I read this post from Rustbelt Radical last year, a few months after it was posted, and it moved me greatly. Rather than link to it then, I thought it would be good to save it for the anniversary this year. It is Victor Serge’s tribute to a great man and his indictment of Stalinism.
The memory of Stalinism in the collective mind is often focused on the gray tower bloc and the gulag, on the cult of personality and the official lie. Stalinism’s perfidy was not limited, however, to razor wire on the Siberian steppe or to the assassination chamber of a spattered Moscow basement. On this day in 1937 in the midst of the Spanish Civil War Andrès Nin, a leading member of the Workers Party of Marxist Unity (POUM), was murdered by Stalinists.
Stalinism’s raison d’être, like all bureaucracies, was the defense of itself and the greatest threat to it came from the working class it claimed to lead. Perhaps nowhere was that threat greater than in the Spain of the 1930s. Nin was a partisan of workers’ power, of workers’ democracy- ideas fatal to Stalinism. He was murdered along with thousands of others in the name of “anti-fascist unity”; that is unity between the Stalinists and the ghosts of the liberal Spanish bourgeoisie. The fascists won and ruled Spain for the next 40 years. Never forgive, never forget.
1921, Moscow. The echoes of the cannons of Kronstadt are still in people’s spirits. It’s hard to get used to the first white bread of the NEP. The great wounded Commune seems to be convalescing. On beautiful summer nights we stroll among the bustling crowd of the boulevards. The trees surround us with a shadowy coolness. All is dark, for there are still no streetlights. My companion has come from Barcelona, and before that Cairo. Delegate of the CNT to the Communist International. He is young, slim, with abundant curly hair, laughing eyes circled in gold, a beautifully timbered voice full of laughter and , already, with firmness. Andres Nin explains to me that he is not at all an anarchist, but rigorously syndicalist. Nothing utopian about his ideas, only the wish to conquer and organize production.
We meet at the Kremlin congress, in the Hall of Columns of the House of Unions. His white shirt, open at the top button, his sharp profile, his cordiality. We meet during the evening in Juan Maurin’s room at the Lux to talk about art, the Red Army, the Red Terror, organization, to agitate all the great problems. We feel we are right there, at the heart of the great problems: it’s not words, but lives – and in the first place our own – that we are committing.
1923. We are sitting at a table at a cafe on the Ring in Vienna. Andres, after his time in prison in Germany, has taken refuge in Moscow: he is the Secretary of the International of Red Unions. He is passing through here on a mission. He brings me sad news. Lenin is leaving us. Lenin is perhaps dying. Lenin knows that he is finished. There is an atrocious sadness in Lenin’s eyes. He fears for what will be done after him. Bukharin goes to see him, in the gardens of Gorky, hidden behind shrubbery so as not to bother him. Bukharin returns, crushed, saying: “ He is suffering unimaginably, he is fully conscious…” Sometimes, with a sign, Lenin asks for a newspaper, and spells out its title with his lips… With Lenin gone, the crisis will begin. We know well the maladies of the revolution. We see the shadows rising on the horizon…
1927. Andres has lined himself up with the opposition. He is among those who demand the right to think in the Bolshevik Party, the right to write and a capital reform of the regime in order to return to worker’s democracy. We all feel that outside of this there is no salvation. Expelled from the party, kept at a distance. Will we be deported like our friends? His wife, his two little girls, his work table, his life as a diligent worker, all of this will disappear tomorrow when, escorted by the men of the GPU, he will leave for Kazakhstan. He doesn’t leave, and this surprises him: it’s because of his great renown overseas.
1931. The revolution finally causes the crowds of Madrid to rise up. Andres runs to my home in Leningrad. We consult with each other. He laughs like a child. “Picture this: in Madrid the cops wear capes with red lining. The third day, they reversed them. This is their way of joining the events.” “Listen to this, old man: There were thousands of people lined up at the offices of the party of Primo de Rivera. They had just emergently un-affiliated themselves, get it? An archbishop un-affiliated himself by telegram. He’s a gentleman both prudent and in a hurry.” Andres perfectly understands the comic side of the drama. Tomorrow he’s going to send a letter to the Central Committee, written in such a way that they’ll have to either throw him in prison or allow him to leave. If it’s prison that awaits him I’ll do this and that, whatever I can. If he’s liberated he’ll try to assist me in getting out of my semi-captivity. I clearly recall a phrase of his: “In any event, even there I have to be ready for a few years of prison. It’s going to be damned complicated, the Spanish revolution.” A short while later I receive from him a card postmarked Riga.
1932. Olga – his wife – writes me a note from Barcelona in which fear can be sensed. Reaction seems to have taken the upper hand after the anarchist revolts. Andres, arrested, was taken to the south, perhaps in order to be deported to Africa. I warn friends in France, but they never receive my letter. And I’ll never learn anything more about Andres. At the other end of Europe I am locked up myself. And I’ll be so for years.
1936, Brussels. His letters finally each me: hasty, rushed, full of facts and force. He is at the head of an extreme left worker’s party, made up of former opposition communists resolutely hostile to Stalinist totalitarianism. He’s carrying on a difficult game, between the anarchists who, not wanting to “do politics” often do so with courage, but badly; the indecisive republicans who deep down are bourgeois; and the growing Stalinist intrigues. He sees things in a dangerously clear way after his long Russian experience. During the first months, a consultant to the justice system of the Catalan government, he establishes the revolution in law, simplifying procedures with a rude hand, creating Popular Tribunals. The Stalinists demand his eviction from power and, since they have very persuasive arguments (in other words, armament) they obtain this…
June 1937. The 17th bad news arrives. Andres Nin was arrested yesterday in Barcelona and taken to an unknown destination by Stalinist policemen. It has been affirmed that he was immediately assassinated. The government of Valencia knows nothing, and that of Barcelona can do nothing. Friends take the train and arrive there. These were French and English Socialists and syndicalists. The minister of Justice, Mr.Irujo, reassures them. Nin is alive, everyone is fixated on the horribly scandalous accusations against him. But he’s in a Madrid at a private prison of the Communist Party, from which he must be taken…
And it’s over. He couldn’t be taken from it. No one knows what has become of him, what’s become of one of the most ardent tribunes of the Spanish proletariat. Whether he was embarked for Russia or, as the rumors have it, assassinated in an alleyway, it’s over. Farewell, my friend. Your great courageous life is left to us, full of work and action. Your terrible death is left to us as well. Like you, we must hold out to the bitter end so that socialism be free.