August Thalheimer

Notes on a Stay in Catalonia

Source:Revolutionary History Vol. 4., no. 1 & 2
Translated by: Mike Jones
HTML Markup: Mathias Bismo

The report included here comes from an unsigned copy in the Arbejderbevægelsens Arkiv in Copenhagen, and has been identified as the work of August Thalheimer (cf KH Tjaden, Struktur und Funktion der KPD-Opposition (KPO), p335, n114; Volume 2, p200), who was in Catalonia from 19 November to 4 December 1936, and sent back reports in code, not only to the KPO but to its co-thinkers, such as the Leninist League in Glasgow. Our version comes from Gruppe Arbeiterstimme, Der Spanische Bürgerkrieg, Nuremburg, 1987, pp32-40, and has been translated by Esther Leslie and Mike Jones, whom we have to thank not only for his labour upon the text, but also for his careful research on all the German source material that appears in this volume.

August Thalheimer (1884-1948) was a member of the German Social Democratic Party before the First World War, and editor of one of its papers, the Volksfreund. From 1916 he assisted in the production of the Spartakusbriefe, was a member of the USPD (Independent Socialists) from 1917, and a founder member of the German Communist Party (KPD). He quickly rose to prominence as the party’s main theoretician, being editor of Rote Fahne as well as of Franz Mehring’s manuscripts left unpublished at his death.

During the 1923 crisis he was Minister of Finance in the Württemburg local government, was subsequently blamed along with Brandler for the debâcle, and was called to Moscow in 1924, where he worked in the Communist International apparat, as well as for the Marx-Engels Institute. His lectures delivered at the Sun Yat-Sen University in 1927 were published as a textbook in philosophy (which appeared in English as Introduction to Dialectical Materialism, New York, 1936), and he also worked on the draft programme of the Comintern along with Bukharin. Pressure from the KPD, still uneasy with the leadership of Thälmann, secured his return to Germany in 1928, but a year later he was expelled from the KPD along with Brandler, and they went on to form the KPO, or Brandlerites.

The Brandlerite organisation restricted most of its criticisms to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, whilst maintaining that its domestic operations were basically healthy. Thalheimer insisted that: ‘We do not want to draw the conclusion that as the politics of the Comintern are wrong, it must follow that the politics of Russia are also wrong.’ (GdST, 4/1931) Thalheimer himself supported forced collectivisation and Stakhanovism, and whilst in Barcelona became involved in a heated argument with Nin over the POUM’s condemnation of the first Moscow Trial.

In exile in Paris from 1932 onwards, Thalheimer went to Spain in 1936, and then back to France again where the KPO’s exile organisation worked. When six members of the KPO were arrested in Barcelona by the Stalinists and charged with the usual crimes in July 1937, he issued a statement co-signed by Brandler saying that:

‘We take upon ourselves any political and personal guarantee for our arrested comrades. They are anti-Fascists and revolutionaries, incapable of any action that could be construed as high treason to the Spanish Revolution.’

They were not to stay long in Paris. In 1940 France fell to Hitler, and Thalheimer fled to Cuba, where he died in 1948.

The aim of the visit was to gather general information about the political situation in Catalonia, as well as information needed to prepare the international conference in Barcelona planned for January.

I was kitted out with a passport for the journey by the Catalan legation in Paris. This proved to be sufficient. Departure, Paris Thursday, 19 November 1936 from the Quai d’Orsay, change at Toulouse, arrived Narbonne 23.27 hours, overnight stay in Narbonne, continued on to Perpignan 07.55 hours.

In Perpignan I looked up the Comité de Vigilance on the Place Aragon. A comrade from the POUM, who takes care of communication between Barcelona and Perpignan, was there as well as a comrade from the Barcelona leadership of the POUM. Two younger comrades from Switzerland who wanted to go to the front also turned up. These comrades had been turned away from the Spanish border town of Port-Bou days earlier because they did not have the necessary papers. In the meantime, by chance, they had bumped into Comrade Kahlman from Switzerland, who had come from the Catalan front and who vouched for them with the Spanish comrades.

Left Perpignan with the two Swiss comrades and a comrade from the POUM at 12.30 hours. The border control at the French border town of Cerbère took place on the train and went quite quickly without problems. The Spanish border town is Port-Bou, and you arrive there in a few minutes through a tunnel. The controls there are carried out predominantly by the CNT people and they are very thorough. Due to the presence of comrades from the POUM our control went through very quickly.

Left Port-Bou for Barcelona at about three o’clock. The train had been taken over by the CNT, and they carried out a very careful passport check on the way to Barcelona. The third class compartments of the train were very overcrowded. Everybody there was a worker, or at least was wearing workers’ clothes, or military people, etc. The atmosphere was lively, cheerful and confident. As we reached the outskirts of Barcelona the Internationale was being sung in several carriages. At the station there was a further baggage check.

