Opiate of the intellectuals? Pilgrims, partisans, and political tourists.
Mikhail Ryklin, Kommunizm kak religiia: Intellektualy i oktiabr'skaia revoliutsiia [Communism as Religion: Intellectuals and the October Revolution]. 129 pp. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2009. ISBN 5867937240.
Only ... a revolutionary regime, because it accepts the permanent use of violence, seems capable of attaining the goal of perfection.... Violence itself attracts and fascinates more than it repels.
--Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals (1)
The interpretation of Bolshevism as a political or secular religion has a complicated and fragmented genealogy. Long before the Russian Revolution, Russian philosophers were already interpreting politics as a form of religion. Vladimir Solov'ev, in his 1878 Lectures on Godmanhood, wrote that socialism and positivism were substitutes for "rejected gods"; in emigration, Nikolai Berdiaev applied a similar equation to communism, famously comparing the Third Rome to the Third International in his 1937 book, The Origin of Russian Communism. (2) As the Soviet new regime established itself in the 1920s, prominent European intellectual observers and visitors such as Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, and Rene Fulop-Miller wrote about communism as a new faith. (3) Over the last decade, political religion has witnessed a scholarly revival among a group dominated by comparatively minded students of Nazism and Fascism pushing to revive the concept of totalitarianism--reconfigured to account for the popular appeal and violent fervor not just of Nazism and Stalinism, but, following the works of Emilio Gentile, Italian Fascism as well. The flagship journal of this trend, founded in 2000 by Michael Burleigh, is Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. These scholars draw on a complex legacy of earlier political theorists, historians of ideas and religion, and students of National Socialism, frequently drawing genealogies back to the 1938 work by the refugee political philosopher Eric Voegelin, Die politischen Religionen (The Political Religions). (4)
The Russian and Soviet field stands at a curious crossroads on the problem of political religion. On the one hand, the historiographical transformation of the last 20 years in the study of early Soviet and Stalin-era culture, politics, and ideology--much of it dealing with relevant issues of belief, ritual, doctrine, and legitimacy--has hardly at all participated in the largely British and German-led political religion revival inspired by Gentile. This is so apparent that one recent observer has been struck by the "utter neglect" of the political religion concept in the dynamic literature on the interwar Soviet Union. (5) However, in addition to both the Russian philosophical tradition from Solov'ev to Berdiaev and the early Western intellectual observers of communism, there is in fact a deep vein of work in recent scholarship investigating the relationship between revolutionaries and religion as well as Orthodoxy and secular thought in revolutionary Russia. (6) Political religion has thus appeared in the field in many of its scholarly outposts.
For example, in the context of Marxism and Bolshevism, Andrzej Walicld discussed how "totalitarian ideology is not merely a secularized religion; it is a secularized form of chiliastic religiosity." (7) In his many works Robert C. Tucker variously called attention to Marxism's total regeneration of man as a secular version of Christian salvation, to Bolshevism as a millenarian movement, to Stalin's use of religious terminology, and the growing resemblance of the party-state to a "church-state." (8) The many works of discourse analysis from Igal Halfin prominently feature religious concepts (eschatology, messianism) and extensive deployment of religious terminology (inquisition, heresy, good and evil, faith, etc.). (9) In terms of the institutional structures of the Soviet new regime, Stephen Kotkin's Magnetic Mountain contained a sustained discussion of party-state dualism as a form of theocracy. (10)
At the same time, largely unconnected to debates over the nature of communism as religion, there exists a long-standing interpretation of Western intellectual sympathizers of Stalinism as blinded by a quasi-religious or irrational faith. This view has a long pedigree of its own, greatly furthered by the 1949 retrospective repentance of former fellow-travelers in The God That Failed. (11) But until the recent interest in transnational and international cultural history, specialists in Soviet history have had relatively little to say about visitors and foreign intellectual observers. The Berlin-based Russian philosopher Mikhail Ryklin's extended essay, first published in German in 2008, (12) forcefully links the two streams of thought, arguing that communism was a secular religion and Western intellectuals subscribed to elements of the faith. (13)
Ryklin, a philosopher who has been dubbed a "neo-Westerner," studied at Moscow University with the famous Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, who remains for him a symbol of intellectual freedom. A central preoccupation for Ryklin, in the words of Edith Clowes, has been to take contemporary Berlin "as a model for post-imperial, post-totalitarian alternatives to retracing the steps backward/forward to another iteration of mass conformism and authoritarian rule." (14) Indeed, his departure from Moscow and move to Berlin in 2007 under troubled circumstances assumes a deep significance for his views on religion and politics in his recent work. In a remarkable article, Ryklin discussed the context for his self-imposed exile: the hate campaign against his wife, the poet and artist Anna Alchuk, and her subsequent trial in 2005 after her participation in the 2003 "Caution, Religion!" exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in Moscow. The installments, which included Christ's image with a Coca-Cola logo and a sculpture of a church built out of vodka bottles, were defaced with paint and destroyed. But charges against the vandals were dropped and the curators themselves tried and fined after the Orthodox Church condemned the exhibition as blasphemous. Alchuk was found drowned in the Spree in April 2008. (15)
