Gleb Albert

Sep 28 2017

Early Soviet Society and World Revolution, 1917-27

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they did so on the premise that their new state would not stay isolated. They were counting on the masses in Europe (and, in the long run, all over the world) to overthrow their governments, end the bloodshed of World War I, and team up with Soviet Russia to form a global socialist commonwealth. When, one year later, the monarchy was overthrown in Germany and Austro-Hungary, and a whirlwind of revolutionary upheaval swept over most of Europe, the Bolsheviks, for a moment, thought that their dreams had become a reality. However, they had to realise quite soon afterwards that even those revolutions that were not crushed did not result in an outcome in their favour. By the mid-1920s, this disappointment set the ground for Stalin’s “socialism in one country”.

But was it all just the concern of the Soviet political elites? Did rank and file activists and the general population, absorbed by day-to-day violence and survival, ignore the revolutionary events abroad? Or did at least some of them share the Bolshevik vision of world revolution? Is there an early Soviet social history of world revolution – and if there is, how can it be told? This talk, based on extensive archival research in Russia, will explore the resonance of world revolution in early Soviet society – a story of appropriation, misunderstandings, enthusiasm, and disappointment. It will highlight why revolutionary internationalism mattered for certain strata of the Soviet population, how popular projections coincided with real revolutionary events abroad, how militant solidarity was slowly supplanted by charity, and how world-revolutionary charisma came into conflict with the social order of the New Economic Policy (NEP) – even before Stalin abolished NEP and internationalism altogether. The talk will lay bare a forgotten layer of history without which our picture of early Soviet culture and society remains incomplete.

Gleb Albert, University of Zurich. | University web page

“Long live the international”: banner on a march in mid 1917