In the mid-19th century, few might have imagined how World War I and the tectonic shifts that accompanied the collapse of empire after empire would bring such a dream closer to reality. The year 1917 set the USSR in motion, but the practice of building socialist internationalism--or, more accurately, of building a world without nationalist blinders--would for decades move unsteadily between the conservative premises of a tenacious Realpolitik and the long promised age of "horizontal horizons," pledges of a new life ahead that could often be sustained only by their continued deferral, promises of a shining future that deflected attention from the obstacles to its realization. The articles in this forum richly illustrate these dynamics.
Marx and Engels, of course, sorely underestimated how firmly nationalism was already rooted in the colonial encounter--a world beyond the metropoles of England, France, and Germany where they concentrated their energies--and how proletarians and patricians alike would rally around the national idea in times of trouble, no matter how unevenly the idea of the nation served its followers. The British scholar Tom Nairn would eventually call this dismissal of national allegiances "Marxism's greatest historical failure," with Stalins 1912 essay (the keystone effort in Marxism-Leninism's campaign to harness and channel nationalist sentiments), "a sad chapter in the history of ideas." (2) One result of this long chronicled Marxist-Leninist ambivalence is that while we know a great deal about the flow of national ideas across the history of the USSR, a practical grasp of internationalism--somehow ever the weaker ideological cousin--has long been consigned to the minutes of party plenums and subsumed into broader accounts of Soviet foreign relations. Yet internationalism as the daily embodiment of a way of reading, thinking, and working was rather different from the workings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moreover, despite its extraordinary geographic breadth, as well as its leadership role in the cultivation of class consciousness across the 20th century, descriptions of the Soviet Union as a closed space became commonplace. How, then, did so many generations of Soviet citizens sustain such literate positions on global arts and culture, arguably to a far greater extent than their counterparts in market economies?
In her essay on Indian leftist writers of the 1930s, Katerina Clark walks us through one of the best-known fields of communist outreach, the pull of Soviet literature and the pride of place accorded to Moscow by international writers across the chaotically shifting landscape of the early 20th century. Clark introduces us to Mulk Raj Anand, the celebrated Punjabi novelist whose professional work and private correspondence testify to the dueling poles of London and Moscow for this defender of the lower castes and classes. For writers such as Anand, the temporary routing of the Communist Party in Shanghai in 1927 may have suggested the end of the call of East Asia, but his worldview remained a decidedly transregional one. While most people might look upon the 13th-century Mongol incursions into India as yet another abrogation of South Asian sovereignty, Anand argued in his 1930 work, Persian Painting, that Mongols need to be remembered, instead, for their pan-Asian ambitions. (3) As Clark astutely captures, Anand's claim to an art renaissance, one founded on the "dream of a vast transnational cultural space" (67) and evoked by the Mongol drive across China, Central Asia, and the Middle East, leading to what would eventually become Mughal India, was a dream founded on violence. That is to say, Anand appreciated that internationalisms did not come lightly.
Clark's careful reading of Anand and his work makes clear that if Moscow was on the horizon for writers across the Global South, it was, nonetheless, by no means the only city where political change was possible. Anand enjoyed a warm reception in London's Bloomsbury circles, one that proved far less alloyed than those of Moscow editors, who were anxious that Anand's politics meet the increasingly stringent requirements of Socialist Realism. Anand, indeed, never joined the Communist Party. While we do not learn the extent to which Anand was influenced by the Soviet novelists of his generation, it is clear that in an age when the USSR took principled stands against fascism and colonialism, Moscow's literary critics paid him a good deal of attention. In many respects, Anand's story neatly presages the play of absence and presence in the kinds of internationalisms that would eventually succeed the Comintern after its dissolution in 1943. The Non-Aligned Movement, founded in 1961 with a newly independent India among its leaders, proved masterful at the kind of maneuvering of which Clark writes, the walking of a successful tightrope across disparate global struggles, with no shortage of violence along the way.