Communism as Religion contains an unambiguous and passionate moral dimension, an anticommunist condemnation of zealotry and dogmatism that goes a long way toward explaining the author's attraction to the concept of political religion. "The Bolsheviks infected foreigners, including Communists, with their intolerance, their inability to imagine an opponent as anything else but the image of the enemy" (19). Revolutionary "vigilance" and donositel'stvo (practices of informing) were a "crime against morality" (29). The moral dimension comes up strongly not in relation to religion but rather to political religion; the link between intellectual intolerance and the political violence of Stalinism is so unambiguous that it may appear to sit uncomfortably with Ryklin's poststructuralism. It begins to seem almost ironic that the book is dedicated to Jacques Derrida, the deconstructionist renowned for his opacity, whom Ryldin and other philosophers hosted at the Academy of Sciences during Derrida's visit to Moscow in 1990. (16)
Ryklin is aware of the interpretational difficulties involved in writing about "Western intellectuals," a group that both developed the critique of communism as religion and supposedly worshiped at its altar. As a result, he devotes the first chapter to the "birth of religion from the spirit of atheism" (9), making the case that Soviet communism indeed represented a 20th-century religion without God. He then turns to Western observers, with separate short chapters focusing in particular on the texts of Bertrand Russell, Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bertolt Brecht, and, his longtime favorite and most extensively researched example, Walter Benjamin. "If [these] authors were simply believers, these texts would have offered a one-sided picture and would have hardly presented interest for our own times.... Above all of them hangs a distinctive question mark" (50). Thus Ryklin sets out to analyze both elements of faith and elements of doubt, paying special attention to those times when intellectuals touched on the topic of communism as religion. This is the most intriguing part of Rykliffs volume. But problems remain with the portrayal of Western intellectuals as a single category encompassing believers and skeptics. When a figure such as Russell uses the comparison between Bolshevism and religion explicitly to criticize the revolutionary order, the relevance of the political religion concept is clear. But when it comes to the many varieties of Western sympathy for early Soviet communism, why not use concepts such as worldview or ideology? More broadly, what does the concept of political religion add to or detract from our understanding of the Soviet phenomenon?
Like so many writers in the vein of political religion, Ryklin cannot resist the temptation to bolster his case through stylistic means, packing references to communism full of religious terminology: the proletarian Mecca, pilgrims, salvation, the revolutionary "cult," and so on (18, 19, 25, 32). His opening section on communism as a political religion which surprisingly elides the prerevolutionary "godbuilders" (Aleksandr Bogdanov, Anatolii Lunacharskii, Maksim Gor'kii, and others) who played a decisive role in shaping early Soviet culture--touches on the familiar Soviet attempts to replace religion with new rituals and beliefs, including red corners, festivals and holidays, and cults of Lenin and Stalin. Not unexpectedly, the new man along with the utopianism and dogmatism of Marxism-Leninism are brought in to make the case. Ryklin is a philosopher and essayist, not a historian. His form, again, is an extended essay, which includes quirky touches such as a seven-paragraph rift on the 1991 American film directed by Joel Coen, Barton Fink (109-10). Ryklin clearly did not launch a major effort of scholarly research, and his discussion of the early Soviet Union bypasses the historical literature in favor of the lens afforded by a group of favored thinkers such as Derrida, Benjamin, Raymond Aron, and even Franz Kafka. The absence of certain key issues in the "historical" opening, however, is striking. There is no discussion of Bolshevik instrumentalism, how the Marxist-Leninist architects of revolutionary rituals to replace religious rites were operating with the notion that religious rituals and emotions were "detachable from their conceptual religious framework." (17) Here there is an analogy, mutatis mutandis, with the appeal to national identity within the class-based ideology and practice of the early USSR: by instrumentally co-opting the national impulse, the Bolsheviks wished to eradicate it but ended up with unintended and frequently diametrically opposed consequences.
Ryklin, also in common with many adherents of the political religion concept, assumes that modernization inevitably leads to secularization and that the new political mass movement came to fill the vacuum. One need only look at the modern United States to wonder how inevitable this scenario is, and sociologists of religion have increasingly challenged the notion of unilinear secularization even in the face of the most far-reaching anti-religious campaign of all time. Paul Froese has discussed how religious worldviews "offer something lacking in Soviet Communism--an object of devotion, a caring God, who purports to care about the individual." (18)
Elements of communism that mimicked or recapitulated religious phenomena are not hard to find. Ryklin, who knows the recent German-language scholarly literature on political religions, is well aware of one of the key debates revolving around the definition of religion: it is commonly understood to involve belief in a transcendent source of being and goodness. (19) A number of scholars maintain that the "secular religions" of the 20th century do not involve the transcendent, and that the use of "religion" in political religion is merely a heuristic device or metaphor. (20) Others would maintain that communism, more than fascism, promised a form of salvation and that this was the key link between traditional religion, Christianity in particular, and Marxism or communism. As Tucker wrote in his study of Marx, "deeply embedded in Marxism is a theme that corresponds to the master-theme of salvation of the soul in the Christian theology of history. Marx, of course, does not use the word 'salvation.' Yet, he has the concept of a total regeneration of man." (21) Ryklin's position is that the transformation of this world promised by communism "is more radically differentiated from the familiar, commonsense world and represents something more mysterious than the otherworldly worlds of the religions of the Book." Faith in the "historical inevitability of departing from the boundaries of history" remains religious (31).
