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A conversation with Roma Marquez Santo… veteran of the Spanish Civil War July 13, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Santo final copy

Many thanks to the person who forwarded the above along and also to them for the brief accompanying description…

Roma Marquez is a 93-year old Catalan who joined the POUM militia on the outbreak of the generals’ revolt in July ’36 and who later joined the anarchist militia after the POUM were suppressed.

He spent several years in prison after the war and returned to live in BCN where he has remained politically active.


1. Mark P - July 13, 2009

I am a bit surprised to see the initials CPI on this poster!

I will definitely be going to this.


2. Jim Monaghan - July 13, 2009

Paddy Trench who was in the ILP in Britain worked with the POUM.
Brian Verschoyle Gould who was a comintern courier expressed doubts about the supression of the POUM, was kidnapped in Barcelona and died in the Gulag.
Nora Connolly O’Brien wrote a letter on behalf of the POUM when it was supressed.
I think the ILP affiliate in NI had a relationship with the POUM>
There is a blog called POUMISTA.


3. Maddog Wilson - July 13, 2009

Mark P

I am not suprised at all. The CPI had connections, not least their former leader with the IB’s Etc. I cant speak for anyone in the CPI but just because we come from that strand of Socialism it does’nt mean we agree with everything that happened at that time or anytime in fact.

As Jim points out there was different opinions about the suppresion of the POUM. According to anything i have read the murder of Nin was mostly down to Orlov, the Cominterns man in Spain, the PCE did what they were told. It was wrong.


4. Garibaldy - July 13, 2009

Are those organisations funding the trip or what? Is that why their names are on the poster?


5. Mark P - July 13, 2009


My point was that the CPI, quite apart from the general adherence of the Communist Parties everywhere to Stalin’s line on Spain, was quite heavily invested in the Stalinist lies on the issues. Michael O’Riordan for instance peddled the same lies in “Connolly Column” and as recently as 1996 they were still going apeshit about Ken Loach’s magificent “Land and Freedom”.

It’s a bit odd to see them supporting a meeting featuring a Trotskyite wrecker and well known inserter of nails into butter.


6. Fergal - July 13, 2009

Looks like a brilliant evening for those able to go there.The title of the poster “revolution” sums up the anarchist and Poumista position.They weren’t defending a bourgeois republic but making a revolution,a real one ie a social revolution.
We might like it to be otherwise but the vast majority of those who went to fight in Spain from Ireland wanted Franco to win(around 200c for the republicans and 600c for Franco’s loyalists cf McGarry and Stradling)although the Blueshirts saw very little action.


7. WorldbyStorm - July 13, 2009

Mark P, I think it might be dangerous to assume that people think in such strait-jacketed terms about the issues. In the WP I found more than the odd person who had an affinity to Trotsky but was happy to work within what they thought was a large left grouping. Actually I found more who weren’t in the slightest bit pushed about Stalin. I can’t speak for the CPI, but I’d be amazed it wasn’t at least slightly heterodox. After all, for almost everyone discussing this today there is no direct connection (if one lives outside Spain, Catalonia, etc) and therefore perhaps it’s easier to recognise that above and beyond the left the real enemy was ultimately fascism and that a crucial error of the left at the time was to forget that.


8. Mark P - July 13, 2009

Perhaps you are right, WbS, but I can’t help thinking that if Mick O’Riordan was still alive and kicking any CPI members who supported such an event would have been out on their ear pretty sharpish.

The CPI, up until pretty recently, did have a “direct connection” to these issues and the Spanish Civil War was very important to them.


9. Garibaldy - July 13, 2009

I doubt anyone would ever have been kicked out for attending a meeting with a Spanish Civil War veteran, even an anarcho-trotskyist one. I don’t think the CPI had or has a big culture of purges though others may be better informed.

I do think WBS has a point that a lot of the issues which are very much still central for some on the left are of much lesser significance for others.


10. Maddog Wilson - July 14, 2009


I agree with that, Mick O, Riordan obviously accepted the CP line at the time. What he wrote in the’ Connoly Column’ was not lies to him. In retrospect i can see two points of view, As Fergal says those who thought they were making a social revolution Ie CNT/FAI and POUM and those, PCE and Left Republicans who thought keeping elements of the progressive middle class on board and winning support internationally from the Democracies was the main issue. Given the international situation at the time, and the fact that the Soviet Union were the only supplier of arms to the Republic, i think the latter point of view was correct.

