Spain: Civil War and Gold Shipments to Russia

Regarding the shipment of Spanish gold to the USSR during the Civil War, Robert Whealey says:  Paul Preston has given us the specific citations.  The difference between Vinas and Howson, is that Vinas counts the money. Howson counts how the Soviets spent the money on arms deliveries.  Howson has an anti-Soviet bias, but to reconcile the two versions in the dollars involved would make an interesting article for a journal.  Nobody has any smoking gun to call prime minister Juan Negrin a Soviet agent.  A Francoist might rationally charge him with being naive.  But Negrin had no idea in September 1936 that the Republic would lose the war. He took a big gamble and lost.  The American right used the gold story in the 1950s to demand that the Soviets repay Spain gold.  The Soviets had no gold surplus.  They had spent it all by 1939 on weapons.

Paul Preston writes: With all due respect to Hugh Thomas, there are many more specific sources for the question of the Spanish gold sent to Russia during the Civil War.  In Spanish, there are two splendid works by Ángel Viñas, El oro de Moscú: alfa y omega de un mito franquista (Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1979) and El oro español en la guerra civil (Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Fiscales, 1976).  More recently, there is Pablo Martín Aceña, El oro de Moscú y el oro de Berlín (Madrid: Taurus, 2001).  In English, there is Gerald Howson, Arms for Spain. The Untold Story of the Spanish Civil War (London: John Murray, 1998, & New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1999). RH: Do they agree in their conclusions?
Alberto Gutierrez discussed "Dr- Juan Negrín's  decisive participation in the shipping of the Spanish gold to Russia in 1936".  Robert Whealey comments: For those who can read Spanish, Angel Vinas has written two books on the subject. I have written a review of one of these for the American Historical Review.  There are footnotes on this in Whealey, Hitler and Spain, 1989.  As for Hugh Thomas, there are three editions of his book The Spanish Civil War, and the last edition may include a note on Vinas.

I quoted from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia on the life of Juan Negrín, the last Prime Minister of Republican Spain.  Alberto Gutierrez asks: I wonder if the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia also mentions Dr Juan Negrín's  decisive participation in the shipping of the Spanish gold to Russia in 1936. According to Stalin "Spaniards will not see that gold ever again" .  RH: Better consult Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, which has a detailed account of this-.  A footnote on titles: Manuel Azaña was president od the republic, Negrín was president of the council of ministers, or prime minister. Azaña had turned out to be  surprisingly passive, and Negrín had the real power.

Carmen Negrín writes: Christopher Jones is a pure example, certainly not the only one, of why Spain needs to recover its memory, a memory based on facts and documents and not on propaganda. Franco had 40 years to develop his uncontested propaganda and create the so-called black legend about my grand father and about many other, if not all, Republicans. Unfortunately for him and his followers, facts contradicting this legend do exist. This is also why, with the help of the Fundación Juan Negrín, the family archives are being made available to historians. The Foundation, needless to say, was not created by the family, nor is the family receiving funds from it. In addition, and in spite of its very limited resources, it gives scholarships for medical students and every two years a science award. [RH. Juan Negrin was a physician and a scientist. His laboratory was part of the Residencia complex, where I lived.]

We were five people at home when my grand father passed away, including Mariano Ansó, and none of them was Martín Aceña; the same five of us were there when my father took, with Mariano Ansó, to the Spanish consulate in France, the receipts of the gold shipments (from a safe, of course), as requested by my grand father on his death bed. This decision certainly indisposed the Spanish government in exile, which had not been consulted. But since he died of a heart attack, it was presumably not his priority to call them and ask for their permission or even opinion! Paul Preston already gave the best references on the story of the gold. More is to come on the subject, based on documents, not propaganda.

To give an idea of the quality of Olaya's book: he starts by mentioning the Russian receipts of the Spanish gold as proof of what was received and supposedly missing (by the way, not all was sent to USSR, and not all at the same time).  He then adds, in a very small footnote, that there were several nonflicting versions in the Russian documents regarding the number of boxes sent and received. So why bother to use it as proof? In spite of its number of pages, it is not a very serious piece of work, indeed. I won't even bother discussing the rest of the book.