Even if one accepts this proposition, however, it is eminently possible to question whether the concept of political religion can fully take into account the novel nature of communism's appeal, its specific yet tension-ridden reliance on science as well as faith, and the extraordinarily wide variation in what observers perceived in it abroad. Indeed, to successfully appeal to historians of the Soviet period, it would seem, the political religion concept would have to grapple explicitly with the syncretic, evolving, and hybrid nature of communism and communist ideology. Even sympathetic critics immersed in the history of radical interwar regimes of the Right have found secular religion too blunt a tool and too generic a concept to probe the "novel, supranational, but historically specific ... sense of mission" produced by radical interwar regimes. (22) Communist ideology in practice fostered veneration but not spirituality or belief in the supernatural.
Ryklin remains content to brand communism a violent crusade rather than explore (in terms that would have to go beyond the religious analogy or claim) its historically specific "sense of mission"--one that prominently featured an immediate revolutionary transformation and modernization of this world, the promotion of science and "becoming cultured," and numerous other elements that sometimes clashed and were not always easy to reconcile with one another.
As for the faith of Western intellectuals, an intense emotional identification with the "socialist homeland" was common among some and deliberately cultivated by the Soviets, yet this need not necessarily be considered a quasi-religious phenomenon. (23) It was, moreover, a far from universal reaction. For example, in his classic work The Fellow-Travelers, David Caute went so far as to call intellectual Sovietophilia a "postscript to the Enlightenment" because the attraction of "rational" economic planning (and, one might add, social engineering) was so strong among Western intellectual sympathizers, especially during the Depression. For Caute, the portrayal of Stalinism as an "experiment" was more than a metaphor; it was emblematic of the intellectuals' championship of the rationality of science and emblematic of the number of scientists and scholars who sympathized. No ideology presented itself as more scientific, rational, and forward-looking than communism. (24) By the same token, the "new man" had Christian antecedents but a more immediate Enlightenment genealogy. (25)
The 56 works cited by Ryklin in his bibliography are mostly in German and Russian, with a couple of French titles thrown in, and despite the lack of comprehensiveness inherent in the essay genre the author's apparent lack of familiarity with a number of major English-language works such as Caute does create certain problems, But the issue with sources is more fundamental: can European intellectuals' views of communism be fully understood on the basis of published texts? Even the most pro-Soviet "friends of the Soviet Union"--in fact, especially the members of this club--often censored themselves, something that comes to light when unpublished letters, diaries, and materials written inside the Soviet Union are taken into account. Two meticulous German studies of French and German travelers and travelogues have highlighted significant numbers of critical, doubting, and hostile visitors. (26) Moreover, the prominent published texts, while important, cannot get at all those biographical factors and, crucially, interactions with the Soviet Union that played a major role in generating sympathy--an angle of investigation distinct from the emotional identification with the Soviets and immersion in Bolshevik political culture by a subset of committed partisans and communist party members (including, for example, Koestler, Brecht, and Henri Barbusse). Fellow-travelers, or "friends of the Soviet Union" as the Soviets called them, were sympathizers bound, by and large, by different factors from the foreign Communists. As Caute discussed extensively in his classic work, "In the cases of nine fellow-travelers out of ten the philosophy of a lifetime was merely coaxed and twisted a little to yield a different ideolog." (27)
Discussing the case of Koestler and others, Ryklin extensively relies on The God That Failed, the 1949 compilation by disillusioned intellectuals, invoking it to bolster his own interpretation (75-88, passim). Not once does he mention that at the outset of the Cold War Koestler and others had a strong interest in explaining away their earlier allegiances as blind faith. (28) Portraying their own sympathy for Soviet communism as an ersatz religion--that is, a bond by definition impervious to rational explanation--turned out to be a brilliant means for ex-Communists to justify their own lapse of judgment. Koestler explicitly linked faith to the abandonment of reason: "One does not fall in love with a woman, or enter the womb of a church, as a result of logical persuasion." (29) As Mark Lilla has observed, not only do the respective reductionisms of faith and reason in explaining the great pull of communism openly contradict each other; they also suggest the inadequacy of explanations focusing on ideas in isolation. (30)
The problem of texts and contexts is a complicated one for each of the intellectuals discussed by Ryklin. But as an example let us take his treatment of Gide, whose emergence as a fellow-traveler in the early 1930s, at the height of his prestige in French letters, was one of the greatest coups of Soviet international cultural politics. Gide then became notorious as one of the few celebrated fellow-travelers to break with Stalin's Soviet Union when his hastily composed, bestselling Retour de l'URSS prompted a large-scale international communist campaign of vilification. Gide's book, released in late 1936 while the Spanish Civil War still raged, carefully left open the possibility that the Soviet order might yet find the right path. But it was a work more critical of Soviet cultural and ideological conformity than anything a celebrated sympathizer had written until that time. In its implicit and explicit ambiguities throughout the body of the text, it was not so very different from Lion Feuchtwanger's Moscow 1937, written largely in response to Gide. The key difference was Feuchtwanger's final balance sheet, the literary antifascist's notorious, triply affirmative "ja, ja, ja" in his conclusion about the Soviet order; Gide, by contrast, in an equally famous sentence, expressed doubt "whether in any other country in the world, even Hitler's Germany, thought be less free, more bowed down, more fearful (terrorized), more vassalized." (31)
