‘May 3-7, 1937: Barricades in Barcelona’ by Helen and Charles Orr from Spanish Revolution (New York-P.O.U.M.). Vol. 2 Vol. 8. May 19, 1936.

P.O.U.M. barricade.

U.S. members of the P.O.U.M. and editors of its English-language international newsletter were witness-participants in the events described in detail here, written just after the rising and days before the repression began in earnest. Arrested in the crackdown that followed on June 17, 1937, the day abduction of Andres Nin and the P.O.U.M. leadership. Likely saved by their U.S. citizenship, they were expelled from Spain to France on July 1. Like so many other anti-fascists, they found there way to Mexico. Eventually returning to the U.S. Charles Orr passed way in 1999 at age 95. This would be the last issue of the journal as the Spanish Revolution receded and P.O.U.M. was outlawed. 18 months later and the Fascist into Spain’s proletarian citadel, Barcelona would fall to the fascists.

‘May 3-7, 1937: Barricades in Barcelona’ by Helen and Charles Orr from Spanish Revolution (New York-P.O.U.M.). Vol. 2 Vol. 8. May 19, 1936.


Barcelona, the workers’ city, has just lived through glorious days. Just as the working class of Barcelona rose in arms against the fascist uprising of July 19th, from the 3rd to the 7th of May the workers showed that they would not allow Stalinism and reformism to snatch away their revolutionary conquests, won at the price of their blood.

Everywhere abroad, an attempt is being made to throw the responsibility for the bloody events of the May days upon the imaginary ‘provocateurs’ in the pay of Trotskyism and therefore of international fascism. The revolutionary workers of Red Barcelona resist this slander. THE SPANISH REVOLUTION, dedicated to their cause, must explain the fighting in Barcelona to the workers of the world.


Who provoked this action? The responsibility, as is well known, falls directly upon the agents of Stalinism, the protectors of reformism and counter-revolution. For weeks already, the P.S.U.C., controlling Public Order with the aid of the Generality of Catalonia, had been making attacks against the workers (at Puigcerda, Figueras and Molins de Llobregrat). During the weeks preceding the events, the Public Order forces, the National Republican Guards and the Assault Guards, made several expeditions against the revolutionary workers of Catalonia, forcible dissolving the Revolutionary Defence Committees spontaneously set up by the workers after July 19th. At the same time, there were signs that certain elements among these forces were ready for counter-revolutionary and fascist action. Here we see the result of the underhand action of the Stalinists who go to the point of helping fascism in their hatred of the revolutionary working class.

Barcelona P.S.U.C. headquarters.

On the eve of the week of struggle, the provocative display of armed forces at the funeral of Roldan Cortada of the U.G.T., the uprising of the customs officers at Ripoll and other provocations were the successive links in a chain which ended with the attack of May 3rd.

1937, In Barcelona. E. Alexandrino Battalion, Of Socialist Allegiance The UGT and The PSUC (Communists).

Among the agents of these counter-revolutionary acts were found the United Socialist Party of CataIonia (P.S.U.C.), winch if the Stalinist party, the Esguerra Republicana de Cataluna, the party of the backward section of the middle class, and the armed corps—the Assault Guards and Civil Guards—in the pay of the Generality. All these forces enjoy the tacit, if not official, support of the Generality of Catalonia.


Monday, May 3rd, at 3 p.m., Assault Guards, under the command of Rodriguez Sala, Commissar of Public Order and P.S.U.C. member, tried to take the Telephone Building in the Plaza Cataluna by force. The occupation was supported by a heavy detachment of armed men, both police guards and cavalry. For ten month the Telephone Building had been under the control of a trade union committee of members of the U.G.T. and the C.N.T., and its protection against any fascist aggression was assured by the militia of these organizations. In regard to censorship and technical questions, the committee in charge was always at the disposal of the Generality.

Telephone exchange.

That was not enough for the counter-revolutionary elements, however. They wanted to get rid of workers’ control of an establishment of such great strategic value. It has been proved, in spite of the denials of the Catalan Government, that the order upon which Rodriguez Sala (of the P.S.U.C.) acted was signed by Artemi Aguade (of the Esquerra), Councillor of Public Order. That a counter-revolutionary coup had been planned in advance by the armed forces is proved by the fact that machine-gun stations had been set up on neighboring roofs by Civil Guards, in order to attack the Telephone Building from various directions.

The attack upon the Telephone Building was the cause of surprise and indignation among the telephone workers, who resisted the occupation of their building. This was the beginning of the violent fighting of the following days. The workers of Barcelona mobilised and began to organize the defence of their districts, to control movements in the city and to prevent reinforcements from coming in.


