In Memoriam: Andreu Nin (1892-1937)

The following is a translation by Mike Jones of a report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais of 6 November 1992 by Enric Company, writing from Barcelona. A parallel account in French appears in Informations Ouvrières , 6-12 January 1993.

‘He is to be found neither in Salamanca nor in Berlin. At a point about 100 metres from Kilometre 17 on the highway from Alcalá de Henares to Perales de Tajuña lie the remains of Andreu Nin, the Catalan politician and intellectual, who was a member of the leadership of the Red International of Labour Unions and a close collaborator of Trotsky in Moscow. Later, in Barcelona during the Republic and the Civil War, he was the main leader of the Partit Obrer d’Unificacio Marxista (POUM), a left Communist organisation. Stalin never forgave Nin for his closeness to Trotsky, and ordered him to be pursued to the end: which in the event was his murder by five Communist agents in 1937.

‘Two journalists from TV3 [a Catalan TV station-Ed], Dolors Genovés and Llibert Fern, have spent six months working in the archives of the KGB and the Communist International in Moscow, as well as those in the Madrid Archivo Histórico Nacional. The documents that they have found prove, for the first time, the theory that Nin was murdered by the Soviet political police. Five men murdered him: Alexander Orlov and Juzik, both NKVD members, and three Spaniards only revealed by the initials L, AF, and IL. With them as spectators and melancholy accomplices were another NKVD agent, the Hungarian Ernö Gerö and his driver, the latter only known by the name Victor, which was probably an alias. A letter sent by Orlov personally to his bosses in Moscow on 24 July 1937 acknowledges that they were the perpetrators. Viewers of TV3 were able to see that letter, with the names of the three Spaniards blanked out. The viewers also saw a smiling functionary pull another letter out of the archives, in which Orlov explained how the accusation that Nin spied for Franco would be fabricated.

‘This false statement by a witness is in the Madrid Archivo Histórico Nacional, as it forms part of the trial that was to be held after the war. The accusation was made by Alberto Castillo, a Spanish police informer, who used the name Fernando Velasco, and it was made in the presence of the policeman Javier Jimenez, who was given the job of protecting him. In the programme Jimenez told the story in his own words.

‘The evidence was a text in code and a plan of the defences of the Casa de Camp in Madrid, which was signed in invisible ink with the letter N, which was supposed to mean Nin. On 16 July 1937 he was ordered to be imprisoned in Barcelona. He was taken to the prison at Alcalá de Henares, although his name was not entered in the register. He was interrogated, and, getting no confession, Orlov decided to kidnap him. In his letters, the Soviet agent calls it Operation Nikolai. A Spanish accomplice, whose identity is not revealed, opened the prison gate one July night. Nin was taken to the cellar of a chalet which no longer exists in Alcalá de Henares, the home of the head of the Republican Air Force, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros and of his wife Constancia de la Mora Maura. There he was tortured in the hope of extracting a confession, but this proved impossible, and two or three days later he was murdered. That is Orlov’s story. And yesterday the Catalan viewers were able to see it.’

Some further details have come to us in a letter from Andy Durgan. He points out that much of the evidence in the documentary was not new, but the Moscow documents were, and they confirm the version by Jesus Hernandez in Yo fui un nunistro de Stalin. The kidnapping from the prison led to the ‘official’ version at the time that Nin had been ‘rescued’ by the Gestapo. Apparently, the PCE members, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros and his wife, a former countess, were not aware that Nin was imprisoned and tortured in their house. According to Jimenez, ‘Juzik’ was a Brazilian, José Escoy, who was ‘in charge’ of the whole affair, and who had been specifically sent from Moscow for this purpose, but nothing else is known about him. Although of great interest, many questions were not answered—in particular who the Spaniards were, the KGB archive having protected them ‘so as not to cause any problems for their families’, and, furthermore, it is not clear how complicit the Spanish and Catalan Communist Party leaders were in the whole affair. There may, of course, be more information in existence that the journalists concerned, who were not experts in this field, may have missed. It is hoped that photocopies of the documents that they cite will be translated and published in one form or another, though whether there is any more information in Moscow remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Socialist authorities in the province of Madrid have given orders to look for Nin’s body, which, if found, will be returned to his birthplace, Vendrell.

Durgan adds that the Andreu Nin Centenary Conference was organised on 25-26 March by the Centre d’Estudis Histories Internacionals in Barcelona. Contributors invited included Victor Alba, Pierre Broué, Andy Durgan, Pere Gabriel, Josep Luis Martin i Ramos, Isidre Molas, Pelai Pages, Jaime Pastor, Wilebaldo Solano and Reiner Tosstorff. There were be papers on both Nin and Maurin, and a report will hopefully appear in a subsequent edition of Revolutionary History.