The POUM comrade took us from the station to the Hotel Falcón in the Ramblas (the main street) where we were immediately billeted. From there the POUM comrade took us on to the Executive Committee of the POUM, where I met Arquer who had been at the Brussels conference. I also met Bonet, the treasurer of the Executive Committee. I told them the purpose of my visit and gave the treasurer $200 from the American CP(O). He told me that an official receipt would appear in La Batalla and in other POUM papers. In reply to my question Arquer told me that an international conference would take place in mid-January. The POUM regarded the Brussels conference as a failure. Arquer explained to me that he found it incomprehensible and contradictory that we should reject the politics of the Communist International but accept the internal politics of the Soviet Union. I tried to enlighten him as to our position in this matter, but I did not get the impression that I was successful. Arquer and Bonet belong to the Maurín wing of the POUM.

The former Trotskyists who are on the Executive Committee come fairly close to defending the Trotskyist position on the Soviet Union. The others make concessions to this Trotskyist position but do not adhere to it too closely. But it is quite clear from their official papers that the Maurín wing rejects our position on the Soviet Union. However, it must be added that, according to the statements of our German comrades, who are closely connected with the POUM membership, it would seem that some of the members are very critical of their Executive’s position on the Soviet Union. This is not an insignificant point. It stems mainly from a reaction to the change of line adopted by the Soviet Union in respect of delivery of weapons and food to Spain. However, the mood of the POUM members can be summed up like this: they want a good and friendly relationship with the Soviet Union and reject any anti-Bolshevik tendencies, but they are nevertheless determined to prevent any Soviet and Comintern influence on their policies in Spain or Catalonia.

The membership is quite convinced that it is they who should determine policy in Catalonia, and are therefore not interested in being dictated to by the representatives of the Comintern and the Soviet Union. This especially hits home as regards the policy of the Popular Front and their slogan, ‘For the Defence of Bourgeois Democracy’, which is expressed on a whole number of issues formulated by the party of the Comintern in Catalonia, the PSUC. There is sharp opposition to the PSUC. Every day there are vigorous polemics in the POUM and PSUC papers. The POUM’s attitude to the PSUC largely determines the attitude of the POUM membership to the politics of the Comintern.

The Ramblas is crowded with people until late at night. The cafés and bars are all full. The public appears thoroughly proletarian according to their clothes and so on. There are few bourgeois around. You get the impression that the town is thoroughly controlled by proletarian elements. The houses are plastered with posters from the CNT, FAI, POUM and PSUC. There are hardly any posters from the Esquerra to be seen anywhere. Along the Ramblas a row of large kiosks with newspapers, books and portraits have been set up by individual political parties. The proletarian appearance of the crowds makes the street scenes reminiscent of Moscow in the immediate post-revolutionary years. There are a lot of milicianos in leather or silk jackets, and countless workers’ patrols carrying weapons. It is rare to see the khaki of a regular soldier’s uniform. The only police are traffic police in blue uniforms and white pith helmets. These police no longer have the power of arrest.

Along the length of the Ramblas are countless loudspeakers bringing reports from the front and messages from abroad, and playing revolutionary and sometimes popular music. The crowds in the street seem lively, self confident and optimistic. There is not the vaguest glimmer of depression. The news broadcast over the loudspeakers is eagerly discussed by the masses. It would appear that, even in respect to the fate of Madrid,1) there is no nervousness. Unlike Moscow in the early years, the shops in the Ramblas are nearly all open for business.

I met some of our comrades right away in the Hotel Falcón. By coincidence comrade H2) happened to be there too, on leave from the front. Here too the mood was thoroughly confident.

Saturday, 21 November 1936: A discussion with Bonet, a member of the POUM Executive Committee. I asked him the reasons for the entry of the POUM into the Catalan government.3) He explained that had they not joined, it would have meant their complete isolation from the masses in the factories and the community, etc. Moreover, in exchange for their participation, they had demanded certain guarantees, for example a Socialist economic programme and their inclusion on all official bodies.

In answer to my questions about military formations, Bonet explained to me that workers’ organisations exercise complete control over the army. The PSUC had tried to eliminate both this and the milicianos, but these attempts had failed. I discovered from other sources that the decree about the militarisation4) of the Catalan front had not actually been carried out. Just as before, there are still the party units with their corresponding political commissars. The POUM, like other political organisations, has a special military section in its Central Committee, responsible for its military wing. The state apparatus has been thoroughly purged of all Fascist elements.

