Juan Negrin, the son of a wealthy businessman, was born in Spain in 1892. He studied at several German universities and in 1923 he became professor of physiology at the Medical Faculty of Madrid University.
In 1929 Negrin joined he Socialist Party (PSOE) and two years later was elected to the Cortes. Over the next few years he was a supporter of Indalecio Prieto, the leader of the moderate faction in the PSOE.
He supported the Popular Front government and in September 1936 Francisco Largo Caballero appointed him minister of finance. During the Spanish Civil War Negrin took the controversial decision to transfer the Spanish gold reserves to the Soviet Union in return for arms to continue the war. Worth $500 million at the time, critics argued that this action put the Republican government under the control of Joseph Stalin.
In the Civil War the National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT), the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) and the Worker's Party (POUM) played an important role in running Barcelona. This brought them into conflict with other left-wing groups in the city including the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT), the Catalan Socialist Party (PSUC) and the Communist Party (PCE).
On the 3rd May 1937, Rodriguez Salas, the Chief of Police, ordered the Civil Guard and the Assault Guard to take over the Telephone Exchange, which had been operated by the CNT since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Members of the CNT in the Telephone Exchange were armed and refused to give up the building. Members of the CNT, FAI and POUM became convinced that this was the start of an attack on them by the UGT, PSUC and the PCE and that night barricades were built all over the city.
Fighting broke out on the 4th May. Later that day the anarchist ministers, Federica Montseny and Juan Garcia Oliver, arrived in Barcelona and attempted to negotiate a ceasefire. When this proved to be unsuccessful, Negrin now called on Francisco Largo Caballero to use government troops to takeover the city. Largo Caballero also came under pressure from Luis Companys, the leader of the PSUC, not to take this action, fearing that this would breach Catalan autonomy.
On 6th May death squads assassinated a number of prominent anarchists in their homes. The following day over 6,000 Assault Guards arrived from Valencia and gradually took control of Barcelona. It is estimated that about 400 people were killed during what became known as the May Riots.
These events in Barcelona severely damaged the Popular Front government. Negrin was highly critical of the way Francisco Largo Caballero handled the May Riots. President Manuel Azaña agreed and on 17th May he asked Negrin to form a new government. Negrin was now a communist sympathizer and from this date Joseph Stalin obtained more control over the policies of the Republican government.
In April 1938 Negrin also took over the Ministry of Defence. He now began appointing members of the Communist Party (PCE) to important military and civilian posts. This included Marcelino Fernandez, a communist, to head the Carabineros. Communists were also given control of propaganda, finance and foreign affairs. The socialist, Luis Araquistain, described Negrin's government as the "most cynical and despotic in Spanish history."
Negrin now attempted to gain the support of western governments by announcing his plan to decollectivize industries. On 1st May 1938 Negrin published a thirteen-point program that included the promise of full civil and political rights and freedom of religion. President Manuel Azaña attempted to oust Negrin in August 1938. However, he no longer had the power he once had and with the support of the communists in the government and armed forces, Negrin was able to survive.
On 27th February, 1939, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain recognized the Nationalist government headed by General Francisco Franco. Later that day President Azaña resigned from office, declaring that the war was lost and that he did not want Spaniards to make anymore useless sacrifices.On 27th February, 1939, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain recognized the Nationalist government headed by General Francisco Franco. Later that day Manuel Azaña resigned from office, declaring that the war was lost and that he did not want Spaniards to make anymore useless sacrifices.
Negrin now promoted communist leaders such as Antonio Cordon, Juan Modesto and Enrique Lister to senior posts in the army. Segismundo Casado, commander of the Republican Army of the Centre, now became convinced that Negrin was planning a communist coup. On 4th March, Casedo, with the support of the socialist leader, Julián Besteiro and disillusioned anarchist leaders, established an Anti-Negrin National Defence Junta.
On 6th March José Miaja in Madrid joined the rebellion by ordering the arrests of Communists in the city. Negrin, about to leave for France, ordered Luis Barceló, commander of the First Corps of the Army of the Centre, to try and regain control of the capital. His troops entered Madrid and there was fierce fighting for several days in the city. Anarchists troops led by Cipriano Mera, managed to defeat the First Corps and Barceló was captured and executed.