That does not mean, i agree, as a former member of the CPGB and as a supporter of the WP that i think the suppresion of the POUM and the murder of Nin was ok.

If i was in Dublin for this event i would love to go and shake the guys hand and listen to his account of events. My politics did’nt stop me reading ‘ Homage To Catalonia’. At the end of the day when Franco won, he shot hundreds of thousands of people. He did’nt differentiate between any of the left groups, and he reserved a special hatred for the PCE, the sisters of Valentin Gonsalez and Vincent Uribe were publicy hung as revenge because they had escaped from Spain.


11. anarchaeologist - July 14, 2009

WbS has it in one. Campaigns such as Shell to Sea demonstrate well the CP’s willingness to work with members of other groups, such as WSM, who are moving in the same general direction. They did get a bit upset about Loach though!
Fergal’s point about ¡Revolución! as the evening’s theme is an important one which covers many bases. Roma was born in 1916, the same year as Bob Doyle and one of his earliest memories is being told by his mother of the death of Terence MacSweeny. This was at a time when anarchists were striking in BCN in support of the Irish Republic and Roma has continued to keep in touch with what passes here for political development.
Roma joined a mortar unit with the POUM militia on the Aragón front. His unit was in the line with anarchists, who encouraged them to sign over politically to avoid arrest by Soviet agents. Roma and his comrades joined the CNT militia and after it was subsumed into the Communist-controlled Republican Army, Roma was sent to an officer training camp. He was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the quiet front at Estramadura, where he says he ‘avoided the bloody slaughter of the Ebro’.
The POUM were affiliated with the ILP in the UK and George Orwell was perhaps their best known British volunteer. To a certain extent the SP occupy this political ground today. Roma also knew Durutti and attended his funeral after his death in Madrid.
The commemoration of the Spanish revolution has always been celebrated by a broad church on the left. The International Brigades Memorial Trust, the main committee as such, is mostly made up of members or ex-members of the CP, yet it has recently published a book on the POUM Not just Orwell; The Independent Labour Party Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War. The launch was attended by Roma, who was asked to come to Ireland in conjunction with a conference on the SCW in Trinity.
The meeting is essentially to facilitate people who are not attending the conference, trade unionists, activists, mortarists, ordinary folk, whoever, to meet Roma and to talk about his experiences of making the revolution. This is a topic of some interest to individuals within the groups mentioned!
Roma’s trip and hire of the hall will (hopefully) be funded by a whip- round on Thursday night. Come one, come y’all…


12. Garibaldy - July 14, 2009

Thanks for the info anarchaeologist. Fascinating.

Anyone any ideas though on why the organisations are listed on the poster? Are they part of this Irish Friends of the Spanish Revolution group?


13. anarchaeologist - July 14, 2009

It’s really a few individuals who are members of the various organisations listed along with some people who aren’t members of any organisation. We originally though we’ve have to have a name to get past the poster ban. We hold secret meetings. The acronym is accidental.


14. Jim Monaghan - July 14, 2009

On a footnote most of the Russians who were sent to Spain died in the gulag. The last major purge in the Eastern European states took many of the Spanish verterans. Read Artur Londons “I confess”, filmed with Yves Montand.Having fought in Spain was effectively evidence of Zionist/trotskyist deviations of at least that you were a spy.I think this purge turned many away from the Socialist/Communist ideal and to zionism. From the God that failed to the zionist God so to speak.
The awful La Pasionaria was still telling lies up to the end. She slandered the anarchist head of the Valencian collectives as a millionaire when he was a waiter in an hotel in South America. See Beevors book on the Cuivil War.
The best website on the Irish and the Spanish civil war is run by Ciaran Crossey who was if not still is a member of the Socialist party.
The safest palce to be for a IB veteran was probably the USA and the West.
The defence of the purges and the mentality about it helped create the athmosphere in the Officials that aggravated the internecine fight with the IRSP. I remember the stuff about how Joe Stalin knew how to deal with these people.

Best film Gregory Peck as an anarchist fighter who refues to give up. “Behold a pale horse”. With Anthony Quinn as the Franco police chief.
Best book “Hermanos” by Heerick. On a CPUSA member who is dissilusioned.


15. Jim Monaghan - July 14, 2009


A truly exhaustive site on Ireland and the Spanish Civil WAr.
Put together by Ciaran Crossey.
If it is not there it probably no longer exists.
Jim Monaghan
I would assume he is one of the organisers of the meeting.He is a meticilios researcher who has done at least a PhDs amount of work here. He also did most of the work on a history of early Irish Trotskyism where I got a credit as joint writer.


