To What Extent Did Stalin Intervene in the Spanish Civil War in Defence of International Socialism? Assignment

To What Extent Did Stalin Intervene in the Spanish Civil War in Defence of International Socialism? Assignment Words: 3283

When the USSR began supplying weapons and ‘volunteers’ to the Spanish Republic during their Civil War, it seemed as if Stalin was coming to the aid of international communism to defeat Franco. However, most modern historians believe this view is too simplistic and that the USSR’s aid was more motivated by the opportunity to advance the needs of their own foreign policy. Stalin attempted to regain support through Spain, which some historians believe was to unite international socialism against fascism although some believe it was to maintain the USSR’s leadership over global socialism.

Stalin needed the western democracies on his side to protect the USSR as he was afraid of the Nazis’ Lebensraum. His idea to incorporate the Spanish Republic into the USSR’s domain was also motivated by the benefits of the USSR. The debate lies in whether Stalin intervened to benefit the Soviet Union or to protect international socialism. Radzinsky, like most contemporary historians, believes that Stalin’s reaction to the Civil War was ‘instantaneous’ and ‘enlightened’ and that Soviet arms were ‘rushed to the aid of democracy in Spain’ .

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However, the USSR’s reaction was not ‘instantaneous’, the generals rebellion began on the afternoon of 17th June 1936 and the first ship bearing soviet arms, the Komsomol , did not arrive in Spain until 15th October ??? nearly 4 months later is hardly an instantaneous reaction. Also, when the premier Giral appealed to the Soviet Union on 25th July for help a response was not only never received, but in following weeks foreign diplomats all over Europe reported to their governments that Stalin was trying to avoid all intervention, mainly because he was too afraid of provoking Germany to rush to the aid of democracy.

Most supporters of Radzinsky’s point are pro-soviet. Dolores Ibarruri, who wrote the official Spanish communist history of the war, asserts that the Soviet people and leadership from the first moment ‘enthusiastically came to the side of the Spanish people’ . Again, there is little evidence to suggest that Stalin came to the side of the Spanish people at all; however, at many factories throughout the major cities of the Soviet Union, workers voted almost unanimously to donate 0. 5% of their wages to the Spanish cause, which may have forced Stalin’s hand.

Maisky highlights this point that from the very beginning, the people of the Soviet Union took their stand ‘firmly and decidedly’ on the side of Spanish democracy. AJP Taylor, however, believes it is unlikely that Soviet Russia intervened ‘on grounds of principle’ , which is more likely as there were more important factors affecting the USSR that came first over rescuing the Spanish people. From the response of communists worldwide to the Soviet’s lack of action in the first weeks of the war, Stalin realised that as head of the Socialist world he could not stay out of it.

Trotsky had been expelled from the Russian Communist Party in 1927 after opposing Stalin and exiled in February 1929. Since then he had been gaining left-wing support worldwide by writing articles criticising Stalin’s betrayal of Marxism. Trotsky made use of these first weeks of silence to accuse Stalin of betraying Spain’s communists, which while unlikely to be the primary reason which goaded Stalin into the Civil War (Trotsky was painted as a traitor through Soviet propaganda), probably raised motivation to get involved before Soviet Russia lost all credibility among the international socialist community .

Beevor is marginally right, as in 1927, Stalin had stood by and done nothing when Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Kuomintang, had murdered 80% of the Chinese Communist Party after their revolution collapsed. Stalin had lost little support then so it is unlikely that he would over Spain. The USSR was the first communist state and the leaders of the ideology – a position that Stalin wished to maintain – and unlike the situation in China, the fascists, the renowned enemies of communism, were attempting to crush the Socialist cause.

Deutscher takes this into account when he states that because of fascist intervention it was difficult for him, the protector of the left, to keep aloof . Whilst Deutscher and Beevor agree that Stalin had to get involved, their opinions differ on why. Deutscher is more accurate in his conclusion because the USSR broke their non-intervention after the fascists had done so, suggesting that Stalin intervened to keep his socialist support either to unite socialists or in defence of the USSR.

