Socialist Impressions of Revolutionary Russia, 1920

in Russian History
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Abstract

The response to the Bolshevik Revolution in Western Europe ranged from uncritical adulation, where Russia was viewed as a "red paradise," to bitter hostility, where the new regime was believed to be headed by mindless and heartless fanatics who were propagating fraticide and terror. Such conflicting convictions were formed without very much reliable information about revolutionary Russia, expecially after Soviet Russia left the war and was blockaded by the Allies. Expectably, the opinions that existed corresponded to political persuasion rather than copious evidence. It was not until mid-1920, after the war had ended and the blockade lifted, that westerners were able to observe revolutionary Russia in a more thorough and leisured fashion. Moreover, the Bolshevik regime had by this time assumed a more discernible character; after almost three years of rule, the Bolsheviks could more plausibly be charged with some responsibility for conditions in Russia. Of particular interest are the observations and experiences of those revolutionary western socialists who traveled to Russia at this time, representing parties or other groups that hoped in some way to link their efforts up with those of the Bolsheviks; to become, in other words, part of the communist movement, though they were uncertain what this would mean, and their relations with the Bolsheviks were still ambiguous. These socialists are particularly interesting because they were not yet committed, disciplined communists nor were they committed anticommunists, though they later became one or the other. Thus their impressions were relatively unclouded by pre-judgement or parti pris. They desired not only to observe the conditions of Russia after three years of social revolution but to meet the new rulers of Russia and to determine the prerequisites or conditions for membership in the Communist International, or Comintern, as it came to be called, which the Bolsheviks despite their blockaded isolation had established in the spring of 1919. The impressions of these early visitors can be pieced together into a fairly complete and vivid account through a variety of sources, including memoirs, diaries, stenographic accounts of public and private meetings in Russia, socialist newspaper reportage, and polemical pamphlets. Although obviously many frustrating lacunae remain, these accounts often complement one another, especially by comparing accounts from one foreign delegation to another. In this article I will concentrate on the overall impressions of western socialists as they traveled through Russia and met leading Bolsheviks. In a companion article, I will investigate the many surprises and disillusionments of these early visitors as they attempted to negotiate entry into the new International.

Socialist Impressions of Revolutionary Russia, 1920

in Russian History

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