16. antigerman - July 14, 2009

I Confess: actually The Confession, Costa-Gavras, 1970. Montand was also in The War is Over (French: La Guerre est Finie), Alain Resnais, 1966, written by Jorge Semprún. Semprún was a life-long CP member, I think. The ’66 is not at all anti-Stalinist, while The Confession is. Montand was born and brought up in the CP, and I’m not sure if and when he left.


17. antigerman - July 14, 2009

P.s. Poumista is at http://poumista.wordpress.com


18. EamonnCork - July 14, 2009

Ciaran Crossey’s site is terrific. For a few quid, he’ll send you an array of fascinating material on the war. I found it fascinating anyway. I also found myself capable of enjoying both Connolly Column and Land and Freedom. I take the point about how the CP behaved with regard to the CNT and the POUM but one thing that does shine through from the Crossey material is the genuine bravery of so many of the Communist Party members who went over. There’s terrific writing on the war in Martha Gellhorn’s The Face of War which is well worth getting, although offputtingly anti-Arab in the stuff on the Six Days War


19. Jim Monaghan - July 14, 2009

I always though that as types the Irish in Spain belonged with the anarchists. Barry McLoughlin has writted about the Irish at the Lenin school and I think with Emmet O’Connor on the Irish in Spain. Irreverent and not as rigid as others.
I am told that the Connolly Youth on a trip to Nortyh Korea on getting fed up of Kim this and kim that got on a boat and went to an isolated island on a lake and ran about the place singing “F*** Kim Il Sung”.In fact some of the most nauseating fellowtravellers and wannabee applicants for the Moscow franchise were the worst. On purges there was a fairly nasty one of ANC dissidents in Tanzania done with the help of the GDR agents. Mandela apologised for it. Just in case anyone thinks these things are totally historic.
Tolgiatti ( amost cynical survivor) wrote an interesting account towards the end which showed the demoralisation caused by the destruction of the revolutionary enthusiasism done by his party

Mind you what would O’Riordan abd co say if it had been a Trotskyist who was in the same position as Frank Ryan. Oh I think Ryan was ok.


20. anarchaeologist - July 14, 2009

Just to correct an earlier impression I may have given. The IBMT did not in fact sponsor Not just Orwell. The publisher had to sell it at a recent event in brown paper bags! So much for my red and black tinted glasses…
The book (and an extensive collection of other publications on the SCW) will be available at the meeting in the Teachers’ Club.


21. Great men « Poumista - July 14, 2009

[…] […]


22. EamonnCork - July 15, 2009

Re the damage done to other strands of socialism by the various Communist parties, there’s an interesting line in Eric Hobsbawm’s autobiography, “Interesting Times,” where he justifies thus the British communist party’s decision to turn against Yugoslavia at the time of Tito’s split from Moscow, “We stayed loyal to Moscow because the cause of world socialism could dispense with the support of a small, if heroic and admired, country, but not with that of Stalin’s superpower.” Which is in essence the excuse used for turning a blind eye to what happened in Spain. (Hobsbawm is about as Stalinist as you can get but I keep reading him because the histories are terrific. There’s also a strange entertainment in seeing the convoluted Bertie at the tribunal justifications.)
The irony is that this slavishness before Moscow was justified on the grounds of pragmatism. Now that the Soviet Union and communism itself are no more you’re left wondering if things might have been a lot better had the CNT, POUM, the Kronstadt mutineers, Nestor Makhno, Imre Nagy, Alexander Dubcek etc. been allowed go their own way without interference.
Though Hobsbawm’s reference to the smallness of Yugoslavia and the might of Russia makes you wonder that, as was the case the people who cheerled the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, part of the attraction in being a Soviet camp follower was in feeling that you were on the winning side.


23. Garibaldy - July 15, 2009


I think the feeling of being on the winning side was certainly important for some. But I think Hobsbawm is far from being about as Stalinist as you can get. What he does have though is an understanding of the realities of power.