However, Schulenburg, the German ambassador, believed that the USSR had grown unpopular because of the purges and so Stalin needed to ‘restore its prestige’ with the communists of Europe. Here Stalin believed that by seeming to be protecting socialism internationally he could rally supporters back in his favour. The USSR’s initial intervention was motivated by a propaganda push that would maintain Stalin’s image as the father of communism. Kowalsky adopts this point when he states that Soviet interest in the war was initially limited to ‘exploiting’ it for a massive solidarity campaign within the USSR and the national Communist parties .

The fact that the first four Russians sent to Spain during the war were all members of the media – a correspondent, a journalist and two filmmakers – supports Kowalsky’s point. Apart from a few Comintern agents, these members of the media were the first representatives in Spain. However, on 27th August 1936, a few weeks later, the first Russian ambassador for Spain, Marcel Rosenberg, arrived in Madrid accompanied by a large staff, including General Berzin, previously head of Soviet Military Intelligence.

The fact that the first Soviet ambassador and the ex-head of Soviet Military Intelligence had been sent makes the claim that Soviet intervention being solely for propaganda a dubious point, although the application of Rosenberg had been planned for some months. A man of such military experience, however, was most likely sent to advise the Republic on military tactics or similar and the media that were sent were probably an attempt to cover-up the USSR’s commitment to the war by further means than a propaganda opportunity.

It is therefore unlikely that Stalin intervened for propaganda, as, other than the presence of Berzin, it would have been expensive, diplomatically risky and potentially damaging. These points, while highlighting Stalin’s attempts to gain international support, fail to disprove whether Stalin intervened to defend the USSR or international socialism, but it is probable that these attempts were all in defence of the USSR as the further points support. Stalin needed the British and French governments on his side in the world war against the fascists, which he saw as inevitable.

Fascism and communism had been growing globally and were in stark contrast and conflict with one another. Stalin feared the Anti-Comintern Pact would crush the Soviet Union if he did not get international support. He hoped that by joining the Civil War on the side of the democratic government as their sole protector (except Mexico) the western democracies would see him as defending democracy. However, Stalin’s choice to intervene went against the non-intervention treaty that was enthusiastically supported by Britain and France, which would put him in disfavour with these countries.

Salvado believes Stalin’s goal was to supply the Republic with enough material to survive, giving the Allies time to realise that their ‘real enemy was fascism’ . This point is supported by the fact that Stalin had little advantage in either side emerging victorious, as while he could not allow another Fascist state to emerge, which would threaten the USSR’s security, the workers’ revolution, which would alienate the western democracies and turn them away from the USSR, would probably continue if the Spanish republic won.

Thomas agrees that Stalin reached the conclusion that he would not let the Republic lose, but would not help it to win , which he hoped would force Britain and France to see that the fascists were aiding an illegal rebellion. This point is supported by the fact that Stalin was about to begin the first show trial of the Great purges, which would attract concern internationally. If he could manage to keep the war at the forefront of their minds he could proceed as he wished.

However, these two latter opinions lack realism as the threat a third fascist state would pose to the USSR far out-weighs the opportunity for Stalin to consolidate his dictatorship, away from the watchful eye of the world. In contrast, Conlon believes the USSR wished to stay aloof allowing the European powers to battle it out ‘to the point of mutual exhaustion’ resulting in the Soviets emergence as ‘the new masters of Europe’ , though there is no evidence to support this.

Stalin wanted to keep the war going to force British and French intervention, and by not getting too involved , as Taylor suggests, these countries were more likely to fight alongside him. He knew that sooner or later he would clash with Hitler and he needed as much foreign support as possible for when this happened and so the defence of the USSR was definitely Stalin’s main concern here. Stalin also intervened to prevent the workers’ revolution from taking hold in Spain, which would alienate the western democracies, frightening them from allying with the Soviet Union.

The bourgeoisie, whose businesses had been collectivised, as well as the Catholic Church, whose churches were ransacked, feared revolution. Stalin was aware of the fear the democratic countries had of this, and for this reason felt the need to not only suppress, but completely deny that there ever had been a revolution in Spain (done through the Communist press: The Daily Worker and Pravda). In order to do this, Stalin made the outlawing of the POUM, a revolutionary (supposedly Trotskyite party), a term that must be adhered to if the USSR was to supply ny further arms to the republic. George Orwell argued that the Spanish communists’ line was ‘undoubtedly influenced by the fact that France, Russia’s ally, would strongly object to a revolutionary neighbour’ . As Comintern policy was subordinated to the defence of the USSR, the Spanish communists’ line was undoubtedly Stalin’s line, which is shown in the slogan chosen for the central communist parties – ‘the fight for peace and for the defence of the USSR’ .

