due to the deep set hostility of the communist agents within the U.G.T.; the communists are fundamentally displeased with the pact; because of that, they are contesting the right of the General Executive Board to conclude such a pact without submitting the question first to the National Committee of the U.G.T., which is made up by the Executive Committees of the Federations affiliated with the U.G.T. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that in their action the communists were prompted by a desire to uphold democracy within the union; they are simply relying on the fact that by devious maneuvering, of which they are past masters in all countries, they managed to obtain a majority favorable to their policy in the National Committee. They want to accomplish at any price the complete domestication of the labor union movement in Spain. They make use of every possible method in order to attain that purpose: towards the C.N.T. they are using cunning and flattery; in the Levant they did not hesitate to create a peasant organization in opposition to both the U.G.T. and the C.N.T. organizations; and in the U.G.T. itself they managed to create a split. The following are the facts:

The Stalinist agents being aware that the majority on the General Executive Board is composed of left elements grouped around Largo Caballero, decided to destroy the Board. Through the Executive committees, with communist majorities of the different Industrial Federations, an ultimatum was forwarded to the G.E.B. of the U.G.T., ordering that body, in virtue of article 33 of the Constitution of the U.G.T., to call a National Committee meeting within a week. They based their ultimatum on the fact that the signatories constituted a majority of the said National Committee. The order of business they proposed for the meeting was extremely important: Report of the G.E.B.; the aid to be given to the Popular Front government in carrying on the war; the problems of production and workers’ control of industry and the adoption of the most important of them to war conditions; the intensification of agricultural production; cooperatives and collectives; the scarcity of food and the fight against speculation; the municipalization of city services; the unity of action with the CNT; election of officers to vacant posts in the unions …

The General Executive Board answered the ultimatum through a letter addressed to the signatory Industrial Federation Executive Committees. We reproduce the essential passages of the letter from Claridad of September 9:

The Executive Board received the document bearing your signature, demanding the calling of a meeting of the National Committee. We are astonished to see that you are basing your claim on article 33, since in conformity with article 9, your federation is suspended for non-payment of its taxes to the U.G.T. Seeing that at the last National Committee meeting several federations that participated, debated and voted in that meeting without having the right to do so, the G.E.B. decided that this should not be done again and so it unanimously decided to apply to your federation the first part of article 9.”

(The first part of Article 9 says: “Organizations in arrears with taxes for two consecutive quarters stand suspended.”)

The ruling affected nine federations, miners, leather workers, clothing, gas and electricity, drugs, wood, teaching, banks and exchange, and oil, representing a total of 200,000 workers. On September 6 the G.E.B. sent communications to all the local unions of the suspended federations, inviting them to communicate directly with headquarters in order to re-establish the bond between them.

The Stalinites retorted with a violent campaign making much of the sentimental arguments, that the exclusions were hitting at the heroic Asturian miners; they evoked all the technical arguments on the one hand contesting the validity of the debts, on the other hand offering to pay them up. On September 24 the suspended federation committees invited all the Industrial Federations of the U.G.T. to a conference where the question of suspensions should be examined. Of the forty-two federations affiliated with the U.G.T. thirty-one answered the call favorably and participated at the conference. Three federations: Transport workers, Agricultural workers and Metal workers remained loyal to the G.E.B. The excluded federations and those in sympathy with them declared themselves the only regular organization and elected a new General Executive Board. Thus the split within the U.G.T. became an accomplished fact.

Viewed from the angle of democracy within the labor movement, it would have been more logical to have called a special convention which could have settled the issue, instead of invoking the delinquency. However, such a call for convention was difficult under the actual conditions. How can a true representation be obtained from such a highly industrialized district as Asturias where the war was raging, or from the Bay of Biscay district, occupied by the fascist forces?

Naturally, men of the Caballero type deserve to be treated with the greatest circumspection. The fact of having radically changed his political attitude three times in six years is by no means a guarantee of stability for the future. The massacring of socialist and anarchist workers in 1931 and 1932; the enacting of drastic legislation for the defense of the bourgeois republic against the workers, and then from that position flopping over to a camouflaged Stalinism, contributing to the bolshevization of the socialist party and of the U.G.T. in order to arrive finally to the idea of labor unionism free from political party domination, the road he traveled in six years was indeed a tortuous one. But, in spite of all, the left wing of the U.G.T. contains many sincere rank and file militants, and their present position of barring the road of Stalinism is in conformity with the interests of the working class.

We give below some of the arguments used by them in the Correspondencia de Valencia, in answer to the open letter of the Political Bureau of the communist party, tendering its “outstretched hand” to the anarcho-syndicalist C.N.T. The first article as reprinted by Solidaridad Obrera of September 17 follows:

The document published by the ‘Bureau’ is one more irrefutable proof of the theoretical and practical inconsistency of that group of would-be leaders, who for so many years past was dragging after them what they call the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat, in all the quagmires, and who so often in the past acted in a manner becoming to the sixth column.

