Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writing the Moscow Trials: Anglo-Soviet Debates about Jurisprudence

I'll be giving a paper at this conference on Saturday 24 May 2014:

British–Soviet Friendship and Cultural Exchange: promotion, partnership and propaganda 

This interdisciplinary conference will look at the scope and nature of Soviet culture disseminated in Britain and significance of cultural relations with the USSR in Britain. It will ask what mechanisms of cultural exchange existed, how Soviet culture was presented to the British public and specialists, and what influence these relations exerted on British writers, creative artists and professionals in fields as diverse as law, music and architecture. It will examine the intersection of this subject with related fields and the methodological challenges associated with approaching literature and culture in a highly politicized context.

The event will be held at the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies, 320 Brixton Road, London  SW9 6AB.

The Programme is available to download.

The cost, including refreshments, is £20.  Please book via the online store here.

This event is sponsored by BASEES

Here's a brief summary of what I'll be talking about:

Writing the Moscow Trials: Anglo-Soviet Debates about Jurisprudence

This paper explores British debates about the Soviet legal system, particularly in relation to the show trials of the 1930s, and with a focus on Stephen Spender, Harold Laski and D.N. Pritt. D.N. Pritt—a lawyer, Labour MP, prominent fellow traveller and president of the SCR in the 1940s—had a longstanding interest in Soviet justice and witnessed the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial in 1936. Publications including ‘The Russian Legal System’ (1933), The Zinoviev Trial (1936), and The Moscow Trial Was Fair (1936) document Pritt’s attempts to make an accommodation between bourgeois legal norms and both the theory and the reality of Soviet law. Harold Laski made similar arguments in Law and Justice in Soviet Russia (1935), and also lectured on this subject at the SCR. This paper seeks to situate these arguments in relation to Marxist theories of justice on the one hand (elaborated in the Soviet Union by Pashukanis and others) and the work of British writers, using Stephen Spender as a case study. Spender’s brief membership of the Communist Party coincided with some high-profile show trials, and concerns about justice and law emerged in his later autobiographical writing as a key justification for his turn towards anticommunism.

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