Aftermath of Barcelona

In the afternoon of 6th May the CNT proposed an armistice. All the barricades would be pulled down and the anarchists would return to work, provided that the asaltos withdrew at the same time and there were no reprisals. The next day, the government agreed. The CNT broadcast the news, and despite one incident of firing, the barricades were dismantled. However, the PCE and the asaltos did not honour the agreement. They stayed in their positions and seized individuals or small groups, whom they arrested, or tore up their CNT membership cards. Ayguade was removed from the government but really the anarchists had barely even won a partial victory.

The "fascist plot" and "anarcho-Trotsykist putsch" theories, which the Comintern spread throughout the world, were extensions of the mentality of the Moscow show trials. No evidence supported the communist interpretation of events. On the other hand, their opponents portrayed the move against the telephone building as a carefully orchestrated provocation to give the communists an excuse to crush their enemies. There are isolated pieces of evidence pointing to such a move. But given the lack of communist troops in the area at the time it was a risky gambit if entirely planned. More likely the communists, ever alert for opportunities to increase their power, made the most of the opportunity. It has been noted for example that the majority of those found shot in the head were critics of the Moscow show trials. The death rate of 500 dead for every 1000 wounded in the strife was suspiciously high.

The Barcelona events greatly strengthened the communists. The CNT radio and press ended up heavily censored, as were the POUM's papers, and they were unable to reply to the barrage of communist accusation. The very brazenness of the lies had the effect of disorienting people, who were tempted to believe what they heard on the grounds that nobody would dare invent such allegations. But the Spanish communist leaders were uneasy with such brash tactics. La Pasionaria realised such methods were "premature" in Spain, as the communists did not have total control over the media. But the Soviet advisers were under pressure to get results fast.

On 15th May, Uribe, one of the communist minister in the government, demanded on Moscow's orders that the POUM be suppressed. Largo Caballero refused, saying that he would not outlaw a working class party that had done no wrong. Uribe and his fellow communist Jesus Hernandez walked out of the meeting, followed by the social democrats and the Basque nationalists. Largo was left with the anarchist ministers and two old socialist colleagues. President Azana was warned that the liberals and social democrats would back the communists in the next meeting. They took this stance because they identified with the communist desire for increased central government power over the anarchists, and partly because of the reality of their dependence on Soviet armaments.

Largo Caballero realised he would have to form a new Cabinet, but while he was trying to arrange a reshuffle the communists approached Juan Negrin, a social democrat but under heavy communist influence, and obtained his agreement to be the next prime minister. Prieto's liberal republicans agreed, and Juan Negrin became Prime Minister of the Republic at the end of May, leaving Largo Caballero and the anarchists out in the cold.

On its first day, Negrin's government agreed to the closing of the POUM's La Batalla newspaper. On 16th June, the POUM was declared illegal, and the communists came for the POUM leadership. Those who could be located were arrested - including the POUM leader, Andres Nin - and the wives of those who could not be found were taken instead. The communists placed their victims in secret cells to obtain confessions for espionage and high treason. Despite pressure from both outside and inside Republican Spain, the government did nothing and the communists denied all knowledge of Nin's whereabouts. Jesus Hernandez gave one account of his fate after th e war.

"Nin was not giving in. He was resisting until he fainted. His inquisitors became impatient. They decided to abandon the dry method. Then the blood flowed, the skin peeled off, muscles torn, physical suffering pushed to the limit of human endurance. Nin resisted the cruel pain of the most refined tortures. In a few days his face was a shapeless mass of flesh.".

Nin refused to confess to treason and Orlov gave up. A detachment of German communists from the International Brigades was organised to dress up as a special 'Gestapo commando team' and faked a rescue, leaving ponderous clues behind. Nin was shot while trying to escape, and secretly buried. But his bravery undermined the planned show trial program in Spain, saving his fellow POUM leaders from grisly fates. Many Soviet advisers were recalled to Moscow for this failure, and many of them were liquidated.

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