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Santiago Carrillo: A Life in Six Acts

John Sullivan

Act One: The Young Socialist
Santiago Carrillo, who helped to destroy the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) in 1936, and later the Communist Party (PCE), was born on 16 January 1915, in Gijón, Asturias. His father Wenceslao, a foundryman, was an activist in the PSOE, and the Socialist trade union, the UGT. Wenceslao was jailed for his part in the 1917 General Strike, and was arrested several times in the following years. Carrillo recalls seeing his father being marched off to the cells surrounded by police.

Wenceslao Carrillo became a full time official of the UGT, but as the union paid miserable wages the family were no better off. In 1924 they moved to Madrid when Wenceslao was elected to the PSOE’s national leadership and became editor of its paper, El Socialista. Santiago left school at thirteen although his teachers wanted him to go on to secondary education. There were five children in the family, so he had to start work in the party’s printshop, later becoming a journalist on El Socialista.

Carrillo became an activist in both the UGT and the PSOE youth group during General Diego Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, and participated in a rising against the regime in 1930. After the Republic was proclaimed in 1931 he became a member of the young Socialists’ Madrid committee and editor of its journal, Renovación, and was jailed for sedition, but was freed because of his age. The PSOE had been one of the most right wing parties in the Second International, always anxious to differentiate itself from the anarcho-syndicalist CNT, which was stronger than the PSOE in the most industrialised areas, especially Catalonia. The PSOE had had great hopes in the Republic and had participated in the 1931-33 government, but was bitterly disappointed by the continued repression of the labour movement and the failure to carry out reforms. It became sharply divided between a right wing led by Indelacio Prieto and a left led by Largo Caballero, which was supported by both Carrillos.

The prestige of the Soviet Union had grown after the rise of Fascism, but that did not benefit the PCE, which was small and ultra-left, and whose ineffectual leadership was constantly being replaced by its Comintern controllers. In those circumstances Carrillo and others in the Socialist youth argued that all Marxists should join the PSOE, which they claimed was becoming Bolshevised.

The PSOE’s lurch to the left was expressed in a revolutionary general strike in 1934, which produced an insurrection in Asturias, ironically a stronghold of Prieto and his local henchman, González Peña. Subsequently, many PSOE leaders including Caballero, and both Carrillos, were confined in the Modelo prison in Madrid, until freed by the victory of the Popular Front in the February 1936 elections. The prison became a kind of revolutionary university. Caballero seems to have regarded Santiago, by then national secretary of the young Socialists, as his political heir.

Carrillo could not fail to be impressed, as were many in the Socialist youth, by Andrés Nin, Spain’s leading Marxist intellectual, but even more by Joaquín Maurín, the PCE’s lost leader. The PCE, on its formation, had been based mainly on the PSOE youth, so had very little strength in the areas where the CNT predominated, a situation that changed only slightly when Nin and Maurín, successive CNT national secretaries, joined the party. The repression exercised by the dictatorship in power from 1923 produced tremendous difficulties, so the party remained very weak outside the Basque province of Vizcaya. Maurín opposed the ultra-left, Third Period policies followed after the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, but he attributed those to the errors of the Spanish leadership, not to Stalin. Humbert Droz, the Comintern’s agent in Spain until the early 1930s, shared that view and would have liked Maurín to head the party. Maurín thought that the Comintern should recognise his group, the Bloc Obrero y Campesino (BOC), which was based in Catalonia and Valencia. Carrillo published articles attacking Prieto in the BOC’s journal, La Batalla, and engaged in a respectful polemic with Maurín, who wanted unification of the PCE, the BOC and the PSOE, rather than simply joining the PSOE.

"Carmen", the Russian agent of the Comintern youth organisation, feared that Carrillo would end up in the Fourth International, but that was never likely as he was already an influential figure, never attracted to small group politics. A merger of the PSOE and PCE would give him a key role. Once Carrillo reached agreement on a merger of the PSOE and PCE youth organisations with Codovilla, the Comintern emissary in Spain, who visited him in prison in late 1934, his flirtation with non-Stalinist forces was over.