Within two hours, Barcelona was in a state of war. The workers went into the street with their arms to defend their headquarters and to take up strategic positions throughout the city. The revolutionary workers of the C.N.T., the F.A.I. and the P.O.U.M. understood from the first how great was the danger of the armed forces. Without either trade union federation calling a strike, the factory workers poured out to take up their fighting posts. At about 6.30 the transport services, street cars, buses and subways, all controlled by the C.N.T. unions, came to a halt.

At nightfall, the workers began to build barricades of paving blocks and sandbags. That evening many workers were killed by the armed forces of the Generality, which tried to disarm them, During the night, firing sounded throughout the city.


The coup had been prepared and carried out by the P.S.U.C. and the Esquerra. The members of these organizations, however, were not the shock troops of the Generality. It had at its command the Assault Guards, the Civil Guards and the Mozos d’Escuadra—personal guards to the President. All these Generality forces did not show the same fight. The Assault Guards were reluctant to fire upon the working class, as were even part of the Civil Guard. Many cases of insubordination arose, and some guards turned their arms over to the workers. The most reactionary of the anti-fascist forces turned out to be the most violent. Groups from the Estat Catala and the P.S.U.C., which held a few positions, were very aggressive.

Barricades in Barcelona, 1937.

On the workers’ side were united the workers of the P.O.U.M. and those of the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. They stood united throughout the fight, and the street fighting was organized in common. The password was “C.N.T., F.A.I., P.O.U.M.—REVOLUTION!” In general the workers of the U.G.T. did not take part in the fight, though many of the joined the revolutionaries in the barricades. The P.S.U.C. did not succeed in facing the U.G.T. workers against those of the C.N.T. Thus it is false to present the fight as a fratricidal struggle between the C.N.T. and the U.G.T., as has been stated in the press. It was nothing other than the struggle of the revolutionary workers against the counter-revolutionary forces of repression of the Generality—composed only of the Guards corrupted by Stalinism and reformism.

C.N.T. militia. Barcelona, 1937.


On May 4th, LA BATALLA, the P.O.U.M.’s newspaper, issued the slogan of permanent mobilization of the working class. The P.O.U.M. demanded the resignation of Rodriguez Sala and the annulling of the Public Order Decree. It proposed the immediate formation of the Revolutionary Workers’ Front and the organization in all districts of Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. These slogan echoed among the masses and accentuated the cooperation between the workers behind their barricades or in their organization headquarters and the police force, which likewise threw up barricades or shot from the P.S.U.C. buildings (Hotel Colon, Karl Marx House) or those of the Esquerra and Estat Catala. Tuesday evening, the Generality tried to stop the fighting with the promise of finding a solution. The radio gave an order to stop firing, since all the anti-fascist organizations have met at the Generality Palace to try to solve the conflict. This truce was fairly effective Tuesday night. Speaking from the Generality Radio were heard Calvet, President of the Peasants’ Union, Sbert of the Esquerra, Vidiella in the name of the U.G.T.-P.S.U.C., Garcia Oliver, C.N.T. Minister of Justice in the Valencia Government, representative of the National Committee of the U.G.T. and the C.N.T., and President Companys.

‘CNT barricade on the Ramblas, May 1937.’

This truce was short-lived, however. The fighting started up again in the morning. The efforts made by the Generality during Tuesday and Wednesday were absolutely ineffective because they refused to satisfy the just aspirations of the revolutionary working class. Furthermore, when the workers saw that the reactionary elements of the anti-fascist front were taking advantage of the pause to extend their provocations, they took up the fight again to crush the counterrevolution.


The Generality of Catalonia and its ‘Provisional Government’ were powerless. All day Wednesday and Thursday, the power was in the hands of the Barcelona workers. The working class had completely reestablished order in the suburbs by driving out or disarming the bourgeois police forces. At the center of the city, a few streets were still in the hands of the P.U.C., the Esquerra, the Estat Catala and the Civil and Assault Guards. The Generality buildings were surrounded on all sides by the armed workers. Only the Mozos d’Escuadra were left defending them.

Barricade in Barcelona.

The Generality’s appeals to stop fighting didn’t reach the first barricade. The whole Province of Catalonia, Cities and villages, was faking preventative measures to prevent any steps by the counterrevolutionaries. The divisions on the Aragon front also showed that they would tolerate no provocations. It can be said then that the revolutionary working class of Barcelona, upheld by the workers of all Catalonia, were master of the situation Wednesday and Thursday morning.