After this I had a discussion with a POUM comrade, a mechanic, who performs the job of fiscal (public prosecutor) in a people’s court (in Barcelona there are four of them). The judges are chosen by the various workers’ organisations. Each court has a bourgeois judge, a professionally trained one, who exercises purely formal functions. The trials are actually directed by the fiscal. The people’s judges are not bound by any written laws, but rather make decisions on the basis of their own assessment, in line with their own class experience. The structure of the trial is also no longer bound by the old rules, and appears, in contrast, relatively free and its procedures quite appropriate. The accused may have a defence lawyer, and members of the public may make statements on behalf of the accused. The accused often take advantage of this opportunity, as statements from the public generally tend to have more effect on proletarian judges than the interventions of a lawyer.

Trivial non-political cases are still dealt with by the remaining structures of the old legal system, ostensibly because the people’s courts are too busy with political cases, and cannot be bothered with more trivial matters. But that is a provisional rule and there is a move to clear out all the old bourgeois judges, policemen, etc. The proletarian judges of the people’s courts are paid by the government. As a rule they continue to work in the factories, and devote only a part of their time to the legal system.

In the evening the comrades with whom I had detailed discussions, mainly about the International, stressed that they wish to continue receiving material from the Trotskyists, as they are unable to get hold of such material in Barcelona.

On the question of the reform of the International, all the comrades insisted that we cannot expect such a solution to meet with the approval of the POUM comrades at this moment in time. The CNT is similarly uninterested in any sort of link with the Comintern. This is most noticeable in their tense and hostile relationship with the PSUC, which is seen as a brake on the revolution in a number of concrete matters. It is seen as inhibiting progress towards Socialism, and as a force behind which all sorts of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois elements (Esquerra, Social Democrats, etc) gather.

Sunday, 22 November 1936: Durruti’s funeral was this afternoon. The attendance at the parade and in the streets was massive. The whole city was out. The CNT ordered that all shops, bars, etc, should be closed during the ceremony. Most people organised by the CNT and the FAI were present at the gathering. Particularly interesting was the troop of control patrols (Checas) in their black uniforms. They turned out in their hundreds.

I learned the truth about Durruti’s death from Nin, whom I met afterwards in a POUM bar. This is the way it was. On returning to the front Durruti ran into a group of milicianos coming away from the front. He asked them to go back. There was fight and he was shot by one of them. The public is unclear about the real story, and assumes that Durruti was killed by a Fascist bullet during an ambush. Durruti’s end is not inconceivable, according to reports of his general behaviour. POUM comrades told me how he was once most unfair and despotic in his dealings with a POUM column, and it was mooted at the time that certain people wanted to kill him. Durruti was very capable militarily, but he often seemed too undisciplined and despotic.

On Sunday afternoon: Housewarming at a POUM Pioneer House. Like many others this house was confiscated by the POUM. It was originally a bourgeois country house. The pioneers — youth between the ages of 10 and 12 — made a very lively impression.

After that a housewarming at a POUM library in a part of town called Gracia. The library is in a house which was taken over from a Marquis who had fled. The Committee of POUM Youth is there, as is comrade Schwarz’s5) office (International Left). Most of the library’s collection comes from bourgeois houses in Barcelona, whose property was confiscated. It also contains Comrade König’s6) book collection. The inaugural speech was made in Catalan by a POUM member — a teacher. It stressed the class and Marxist orientation of the library and the class nature of all culture. Comrade König works in the library.

In total, about 200 000 workers are supposed to have been called up into the army by now. It is estimated that in the rest of Spain the number is around 150 000. In any case, it is a smaller number than in Catalonia alone. These estimates are from comrades and are not official.

Factories with more than 50 workers have been expropriated (incautado), while those with less than 50 have been put under workers’ control. Some of the smaller factories which produce munitions can be, and have been, taken over. Along with the confiscation of the factories goes the confiscation of factory capital. There is now a centralised distribution of raw materials, fuel, etc, in Catalonia, organised by the Economic Council. Foreign owners of factories have been promised compensation, but this is of only formal significance as no guarantees have been made as to how or when compensation will occur.

In the evening I had a conversation on the state of Catalan agriculture with Comrade Sarda, who is supposed to be one of the POUM’s best agricultural experts. About 80 per cent of the land is suitable for modern mechanical farming methods. About 20 per cent of the land cannot be worked mechanically, due to its situation on mountain sides, hilltops, etc. Modern methods are also possible in the olive plantations, which are very important in Catalonia, and also in vineyards. Cultivating olives needs careful attention and plenty of fertiliser, otherwise they yield a small crop. Grain production is also very important here. Agricultural conditions vary a great deal in the different parts of Catalonia. In the area around Barcelona vegetables and fruit are intensively cultivated.

