Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (P.O.U.M.)

POUM poster from the Spanish Civil War

POUM poster from the Spanish Civil War

The Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (Spanish: Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, POUM) was a Spanish communist political party formed during the Second Republic and mainly active around the Spanish Civil War. It was formed by the fusion of the Trotskyist Communist Left of Spain (Izquierda Comunista de España, ICE) and the Workers and Peasants’ Bloc (BOC, affiliated with the Right Opposition) against the will of Leon Trotsky, with whom the former broke. The writer George Orwell served with the party and witnessed the Stalinist repression of the movement, which would form his anti-totalitarian ideas in later life.


In 1935, POUM was formed as a communist opposition to Stalinism by the revolutionaries Andreu Nin and Joaquín Maurín. The two were heavily influenced by the thinking of Leon Trotsky, particularly his Permanent Revolution thesis. It resulted from the merging of the Trotskyist Communist Left of Spain and the Workers and Peasants’ Bloc against the wishes of Trotsky, with whom the former broke.


The party grew larger than the official Communist Party of Spain (PCE) both nationally and in the communist hotbeds of Catalonia and the Valencian Country, where the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) represented the PCE. The POUM was highly critical of the Popular Front strategy advocated by Joseph Stalin and the Comintern; nevertheless, it participated in the Spanish Popular Front initiated by Manuel Azaña, leader of Acción Republicana. The POUM attempted to implement some of its radical policies as part of the Popular Front government, but they were resisted by the more centrist factions.

George Orwell, who fought with the POUM in the civil war, reports that its membership was roughly 10,000 in July 1936, 70,000 in December 1936, and 40,000 in June 1937, although he notes that the numbers are from POUM sources and are probably exaggerated.

Conflict with the Popular Front

The POUM’s independent communist position, including opposition to Stalin, caused huge ruptures with the PCE, which remained fiercely loyal to the Comintern. Moreover, these divisions, which included accusations of Trotskyism (and even Fascism) by the Communists, resulted in actual fighting between their supporters; most notably, in 1937, a primarily-Communist coalition of government forces attacked the POUM during the Barcelona May Days. While the larger CNT initially supported the POUM, its more militant members—such as Juan García Oliver and the Friends of Durruti—were pushed towards conciliation by the moderate leadership. This left the POUM, along with the purely Trotskyist Seccion Bolshevik-Leninista, isolated, and both organizations were driven underground. Nin was detained and tortured to death by NKVD agents in Madrid, and his party consistently labeled as provocateur in Stalinist propaganda.

Unlike the other leftist parties of the Popular Front, the POUM failed to consolidate again during the Spanish transition to democracy and dissolved in 1980 after getting a bad result in the first democratic elections after the death of Franco.

International links

The POUM was a member of the “London Bureau” of socialist parties that rejected both the reformism of the Second International and the pro-Moscow orientation of the Third International. Other members included the Independent Labour Party in Britain, the Workers and Peasants’ Socialist Party (PSOP) in France, and Poale Zion. Its youth wing was affiliated to the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations, through which it recruited the ILP Contingent in the Civil War. Foreign supporters of POUM during the Civil War included Lois Orr.

Cultural references

British first edition of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (Secker & Warburg)British author George Orwell fought alongside members of the Independent Labour Party as part of POUM militias; he recounted the experience in his book Homage to Catalonia. Likewise, the film Land and Freedom, directed by Ken Loach, tells of a group of POUM soldiers fighting in the war from the perspective of a British member of the British Communist Party. In particular, the film deals with his disillusionment with the Soviet Union’s policies in the war.

The POUM is briefly mentioned in Joe Haldeman’s science fiction novel The Forever War as a militia where “(y)ou obeyed an order only after it had been explained in detail; you could refuse if it didn’t make sense.”

Political parties and organizations in the Spanish Civil War

The Popular Front (Republican)

The Popular Front was an electoral alliance formed between various left-wing and centrist parties for elections to the Cortes in 1936, in which the alliance won a majority of seats.

  • UR (Unión Republicana – Republican Union): Led by Diego Martínez Barrio, formed in 1934 by members of the PRR who had resigned in objection to Alejandro Lerroux’s coalition with the CEDA. It drew its main support from skilled workers and progressive businessmen.
  • IR (Izquierda Republicana – Republican Left):Led by former Prime Minister Manuel Azaña after his Republican Actionparty merged with Santiago Casares Quiroga’s Galicianindependence party and the Radical Socialist Republican Party(PRRS). It drew its support from skilled workers, small businessmen and civil servants. Azaña led the Popular Front and became President of Spain. The IR formed the bulk of the first government after the Popular Front victory, with members of the UR and the ERC.
    • ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya -Republican Left of Catalonia): The Catalan faction of Azaña’s Republicans, led by Lluís Companys.
  • PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español – Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party):Formed in 1879, its alliance with Acción Republicana in municipal elections in 1931 saw a landslide victory that led to the King’s abdication and the creation of the Second Republic. The two parties won the subsequent general election, but the PSOE left the coalition in 1933. At the time of the Civil War the PSOE was split between a right wing under Indalecio Prieto and Juan Negrín, and a left wing under Largo Caballero. Following the Popular Front victory it was the second largest party in the Cortes, after the CEDA; it supported the ministries of Azaña and Quiroga but did not actively participate until the Civil War began. It had majority support amongst urban manual workers.
    • UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores – General Union of Workers): The socialist trade union. The UGT was formally linked to the PSOE and the bulk of the union followed Caballero.
    • Federacion de Juventudes Socialistas (Federation of Socialist Youth)
  • PSUC (Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya – Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia): An alliance of various socialist parties in Catalonia, formed in the summer of 1936, controlled by the PCE.
  • JSU (Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas – Unified Socialist Youth): Militant youth group formed by the merger of the Socialist and the Communist youth groups. Its leader, Santiago Carrillo, came from the Socialist Youth but had secretly joined the Communist Youth prior to merger, and the group was soon dominated by the PCE.
  • PCE (Partido Comunista de España – Communist Party of Spain): Led by José Díaz in the Civil War, it had been a minor party during the early years of the Republic but came to dominate the Popular Front after Negrín became Prime Minister.
  • POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista – Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification):An anti-Stalinist revolutionary communist party of former Trotskyists formed in 1935 by Andreu Nin.
    • JCI (Juventud Comunista Ibérica – Iberian Communist Youth): the POUM’s youth movement.
  • PS (Partido Sindicalista – Syndicalist Party): a moderate splinter group of CNT.