Act Two: A Leader in Waiting
On leaving prison in February 1936 Carrillo went to Moscow as part of the delegation which was to arrange the merger of the young Socialists and young Communists in the Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (JSU). The agreement provided for a unified organisation to remain affiliated to the PSOE, creating an anomaly which was to be rectified by the merger of the adult parties. However, that failed when Prieto’s supporters, who opposed the project, gained a majority on the PSOE’s executive. Carrillo became the secretary of the JSU, which soon had nearly 150,000 members. Franco’s rising on 18 July delayed the founding congress until January 1937, so a provisional executive was formed with seven members from each of the constituent sections. Carrillo joined the PCE in November as did all of the other Socialists on the executive, giving the PCE fourteen places and the PSOE none.

Carrillo was appointed a reserve member of the PCE’s Political Bureau and was soon attacking the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), the party formed in 1935 by the merger of the BOC and Trotsky’s former supporters in the Izquierda Comunista Española. As repression of the POUM intensified, in retaliation for its criticism of the Moscow trials, Carrillo denounced it as Trotskyist and an agent of Fascism.

When the remnants of the Caballero wing of the PSOE turned sharply against the PCE and the Russian domination of the Republic, the PCE found new allies in the Prieto faction. Nin’s abduction and murder by Stalinist agents caused outrage in the republican camp, reaching far beyond POUM sympathisers, but Carrillo denies that he knew anything about it. He claims that years later when he asked Pasionaria about her role in the murder she denied all knowledge of it, although Jesús Hernández, a PCE leader expelled in the 1940s, says that Pasionaria was directly involved in helping the Soviet agents to capture Nin. Even after breaking with the Russian party, Carrillo made no effort to ascertain the truth. In 1976 he reluctantly admitted that Nin was not a Fascist agent, while continuing to defend the persecution and trial of the POUM leaders.

In March 1939 a coalition of anti-Stalinist forces, led by Colonel Casado, mounted a coup against the PCE and their ally, prime minister Negrín, in the vain hope of obtaining a negotiated peace. Wenceslao Carrillo was the main PSOE figure in the Casado Junta. The predictable effect of the coup was to destroy any hope of resistance and to give Franco victory within days. On 15 May Santiago, by now in France, wrote an open letter to his father which was published in the Communist press, accusing him of being one of the band of Trotskyist/Fascist/Anarchist agents of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s secret services. Caballero and the left wing members of the PSOE who had been his political mentors were also denounced.

The letter provoked a reply from Wenceslao addressed to "Mr. Stalin" on the assumption that such hysterical abuse could not have been written by his son. The attribution to Stalin seems not to have been merely a literary device, as Wenceslao expressed incredulity and movingly described his son’s upbringing in the workers’ movement, his imprisonment, and previous devotion to the socialist cause. Wenceslao’s bewilderment was genuine, but he was wrong in thinking that Santiago did not write the letter. He was not familiar with the norms of the Stalinist movement where people were held responsible for the "crimes" of their relatives unless they explicitly condemned them. Santiago’s letter purports to be written in the aftermath of the Casado coup, but by May he had other preoccupations. He was scheduled to go to Moscow where he, like all foreign party visitors, would have to produce a biographical resumé. Failure to break off relations with his father would have been extremely dangerous, given his leftist past and his brief record in the PCE. Santiago appeared to have chosen the winning side, as the PSOE never recovered from its embrace of Stalinism. In exile, Prietistas and Caballeristas continued their feuds, but those produced little clarification as both had supported Stalinism at different times. With the defection of its youth group the exiled PSOE aged rapidly.

After the German invasion of France, Carrillo was sent to Moscow, then the United States and, eventually, Cuba and Mexico. His duties included the organisation of the Communist Youth International until the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943, and contact with the remnants of the clandestine party in Spain. Carrillo was still a second level cadre, whose promotion was not inevitable. In 1942 the chronically ill PCE General Secretary José Díaz died after jumping out of a window in Tiflis. When the question of the succession arose, Carrillo declared that Pasionaria, rather than Jesús Hernández, should be the new leader, days before Moscow made its choice. His gamble paid off, as Hernández fell into disgrace and was expelled from the party, surviving only because he was in Mexico not the USSR. Hernández claimed that he had fallen out with the Russians who saw him as too independent.