Just as on the day when they abruptly decided to jump into the workers’ alliances after having fought against them with fire and blood; just as when they suddenly decided to fight with all their energy for the democratic and parliamentary republic after having demanded, holding the knife at our throat, that we break entirely all the ties that might have attached the working class to the bourgeoisie; just as at the time when of a sudden it threw itself at the feet of the socialists after having for so long vowed that their unity with the revolutionary socialists would not be accomplished until all the reformist roots would be first pulled up; just as at so many other culminating moments of the revolutionary development, these apostles of iron discipline and of the firm and immovable ‘line,’ made a complete turn and upheld that which the previous day they absolutely condemned.”

The second article contains a warning to the C.N.T. We take it from Solidaridad Obrera of September 19, where it was reprinted:

The communist party persists in its eternal false position; its present attitude lacks all seriousness. We were right, when speaking of the document of the Political Bureau of the communist party, we said that nobody will trust them any longer; that all they wanted was to make a toy of the C.N.T. pretending to be for unity and for the restoration of the Popular Front.

The communist party has once more betrayed those who naively would have liked to see in that statement of the Bureau a change in their tactics. The communist party is not causing anti-fascist unity. It shook it up and broke it and today, by following their suicidal tactics, which the Bureau itself declared to be incompatible with the interest of the war and the revolution, makes the solution of the problem of unity more difficult. It creates an atmosphere of hostility, using the most repulsive methods against the two great labor union federations. These are the great merits of the communist party.”

The Correspondencia de Valencia has been suspended since. The stranglehold of the Stalinists is so strong not only in Spain but in other countries as well, that the disappearance of Largo Caballero’s publication was passed over in silence. The People, the organ of the French General Confederation of Labor (U.G.T.), and Le Populaire, organ of the French socialist party, did not even mention the fact to their readers. And yet, a few weeks before, Largo Caballero was for these papers the grand champion of Spanish democracy. What sort of a convention would that of the U.G.T. have been in such an atmosphere, where even a Caballero or an Araquistain cannot freely publish a paper or speak at a meeting? And what can be the status of the common rank and file militants?

The explanation of this despotism is that there is a widespread discontent and grumbling within the unions. The appreciations of Claridad, a strongly communistic paper, is extremely significant in this connection. We reproduce from its September 6 issue:

Every meeting is a fight in which no quarter is asked or given; in which, at times, one encounters the same passion as in the battles carried on in former days with the enemy class. Every election for any union function brings forward, with bitterness and strife, all the instruments of agitation and propaganda which we workers were in the habit of using when the bourgeois governments were calling us to the ballot box. Vote soliciting for candidates, anonymous tracts containing dire threats, strange behaviors and uncalled-for manifestations. Such are the outward consequences of these suicidal battles that some forces are interested in fomenting within the locals of our glorious union. But have those trouble makers given any thought to the internal repercussions of these fights? If they have, then surely they would have put the brakes on some of their activities of which we are complaining. Such negatively aggressive policies will damage the labor unions most of all. These damages are manifesting themselves by a lack of activity, by the absence of energy with which to confront the actual and momentous problems of today. This road leads nowhere except to the entire discrediting of the unions, making them unfit for the special tasks that are incumbent upon labor unions.

Calmly but earnestly, we take the liberty to warn the unions. We are forced to seriously consider the situation. The present time is certainly not the proper time for us to indulge in internal fights that will weaken our forces and further divide the energies of the working class. We have consistently urged the unions that they hold regular meetings and conferences. We have done so with a positive point of view; we believed that the unions, through their meetings, could realize a constructive plan of work of which the immediate result would have been increasing material support to the government in its war work; overcoming the shortages in production by intensifying the work, putting in operation all the wheels of industry and agriculture, and generally orienting themselves towards the objectives that should be the same for all of us. But, if union meetings and conferences are to serve only for maneuvering, by using methods of Ignatius Loyola, for breaking up everything that is now united and preventing the unity of that which is still separated, then it is better not to hold these assemblies.”

The Stalinites certainly must have run up against serious resistance in order to make them speak thus.

The Opinion of the Left Socialists

The Madrid socialist organization makes known its appreciation of the situation in an open letter addressed to the Executive Committee of the Socialist party of Spain. This Madrid organization has in its ranks such outstanding socialists as Largo Caballero, Araquistain, Pascual Thomas and Llopis. We are reproducing parts of the letter from the Information Bulletin No. 49, of the F.A.I.-C.N.T.:

A people is invincible on condition that it is not made to lose confidence in its aspirations of liberty, on condition that it will not see emerging from its own bosom and from its collective sacrifices a new tyrannical power, and internal despotism that would freeze up its enthusiasm in the fight for freedom at home and in the long run its resistance to tyranny from the outside.

