The Investigation of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists (1938)
The second piece in this section first appeared in the journal Balance, and then in the Cahiers du mouvement ouvrier, no 10, June 2000, pp61-8. We have retained the introduction to the French version, but the translation has been checked against the Spanish original throughout. Our thanks are therefore equally owed to Augustin Guillamón for the original, to CERMTRI for the use of their edition, and to John Sullivan for checking the translations of both documents.
Introduction to the French Edition
THE chief members of the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain (SBLE) were arrested in February 1938 at the height of the Spanish Revolution and accused of assassinating Captain Narvitch. The investigation continued from February 1938 to January 1939, with one adjournment after another, to avoid it from taking place at the same time as the trial against the POUM (October 1938). G Munis, who was the leader of the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain, describes the investigation as follows:
This indictment was a copy of the Moscow trials against the old Bolsheviks. The political charges, that is, the clandestine publication of La Voz Leninista, taking part in the events of May 1937, the struggle for the Workers’ United Front to replace the Negrín government with the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc, did not really interest the GPU, who were organising the affair behind the scenes along with Menéndez, then Chief of Police. The accusation that the GPU attempted to place in the forefront with a profusion of lies and tortures was only a Spanish version of the accusations made in Moscow against the men who had made the revolution of 1917; of plotting the murder of Negrín, Prieto, Comorera, la Pasionaria and whoever, sabotaging the rear to assist Franco’s victory, spying on behalf of the enemy, and as a first effort, killing a Russian captain.
Munis adds: ‘The indictment shows that the GPU still counted Prieto among its own people, even though he had not been chosen as a “victim” of the Trotskyists. One day all that was to become clear.’
This conclusion is not necessarily the case. The indictment had to include the Socialist leaders alongside the two Stalinists supposedly selected as victims of the Trotskyists’ punishment. Negrín, as Prime Minister and a pro-Stalinist, and Prieto as Minister of the Interior and very much a right-winger, had to be included. Munis goes on:
In order to satisfy the demands of the GPU, Tribunal no 1 of the Court of High Treason and Espionage demanded my head and those of two other Trotskyists, Jaime Fernández and Carlini. The main reason for their failure came down to the fact that they were unable to find among us any willing capitulators, as was the case with the Moscow trials. (G Munis, Jalones de Derrota: Promesa de Victoria (España 1930-39), XYZ, Bilbao, 1977, pp461-2)
We thank A Guillamón, who reprinted the text of this trial in his bulletin Balance.
‘We Have Denied, and Continue to Deny Them, Which Made the Police Case Come to Nothing’
After the death of Captain Narvitch, the agent of the Military Intelligence Service (SIM), on 10 February 1938, the arrest of the SBLE’s militants was very rapid. The trial encountered a multitude of irregularities: the SBLE militants, who had been arrested on 13 February 1938, continued to be held for a month before being taken in front of a judge, and were subjected to torture by the agents of the SIM, and only then did the questioning take place in the presence of a lawyer. The important campaigns carried on by the POUM, the SBLE and the Friends of Durruti, and on the international plane, thwarted the murderous plans of the Stalinists who had infiltrated the various organisations of Negrín’s Republic, and to some extent prevented the physical liquidation of the Trotskyist militants.
After successive adjournments, the trial was finally to take place on 26 January 1939, but the entry of Franco’s troops into Barcelona deferred it forever. In the confusion that followed in January-February, the political prisoners were released. Munis (or Muniz, however you want to spell it) made it to Paris; Carlini, who was ill, only managed to get to France in August, and was interned in a concentration camp.
Below are some extracts from the declarations of the main leaders of the SBLE in the course of their examination.
H H H
Declaration made to Tribunal no 1 of the Catalan Espionage Court by Manuel Fernández Grandizo Martínez, Adolfo Carlini Roca, Jaime Fernández Rodríguez, Luis Zanon Grimm, Teodoro Sanz Hernández and Victor Ondik, in Barcelona on 14 March 1938
That on the eleventh of the present month, the verdict of this tribunal was communicated to us, according to which we are accused of the crime of having assassinated a certain Léon Narvitch, and also of leading a supposed clandestine organisation and of intervening within this framework.
