January 24, 2012 Intellectuals' Experience with Soviets' "Great Experiment" Is Subject of Book Discussion
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During the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of European and American writers, professionals, scientists, artists and intellectuals made a pilgrimage to experience the “Soviet experiment” for themselves. The reception of these intellectuals and fellow travelers and their encounters in order to analyze Soviet attitudes toward the West are the subject of a new book.
Michael David-Fox will discuss and sign “Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921-1941” (Oxford University Press, 2011) on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at noon in the Mumford Room, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond program is sponsored by the Center for the Book and co-sponsored with the Library’s European Division, where David-Fox used the collections in writing his book. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
David-Fox focuses on many of the 20th century’s greatest writers and thinkers, including Theodore Dreiser, André Gide, Paul Robeson and George Bernard Shaw, all of whom notoriously defended Stalin’s U.S.S.R. despite the unprecedented violence of its prewar decade. While many visitors were profoundly affected by their Soviet tours, so too was the Soviet system. The early experiences of building showcases and teaching outsiders to perceive the future-in-the-making constitute a neglected part of the emergence of Stalinism at home. David-Fox contends that each side critically examined the other, negotiating feelings of inferiority and superiority, admiration and enmity, emulation and rejection.
Drawing on the declassified archival records of the agencies charged with crafting the international image of communism, David-Fox shows how Soviet efforts to sell the Bolshevik experiment abroad through cultural diplomacy shaped and were, in turn, shaped by the continuing project of defining the Soviet Union from within. These interwar Soviet methods of mobilizing the intelligentsia for the international ideological contest, he argues, directly paved the way for the cultural Cold War.
Michael David-Fox is associate professor in the Department of History and the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of “Revolution of the Mind: Higher Learning Among the Bolsheviks, 1918-1929” and a founding editor of the journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History.
David-Fox’s book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond/. Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.
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The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may be accessed through the Library’s website, www.loc.gov.