… Its knowledge that there is a political organization that is working above anything else, for the increase of its own power, having the secret ambition of becoming the sole organization both during and after the war, shatters the morale of the fighters on the front and of the workers of the factories and fields.

… We are referring to the Spanish section of the communist international. We are holding this party mainly responsible for the misfortunes experienced by the republican cause in the last three months, and we hold that party responsible for the even more serious disasters that will come in the near future unless an immediate remedy is found.

… Until three months ago there was a real unity of anti-fascist action in Spain. All parties and the labor unions were collaborating directly in the control and responsibilities of the conduct of the war. That unity of purpose and action has been diminishing from day to day. By whose fault? By the fault of the communist party in the first place, because it was they who first set up a conspiracy to remove from power the people and the organizations that would not submit to the orders imported by the communists; later they slandered the very personalities whom they have raised up on the pedestal, when they saw in them an obstacle for their partisan schemes, whether on the war front or in the state offices. They took the ridiculous attitude that political parties, and particularly the communist party, are privileged bodies of almost divine origin, charged with the mission of directing public conduct and that the labor unions were only good to do the work and blindly obey the newly selected aristocracy, as if people who follow a manual or professional calling had less capacity for the affairs of State than those whose calling is nothing but politics, and at times, what sort of politics!

The communist party declared war to the death to those in the U.G.T. and in the C.N.T. who were opposed to its totalitarian policies, which is by no means a dictatorship of the proletariat. It broke the cordial relations existing between that party and the left wing of the socialist party since the October revolution and during the first months of the military insurrection in 1936. And now they even have the nerve to state that it is our party that has changed policy.

The left wing socialists are now the same as they were before. They are not responsible for a single act of hostility against the communist party, but the communists are guilty of many such acts. The left socialists still desire the political unity of the two parties, subject however to three conditions which were formulated and established as a basis of discussion by a conference of their groups in April 1936.

The united party should be at all times subject to an exclusively national direction and responsibility; in any case a national convention should have the right to terminate the unity.

We are disavowing the campaign of force and persecution carried on by the communist party on the war fronts and in the rear; it is revolting to the socialists who are upholding the dignity of their party and their own dignity as men and Spaniards. The injustices and the favoritisms introduced by the communists were never considered favorably in Spain; the misguided leaders of the Spanish section of the Communist International should have taken this in consideration …

Something more was destroyed: a government that was more truly Spanish through its aims, and was the most efficient both internally and internationally than Spain has had since the beginning of the war; this government was for the unity of all the parties and of the labor unions; thus it was for the comprehension of all the parties and of the workers supporting political unity. By the destruction of that government the confidence of the soldiers on the front and of the workers in the rear was shattered. In spite of the fact that the war was a tragic affair, costing rivers of popular blood, the communist party did not hesitate to profit by it in order to further its policy of absorption and of speculation.

If the recent unfortunate war operations at Brunete, which have been rejected several times in advance by the military technicians, who considered them fated to failure, if these operations were due only to military errors we would keep quiet about it and would only ask for the discharge and the punishment of those guilty of having wasted so much of the people’s blood; but in these operations the military objectives were subordinated to petty political ends: to the glorification of some communist chiefs, who conducted them, in case they would have succeeded. The intention was to demonstrate the superiority of a government that could come back and save Madrid, in contrast with a government accused of having deserted the city; to demonstrate also that if such an easy victory was not won sooner, this was due to the unreasonable resistance of those who confounded inaction with prudence, of those who confounded the opposition to the partisan passions of communism with the anxiety for not spilling criminally torrents of popular blood. The pitiful results have demonstrated who was right.”

Summing up its position towards the communist party, the Madrid socialist organization concludes:

A policy of division, a spectacular policy at the cost of thousands upon thousands of dead and wounded without any strategical gain, such was the policy of the communist party. If we would be as evil-minded as they, we would say that these policies are made for the purpose of creating the moral and the material conditions for a complete defeat.

We prefer however to believe that it is only a question of errors of judgment, and of the maneuvering of poor and mechanized intelligence that can believe that victory is near and that the communist can attain it by themselves.

If that is the case they are erring profoundly. Victory will be the result of the combined anti-fascist forces or there will be none. For, of two things one: either the communist party will alter its policy which leads to defeat or it will have to be removed from public affairs as the enemy of republican Spain.”

The open letter adds that in justice it is necessary for it to state that even if the communist party is the most responsible for the present situation, yet it is not the only one. Without mentioning the socialist party by name, the authors of the open letter are accusing the socialist party of unexplainable complicity inside of that party:

There are an infinite number of forms of treason. But that of wanting to liquidate one’s own party for the benefit of another party, that is unprecedented … of such an act only an anti-revolutionary, anti-democratic, unscrupulous minority seeking power for the sake of power could be capable.”

* L. Nicholas was the pseudonym of Nicholas Lazarevitch (1895-1975).

From: One Big Union Monthly, November, 1937. Translated by: Joseph Wagner.