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Lions Led By Jackals. Stalinism in the International Brigades. Dale Street. Review.

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Lions Led By Jackals. Stalinism in the International Brigades. Dale Street. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. 2016.

During Franco’s dictatorship “the defeated in Spain has no public right to historical memory..” observed Paul Preston in The Spanish Holocaust (2012). The movement to recover these memories, beginning in the new millennium, continues to expose this past. The defeated side in the Spanish civil war, and those who fell during and after the Caudillo’s victory in the 1939, are honoured across the world as fighters against fascism. As Preston states, Franco’s war against the “Jewish-Bolshevik-Masonic’ Republic brought the murder of hundreds of thousands in its wake.

Those who escaped prison, death or slave labour faced systematic persecution well into the 1950s. Many exiles passed by Bayonne to France, some joining the French army to fight the German invasion. Amongst the refugees were those who ended up in the invaders’ hands, portrayed in Spanish exile Jorge Semprum’s Le Grand Voyage (1963). Spanish republicans perished in the extermination camps. Around 60% of these died in Mauthausen.

Dale Street is concerned with one of the saddest aspects of the Spanish tragedy: the role of Stalin’s Comintern in the International Brigades. Lions led by Jackals underlines the political and organisational hold of this body that took the decision to form the Brigades in September 1935. André Marty, the leader of the ‘Back Sea Mutiny’, and Communist on his release from prison in 1923, Secretary of the Comintern in the 1030s, he became their effective ‘commander in chief’.

Marty emphasised on the ‘popular front; politics of the Spanish government – the democratic authority the International Brigade had been formed to offer military support against the Franco-army rebellion. Street states that many volunteers “found the idea of Popular Frontism incomprehensible. From their point of view, they were in Spain not just to ‘fight fascism’ but also to fight for socialism and working-class revolution.” The Stalinists, he writes, confused such people with this talk of a “bourgeois democratic revolution”. As he points out, had they – and no doubt those Spaniards who elected the Popular Front and fought for it – if they’d read Trotsky they would have known that this was “Menshevism” and “utter disregard for the ABC of Leninism.”

Socialists will be familiar with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938) and Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom. (1995). Orwell inspires his readers with his account of Spain’s “foretaste of socialism” where one “had breathed the air of equality.” Loach puts these moments on screen.

Orwell was to experience first hand the other side of Comintern influence: its war on ‘Franco’s Fifth Column” – the ‘Trotskyist traitors’. The POUM, (Partido Obrero de Unifición Marxista), a fusion between two small anti-Stalin groups, backed the Popular Front and their leader, Andreu Nin (who had indeed originally been close to Trotsky), entered the Catalan government. They believed that socialist objectives tallied with the front against fascism, war and revolution went together. Trotsky himself accused Nin of having rallied to the defence of property. He advocated that the small group should be opposed to all other Popular Front parties, and teach radical forces, notably within the powerful anarchists and syndicalists of the FAI and CNT, to form soviets.


Trotsky’s strategy barely belongs even to the realm of historical might-have-beens. Nin was drawn into practical politics, in a Spain where it is hard to see how a sharp ‘Bolshevik’ vanguard party could be made out of disparate republican, socialist, and anarchist movements, left alone supplanting a Communist Party funded by the only international power offering the Republic serious military aid. Along with that help went a propaganda campaign against the POUM, its banning, and the dissolution of its militia. After the 1937 Barcelona May Days of anarchist and POEM resistance it was tracked down and ‘liquidated’ On Russian orders, and with NKVD direct participation, their leaders were arrested. Nin was taken from his house and shot. Fabricated documents pointed to POUM co-operation with Franco’s Falange.

Lions led by Jackals, describes the way into which those in charge of the International Brigades were infected by this Moscow-driven hunt for ‘Trotskyists’, ‘wreckers’ and ‘saboteurs’. Their training material included the instruction that “As in all other counties, so too here in Spain, the Trotskyists are the conscious enemies of the freedom of the people”. To Marty Trotskyists formed just one part of “multiple networks”, “the Gestapo, OVRA (Italian secret police), the Polish police, the Caballero group, anarchist, socialist and above all the Deuxieme Bureau (French secret service.” Articles intended for Brigaders asserted “the POUM was working in favour of Fascism”. The Independent Labour Party, linked to the POUM through the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre (the non-Trotskyist anti-Stalinist left international grouping, founded in 1932, known as the London Bureau), and whose own volunteers took part in their militia, was singled out. Any dissent, which could include the most minor disagreements, was noted with suspicion.

