‘Small, Determined and Well-Organized’

Charles A. Orr, an American who edited the POUM’s English language publication, Spanish Revolution, wrote an account of his experiences during the suppression of the POUM, entitled “Some facts on the Persecution of foreign revolutionaries in ‘Republican’ Spain.” To our knowledge this document was never published. The following excerpt makes an interesting comparison between the POUM and the much smaller Bolshevik-Leninist group (the Spanish Trotskyists) in the face of repression:

Since my comrade and I were released from prison in Barcelona on June 26, we have been asked time and again ‘How was it possible for a revolutionary party such as the P.O.U.M. to be so thoroughly and quickly suppressed?’ There are two answers to this. In the first place, the P.O.U.M. was woefully unprepared for underground activity. It failed to come up to the standards of a revolutionary party in this respect, as in others that could be mentioned, such as its failure to sieze [sic] the revolutionary opportunities offered by the May Days in Catalonia. For months, but especially since the May Days, suggestions had come from the rank and file urging preparation for illegal activity. We could plainly see the repression coming, but Nin and the Executive Committee remained, as ever, optimistic. Finally some half-hearted attempt was made to reorganize the cells on the groups-of-five basis, but no practice meetings of the new groups were ever called, the larger cells would meet until after the party congress. In such over-centralized organizations as Spanish political parties there could be little stimulus for individuals or small groups within the party to carefully prepare for underground activity when the main machinery and personalities were obviously exposed and unconcerned.

This explains in part why and how the large P.O.U.M. organization, with its thousands of revolutionary followers and its hundreds of cells and its dozens of newspapers in Catalonia, could suddenly loose [sic] half of its Central committee and two-thirds of its Executive Committee within a few hours, and then flounder helplessly and ineffectively, like a chicken with its head cut off. It is significant that the tiny Bolshevik-Leninist group, which had been comparatively insignificant up until the time of the suppression, was henceforth able to turn out more printed material and get it distributed, than all the presses and members of the P.O.U.M. It shows what a small, determined and well-organized group can do in a tight situation. Until three weeks after the suppression, this little group lost not a single member by arrest, because they were prepared for such conditions—by continually changing rooms and names, by living in two apartments at the same time, one to work and one to sleep, etc. I ran into the leader of the group one day after our release and he proudly explained this to me.

The other reason for the complete collapse of the P.O.U.M. within twenty-four hours on the 16th and 17th of June lies on the side of the police. No one foresaw, though a revolutionary [M]arxist might have been expected to foresee it, the wonderfully organized police action. It can be said that never in Spain, where everything is always poorly organized, was such a round-up so well organized. And in fact this one was not organized by Spaniards, but was planned and carried through under the direction of Russian experts. (These we saw and spoke with in prison.)