Indalecio Prieto

Indalecio Prieto

Indalecio Prieto was born in Bilbao, Spain on 30th April, 1883. His father died when he was six years old and he was raised in extreme poverty. When he was a child he made a living by selling newspapers on the streets. In 1899 Prieto joined the Socialist Party (PSOE) and four years later helped to form the Young Socialist League.

Prieto worked as a journalist and in 1911 he became the first socialist to be elected to a provincial council in Spain. During the First World War Prieto emerged as the leader of PSOE in the Basque region. In the summer of 1917 Prieto became involved in the organization of a political strike in Spain. The strikers demanded the establishment of a provisional republican government, elections to a constituent Cortes and action to deal with inflation.

In Madrid members of the strike committee, including Julián Besteiro and Francisco Largo Caballero, were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Prieto feared the same would happened to him and he fled to France and did not return until April 1918. Soon afterwards was elected to the Cortes.

Miguel Primo de Rivera became military dictator of Spain in September 1923. He promised to eliminate corruption and to regenerate Spain. In order to do this he suspended the constitution, established martial law and imposed a strict system of censorship. Some members of the Socialist Party, including Francisco Largo Caballero, initially favoured working with the new regime. Prieto disagreed and called for the left-wing groups to form an alliance against the regime.

Largo Cabellero joined the dictatorship's Council of State. He also accepted Primo de Rivera's invitation for the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) to become the regime's trade union at the expense of the banned anarcho-syndicalist National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT). This brought Prieto into direct conflict with Largo Cabellero. Prieto wrote that "Largo Caballero is a fool who wants to appear clever. He is a frigid bureaucrat who plays the role of a mad fanatic". Largo Caballero replied that Prieto was "envious, arrogant, and distainful" and was not a socialist "either in his ideas or in his action."

In August 1930 Prieto was a central figure in the formation of the Republican coalition known as the Pact of San Sebastián. Julián Besteiro was opposed to the idea but Prieto's old enemy, Francisco Largo Caballero, gave it his support as he felt it was the only way the Socialist Party would gain power. At a conference held in July 1930, delegates voted by 10,607 to 8,326 to approve the PSOE taking part in a future coalition government.

After Alfonso XIII abdicated in April 1931 Prieto became Minister of Finance in the new government led by Niceto Alcala Zamora. Prieto was immediately plunged into a financial crisis as wealthy people in Spain took their money out of the country and he was forced to spend large sums to maintain the value of the currency.

In December 1931 Manuel Azaña replaced Niceto Alcala Zamora as prime minister and Prieto was appointed Minister of Public Works. Over the next two years Prieto completed many of the hydro-electrical projects initiated by Miguel Primo de Rivera. He also introduced large-scale irrigation schemes, a major road building programme and a railway network in Madrid.

Attacked by the extreme left for not being radical enough, the government faced an anarcho-syndicalist uprising at Casas Viejas in January 1933. The government was severely criticized in the Cortes for its approval of the way the Civil Guard and Assault Guard put down the uprising. This included the execution without trial of fourteen prisoners.

In September 1933 the government of Manuel Azaña collapsed and Prieto and other Socialist Party members of the cabinet left office. The following month Prieto announced the end of the Republican-Socialist coalition. In the elections that followed in November 1933 the conservative CEDA became the largest party in the Cortes.

Prieto was aware that the left would have to join forces in order to form another government in Spain. In January 1936, Prieto joined with Manuel Azaña to establish a coalition of parties on the political left to fight the national elections due to take place the following month. This included the Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party (PCE) and the Republican Union Party.

The Popular Front, as the coalition became known, advocated the restoration of Catalan autonomy, amnesty for political prisoners, agrarian reform, an end to political blacklists and the payment of damages for property owners who suffered during the revolt of 1934. The Anarchists refused to support the coalition and instead urged people not to vote.

Right-wing groups in Spain formed the National Front. This included the CEDA and the Carlists. The Falange Española did not officially join but most of its members supported the aims of the National Front.

The Spanish people voted on Sunday, 16th February, 1936. Out of a possible 13.5 million voters, over 9,870,000 participated in the 1936 General Election. 4,654,116 people (34.3) voted for the Popular Front, whereas the National Front obtained 4,503,505 (33.2) and the centre parties got 526,615 (5.4). The Popular Front, with 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes formed the new government.

Prieto was expected to become prime minister but he was forced to withdraw when he failed to get the support of Francisco Largo Caballero. Instead the post went to the non-socialist José Giral. The Popular Front government immediately upset the conservatives by realizing all left-wing political prisoners. The government also introduced agrarian reforms that penalized the landed aristocracy. Other measures included transferring right-wing military leaders such as Francisco Franco to posts outside Spain, outlawing the Falange Española and granting Catalonia political and administrative autonomy.