The peasants in this area exported vast amounts, mainly to Britain, and were economically quite well off. Large estates predominated in Lérida province, which is now decisively under POUM influence. The other parts of Catalonia are mostly made up of small freeholders and tenant farmers. There are two types of tenant. First, there are the rabassaires. They provide all the equipment themselves and pay one third of the crop to the owners. The owners generally have nothing to do with the enterprise and, living on their rent collecting, tend to spend their time in cafés. The second category of tenant is just like the métayers in France. The owner provides all the equipment, including half the seed. The tenant then gives half the yield to the owner. The rabassaire tenants tend to be long-term, between 20 and 30 years, while the métayers are short-term and can expect to be left high and dry at any moment.

The revolution immediately gave these tenants the right to all of the crop which they produced. The big farms were expropriated and are now largely collectively farmed, and the rural workers are helped by representatives of the workers’ organisations from the towns.

Most of the tenant farmers and small peasants have formed unions, sometimes several in one place (CNT, UGT, rabassaires, Anarchists, etc). It is now decreed that every locality should only have one union which all peasants and rural workers should join. Such a union might be thought of as an agricultural cooperative. For the rural workers it is similar to a trade union. The union takes care of the communal sale of agricultural products, the communal buying of goods for the village cooperative shop, and the common use of agricultural equipment, oil-presses, wine making, etc. However, the cultivation of the land tends to take place individually.

There have been some problems in Catalonia, due to the fact that, under the leadership of the lower organs of the CNT, collectivisation of the land has been carried out more radically than the farmers themselves wanted. The farmers do not agree with many of the orders which have been issued. The leading bodies of the CNT have made statements against these excesses by the lower levels of the leadership, but they do not seem to be wholly capable of eradicating them everywhere. According to the opinions of some experts, these excesses must be stopped if the revolution in Catalonia is to survive, and ways and means are being devised to deal with the situation.

On the question of distribution of food, things look quite different from what I expected on the basis of a report I got recently from someone returning from Barcelona. In general there is no sign of a lack of food, either in the rear areas or at the front. The province of Catalonia grows masses of vegetables, fruit oil, grain, etc. The restaurants and the food shops have plenty of these goods. In general the workers’ standard of living has risen since 19 July. Wages are up by 13 per cent. They are paid in full even for short-time work. The milicianos at the front get 10 pesetas a day, and their families in the rear are also taken care of.

There is a certain shortage of potatoes, but this is not very significant. More important is the shortage of fresh meat which has arisen, because the regions from which most of the meat comes to Catalonia have been occupied by the Fascists. There is a lot of fish. There is some shortage of charcoal, the normal cooking fuel of Catalonia. The houses themselves tend not to be heated, as the climate makes this unnecessary. Here and there milk is in short supply. I have been told that many people eat in the restaurants because they get meat supplies. The soldiers at the front get priority when it comes to the distribution of meat. According to those who have just come from there, nourishment at the front is said to be very good. The cost of food is much, much lower than in France. In the party club a good meal can be had for between two and 2.5 pesetas. Wine costs between 40 and 50 cents a litre. There are queues in front of butchers and the shops selling cooked beans and peas.

In answer to the question as to why there were relatively few turncoats at the front, it was explained to me that this is prevented, above all, by the terror which the Fascists use against the relatives of those fighting at the front. In spite of this there are still many desertions from the Fascist lines. At the front itself oral propaganda is generally shouted between the trenches. The Fascists claim that it is they who will carry out Socialist policies. Fascist aeroplanes drop propaganda leaflets. I have been told of some cases of the Fascists dropping Le Populaire, apparently to prove to the milicianos that the French Popular Front Government has left them in the lurch. It is estimated that the Fascists have shot about 200 000 workers.

Following 19 July all the churches in Barcelona were set on fire. It is usually only the interior which is burnt out. We were told that these acts of arson fitted in well with the mood of the people. Many priests are fighting stubbornly, arms in hand, on Franco’s side. According to the milicianos, the military strength of the Falangists in Catalonia is thought to be very considerable. They are quite often large farmers who have fled, village profiteers, etc, and caciques, who fight all the more bitterly, because their whole existence depends on the outcome of the war.

Comrade König, who was in charge of the German bulletin, has now been relieved of this function. The move was prompted by the Trotskyists, and some material about the Moscow Trials was used.7) Comrade Walter Schwarz is the POUM’s official coordinator of international links. In addition to that he has been elected organisational leader of the important district of Gracia. To be politically effective within the POUM it is essential to be able to speak Spanish and at least understand Catalan. Comrade Schwarz’s good position within the organisation has something to do with the fact that he has been an active member of the POUM for four years and was active at the front, and has thus won the confidence of many POUM members and other people there.

