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

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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’ . 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 Ibárruri, 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...
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