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The Search for a Socialist El Dorado

Finnish Immigration to Soviet Karelia from the United States and Canada in the 1930s

Alexey Golubev and Irina Takala

Publication Year: 2014

In the 1930s, thousands of Finns emigrated from their communities in the United States and Canada to Soviet Karelia, a region in the Soviet Union where Finnish Communist émigrés were building a society to implement their ideals of socialist Finland. To their new socialist home, these immigrants brought critically needed skills, tools, machines, and money. Educated and skilled, American and Canadian Finns were regarded by Soviet authorities as agents of revolutionary transformations who would not only modernize the economy of Soviet Karelia, but also enlighten its society. North American immigrants, indeed, became active participants of socialist colonization of what Bolshevik leaders perceived as dark, uneducated and backward Soviet ethnic periphery. The Search for a Socialist El Dorado is the first comprehensive account in English of this fascinating story. Using a vast body of documentary sources from archives in Petrozavodsk and Moscow, Russian- and Finnish-language press and literature from the 1930s, oral history interviews and secondary literature, Alexey Golubev and Irina Takala explore in depth the “Karelian fever” among Finnish Americans and Canadians, and the lives of immigrants in the Soviet Union, their contribution to Soviet economy and culture, and their fates in the Great Terror.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book arose from our participation in two research projects that studied emigration from Finnish communities in the United States and Canada to the USSR during the early 1930s. Life trajectories of these Finnish American and Canadian emigrants are a fascinating case that gives multiple novel perspectives on the turbulent history of the first half of the twentieth century...

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pp. xi-xviii

Historically, the New World was the destination for numerous waves of emigrants. Seemingly endless opportunities made the United States and Canada incredibly attractive to people seeking to emigrate from their home countries. In the nineteenth century and during the first two decades of the twentieth century, emigration from Europe to North America surpassed in volume all other population movements in the world; most emigrants...

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Chapter 1. Finnish Immigrants in North America and Russia

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pp. 1-14

The first Finnish settlers arrived in North America as early as the seventeenth century,1 but in general large- scale emigration from Northern Europe to the New World did not occur until the nineteenth century. “American fever” broke out in Norway in the 1820s, struck Sweden in the 1840s, and appeared in the mid- 1860s in the Grand Duchy of Finland, then a part of the Russian Empire. Economic problems in Finland at that time were the key...

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Chapter 2. Two Perspectives on Soviet Immigration Policy: Moscow and Petrozavodsk

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pp. 15-26

Since the early modern period, Russian rulers who aspired to modernize their state were always confronted with the challenge of an insufficient labor force in terms of qualification, distribution, and even number: there was always a shortage of qualified technical specialists, but even farmers and unqualified workers were in high demand in the spacious territories. Recruitment of foreign nationals was one response to this challenge that...

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Chapter 3. To Karelia!

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pp. 27-50

The immigration policy of Karelian authorities became possible only because there was an enthusiastic response in Finnish communities in Canada and the United States. The ground for the Karelian fever had actually been prepared long before 1930 by propaganda originating on both sides of the Atlantic. Ethnic radicalism was perhaps the most important factor of all. American and Canadian leftist press and organizations were immensely popular...

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Chapter 4. The Failure of the Immigration Program

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pp. 51-68

The organized nature of emigration to Soviet Karelia gave the Karelian Technical Aid Committee the chance to negotiate special terms with trans- Atlantic shipping companies. One of them, the Swedish company Svenska Amerika Linjen (Swedish American Line), became the primary operator responsible for the transportation of emigrants to Soviet Karelia...

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Chapter 5. American and Canadian Immigrants in the Soviet Economy

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pp. 69-88

The difficulties that North American immigrants encountered in Soviet Karelia were just a small portion of the much wider socioeconomic processes of nationalization and centralization in the Soviet Union. During the 1930s, a new system of economic management took shape in the USSR that later would be called the administrative or command economic model...

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Chapter 6. North American Finns in Soviet Culture

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pp. 89-108

From the first days of the Bolshevik Revolution, the new government excessively used a rhetoric of emancipation to legitimize its power. The political agenda of Bolsheviks included the emancipation of workers and peasants from capitalist exploitation, the emancipation of women from domestic oppression, and the emancipation of colonial peoples from colonizers’ rule...

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Chapter 7. Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communication

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pp. 109-120

In reconstructing the nature of cross- cultural communication between the population of Soviet Karelia and North American immigrants, the main problem is that of source criticism. The largest group of documentary sources is comprised of Soviet official documents, including reports of the OGPU and later NKVD, which encompassed public sentiment among Soviet people...

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Chapter 8. American and Canadian Finns in the Great Terror

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pp. 121-156

Hundreds of books have been written about the Great Terror in the Soviet Union that reveal, in varying degrees, the horrors of political purges and mass repressions carried out in 1937 and 1938. Unlike earlier campaigns of arrests or mass deportations conducted in the Soviet Union and aimed at specific social groups, the Great Terror encompassed all population groups without exception, from the highest levels of the Communist Party hierarchy to ordinary citizens...

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Chapter 9. Wartime and After

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pp. 157-170

After the end of mass arrests in August 1938, the lives of North American immigrants gradually started to return to a more normal state. Immigrants were no longer a privileged group, but the food shortages of the first half of the 1930s were also over, and deprivation of privileges and mass arrests removed the causes of ethnic hostility toward immigrants, for whom the local population now had sympathy.1...

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pp. 171-174

Throughout this book, starting with the title, we regularly used the metaphor of a search to interpret the life trajectories of our protagonists— approximately 6,500 American and Canadian emigrants of Finnish ethnicity who, in the early 1930s, moved across the Atlantic to the Soviet Union. The perspective that this metaphor gave us seemed particularly well suited to an analysis of our material. American and Canadian Finns...


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pp. 175-214


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pp. 215-232


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pp. 233-236

E-ISBN-13: 9781609174057
E-ISBN-10: 1609174054
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611861150
Print-ISBN-10: 1611861152

Page Count: 254
Illustrations: 53
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1st

OCLC Number: 879352453
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Search for a Socialist El Dorado

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 20th century.
  • Canada -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 20th century.
  • Soviet Union -- History -- 1925-1953.
  • Finns -- Russia (Federation) -- Karelia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Finnish Americans -- Russia (Federation) -- Karelia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Karelia (Russia) -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 20th century.
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