Review: The story of the Moscow gold: How the Spanish war was lost


Francisco Olaya 'El Oro de Negrin'
(Ediciones Madre Tierra, Mostoles 1990)

This book is the product of almost thirty years investigation, involving examination of thousands of books and pamphlets, around a million documents, and the combing of 32 archives in Spain and beyond. Olaya's work is an attempt to come up with a satisfactory explanation of the denouement of the Spanish civil war. He Is highly critical of the leadership of the PSOE (Socialist Workers Party of Spain, now in power) during the civil war.

In great and documented detail Olaya examines the whole topic of what has hitherto been known as the 'Moscow gold' and which he re-christens 'Negrin's gold', gold to the tune of 5,500 million pesetas (1937). About half of this sum wound up in the Soviet Union. A small portion went to France. The remainder passed to the republican government's purchasing commissions, set up by Indalecio Prieto of the PSOE to obtain war material.

In 1954 Jose Peirats was commissioned by the CNT-in-exile to write his monumental five volume 'La CNT en la revolucion espanola'. In the course of his researches he was accorded access to documentation belonging to the CNT and in London in the keeping of Polgare. When Polgare died in 1957, access to the documents was offered to Olaya by CNT colleagues aware of his researches. Among the documents, he discovered copies of 52 letters written to Negrin by his special agent, identified only as 'C'.

One of the reports from 'C' is an account of an exchange between Salvador do Madariaga (the philosopher and original wartime Ambassador to Britain) and the British Foreign Minister, in which British preoccupation with helping the Francoist side was evident. Olaya, using textual clues, attempted to Identify 'C'.

At first Olaya suspected one Calvino, who had figured in oil the Purchasing Commissions ('C' had complained of corruptions by these commissions). Calvino however denied this and further investigations led Olaya to conclude 'C' had been PSOE luminary Celestino Alvarez. This was confirmed to him by two agents who had been operating on behalf of the CNT-FAI in Paris at the time. Further Inquiries led Olaya to records from Turkish customs and cargo checks (by a French secret agent) of shipping that passed through the Dardanelles en route to Spain with foodstuffs and war materials. Olaya lists this information in an appendix to his book.

A record of the accidental discovery (at the bottom of a crate of goods being returned to the USSR as defective or unusable) of gold led Olaya to query the conventional account of the shipment of Spain's gold reserves to the USSR 'for safe keeping'. Other seemingly unrelated evidence led to the conclusion that, aside from the usual shipments, gold was removed from Spain via the diplomatic pouch to Prague and, also, unrecorded, aboard other vessels.

Olaya holds that the war was lost by the republic due to corruption in the Purchasing Commissions plus the failure of Negrin and Prieto (when so informed by 'C') to take remedial action.

Olaya argues that half of the gold reserves were was sent to the USSR and half to France, partly for their use of the Purchasing Commissions and partly to open accounts in the name of specific individuals... an account in Negrin's name held 390 million francs, one in the name of Julio Lopez Masegase held 198 millions. Olaya's book details all these. He says that so far no account has been taken of the assets seized from Franco's supporters, reckoned at almost three times the value of the gold held in Spain's treasury.

Franco was later able to recover a part of what had been described as Negrin's personal treasure. Negrin's ability to realise the value of his gold in France makes nonsense of the claim that gold had to be removed to the USSR for safekeeping. Olaya states: 'I wanted to check out everything sold by C who was Negrin's informant on activities taking place abroad but I wanted confirmation from other sources. To my surprise, I was to amass a wealth of documents that confirmed and expanded upon the whole business'.

In 1988 Olaya's book in manuscript was a finalist for the 'Espejo de Espana' prize awarded by Planeta publishers. However, Planeta refused to publish it, as did all of the other major publishers in Spain. As a result, the book has been issued by Ediciones Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) of Mostoles. Its author claims: 'The book is based on documents and we are not championing any interests or making partisan propaganda, merely telling the whole truth'.

The book's appearance has coincided with a PSOE desire to sell itself to the electorate under the slogan of '100 years of Integrity with the Socialist Party'. Olaya himself has explained 'it may appear that the book has emerged at an opportune time, but no, that is mere coincidence'.

Paul S.


This text taken from the Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library

The KSL Bulletin is available online


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