Ryklin's chapter on Gide revolves around the published text of Retour (and a 1913 novel by Gide set in 1890s Paris, Les Caves du Vatican) and basically interprets his apostasy as an act of "exceptional civil courage" (93). "As soon as he saw the Party as a new church and Stalin as a deified leader," Ryklin writes, "he stepped back from the Bolshevik experiment" (90). But Gide's decision to abandon his status as "friend of the Soviet Union" was hardly as simple as this description implies. There is a major critical and biographical literature on Gide, a significant body of work related to his 1936 Soviet tour and the publication of Retour, and, in French, a small library consisting of Gide's published correspondence and documents on his circle and confidants at the time. None of this is used by Ryklin, who prefers to gloss the analysis of Gide written by Derrida in Moscou aller-retour, which discussed Gide's book as half-trapped within the "mythico-messianic" genre of "back from the USSR," the pro-Soviet travelogue. (32)
The attentive reader of Gide's Retour will realize that he knew full well the rules of the game of Soviet friendship and for quite a while was more than willing to play along. For example, in a speech at Gor'kii's funeral on Red Square Gide ostentatiously invoked Stalin's formula about writers as engineers of human souls. (33) It was only midway through his Soviet trip, in Moscow, when Gide, disgusted by the pomp and conformity around him, apparently decided to issue his public criticisms after his departure. The Moscow sojourn was also the time when Stalin--who was briefed well on the private affairs of his European intellectual interlocutors and certainly knew of Gide's intention to plead with him on the issue of homosexual rights--chose not to receive him in the Kremlin, distinguishing him from the other prominent Western intellectual friends he had met. Ironically, given how Gide wrote about the repulsive nature of the Stalin cult in his book, Stalin's rebuff may have suddenly left him in partibus infidelium, so to speak, for Gide was left without hope of influencing a concern at the crux of his doubts about the revolution's retreat. In Retour, Gide only referred to the 1934 Soviet law criminalizing male homosexuality so heatedly discussed by his inner circle in one-half of a single footnote. (34) The more one understands the context, the better one can interpret the text.
In Pravda Feuchtwanger condemned Gide as an "aesthete" incapable of judging the USSR, but Gide did have a significant past when it came to political and social engagements that deeply informed his later relationship with the Soviets. (35) In Gide's 1924 dialogue Corydon, arguments from a wide array of disciplines were marshaled to push for recognition of the naturalness of homosexuality; it was, according to Alan Sheridan, the "first serious attempt by a homosexual to defend the practice of homosexuality to the general public." (36) It is logical that Gide's 1936 footnote equated sexual intolerance with political, intellectual, and artistic conformity. His revulsion for the conformity of bourgeois society, as well as his initial attraction and subsequent disillusionment with Soviet communism, was rooted specifically in this remarkable form of civic engagement. (37)
Like Andre Malraux and others, moreover, Gide approached communism through the antechamber of anticolonialism. Long before 1936, Gide had written another book called Retour, establishing himself as a writer of travelogues very different from the pro-Soviet genre: his 1928 Retour du Tchad, a companion to his anticolonial Voyage au Congo. As Gide himself recalled in 1937, "As long as I travelled in French Equatorial Africa accompanied by officials, everything seemed to me little short of marvelous. I only began to see things clearly when I left the Governor's car." (38) Inside the USSR, while the other major intellectual visitors were carefully and often successfully cultivated by Soviet cultural officials and intellectual ambassadors, Gide relied heavily on his own entourage and a set of alternative, non-Soviet mediators made up of French Communists and writers (and one Dutch ex-Trotskyist, Jef Last) who knew Russian and had lived extensively in the USSR. They were tied to Gide through literary patronage and intimate friendship, and by the fact that several were also homosexuals whose association of the USSR with socio-sexual liberation was called into question in the 1930s. (39)
To return to Ryklin: his reading of Gide's 1936 text as a brave confrontation with a monstrous political religion is an unfocused prism in comparison with a serious investigation of how these specific contexts, issues, and experiences deeply informed the publication--but were often elided or concealed in the text. Like its elder cousin totalitarianism, political religion holds the potential to become little more than a slogan or epithet.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, the co-editor of Political Tourists and author of two of its chapters, spent much of her career challenging the historical schemas built up around the concept of totalitarianism. In this volume, she takes aim at the notion of "political pilgrims," the "stereotype" that travelers were self-deluded dupes manipulated by the Soviets and determined to "see nothing that conflicted with their political preoccupations" (1). Fitzpatrick's response is a familiar and effective weapon: empirical research, centered around her database of 64 Australian travelers to the USSR between 1929 and 1939, 48 of whom were received by the All-Union Society for Cultural Ties Abroad (VOKS). It was unsurprising that the Australians had fewer celebrity travelers; instead, there were more professionals, politicians, and women than their European and North American counterparts. Almost all traveled to the USSR out of political interest, but political tourists were not necessarily political pilgrims. The Australian visitors Fitzpatrick researched included numerous sympathizers, many of them determined to give a positive report on their return, perhaps over half of a total that included five or six Communist Party members (25). But as VOKS sources suggest, even fellow-travelers could pepper their hosts with difficult questions, stray off the beaten path, and in general appear far from passive, manipulated pushovers--especially to Soviet eyes (18-19). In addition, critical reactions were common (19-24).