And as we are in complete disagreement with this judicial decision, since we know nothing of any of the things that are alleged of us, we are therefore going to oppose this verdict on the basis of the following considerations:
Before going into the essence of the subject, we, the undersigned, formally inform the court of the bad verbal and physical treatment to which we have been subjected on the part of the police. It disgusts us to place in writing these events, these acts of violence and these interrogators — and this is all they can be called, for the only thing they were really after was to frighten and physically to demoralise the prisoners, using blows, insults and starvation, with the aim of getting them into such a state that they could wring from them confessions and false statements, in order to satisfy the plans of the said ‘interrogators’.
We were arrested without knowing the slightest reason for our arrest. We only know the infamous accusations which are levelled against us, concerning which the police questioned us. Naturally we denied the unbelievable charges laid against us with all our strength. Neither blows, insults nor starvation have made us change our attitude. We have denied them, and we continue to deny them, which made the police case come to nothing.
On the other hand, these police methods and plans do not surprise us, knowing as we do how the terroristic procedures current in other countries and other latitudes have been imported into Spain, where confessions are forced out of the accused and trials are organised with the terrorised men present, whose only possibility of saving their lives is to confess all that they are meant to confess.
We have not been and are not disposed to make such ‘confessions’, and we do not think that the political and social situation in Spain will allow such trials to go forward.
However, one of the undersigned — Luis Zanon Grimm — terrorised and demoralised by insults, blows and the severest threats, agreed to subscribe to what the police wanted, in the deep state of physical and nervous depression to which he had been reduced. Luis Zanon, of a delicate physique and of an impressionable nature, and inclined to depression on account of the nervous disorder from which he suffers, not being able to resist the police harassment for a prolonged period, with its blows and interrogations going on hour after hour, in the hope of seeing an end to this hell, simply added his signature to the end of the confessions. So Zanon subscribed to what the police wanted. In the state in which he found himself, he would have signed his own death sentence…
The existence of a clandestine organisation which planned to carry out assassinations of prominent Republicans is mentioned in the indictment. We do not know where the court has been able to find such fairy stories, unless they are based upon the statements of the police alone.
We, the undersigned, are ignorant of whatever has been said on this subject, and the court should take account of this, and also take into consideration the anti-fascist records of the undersigned, which will be set out in what follows.
The only established fact is that the police found copies of the journal La Voz Leninista (Leninist Voice) and some leaflets published by the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain. One of the undersigned has admitted his responsibility for all this material — Manuel Fernández Grandizo Martínez — but the other accused have nothing to do with all this. It is easy to understand that none of this material has anything to do with the assassination of Narvitch, nor with the assassinations of prominent Republicans, nor anything of the kind.
We, the undersigned, are anti-fascist fighters, many of whom have been at the front, and we are known as such.
As far as Fernández Grandizo is concerned, Mr Julio Alvarez del Vayo, a veteran minister of the republic, who knows him, can bear witness to his political activities, both in Spain and in Mexico. The present Mayor of Madrid, Mr Helche, also knows him, as well as Manuel Albar, a former member of parliament and a member of the executive committee of the Socialist Party. Helche and Albar have known him from the time when they both belonged to the Workers Alliance in Madrid, where Fernández Grandizo took part as the representative of the Communist Left; and so did Simeon Vidarte, who is also a member of the Socialist Party executive.
As regards Jaime Fernández, the employees in the Simeón shops in Madrid at 13 Santa Ana Square, where he worked, can testify to his quality as an anti-fascist; so can the Commercial Union of the Madrid CNT; he has been a militant in the workers’ movement since 1931, and was one of the first militants of the Communist Party in Corunna. He was doing his military service at the Alcazar in Toledo when the fascist insurrection broke out, and he passed over to the anti-fascist camp, along with six other escapers who were also on military service. The undersigned Jaime Fernández does not remember their surnames or first names, he only remembers that one of them was called Domingo, whereas another, who was a corporal, was called Vicente Molina. These events took place shortly before the end of the month of August l936. The Madrid newspapers talked about them, including publishing photographs of them in the Madrid newspaper Claridad.
