In his work on left-leaning popular fiction, literary critic Michael Denning has argued that the Popular Front should be understood as a social movement. This reflects Denning’s argument against what he calls “a core-periphery model in which the core was the Communist Party and the periphery was the surrounding circles of “fellow travelers” with greater or lesser degrees of affiliation to the Party.” (Cultural Front, xviii.)

Denning is right that such a view can lead to an over-emphasis on the role of Communists, but his analysis has two flaws. First, in the Spanish context, minimizing the Communist International is a mistake. The Communist International shaped almost everything which happened in the Spanish Civil War, because the Comintern had the backing of the Soviet Union, the only country which aided the Spanish government. While not all history must be institutional history, the Spanish Civil War would be incomprehensible without attention to the Comintern. Second, Denning’s expansion of the Popular Front can lead to distortions. For example, Denning (12) suggests that C.L.R. James’ 1938 book The Black Jacobins was a Popular Front retelling of the Haitian Revolution. This makes sense given Denning’s expansive definition of the Popular Front as a category of analysis for historians, but does not make in terms of how James himself as a historical actor understood his work. James had nothing but scorn for the Popular Front, likening it to religious faith (World Revolution 322) and calling it “nonsense.” (WR,165.) Some of the limits to Denning’s work may stem from his intention to “Americanize the way we saw the Popular Front.” (http://www.theminnesotareview.org/journal/ns70/interview_denning.shtml) The role of the Popular Front and Comintern in Spain, up to and including great influence upon the Spanish Government, suggests that the so-called “core-periphery model” is more adequate than Denning suggests. [Furthermore, considering the Popular Front in terms of race makes the Popular Front shows additional problems. I discuss Denning in part because of the ref to anti-lynching. Denning counts a fight against lynching as one of the three main elements of the Popular Front, but it’s not clear if this refers to the Popular Front in his overly broad terms, or in more appropriate terms.]

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