The anarchist historian, Conlon, takes into account this prevention of revolution as Stalin believed that ‘above all else Socialism in the USSR had to be defended’ , supported by Stalin’s reluctance to support the spread of International Communism. The USSR wanted to maintain French support and the Franco-Soviet Treaty and as French politics were at a relatively unstable time (street fights often broke out between socialists and fascists), the French feared Spain’s revolutionary atmosphere could spread to French communists.

Therefore, if Stalin prevented the creation of revolutionary Spain, the French could feel comfortable that there would not be revolution in France and therefore support Stalin. Thomas epitomises this viewpoint that the USSR’s reaction to the war was ‘dictated above all by the question of how it affected the current needs of Soviet foreign policy’ . As this was dominantly aimed at gaining Anglo-French support, both these views agree. It is also supported by Stalin’s failure to intervene fast enough and sufficiently, as Franco’s defeat would be of little advantage to the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s crushing betrayal of the revolution was actually caused by his need to protect the Soviet Union. In his mind, it was a choice between defending the USSR or international socialism, and he chose the USSR. Stalin sent aid to the Spanish republic because he was so worried about Germany’s threat and anti-communist rhetoric. Similarly, although not as strong, Mussolini (Italy) as well as Salazar (Portugal) were both strong anti-communists who were building up military strength.

With this extreme right-wing, anti-communist friendship, the USSR was extremely vulnerable and if Franco defeated the Spanish republic, a third fascist state would emerge. This would surround France, intimidating them into a policy of fascist-appeasement, reducing their ability to support anti-fascist movements. This supports Beevor’s point that Stalin’s policy was ‘dominated more by a fear of Germany than by a desire to expand the frontiers of communism’ , which he had little intention of doing. Stalin anticipated a militant Nazis attack, which is why he signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact so soon after the end of the war.

Preston refers to this when he wrote that both the Comintern and the USSR’s policy was a ‘response to Hitler’s well-advertised designs on Soviet Territory’ , which is also in reference to the Nazi’s policy of Lebensraum, in which Hitler was looking towards Eastern Europe for land. The fact that the USSR intervened only after German intervention was confirmed, gives stability to Preston’s argument, as Stalin knew the republic would rapidly collapse without Soviet aid, which would allow the Nazis to be ‘freed up for aggression eastwards’ , as Graham states.

Preston also suggests that Stalin’s motivations were not to hasten the republic’s victory, but to keep Hitler ‘bogged down in an expensive venture’ , which would drain their resources, finances and arms and so reduce their military strength. Also, the point that Stalin did not wish to hasten the republic’s victory is likely, as if his main ambition was to defeat Franco quickly, he would have launched his full support into the war. It seems quite likely that Stalin’s intervention was motivated by a need to reduce the fascists in opposition to the USSR (that Franco seemed to represent) than by the defence of socialism internationally.

Some historians believe that Stalin’s intervention was motivated by the chance to benefit Soviet foreign policy by bringing the Spanish republic under the domain of the USSR, which clearly has no relevance to protecting international socialism. Araquistain believes that Stalin’s goal was the subjugation of the entire Spanish state ; however, Beevor believes Stalin wanted to do this to prevent any embarrassment to his foreign policy’ .

These points do not take into account that Rosenberg, the first Soviet ambassador in Spain, was recalled to Moscow in February 1937 and disappeared in the purges after his attempts to take control of the Spanish republic began to irritate Largo Caballero, the prime minister. Habeck and Radosh disregard this evidence when they state that all of the Soviet advisors were attempting to take over the war, the economy, the PCE (the Communist Party) and eventually the republic and therefore it was quite unlikely that Stalin would have recalled and murdered Rosenberg for the same thing .

It is much more likely that this happened because of Rosenberg’s ‘poor management style and petty squabbling with other members of the soviet delegation’ . A piece of information that both Beevor and Araquistain have not taken into account, is the fact that after Rosenberg was recalled, Leon Gaikis replaced him as Soviet ambassador, but was also recalled in May 1937, though no-one replaced him. Therefore for the remainder of the Civil War, there was no high-level Soviet diplomat in Spain, which is an irrational tactic if Stalin had planned to take control of the country.