24. EamonnCork - July 15, 2009

Garibaldy, perhaps I put that a bit crudely. I’m a huge fan of Hobsbawm’s writing and have read almost everything he’s written, down to trawling for old copies of Marxism Today. At one stage I even agreed completely with his there was no alternative viewpoint on the role of the Communist Party in relation to socialism. Now I think it’s very questionable. Perhaps calling him a Stalinist is unfair yet his line of reasoning logically leads to the glossing over of even the worst excesses of Stalinism on the grounds that revealing them would damage socialism worldwide. He didn’t raise a word against Stalin when he was in power and stayed in the Party when the likes of EP Thompson and Raymond Williams left in 1956. And, though this may be naive on my part, the ‘realities of power’ have been used to justify some of the worst actions of the 20th century. I just feel that the whole, “cleave to the Soviet Union whatever happens’ approach now looks completely bankrupt given that it turned out not even to be pragmatically correct. You could say that this is hindsight, as indeed it is. But Hobsbawn, and similar apologists, were using foresight, justifying the present by what might happen in the future. I just wonder, for example, if the Italian Communists might not have taken power had the Soviet stick not been available to beat them with. Or what would have happened in Czechoslovakia in 1948, or 1968, had the country been left to find its own course.


25. Garibaldy - July 15, 2009

I think there is a serious problem with your analysis, Eamonn, especially the speculation about Italy. You forget the presence of huge numbers of US troops in both France and Italy, where communists were at their strongest, nevermind US involvement in Greece. Their likely response to a communist victory? I think we all know. But as evidence, we might note that a US fleet was just off the coast of Portugal during the rose revolution just in case things went too far to the left.

Given the collapse of the CPGB, PCI and long slow decline of the PCF we might say that in fact it was a mistake to surrender too much to capitalism in the rush to separate oneself from the USSR. Compare the experience of the Portugese and Greek CPs since the USSR fell.

And in terms of power. How much influence did Thompson and Williams and the rest have on politics after 1956? How much did the CPGB have? There are good reasons for staying in a party. On top of all that, the national struggle is supposed to come first, no?


26. anarchaeologist - July 15, 2009

Hmmm… slightly off topic at this stage but as part of the conference in TCD, and especially for those who can’t make the less enticingly named Teachers’ Club, Roma will be speaking at a lunchtime meeting at the Café Literario in the Instituto Cervantes on Lincoln Place from 13.00 tomorrow (Thursday).


27. Jim Monaghan - July 15, 2009

Will someone translate at the Instituto.


anarchaeologist - July 15, 2009

Good question Jim. I think so. Roma has reasonably good English himself, though at 93, he ain’t too loud!


28. Garibaldy - July 15, 2009

Actually, jut oin Eamonn’s point on leaving Spain alone. The Republic would have fallen much more quickly without Soviet weapons and training, whatever the rights and wrongs of the factional struggles.


29. Mark P - July 15, 2009

Christ Garibaldy, you used to irritate me when you came out with this stuff. At this point I just sit back and enjoy the experience of being given a window back in time to when apologists for Stalinism roamed the Earth.


30. Garibaldy - July 15, 2009

I don’t think a bunch of poorly armed and badly coordinated militas were going to beat the nationalists and the Nazis, no matter what their politics were. We do need to remember that the Republic was actually defeated even with the better weapons and training supplied by the USSR.

What was that conversation on the realities of power? I think it might have some relevance here.


31. Mark P - July 15, 2009

The Republic was incapable of beating the Nationalists and the Nazis using the Stalinists plan of action. Fighting the Fascists as if they were involved in a conventional war between two capitalist powers was never going to succeed, given the huge disparity in arms, the absolute refusal of the “democratic” powers to defend democracy and the very limited aid for the Soviet Union as compared to the Axis powers. And indeed a policy of fighting a war between two capitalist governments while sucking up the “democratic” powers did not work.

That should perhaps lead you to look for alternative approaches rather than insisting that Stalin’s failed strategy was the only possible option.

And by the way, you have some cheek casually dismissing “the rights and wrongs of the factional struggles”. The faction you support murdered the other factions to the best of their ability, remember? It’s yet another blot on the long, cancerous, record of Stalinism and the sooner the last of its apologists are gone the better.


32. The Cappucino Kid - July 15, 2009

Have you read up on the reality of Soviet aid to Spain Garibaldy? It certainly came with more strings attached than that of Hitler and Mussolini to Franco. it was turned on and turned off, and paid for by Spanish money. No CP partisan is ever able to answer why Spanish republican veterans were jailed back in the USSR.
If the national struggle is to come first then the Italians and the Greeks should have pushed for power in 1945-49; they didn’t in part because Moscow did not want them to. International communist parties subordinated themselves to what Russian foreign policy dictated.
And if you think this is anarcho-trot speak, the most authorative mainstream histories of these events tend to back that up.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks towards convincing people that socialism means some form of liberation has been that intelligent articulate socialists, who fiercely condemn oppression in their own countries, make ridiculous excuses for tyranny in the USSR, the GDR, China, North Korea or wherever.


