Bloc, Party or Organisation of Sympathisers?
The following article, which was translated by John Sullivan, is taken from Comunismo No.8, January 1932. The author, Andrés Nin, was at that time a leader of the Trotskyist section in Spain. His article is a polemic in defence of the organisational principles of Bolshevism against the looser methods advocated by a member of the Bloque Obrero y Campesino (BOC – Workers and Peasants Bloc), the political formation with which Nin and his comrades would merge in 1935 to form the POUM. For the background, see Andy Durgan, "The Spanish Trotskyists and the Foundation of the POUM", in The Spanish Civil War: The View from the Left (Revolutionary History, Vol.4, Nos.1/2, 1991-2).
The BOC, according to Colomé, is an organisation of sympathisers. Yet a "bloc" and an organisation of sympathisers are two different things. A "bloc" presupposes a pact between two or more political forces for specific purposes. That was Maurín’s3 original idea: to form an alliance of the Catalan-Balearic Communist Federation (FCC-B), the "Peasant Union" (with Companys!)4 and the workers’ and co-operative organisations which supported that platform. The members of the FCC-B who attended the Tarrassa conference in autumn 1930 did not deny that. The project foundered when not one of the organisations which were expected to join the BOC did so, and it was in fact reduced to being an organisation of sympathisers. Colomé accepts that is so. Does it explain why so many "private opinions" keep arising inside the Bloque, and make it impossible to agree on a political line? While Colomé considers that the BOC is an organisation of sympathisers, La Batalla, its official journal, constantly refers to "our Party" and speaks of it taking power (Where? In Lérida province, its stronghold?), and proposes in official documents the unification of all Spanish Communists (not sympathisers) simply by joining the BOC, a specifically Catalan body.
After all that, Colomé still denies that the BOC promotes confusion! However, let the BOC’s leaders unravel the mystery if they can: we will deal only with Colomé’s position. He claims that the FCC-B is an organisation of "seasoned Communists, capable of acting in a disciplined way and tempered in struggle", whereas the BOC is an organisation of sympathisers controlled by the BOC. In that way contact is made with the masses, and members and sympathisers act "to give direction and guidance on political, trade union and co-operative issues, and in all activities which strengthen workers’ class consciousness and militancy".
That view is diametrically opposed to Bolshevik organisational principles. Has comrade Colomé forgotten that the split in Russian Social Democracy at the 1903 London Congress arose because of the absolute incompatibility of the Bloquist ideas of Martov and the future Mensheviks, and those of Lenin and the future Bolsheviks? The Mensheviks considered that a sympathiser qualified as a party member. The Bolsheviks rejected that opportunist conception of the party, arguing that it should consist of the most revolutionary minority.
We can predict Colomé’s objections: "The BOC is not a party! The pure, experienced, disciplined etc Communists are members of the Federation." That objection is worthless because the BOC acts like a party, and presents itself publicly as such, while the FCC-B plays a more and more secondary part, so that its existence is nominal and its political activity is nil.
Colomé tries to justify the BOC’s existence by arguing that it is not possible to form a mass party. Here he shows a complete failure to understand the traditional Bolshevik view of the party’s conception and role. By a "mass" party we do not mean an organisation which includes the majority of people, but one capable of leading them in struggle. The Russian Bolshevik party had no more than 240,000 members on the eve of the October revolution, yet it led the victorious struggle of millions of workers and peasants. That minority was able to lead a decisive majority of the oppressed, precisely because it fought resolutely against confusionism, had clear ideological principles and made no organisational concessions to sympathisers and allies. The Communist party was able to become the leader of all the oppressed, by retaining its identity as the party of the proletariat (not the workers and peasants – two distinct classes) which would emancipate all those oppressed by capitalism. To do otherwise leads to catastrophic defeats as happened in China where the Communist party subordinated the proletariat to the Guomindang – an equivalent to the BOC. As Lenin said in 1913: "It is absolutely necessary that we first separate ourselves from the rest and organise the proletariat. Only after we have done so can we call on everyone to participate."
What we need to do is form a national party with clear ideas and adequate tactics which will organise in the factories and the workers’ organisations, carry out agitation among the peasants, extending its influence everywhere and drawing masses of people behind it. Organisations such as the BOC can only sow confusion, making it more difficult for the idea of a disciplined, combative party to take root among the mass of workers. They perpetuate the petit-bourgeois ideology so deeply rooted in our country. The BOC, because of its social composition and its heterogeneity, cannot be an instrument of revolution, and will fall apart at the first blow of reaction. The party is an organisation of fighters, of soldiers of the revolution. It cannot be an organisation of sympathisers, hardly willing to pay subscriptions, who might desert at the first sign of danger.
We do not doubt the Communist sincerity of some of the BOC leaders, above all of the good workers in its ranks. However, the Menshevik principles on which the BOC is founded will lead it, inevitably, to unbridled opportunism, which will seriously damage the Communist cause. The fact that the BOC systematically expels Communists, such as the Left Opposition and the Arlandis-Sesé group,5 while it includes sympathisers of "Estat Català"6 and "Nosaltres Tots",7 surrealists and Freemasons, ought to open the eyes of the honest militants who continue to believe that it is a Communist organisation.
The Bloque Obrero y Campesino has made only its first steps. It will not stop there, but will follow the opportunist road, pushed by the mass influx of petit-bourgeois elements. With ideas such as those advanced by Colomé, the Bloque will soon become an extreme left of the bourgeoisie, the successor to the Left of Macià,8 and will fail, noisily, after a period of rapid progress.
1. La Batalla was the paper of the BOC and later of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM). Victor Colomé was on the right of the BOC. He left the POUM in 1936.
2. The Bloque Obrero y Campesino was formed in 1931. Its main component was the Catalan-Balearic Communist Federation (FCC-B), the former Catalan organisation of the Spanish Communist Party, from which it had been expelled in 1930.
3. Joaquín Maurín was the main leader of the FCC-B and the BOC, and subsequently of the POUM.
4. Luis Companys was a Catalan nationalist leader, and headed the Catalan government during the Civil War.
5. A group of Trotskyists had been expelled from the BOC in 1931. Hilario Arlandis and Antonio Sesé were supporters of the Stalinised Comintern.
6. A Catalan separatist group.
7. Another Catalan nationalist group.
8. Francisco Macià was the leader of the Catalan nationalist party, the Esquerra (the Catalan word for "Left").