3. General Enrique Lister


Enrique Lister Forján, 1907-1994

The son of a quarryman from Galicia in north-west Spain, was one of the best-known of the young men who emerged as military leaders in the popular army of the Spanish Republic. During the Second World War Lister held the rank of General in the Red Army. He returnedto Spain after Franco’s death in 1975.

Lister spent some of his adolescence in Cuba, to which he returned in 1961 to give military advice to Fidel Castro. In the late 1920s he was imprisoned for union activities in Spain, emerging from jail in the spring of 1931 with the establishment of the Second Republic.

In 1930 Lister joined the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). He was selected to spend 1932-35 in the Soviet Union, where he worked on the construction of the Moscow Underground and underwent military and political instruction at the Frunze and Lenin Academies.

Lister returned to Madrid in 1935. When the officers rebelled in July 1936, marking the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Lister organised the “Fifth Regiment” (Quinto Regimiento), whose somewhat exaggerated public profile should not allow its real achievements to be overlooked.

The Fifth Regiment was the first of the militia units of the Spanish Republic to reflect the Communist view that the best way to resist a military uprising was with military organisation and discipline. In the Fifth Regiment, these were paramount. Lister’s training in the Soviet Union and the example of the Red Army had taught him that the authority of the loyal, if conservative, professional officers was to be upheld and that they should not be harassed, as was happening in other militias, notably anarchist ones.

Lister showed outstanding leadership qualities, enjoying the esteem of the conservative Chief of Staff of the Army, General Vicente Rojo, and becoming a popular hero. He was given command of the first Brigade of the new Popular Army of the Spanish Republic, which helped defend Madrid in the autumn and winter of 1936-37. In the following year he led the 11th Division in most of the principal battles of the Spanish Civil War. If some of the credit should go to his Chief of Staff, Major Jose Sanchez Rodriguez, Lister deserved his reputation as a resourceful and courageous, though ruthless, commander.


Following the conflict between government forces and the Anarchists and the anti- Stalinist Partido Obrero de Unificacin Marxista (POUM) in May 1937, Lister was given the task of restoring government authority in the anarchist collectives of Aragon.

Efficiently, if harshly, he carried out the Government’s policy, which coincided with Soviet wishes, of trying to suppress the revolutionary changes which had occurred in Republican Spain. When higher ranks were opened to militia officers, Lister was the first to be promoted to lieutenant-colonel. Later he rose to full colonel.

In the battle of the Ebro, the greatest conflict of the Spanish Civil War, which began in July 1938, Lister led the Fifth Army Corps, under the command of another famous Communist militia leader, Juan Modesto, finally pulling back in November, after which he led a fighting retreat, crossing the French frontier in early February 1939. He returned to what was left of Republican Spain.

On 7 March 1939, the Communist leaders were forced to leave Spain by a military coup led by Colonel Segismundo Casado, which led very shortly to the surrender of the Republican armies to General Franco.


Lister afterwards went to the Soviet Union where he attended the Frunze Military Academy and became a member of the PCE’s Central Committee. In 1946-47 he took an important part in organising guerrilla warfare in Spain. Even after the downfall of Stalinism, Lister remained an unreformed Communist.


Enrique Lister and Che Guevara

He returned to Spain after Franco’s death in 1977, and appeared on British television in 1983 in Granada’s series of programmes on the Spanish Civil War.