If Ryklin is fascinated by the blindness of intellectual kumiry such as Benjamin when they turned to Soviet communism, Political Tourists is concerned with correcting widespread exaggerations about the ubiquity of blind Sovietophilia among visitors, Fitzpatrick is taking aim at what has been the most influential work on the subject, Paul Hollander's Political Pilgrims. Hollander's analysis of the alienation of intellectuals as a class from their own societies, which ironically mirrored the Marxist "class analysis" of intellectuals by reducing them to a sociological group, resembles Ryklin's work in that both rely mostly on the published works of sympathizers and present Sovietophilia as rampant. Hollander created this impression by deliberately foregrounding the most ecstatically pro-Soviet published travelogues and treating them as "excellent source material," not only to bolster his thesis about alienation but as a historical record of foreigners' experiences within the Soviet Union. (40)
The approximately 100,000 foreign visitors to the "Soviet experiment" in the interwar years, including thousands of writers, professionals, scholars, and artists, were a highly varied population in many ways--country of origin, occupation, motivation for travel, and political outlook. Even the most pro-Soviet "friends of the Soviet Union"--in fact, especially the members of this club--regularly censored themselves. Moreover, as David Engerman's work on U.S. observers reminds us, far from all observers with favorable views of the Soviet experiment were intellectuals, and many of those agreed with the Bolsheviks that coercive modernization would be good for backward Russia. (41)
Above all, foreigners' travelogues became political documents par excellence. As sympathizers knew well, they were crucial evidence in the dossiers used by the Comintern and Soviets alike to make decisions about invitations and transnational patronage. (42) One of the best chapters in Political Tourists is Ros Pesman's chapter on the prominent fellow-traveler Ella Winter, who left Australia at age 12, studied at the London School of Economics in the time of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Harold Laski, and, as a bohemian "new woman," became the protegee and wife of the muckraking Sovietophilic journalist Lincoln Steffens. It was Steffens who urged Winter to make her 1933 Red Virtue, written after her Soviet trips in 1930 and 1932, a "partisan book, full of free rejoicing"--"To hell with open minds." (110). (43) The emotional enthusiasm or "free rejoicing" of so many travelogues, which might be taken as evidence of faith in a secular religion, need hardly be considered false, but it was a literary and political device.
Figures such as Egon Ervin Kisch, the Prague-born journalist and travel-writer active in Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany, advanced a theory of reportage as a combination of art and militant (kampferisch) politics, something entirely in sync with what Elizabeth Papazian has called the documentary moment in early Soviet culture. (44) John McNair's chapter on Katherine Susannah Prichard ("Comrade Katya") argues that her prominent 1934 work The Real Russia "presents a misleading image of a non-partisan, independent traveler 'taking my own wilful way'" (150). The strong conventions and political significance of the pro-Soviet travelogue explains why unpublished diaries, letters, and Soviet archives, with their transcripts of foreigners' questions and guides' reports, reveal reactions distinctly less uniformly naive and uncritical than the travelogue literature. Lenore Coltheart concludes the final chapter by wondering why the "pseudo-analysis" of foreign visitors to the USSR as one great mass of gullible fellow-travelers persists (298).
Two chapters in Political Tourists contributed by the co-editors, Carolyn Rasmussen and Fitzpatrick, are especially relevant in considering scholars and intellectuals who appear quite different from the stereotypical quasi-religious pilgrims. The metallurgist and founder of the Australian Society for Cultural Relations with Russia, J. Nell Greenwood, as ably portrayed by Rasmussen, was a rationalist, an agnostic, and something of a loner. Provoked by mainstream political attacks on anyone visiting the USSR as a closet Communist, Greenwood was attracted, like so many others, by perceptions of the rationality of economic planning, the project of fusing science and industry, and, later, by an appreciation for Soviet culture. The historian Max Crawford, the subject of Fitzpatrick's second chapter in the volume, became the first secretary of Australia's new diplomatic legation in the USSR in 1943. Almost comically determined to convince a skeptical VOKS and other Soviet representatives that he was not a conventional diplomat but an intellectual and a sympathizer, Crawford nonetheless prided himself on combining objectivity with politics and appears to have been motivated above all by grandiose, never-realized plans to write about Soviet history. As his letters to fellow historian Kathleen Fitzpatrick (first wife of Sheila Fitzpatrick's father, the radical historian and activist Brian Fitzpatrick) (45) suggest, Crawford was stressed, depressed, and almost certainly disillusioned by what he saw in wartime Kuibyshev. He left after only 11 months.
The other chapters remind us of the diversity of travelers and their motivations for visiting the USSR, which ranged from the Australian world tour to adventure to shady black market activities. In addition to the chapters on the two sympathetic scholars, two chapters on Communists and three on prominent fellow-travelers, there is a study of Australian wartime journalists and Kay Dreyfus's investigation of the "sad case of the Weintraub syncopaters," a troupe of Jewish mimes, clowning musicians, and gangsters originally from Berlin who were blacklisted and interned in wartime Australia as part of the fallout from a 1935-36 Soviet tour.
Is there a "national" particularity to the Australian case? A similar range of travelers and similar issues in studying intellectual sympathizers and foreign Communists can be found in the more familiar and extensively treated countries of Western Europe and North America. But if the Australian context and personalities treated here do not fundamentally change our picture of travelers to the early Soviet Union, they do comprise a set of evocative case studies well worth considering by a historiography that has been almost completely unaware of them. The Soviets considered Australia a relatively peripheral case, but even this is revealing of how they focused cultural diplomacy in the interwar and World War II period on the "West" and a hierarchical allocation of special treatment for foreigners deemed capable of influencing public opinion abroad. At the same time, as the Australian case also suggests, the basic methods of receiving foreigners, once they had been developed primarily in relation to Europeans starting in the early 1920s, were quickly codified and even bureaucratically fixed as they were applied to visitors from all over the world.
