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Stalinism on Trial

Communism and Republican Justice in the Spanish Civil War

Dr. Jonathan Sherry holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. He has taught at the University of Miami and Penn State University Erie, and has held research fellowships from Fulbright, the Mellon Foundation, and the Council for European Studies.

Stalinism on Trial analyzes judicial politics in Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939. It examines the relationship between the Spanish Republican government and its Soviet ally by way of a micro-history of the prosecution and trial of a communist (but anti-Stalinist) party, the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM; Workers Party of Marxist Unification). The state prosecuted the POUM for espionage, treason, and rebellion against the government, but convicted its leaders only of the third charge. The prosecution took place amidst repressions and show trials in the USSR. Jonathan Sherry challenges interpretations of Soviet involvement in Spain that attribute political repression to vacuous notions of “Stalinism” and the reputed all-powerful hand of Moscow. Interrogating the notion of the “Moscow Trial in Spain” he evaluates the political influences that shaped the prosecution using materials from various archives, especially the Fundación Juan Negrín.

The Republic’s prosecution of the POUM leadership should be understood within the context of a broader effort to reconstruct the Republic’s penal institutions. Throughout the prosecution, Negrín’s judiciary remained dedicated to a liberal conception of justice that attempted to preserve the individual rights of the defendants. In the struggle for control between Spanish Republican officials and Soviet-affiliated advisors, the former prevailed over the latter, with Negrín acting as a skilled mediator. The trial represented the finale of the contentious debate about what form justice should take in a nation in the throes of revolution and civil war. The judiciary rejected the contemporaneous Moscow trials in both form and content, and sought to reinforce the legitimacy of the Republican government internally and internationally. Rather than providing Soviet representatives an opportunity to extend their campaign against “Trotskyism” to Republican Spain, the prosecution constituted a sharp rebuke of Soviet politics.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-979-1
Hardback Price: £75.00 / $89.95
Release Date: December 2020
Page Extent / Format: 300 pp. 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes


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