Catalonia: Left unites to pays homage to Andreu Nin

June 24, 2013
Andreu Nin.

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 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.

Nin was taken to a secret prison near Madrid, where he was tortured and then murdered once it was clear the dedicated anti-fascist would never “confess” to being in the pay of Hitler. His remains have yet to be discovered.

Nin’s kidnapping and murder was organised by Soviet secret police operative Alexander Orlov (who later deserted to the FBI). But it also involved the direct collaboration of members of the United Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) and the Spanish 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.

Outstanding thinker and fighter

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 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 resistance to fascism.

The moving event closed one of the most painful wounds remaining from the Spanish Civil War, in which millions of working people fought unsuccessfully to defeat Francisco Franco's fascist forces.

All forces on the Catalan left were present to honour the outstanding Marxist thinker of his generation. This included those descended from groups that had stood on opposite sides of the barricades during the bloody and fratricidal Barcelona “May events” in 1937 that preceded Nin’s abduction and murder.

Also present, and received with the warmest applause, were veterans of the POUM, now in their 90s.

The meeting brought together representatives from the Party of Socialists of Catalonia, Republican Left of Catalonia, Initiative for Catalonia Greens and the left-nationalist Popular Unity Candidacies.

EUiA affiliates the Party of Communists of Catalonia, the PSUC Lives 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, General Union of Labour and General Confederation of Labour, also spoke. A number of Catalan pro-independence and cultural organisations sent representatives.

A life for working people

The meeting was opened by Nuria de Gisbert, the speaker of the Catalan parliament. From the ruling right-nationalist Convergence and Union, de Gisbert did her best to make the crowd of lefties feel at home in the “house of the people”.

But she only stayed until president of the Andreu Nin Foundation Teresa Carbonell had ended her passionate introduction to Nin’s life with a cry of “Long live socialism!”

The main presentation came from Pelai Pages, Nin’s biographer and historian specialising in 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); and activism in and then secretaryship of the anarcho-syndicalist National Confederation of Labour, which in 1921 he vainly tried to persuade to affiliate to the Third International.

Nin was a delegate to, then secretary-general of the Red International of Labour Unions; 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; editor of many 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 revolutionary dynamics in Spain. 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 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 organising the system of People’s Tribunals (“to legalise and organise what the masses have won in the streets”), appointing Catalonia’s first woman judge, introducing civil marriage and the right to abortion, and lowering the voting age to 18.

But Nin and the POUM were thrown out of office and persecuted because they were convinced ― contrary to the approach of the Spanish and Catalan governments and the PCE and 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 the fascists.

Pages 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 according to their specific stance on Catalan politics today ― as if a resurrected Nin might today unhesitatingly sign up to their group!

For pro-independence Republican left of Catalonia deputy Oriol Amoros, Nin’s “radically Marxist way of defending the self-determination of peoples was the most just way of achieving national liberation”.

Maurici Lucena, leader of the parliamentary group of the social democratic Party of Socialists in Catalonia, tip-toed past the difficult questions raised by Nin’s case ― bloody divisions on the left, revolution and Catalonia’s right to decide its relation to the Spanish state.

After praising Nin’s qualities as a human being and politician, Lucena dropped the observation, to murmurs of disapproval, that “Nin was remote from Catalan political reality”.

Most anticipated was what speakers from the three forces descended from the PSUC ― the Initiative for Catalonia Greens, Party of Communists of Catalonia and PSUC Lives ― would have to say.

Initiative for Catalonia Greens 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 Party of Communists of Catalonia (and EUiA 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 Lives, which embodies most continuity with the old PSUC, probably had the harded 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.

Afterwards, Nin’s granddaughter Cristina Simo, told the web-based daily Publico: “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 brought all the forces of the Catalan left into 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.

Hopefully it will not be expecting too that this too infrequent experience will inspire a greater effort by all to find the unity desperately needed to win today’s crucial battles.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

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