One feature of the volume that must be noted is that aside from Fitzpatrick and McNair, the contributors do not use Russian-language scholarship and archives. There are some resulting transliteration mistakes: ouezd rather than uezd (64), Negeroloya rather than the border town of Negoreloe (281), and so on. Many contributors to Political Tourists draw usefully on works written in English about the United States and especially Britain, since Australian travelers often traveled to the Soviet Union via Britain or had numerous ties to the imperial metropole. But most of the contributors are not familiar with the relevant literature in French, German, or Russian, in "which much of the most interesting work on travelers, intellectuals and communism, and European perceptions of the USSR in recent years has been done. (46) Most of the chapters, again "with the notable exceptions of Fitzpatrick and McNair, thus center around interpreting the biographies of individual travelers, whereas what would be most interesting and innovative from the point of view of Soviet historians and transnational history are interactions and perceptions as interrogated through sources from both sides.
What perspective does Fitzpatrick's research in Soviet sources afford? In addition to her two chapters in Political Tourists, Fitzpatrick also recently published an article in Russian History based on her research in the VOKS archive. The thrust of the article overlaps with her synthetic overview in the first chapter of the book: on the basis of a quantitative analysis of the sites to which VOKS visitors went in 1935, Fitzpatrick suggested that favorable interest in Soviet models was logical and reasonable, given the kinds of sites VOKS presented to foreigners and the leading lights of the Soviet intelligentsia they met through introductions or at receptions. Both remained conspicuously "avant-garde," she argues, both in the aesthetic and in a social sense (that would include even collective farms). (47) In Political Tourists she continues this line of argument, noting that over 40 percent of her sample travelers were women making the Soviet tour independently who across political orientations were disproportionately likely to hold favorable views of the Soviet Union because of genuine advances in Soviet women's equality. "In short," she concludes, a bit vaguely and anticlimactically, "there was something worth studying for Australian feminists" (26).
One could quibble over how avant-garde places such as the Museum of the Revolution, the Lenin Mausoleum, or collective farms really were, and of course the Soviets claimed credit for the preservation of high culture as well. The emphasis in Fitzpatrick's article on aesthetic and social modernism appears to minimize the role of politics and ideology, whereas her first book chapter distinguishes between the ubiquity of foreign visitors' political interest and the much more limited phenomenon of committed "pilgrims." But there are bigger issues at stake. In striving to normalize the interwar Soviet tour by explaining the reasonable attractions of the socialist order to outsiders, one wonders whether Fitzpatrick has implicitly adopted a stance of tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner. Other contributors to Political Tourists--such as Jeff Sparrow in his chapter on Australian Communist Guido Baracchi and his companion, the playwright Betty Roland--remain concerned with still important questions about what observers knew about purges and repression and how they did or did not contain their doubts.
But for a robust statement of the problem we must return to Raymond Aron, who discussed how "sometimes it seems as if the price of the Revolution were placed on the credit rather than the debit side of the balance sheet." (48) Inspired by this critical tradition, Ryklin also poses the big and far from exhausted question of how many of the leading minds of the 20th century helped legitimize Stalinism as it moved toward the height of its repressions. "If we examine the many statements of apologists of the USSR in the 1920s-30s," he writes, "we find in them not a lack of knowledge but, on the contrary, an assurance in their right to judge, prophetic intonations, and didactic notes" (53). Political religion may not explain the arrogance of this didactic stance, in the case of the leading fellow-travelers almost always combined with private and sometimes tortured doubts, any more than fulminations against undifferentiated apologists. But a deeper examination of the concrete entanglements--intellectual, cultural, and person--between sympathizers and Soviets would shed new light on the striking and insistently relevant problem of justifying political violence in the age of extremes.
Dept. of History
Washington, DC 20057-1035 USA
I am grateful to Randall Poole and Jan Hamper for incisive comments on an earlier version, and to Mikhail Ryklin for the spontaneous gift of his book at a conference in Hamburg in 2009.
(1) Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001, orig. 1955), 65.
(2) Randall A. Poole, "Vladimir Solov'ev, Salvation, and Russian Political Theology," paper presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) annual convention, Philadelphia 2008.
(3) Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1920); John Maynard Keynes, A Short View of Russia (London: Hogarth, 1925); Rene Fulop-Miller, Geist und Gesicht des Bolschewismus: Darstellung und Kritik des kulturellen Lebens in Sowjet-Russland (Zurich: Almathea, 1926).
(4) Emilio Gentile's 1990 article, "Totalitarianism and Political Religion," Journal of Contemporary History 25, 2-3 (1990): 229-52, is often credited with sparking scholarly interest in developing the concept of political religion in Anglophone scholarship; among his major works are Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy, trans. Keith Botsford (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996). The most comprehensive compilation resulting from the scholarly embrace of political religions is the three-volume collection edited by Hans Maier, Totalitarianism and Political Religions (vol. 2 co-edited with Michael Schiller), trans. Jodi Bruhn (London: Routledge, 2004-7). See also Roger Griffin, ed., Fascism, Totalitarianism, and Political Religion (London: Routledge, 2006). One of the best overviews in the context of the genealogy of the concept--with reference to historians of religion and ideas such as Jacob Talmon, and historians of the cultural history and political symbolism of Nazism such as Klaus Vondung and George Mosse--remains Philippe Burrin, "Political Religion: The Relevance of a Concept," History and Memory 9, 1-2 (1997): 321-49.