As for my grandfather being exiled in the US, in 1940, it is just one more invention. My grandfather first resided in Paris (in spite of a special decree requesting him to stay outside of the city), then in London (the whole of WWII) and then back in Paris, keeping a foot in England. Nowhere else. As far as the pressure from the Soviets goes and his passion for them, I won't bother answering but recommend, on that specific subject,  Ricardo Millares' book, Juan Negrín, la República en guerra, with a prologue by Paul Preston. All I will say is that I personally know what he thought of the Soviets, and it doesn't really match the propaganda passed on by Christopher Jones.  Considering that there were half a million refugees and extremely unfavorable circumstances, to put it mildly, a fair job was done, when and where possible. As far as corruption goes, the Republicans were obviously not in it for money, they gave their lives for freedom from fascism. The fortune of the Negríns referred to by Jones, was much more important before the war than after, but if Jones knows more about it than I do, maybe he can tell me its whereabouts!!! For more serious details on the subject, with the names of those who stole our land and how they proceeded, there is José Medina Jimenéz' book La familia Negrín en Gran Canaria (sold out). A more appropriate topic when talking about corruption, would be the development of Franco's fortune. And finally, as Felipe Gonzalez put it, it is regrettable that Franco died without a trial, such as the one being carried out against Pinochet. Indeed, now that Pinochet's corruption has been put into the open, even his fans are letting him down. Judging Franco would certainly have made the endless turning of the page easier. A small parenthesis, it is interesting to note that all these Pinochet fans react to the stolen money and not to his just as proven murders. In other words, for this sort of people, money is more important than human beings.

RH: For thus unfamiliar with the life of Juan Negrín, here is a brief biography.  It is not by me, and I do not vouch for its accuracy:  Juan Negrin, the son of a wealthy businessman, was born in Spain in 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. 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. 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.

RH: We would welcome comments on this whole posting from Stanley Payne, David Pike, Paul Preston and others who have specialized knowledge of the period.

Christopher Jones writes: All agree that the gold was used by Negrín to pay for Soviet arms very late in the war, which itself is amazing because it was obvious that the republic was lost.  This decision gave rise to all sorts of stories, including that Negrín had pocketed the money, generally because of the lack of money to help the republican exiles in France.  The deplorable conditions of the defeated republicans after 1939 made Negrín even more disliked.  In fact the Republic's ambassador in Paris, Luís Araquistaín called the Negrín government the most "despotic" in the history of Spain. It is also well known that Azaña was trying to overthrow him.  Another point of contention are the receipts that were "turned over" to the Franco authorities.  According to Martín Aceña, they were "found" in a safety deposit box in Paris, while others close to Negrín say he "willed" them to the Spanish government.

I would only add to Paul Preston's list the two books by Francisco Olaya Morales, La Gran Estafa 1996) and
El expolio de la República (2004)Francisco Olaya (b.1923) is an anarcho-syndicalist who has become specialized in the subject of the Spanish gold reserves and how they were spent in crazy arms deals and outright bribes under the stewardship of Juan Negrín, first as finance minister and later as Premier.  Through these arms deals, which included even Czech armaments (considered the best at that time) Negrín built up his fortune; I suspect he exiled himself to the US in 1940 because he was afraid of being "silenced" if he had taken refuge in Moscow.  Javier Tussell reveals himself as a sort of historical "goon" who even tried to silence Emmanuela de Dampierre, wife of the Infante Don Jaime because she expressed opinions that did not quite coincide with his.  This manipulation is most apparent in the stubborn refusal by the "professional " historical community to admit that the republic was riddled with corruption and beholden to Stalin.

RH:  Not having studied the problem of the Spanish gold, I take no position in this argument. "Goon" is too strong an expression to apply to Tussell, as is "the republic was riddled with corruption and beholden to Stalin".
The "professional  historical community" should not dismiss Christopher's theses simply because he is not a member of their clan.  With regard to the Spanish gold, I have been searching in vain for information on the role, if any, of the Spanish ambassador to Moscow, who lived in the Residencia de Estudiantes when I did.  Information on this subject would be appreciated.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 11, 2005