Pasionaria was not a hands-on leader, as she lived in Moscow and had little connection even with the Spanish exiles there. The second-in-command was her fellow Basque, Vicente Uribe, who had been the minister of agriculture in Negrín’s government. Carrillo despised Uribe for being drunk, stupid, lazy and arrogant, but he himself was young and with only six years’ membership in the party, was not yet a leadership candidate in an organisation which respected seniority.

On the liberation of France in 1944, Carrillo was sent to organise the party there and in Spain, among expectations that the allies might help to overthrow Franco. The acting leaders in France and Spain had organised an invasion of the Aran valley in Catalonia by the members in France, many of them hardened veterans of the French resistance. The isolated valley was occupied easily enough before Franco’s troops could move there, but the activity sparked off no rebellion, nor did it receive help from the Allies. Carrillo called off the mad adventure in what was probably his finest hour, although conventional warfare was replaced by an equally disastrous guerrilla strategy. The PCE’s top leadership, based in Russia and Latin America, blamed Jesús Monzón, a dynamic cadre working clandestinely in Spain, but it is implausible that an invasion could have been undertaken without Russian authorisation. Carrillo, who was to spend nearly 37 years in exile, was always suspicious of those operating inside Spain, assuming that they might be provocateurs working for Franco. Monzón was summoned to headquarters in Toulouse to defend himself against charges of treachery, but being reluctant to entrust himself to guides appointed by Carrillo, was captured while seeking alternative help in crossing the Pyrenees. Although sentenced to thirty years in prison he was denounced as a traitor.

Carrillo had earlier taken the same line on Heriberto Quiñones, who had built a clandestine party structure within Spain. The "traitor Quiñones" became a key figure in PCE demonology, and was still being denounced as late as 1950 by the party leaders, who saw through his clumsy effort to conceal his treachery by having himself arrested, tortured and shot in October 1942. Another such was León Trilla, who had been a PCE leader in the early 1930s, and was killed by a party execution squad in Madrid in September 1945. Just as the Communist parties of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe concentrated their witch hunts against those who had been exposed to western contamination during World War II, the PCE conducted its own campaign against suspect party members returning from German concentration camps. Carrillo conceded that most of those comrades were innocent, but warned that enemy secret services would have recruited agents there. Spending time in Spain, the French Resistance, or German concentration camps was not a good career move for PCE cadre.

Carrillo consolidated his position in the years after World War II, although he was still subject to Uribe’s whims, and was aware that Pasionaria in Moscow could make or break careers. He remained in France although the PCE was illegal there after 1950, working in his office twelve hours daily. Carrillo’s many enemies have accused him of treachery, betrayal and murder, but never of laziness. He continued to suffer from Uribe’s incompetence and regularly complained to Pasionaria, who listened sympathetically, but would not remove Uribe.

Carrillo’s concerns were shared by Francisco Antón, Pasionaria’s lover, who worked with him in Paris. Antón encountered problems during a visit to Moscow where he reiterated his own and Carrillo’s criticisms of Uribe. Unfortunately for Antón, Pasionaria, a pioneer of the idea that "the personal is political", had learned of the relationship he had formed with a young French woman, and entrusted Uribe with drawing up charges against him. At a meeting of the Political Bureau in Moscow in 1952 Pasionaria suggested that Antón might be an enemy agent who had infiltrated the party in 1931! Carrillo, whose curriculum was much more suspicious than Antón’s, was aware that association with a "traitor" was extremely dangerous at a time when Slansky and other East European leaders were being executed as enemy agents. He did not defend Antón’s conduct but stated that he did not think that he was an agent of foreign intelligence. Antón was sent to work on a production line in Poland, a lenient punishment considering the gravity of his offences, while Carrillo, criticised for his management of the guerrilla struggle but not accused of treachery, remained on the Political Bureau. He was surrounded by veteran incompetents, none of whom was a serious rival to succeed Pasionaria.

The end of the terror was approaching, although Stalin’s death in 1953 had little immediate effect on the PCE’s practice. Its leaders, according to Carrillo, were unaware of Stalin’s crimes until Krushchev’s famous speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956.