Street breaks new ground by indicating the details of these politics, and, more strikingly, in the endless, petty and spiteful reports on all Brigaders by the Political Commissars. Real issues of national frictions, personal problems and tensions, are overshadowed by the documents known as “Characterisations”. Often exaggerated concerns about possible infiltration by enemy agents and discipline aside, “thumbnail assessments” range from people’s sexuality, drinking habits, and temperament. Categories, such as Cadre, Very Good, Fair, Bad and Very Bad, were used.

With this licence to the small-minded it is not surprising that along with allegation about somebody’s alleged Trotskyist” or “criticisms of the Soviet Union”, that the sexual activity of some women volunteers is noted.

Stalinism, Street conclude, had “absolute political and organisational control”. On the most prominent Comintern representative, André Marty, Lions Led by Jackals, states that his “paranoid incompetence and general buffoonery guaranteed his failure, even in his own terms, as commander-in-chief of the Intentional Brigades.”

The paranoiac and murderous cadres who exported the purges and efforts to duplicate the Moscow trials to Spain, should nevertheless not be allowed to diminish the courage and sacrifice of the Brigaders, including Communists.

As for Marty he was portrayed under that name in Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), as a suspicious thug with a “mania for shooting people”. These killings earned him the sobriquet of the Butcher of Albacete. 1943 found him the representative of the French Communists in the de Gaulle led Resistance based in Algiers. There was an ascension  to become the ‘Number 3’ in the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). Following the Marty-Tillon ‘Affair’ in which included accusations that Marty was a Police agent, he was expelled from the Party in 1952.

Lions led by Jackals is available from here: Stalinism in the International Brigades


Written by Andrew Coates

May 19, 2016 at 12:55 pm

11 Responses

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  1. Is there anything on Marty after he left the PCF? I was told that the LCR published a pamphlet on the Marty affair; do you know of this?.

    Dr Paul

    May 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm

  2. The French wiki has a lot of detail https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_Marty

    Jim Monaghan

    May 19, 2016 at 2:47 pm

  3. So why didn’t Trotskyists form their own international brigades, free of Stalinist perfidy?


    May 19, 2016 at 4:07 pm

  4. Before answering that PW this has to be taken into account (I read it when it came out, and even then was amazed at this particular part of the SWP’s open-minded ability to look at the real issues),

    “Trotsky’s direct collaboration with the POUM was a real possibility at the beginning of the revolution. Not only was the party influenced by Trotsky’s conception of revolution and opposition to Stalinism, but in the first weeks of the war there were contacts between Nin and other former ICE leaders and the Trotskyist representative in Barcelona, Jean Rous. A letter by Trotsky on 16 August 1936 urging reconciliation with the POUM was intercepted by Benito Mussolini’s secret police. Such contact ended when the French Trotskyists published an internal document by Trotsky warning against any reconciliation with “the vainglorious centrists” of the POUM. The sectarian behaviour of his followers in Spain did the rest.40

    The nature of Trotsky’s late writings and political method need to be taken into account when evaluating his analysis of events in Spain and the role of the POUM.41 As Sennett points out:

    Trotsky’s criticism of Nin and the POUM can only be understood from an appreciation of his absolute belief in the capacity to influence events…the conviction that, however minuscule the initial nucleus of revolutionaries may be, with the correct theory, leadership and programme, this tiny grouping could be transformed into a revolutionary party with mass support at a time of revolutionary crisis.42

    But for Trotsky, writing in December 1937, “contrary to its own intentions the POUM proved to be in the final analysis the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party”.43 In the new edition of his text Sennett steps back from what was possibly the “harshest and least justified” of Trotsky’s condemnations of the POUM. According to Sennett, Trotsky:

    Failed to appreciate, on the one hand, the hegemony of the Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists over the Spanish labour movement, and, on the other, the rapid expansion in membership and power of the [communists] after July 1936. There was little room for a new political force. It is remarkable that the POUM, which was largely confined to Catalonia, achieved as many adherents and wielded as much influence as it did.”