Supporters of the Popular Front (Republican)

  • Unión Militar Republicana Antifascista (Republican Anti-fascist Military Union): Formed by military officers in opposition to the Unión Militar Española.
  • Anarchist groups.The anarchists boycotted the 1936 Cortes election and initially opposed the Popular Front government, but joined during the Civil War, when Largo Caballero became Prime Minister.
    • CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo – National Confederation of Labour): The confederation of anarcho-syndicalist trade unions.
    • FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica – Iberian Anarchist Federation): The federation of anarchist groups, very active in the Republican militias.
    • Mujeres Libres (Free Women): The anarchist feminist organisation.
    • FIJL (Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias – Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth)
  • Basque separatists.
    • PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco – Basque Nationalist Party): A Catholic Christian Democratparty under José Antonio Aguirre, which campaigned for greater autonomy or independence for the Basque region. Held seats in the Cortes and supported the Popular Front government before and during the Civil War. Put its religious disagreement with the Popular Front aside for a promised Basque autonomy.
    • ANV (Acción Nacionalista Vasca – Basque Nationalist Action): A leftist socialist party which at the same time campaigned for independence of the Basque region.
    • STV (Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos – Basque Workers’ Solidarity): A trade union in the Basque region, with a Catholic clerical tradition combined with moderate socialist tendencies.
  • SRI (Socorro Rojo Internacional – International Red Aid): Communist organization allied with the Comintern that provided considerable aid to Republican civilians and soldiers.
  • International Brigades: pro-Republican military units made up of anti-fascist socialist, communist and anarchist volunteers from different countries.

Nationalists (Francoist)
Virtually all Nationalist groups had very strong Roman Catholic convictions and supported the native Spanish clergy.

  • Unión Militar Española (Spanish Military Union) – a conservative political organisation of officers in the armed forces, including outspoken critics of the Republic like Francisco Franco. Formed in 1934, from its inception the UME secretly courted fascist Italy. After the electoral victory of the Popular Front, it began plotting a coup with monarchist and fascist groups in Spain. In the run-up to the Civil War it was led by Emilio Mola and José Sanjurjo, and latterly Franco.
  • Alfonsist Monarchist– supported the restoration of Alfonso XIII. Many army officers, aristocrats and landowners were Alfonsine, but there was little popular support.
    • Renovación Española (Spanish Restoration) – the main Alfonsine political party.
    • Acción Española (Spanish Action)– an integral nationalist party led by José Calvo Sotelo, formed in 1933 around a journal of the same name edited by Ramiro de Maeztu.
      • Bloque Nacional (National Block) – the militia movement founded by Calvo Sotelo.
  • Carlist Monarchist– supported Alfonso Carlos I de Borbón y Austria-Este’s claim to the Spanish throne and saw the Alfonsine line as having been weakened by Liberalism. After Alfonso Carlos died without issue, the Carlists split – some supporting Carlos’ appointed regent, Francisco-Xavier de Borbón-Parma, others supporting Alfonso XIII or the Falange. The Carlists were clerical hard-liners led by the aristocracy, with a populist base amongst the farmers and rural workers of Navarre providing the militia.
    • Comunión Tradicionalista (Traditionalist Communion)– the Carlist political party
      • Requetés (Volunteers) – militia movement.
      • Pelayos – militant youth movement, named after Pelayo of Asturias.
      • Margaritas – women’s movement, named after Margarita de Borbón-Parma, wife of Carlist pretender Charles VII (1868-1909).
  • Falange (Phalanx):
    • FE (Falange Española de las JONS)– created by a merger in 1934 of two fascist organisations, Primo de Rivera’s Falange (Phalanx), founded in 1933, and Ramiro Ledesma’s Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista (Assemblies of National-Syndicalist Offensive), founded in 1931. It became a mass movement when it was joined by members of Acción Popular and by Acción Católica, led by Ramón Serrano Súñer.
      • OJE (Organización Juvenil Española) – militant youth movement.
      • Sección Femenina (Feminine Section) – women’s movement in labour of Social Aid.
    • Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS – created by a merger in 1937 of the FE and the Carlist party, bringing the remaining political and militia components of the Nationalist side under Franco’s ultimate authority.
  • CEDA – coalition party founded by José María Gil-Robles y Quiñones whose ideology ranges from Christian democracy toconservative. Although they supported Franco’s rebellion, the party was dissolved in 1937, after most members and militants joined FE and Gil-Robles went to exile.

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This Wikipedia article is reprinted here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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