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Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937, by Alan Sennett

Leidein & Boston: Brill Academic Pub, 2014. Pp. x, 346. Appends., notes, biblio., index. $154.00. ISBN: 9004221077.

Trotskyism and the Spanish Civil War

Sennett, who writes and teaches (Open University) on imperialism and film propaganda, takes a look at the “Trotskyite” wing of the Spanish left in the era of the Republic and Civil War, a group still maligned by many under the lingering influence of Stalinist interpretations of the Spanish Civil War. The book can be seen as having three parts. 

Sennett opens with two introductory chapters, one on “Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution,” which reviews the idea of “Permanent Revolution” and the second on Trotsky’s own writings about Spain and the Civil War of 1936-1939.  

There then follow three chapters which parse the complexities of the ideological conflict between Revolutionary and Stalinist Marxists within the framework of Spanish political life, including the collapse of the monarchy, the establishment of a provisional republic followed by the constitutional Republic, with its many internal conflicts, including the “threat of Fascism,” and the inability of left to create a unified front, which resulted in the formation of the “Trotskyite” POUM (Marxist Unified Worker’s Party) in opposition to the Stalinist PCE (Spanish Communist Party. )

Sennett's final chapters cover the outbreak of the Civil War, during which the POUM played an important role in mobilizing popular opposition to the military uprising, arguably (with the aid of the Anarchists) saving the Republic during the first critical weeks following the abortive Right Wing coup of July 1936. But differing goals, the POUM’s commitment to immediate and continuing revolution against the PCE’s effort to maintain the pretense of a “Popular Front” with bourgeois liberals and it’s Moscow-centric world view, led to increasing tensions between the two Marxist factions. This resulted in the destruction of the POUM through a carefully managed campaign of propaganda and violence by the PCE orchestrated from Moscow. 

While Sennett essentially gives us a history of one of the principal Republican radical movements, and is naturally rather one-sides on the broader issues, his account is of value to anyone interested in the military history of Spain in this period because of the light he sheds on the influence of the often brutal domestic politics of the Republic on the conduct of the war.


Note: A volume in the Brill series “Historical Materialism,” Revolutionary Marxism in Spain is also available as an e-Book, 978-9-0042-7056-5.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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