Stalinism on trial: Performing liberal justice, legitimacy, and social control in revolutionary Spain, 1936-1938

Sunday, March 16, 2014
Presidential Board Room (Omni Shoreham)
Jonathan Sherry , History, University of Pittsburgh
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. The story of the Spanish Republic at war is one of state reconstruction in an atmosphere of popular revolution. The revolutionaries of Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) came under intense scrutiny for their opposition to this process, and for their condemnations of the Soviet Union, the Republic’s only ally. POUM loudly opposed Stalinism and the anti-Trotskyist Moscow Trials, provoking Moscow to intensify its propaganda campaign against POUM, which Stalin labeled a treasonous, ‘Trotskyist’ organization.

In June 1937-8, the POUM leadership was arrested and put on trial to investigate the allegations of high treason and espionage made by publications of the Soviet Union and the affiliated Spanish Communist Party. Many across Europe and the Americas saw the prosecution as a litmus test that would indicate the extent to which Soviet intervention had influenced Spanish politics. This paper examines the trail 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. In a time of revolution, the former 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, and the POUM trial was central to this process.

  • CES 14 SHERRY.pdf (176.2 kB)