André Marty (6 November 1886 - 23 November 1956) was a leading figure in the French Communist Party (PCF) for nearly thirty years. He was also a member of the National Assembly, with some interruptions, from 1924 to 1955; Secretary of Comintern from 1935 to 1944; and Political Commissar of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1938.
Marty was born in Perpignan, France, into a left-leaning but comfortable family; his father was a wine merchant. As a youngster, Marty tried to win a place in open competition for the prestigious École Navale, the French naval academy, but failed and instead became apprenticed to a boiler maker. He later joined the French navy, becoming a mechanical engineering officer aboard the battleship Jean Bart. In April 1919, the Jean Bart and another dreadnought, the France, were sent to the Black Sea to assist the White Russians in the Russian Civil War.
Black Sea mutiny
On 19 April 1919, the crews of the battleships Jean Bart (commander, capitaine de vaisseau du Couedic de Kerérant) and France (commander, vice-amiral Amet) mutinied. Although their sympathies lay with the Reds and not with the Whites, the crews' primary grievances were: (i) the slow rate of their demobilisation (following the end of World War I) and (ii) the small quantity and atrocious quality of the rations. The French government acceded to the mutineers demands but pursued the ringleaders. (Amongst these was Charles Tillon, with whom Marty was to have a life-long association.) With the passage of time, Marty's precise role is unclear. He was nevertheless duly arrested, tried, and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment at hard labour. He became an international hero overnight and was symbolically elected to the Soviet of Moscow by the workers of the Dynamo factory.
In the event, Marty was pardoned and on his release, in 1923, he immediately joined the PCF. By all accounts, he was a charismatic character and his role in the Black Sea Mutiny did nothing to diminish his aura. He was elected, in 1924, to the French National Assembly for the constitituency of Seine-et-Oise and became a member of the PCF Central Committee.
In the meantime, following the lead of numerous other Communist leaders, he campaigned against rising French militarism, being arrested and imprisoned in Paris's La Santé Prison. In 1931, he became active in the Comintern, the international umbrella group linking national communist parties and, by 1936, had been elected to both its Praesidium (executive council) and Secretariat (administration).
The Spanish Civil War
In 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he was sent to Spain to represent Comintern interests. That October, he was appointed Political Commissar ("chief organiser") of the International Brigades, operating from the Brigade headquarters and training base in Albacete. A Franco-Belgian battalion in the XII International Brigade was named after him.
Marty was a strict disciplinarian, ready to execute his men for loss of resolve or ideological soundness. He also developed a tendency to see Fifth columnists everywhere. These qualities earned him the title of the "Butcher of Albacete". Later, "Marty... admitted that he had ordered the shooting of about 500 Brigaders,(sic) nearly one-tenth of the total killed in the war, but some question this figure".
In a report in November 1937, fellow-Comintern member and head of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, insisted that he "change radically his working methods" and "refrain from intervening in military and technical matters affecting the Brigades".
World War II
In Spring 1939, the Spanish Civil War ended. Instead of returning to France, Marty went to the Soviet Union to work full-time for the Comintern. He was still there when World War II started. Despite the German-Soviet pact, as an active and very prominent Communist, it was far too dangerous for him to return to Nazi-Occupied France.
From May to October 1943, after the success of Operation Torch, (a key component of the Allied North African campaign), Marty was sent to Algiers. He served as the PCF's official representative with de Gaulle's Free French Forces, which were based there.
After the Liberation of Paris, in August 1944, Marty returned to France. He attempted to take advantage of the chaos that prevailed during the early days of de Gaulle's Provisional Government by starting a revolution. However, it failed to generate support either from other PCF leaders or from the rank and file. Marty's efforts ended when Soviet premier Joseph Stalin vetoed the plan.
Post war years
His career effectively ended when Étienne Fajon, a prominent Communist deputy and a minor press baron, denounced Marty and his former comrade from Black Sea Mutiny days, Charles Tillon, as police spies. The Affaire Marty-Tillon, as it became known, dragged on for several months with many accusations and counteraccusations from both sides. It ended with Marty's expulsion from the PCF on 7 December 1952.
Fajon's accusations were almost certainly false. It is likely that in a swiftly changing political climate, with the Cold War rapidly heating up, André Marty had simply become a political liability. He wrote an account of "L'affaire Marty", which was published in Paris in 1955.
Other people's impressions
|“||[He was] a squat figure with a white moustache, droooping jowl and oversize beret. The heroic legend woven around him in Party mythology made him one of the most powerful figures in the Comintern. Almost nobody dared challenge his authority.||”|
|“||He was a sharp, imperious-looking man, and looked capable of performing all the actions Hemingway and others have written about.... he appeared to be vigorous, thrusting and bore evidence of long years of struggle.||”|
|“||A conference was called by the Chief Political Commissar - Andre Marty, a Frenchman who had been the leader of the Mutiny of the French Black Sea Fleet after the 1914-18 war. He took a liking to me, I assume because I also, to his mind, had led a Naval mutiny.||”|
|“||He had first made his name as the leader of a naval mutiny in the Black Sea ... He may have been a great chap in his day, but in Spain he was both a sinister and a ludicrous figure. He was a large, fat man with a bushy moustache and always wore a huge, black beret - looking like a caricature of an old-fashioned French petty bougeois. There is no doubt he was quite literally mad at this time. He always spoke in a hysterical roar, he suspected everyone of treason, or worse, listened to advice from nobody, ordered executions on little or no pretext - in short he was a real menace.||”|
Andrè Marty is mentioned in Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in chapter 42, page 417.
- Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Weidenfeld, 2006. ISBN 978-0-297-84832-5
- Fred Copeman, Reason in Revolt, Blandford Press, 1948
- Jack Jones, Union Man, HarperCollins, 1986. ISBN 0-00-217172-4.
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