In "Soviet Orientalism across Borders," Samuel Hirst shifts our attention from literature to cinema. If vodka and the church were for too long the opiates of the Russian masses, as Lev Trotskii once famously claimed, cinema would be their successor in a new Soviet age. (4) Like literature, cinema traveled with aplomb. Why, in the early 1930s, did Ankara reach out to Moscow for collaborations in film? We never learn the answer to this riddle, not least in the context of the sometimes warm, sometimes rocky relations between Mustafa Kemal and Iosif Stalin as they both built on the ruins of empire, often sparring directly across the new Turkish-Soviet border. Cinema, perhaps, was a potential salve. Two of the best-known scions of early Soviet cinema, Sergei Iutkevich and Esfir' Shub, were among those who answered Ankara's call, responding not only with a polished documentary (in Iutkevich's case, the 1934 Ankara--Serdtse Turtsii [Ankara--The Heart of Turkey]) but also with a trove of film stills and correspondence on unfinished work (in Shub's case, screenplays and test shots for the proposed Idet novaia Turtsiia [The New Turkey on the Move]).
Hirst's article reveals that while Turkey and the USSR may have prided themselves on blazing new paths, departing from earlier imperialist and orientalist visions from a prelapsarian East, they struggled over what kind of moderns they wanted to be and just what the limits of transnationalism might prove. If a generation of Soviet filmgoers would later learn that "the East is a delicate matter" (the landmark line from Vladimir Motyl's Beloe solntse pustyni [White Sun of the Desert (1970)]), the need for subtle maneuvering appears to have equally haunted early Turkish and Soviet directors. Modernity, in short, was in the eye of the beholder. Turkey, which had a long archeological record of ancient states and principalities that dwarfed Russia's in comparison, was in no special need of Slavic civilizing. Moreover, as Ernest Gellner has pointed out, if the founding principles of modern life included mass literacy, the rise of the individual subject, egalitarianism, and horizontal social relations, then the Islamic world had already been on this path since the seventh century. (5)
The Silk Road represented an early mode of global trade that offered the Ottomans, as well as their successors in the Turkish Republic, a diverse template for imagining social mixing. Yet as Hirst notes toward the close of his essay, it is Shub who suggests a telling conservatism by choosing a young, blonde schoolgirl as a central face of the new Turkey. Hirst's essay opens new pages in the history of Soviet cinema and of early 20th-century international relations. Yet we also discover that if a shared Soviet-Anatolian modernity was said to be trying to shed its orientalist past, this rendition of a svetloe budushchee looked decidedly, well, svetloe--on the Aryan side.
If a new class solidarity was among the goals of the communist movement, then the USSR was the world's self-appointed tutor. Hence the creation in 1921 of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (Kommunisticheskii universitet trudiashchikhsia Vostoka, KUTV), the subject of Masha Kirasirova's compelling study. The university is best known for the education of thousands of new Soviet citizens in its branches across the Caucasus and Central Asia, but it recruited widely, notably from Japan, China, and as we find here, "the original East" or Arab world. Arabs were among the KUTV's most intractable clients, as it turned out, and their experiences have equally eluded historical attention in the limited accounts of the life of this unusual institution to date. If Caucasians and Central Asians were already there as captive parties to the Soviet cultural project, the potential for Arab students to export revolution to the Middle East was frequently frustrated for KUTV faculty in what they found to be Arab ties to faith, family, and rival home fronts. As Kirasirova shows, Arab students stood apart from the better-off Western Communists in ambiguous ways. On the one hand, here were true "victims of European imperialism" (25). On the other hand, just how much these victims were interested in casting off the yokes of religious and capitalist repression, rather than simply getting a free education, was a frequent question. When necessary, Arab students could play on their perceived backwardness to explain their slowness in adopting Soviet norms. But with the success of such gestures, they remind us of the verticalities that interrupted Soviet horizontalist aims. Internationalism, after all, needed to be taught--and led--by vanguard Communists who were ideally to be grown at home and then exported.
Each of the articles has benefited from increased archival access since the fall of the USSR, but in other ways these stories and others like them have already been long available to us. Perhaps the most important question to ask across these pages, then, is why they have taken so long to be noticed. It seems to me that the intelligence of these articles lies in the authors' realization that writers' movements, cross-border cinema exchanges, and multinational universities were all transregional experiences that amounted to much more than failed dreams or experimental exceptions. They were central to those who lived them and emblematic of deeply rooted transregional ambitions. They also continue to speak to new ways of reading and writing the Soviet century.
Dept, of Anthropology
New York University
25 Waverley Place
New York, NY 10003 USA
(1) Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (New York: International Publishers, 1983), 48.
(2) Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism (London: Verso, 1981), 329, 330.
(3) Mulk Raj Anand, Persian Painting (London: Faber and Faber, 1930).
(4) Leon Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life: Creating the Foundations for a New Society in Revolutionary Russia (New York: Pathfinder, 1973), 31-35.
(5) Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 4-7.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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