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Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921-1941

Overview


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. Showcasing the Great Experiment explores the reception of these intellectuals and fellow-travelers and their cross-cultural and trans-ideological encounters in order to analyze Soviet attitudes towards the West.

Many of the twentieth century's greatest writers and thinkers, including ...

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Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921-1941

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Overview


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. Showcasing the Great Experiment explores the reception of these intellectuals and fellow-travelers and their cross-cultural and trans-ideological encounters in order to analyze Soviet attitudes towards the West.

Many of the twentieth century's greatest writers and thinkers, including Theodore Dreiser, André Gide, Paul Robeson, and George Bernard Shaw, notoriously defended Stalin's USSR 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 international part of the emergence of Stalinism at home. Michael David-Fox contends that each side critically examined the other, negotiating feelings of inferiority and superiority, admiration and enmity, emulation and rejection. By the time of the Great Purges, these tensions gave way to the dramatic triumph of xenophobia and isolationism; whereas in the twenties the new regime assumed it had much to learn from Western modernity, by the Stalinist thirties the Soviet order was declared superior in all respects.

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 ongoing 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[Showcasing the Great Experiment] is a major contribution to reinvigorating the study of how foreign and domestic concerns were constantly interacting, especially in the form of the seemingly inescapable "painful question" of Russia and the west." --Slavic Review

"This is a well-documented, informative, original study." --The Russian Review

"[A] superb book...While earlier studies have focused on the writings and responses of the foreign travelers after they returned to their home countries, this study uses newly opened archives to prove the details of the visits themselves...This important book will be of interest to a wide audience...Essential." --CHOICE

"A splendidly researched analysis...Showcasing the Great Experiment fully succeeds in 're-internationalizing' Soviet history, and establishing crucial connections between the inner dynamics of the regime and its efforts to globalize its appeal." --Times Literary Supplement

"Ambitious... Profoundly innovative and marks a real breakthrough in the field." --Journal of Cold War Studies

"[A] fine book...There is hardly any other book providing such a complete portrait of Soviet cultural diplomacy...Vividly and evocatively, David-Fox describes the paragons of the endeavor" --H-Net

"A nuanced and informed account of a fascinating and contradictory era in Soviet cultural relations with the West. The book shows how Soviet suspicion of the West in Stalińs time coexisted with an almost obsessive attention to Western opinions of the Soviet Union and a deep desire to win the admiration of Western intellectuals." --Sheila Fitzpatrick, University of Chicago

"Michael David-Fox has brought valuable new light to the USSR's campaign to gain the esteem of distinguished foreign visitors between the two world wars. Using recently opened Soviet archives, he explores the inner debates of the Communist bureaucracy about the uses of 'showcasing' and of modern 'Potemkin villages.' David-Fox also lucidly demonstrates how this propaganda drive affected Soviet domestic policy." --David Caute, author of The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War

"A fascinating work of real historical imagination and enormous erudition. Using the visits of high-profile foreigners to Russia from 1921 to 1941 as a lens, David-Fox explores Russia's attitude toward the 'West' on the ground and in the mind. He tells his story from the perspective of Russia, of 'the West,' and of the space between." --Susan Gross Solomon, Munk School for Global Affairs, University of Toronto

"A nexus of domestic and international histories, this remarkable book treats the relationships between Western left intellectuals and Stalin's elites as a defining episode of the twentieth century. David-Fox leaves no doubt that the Soviet Union--even at the height of Stalinist madness--can be understood only as a part of European, Western history." --Vladislav Zubok, Temple University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199376421
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/12/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 12.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael David-Fox is Professor in the Department of History and 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 Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: "Russia and the West" in a Soviet Key
1. Cultural Diplomacy of a New Type
2. Going West: Soviet "Cultural" Operations Abroad
3. The Potemkin Village Dilemma
4. Gorky's Gulag
5. Hard-Currency Foreigners and the Campaign Mode
6. Stalin and the Fellow-Travelers Revisited
7. Going East: Friends and Enemies
8. Rise of the Stalinist Superiority Complex
Epilogue: Toward the Cultural Cold War
Notes
Bibliography of Archival Collections
Index

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