Catalonia: Left unites to pay homage to Andreu Nin

Andreu Nin.

By Dick Nichols

June 21, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- It took 76 years and one day since his abduction on the orders of Stalin during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), but on June 17, 2013, all parties of the Catalan left came together in Barcelona to recognise the contribution to the Catalan and Spanish working people of revolutionary fighter Andreu Nin.

At midnight on June 16, 1937, Nin, the general secretary of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was abducted by Stalinist agents outside the POUM’s headquarters. He was then taken to a secret prison near Madrid, where he was tortured and then murdered once it was clear he would never “confess” to being in the pay of Hitler. His remains have still to be discovered.

While Nin’s kidnapping and murder were organised by Soviet secret police operative Alexander Orlov (who later deserted to the FBI), it also involved the direct collaboration of members of the United Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) and of the Communist Party (PCE), in those days completely obedient to the dictates of Stalin in Moscow.

The attempted cover-up of the crime, which produced outrage across the European left and labour movement, went as high as the president of the Spanish Republic, Juan Negrin.

The act of homage, held in a packed central courtyard of the parliament of Catalonia, was organised by the Andreu Nin Foundation on the Initiative of United and Alternative Left (EUiA) deputy David Companyon. Companyon is the representative of the EUiA and its ally Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV) on the five-person presidency (speakership) of the Catalan parliament.

He is also a member of EUiA affiliate, the Workers Revolutionary Party (POR), which continues to champion some of Nin’s central ideas with regard to Catalonia’s right to self-determination, organisation of working-class unity, internationalism and strategies against fascism.

The moving event closed one of the most painful wounds remaining from the Spanish Civil War. All forces on the Catalan left were present to honour the outstanding Marxist thinker of his generation, including those descended from the organisations that had stood on opposite sides of the barricades during the bloody and fratricidal Barcelona “May events” that preceded Nin’s abduction and murder.

Also present, and received with the warmest applause, were veterans of the POUM, now in their nineties, who were presented to the 250-plus audience by the president of the Andreu Nin Foundation, Teresa Carbonell (“I’m only 87”, she joked).

The meeting also brought together representatives from the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), ICV-EUiA and the left-nationalist Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP). EUiA affiliates the Party of Communists of Catalonia (PCC), the United Socialist Party of Catalonia Lives (PSUC-Viu) and the POR all had a separate presence.

Extra-parliamentary left groups present were Global Revolt (aligned to the Trotskyist Fourth International), In Struggle (aligned to the British Socialist Workers Party) and Internationalist Struggle (aligned to the International Workers League).

The leaders of Catalonia’s three main trade union confederations, the Workers Commissions (CCOO), General Union of Labour (UGT) and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), also spoke, while a number of Catalan pro-independence and cultural organisations sent representatives.

The meeting was opened by Núria de Gisbert, the speaker of the Catalan parliament. From the ruling right-nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU), de Gisbert did her best to make the crowd of lefties feel at home in the “house of the people”, but only stayed around until Teresa Carbonell had ended her passionate introduction to Nin’s life with a cry of “Long live socialism!”.

A life for working people

The main presentation came from Pelai Pagès, Nin’s biographer and historian specialising in the history of the POUM. He brought to life the extraordinary achievements of the Catalan worker-intellectual, whose first effort in politics was as a 13-year-old high-school speaker championing Catalonia’s national rights and a Spanish republic.

Born in 1892 in the fishing port of El Vendrell, Nin crowded into his 45 years an amazing breadth of action: participation in the ill named “Tragic Week” workers’ uprising in Barcelona (1909); activism in and then secretaryship of the anarcho-syndicalist National Confederation of Labour (CNT), which in 1921 he vainly tried to persuade to affiliate to the Third [Communist] International; delegate to, then organiser for and secretary general of the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern); councillor on Moscow City Council; founder of the Trotskyist Left Opposition in the Spanish State; creator of the POUM as a fusion of the Left Opposition with the Worker-Peasant Bloc (BOC) of Juaquin Maurin; editor of numerous papers and journals; and passionate exponent of working-class education.

As if all this were not enough, Nin also produced major studies on the national question, the nature of fascism and the dynamic of the revolution in Spain. To keep body and soul together he also produced the first translations into Catalan of Russian masters like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. His Catalan version of Crime and Punishment is regarded as a masterpiece and is still sold today.