    Andy Durgan.

    International Socialism (SWP.


    Andrew Coates

    May 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm

  5. I presume because they didn’t have the numbers, enough support within the working class, an inability to build mass support, nor a viable line of access to arms and military trainers. A little humility from Trosky may have helped, shouting from the roof tops everyone was wrong, if not worse, the anarchist, the reformist socialists, Stalinists, former comrades like Nin and the Poum hardly helped. If anything he played right into the stalinists hands.

    Never forget International Brigades were formed by the CPs

    Mick Hall

    May 19, 2016 at 4:59 pm

  6. I weighed my sentences Mick, starting with the way I presented the way Trotsky and Trotskyists approach the whole Popular Front strategy and experience, extending to to Trotsky’s own commands to Nin, and ending with the comment, “should nevertheless not be allowed to diminish the courage and sacrifice of the Brigaders, including Communists.”

    Were I writing about the Civil War in general I would not find Trotsky of more than very limited direct relevance.

    It should be obvious that I sympathise with the so-called ‘centrists’ of the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre, which apart from the ILP and the POUM included the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan ( PSOP) whose best known member was Marceau Pivert, the Polish Bund, the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Party (Revolutionair Socialistische Partij) of the heroic Henk Sneevliet, and others:


    Andrew Coates

    May 19, 2016 at 5:30 pm

  7. The main reason for the hegemony of the Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists over the Spanish labour movement was because workers, alongside them, tested them in struggle, and in the main despite mistakes they hadn’t failed them, thus it was almost inevitable they gave them their support when the civil war broke out.

    There is a great deal to admire about Leon Trotsky but as a politician he was piss poor in my view, he almost had an inbuilt inability to compromise, thus when events failed to go his way he often looked for shortcomings in others to place the blame on and in doing so, even when he was correct, he drove away many comrades who would otherwise have supported him. ( I’m referring to comrades like Victor Serge amongst others)

    Mick Hall

    May 19, 2016 at 6:09 pm

  8. Yes, however Mick I concentrated on the very evident vileness of arch-Stalinist Marty.

    To reply to Paul, Marty crops up a lot in books, but his career is so incredibly contentious, and there is so much written up him – including the allegation (in Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge) that he was booted out of the PCF for bringing up differences he had with Stalin when Marty advocated the Communist resistance taking power at the end of the war, that I am reluctant to be definite about more than a general outline of his career.

    On the predecessor of the LCR see: Pierre Frank The Marty-Tillon Affair Reveals
    How Our Ideas Have Penetrated the PCF. (December 1952)


    Michel Pablo. Rift in the French Communist Party. Behind the Marty-Tillon Case (September 1952)


    Andrew Coates

    May 20, 2016 at 4:08 pm

  9. Andrew, indeed you did, sadly as you well know, Marty wasn’t the only example within the CP’s where scum rose to the top. I remember reading the following somewhere, probably Trotsky, I forget its exact wording but it was something along these lines

    ‘The greatest crime of Stalinism was turning people who joined CP’s to fight to change the world for the better into unthinking automatons.’

    When I was in the CP I new people who were good working class militants, fine trade unionists,not careerists in any way, but when it came to Stalin they had an irrational blind spot and this was almost two decades after the Stalinist crimes were in the public domain.

    Comradely regards

    Mick Hall

    May 20, 2016 at 6:34 pm

  10. PW – there was a very small Spanish section of the 4th International, the Seccion Bolshevik-Leninista. It was said to have eight members – hence working through POUM

    In mentioning the criminals of the Spanish Civil War, one of them was a Brit, the appropriately named David Crook. He spied on supposed ‘Trotskyites’ (inc Orwell) leading to the death of several at the hands of the KGB. He also is said to have trained Ramon Mercador and to have been involved in the assassination of Trotsky. He later moved to Beijing and was an arch Maoist right-up to his death in 2000, despite being locked during the Cultural Revolution. His widow is an idol of Stalinist/Maoist party in the UK – CPGBML

  11. All this is very interesting and it is Catalan’s history and also the history of socialism.Whatever people say about Trotsky,for me, his ideas are the least contaminated by brutality and compromise, towards a better universal socialism.


    October 24, 2017 at 12:34 pm

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