The leaders of the Catalan troops are very quickly trained in people’s military schools. To enter one you must get recommended by a workers’ organisation. The entire course lasts four months. It is mostly concerned with training military leaders for the infantry. A smaller department trains those for the artillery. At the end of every four month period exams are held. Those who do a one month course are sent to the front as group leaders, after two months as non-commissioned officers, after three months as sergeants, and after four months as teniente or second lieutenants. The training is both theoretical and practical. It involves the elements of military tactics. The proletarian composition of these military schools is ensured by the way candidates are selected. But the number of bourgeois officers at their disposal is very small anyway, and is certainly not enough to form a bourgeois officer corps. The creation of proletarian military leaders is because of the situation after the revolt of 19 July in Catalonia.

Tuesday, 24 November 1936: A visit to the weekly market showed that there are large quantities of vegetables, fruit, bread, pasta and fish available here. It was not particularly busy there. The stalls lacked fresh meat. Some prices: mandarins: between 10 and 15 cents per pound — about 400 grams; good grapes: between 30 and 50 cents per pound — about 400 grams. Plenty of bread and butter.

On Monday evening comrades asked me to give a talk on the international situation to members of the international group who were about to go to the front. Apart from our comrades Heidenreich and Huber, two Austrian soldiers and two Swiss were present. Naturally I spoke about Popular Front policies, particularly in France. The comrades explained that they were sorely lacking in political information at the front, and that the political commissars did virtually nothing in this respect. They requested that I or somebody else give lectures for a few weeks directly behind the front lines, and they assured me that there would be a lot of interest (I did not have enough time to take them up on this.) Political propaganda at the front is largely limited to providing milicianos with newspapers. These are sent every day without fail. Moreover, it is said that even amongst members of the POUM at the front, the contradiction between the attitude of the POUM in La Batalla to the Soviet Union and the soldiers’ gratitude for Russian arms is noticeable.

Wednesday, 25 November 1936: On Tuesday I attended a session of the People’s Court, at which the POUM member, whom I met at the Executive Committee, was acting as fiscal. The trial took place in a room at the Palace of Justice. The court seemed thoroughly proletarian in its composition and attitudes. The bourgeois judge obviously tried to fit his behaviour to that of the workers. A doctor was on trial. He was accused of treating a Republican officer wounded in the revolt with injections in such a way that he knew that he would most certainly die. A number of testimonies were given. There was no conclusive proof. The accused was freed. The audience was mainly composed of workers. There were also some doctors. The public took an active part in the proceedings, but were also very dignified at all times. The fiscal really did lead the proceedings. A lawyer defended the accused, putting questions to witnesses.

Thursday, 26 November 1936: On Wednesday morning I visited a POUM barracks, a former cavalry barracks, kitted out with modern fittings in airy rooms. The barracks

are for training milicianos.

At Nin’s: arranged to meet on Saturday morning at 10am. Car ride to the Barcelona hills. In the evening I had a discussion with Comrade Sarda about the organisation of agriculture outside Catalonia. I gleaned from his remarks that it is impossible to tell what has actually happened. Talking about Valencia, he said that not only the large farms but also the smaller ones had been collectivised. In general it seems that in the regions of Spain around Catalonia people have gone much further than the stated intentions of the government in Madrid. A clear solution to the agrarian problem does not exist in the rest of Spain. The comrade reported that, in some cases, with a too radical political leadership on the smallholding question, there have been a few cases of peasants shooting the ‘new caciques’, and in other cases there has been sabotage on the land. The question is how this can be put right. This must be regarded as a very important matter.

The press reported the arrest of the police chief, who belonged to the Esquerra. Solidaridad Obrera is attempting to suggest that it was a purely criminal matter, but from other press statements it can be seen that it has something to do with the political manoeuvring of a section of the Estat Catala (the military wing of the Esquerra). These endeavours obviously have something to do with separatist and counter-revolutionary tendencies. The public were only given vague hints, perhaps because the investigation was not yet finished. Checa people have arrested a number of people in connection with this, and have apparently been quite busy.

Sarda has this to report about the composition of the PSUC. Less than a third of its members are former Communists. The majority come from the bourgeois left. On many matters the PSUC is to the right of the Esquerra.

Friday, 27 November 1936: In the morning I visited some of the poor districts of the city. They are reminiscent of the worst part of the harbour district in Marseilles. In the evening there was a meeting of the POUM in the Gracia district. Agenda: report on organisational questions. Members were called up through their cells. Excluding those who were prevented from attending because they had to take part in some sort of party task, virtually everyone was present. The district has 200 members. Twenty are old ones, that is members from before the revolt. One hundred and eighty have joined since June. This is clearly typical. The membership is largely young.

