Juan Comorera

Juan Comorera, the son of a blacksmith, was born in Spain in 1895. He held left-wing political views and during the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera he lived in Argentina.

On his return to Spain he was elected to the Cortes and the Generalitat in Catalonia. He also established collectives in agriculture, fishing and industrial societies. In the Generalitat he served as a councillor for agriculture and the economy. Comorera was also editor of the weekly journal, Justicia Social.

Comorera was initially a member of the Esquerra Party but later joined the Socialist Party (PSOE). Comorera's support for the Asturian rising in October 1934 led to his arrest. Along with other left-wing leaders Comorera was imprisoned in Madrid.

Comoreau was released from prison after the Popular Front victory in February, 1936. Later that year Comorera helped to establish the Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC). Most of the members came from Catalan branches of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Communist Party (PCE). Members also came from the left-wing Partit Catala Proletari and the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT).

Comorera was elected general secretary of the PSUC. although he had originally been a member of the Socialist Party (PSOE) by the end of the year Comorera had joined the Communist Party (PCE).

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya joined other left-wing groups to establish the Antifascist Militias Committee. By the middle of 1937 the PSUC claimed to have a membership of 50,000 and Comorera was an important political figure in Catalonia.

During the war the Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya, the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Communist Party (PCE) played an important role in running Barcelona. This brought them into conflict with other left-wing groups in the city National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT), the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) and the Worker's Party (POUM).

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, Juan Negrin, Vicente Uribe and Jesus Hernández called on Francisco Largo Caballero to use government troops to takeover the city. Largo Caballero also came under pressure from Luis Companys 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.

The Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya, now mainly controlled by the Communist Party (PCE), emerged from the May Riots in a strong position and now had a greater influence in the political affairs of the region. In the new Catalan government the PSUC held the cabinet posts of labour, supply and economy. It also played an important role in integrating Catalan affairs into those of the Republic.

Comorera and the PSUC gave its full support to Juan Negrin and his new government. Negrin was a communist sympathizer and from this date Joseph Stalin obtained more control over the policies of the Republican government Comorera and the PSUC also favoured Negrin's policy of bringing the Anarchist Brigades under the control of the Republican Army. At first the Anarcho-Syndicalists resisted and attempted to retain hegemony over their units. This proved impossible when the government made the decision to only pay and supply militias that subjected themselves to unified command and structure.

Comorera was forced to flee from Spain when General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist Army took control of the country in March 1939. He returned to Spain in secret in 1954 but he was soon arrested, tried and convicted.

Juan Comorera died in prison in Burgos in 1960.

Primary Sources

(1) Time Magazine (28th June 1954)

The man who knocked on an apartment-house door in a dingy corner of Barcelona identified himself as the lampista, the man from the electric company. He entered, and inspected the meter in an apartment occupied by a thin woman and a bearded man who called himself Josè Planas. The lampista noted carefully that the apartment had no back door.

Next morning the lampista, who was Chief Inspector Pedro Polo of the Social Brigade (Spain's FBI), gathered some of his men and went back to the apartment.

They knocked on Planas' door, calling out that it was the postman. When the door was opened, Polo's men, revolvers at the ready, burst into the room. The old-looking man, pale and trembling in a corner, offered no resistance.

"Yes," he mumbled. "I am Comorera.

This is the end of my road, and I'm glad it's over." The Undisciplined. Thus last week Franco's police captured an old enemy: Juan Comorera, 60, once the powerful, dreaded "Lenin of Catalonia" and top man of Spanish Communism in Catalonia.

First a small-town altar boy, then an anticlerical Republican, then a Socialist, Comorera helped found the Catalonian independence movement in the 1930s, a few years later merged it with the Communists and took command. He was Catalonia's Minister of Agriculture and Economy and its strongman when the civil war broke out. Through the war, he commuted regularly between Barcelona and Moscow to relay party orders. He policed the Catalonian party with his own Cheka, men in black leather jackets, crisscrossed by cartridge bandoleers. Their knock on a door in Catalonia usually meant torture and death to the man who answered.

After the Loyalist defeat, he served Communism abroad—in Mexico, where he organized a publishing house as a front for Red Spanish refugees and helped plan Trotsky's assassination; in France, where he ran a school for anti-Franco saboteurs. But Comorera, always strong-willed and undisciplined, became intolerant of Moscow's rule. Reprimanded, he shot back: "We are Spanish Communists, not Russians." He was read out of the party. Even his own Communist daughter attacked him over Radio Moscow. A few months ago, learning that a fellow ex-Communist had been tracked down and killed by Red assassins, Comorera grew a beard and fled Toulouse for Paris. Then he decided that a return to his homeland was a lesser risk than staying in France, and he had himself and his wife smuggled across the Pyrenees.

The Old Urge. Posing as a retired schoolteacher, he tried to remain inactive in Barcelona. But a few weeks ago, hungering for intrigue, he got in touch with old friends, and started printing a clandestine Marxist newspaper. Barcelona police tracked the paper to an apartment house, finally narrowed down to the mysterious man with the dark glasses. Inspector Polo recognized him instantly.

This week the Lenin of Catalonia sat chain-smoking in a cell in Barcelona police headquarters. As an old hand at the game, he knew what came next. But at least he would die at the hands of those he had fought, not of those whom he had so long served.