Juan Negrin

Juan Negrin

Juan Negrin, the son of a wealthy businessman, was born in Spain on 3rd February 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.

Juan Negrin
Juan Negrin

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.

Negrin now fled to France where he attempted to maintain a government in exile. After the invasion of the German Army in the summer of 1940 he went to live in England.

After the Second World War Negrin returned to France where he died on 12th November, 1956.

Primary Sources

(1) George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938)

The Government was headed by Caballero, a Left-wing Socialist, and contained ministers representing the U.G.T. (Socialist trade unions) and the C.N.T. (Syndicalist unions controlled by the Anarchists). The Catalan Generalite was for a while virtually superseded by an anti-Fascist Defence Committee' consisting mainly of delegates from the trade unions. Later the Defence Committee was dissolved and the Generalite was reconstituted so as to represent the unions and the various Left-wing parties. But every subsequent reshuffling of the Government was a move towards the Right. First the P.O.U.M. was expelled from the Generalite; six months later Caballero was replaced by the Right-wing Socialist Negrin; shortly afterwards the C.N.T. Was eliminated from the Government; then the U.G.T.; then the C.N.T. Was turned out of the Generalite; finally, a year after the outbreak of war and revolution, there remained a Government composed entirely of Right-wing Socialists, Liberals, and Communists.

(2) Edward Knoblaugh, Correspondent in Spain (1937)

Juan Negrin, former Minister of Treasury under Largo and a friend of the foreign correspondents, was named Premier to succeed Largo. I had known Negrin for several years and sincerely admired him. Even after the stocky, bespectacled multi-linguist became a cabinet minister he continued his nightly visits to the Miami bar for his after-dinner liqueur. I often chatted with him there, getting angles on the financial situation.

The presence of a moderate Socialist at the head of the new government was a boon to the regime because it strengthened the fiction of a "democratic" government abroad. Largo's ouster, however, produced fresh troubles. Feeling much stronger after its critical first test of strength against the Catalonian Anarcho-Syndicalists, the government had ousted the Anarchist members of the Catalonian Generalitat government and followed this up by excluding the Anarcho-Syndicalists from representation in the new Negrin cabinet.

Largo, it had been thought, would step down gracefully, but, bitterly disappointed and angry, the former Premier immediately began plotting his return to power. The Anarchists, equally bitter at their being deprived of a voice in government, suddenly threw their support to Largo, who adopted as his new campaign slogan the Anarchist cry "We want our social revolution now."

(3) The Manchester Guardian (15th May 1937)

Dr. Negrin, the Finance Minister in the last Government has succeeded, after a day of strenuous effort, in forming a Government in place of Senor Caballero's, which resigned on Saturday owing to internal differences.

Dr. Negrin's Cabinet maintains the same Popular Front formation as that of Senor Largo Caballero, but consists of nine members instead of fifteen. Dr. Negrin had previously stated that he would aim at such a reduction. The new Cabinet has only three Socialists, whereas formerly they had six Ministers. The Communists retain their previous strength of two.

The major changes are the departure of Senor Largo Caballero and the dropping of Senor del Vayo, the Socialist Foreign Minister.

Dr. Negrin has formed his Government without the active collaboration of the two large groups of trade unions the U.G.T. - Socialist and Communist - and the C.N.T. (mainly Anarchists and Socialists). These bodies refused during the afternoon to collaborate in the Government formed by Dr. Juan Negrin. The reason was his intention to cut down the number of Ministers allotted to them.

However, three of the new Ministers are members of the Socialist party, which predominates in the U.G.T. One of the significant features of the new Government is the concentration of the Ministries of War, Air, and Marine in the hands of one Minister of National Defence.

The government headed by Largo Caballero had been formed on September 4, 1936 and resigned on May 15, 1937. Caballero was invited by President Azana to form a new government but failed in his attempts to do so. It would seem that the Barcelona revolt played a part in the fall of Caballero's Government but his real problems arose from the refusal of the Communists to collaborate with him and the unpreparedness of the Socialists to work with him in the absence of the Communists.

(4) Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (1961)

A secret F.A.I. - Federacion Anarquista Iberica - circular of September 1938 pointed out that of 7,000 promotions in the Army since May 5,500 had been Communists. In the Army of the Ebro out of 27 brigades, 25 were commanded by Communists, while all 9 divisional commanders, 3 army corps commanders, and the supreme commander (Modesto) were Communists. This was the most extreme case of Communist control, but the proportions for the Anarchists were nearly as depressing elsewhere. In all six armies of Republican Spain the Anarchists believed the proportions to be 163 Communist brigade commanders to 33 Anarchists, 61 divisional commanders to 9 Anarchists, 15 army corps commanders to 2 Anarchists (with 4 Anarchist sympathizers), and 3 Communist army commanders, 2 sympathizers and one neutral.