There was a report on trade union work, local projects and work in the schools, and a number of organisational questions were tackled. The reports were short. There was a discussion after each one. At the end some complaints were made about the fact that the local committee had not yet replied in writing to suggestions from the districts. It was explained that this was mainly due to them being pushed for time. Comrades were asked to accept oral replies. Comrade Schwarz was made organisational leader of the district, which met with general approval. Sarda is the political leader.

In the meantime Gorkin and Andrade of the Executive have returned from Madrid. They had been there to settle a dispute to do with the Madrid POUM column. Gorkin, whom I met at the Executive Committee of the POUM, was very optimistic about the military situation in Madrid. The entire civilian population of the city is being evacuated. In Barcelona itself children have been arriving from Madrid and have been warmly greeted by the locals. Gorkin invited me to the editorial offices of La Batalla for a discussion this afternoon.

Saturday, 28 November 1936: At 10am I had a discussion with Nin. First of all I enquired as to the long term political perspectives for the government in Catalonia. He answered that at the moment it was impossible to see in precisely what way they could establish a workers’ and peasants’ government. Most interesting was what Nin had to say about the ways in which the continual political shifts among the rank and file express themselves in the leadership.

This happens through the trade unions. According to Nin the workers are 100 per cent trade unionised. Following the shifts in influence of the political parties in the trade unions, the committees, which exercise power in the localities in Catalonia, change their composition in the same proportion. All political questions are discussed in the trade unions, and delegates are chosen according to the attitudes of the rank and file. It is also quite often the case that in areas where, for example, the POUM is strongest, even the CNT and UGT delegates represent POUM positions and feel like POUM representatives, even though they are not members of the organisation. According to this description the trade unions are the broad bodies through which proletarian democracy is put into effect. It can thus be seen that when, for example, the ratio of representatives of the various organisations is fixed in any locality, its real political composition alters in line with the attitudes of the rank and file.

It is for this reason that the POUM has expended so much energy attempting to win over the UGT. Their former party trade union entered it.8) They maintain that, despite the bureaucracy of the PSUC and the Social Democrats, who have put all kinds of obstacles in their path, they are in a good position to win the leadership of the UGT. One of the PSUC’s tricks is to allow into the unions all kinds of petit-bourgeois elements, people who have nothing to do with trade unions.

The POUM is also active in the CNT. They stand for a merger of the CNT and the UGT, and, according to them, this will soon be a reality. According to Nin’s account, which is backed up by Arquer and others, it is just not true that the representatives of the leading political committees are simply named by the party political leadership. They are elected by the membership, or the membership must agree with the selection. In any case the political development of the masses organised in trade unions — and that is equivalent to the entire working class — is reflected in the composition or the political position of the committee. This is a proletarian democracy (which is also the start of the proletarian dictatorship), whose organ is primarily the trade unions.

Nin was very critical of the PSUC. The PSUC and the Esquerra tend to hang around together. The CNT informed him that the PSUC sent them a confidential letter containing the following demands:

  1. Full dictatorial powers for the government
  2. Exclusion of the POUM from the government.
  3. Abolition of the junta de defensa and all bodies through which the workers’ organisations carry out their control over the armed forces at the front and in the rear.

Even the CNT, as well as the UGT members, strongly opposed this statement and rejected it.

Nin also gave a report of a conference or meeting of government members after the October celebrations, whereby, quite characteristically, Companys is said to have called for a Socialist republic, whilst Antonov-Ovseyenko,9) the consular representative of the Soviet Union, came out in favour of a bourgeois republic.

Moreover, Nin told me of an article which Antonov-Ovseyenko sent to the Barcelona press denouncing an article in La Batalla. He described the POUM as Fascistic. On the following Sunday, Nin and some other POUM spokesmen publicly and sharply replied to this attack.

Nin says the Esquerra should not be taken for a liberal bourgeois party. There are no elements of the big bourgeoisie in their ranks but, rather, peasants, petit-bourgeois and a considerable number of workers — professional workers. It would be more appropriate to compare the Esquerra to the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party.

On the question of the international working class movement, Nin’s position can be summed up by the following:

  1. He admits that the Brussels conference was a flop.
  2. At the international conference in Barcelona the ideological basis for a new International should be worked out, but the time is not yet ripe for its immediate formation.
  3. In reply to the question of what does he imagine the relationship of a new International to the Soviet Union may be, he said that he thought that a victory in Spain ‘through its effect on France and other countries, could alter the internal regime of the Soviet Union’. A reform of the Comintern would only be imaginable if ‘Stalin were to take a walk’.