33. Mark P - July 15, 2009

I think the Workers Party prefer to call the land of the magic God-Emperor the “DPRK”, Mr Kid.


34. Garibaldy - July 15, 2009

Cappucino Kid,

I am aware, and for what it’s worth I feel it was wrong that there were so many conditions.

The Greeks did push for power to the extent of fighting a civil war. I suspect that it was much less possible in Italy given the US military presence, atomic weapons etc.


I think your post 31 dodges the issue. What were the alternative strategies that would have made ill-armed and uncoordinated militias defeat the Nationalists and their allies? It’s been a long time since I read Trotsky on Spain, but looking at his actions during the Russian Civil War isn’t it fair to say that he believed in a properly formed army and rigid discipline when engaged in a life and death struggle against reaction? I mean, the criticism thrown by people like yourself at what happened in Spain (which I think ignores the extent to which violence was a two-way street) is very similar to those made against Trotsky over Kronstadt. And if I recall correctly, that isn’t such a problem for yourself.


35. Garibaldy - July 15, 2009

Oh, and I think the extent to which you identify me with the PCE and Stalin is far greater than the extent to which I identify myself. Which brings us back to WBS’ extremely valid recent point that these issues are of greater importance to the political identity of some than others.


36. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

Garibaldy, it may well be that you are right and I am wrong. I’m not sure there’s any empirical truth about the might have beens of history anyway. What I’m doing is thinking aloud about the possibilities of what might have happened. I agree with you on Italy to the extent that Kissinger made it clear, or at least semi-clear which was his wont, in 1976 that the US probably wouldn’t stand for a PCI victory. You could argue, however, that EP Thompson, through the writing of the Making of the English Working Class and his involvement in CND, had some impact on politics, certainly as much as anyone who stayed in the CPGB. But I’m not making these points because of any particular political allegiance, they’re just what I’m thinking of at the moment because of the reading I’ve been doing recently.


37. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

I didn’t mean to say there was a clear right and wrong here. It’s a matter of intrepretation like you say. It’s just that there is with some people a tendency to blame everything that did or didn’t happen on Moscow when in fact there were a lot of other factors to take on board, not least the strength of reaction (I’m not saying you’re doing this). I think there is a voluntarist tinge to that tendency.

You might be write about Thompson. Certainly he wrote an extremely impirtant book. But was that influential at the level of politics? I’m not sure. The CND thing is fair enough, but of course without organisations behind it how influential would it have been?


38. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

I suppose it is Hobsbawm’s argument about the necessity of cleaving to Moscow which fascinates me. He’s a man I admire in so many ways that it intrigues me that I can’t buy this particular argument. Though, to be honest, this may well have a lot, or indeed everything, to do with my not being situated in the historical context in which these decisions were made. Oh, and when I said that you might be right and I might be wrong, I didn’t mean to imply you were being doctrinaire, I just meant that you might be right and I might be wrong. I take your point about the strength of reaction which is one of the main things I took from The Age of Extremes when I read it first. And, to be honest, I don’t think anyone would deny that without the spectre of Communism being there to put the wind up the ruling classes, many of the even the mildest social democratic reforms would probably not have been made. The horrendous confidence of neo-liberalism post 1991 is evidence of that. By the way, on the legacy of Communism, one of the best things I’ve ever read is a short story, set in Italy, by George Steiner called, “Proofs.” It says profound things about what Communism meant to people more eloquently and poignantly than many a large political volume.


39. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

I’ll try and check that Steiner thing out. Thanks for the heads up on it,

As for cleaving to Moscow. I think you are right.


40. Jim Monaghan - July 16, 2009

Could I recommend Broue and Temine book on the Spanish war.
Jim Monaghan


41. Waddin - July 16, 2009

Given the poor performance of the POUM in the Spanish War, their disoranisation and chaotic military command. Is it not an idea, for someone to make sure that Roma arrives in the Teachers Club in Dublin, rather than in Galway.


42. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

Jim, thanks for the tip on the Broue book. It looks interesting, in fact Broue himself looks very interesting, I’m sure it’s an indication of my ignorance that I hadn’t heard of him before. The general histories I’ve read are the Paul Preston and the Thomas, which my father used to say was longer than the war itself. It looks a bit pricey on Amazon but no doubt when economic nirvana is restored by massive public sector job cuts and the slashing of social welfare the rest of us will be able to buy anything we want without worrying about the price.


43. Colm B - July 16, 2009

I think Beevoir’s book gets it more or less right regarding the basic facts on the POUM, May days 1937 etc.
This could be debated back and forth (and will be!) for years so all I’ll add is that, as I seee it, fundamentally the struggle between the POUM/CNT/the left Socialists etc. vs. the Stalinists was not about tactics but a struggle between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. What I mean by that is that one set of actors were working (not without mistakes) to establish a situation where workers and peasants held real power collectively and another set of actors worked (some unwittingly) to establish hierarchical, authoritarian top down structures primarily arisingfrom the short-term interests of the Russian state. Now of course there are all sorts of nuances but that in my view is the heart of the matter.

For a really detailed work on the POUM see: Victor Alba (himself a former POUMista) and S. Schwartz (1988) ‘Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism. A History of the POUM’, Transaction Books, Oxford.
There is also some material on the POUM at http://www.libcom.org. and the following link includes an excerpt from the autobiography of a former stalinist minister in the Republican government on the suppression of the POUM:


44. Jim Monaghan - July 16, 2009

I would also suggest
also the blog

It has a special issue on Spain.Some of it is horrendous. the kidnapping of Kurt landau and Rudolf klement for a start.
For a novel read Victor Serge “Midnight of the century.”
It also published Ciran Crossey magnum pous on Irish Trotskyism. I say Ciaran because he did 90% plus of the work.

Went to the meeting in the Spanish Institute. IBer form Liverpool and the Poum fighter. Both moving. Manus O’Riordan also spoke.
It was a good fight by decent people from all over the world


45. Jim Monaghan - July 16, 2009

Broue was a french Trotskyist historian. Temine was a social democrat so they counterbalanced each other.
They would be much more political than Preston or Thomas. The basic thesis of the Trotskyists is that the only way tio win against professionals is with revolutionary elan.That could only be done by following St Just dictum “those who half finish a revolution, dig their graves”
Broue was a prolific writer. He edited a multi volume “:Cahiers Leaon Trotsky” as well as a comprehensive bio of the old man.


46. EamonnCork - July 16, 2009

“It was a good fight by decent people all over the world.” I suppose, when all the factional debates are put aside, that’s why Spain retains such a hold on the collective imagination. Martha Gellhorn’s conclusion is more or less the same as Jim’s as she says that, whatever the mistakes that were made, there was no other occasion when people came from all over the world to fight for a cause in which they had no selfish interest, largely ordinary working class people who must have known they were risking their lives, and probably that the chances of defeat were high. I remember seeing Cathal O’Shannon’s Even The Olives Are Bleeding when I was a kid and being incredibly moved by it, later making a tape which I watched a lot over the years. (There is something incredibly appealing about the fact that the Irish left wingers were generally incredibly brave whereas O’Duffy’s mob were too drunk and incompetent to be let near the battlefield. Not propaganda either, the actual truth.) The meeting must have been great, sometimes I wish I lived in Dublin.


47. Maddog Wilson - July 16, 2009

Colm B
You say that the struggle was between ‘Revolutionaries and Counter Revolutionaries’

The War was actually a civil war and like it or not a large part of the electorate had supported the right in the last elections. The Republican coalition included The Basques, The Catalans, Left Republicans, Moderate Socialists, The PCE and The CNT/FAI/POUM. To try to hold this coalition together and split the Rights support, who were divided between Carlists, Falangists and the Army was a reasonable strategy. Francos foot soldiers, with the exception of the Italians and the Morrocans were volunteers from Navarre, Galicia and Castille, all from Catholic small peasant holdings background, who no doubt felt that they were fighting against Communism which threatened their interests. A full social Revolution in Spain at that time was not objectively possible. The policy of retaining as wide a support in and outside of Spain for the Republic as a Democracy was in my
opion the only possible option that could have secured the Republics survival. This was a genuine view not ‘Counter Revolution’

None of this excuses what happened to the POUM or Stalins machinations but it was’nt some historical abberation you can just dismiss as ‘Stalinism’ or ‘Counter Revolution’.


48. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

I was just wondering today in the car if we should really be blaming Stalin for all this. Was it his fault the anarchists took over the telephone exchange and refused to pass on messages in the middle of a war against fascism? What did they think the reaction was going to be?

I’m slightly disappointed that Mark P mustn’t have been back. i’d have like to read his response on trotsky’s attitude to the need for a properly organised revolutionary army, on revolutionary discipline within armies during a revolutionary war, and how to enforce it. And how that might be of relevance to criticisms of events in Spain.

I’m inclined to agree with maddog that the space for a full scale social revolution was not there. It could have been attempted, but the likely result would have been to weaken the already too weak forces of the Republic further.

Revolutionary elan can get you somewhere when you are charging people with bayonets. But in the 20th century against fascism you needed to devote all your resources to defeating it, and to be properly organised to do so. Surely that is the lesson not only of Spain but also of WWII?


49. Tim Buktu - July 16, 2009

An interesting evening, albeit the focus was very much on the personal experiences of the civil war rather than the politics. It’s a pity Roma had been worked so hard during the day and was so tired that he could contribute only twice. And I was irritated with the show-off in the audience who asked a lengthy question in Spanish or Catalan, prompting an answer that equally excluded large part of the audience.

I thought the age profile of the audience was also interesting. It looked like some of the youth/ogra units of the supporting political parties had a strong attendance.


50. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

Thanks for the report Tim. Shame that he was unable to contribute much. Must have been disappointing for the audience. I guess that personal experience was the least controversial option.


51. Mark P - July 16, 2009

I hate to break it to Garibaldy and Maddog, but arguments for maintaining capitalism and opposing socialist revolution based on tactical considerations lose some of their lustre when the tactic you favour has already failed.

I had forgotten about Garibaldy’s question about militias and regular armies. The short answer is that the central problem with the creation of a regular army in Spain was that such an army represented the imposition of centralised discipline in defence of the capitalist system. If the army is to be defending a revolution, then its form is a tactical question for revolutionaries and people can quite reasonably hold different positions. If it’s to defend capitalism against the revolutionary working class, then no tactical argument will justify it.

The Stalinist strategy was to destroy the social revolution in Republican Spain and then fight a war for capitalist democracy against fascism and hope to thereby win support from the allegedly progressive wing of the bourgeoisie and the “democratic” powers. The problem they faced with that is that neither the bourgeoisie nor the “democratic” powers were remotely persuadable. The revolutionary strategy was to create a social revolution, mobilising the energy of the workers and peasants on that basis and appeal to the peasants and workers behind the fascist lines on that basis.

It may be that the strategy of the revolutionaries would have been defeated too, but it is plainly ridiculous to be arguing on tactical grounds in favour of a tactic that demonstrably failed.


52. Garibaldy - July 16, 2009

Thanks for the answer Mark. As for a strategy that failed. Yes it did fail. But then again the reason it was introduced was because the previous tactic was already failing. I could of course turn that argument on its head and point out that those who wanted an alternative course were advocating it. And failed to garner support for it. So I guess we’re both guilty of the same thing, eh?

I’m still convinced that the creation of a regular army with proper discipline represented the most sensible way to fight a vicious and powerful enemy, backed up by still more vicious and more powerful allies. Any notion that the army was not primarily to fight fascism is so perverse as to defy belief.


53. yourcousin - July 17, 2009

Almost tempted to say “Jesus wept” about this thread but since it’s about the Spanish Civil War I suppose we’ll have to expect and accept the usual lines being trotted out.

A quick note on Trotsky. I am officially a member of the icepick fan club and anyone looking at Trotsky’s actions during the Russian Revolution can see that Trotsky had no problem with the very same tactics that the Stalinists invoked against him later. Trying to boil Spain down to Trotskyism versus Stalinism is missing the point in Spain.

To point out that the Socialists and Communists were fighting for the Republic in Spain and that they were duly elected is to miss or forget the Socialist rising of ’34 in which the Socialists lost the election and decided to launch an uprising instead. To me that renders much of the argument about “duly elected government” moot.

A historical note as well. The Anarchists seized the telephone exchange early in the revolution and the street fighting in Barcelona came when the Communists tried to seize it from them. So unless the Anarchists should’ve ceded the telephone exchange to the facists I don’t see what the trouble was.