During the early stages of the Spanish Civil War Prieto grew disillusioned with José Giral and supported the view that his old enemy, Francisco Largo Caballero, should become prime minister. In Largo Caballero's new government Prieto served as Minister of Navy and Air (September, 1936 to May, 1937). He also served as Minister of National Defence (May, 1937 to March, 1938) under Juan Negrin.

By June 1937, the Socialist Party had 160,000 members. The growth in the Communist Party was even more dramatic which now had nearly 400,000 members. The communists also controlled the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT), the Catalan Socialist Party (PSUC) and the PSOE youth movement, Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (JSU).

Prieto was now leader of the Socialist Party but in April 1938 Juan Negrin felt strong enough to remove him from the government.

Prieto was forced to flee from Spain when General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist Army took control of the country in March 1939. Indalecio Prieto went to Mexico where he led the Socialist Party in exile until his death from an heart-attack on 11th February 1962.

Primary Sources

(1) Miguel Maura was one of the Republicans involved in establishing the Pact of San Sebastián in August 1930. Afterwards he wrote about the role of Indalecio Prieto in the alliance.

Once we had clinched the agreement of the Socialists, the republican block was compact and efficient. Moreover, the security represented by being able to count on Prieto and the elements that he had been accumulating on his own account for months represented an enormous relief for the rest of us. Indalecio, who knew the most heterogeneous and picturesque characters, was a truly exceptional judge of men. When he spoke with someone twice, he knew exactly what to expect in terms of their moral fibre and, without the slightest euphemism, he passed judgement once and for all. Time after time we were to find out just how accurate his assessment had been

(2) Salvador de Madariaga, a member of the Republican Union Party, commented on the clash between Francisco Largo Caballero and Indalecio Prieto.

What made the Spanish Civil War inevitable was the civil war within the Socialist party. No wonder Fascism grew. Let no one argue that it was fascist violence that developed socialist violence. It was not at the Fascists that Largo Caballero's gunmen shot but at their brother socialists. It was (Largo Caballero's) avowed, nay, his proclaimed policy to rush Spain on to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus pushed on the road to violence, the nation, always prone to it, became more violent than ever. This suited the fascists admirably, for they are nothing if not lovers and adepts of violence.

(3) The exiled Italian socialist, Pietro Nenni wrote about Indalecio Prieto in August 1936.

I've been watching Indalecio Prieto for the last few days. It could be said that, more than just a man, he is a prodigious work machine. He thinks about a hundred things at once. He knows everything, he sees all. Within the space of a few minutes, he receives a group of socialists, he runs twenty times to pick up the telephone. Belarmino Tomas takes him to one side to speak about dynamite, ammunition and cannons. Professor Negrin takes him by the arm to report on the latest developments in an important diplomatic issue. In his short sleeves, sweating and breathing heavily, Indalecio goes from one to another, gives orders, signs papers, takes notes, shouts on the telephone, bawls out one and smiles at another. He is nothing; he isn't a minister; he's just a member of a parliament that is in recess. And yet he is everything: the heart and soul and co-ordinator of all government activity.

(4) Indalecio Prieto was interviewed by the Soviet journalist Mikhail Koltsov on 26th August 1936.

Our political differences lie at the heart of the struggle within the Spanish Socialist Party in recent years. And, despite everything, at least today, Caballero is the only man, rather is the only appropriate name, to head a new government. I am ready to take part in that government, to take any post and work at Caballero's orders doing whatever is necessary. There is no other outlet for Spain nor for me, if I want to be of use to the country.

(5) Ilya Ehrenburg, letter sent to Marcel Rosenberg (30th September, 1936)

The question of possibly merging the Socialists and the Communists into one party (as in Catalonia) does not have, according to my preliminary impression, any immediate, current significance since the Socialist party, as such, at least in the central region, does not make itself much felt and since the Socialists and Communists act in concert within the framework of a union organization - the General Workers' Union - headed by Caballero (abbreviated UGT), the activity and influence of which far exceed the limits of a union.

What are our channels for action in this situation? We support close contact with the majority of the members of the government, chiefly with Caballero and Prieto. Both of them, through their personal and public authority, stand incomparably higher than the other members of the government and play a leading role for them. Both of them very attentively listen to everything that we say. Prieto at this particular time is trying at all costs to avoid conflict with Caballero and therefore is trying not to focus on the issues.

I think it unnecessary to dwell at this time on the problem of how an aggravation in class contradictions might take shape during a protracted civil war and the difficulties with the economy that might result (supplying the army, the workers, and so on), especially as I think it futile to explore a more distant prospect while the situation at the front still places all the issues of the revolution under a question mark.