Nin was evasive in response to my suggestion of financial payment from the POUM for our propaganda. He said that the party was currently stocktaking the goods which they had confiscated. It seems that they have come across a lot of things of little worth. Of course, I did not pursue the matter any further.

Characteristic of Nin’s attitude to the Soviet Union was his remark that the workers have less freedom of expression there than in Hitler’s Germany. We both agreed that we were divided by totally opposing attitudes to the Soviet Union.

Sunday, 30 November 1936: A discussion with POUM representatives on the Economic Council. Factories with over 50 workers have been collectivised. Those with less than 50 are under workers’ control.

The PSUC, as a front for the Esquerra, supports compensation for expropriated owners. The POUM and the CNT reject compensation completely. (Compensation would be paid out in some sort of promissory notes, which would yield an interest rate of three or four per cent.)

Factories with fewer than 50 workers can also be collectivised if they are important for the war effort, or if the owner has fled. Small employers quite often continue to work in their factories as employees. Decisions about production are made by the staff, though in some cases they have to approved by the Economic Council.

At the head of each industry is an Industrial Board, made up of four UGT, four CNT, four representatives from factory councils, and one delegate from the government. These are the main problems being faced at the moment:

  1. The supply of raw materials, especially cotton and coal.
  2. The difficulties of selling the goods of some industries because of the collapse of the Spanish market and the paralysis of foreign trade.
  3. Small businessmen are getting credit to pay wages, but are having problems getting money to buy the necessary raw materials.
  4. Many workers tend to treat the factory as the particular property of the employees. In future the profits or gains of all factories will be pooled so that the deficit firms can be supported by the surplus profits of the others.

The POUM delegate did not want an inflation of the economy but it appears inevitable. He told us in confidence that the Basque government has let it be known that they will not stand for any expropriation of firms and factories in the Basque country as has happened in Catalonia.

Monday, 1 December 1936: Some of the streets with saints’ names were renamed after POUM people who have fallen. Arquer gave a little speech at each street. There was a procession with music, flags, etc. The widows of the fallen men were there dressed in mourning.

Finally a public meeting in a large theatre. Nin, Arquer and Solano10) spoke, as did McGovern from the ILP, and a man from the SAP. Nin replied to the attacks on La Batalla and the POUM by the Soviet consul Antonov-Ovseyenko to the sound of mighty applause from the auditorium. The meeting was very lively.

In the afternoon a trip to Lérida in the POUM car with Walter Schwarz and Sarda. Drove past Montserrat. The countryside round Barcelona has been turned into gardens for market gardening and fruit orchards. Arrived at Lérida at about 8pm. We ate in a huge old nunnery which had been taken over by the town council as a canteen for milicianos and deserters from the Fascists. The catering had been well organised and there was plenty of food, potatoes, fresh meat, wine, etc.

Later on we went to a POUM bar. It is in the former club building of the Rightist party, very nicely decorated and in the centre of town. Downstairs is a café where milicianos and party comrades have lively discussions. The POUM dominates the town and province of Lérida. It has predominantly textile industries. Several burnt out churches. There is a lot of bustle on the streets. Lots of movement to and from the front. The party secretary is a young man in his early 30s.

There were two regiments in the town made up mainly of farmers’ sons from the surrounding area. The officers had been preparing an uprising in Lérida, but waited for the result of the battle for Barcelona before they came out. After the defeat in Barcelona they did not dare to crack down. Two hundred officers and leading lights of the right were shot, and the soldiers were demobbed. Initially only workers were sent to the front. Now, soldiers, too, are called up.

We were quartered in the Palace Hotel. It is clean and in good condition. Breakfast — one peseta. The POUM is in control of the UGT, which is dominant in Lérida. The CNT is weak in Lérida.

Tuesday 2 December 1936: In the morning visited ‘Good Homeland’, about 20 kilometres from Lérida. This property consists of several thousand hectares. There are large vineyards which produced between 5000 and 6000 hectolitres of wine this year. There are timber plantations (poplars) for the paper industry, and corn fields. Even before the uprising there was a POUM rural workers’ group of around 30 members. About 150 people are employed on the farm. After the uprising the property was confiscated and collectivised. The POUM sent five people to help run the place. They have a former accountant here, a POUM member from Barcelona. The different branches of production have workers’ commissions in charge. Wine is produced using modern methods — hydraulic presses made in Germany, huge cement cisterns, distillation equipment which manufacture alcohol from hops, cooling equipment, chemical laboratories, etc. Every year between 5000 and 6000 litres of alcohol are produced,

The wages of rural workers have been raised to between seven and 10 pesetas a day. There is a shop and a café, both run by workers. The owner had built a huge church for one and a half million pesetas on the farm. This is now used as a silo. Nuns used to teach at the school, but they have been kicked out and replaced by a secular teacher.

