In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • Steven S. Lee (bio)

The 1917 October Revolution in relatively "backward" Russia was supposed to spark other revolutions across the industrial West. Already by 1920, however, after several failed European uprisings, the Bolsheviks began pinning their hopes on Asia. In September 1920 the Third Communist International (Comintern) convened the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, where Comintern head Grigory Zinoviev declared "holy war" against Western imperialism (Riddell 1993, 78). The following year, as Katerina Clark notes in her contribution to this special issue, the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East met in Irkutsk to promote international unity against both class and colonial oppression. In this vision, the Soviet Union, itself stretching to the Pacific, would be the center of a new, liberated world that would champion national independence alongside the interests of workers and peasants.

Foundational, often Cold War-era studies of this topic tend to emphasize the shortcomings of Soviet engagement with the region, namely, the mismatch between top-down directives and local contexts. Perhaps most famously, in the 1920s the Comintern insisted that China had to pass through bourgeois nationalism before advancing to socialism, resulting in the Chinese Communist Party's alliance with the Guomindang and subsequent near-destruction in 1927. Although the Bolsheviks had justified revolution in largely agrarian Russia, they applied a less flexible view to Asia, [End Page 389] asserting that even imperial Japan, with its robust industrial economy, was not yet primed for socialism (Linkhoeva 2017). Since the 1990s, however, a growing body of scholarship across multiple fields has provided a more nuanced view of the interwar Soviet-oriented Left. While often acknowledging the failings of top-down decrees, these revisionist studies have emphasized both how local agents adapted and reworked policies on the ground, as well as how the Soviet Union and Comintern themselves were no insular monoliths. For example, researchers have argued that the 1920 Baku Congress and Lenin's distinction that same year between "oppressed nations" and "oppressor nations" laid the groundwork for postwar postcolonialism (Young 2001), and have described Moscow's policies toward its own minorities as a kind of affirmative action (Martin 2001). Within American studies, the Soviet Union's inspirational role for African American radicalism and culture has launched its own dynamic body of scholarship (Kelley 1990; Baldwin 2002). Meanwhile, scholars have countered or coupled the traditional vertical, center-periphery view of the interwar Left with a variety of horizontal and multicentric models (Manjapra 2010; Glaser and Lee forthcoming). For example, in Asian studies, it has long been recognized that Moscow was just one of many centers for the region's interwar Left: Shanghai served too as a headquarters for not just Chinese but also Japanese and Korean Communists whereas Marxist and Soviet texts often first entered the region through Japan and the Japanese language (Bowen-Struyk 2006; Perry 2014). Japan thus figured as the region's imperial menace but also mediator of leftist internationalism.1

This special issue of Cross-Currents builds on such scholarship by revisiting Russian and Soviet visions of revolution and their fraught, indelible imprint on China, Japan, and Korea. The Soviet Union of the interwar years was distinct from European powers in its mobilization against Western empire and capitalism. Indeed, Russia itself had long been regarded in the West as semi-Asiatic, whereas its stunning defeat in the Russo-Japanese War had blurred long-standing racial and cultural hierarchies. Soviet-Asian encounters might therefore best be understood as intra-Asian—Russia as an "Oriental occident" that, after 1917, beckoned progressive Asians with calls for socialist internationalism and national self-determination (Tikhonov 2016, 7–80).2 These encounters contributed to the establishment of communist regimes in China and North Korea but also reveal internationalist paths [End Page 390] not taken: ways of thinking across national boundaries even while pursuing national struggles against empire.3

Four of the five articles collected here explore these questions through a focus on literary circulation—literature as a medium for tracing the entangled languages, ambitions, and sentiments at hand. As Heekyoung Cho indicates in her article, if notions of world literature tend to foreground Western Europe in an implicit hierarchy of...


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pp. 389-396
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2020
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