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Crossing Borders

Crossing Borders: Modernity, Ideology, and Culture in Russia and the Soviet Union

Michael David-Fox
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    Crossing Borders
    Book Description:

    Crossing Bordersdeconstructs contemporary theories of Soviet history from the revolution through the Stalin period, and offers new interpretations based on a transnational perspective. To Michael David-Fox, Soviet history was shaped by interactions across its borders. By reexamining conceptions of modernity, ideology, and cultural transformation, he challenges the polarizing camps of Soviet exceptionalism and shared modernity and instead strives for a theoretical and empirical middle ground as the basis for a creative and richly textured analysis.Discussions of Soviet modernity have tended to see the Soviet state either as an archaic holdover from the Russian past, or as merely another form of conventional modernity. David-Fox instead considers the Soviet Union in its own light-as a seismic shift from tsarist society that attracted influential visitors from the pacifist Left to the fascist Right. By reassembling Russian legacies, as he shows, the Soviet system evolved into a complex "intelligentsia-statist" form that introduced an array of novel agendas and practices, many embodied in the unique structures of the party-state.Crossing Bordersdemonstrates the need for a new interpretation of the Russian-Soviet historical trajectory-one that strikes a balance between the particular and the universal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8092-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION THREADING THE NEEDLE: The Soviet Order between Exceptionalism and Shared Modernity
    (pp. 1-18)

    Revolutionaries, whatever else they may believe, are predisposed to think that they are turning an entirely new page in history. As revolutionary rulers consolidate their new order, they become even more heavily invested in touting its unprecedented nature. The Bolshevik Revolution in fact triggered decades of far-reaching transformation; it was marked by an initial wave of iconoclasm, violence, and utopianism that fueled the idea of Soviet exceptionalism, both at home and abroad. Even after Stalin’s “second revolution” accentuated a hybrid combination of radical change and what might be called statist-conservative elements, the notion that communism was unique and sui generis...

  2. PART I. Russian and Soviet Modernity

    • 1 MULTIPLE MODERNITIES VS. NEO-TRADITIONALISM: On Ongoing Debates in Russian and Soviet History
      (pp. 21-47)

      The specter of modernity continues to haunt much Western scholarship on Russian and Soviet history. In grappling with the issue, post-Soviet historiography has continued to invent new twists and variations on the thorny problems of old. In the past, the polarizations in the field may have been described somewhat differently: between industrial society and backwardness, between universalism and particularism, between Russia as European and Russia as unique. While this chapter analyzes a specific dispute over modernity and the concept of neo-traditionalism that first animated the field in the 2000s, it also looks backward to these broader antecedents that its participants...

    • 2 THE INTELLIGENTSIA, THE MASSES, AND THE WEST: Particularities of Russian/Soviet Modernity
      (pp. 48-72)

      For millions of people in the twentieth century Soviet communism was a formidable adversary or a model for rapid development, if not a possible future for humankind. Among historians, however, in a field that matured after the collapse of communism, the notion of modernity in the Russian and Soviet context has struggled to escape from under a crushing weight of skepticism. A long tradition of discussing Russian divergences from Western development in the context of backwardness defined many frameworks for understanding first the Russian Revolution and then the failures of communism. This tradition was firmly in place long before social...

  3. PART II. Ideology, Concepts, and Institutions

    • 3 THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT: Six Faces of Ideology in the Soviet Context
      (pp. 75-103)

      No one can grapple with the history of communism without in one fashion or another confronting the nature of ideology. Nor can one begin to think about Soviet historical development without somehow grappling with the role of ideology in the historical process. It is all the more startling, therefore, to realize how scarce explicit discussions of ideology in the Soviet field actually are.¹ For the Soviet field, the difficulties of sorting out all the levels on which to discuss the problem of ideology are especially acute. Marxist understandings were both influential in Western scholarship in the twentieth century and central...

    • 4 WHAT IS CULTURAL REVOLUTION? Key Concepts and the Arc of Soviet Cultural Transformation, 1910s–1930s
      (pp. 104-132)

      Old historical paradigms never die; they are simplified and codified in textbooks. In the decades since the demise of the Soviet Union, the field of Soviet history has witnessed intensive growth and far-reaching evolution. But in terms of some of the fundamental concepts applied to the new terrain and a reluctance, bolstered by specialization, to think across the subperiods making up early Soviet, Stalin-era, and post-Stalinist history, a conservative attachment to received wisdom appears surprisingly pronounced. This chapter is devoted to the meaning of cultural revolution (kul’turnaia revoliutsiia), a concept crucial in both Soviet history starting in the 1920s and...

    • 5 SYMBIOSIS TO SYNTHESIS: The Communist Academy and the Bolshevization of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 1918–1929
      (pp. 133-160)

      Any consideration of the particularities of the Soviet system must take into account one of its most influential features, the bifurcation of the polity into a party-state. When the Bolsheviks came to power, it was not at all obvious that the Communist Party, from the lowliest party cell to the Politburo, would come to “shadow” and parallel state institutions as well as operate inside them. In fact, in the early years after 1917, there were proposals to abolish the Party as superfluous, since the Bolsheviks now controlled a state.¹ The initial rationale for the emergent party-state, generally speaking, was that...

  4. PART III. Mediators and Travelers

    • 6 UNDERSTANDING AND LOVING THE NEW RUSSIA: Mariia Kudasheva as Romain Rolland’s Cultural Mediator
      (pp. 163-184)

      On June 2, 1931, Romain Rolland wrote to Maksim Gorky about a Russian literary figure and translator who was becoming the most important woman in his life: Mariia Pavlovna Kudasheva (née Curillier) or, as she became known after they married in 1934, Marie Rolland. “Mariia Pavlovna has done much,” thegrand écrivaintold the great proletarian writer, “to make me understand and love the new Russia.”¹ Kudasheva’s visits to Villeneuve in 1929, and then from July 1930 until May 1931, where Rolland lived on the shores of Lake Geneva, came at a key moment in Rolland’s relationship with Stalin’s Soviet...

    • 7 A “PRUSSIAN BOLSHEVIK” IN STALIN’S RUSSIA: Ernst Niekisch at the Crossroads between Communism and National Socialism
      (pp. 185-220)

      On August 20, 1932, as the Nazis marched closer to power and the Stalin Revolution hurtled grimly toward mass famine, a most incongruous German figure crossed into Soviet territory. Ideologically confounding yet consistently extremist, Ernst Niekisch (1889–1967) straddled and hybridized the competing ideologies of the revolutionary left and radical right, converting from one to the other in a fashion virtually unique in the twentieth-century age of extremes. A left-wing Social Democrat who rose up to briefly become chairman of the Central Soviet in Munich during the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1918, Niekisch converted tovölkischnew nationalism in...