The farm house is an old castle with a high tower, from which a view stretches far into the distance. It is very modern inside. The rural workers live in miserable little houses, each with a tiny back garden. They will be rebuilt next year. Most of the furniture stayed in the castle, excluding the material that was sent to the front — beds and so on. You get the impression that the farm is successful under the new regime too. Difficulties could arise because only a tiny amount of capital (80 000 pesetas) was confiscated along with the farm. The owner was one of the big bourgeoisie and owned some more property near Barcelona, where some of the wine from the ‘Good Homeland’ was made into sparkling wine.

The farm continues to produce the usual sparkling wine, red wine (tinto) and, from special grapes (16 to 18 grad) the so-called vino rancio, a wine which is exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. According to the farm director, it is not from wine production that the greatest return is yielded but rather from the cereal harvest. Some of the cattle were handed over for the front. The management of the farm is based on a system of mutual agreement and is directed by the Economic Council of the government. The farm has not been split up. I was told that much of the surrounding land was made up of similar large businesses, and that it was unnecessary to divide up the farm.

Tuesday evening: Left Barcelona. Reached Figueras at 12 o’clock. Left Figueras early on Wednesday morning, crossed at Port-Bou to reach Perpignan. The French customs offices are about a kilometre from Port-Bou towards Cerbère. The French Customs were obviously quite sympathetic to the cause, as there was no customs search and just a brief passport control. In the clear sunlight we could see the snow covered mountains of the Pyrenees outside Perpignan, and below them vineyards, huge timber plantations, etc. On the journey from Port-Bou to Cerbère and from Cerbère to Perpignan many of the labourers who were working on the roads and so on greeted the car with a clenched fist. Reached Perpignan at 2.43. Paris Thursday morning at seven o’clock.


1) The battle for Madrid began on 8 November 1936.

2) H is Karl Heidenreich (1901-1964), a painter and member of the KPO in exile. A veteran of the Spartakusbund, he was a member of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council in Munich, after which he was imprisoned, but escaped to Berlin to join the KPD. He joined the KPO in 1929, and was jailed in the Moabit prison when Hitler came to power. Upon his release he went to France in 1934, and at the outbreak of the Civil War he crossed into Spain, where he fought in the Rovira Shock Battalion of the POUM militia on the Aragon front. Arrested by the Negrín regime in 1937, he managed to escape to France in 1939, and from there to the USA.

3) Originally the POUM was not in the government. [Author’s note]

4) Militarisation meant the absorption of the militias into the reconstituted army of the old type, set up by the Madrid government, so eliminating the militias as a revolutionary factor.

5) Walter Schwarz (1907-1986) a tailor from Berlin, joined the Social Democratic Party Youth in 1925, but went over with a group of them to the KJO, the youth organisation of the KPO in 1930, where he was elected onto its national leadership. He was unemployed from 1930, and travelled to Spain in 1932. He was a member of the POUM during the Civil War, and for a while he was responsible for maintaining the liaison between the POUM and the KPO and for representing the German speaking sympathisers of the POUM. Having been a militiaman in a POUM battalion he was imprisoned by the Stalinists, but he regained his freedom and managed to escape to Sweden early in 1939.

6) Ewald König (1894-1945) was a teacher and a member of the KPO. He joined the Socialist movement in the early 1920s, and from there the KPD. Expelled as a supporter of Brandler in 1929, he left Germany for France upon Hitler’s accession to power. During the Spanish Civil War he ran a bookshop and paper kiosk in Barcelona until he was jailed in July 1937 by the Stalinist secret police in one of their private prisons for his support for the POUM. He was released after three months, and then returned to France, where he was interned in 1939. He died of pneumonia after living illegally in Lyons for the duration of the Second World War.

7) The reference here is to the first of the Moscow Trials, in which Zinoviev, Kamenev and others were accused of being accomplices of Trotsky. The attitude of the Brandlerites was to accept the validity of the accusations, which led to the removal of König from his position as the editor of the German language bulletin of the POUM. In April 1937 a group of about 25 Trotskyists left the POUM to set up the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists, a section of the international Trotskyist movement, with the paper La Voz Leninista.

8) The Federación Obrera de Unidad Syndical (FOUS) was the white collar trade union controlled by the POUM.

9) For VA Antonov-Ovseyenko, cf p220, n152.

10) Wilebaldo Alonso Solano (1917- ) was General Secretary of the JCI (Iberian Communist Youth), the youth organisation of the POUM.