- Within and Beyond the Ivory TowerWorlds without Nationalist Blinders
George Orwell once remarked: “Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred and always stronger than internationalism.”1 A few years ago, such a dismissal of internationalism, even by such a prescient mind, might have seemed too quick. Now, however, one has to wonder. Nationalist and populist sympathies are clearly resurgent the world over, with last fall’s US presidential election being the most obvious recent case in point. One of the predictable consequences of this nationalist uptick is a questioning of all things international—networks, institutions, allegiances, points of view. As such, journals like our own find themselves very much in the midst of the vortex. Kritika was founded in 2000 with two primary intellectual missions: to advance a full understanding of the complexities of Russian and Eurasian history; and to promote the internationalization of the field through scholarly discussion and exchange across political, cultural, and national boundaries. Nationalist historiography—that is, historical scholarship with nationalist intent—was obviously present two decades ago, but it is fair to say that the presumption at the time, in the West at least, was that non-nationalist scholarship was rising and would ultimately win the day. Hence the excitement for international, expressly non-nationalist approaches. Today we see a different landscape, which raises an obvious question: Has the enthusiasm for international history—and the history of internationalism—run its course? Will the field now get back to studying history in neat-and-tidy national categories, since the nation itself seems to be back in charge?
We hope not. Contrary to what Orwell may have been suggesting, studying internationalism as a field and as a historical force in its own right continues to make good intellectual sense, arguably all the more today in our era of increasing international skepticism. As Bruce Grant notes in this issue, “writers’ movements, cross-border cinema exchanges, and multinational universities [End Page 1] were all transregional experiences that amounted to much more than failed dreams or experimental exceptions” (93). Internationalism was, of course, central to the history of the Soviet Union: Lenin, like Trotskii, conceived of the October Revolution as the first shot of an international uprising, grounded in global forces connected to decolonization and the struggle against capitalism. To be sure, that dream of a “world without nationalist blinders” (89), as Grant puts it, ran up against persistent barriers, not least within the Soviet leadership itself. Many Bolsheviks, as the old saw goes, were like radishes—red on the outside but white on the inside. Yet even as the internationalist ideal slowly gave way by the late 1920s to a policy of “Socialism in One Country” and in the next decade to “national Bolshevism,”2 the building of socialism Soviet-style retained a distinctly international resonance, attracting supporters from around the world who sought an alternative to the boom-and-bust capitalism and fascism of the Depression era.
Furthermore, the more inwardly turned proponents of a would-be sui generis Soviet socialism were never powerful enough to eliminate internationalism as a factor in Soviet politics, society, and culture, even at the height of Stalinist xenophobia. Despite the patriotic turn of the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), the Soviets received lend-lease aid and worked with British and American allies. They fought the war in defense of the fatherland but also as a defense of the world against the forces of Nazism and on behalf of international socialism. The postwar xenophobic turn, it should be remembered, was accompanied also by the influx of ideas and people—including millions of Red Army soldiers—from Eastern Europe, where their experience had shown them different ways of thinking about life and culture.3 Claire Knight’s article in this issue on Western films captured during World War II, then edited and screened to demonstrate the bourgeois world’s supposedly rotten core, illustrates the state’s paradoxical engagement with Western culture. The policy, contrary to its intent, could end up valorizing the very cultural form it was trying to condemn—or at the very least, stimulate interest in how and why people elsewhere seemed to live so differently. As Mark Twain once noted...