A stonemason, he spent his adolescence in Cuba, before returning in 1925 and joining the Communist Party of Spain (PCE). His involvement with the revolutionary movement forced his exile until 1931, when the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed. In August 1931, he took part in the Cuban uprising against Gerardo Machado, who had declared martial law. Between 1932 and 1935, Líster received training in the Frunze Military Academy, one of the most respected in the Soviet Union.
Spanish Civil War
When the Spanish Civil War started, he joined the Spanish Republican Army. As a high-ranking Republican Army officer, commanding the 11th division of the republican army, Líster was instrumental in the defense of Madrid and other important military actions. In October 1936 he led a mixed brigade in the ill-fated Republican counteroffensive at Seseña. As a divisional commander, he helped stall the Nationalist attack along the Jarama and played a significant role in the successful Republican counterattack in the Battle of Guadalajara.
Líster is widely regarded as a war hero for the Republican cause. His reputation as a competent military commander is largely based on his role as commander of the "11th Division", which was involved in some of the most important battles in Guadalajara, Brunete, Belchite and Teruel. Those brigades under his control rapidly became special battalions which took care of special operations. Some examples of his high level tactical command[dubious ] are the seizure of Brunete that helped to capture the nationalist general staff with almost no casualties for the republican army or his surprise action in Teruel that totally confused the nationalist army. Later, he led the V Army Corps in the battle of the Ebro and in the Catalonia Offensive.
The "11ª División" did, however suffer a severe setback when it failed to capture Fuentes de Ebro in the Republican offensive in Aragon in August 1937. The International Tank Regiment lost the majority of its tanks and this led to mutual hatred between Lister and Juan Modesto, commander of the 5th Corps (which "11th Division" formed a part of) who held Lister responsible for the losses.
After the end of the Civil War, Líster took refuge in Moscow, later fighting in World War II as a Red Army general. He took part in the relief of Leningrad's siege in January 1944. According to Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, when in late 1959 Fidel Castro's intelligence chief Ramiro Valdés contacted the KGB in Mexico City, the Soviets sent over one hundred mostly Spanish-speaking advisors, including Enrique Líster Forján, to organize the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Cuba.
Lister was also a general of the Yugoslav People's Army, giving him the rare distinction of having been a general in three different armies.
In 1973 he split from the PCE and founded the Spanish Communist Workers' Party (PCOE). A catalyst for the split was the condemnation by the PCE of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Líster returned to Spain in 1977, after Francisco Franco's death, and rejoined the PCE during the Spanish transition to democracy. He died in 1994. Líster wrote two books about his personal experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Nuestra guerra (1966) and Memorias de un luchador (1977).
- Lister's stay in Cuba is mentioned in: Gordievsky, Oleg; Andrew, Christopher (1990). KGB: The Inside Story. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-48561-2.
- Lister's qualities as a military leader are discussed in: Beevor, Antony (2006). The Battle For Spain. Phoenix. ISBN 0-7538-2280-6.
- Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. 2006. London. p. 112
- Hagedorn, Dan. Latin American Air Wars 1912-1969. Chapter 14. Cuban Revolutionary Activity - 1931-1934. Hikoki Publications. 2006. Crowborough, UK.
- Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. p.310
- Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. p.581
- Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. pp.689-692
- Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. p.768
- Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 374