For better or worse Anarchism was the main working class revolutionary tendency in Spain at the time. The Socialists existed and had strong holds but were not dominant and were rather tainted by years of parliamentary inaction (until the aforementioned uprising in ’34). The Communists were a small bunch that existed wholly at the behest of Russia and this is the problem.

That the Communists were able to get more international support is commedable but does not alter the fact that they used Spain as a pawn in a larger struggle for their own ends. Let us not forget that these ends were not wholly the altruistic “anti facist” lines fed by the Soviet sympathyzers. Weimar Germany is the perfect example of the where the KPD was willing to “work with” the Nazis and other opponents of the Weimar Republic because they felt that the Socialists represented a greater threat to their eventual ascension to power.

Factional fighting and ideological differences are one thing. But openly talking of killing your “allies” and instituting a system of informers and internal police against those who might stray from the preferred position even if they are still supportive (though critical) is far beyond the pale.

Yes the USSR gave tanks to the Spanish Republic, but it required them to give up the revolution in return. You’ll excuse me for not jumping for joy at that.


54. Jim Monaghan - July 17, 2009

Probably a footnote
“Francos foot soldiers, with the exception of the Italians and the Morrocans were volunteers from Navarre, Galicia and Castille, all from Catholic small peasant holdings background, who no doubt felt that they were fighting against Communism which threatened their interests”
The Trotskyists through the POUM tried to get the Government to grant independence to Morrocco and get Abdel Krim? out of British hands. Imagine the effect this might have had on Francos auxiliaries from Morrocco.
Not done because it might have upset the French Imperialists and all the help they didn’t give.
On a disciplined army. Yes to it but not at the expense of revolutionary fervour.


55. Dr. X - July 17, 2009

So did anyone go to this event – and if so, do they have anything to report?


56. Colm B - July 17, 2009

To return to Garibaldy’s on about revolution vs. counter-revolution in Spain.
The Stalinists did not simply advocate a ‘revolution must wait’ stance. They actively suppressed a revolution that was already in the process of happening. Workers and poor peasants had already seized the means of production, land etc. in parts of Spain, especially Catalonia and Aragon, so the most important point here is that the CP and its bourgeois allies actually supressed workers control especially after the May Days. The details of this whole process are outlined in the following document:


This is not to say that the Anarchists and the POUM did not commit mistakes but these were just that: mistakes by honest, if flawed, revolutionaries. The struggle between the CP and the Anarchists/POUM was not really about tactics, it was about building a society based on worker/peasant power vs. defending capitalist ‘democracy’ with the proviso that the CP planned to build a Russian style authoritarian state in the long run.

I’d add that hardly anyone besides ultra-stalinist lunatics now dispute the facts regarding the supression of the POUM, a campaign which began under direct pressure from the Russian state well before the May Days of 1937.

Yes indeed Franco was the greatest, and in the end most ‘successful’ enemy of the Spanish workers and peasants but the Stalinists had already defeated the revolution before he finished off the remnants of that revolution and bourgeois democracy as well.


57. Jim Monaghan - July 20, 2009

The classic Trotskyist account is available here


Sorry for delay in giving this
Jim Monaghan


58. Poumista - July 23, 2009

Can someone more knowledgeable than me add Roma Marquez Santo to this wikipedia page:


59. Alan Warren - August 3, 2009

Hello all,

Regarding Roma’s attendance at the Teacher’s Club it was a fascinating evening but it was a pity that he ran out of puff so soon. But I would like to reiterate what I offered the audience at the Teacher’s Club that if people have serious and valid questions to ask Roma then he would be happy to answer them over a cup of coffee here in BCN with Claudia Hohnefeld (who was sitting beside him at the meeting) and myself (The idiot who produced the ‘Not just Orwell’ book, and yes, it is true, at IBMT events I have been asked not to sell it so it is there in a brown paper bag!).

Please drop us your questions to me at hill705@gmail.com. However, I am off to India until September 1st so please hang on! (Perhaps I should tell that to Roma too!).


Alan Warren


60. Poumist ephemera « Poumista - September 3, 2009

[…] Poum pages: Roma Marquez Santo 2, Vicente Ferrer, Not Just Orwell…, Roma Marquez Santo, May 1, Poumish (a bloggish miscellany), From the archive of struggle, no.26, From the archive of […]


61. veterans benefits - June 11, 2012

So that’s what Roma Marquez Santo was. An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you should publish more on this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t talk about such subjects. To the next! Cheers!!


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