For month the P.O.U.M. had been denouncing the continual provocations of the counter-revolution, and it immediately denounced the Assault Guards’ attack on the Telephone Building as the decisive provocation of the reactionary sectors of the anti-fascist front. It upheld the armed protest of the workers.

‘Barcelona, ​​”events of May 1937″ group of militiamen possibly from the POUM) at a barricade.’

It was the P.O.U.M.’s duty to stand actively with the workers who were spontaneously and heroically defending the threatened conquests of the Revolution with the general strike and barricades. The P.O.U.M. fulfilled its duty and met its responsibilities. Throughout this struggle it played its part as a revolutionary Marxist party, organising the workers and attempting to bring them the leadership which they lacked. The P.O.U.M. insisted upon the forming of the Revolutionary Workers’ Front, which now has taken hold of the imagination of the working class. The P.O.U.M. demanded the immediate organization of Revolutionary Defence Committees.

These Committees were set up in some districts and the Anarcho-Syndicalist workers of the F.A.I. and the C.N.T. were seen rubbing elbows with the Marxists of the P.O.U.M.

P.O.U.M.’s Barcelona headquarters.

During the week of fighting, the P.O.U.M. showed itself to be the only Party of the Revolution, and its members quickly rose to the task before them.


The lively desire of the working class to put an end to the power of reformism was not crowned with success, however. For four days, the workers stood ready, vigilant, awaiting the C.N.T.’s order to attack. The order never came. In fact, the struggle was little more than a passive siege of the bourgeois forces. The National Confederation of Labour, held by the workers as the mass organization of the Revolution, recoiled before the question of workers’ power. Caught up in the reins of the government, it tried to straddle the fence with a union of the opposing forces. That is why the revolutionary workers’ fight of May 3 of 7 was essentially defensive instead of offensive.

Le Groupe International de la Colonne Durruti à l’enterrement de Durruti, Barcelone, le 23 novembre 1936.

The attitude of the C.N.T. did not fail to bring forth resistance and protests. The Friends of Durruti group brought the unanimous desire of the C.N.T. masses to the surface, but it was not able to take the lead. The workers were fighting in the street without any definite goal or responsible leadership, the P.O.U.M. could only order and organize a strategic retreat. It helped the working class to avoid a desperate action which could have had sad consequences.


The Generality of Catalonia, realizing that it was not able to throw off the force of the working class of all Catalonia, had to give up its police power to the Valencia Government. Five thousand Assault Guards from Madrid descended upon the city of Barcelona. At the same time the Central Government of the Republic obtained the complete transfer of the Aragon Army to its command. It is now no more than the Army of the East.

Assault Guard from Madrid march down Barcelona’s Passeig de Grácia. May, 1937.

A provisional Ministry was set up with one representative each from the U.G.T., C.N.T., Esquerra and Peasants’ Union.

The working class, although not getting their objectives, by this struggle obtained the discharge of those who were directly guilty, that is, Rodriguez Sala (P.S.U.C.) and Artemi Agude (Esquerra). By its action in the street, by its energetic struggle, it likewise forced the Stalinist and counter-revolutionaries to recoil. The working class withdrew in order and showed that it was ready for the new struggle, which would be necessary to achieve its goal—the freedom of the working class.

CNT-FAI Barcelona headquarters.


Friday the workers abandoned the struggle, remaining alert, however, and keeping their arms. The role of the P.O.U.M. grew with the experience in revolutionary struggle. The workers, who were deeply wounded by the capitulation of their trade unions federation, are now looking for a new lead in other directions. The P.O.U.M. should provide it for them.

Lois Orr in Spain.

The May days showed that the only way out of the present situation is for the working class to take power. To arrive at this, it is necessary to coordinate the revolutionary action of the masses by building the Revolutionary Workers’ Front, gathering in all the organizations determined to completely crush fascism—a work which can only be realized with a military victory at the front and the triumph of the revolution behind the lin

Thus the P.O.U.M., the revolutionary party, although attacked, slandered and threatened by the bourgeoisie forges ahead to the end.

The Spanish Revolution (not to be confused with the CNT supporters’ paper of the same name, time, and look)) was the English language journal of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM). Edited by American couple Charles and Lois Orr, she a member of the POUM women’s militia, the journal was aimed at British and US audiences through the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre, sometimes called the “Three and a Half International,” from October, 1936 until the arrest of the Orrs and the banning of the POUM after Barcelona’s “May Days” 1937 uprising.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/spain/poum/spanishrevolution/v2n8-may-19-1937-Spanish%20Revolution.pdf

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