Stalinism on Trial: Communism and Republican Justice in the Spanish Civil War (Forthcoming, Liverpool University Press, 2023)
The book project investigates the history and memory of Soviet involvement in the Spanish Civil War by examining the prosecution and trial of the dissident Spanish communist Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) in October 1938 – a trial often formulated by historians as a “Moscow Trial in Barcelona”. It treats the POUM prosecution as a microcosm of wider regional, national, and international political developments, analyzing the prosecution of this political minority as a small but integral part of broader processes of state-building, international diplomacy, and antifascist resistance. The project deploys an analytical approach to the study of show trials as texts, emphasizing the transmission and reception of politics as legal performance, with an eye towards opening avenues for comparative and world historical work in the future. It also traces how the memory of the POUM repression was repositioned and repurposed by Spanish exiles and western intellectuals and historians during the Cold War to different political ends, and how this impacts on contemporary perceptions of Stalinism and the Spanish Civil War.
Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) brigade training in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Note George Orwell (far left).
Book manuscript in progress:
Moscow Trials Chief Prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky (center) reads the indictment in the Radek-Piatakov Trial, January 1937.
“Exporting Stalin's show trial? Performing justice in the Spanish Civil War"
Studies in Slavic Cultures XII, Pop and Propaganda (July 2015): 55-106.
This article argues that in order to understand the enigma of the Moscow Trials, one must look past the form, political aim, and performance of the trials, important though they certainly were, and also examine the cultures of reception. By re-conceptualizing the administrator-observer relationship of the Stalinist show trial, we can begin to situate popular cultural impact alongside the high political imperatives that the trial served. By looking at how the planned “Moscow Trial in Barcelona" played out in Civil War Spain – by conceptualizing it as a cultural export – this article provides insight not only on Spanish and international cultures of reception, but also on the dynamic of the Stalinist show trial in general. It argues that exporting Stalin’s show trial to Spain was a largely failed operation for a variety of reasons, not least of which were Spanish and international cultures of reception very different from Soviet trial culture. The show trial cannot function without containing elements of mass appeal.
"'Claws of Stalinism in Spain': Totalitarianism and the Spanish Civil War in Cold War Fiction"
This piece grew out of a May 2013 conference with colleagues in the field in Zaragoza, Spain, entitled The Holocuast Metaphor. The conference was inspired in part by Paul Preston's recently published The Spanish Holocaust (W.W. Norton, 2012). My contribution focuses on fictional and semi-fictional representations of trauma and political violence during the Spanish Civil War. In particular, it examines the cultural production of exiled poumistas and their affiliates such as Julián Gorkin and Victor Serge, and how they sought to represent Stalinism in Spain in "witness novels", fiction, and autobiography, sometimes with support from the United States CIA. Ultimately, it traces how poumista narratives of trauma and Soviet totalitarianism in the Spanish Civil War contributed to the broader anti-Communist discourse of the early Cold War.
Julián Gorkin in exile in the 1950s, editor of "Cuadernos del Congreso por la Libertad de la Cultura", a CIA-backed cultural propaganda publication
"A composer knows music is written by human beings for human beings, and that music is a continuation of life, not something separated from it."
- Hanns Eisler
"Hanns Eisler and the Popular Front: Forging an International Musical Culture of Antifascism, 1931–1939"
This essay examines the life and politics of Hanns Eisler, Austrian Marxist, classical musician, and composer during his exile in the 1930s. Eisler escaped the repression of fascism in his home country, fleeing to wartime Spain. There, he would compose famous fight songs such as ¡No Pasaran! to inspire the weary antifascist soldiers during the Spanish Civil War. This essay traces his political writings during the period, his attempt to forge a working-class musical culture of antifascism alongside his longtime friend, Bertolt Brecht. It places the shifts in Eisler's political thought on revolution and music in the context of the Comintern's shift from the "Third Period" of anti-collaboration to the arrival of the Popular Front. It argues that Eisler tied his political efforts to the Popular Front project, seeing Spain as the primary front. However, although the international workers’ music movement met with increased publicity and popularity after being tied with the Popular Front line, what strength it built before 1935 was lost as the Popular Front program came to decline.
Stalinism on trial: Performing liberal justice, legitimacy, and social control in revolutionary Spain, 1936-1938
This paper was presented at the Council for European Studies (CES) 21st Annual Conference of Europeanists, "Resurrections," as part of a panel of CES Pre-Dissertation Fellowship recipients in March 2014. It examines how the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 effectively shattered the structures of state authority, leading to a period of largely unarticulated and decentralized power in which various revolutionary groups carried out forms of popular justice. As part of the reconstruction and normalization of the Spanish Republican state apparatus, revolutionaries were detained and silenced. The arrest and trial of the POUM's leadership was part and parcel of this process. This paper examines the trial of POUM as a tool of social control intended to rollback revolutionary forms of justice, a process tied to both internal and external (i.e. international) issues of legitimacy. The Spanish Republican state – Spain’s first experiment with liberal parliamentary democracy – attempted to re-establish centralized authority and display its autonomy through a unique form of judicial statebuilding: a "show trial" carried out in accordance with established legal norms, but nevertheless effective.
A Moscow Trial in Spain? The POUM Trial of October 1938 and the Politics of Stability
This paper was presented at the Council for European Studies (CES) 20th Annual Conference of Europeanists, "Crisis & Contingency: States of (In)Stability," in Amsterdam, Netherlands in June 2013. The article draws on recently declassified Spanish, Austrian, and Soviet archives to explore the interaction between the Spanish Republic and its strife-torn Soviet ally during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), arguably the most unstable period in the history of both states. It examines the controversial "show trial" of the revolutionary POUM (Partido Obrero Unificación Marxista). Specifically, the paper looks at what Soviet and Spanish government officials each sought to "show" and what lessons were to be learned from the trial. This approach not only illustrates one the origins of the discordant relationship between the Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic in the realm of public order and stability, but ventures also into how a wider European interwar political context of instability impacted the perceptions of both Soviet and Spanish officials with regard to the trial.