As for Adolfo Carlini Roca, of Italian nationality, he left his country in 1924 to escape from fascist persecution on account of his activities in the Italian workers’ movement. He lived in France and Belgium, and was well known in the circles of the anti-fascist emigration. He was known as an anti-fascist in Belgium by Lasarelli of the Belgian Socialist Party; by Cantarelli and Gobbi, of the Italian Anarchist group in Brussels; and besides, during a trial that took place in Belgium for political reasons, he was defended by a Socialist lawyer who was also a member of parliament, whose name I no longer remember, who was provided for me by the woodworkers’ trade union in that city. He became known to the circles of the Spanish emigration in Brussels, and frequented them at the time of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, where he was particularly acquainted with a certain García, who was a Communist Party militant. The Socialist MP Philippe Amadeo knew him well in France, as did Voltere and Pauli, Italian Republican sympathisers of the Republican Party Giustizia e Libertà, who were the first to organise the groups of volunteers to fight Spanish fascism. Carlini arrived in Spain in one of these on 15 August, and then joined the Lenin Division on the Aragon front. He is also known to Maseti of the Italian Socialist Party and to Gusti, an Anarchist, the former belonging to the Garibaldi Battalion, and the latter to the Regional Committee of the CNT.
As for Victor Ondik, who is of Czechoslovak nationality, he was active in the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and in that country’s trade unions. He was in Barcelona on 19 July, where he fought against the fascist soldiery in the streets, and went straightaway to the front, where he was twice wounded on the Quicena sector. Ondik has a war invalid’s card given to him by the Catalan War Invalid’s Association, which gave him the number 422, which can easily be verified by the court.
I moreover possess official documents testifying to my condition as a war invalid, which I can place before the court if it so judges. Ondik’s working-class and anti-fascist record is also known to the following fighters in the International Brigades: Juan Yanosik, an officer in the International Brigade and a member of the Communist Party; Vili Mazura, also a fighter in the brigades, and Klein, who was also at Albacete, working in International Red Aid; Ondik is also known to the majority of the Czechoslovak fighters in the International Brigades. Finally, we should add that one of Victor Ondik’s uncles, called Mikuliček, is at present a Communist Party MP in the Prague parliament.
Finally, with reference to Luis Zanon, of Italian nationality, he was expelled from the Milan Educational Institute for ‘subversive ideas’ in October 1930, and came to Spain, where he worked as a commercial broker. He is known to Comrade García, the President of the Press Section of the Labour Exchange (the Paper and Graphic Arts Trade Union of the CNT); to Manuel Massachs, the shorthand editor of Solidaridad Obrera; to J Santana Calero, of the Libertarian Youth, as well as to Miguel Seba and Basilio Hernaez, who also belong to the Barcelona Libertarian Youth; to Jeronimo Galipienzo, of the Terminal Workers Committee, as well as Miguel Munoz, of the same collective; and to Comrade Angeloni and Comrade Magni, both of them leaders of the Italian League for the Rights of Man. All of these could testify before the court about the anti-fascist activity of Luis Zanon…
In the second part of the preparations for the trial, the witnesses appeared before the court, and the accused were heard. Here is the declaration of Manuel Fernández Grandizo Martínez (‘Munis’):
The aforementioned Manuel Fernández Grandizo Martínez, aged 26 years, born in Toreon (Mexico), single, domiciled at 308 Valencia Street in this city, appeared before the General Commissioner, Monsieur D Javier Mendez Carballo, assisted by me, the legal secretary and Agent of Security, Civil Group, D Julian Grimau García. Duly questioned, he declared that he considered himself as the main person responsible for all the activity carried on in Spain by the Bolshevik-Leninist Section adhering to the Fourth International, from which he received directives for his work, and that the activity of this organisation carried on in clandestinity was led by him as its General Secretary and factotum, and by Adolfo Carlini and Aage Kielso, members of the leadership.
Questioned as to the date of the start of his activity in the Bolshevik-Leninist Section of Spain, he said: ‘Beginning with the events of May 1937.’
Pressed closely to reveal what were the activities carried on from that time to his arrest, he replied: ‘Printing pamphlets, leaflets and bulletins in German, as well as the journal La Voz Leninista, and all the tasks connected with the aim in view, accomplishing the directives received from the Fourth International.