(5) Luis Bolin, Spain, the Vital Years (1967)

The Negrin Government issued a communique, stating, 'On the Catalan front, the battle presents its usual features. Our forces are heroically resisting violent attacks launched by Italian troops' - Italian troops, at that time, amounted to less than 4 per cent of Franco's effectives - 'supported by Spanish contingents. After suffering great losses, the enemy has compelled us to readjust, slightly, the contour of our lines.' Negrin's communique was dated 25 January 1939, one day before the capture of Barcelona. At the time it was issued every Red leader in Catalonia had fled to France, leaving behind them 200,000 men, 242 cannon, 100 planes, 3,500 machine-guns, thousands of rifles, millions of cartridges and every imaginable kind of rolling-stock, including 6,000 lorries, all of which fell into our hands.

(6) Juan Negrin, radio broadcast (27th February 1938)

The loss of Teruel was an episode of the war brought about by the enormous quantity of arms and men sent to the assistance of Franco by Italy and Germany. We need the aid of no one. With the men, material, and ideals at our disposal we are certain of ultimate victory, which has been so long postponed. The delay in victory is due solely to the intervention of foreign Powers and the injustice of the Non-Intervention Committee which hinders our purchase of armaments.

We believe that German and Italian superiority in armaments will not last long and that the Spanish Government with its resources will supply the Republican Army with all the aeroplanes and war material which are required, superior to the Fascists. The Spanish people have shown in history what they are capable of when their country and liberties are in danger and at stake. The country of so much suffering and of so great morale will win in the long run.

(7) Statement by the Anti-Negrin National Defence Junta (5th March, 1939)

Spanish workers, people of anti-fascist Spain! The time has come when we must proclaim to the four winds the truth of our present situation. As revolutionaries, as proletarians, as Spaniards, as anti-fascists, we cannot endure any longer the imprudence and the absence of forethought of Dr. Negrin's government. We cannot permit that, while the people struggle, a few privileged persons should continue their life abroad. We address all workers, antifascists and Spaniards! Constitutionally, the government of Dr Negrin is without lawful basis. In practice also, it lacks both confidence and good sense. We have come to show the way which may avoid disaster: we who oppose the policy of resistance give our assurance that not one of those who ought to remain in Spain shall leave till all who wish to leave have done so.

(8) Jane Patrick, CNT-FAI radio broadcast (29th March, 1937)

What do you think of the situation in Spain now? Do you think that the revolution is progressing? For my part I see it slipping, slipping, and that has been the position for some time. However, perhaps it will be possible for it to be saved. Let us hope so, but it seems to me that reaction is gaining a stronger hold each day. What do you expect Britain and France to do about Italy, now that she has so openly declared her intentions? Do you think they will rush an armistice or will they just let things slide? In my opinion they cannot afford to let things slide as there is no limit to what the Duce will do, and I don't think they will be prepared to declare war, so the only alternative, so as as I can see, is an armistice. I think an armistice would be a disgraceful thing, and the Anarchists of Spain would not stand for it. But I am afraid the government cannot be trusted. The government and its Communist Party allies are capable of anything. What will follow? Of course, I do not know what will take place. It is all speculation on my part but things seem to me to be in a very bad way.

(9) Edward Heath, The Course of My Life (1988)

The political situation, however, was the main purpose of our visit and we were reminded of this at the dinner given for us late at night by the Prime Minister, Dr Juan Negrin, in his home in the hills overlooking the city. This was also attended by other senior ministers including Alvarez del Vayo, the Foreign Minister, with whom we had already had a two-hour talk on international affairs three days earlier. I marvel now at how cool and collected they all were, with Madrid isolated. General Franco's forces about to cross the river, their people ravaged by shortages of food and grievous defeat facing them within, at the most, a few months.

Dr Negrin was a distinguished scientist as well as a competent organiser, who recognised only too clearly the terrifying scale of what he and his allies were up against. He also foresaw that this civil war could well prove to be the precursor of a wholesale European conflict between the forces of fascism and the free democracies. He characterised the situation in 1938, with appeasement still predominating, as a 'clash between cowardly prudence and rash audacity'. He had already prophesied what would happen to Austria and Czechoslovakia, and no stronger or better-informed voice was raised at that time against further appeasement of the Axis powers. Negrin was a man of integrity and inner strength. When he had first been required to sign a death sentence passed by a military tribunal, a shadow had passed over his face and he had reflected that 'We must sanction all death sentences that may be necessary so that Spain may live.' He had also made successful use of a three-month indisposition to master Hungarian, a complicated and impenetrable tongue unrelated to other Southern or Central European languages. The equally impressive del Vayo, previously a foreign correspondent and then an ambassador, also warned us with the greatest intensity that, unless the international community rallied soon to the Spanish Republican cause, the effects of his people's struggle would ultimately extend far beyond Spain.

(10) John Gates, The Story of an American Communist (1959)

Juan Negrin, made a dramatic effort to change the picture. The decision was reached to withdraw the International Brigades from combat and to send us home. This was a last desperate move by the government to dramatize before the League of Nations that the Spanish Republic was not dependent on foreign aid. It was made in the hope that the League might at last force Hitler and Mussolini out of Spain. The hope was a vain one. The League did nothing except take an official census of the International Volunteers as we left Spain. The farce of non-intervention was carried through to the very end, which finally included the end of the League of Nations itself. The refusal of the League to act only made the fascist dictators impatient for the kill. They stepped up their aid to Franco.