This suggests that Stalin was not motivated to gain control, but perhaps after initial intervention, he began to take control because of need or arrogance. The benefit of the USSR motivated this reason to intervene, although it is unlikely that Stalin realistically considered this. Overall, Stalin intervened in the Spanish Civil War for the benefit of the USSR. The view that Stalin sought to protect the people of Spain is weak due to the absence of supporting evidence and that the historians holding this view are largely communists influenced by pro-soviet beliefs or the party line. However, Radzinsky is not one of these.

It is likely that his lack of research into the subject (indicated by the minor section of his book dedicated to the Spanish Civil War) caused him to make an unsupported statement and so can be disregarded. At no point did Stalin consider stepping in primarily to save the people of Spain, as it was a more complicated issue that could have jeopardised the already shaky relations between the USSR and Britain and France. This was one of the main motivations behind the USSR’s involvement, as the general fear of a repeat of the Great War led Stalin in the protection of the USSR over that of international socialists.

This is why he appealed to the western democracies for alliances, not because he needed to save socialism worldwide, but because he was afraid of Lebensraum. This was why Stalin wanted to keep the war going, as it would force the British and French to intervene on his side, encouraging an anti-fascist alliance, which could be used to protect socialism worldwide, but was really aimed at defending the USSR. The war also offered Stalin the opportunity to regain the socialist support he had lost, but was only a secondary motivation.

He may have used the war initially for a propaganda opportunity to benefit the USSR, but it is a far-fetched statement that this motivated Soviet intervention, as it would have been a costly venture that Stalin would not have risked. It is equally unlikely that Stalin intervened to attempt to take-over the Spanish republic, which is supported by the lack of diplomats in Spain throughout the war. Stalin most likely got involved because the fascists had, which meant as effective leader of the opposition, he had to intervene to maintain any dignity among the world’s socialists.

It was not to protect international socialism, but was aimed at securing Stalin’s leadership over both the USSR and the Comintern as he had no desire to spread socialism internationally as Marx had preached. This is why his foreign policy was always aimed at the defence of the Soviet Union, which was especially prevalent in Spain. Bibliography A Primary Sources German Foreign Policy, series D. iii No. 97. Quoted in A. J. P Taylor ??? The Origins of the Second World War Dolores Ibarruri ??? Guerra y revolucion en Espana 1936-1939. Quoted in Danny Kowalsky, Stalin and the Spanish Civil War (Columbia University Press, 2004)

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Secker & Warberg, 1938) Luis Araquistain, El comunismo y la Guerra de Espana. Quoted in Danny Kowalsky, Stalin and the Spanish Civil War (Columbia University Press, 2004) B Secondary Sources Peter Anderson, ‘Why did the Spanish Civil War start in 1936? ‘, History Review March 2004 Antony Beevor, The Spanish Civil War (Orbis Publishing Ltd, 1982) Raymond Carr, Modern Spain 1875-1980 (Oxford University Press, 1980) Eddie Conlon, The Spanish Civil War ??? Anarchism in Action (http://flag. blackened. net/revolt/spain/pam_intro. html)

Robert Conquest, Stalin: Breaker of Nations (Penguin, 1992) Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A political biography (Oxford University Press, 1949) Helen Graham, The Spanish Civil War ??? A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005) Habeck and Radosh, Spain Betrayed (Yale University Press, 2001) Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes (Vintage 1996) Eric Hobsbawm, War of Ideas (Saturday Guardian Review, 17th February 2007) Danny Kowalsky, Stalin and the Spanish Civil War (Columbia University Press, 2004) Sean Lang, ‘The Spanish Civil War’, Modern History Review, September 2004 Ivan Maisky, Spanish Notebooks (Hutchinson, 1966)

Eddie May, ‘Origins of the Spanish Civil War’, Modern History Review, April 1999 Paul Preston, The Spanish Civil War 1936-39 (Butler and Tanner Ltd, 1986) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives (Anchor, 1997) Francisco J. Romero Salvado, ‘The Spanish Civil War ??? The International Dimension’, Modern History Review, February 1995 A. J. P Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (Simon & Schuster, 1996) Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd 1961)

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To What Extent Did Stalin Intervene in the Spanish Civil War in Defence of International Socialism? Assignment. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from