Questioned if he knew that it was true that one of the directives of the Fourth International was to bring into existence by their activity the Workers’ United Front, in order to struggle against the Popular Front and its government, he replied in the affirmative.
Questioned if committee meetings were held in a specific place, he replied negatively, because they generally took place in a café, in the street, or occasionally by accident at his lodgings.
Questioned as to whether they took place at the lodgings of Adolfo Carlini in the Pueblo Seco, he replied that they only took place there by accident.
Questioned as to whether the editorial of La Voz Leninista, dated 5 February in the current year, where the government of the republic was attacked, had been written by him, he replied in the affirmative.
When asked to tell the names of the persons who supported him in editing La Voz Leninista, the pamphlets and the clandestine leaflets, he said that there were several individuals who were no longer in Spain, and that others were in prison. He persisted in saying that he knew nothing, and that even if he were badly tortured, he would not supply any name.
Questioned as to the activity of the Bolshevik-Leninist Section, he replied that it was made up of different groups, who did not know each other, and that Kielso, Carlini and himself worked out the general lines of its activity.
Questioned as to whether Luis Zanon Grimm belonged to the above-named organisation and had helped them in their clandestine work, he replied in the affirmative that he considered him as a sympathiser.
Questioned as to whether he was acquainted with the International Brigade Captain Narvitch, he replied in the affirmative, saying that he had had several conversations with him, explaining that he did not belong to his organisation, but to the POUM.
Questioned as to how he had met Captain Narvitch, he said he did not remember, but that he rather thinks that it was through the intermediary of Kielso.
Questioned as to whether he knew that there was a suspicion that Captain Narvitch was a provocateur, he replied in the affirmative, and added that he had learned this from several comrades in Madrid.
Upon being pressed to say concretely how he came by the information indicated previously, he replied ‘From a certain Eduardo Mauricio, a member of the POUM, following information received from Madrid, according to which Narvitch had been proved to be a provocateur.’
Whilst he was reading his declaration, he explained that when he said that the Bolshevik-Leninist organisation received directives from the Fourth International, he meant to say the following: that all the clandestine activity was on his own initiative and that of the members of the Spanish Committee, and that, in the same way, where it was said that one of the directives of the Fourth International had been to intervene to bring about the Workers’ United Front to struggle against the Popular Front and its government, he meant to say that they were fighting for the formation of a proletarian united front, which would oppose the Popular Front and its government, to the extent to which it preferred its alliances with foreign organisations and policy over the interests of the proletariat.
He affirmed and ratified that he had nothing to add, and that what he had said was true, and that he had signed this declaration after reading it, in agreement with the General Commissioner, ‘signed, Javier Mendez, M Grandizo, Grimau’.
Following this declaration Manual Fernández Grandizo wanted to put on record: ‘As concerns Captain Narvitch and when he said that he had belonged to the POUM, he himself understood it by the interest shown, and also the fact that he considered Captain Narvitch to be a provocateur in the previous declaration he meant that he was considered to be a spy or a police agent of the republican government.’
. In spite of the fact that they claimed that they had not really been penetrated, Narvitch was an agent of the GPU who had penetrated the POUM claiming to be an anti-Stalinist, and was responsible for the betrayal and murder of Nin. He was taken out by a POUM action squad in Barcelona.
. The Servicio de Información Militar was set up by Prieto, and had its own detention cells and torture chambers. It was heavily penetrated by the GPU.
. Cf Domenico Sedran, ‘Carlini in Spain’, Revolutionary History, Volume 4, nos 1-2, pp253-64.
. The appeal to Julio Alvarez del Vayo (1891-1975) was almost certainly in vain. Although the confidant of Largo Caballero, he was a secret sympathiser of the Stalinists, and intrigued with them behind his back.
. Claridad was the paper of the left of the Socialist Party which supported Largo Caballero.
. This may have been Francisco García Lavid (Lacroix, 1901-1939), an ex-member of the PCE who created the Spanish group of the Left Opposition among the exiles in Belgium. He was later murdered by the Stalinists close to the French frontier at the end of the Civil War.
. Solidaridad Obrera was the daily paper of the Anarchists.
. The Barcelona equivalent of Les Halles (note by French editor).
. A leader of the PCE, he was condemned to death under Franco and executed by garrotting (note by French editor).