(5) Ulrike Ehret, "Understanding the Popular Appeal of Fascism, National Socialism, and Soviet Communism: The Revival of Totalitarianism Theory and Political Religion," History Compass 5, 4 (2007): 1236-67, quotation 1252. An exception is the German sociologist Klaus Georg Riegel's interpretation by analogy of Leninism as a messianic "virtuoso religion" led by the vanguard party as "Messiah" and Stalinism as an inquisitorial "institutional church" ("Marxism-Leninism as Political Religion," in Tatalitarianism and Political Religions 2:61-112).
(6) Laurie Manchester, Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008); Aleksandr Etkind, Khlyst: Sekty, literatura i revoliutsiia (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1998); Daniel Beer, "The Medicalization of Religious Deviance in the Russian Orthodox Church (1880-1905)," Kritika 5, 3 (2004): 451-52; Avram Brown, "The Bolshevik Rejection of the 'Revolutionary Christ' and Dem'ian Bedny's The Flawless New Testament of the Evangelist Dem'ian," Kritika 2, 1 (2001): 5-44.
(7) Andrzej Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of the Communist Utopia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 496.
(8) Robert C. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, 3rd ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 200l), 24; Tucker, "Lenin's Bolshevism as a Culture in the Making," in Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution, ed. Abbott Gleason, Peter Kenez, and Richard Stites (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879-1929: A Study in History and Personality (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973), 129-30; Tucker, Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), 38.
(9) In his From Darkness to Light: Class, Consciousness, and Salvation in Revolutionary Russia (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2000), Igal Halfin argued that Marxism shared with Christianity an eschatological master narrative, tempered by a return to a Gnostic Christian tradition of viewing knowledge as the key to salvation. But in a key distinction, he wrote that "Any comparison I suggest between Christianity and Marxism serves an analytical, not historical function. My reference to biblical terms throughout is no more than a heuristic device intended to evoke the deep plot of the eschatological master narrative" (42, emphasis added). For his most recent work, see Halfin, Stalinist Confessions: Messianism and Terror at Leningrad Communist University (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2009).
(10) Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), esp. 293-98.
(11) Richard H. Crossman, ed., The God That Failed (New York: Harper, 1949).
(12) Michail Ryklin, Kommunismus als Religion: Die Intellektuellen und die Oktoberrevolution (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2008).
(13) In a specifically Hungarian emigre context and in a much more densely researched study, Lee Congdon makes a similar link between communism-as-religion and the faith of intellectuals (Seeing Red: Hungarian Intellectuals in Exile and the Challenge of Communism [DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001]).
(14) Edith W. Clowes, "Russia's Deconstructionist Westernizer: Mikhail Ryklin between Moscow and Berlin," Landschaft, no. 1 (2008): 1-17, quotations 2 (www.pitt.edu/~lands/clowes08.pdf, accessed 5 April 2010); Michail Ryklin, "Das Bewusstsein als Raum der Freiheit: Merab Mamardaschwili als philosphischer Lehrer," Sinn und Form, no. 5 (2009): 585-90.
(15) Michail Ryklin, "In the Burning House," The New Humanist 124, 1 (2009) (http:// newhumanist.org.uk/1962/in-the-burning-house, accessed 13 April 2010); for images and discussion of the exhibition, see Tom Sellar, "Up Front," Theater 36, 1 (2006) (http://theater. dukejournals.org/cgi/reprint/36/1/1.pdf, accessed 13 April 2010).
(16) Mikhail Ryklin, "Back in Moscow, sans the USSR," in Zhak Derrida v Moskve: Dekonstruktsiia puteshestviia, ed. E. V. Petrovskaia and A. T. Ivanov (Moscow: Kul'tura, 1993), 86-150.
(17) Paul Froese, The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 170.
(18) Ibid., 178. But for an extended critique of Froese's work on other grounds, see Michael David-Fox, "Religion, Science, and Political Religion in the Soviet Context," Modern Intellectual History 8, 2 (2011): 471-84.
(19) For a discussion of this point, see Angela Kurtz, "God, Not Caesar: Revisiting National Socialism as 'Political Religion,' " History of European Ideas 35, 2 (2009): 236-52.
(20) David D. Roberts, " 'Political Religion' and the Totalitarian Departures of Inter-war Europe: On the Uses and Disadvantages of an Analytical Category," Contemporary European History 18, 4 (2009): 381-414, here 390-92.
(21) Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, 24.
(22) Roberts, "'Political Religion,'" 406; see also Ehret, "Understanding the Popular Appeal," 1248.
(23) Daniel Soyer, "Back to the Future: American Jews Visit the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s," Jewish Social Studies 6, 3 (2000): 124-59; Michael David-Fox, Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to Soviet Russia, 1921-1941 (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming in 2011), chap. 7.
(24) David Caute, The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, rev. ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 264-84.
(25) Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck, "The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany," in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, ed. Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 302-44.
(26) Matthias Heeke, Reisen zu den Sowjets: Der ausldndische Tourismus in Russland 1921-1941 (Munster: Lit, 2004); Eva Oberloskamp, Fremde neue Wehen: Reisen deutscher und franzosischer Linksintellektueller in die Sowjetunion 1917-1939 (Munich: Oldenbourg, forthcoming in 2011). See also the discussion of Fitzpatrick and Rasmussen, eds., Political Tourists, below.
(27) Caute, Fellow-Travelers, 137.
(28) Crossman, ed., The God That Failed.