Act Three: Moscow’s Main Man
In 1956 Carrillo finally persuaded Pasionaria to reform the Political Bureau (later known as the Executive Committee), promoting people of his own generation, retaining Uribe, but removing him from real responsibility. He had prepared the ground by a detailed attack on Uribe’s sectarianism, bureaucratic methods and arrogance. However, times were changing, Stalin was dead and it was not suggested that Uribe was an enemy agent. Carrillo became, effectively, General Secretary, although Pasionaria held on to that title until 1960, when she became life president. It had taken him twenty years to reach the top, working under people he despised.

The guerrilla strategy was now abandoned, as the party intensified it search for sections of the bourgeoisie who had become disillusioned with Franco. A generation after the crushing of the workers’ movement, repression had eased and it was possible, although dangerous, to conduct agitation among workers and students. The party persisted in its efforts to recreate the Popular Front, adjusting to changing circumstances while projecting a picture of Spain as it had been in 1939.

It called for a peaceful general strike to demand democratisation, the Huelga National Pacífica (HNP), on 18 June 1959, during an economic downturn when few workers had the confidence to back such an action. The HNP was not to be a purely working class protest, but was to involve the intelligentsia, members of the professions, former Franco supporters and the peasants. The strike was a fiasco as there was hardly any support from outside the party, which had difficulty in mobilising even its own members. However it was declared to be a stunning success, although everyone within Spain, especially PCE members, could see that it was not.

There were to be successful strikes in the coming years, but they were on more specific issues and less under the control of the exiled leaders. A miners’ strike in Asturias in 1962 produced severe repression and police torture, but also widespread support from intellectuals and others.

In the 1960s the PCE suffered less competition from rivals than other European Communist parties did. The PSOE had very few members in Spain, and the Maoist groups which emerged after the Sino-Soviet split in 1962 attracted hardly any party members. In 1959 the Frente de Liberación Popular (FLP), formed by students and intellectuals, grew rapidly but the PCE was able to recruit from it, given the FLP’s confused politics and the attraction of its own working class base for serious militants. Clandestine work inside the state-run unions, which were now attempting to integrate the working class rather than merely repress it, brought substantial gains. This was, perhaps Carrillo’s golden age, but storm clouds were gathering.

Fernando Claudín, who was a contemporary, an old friend and next to Carrillo in the hierarchy, began to question the party’s strategy. Claudín, who had been a full time PCE functionary since 1933, had a reputation for intolerance and brutality and had lived in Russia from the late forties until the mid fifties, was an unexpected dissident. However, he emerged as the first intellectual in the party leadership since the Stalinisation of the 1920s. Together with his co-thinker, Jorge Semprún, a grandson of the former prime minister Maura and an experienced underground organiser who had experienced the disaster of the Huelga Nacional Pacífica, he proposed that the party should recognise the great changes which had occurred in the past twenty-five years. The peasants were vanishing, there was an industrial boom, the white collar workforce was expanding and it was unlikely that the regime would collapse suddenly in the way that the monarchy had in 1931. Claudín and Semprún argued that the Franco regime would probably be succeeded by a fairly long period of gradual liberalisation, where governments would include both working class and bourgeois forces.

They presented their theses at a Political Bureau meeting held near Prague in 1964, and were expelled in 1965 on charges of factionalism and disloyalty. Their ideas were to become very influential, but not within the PCE, as Carrillo’s control of the party machinery ensured that members were not told what their proposals were. The accuracy of Claudín’s observation’s were obvious even to casual observers, so it is difficult now to appreciate the stir which they then provoked. Carrillo was well aware that his opponents’ analysis was sound, but that was hardly a reason to endorse it. The views of the Russian bureaucracy, not actual conditions in Spain, were the main factor in determining PCE policy. Claudín knew that his proposals would be unacceptable to both Carrillo and the Russians, and that his party career was over.

As a practical politician, Carrillo had to take account of the Kremlin’s worrying steps toward reaching an accommodation with the Franco regime. Krushchev had been ousted in October 1964, and the Brezhnev regime was likely to be intolerant of the idiosyncrasies of fraternal parties. Carrillo soon adopted most of Claudín’s positions.