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in June 1936 Nin became member of the ministerial council for the economy in the Catalan government and, for four brief months, attorney-general. During that period he was responsible for the organisation of the system of People’s Tribunals (“to legalise and organise what the masses have won in the streets”), the appointment of Catalonia’s first woman judge, the introduction of civil marriage and the right to abortion, and the reduction of the voting age to 18.

But Nin and the POUM had to be thrown out of office and persecuted because they were convinced—contrary to the approach of the Spanish and Catalan governments and the PCE-PSUC—that the war against Francoism could only be won by defending and extending the social revolution unleashed by the people’s insurrection to stop Franco.

Pagès summed up: “We are talking about one of the most abused figures in the history of Catalonia, one whose ideas still have validity in these times of ideological confusion… Nin was the prototype of revolutionary activist who put the struggle for socialism before his own life.”


How did the representatives of political forces whose forbears had fought the POUM talk about Nin and his ideas? There was one point of agreement—with Nin’s insistence that in Catalonia the working-class struggle went hand in hand with the national resistance of the Catalan people.

However, each speaker gave that idea an inflection in accordance with their specific stance in today’s Catalan politics—as if a resurrected Nin might today unhesitatingly sign up to their organisation!

For independentist Republican Left of Catalonia deputy Oriol Amorós, Nin’s “radically Marxist way of defending the self-determination of peoples was the most just way of achieving national liberation”, while left-independentist Popular Unity Candidacies deputy Quim Arrufat praised in Nin “the indissoluble tie between social and national emancipation”.

Maurici Lucena, leader of the Party of Socialists of Catalonia parliamentary group, tip-toed past the difficult questions raised by Nin’s case—bloody divisions on the left, war and/or revolution, Catalonia’s right to decide its relationship to the Spanish state. After praising Nin’s qualities as a human being and politician Lucena dropped the observation, met with murmurs of disapproval, that “Nin was remote from Catalan political reality.”

Most anticipated was what speakers from the three forces descended from the PSUC— Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV), Party of Communists of Catalonia (PCC) and United Socialist Party of Catalonia Lives —would have to say. ICV co-spokesperson Joan Herrera went straight to the point: “Nin was the victim of the long arm of Stalinism, but also of the PCE and PSUC of the day. That has to be admitted.” As to the basic strategic conflict underlying Nin’s murder, “the debate between war and revolution was resolved badly due to an excess of intransigence”.

Joan Josep Nuet, secretary general of the PCC (and Initiative of United and Alternative Left national spokeperson) was even more blunt: “His legacy has to be recovered from two silences: on the one hand, from the oblivion of Francoism and the transition to the monarchy, on the other from that of a part of the dogmatic left, where the party of which I am secretary general has located itself on too many occasions.

He ended: “We want to recover the figure of Andreu Nin for all revolutionaries. Nin, the intellectual, the unionist, the internationalist, the convinced Catalanist, the anti-fascist too: that Andreu Nin that is for us the sum total of all these aspects, Andreu Nin, the revolutionary.”

Alfred Clemente, general secretary of PSUC-Viu, which embodies most continuity with the old PSUC, probably had the most difficult job. Openly admitting that many of his members would disagree with what he had to say, Clemente remarked that Nin “lived and died as a revolutionary”. He condemned the use of violence to settle differences within the socialist movement, and called for unity in today’s struggles against neoliberal austerity and attacks on the rights of working people.

POR spokesperson Francesc Matas repeated the question that covered the walls of Spain after Nin’s disappearance (“Where is Nin?”), and answered: “With us. With the revolution. With the struggle for a classless society.”

The other left groups present also spoke, as did representatives from three trade union confederations. Joan Carles Gallego (CCOO) recognised that Nin as union leader and fighter for working-class unity had to be integrated into the tradition and thinking of the confederation.

Afterwards, Nin’s granddaughter Cristina Simó was asked by the web-based daily Público for her opinion of the event. “It’s a first step towards honouring the memory of my grandfather, although maybe there’s more to do at a more popular level. For the family it is very important that the stain on his character arising from the accusations of collaboration with fascism be wiped away.”

Beyond the importance of rehabilitating Nin, the event had another important aspect: it saw all the forces of the Catalan left in the rare situation of being in the same room, hearing each other make similar observations about the close interconnection between the struggle against austerity and for Catalonia’s right to decide its future.

Is it too much to hope that this infrequent experience will inspire a greater effort by all to find the unity that is desperately needed to win today’s crucial battles?

[Dick Nichols is Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s and Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]