(29) Arthur Koestler, untitled essay in The God That Failed, 15. For context and reception, see David C. Engerman's preface to the 2001 edition of The God That Failed (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001); and Michael Scammell, Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic (New York: Random House, 2009).
(30) Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals and Politics (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), 200-2.
(31) Andre Gide, Return from the U.S.S.R., trans. Dorothy Bussy (New York: Knopf, 1937), 42. On Feuchtwanger, the most important recent scholarly investigations, going far beyond the chapter by Ryklin, are by Anne Hartmann, "Lost in Translation: Lion Feuchtwanger bei Stalin 1937," Exil: Forschung, Erkentnisse, Ergebnisse 28, 2 (2008): 5-18; Hartmann, "Abgrundige Vernunft: Lion Feuchtwangers Moskau 1937," in Neulekturen--New Readings: Festschrift fur Gerd Labroisse zum 80. Geburtstag, ed. Norbert Otto Eke und Gerhard P. Knapp (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), 149-77; and Hartmann, "Lion Feuchtwanger, zuruck aus Sowjetrussland: Selbstzensur eines Reiseberichts" Exil 29, 1 (2009): 16-40. For new documents on Feuchtwanger's time in Moscow, see Ludmila Stern, "Moscow 1937: The Interpreter's Story," Australian Slavonic and East European Studies 21, 1-2 (2007): 73-95; and David-Fox, Showcasing the Great Experiment, chap. 7.
(32) Jacques Derrida, "Back from Moscow, in the USSR," in Moscou aller-retour (La Tour d'Aigues: Editions de l'Aube, 1995), 15-102, on Gide 61-74, quotation 65.
(33) Gide, Return from the U.S.S.R., 67.
(34) Ibid., 58 n. The above draws on David-Fox, Showcasing the Great Experiment, chap. 7.
(35) Lion Feikhtvanger [Feuchtwanger], "Estet o Sovetskom Soiuze," Pravda, 30 December 1936; Feuchtwanger, "Der Asthet in der Sowjetunion," Das Wort, no. 2 (1937): 86-88.
(36) Alan Sheridan, Andre Gide: A Life in the Present (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 375-79, 626; Caute, Fellow-Travelers, 101-2.
(37) Here see esp. Monique Nemer, Corydon Citoyen: Essai sur Andre Gide et l'homosexualite (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), 266-83.
(38) Andre Gide, Afterthoughts: A Sequel to Back from the U.S.S.R., 2nd ed., trans. Dorothy Bussy (London: Martin Secker and Warburg, 1938), 9, 11.
(39) See the excellent and regrettably unpublished work by Florence Louisa Talks, "Andre Gide's Companions on His Journey to the Soviet Union in 1936: Jacques Schiffrin, Eugene Dabit, Louis Guilloux, Jef Last, and Pierre Herbart" (Ph.D. diss., University of Warwick, 1987); also Pierre Herbart, En U.R.S.S. (Paris: Gallimard, 1937); C. J. Greschoft, ed., Andre Gide. Jef Last. Correspondance, 1934-1950 (Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1985); and Last, Mijn Vriend Andre Gide (Amsterdam: Van Ditmar, 1966).
(40) Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society, 4th ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1998, orig. 1981), 21, 87, 137, and passim.
(41) David C. Engerman, Modernization from the Other Shore: American Intellectuals and the Romance of Russian Economic Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
(42) Rachel Mazuy, Croire plutot que voir? Voyages en Russie sovietique (1919-1939) (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2002).
(43) Ella Winters, Red Virtue: Human Relations in the New Russia (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933).
(44) See Christiane Uhlig, Utopie oder Alptraum? Schweizer Reiseberichte uber die Sowjetunion 1917-1941 (Zurich: Hans Rohr, 1992), 23; and Elizabeth Papazian, Manufacturing Truth: The Documentary Moment in Soviet Culture (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008). See also Herta Wolf, Glauben machen: Uber deutschsprachige Reiseberichte aus der Sowjetunion (1918-1932) (Vienna: Sonderzahl, 1992).
(45) Stuart Macintyre and Sheila Fitzpatrick, eds., Against the Grain: Brian Fitzpatrick and Manning Clark in Australian History and Politics (Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2007).
(46) In addition to the studies cited above, see, inter alia, A. V. Golubev, "... Vzgliad na zemliu obetovannuiu": Iz istorii sovetskoi kul 'turnoi diplomatii 1920-1930-kh godov (Moscow: Institut istorii RAN, 2004); and the works of Leonid Maksimenkov, including "Ocherki nomenldaturnoi istorii sovetskoi literatury: Zapadnye pilgrimy u stalinskogo prestola (Feikhtvanger i drugie)," Voprosy literatury, no. 2 (2004): 242-91, and no. 3 (2004): 274-342; Boris Frezinskii, Pisateli i sovetskie vozhdi (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 2008); and B. E. Bargasarian et al., Sovetskoe zazerkal'e: Inostrannyi turizm v SSSR v 1930-1980-e gody (Moscow: Forum, 2007).
(47) Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Foreigners Observed: Moscow Visitors in the 1930s under the Gaze of their Soviet Guides," Russian History 35, 1-2 (2008): 215-34.
(48) Aron, Opium of the Intellectuals, 65.
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|Title Annotation:||Political Tourists: Travellers from Australia to the Soviet Union in the 1920s-1940s; Kommunizm kak religiia: Intellektualy i oktiabr'skaia revoliutsiia/Communism as Religion: Intellectuals and the October Revolution|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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