Act Four: The Eurocommunist
Carrillo, who had started the 1960s as a loyal servant of the Soviet leaders, had by the end of the decade broken free from Moscow’s control and become the best known exponent of what became known as Eurocommunism. His new strategy was evident at the PCE’s Seventh Congress, held in Paris in July 1965. The party’s growth was shown by the presence of a substantial number of delegates from within Spain, including Marcelino Camacho, the leader of the illegal trade union, Comisiones Obreras (Workers’ Commissions). Carrillo’s report to the congress was the basis of a book, Después de Franco qué? After condemning the recently expelled Claudín "liquidators" with abundant quotes from Lenin, he proceeded to adopt much of their analysis. While he cautiously acknowledged the economic boom, his tone remained triumphalist and resolutely based on fantasy. The delegates were told to be ready for a general strike, perhaps within months, and were cheered by the prospect of the army helping the people to overthrow the dictatorship.

Carrillo was to publish a stream of books over the next dozen years, culminating in Eurocommunism and the State in 1977. They were all widely distributed and translated, giving him for the first time a reputation outside his own party. He was no longer just a party bureaucrat controlling an apparatus, but a theoretician, read and cited in polemics within the European Communist movement. On re-reading these essays it is difficult to appreciate their appeal for earnest young Eurocommunists moving towards Social Democracy or liberalism, and unaware of their complete incompatibility with their hero’s conduct in his day job as PCE General Secretary.

From 1967 the party advocated an "alliance of labour and culture", that is, an orientation towards the professions. In contrast to most European Communist parties the PCE warmly embraced the student revolt of May 1968, which had enormous repercussions in Spain. Although that risked annoying the French sister party, the PCE had really no choice. An illegal party could not condemn a revolt in the way that one with a base in a trade union bureaucracy could.

During the second half of the 1960s, as the "Eurocommunist" strategy accentuated the search for allies in the Church, the army and the bourgeoisie, relations with the Soviet Union became strained. The Spanish party took a middle course between the Italian party’s adoption of Social Democracy and the French party’s loyalty to the Kremlin. The PCE gently criticised the persecution of Russian intellectual dissidents and welcomed the political liberalisation of the "Prague Spring". Both the PCE and the Kremlin sought agreement with Spanish capitalism, but the Spanish party was unhappy at the USSR’s overtures to the Franco regime. In 1967, when Pravda floated the idea of restoring the monarchy, implying that was also the Spanish party’s policy, the PCE indignantly rejected the claim and obtained a rectification.

The sharpest division came with the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact forces in August 1968. Carrillo was then on his annual Crimean holiday, having been assured days before that there would be no invasion. He flew to Bucharest, where the party’s radio station broadcasting to Spain was located, and ordered it to condemn the action. Romania was not part of the Warsaw Pact and Ceausescu, who had his own differences with the Russians, was to remain Carrillo’s ally until his demise in 1989. Once Carrillo returned to Paris the party’s Central Committee ratified his action. Any other course would have been foolish, as the allies the PCE sought had to be assured that it had renounced violence. Yet, attacking the Russian bureaucracy was a daring act, which soon brought retaliation as the Russians fomented divisions in the PCE. Although the splitters included prominent veterans such as General Lister, they had little support within Spain, so Moscow did not dare withdraw the party’s recognition.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia pushed Carrillo into making more general criticisms of Soviet policy. He suggested that the Kremlin version of "peaceful coexistence" was being interpreted as acceptance of the status quo, an observation which ranks with discovering that the world is round. Disagreement with the Kremlin provoked him to mount a diplomatic offensive, by visiting dissident Stalinist states such as North Korea, Rumania and China. However, relations with the Soviet leaders improved in the mid-1970s, with the fall of the Greek and Portuguese dictatorships and Franco’s approaching demise. In post-Franco Spain the PCE was bound to be an important force which could not be dictated to. A friendly communiqué issued after a joint meeting of the PCE and the Soviet party in October 1974 reflected that new situation.

To be concluded in the next issue