Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Nicole M. Phelps
In July 1936, units of the Spanish military, backed by a collection of domestic right-wing elements and by fascist governments elsewhere in Europe, staged a rebellion against the legally constituted national government that had been elected five months previously. The governing bloc, an ideologically broad coalition of liberal republicans, Marxists, and anarchists known as the People's Front, embodied the strategy formulated by Stalin and the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow to stem the advance of international fascism and mitigate the danger it posed to the Soviet Union and, by extension, the communist movement and the global radical working class it represented. During the destructive and bloody civil war that ensued, the Comintern sponsored recruitment of anti-fascist volunteer fighters from around the world. Before the war ended, nearly 3,000 Americans had surreptitiously traveled to Spain to defend its republican government. This thesis addresses the question of how these volunteers came to develop an allegiance to their global political and social movement strong enough to motivate them to risk death in what they perceived to be its defense against fascism.
Drawing on the theoretical formulations of political scientists Benedict Anderson and David Malet, this thesis will demonstrate that over the course of a century, radical proletarian internationalism developed into a community of working-class revolutionaries, mostly within or allied to communist parties, whose shared ideological formulations and sociopolitical aspirations bound them together, irrespective of nationality. American members of that global community - whose numbers and influence had recently expanded in the context of the Great Depression and the People's Front strategy of liberal-left conciliation - had their perceptions and priorities about the Spanish crisis shaped by the American communist press. Examination and analysis of its coverage of the political, social, and military dimensions of the conflict there will demonstrate it to have been copious and persistent, imparting unmistakably to its readership the centrality of the Spanish people's struggle against fascism in the defense of the global working class, whose political and social survival was at stake. The thesis will argue, in the context of the contentious historiography of American communism, that although the messages conveyed to American proletarian internationalists via the communist press reflected policies and priorities determined in Moscow and designed to serve the interests of the Soviet state, American anti-fascists were for the most part well informed ideologues whose decisions reflected both the concerted influences of their movement's leadership as well as their own deep commitments to a more equitable world.
Number of Pages
Waterman, G. Scott, "The Common Cause of All Advanced and Progressive Mankind: Proletarian Internationalism, Spain, and the American Communist Press, 1936 - 1937" (2015). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 421.